Tag Archives: Fantasy

Small Wars: Vikings and Frostgrave


Since I’ve been somewhat hampered in my hobby pursuits by having my house almost destroyed, all my study packed up and the walls demolished, I haven’t had ready access to things that I traditionally spend the Winter on, like painting up miniatures for gaming projects.  I’ll live, of course, but I have a need to bump up my forces on a few nearer term projects, such as running a gaming camp this Summer.  Fortunately, my friend John Montrie, being retired, has been around to provide a brush for hire, and he’s helped bump up my forces when I’ve had to exchange money for time for the past few years.  And thank the Deity for that, too– I don’t think I could have gotten Big Danged Boats or Frostgrave off the ground without his timely assistance.  As he’s off to China for a few months I thought I’d pop up to Rockville and visit, eat some Mexican food and pick up some troops I had him working on.  Needless to say, I’m pretty pleased with the results, or I wouldn’t be posting about it!  At Fall IN I had picked up another pack of Frostgrave Soldiers (the standard 28mm semi-medieval Soldiers, 22 figures, plastic, Northstar Games).  I also picked up some newer Frostgrave specialty figures– the Lich and Apprentice, The Crowmaster & Javileneer, and the Elementalist II & Apprentice.  All in pewter, 28mm, Northstar Games.

First off, the Goons.  These are the troops that make up the retainers and followers of the wizard figures in Frostgrave:

I gave John very little guidance.. if he has a fault at all, it’s that he tends to use the same four basic primary colors (red, green, blue, yellow) as uniform highlights. I don’t mind that so much, it allows me to cluster the henchmen in handy groups.  Still, I wanted something different so I asked John to focus on darker colors and purples.  He delivered!

Here are the new major characters in pewter:

Crowmaster and Javelineer

I understand what the Javelineer does.. he tosses Javelins.  What the Crow Master does I’ll have to read up on.  Maybe the Crow flies around like another set of eyes and spies on people.

Beast Crafter and Apprentice

This looks somewhat obvious- the Beast Crafter is some form of shapeshifter that can transform himself  into animal shape.

Elementalist II and Apprentice

This is the second form of the “Elementalist” Wizard from Northstar.  I think I might like the older figures better.. more dynamic.  Eh, what the heck, they’ll make good thieves.

Lich and Apprentice

I don’t know what a Lich is in Frostgrave terms.. I always thought it was the animated dead body of a powerful wizard– and usually appears as a skeleton in wizard regalia.  This looks more like Elric of Melnibone all tarted up or something.. no matter, it’s a cool figure.

That brings me up to 44 Soldiers from two packs, 22 cultists.  With the Dark Ages Vikings and Saxon figures I have painted up for SAGA and Battle Troll, I have something on the order of 120 figures I could use for “Goons” for Frostgrave warbands.  I’m still going to get the barbarian pack(s) and I’ll probably add some variety figures in there too (like a couple of all female warbands, a dwarf warband, a Chinese Warband, and an elven warband), but I have enough soldiers and wizard figures to comfortably run games of 10 players or more– maybe even a dozen.

Viking Looters

Another project I’d like to start running this summer is the venerable VIKING LOOTERS game.  This is a venerable convention game designed by the great Jim Birdseye years ago.  The scenario couldn’t be more simple – you are a Viking and need to get back to the boat first with the most loot (represented by pennies spraypainted gold). Your movement rate is based on the amount of loot you carry. All players start at the same distance from the boat. The fun comes in that each player is dealt several cards. Each card represents an event, usually bad for someone, usually the Viking himself.  The cards cause an opponent to drop pennies, fight battles, become pursued or otherwise delayed from returning to the boat. A turn consists of each player deciding whether or not to play a card on an opponent, or passing (not playing a card). Once all cards in a turn are played (face down on the table), the GM reveals them in an order that makes sense.

Yes, the “screw the opponent” factor is high.  I know I have plenty of fighting Vikings on board– about 44 of them.  However, I don’t yet have enough of regular people doing regular things– like the Saxon villagers, herdsmen, wenches, old women, and various random characters you meet in the game.  I’m still working on the villagers, but found a pack of Old Glory “Revenge” line Viking looters in smaller 28mm.  These are Vikings doing what  you associate with being vikings– raiding, drinking and taking stuff.

Most of these were crafted to have open palms for adding “stuff” to them.. like chickens, weapons, gold and jewelry, etc.

You can see there are some villagers in there– I also have some clergy. I am getting some sheepherders done and I still need some wenches and stock animals. Pretty much standard Dark ages figures.

I plan to run this game at camp.  As you already know, I have a great Viking Ship I built from a kit that I can use for a prop.  Scenery is pretty minimal.  I’ll add in a swamp that surrounds the ship except on the River side, with just one plank leading up to the boat and a big ship guard trying to rob you as you come on board– you can’t make it TOO easy!

Anyway, I love Frostgrave and always wanted to get Viking Looters off the ground, so that’s going to be my new project for the year.

Frostgrave Sunday!


We had a short window last Sunday to get in a game of Frostgrave at the Comics and Gaming Store in Fairfax, VA. We were contemplating doing a published scenario, but didn’t have the right figures for it. So we did a free form Frostgrave game, my ad hoc level 4 Chronomancer versus level 5 (not sure.. maybe a Witch)?

I wanted to make the playing field dense. In Frostgrave, it’s far too easy to nail someone from the far side of the table, if there are no intervening terrain pieces to modify the shot (usually arrows). Also, the backstory of Frostgrave is Felstad (which the city this is supposed to be) is described as a dense urban environment, with narrow streets and all sorts of nooks and crannies.

We alternated putting out treasures, as per the rules.  There were four pieces that were relatively close– A, B, C, and D (see above).  E was a “lure” set in the “Orb of Power” which was a spell amplifier of sorts.  I figured I could score A, B and C from my entry point, even with Archers in the far area of the square.  I added a lot of standing terrain bits to break up line of sight.  When I play Subir, I can be certain of a few things; He’ll focus on spells that teleport, telekinesis, leap, or jump away from competitor gangs– or he’ll take option 2 and select spells that block me, like Walls.  One thing that he’ll always do is put a couple of archers up on a second level, where he can enjoy line of sight and pepper away as an annoyance.   He was true to his patterns– this was a night of Leap, Telekinesis, Teleportation and Archers set up high.

Subir’s fantasy sniper team.

I split into two teams, one lead by the Chronomancer and one by his Assistant.  My Chronomancer and his team hit the tower to retrieve Treasure B (above), and easily nailed C, but D was going to be hard to get to unopposed and E almost impossible.  There was also a treasure in the fountain behind the tower (not shown) that I’ll circle around to.

This is the Orb of Power, which is a Games Workshop Numinous Occulum model, repurposed (I have one too).  If the wizard stands in the Orb, he can cast spells with big pluses– think of it as a magic battery pack.  It was closer to Subir’s starting point than mine (point E in the photo above), so I didn’t really think I would get a treasure there, nor could I make use of the Orb.

My two groups moved close to each other and supported each other. Subir was much more spread out. I think he had the better idea.  Being a level 3 guy, I had some good hirelings.. A Man at Arms, two Archers, two Thugs, One Infantryman, one Thief.  A good mix of muscle and smash and grab.

The apprentice easily converged on Treasure C while the Chronomancer took Treasure A in the tower.  There’s another one in the fountain in the background.

he wanted to show off.

Or course, Subir would try a little razzle dazzle.  He telekinesed the treasure from the Orb of Power dome, and then LEAPed this thug (position A) to the second floor balcony where treasure D was.  He got to the treasure first, before my Infantryman could stop him (position B), crowed a little, and LEAPed out.

My Chronomancer basically did what Wizards do in this game.. got under cover, got up high, and got behind an Archer who provided cover.  My accompanying Thug moved the treasure to the map’s edge, as did the extra thug near Treasure C.

We did run the game with a rule I like to use– whenever you pick up a treasure, you roll on the Random Monster table.  This didn’t create a lot of distractions.. well, mostly, until…

No, it’s not Cthulhu. I don’t have a worm figure, and that’s what Subir rolled. Bad luck for him!

As Subir and his gang cowered behind some rubble, I tried something silly. I had placed a WIZARD EYE on the flat side of the wall, near that balcony Treasure D was on. I had STEAL HEALTH which works “In Line of Sight” to a target. So by extending Line of Sight, My Chronomancer was able to steal health from the Worm itself, from across the board. I even had to sacrifice a couple of hit points, to make a spell roll work, and immediately got it back from the demon! Now that’s a hoot! My attempt to intercept treasure D on the way off the board, which caused me to lose my Man at Arms, sadly, pincushioned with arrows.

Well, sadly, an urgent call from home cut our game shorter than I would like, or I would have nailed the treasure in the fountain, too. As happens a lot with Frostgrave, the game tied up 3 treasures to 3 treasures. I don’t collect warbands like Subir does so I didn’t roll for the treasures. I did lose a guy to an Archer attack, but that’s life, warbands are kind of expendable.

A great time, I only wish we could have played longer.

Reblog: Antideluvian Miniatures Fantasy Range (#Discovery: 3)


I’m reblogging (below) which I do rarely, but that’s just to capture the page information, which doesn’t say much.

The Manufacturer: Antideluvian Miniatures.
The Range: “Pirates” (ahem, cough cough)
The Particulars: well, see for yourself…





Okay, nerds. I don’t think I need to ask “Who do these remind you of”? The Sad News is the company, Antideluvian, is sold OUT at the moment. The Good News is this is temporary: “we’ll announce on facebook and here, more have been ordered! Thankyou for your interest”

For more information, follow the link I reblogged below!

This range is currently being created, More splendid miniatures will be added regularily. see below for details and to buy ( all models supplied unassembled and unpainted );  FANTASY RANGE  Zorgan …

Source: SHOP – Fantasy Range

Gaming Camp Day 4: BDB and the Great Gnomish Civil War!!


So THURSDAY was an entire day full of Big Dang Boat goodness.  We knew going into it that BDB wasn’t exactly going to play lightning fast, but the game is so silly and rife for story telling the kids got into the journey, not necessarily “winning” anything.  I tried out a new initiative method that made a turn far more easy to wrap one’s head around than before, and we fine-tuned that.  The Campers really seem to have enjoyed themselves during this game.

Thursday also had two of our regular players out, so it played faster than the day before.  I played the Gnomes of Batenburg (running the Siege Machine) as Reid (our guest from the previous day who couldn’t come two days in a row).   I played The Bone Brigade defensively according to the player’s wishes.


Stefan plays the Ragnar Brothers here and he did a great job… landing on an island, assaulting the base there, wiping it out and looting the tower. It turns out the tower held the ORB OF COMMAND in the basement, but he didnt’ know what to do with it.. yet.


The Cult of F’Vah (driving the Foot of the Dead God) pulled up and (being allies with the Ragnars) volunteered one of their steersman-mages to research the Orb for the Ragnars. It took a while but he got the gist of what it was, how to use it and what it would do next.


The Garden Gnome “Hippies” took on the Industrial Gnomes of Batenburg. They were confused as to what to do, and being lead by a young man, decided to attack instead of negotiate. That works. Unfortunately it depleted both crews quite a bit. He did have Gnogres to fall back upon, however, and after consulting the Red Bag of Courage, boarded the Siege Machine with his blood-mad crew, ready to conquer or die trying


Visiting the Red Bag of Courage, to test whether one has the nerve to board an enemy ship during an action.. Will he draw “Blood Tested!” and get a +1? Or “Quaking in Fear” for a big minus? Or just get a “Flee” result? Who knows? It truly is in the hands of Dame Fortuna.


I tried to instill into Michael, the young man running the Little People Collective/Garden Gnome soldiers that his actions would start a civil War in the nations of Gnome-hood, but he wasn’t impressed.


Lastly, the Rat-men of Ingoldsby had a chance to be unlikely heroes yesterday! They moved the PRIMUS into ramming range and rigged a spar torpedo forward. Then they steamed full speed at the door with a charge attock a pole. Worked like a charm, blowing the left door off the hinges. Out jumped the Wizard’s Slithin bodyguard, ready to kill. Here’s the thing, when you purchase 30 slingers from the gnomes, you have the quality of quantity going for you. It was like firing buckshot. Eventually the enraged ratmen’s mercenaries fought their way into the base do the tower, climbing over a mountain of Slithin and Human dead. They moved into the hall of the tower expecting to find the Orb of Command, and found.. nothing. It had been in Piper’s Fort all along. Now one of the most fearsome battle weapons was in the hands of Ulf Ragnar of the Ragnar brothers, being backed up by the F’vaavian Cultists. What could possibly happen next?

So we ended it there and packed up BDB, and I gave out some shining moment coins for particularly great play. We handed the victory to the small coalition of Taylor, Stephen and Cedric, who didn’t mess around and acted like true allies. The Stahlheim and Sea Elves (run by Taylor) ran interference vs. the tower, The Ragnar Brothers raided the island that kept the Orb and slaughtered everyone (like one does) and the Cultists of F’Vaah deciphered the Orb’s Power and taught Ulf Ragnar how to use it. A great day of silly nautical fun!

Hail to the victors.. until the next time!

GC2016 Slideshow: HERE

 

Frostgrave at Comics and Gaming, Fairfax, 4/23


My friend Subir has been working hard on setting up a small but somewhat regular group to play miniature games somewhere near the loci of Fairfax City. We decided on Comics and Gaming in Fairfax City. This is a nice place, catering mostly to the M:TG crowd from appearances. They have a good selection of on the shelf gaming stuff supporting card gaming, board gaming, and mostly the big two or three of miniatures gaming. More importantly they have an annex room with a lot of standard 3 x 6″ tables.

SLADE THE NECROMANCER’s warband Click to embiggen.

Necromancer SLADE and Apprentice TIMMY late in the battle. Yes, Slade was laying low when he got down to TWO hit points. Click to embiggen.

After diving headlong into Frostgrave at the recent COLD WARS convention, I decided to bump up my Frostgrave holdings– I have (most of) the standard wizard types plus apprentices, in the process of being painted (along with a warband of generic soldiers). For Saturday I did a quick black primer of my Cultist figures and used my Necromancer figure, “Slade”, along with his apprentice, “Timmy”, then added a little flesh color here and there so they weren’t TOO embarrassing. Hey, I have my standards.

Frostgrave Cultists box, after assembly, pre-primed.

My Frostgrave warband, minimal paint slapped on (that day). Since they are a Necromancer’s warband, the black colors seem appropriate.

We are trying out campaign options for this game, which is new to me, since I’ve only run single skirmish games at conventions. This element of the game turned out to be a lot of fun. For starters we had to figure out where the Wizard hangs out (Page 137 of the Rulebook PDF). I chose a Crypt, since it seemed to work well with a Necromancer. Turns out I didn’t “get” what the benefits of a starting location were.. being from the Crypt, I can raise Zombies with a +2 effectiveness! However, since I can only have 1 at a time, what would the point of that be, it would only make a pretty simple spell just a little bit easier.

Slade (left) two thugs and an archer move out, with the boys giving the old man some cover.

Slade and crew (right foreground) work on one treasure token (purple) and Timmy moves under the overhang to mess with other players caught in the open. BONE DARTS away!

My main wizard, Slade, was under an overhanging building on the second floor, when someone got a bead on him and nailed him pretty good with an arrow from the second floor. Fortunately, not fatally.. but it did make him very cautious the rest of the game. Timmy made up for it by flinging the BONE DART spell right and left (it was my cheapest spell available). I nearly clobbered the Wizard on one of the opposing teams (dropped him down to 2 HPs), so he was as cautious as I was afterward– maybe more shy, since he exited off the board.

My opponent to the right played it cautious with his Wizards, keeping them under cover. and using spells that could move things and people (like Leap and Push) to get to the treasure quickly.

On my left, I was donnybrooking with Subir’s Thaumaturgic warband. He had a lot of levitating style spells, so his style was ALSO to hide his “Varsity” squad of Wizards and try to levitate the treasure off the table.

Well, the thing to do when everyone’s acting so danged cautious is act INcautious. SO I rushed the guy on the right and shot some arrows at his Apprentice Mage to threaten him.

Here’s my thug rushing the two archers covering the Apprentice to my right. I ended up killing them both.. eventually

Like any good skirmish game, Frostgrave is about finding and using cover and the terrain, and trying to take the best shot you have this turn. Here I am shooting at the Apprentice to my right.. it sure made him nervous.

The first game ended with us pretty much evenly splitting three pieces of treasure each by mutual consent. The tactical situation was at the point where there wasn’t much we could do to stop that outcome, so it seemed sensible to make good on what we had in hand. This was my first “campaign game” so my level 0 dude went up to 2 with all that treasure and experience rolling afterward.

The second game, it was kind of anti-climatic. The wizard I was up against threw down some wall spells which made excellent cover for me, but basically segmented the game into “this is my half, this is your half”.. so it was more of a treasure grab than a fight per se.

Yep, that’s a wall spell. On the gripping hand, he can’t shoot ME through it, either. Note my wizard climbing high up where he can shoot off spells from cover, and the thug going for the last red treasure on the roof. Nifty…

So, yeah, we were done about 9:00 with two games in. This experience confirms that I think Frostgrave is a hell of a lot of fun. We basically had a pick up game here with unpainted dudes, scratch built hodgepodge terrain, and I had a blast. Frostgrave makes for a very entertaining evening– it’s fast, easy to play and easy to teach. I was playing with a couple of guys who had some experience (one about as much as I have, one with a lot more). I don’t regret investing in this system and I look forward to expanding my holdings.

Things I noticed:

1) ash.pikselin.net, the Frostgrave warband maker, is SO DANGED HELPFUL. It keeps an editable warband roster on your ipad, saves it online to your account, and enforces the math of buying a warband. The only thing it doesn’t do (yet) is add the little plusses and minuses of campaigning.
2) I love my new fantasy urban terrain cloth for Frostgrave. It’s perfect (see the pictures).
3) I’m pretty pleased with my Necromancer, Slade, but his spells were bogus. I need to think it through a little better next time. I made some stupid choices.. my opponents loaded up with Push, Teleport, Heal and Leap, very useful for this kind of game, and everything I had was either too hard to pull off or not of much use for getting treasure.
4) I’m also really pleased with the NorthStar figures I bought, but they could easily work with other 28mm fantasy figures too.

So, yeah, that was a thing. I’m liking Frostgrave a lot these days. I’m definitely up for playing more of it with a regular crowd of players.

Crom, by Crom! (Discovery series #1)


I’ve mentioned the Matakishi’s Tea House website on this blog in the past (2009).  Paul Ward’s site is full of rich and fun game-centric content, and it’s a pleasant diversion to while away some hours there, seeing what Paul’s latest project is.  What I haven’t really explored (much) was the fact that Matakishi is also a web store for some of the systems, terrain bits and miniatures that have been developed for games over the years.

One of these is CROMAvailable as a PDF, which I just purchased recently.  CROM has been out since 2014 as a commercial PDF, but I just got the hankering to give it a look.

If you grew up in my era, you recognize “Hyboria”, the fantasy epoch created by Robert Ervine Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian and other characters.  Hyboria is a setting for a lot of stories by Howard and he put a a lot of work into creating a consistent history and landscape to play in.  I grew up reading of Lankhmar, Melnibone and Hyborea just as much as I read of Middle Earth, and it always seemed to me that RPGs of that earlier era were kind of tame due to their adherence to a Tolkien-inspired artificial mythology.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Tolkien, but it just comes off as an incredibly clean cut world when compared to Leiber, Moorcock and especially Howard.   Howard’s Hyborea was savage, sophisticated, full of petty little city-states and kingdoms, sorcerers and warriors, barbarians and beautiful babes, mystical temples, forgotten ruins, powerful artifacts of bygone ages, deadly beasts, serpent cults, dread sinful cities with rights that are not recorded, etc.etc. etc.  It’s a wonderful milieu to play around in (see for yourself).  There have been role-playing games and miniature wargames set in this universe over the years, now and then.  I liked Royal Armies of The Hyborean Age back in the day, and
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea looks like a nice heaping helping of Hyborean good times, as well.  The thing is, I don’t regularly roleplay any more (though I’m getting the jones to do so again).  I would like to play an army level game, such as Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age is good for.  However, I don’t have large quantities of fantasy miniatures any more.  I really like to run smaller skirmish level games by preference, with low figure counts and smaller table requirements.  This is where CROM comes in handy.

Crom is billed as a skirmish game set in the Hyborian Age*.  It can be played multiplayer, two player, even solo.  The emphasis is on small conflicts set in the game setting, with lower figure counts.  Table space is really only about a meter square, so playing session act out scenes in a connecting narrative (or standalone).    The initiative is card driven by a deck of action cards.  Conflict is resolved in a  unique dice pool resolution mechanic.

The basic game mechanic in CROM is the dice pool. Each player will have a number of dice for each character or group of minions which they allocate between three action pools depending on what they want the character or minions to do during their go.
The action pools that dice can be allocated to are: Movement, Combat, Special. Dice may be rolled and totalled or they may be ‘burned’. A burned dice is counted as a six but removed permanently form a character’s pool.

A character’s dice pool represents their hit points, more or less, specifically their strength and endurance. As a character loses dice either from exertion (burning them) or combat (being hit in combat removes dice) they are able to attempt fewer actions as they weaken and tire.  Eventually, if they lose all their dice, they become unconscious, exhausted or even dead depending on circumstances. In any event they are out of the game.

example of action cards for a Character and Minions.

As in GASLIGHT, players play a combination of heroic level “main” characters who have 12 dice to use in the three categories, regular characters, who are formidable foes and allies with 10 dice to place in categories and minions, who are variable depending upon scenario.  Minions are like “central casting thugs”.   The Heroic level characters are, essentially, YOU.. they have more dice to commit to more actions (and keep them alive longer) then other characters or minions.

Initiative order is determined by card draw.  The action cards you see in the illustration above, plus others.  Each character or group of minions should have a card prepared for them and these will make up the game deck.  Any reinforcements or summoned creatures that arrive after the start of the game should have their cards added to the deck for the turn after they appear. Cards are shuffled and placed face down in a stack. The top card is turned face up and that character takes their turn. Once they’re done the next card is turned and so on until the deck is exhausted when the turn ends.

Characters will then allocate their dice to their dice pools and the cards are shuffled ready for the next turn.  If a player really, really needs to have his character act first,  they can allocate dice from their special dice pool to initiative.  Before the top card in the initiative deck is turned face up any characters that have allocated dice to initiative roll them and compare totals.  Only characters can do this, minions may not spend dice on initiative.
Characters will act in order starting with whoever got the highest total and working down, ties must be re-rolled.

Combat is interesting.  Remember those dice pools I just told you about?    They are allocated to a character’s combat pool  to either attack or defend with. To attack an opponent the character announces how many dice they will use from those available and the opponent announces how many to use in defense. The dice are then rolled and totals compared with the higher total succeeding.  A successful attack roll inflicts two hits plus one extra hit for every six rolled A successful defense roll inflicts one hit plus one extra hit for every six rolled. If you don’t beat you opponent either in attack or defence the sixes you rolled, if any, are not counted for hits. Only the winner of the roll inflicts damage.
Combat rolls that tie are decided in favor of the attacker.

Magic would be a natural for a setting like Hyboria, but it clearly isn’t the focus of the game.  There are two types of magic in Crom: Summoning (big evil slimy things) and Controlling (the same big evil slimy things).  A wizard has to dedicate a number greater than the summoned creature’s strength total to make it appear.  This often drains the sorcerer down to almost nothing, which leaves him in a bad way to control anything, which also requires dice.  The Sorcerer handles this problem with his natural recuperative power of getting a dice back periodically, so he can actually summon a creature over a long time period and have some left to control, or use minion junior sorcerers for the summoning and control the critter afterward.  There are also smaller magic applications that are handled as “special actions”- magical attacks and spells like Fire Attack, Defend, Heal, etc.

Summary: I admit, I haven’t had any opportunity to give CROM a try yet (call this a first look rather than an honest review)– I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I don’t have a lot of 28mm fantasy figures left over from the old D&D days.  I am inclined to get some, as I think this could be a lot of fun– Crom has a small footprint, not a huge buy in, and the author clearly is supporting it with a lot of creative effort on his website.  I was a little stuck on where to get miniatures with a specific Hyperborean aesthetic — miniatures that looked like Frazetta covers were a lot more common when I was 17.  Fortunately, the author covers that on this sources page.   The Conan Hub is worth a visit.  Paul posts scenarios, card templates, and all kinds of supporting material for the game.  I think CROM is worth a look and definitely tickles my nostalgic itch for the kind of game I played when I was much younger.

CROM can be picked up at the publishers site, or at DriveThruRPG.

 

* Don’t pin me down on the consistency of spelling the word “Hyborea”.. I’ve seen Hyborean and Hyborian, depending on who is quoting it.

 

Small Wars: Frostgrave, what’s it all about


Today’s SMALL WARS post is about FROSTGRAVE, the new-ish fantasy skirmish game set in the frost shrouded city that gives the game its name. Frostgrave is a game of magic, combat, looting and exploration that combines a little old and a little new with a strong fantasy narrative element that fosters both a connected campaign game and good storytelling.


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Amidst the frozen ruins of an ancient city, wizards battle in the hopes of discovering the treasures of a fallen empire. In this fantasy skirmish wargame, each player takes on the role of a wizard from one of ten schools of magic, and builds his band of followers. The wizard’s apprentice will usually accompany his master, and more than a dozen other henchman types are available for hire, from lowly thugs to heavily armoured knights and stealthy thieves. Wizards can expand their magical knowledge by unlocking ancient secrets and may learn up to 80 different spells. While individual games of Frostgrave are quick and can easily be played in an hour or two, it is by connecting them into an ongoing campaign that players will find the most enjoyment. The scenarios given in the book are merely the beginning of the limitless adventures that can be found amidst the ruins of the Frozen City. [Osprey Publishing]

[editorial note— I use the phrase “blue line” here to represent most of Osprey Publishing’s recent output of low-cost, introductory miniature game rules on a myriad of subjects, both historical and fantastical, because of their distinctive use of the color blue on the cover.  Osprey does not use this term as far as I know]

frostgraveFrostgrave came out from Osprey Publishing earlier this year (2015), with the usual minimal fanfare I associate with an Osprey wargame release– I knew nothing about this game, then suddenly it was on the Osprey publisher table at wargame conventions, on Amazon, and there was some online buzz associated with it, about as much as any other “blue series” Osprey wargame– one more among the horde of releases, in my opinion.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the blue line series of rules, and I’m happy that Osprey is stepping up to the plate and supporting the natural marriage of great historical art and somewhat okay wargame rules at a very affordable price.  I especially like the Kindle releases of said rules, for various reasons.  I do think the flood of releases tends to create a “cult of the new” effect, when Osprey Publishing might be better employed releasing fewer rulebooks a year and doing the legwork associated with new entertainment products– building some social media buzz, energizing a fan base, recruiting some GMs to run high-profile demo games, etc.  For all I know, this is being done, somewhere, I just haven’t seen much of it in the historical miniatures community.  A quick look at the Preliminary Events List (PEL) at a recent Historical theme miniatures convention (Fall-IN! 2015) showed few, if any, games being run from Osprey publishing previous line of blue line rules.  That’s including In Her Majesty’s Name, a blue line game release that came out with lots of fanfare, two expansion books and a series of excellent 28mm figures from Northstar Miniatures.   In Her Majesty’s Name has only been out since the middle of 2014, and already, well, nada… and it’s a great little game, too!

One game I did start to notice being run at conventions (including Fall-IN!) was Frostgrave, released in the first half of 2015, was not following the “blue line pattern”.  First of all, it’s not a thin paperback, not that there is anything wrong with that.  The print edition is a large format hardcover, with extensive and vibrant illustration throughout.  It’s also 96 pages, which is quite a bit more extensive then the smaller paperbacks.  That’s not all fluff and superfluous stuff, either, but lots and lots of supporting material for the game, including campaign options, but we’ll get to that shortly.

To characterize Frostgrave by a certain type, it’s a points-based, fantasy themed skirmish game set in a consistent universe, namely of various parties investigating the ruins of an ancient city of Frostgrave.  If that sounds familiar to gamers with longer memories, yes, this has been done before as a game– namely Mordheim, by Games Workshop.   Mordheim used a very similar framework for a fantasy skirmish game back in 1999, where small bands of adventurers explored another ancient city for the same motivations– treasure and glory.  Mordheim was a big hit back in its day and (in my recollection) a pretty good small skirmish set– I have seen it adapted to many other settings besides fantasy, including a WW2 game I played in.  One of the selling points of Mordheim was the continuous campaign concept, which is also a feature of Frostgrave, and I suspect will contribute to Frostgrave having a longer shelf life.

Wizards, Schools, Spells and Warbands

The primary focus of Frostgrave is the individual Wizard character.  These are not the wimpy magic users of old D&D.   These are tough, hard-bitten specialists that live lives of adventure, plundering ruins, stealing loot, and they are not shy about reaching for some iron when the magic runs low.  Wizards study at ten schools of magic.  Schools of magic form complex relationships with each other– some being aligned, some being opposed, and some neutral.  This effects spells selection,and in a greater sense, how the game will play out tactically.

Chronomancy
Elementalism
Enchantment
Illusionist
Necromancy
Sigilism
Soothsaying
Summoning
Thaumaturge
Witchery
Table 1: Schools of Wizardy

Each school has a list of spells associated with it (See table 2) and he or she must choose EIGHT of them to start. Three must come from the Wizard’s OWN school of magic, one must come from each of the three ALIGNED schools of magic, and the last two must be from any of the five NEUTRAL schools of magic.  Each description of a school has a small table outlining alliances, neutral schools and opposing schools to make it clear.

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Table 2: Spell list per School

All of these spells have their strengths and weaknesses.  I think this is one of the detail areas that really lends a certain color to Frostgrave games.  Most of these spells are firmly within the “flavor” of their School and caster-type.  Illusionists rely on perception spells, such as Monstrous Form and Beauty.  Elementalists are kind of like magic style Green Lanterns, summoning big Elemental hammers and bolts and shields.  Chronomancy spells localize “something” and allow it to pass through time– causing decay, crumbling, and petrification, but also speeding someone up really well.  If you are at all versed in fantasy style roleplaying games, you know about all you need to know about the background to Frostgrave’s magic and wizardry.  There’s nothing particularly new about it to any avid fantasy geek.

The Wizard’s existence is summed up as a collection of statistics (called a stat line) describing how he performs.. none of that is particularly new to a roleplaying fan– Move, Fight, Shoot, Armour, Will and Health.  The higher the number, the better.  I’m from the “people move a certain way, swing a sword a certain way, fire shooty things in a certain way, defend in a certain way and run away when they don’t want to hang out any more” school of design.  In other words, all the actions defined by the “stat line” are, and should be, generic.  There just isn’t a need for that much detail there.  Frostgrave gets high marks from me for making all this stuff as simple as possible.

Warbands are another critical element to this game.  Wizards may have spells at the ready but it’s suicide to enter the ruins of Frostgrave alone.  A smart wizard recruits some cannon fodder erm, hirelings to accompany them into the ruins.  The wizard gets 500 gold crowns (GC) to hire muscle on a points/cost basis.  A must-have is an Apprentice Wizard for 200 GC.  He (or she) is a little insurance for long campaign games where the boss wizard might perish from wounds.  The Apprentice can rise up and take the boss’s place, and hire another apprentice!  There is a wide range of potential hirelings from the rulebook that can bulk up the wizard’s followers into a proper warband (see table 3).  In addition, the FRPG savvy Frostgrave player can probably add anything that seems to fit into this table, as long as it has a workable stat line associated with it.

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Table 3: Warband Hirelings (from the Frostgrave rulebook)

This is another area that adds color and customization to the game.  I could easily see slinking into Frostgrave, my Wizard being followed by his hireling thief, assassin, and infantrymen.

What do we do with all this stuff?

So you have some miniatures painted, and warbands assembled and some decent terrain put together?  What next?  You actually get into the mechanics of playing the game.  Don’t worry, they’re very easy to pick up.

  1. Initiative
  2. Action Phases in this order:
    1. Wizard
    2. Apprentice
    3. Soldier
    4. Creature

That’s pretty much the bulk of the game sequence.  Action Phases allow each active agent to perform two actions– moving, shooting, casting a spell, etc.  Combat is pretty simple skirmish stuff.  If you have played a skirmish miniatures wargame of ANY kind, including historical, all of this is fairly familiar to you.  Movement hampered or boosted by terrain, objects as cover, melee when bases come into contact, etc etc.  As I’ve alluded to above, I favor a KISS principle for running miniature skirmish games and Frostgrave is all about simplicity.  I’m not criticizing, here.  I think the familiarity that many experienced players will bring to this game is a big strength.  Frostgrave is like comfort food.. meatloaf rather than Pâté, to be sure, but it’s still a tasty meal.   There are some chrome elements of the game– critical hits and the like, and casting spells is a process that can be heavily modified by the tactical situation, but all of this is rather well defined and easy to understand.

Victory (kind of), or the long game

“Winning” is an open ended concept with Frostgrave.  You can score points by gathering treasure, but the real winner is the guy with troops (and most importantly, a living Wizard) who live to loot another day.  Frostgrave plays very well as a one-off 2-3 hour long skirmish game in a fantasy setting, but I think the game really shows its true colors when you start playing campaigns, which the rulebook concerns itself with from chapter 3 onward. There’s a certain satisfaction watching your characters grow with experience.  I haven’t seen that since.. since.. Mordheim, actually!   I have yet to play anything but a couple of quick skirmish games, myself, but the game left me wanting to continue my character from game to game.  If you want a good workable campaign system for fantasy combat, this is the game for you.

In Summary

I think Osprey Publishing has developed a great little game in Frostgrave.  There’s nothing extremely innovative about the game itself– if I could sum it up in a sentence, I’d say that Osprey has taken the fast melee sequence out of a D&D dungeon crawl and called it a skirmish game.  Before I get grief for that statement, understand that I think that’s a great thing.  Many people don’t have the time for long drawn out roleplaying sessions where they build the game narrative through repetitive trips to town to buy things, research things, interact with the local tavern and government.  Frostgrave assumes this is taking place off screen and focuses on the bare-knuckle brawl once the action starts.  I like this approach a lot– it’s about as RPG as I can get at my age and level of commitment.  The game is very well supported by Osprey and supporting material is already being published.  I just picked up Thaw of the Lich Lord and I believe other publications are about to drop or are scheduled for early 2016.   Northstar Figures, whom Osprey partnered with for the In Her Majesty’s Name game (and expansions), is producing quality 28mm figures to represent the primary wizard types, with apprentices, war band soldiers and some summoned creatures.  These are in the popular 28mm scale and can be easily supplemented with standard FRPG miniatures or GW Fantasy figures.

 Northstar Figures Frostgrave miniatures

I have a few of Northstar Figures wizard packs and will be painting them up shortly and blogging about the project, like one does.

In FROSTGRAVE, Osprey Publishing has found a system with legs that plays fast, can be taught quickly to novices, and is big and colorful with a wide-open fantasy milieu.  It’s already being played at conventions and I suspect it will grow in popularity as long as Osprey keeps supporting it.  Osprey should probably develop an outrider-style program for GMs who want to run Frostgrave at cons, as I could easily see this game gaining some traction in the upcoming year.  Well done, Osprey.

 

 

RED COUNTRY, by Joe Abercrombie, a blessedly short review


Red CountryRed Country by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read my first Joe Abercrombie book, The Heroes, back in 2012. My reaction was as follows:

My first reaction to THE HEROES was “Oh great, another one of those middlin’ fantasy pseudo iron age novels, with noble savages against corrupt civilized foes and blah blah blah”. I can’t help it. I worked in a bookstore for much of my early life and you get a feel for this kind of mush. By chapter 3, I was asking myself “Who IS this Joe Abercrombie fellow, and why haven’t I read everything he’s written yet?” I am currently working on that goal.

I’ve kept that promise! Three years later and I have the First Law trilogy and Best Served Cold under my belt, and I possess a greatly expanded world view of the First Law universe of Joe Abercrombie. So I was pumped to see the re-emergence of Logen Nine-Fingers (although his name is never mentioned, check me if I’m wrong!) in his latest* First Law book Red Country. Minor spoiler here– Logen survived the dive out Bethod’s castle window and wandered away from the North, where he inexplicably settled down with an unnamed woman to be her ranch hand/stepfather of her children. Geography is purposefully vague in Abercrombie novels, which is why you see few if any maps in his books. Logen settled in the “Near Country” which appears to be on the edge of Starrickland and just this side of the “Far Country”. Under the guise of “Lamb”, he has become a father to his step-children, Roe, Pitt and especially Shy South, a half-breed of sorts. Point of explanation: the local version of American Indians are called “Ghosts” in this world and are blonde or red-headed. Shy’s mother apparently had one for a husband or “companion” at some point in her past– her mother is deceased at the start of the story.

After the characters of Lamb and Shy are introduced at a local store haggling over supplies, tragedy ensues and the other children are kidnapped and a farmhand on the farm is murdered. At this point the story goes into full on SEARCHERS mode. If you are stumped at the reference, the Searchers is the classic 1956 Western starring John Wayne in arguably his greatest role, Ethan Edwards. Edwards is a grim faced Civil War veteran that relentlessly pursues the kidnappers of his niece. Abercrombie borrows from this structure with both hands, casting Lamb as Edwards and Shy South as a foul-mouthed, somewhat obnoxious version of Martin Pawley (seriously.. see the Searchers if you never have, it’s excellent.. and kind of a shocker for John Wayne fans).

Lamb and Shy track some of the kidnappers to a border town, where a fracas ensues that results in the emergence of the long buried “Bloody Nine” character.. the berserk inner demon that sometimes possesses Logen in a fight. In the brutal ensuing slaughter they learn enough to find out whom they are pursuing and what direction they need to go in. They also catch the attention of Dab Sweet, famous old time frontiersman with his laconic companion, Crying Rock, a Ghost woman.
Lamb and Shy happen to be going the same direction as Dab Sweet, so they sign on to a “Fellowship” (wagon train) and accompany them in a journey to the Far Country.

So the plot becomes something between the old 50s TV show Wagon Train and the old 50s movie The Searchers, complete with Indian Raids, bad weather, dust and assorted trials and tribulations, many of them deadly. In parallel with Shy and Lamb’s narrative (told through Shy’s eyes) is the story of Temple, a feckless type who might have been a very minor character in previous stories (I can’t recall), but now has ended up playing a far grander role as the notary and lawyer for infamous mercenary Niccomo Costca as his company also travels into the Far Country, employed by the Inquisition to find rebel strongholds. Temple is the other POV character (aside from the usual character asides, which Abercrombie delights in). He is stricken with conscience as Costca’s men commit atrocity after atrocity, and finally has enough.  The understated redemption of Temple’s character is handled well.  Abercrombie doesn’t make him a perfect hero during the course of the story– he just becomes a better person.  That rang true for me.

I don’t like revealing much more of the plot– suffice to say they all intersect, travelling into the Far Country, and many things of great import happen, introducing new characters and re-introducing us to a surprising number of older ones, including Caul Shivers and Glamma Golden. The plot resolves to everyone’s satisfaction, although not without a great cost as some of the older characters are killed off.

You might have picked up on the thinly disguised Western theme. Yup, it IS that obvious. I can’t say as I was put off by it.. the First Law universe has the same gritty feel to it as a Western so it wasn’t a thematic stretch for Abercrombie.

Overall it was a great read, and I tore through it like I tear through the author’s work usually. My only complaint was the constant forced jabs between Shy South and Dab Sweet– just to prove they respect each other. It seemed forced. My other complaint was the constant philosophizing the older characters do during the course of the book. Every other page, one of the oldsters makes some cryptic comment about time catching up to him, there being nobody around to inject levity into the conversation except, perhaps, Temple. THis is a standard trope of Joe Abercrombie.. prosing on about time catching up with a character, how his knees hurt on cold mornings, and how there is no glory in war. We’ve read this before. Despite that minor nit I found myself enjoying this book very much. Perhaps not as much as THE HEROES but it’s a book that a fantasy fan will tear through in point-blimfark.

* I have not read the most current trilogy that Joe Abercrombie is currently working on (starting with HALF A KING) but I believe it doesn’t take place in the First Law world. I hope Joe continues to transport us to that setting.

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Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera #1) reviewed


Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, #1)Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read novels by Jim Butcher before, specifically in the Harry Dresden series. I like Harry Dresden, but the magic realism thing kind of wears thin for me after a while, or at least I get a sense of repetition.. maybe it’s me. I’ve only read a few and don’t have a huge desire to read more. I like Butcher’s prose style, which is lean, yet descriptive, but after a dozen some odd Dresden novels there just isn’t much more you can do with the character.

So I really had no preconceptions starting the Codex Alera series. There was one available at the library and I wanted to read a fantasy story, that was that. I’m glad I did. I like Butcher’s world building in the Codex Alera– not much is stated but many background bits are inferred about the foundations of the world “Carna”, including how Alerans (humans) arrived into it (the old Lost Roman Legion saw). Humans, in this world, have an inherent grasp of elemental magic– earth, fire, water, metal, etc. The magic usually takes the form of a semi-sentient named spirit creature called a “Fury”. In Alera, EVERYONE has the Fury ability in some measure, save one person, the primary POV character, Tavi, a young boy of 13 at the time of the first book. Predictably Tavi is an outcast and outsider as a non-practitioner of “Furycraft” in a world where everyone is a crafter in some way.

The outsider status is what makes Tavi stand out, and in great measure be likeable and sympathetic. In a world where people can solve problems by commanding their magical spirits to do just about anything, Tavi has to work harder, think, and observe. I won’t dwell to much on the plot for the sake of preventing spoilers. Tavi and various relatives, friends and chance acquaintances uncover a plot to foment a revolution, encounter an invasion by one of the aboriginal peoples of the planet Carna (the Marat, think pale elfy-North American Indian people with close ties to animal totems). Things happen, big battle, satisfying ending.. that ought to be sufficient description.

Codex Alara is good fun, not great literature, but it is most definitely worth reading as a beach or commuting read. I found myself enjoying the world and the characters once I got my head around the setting and the “science” of fury crafting. I liked that the most sympathetic powerless character manages to outwit the overpowered denizens of the setting constantly. It’s fun storytelling. I recommend it.

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The Magi SpellCasting game V. 2 rewrite


Click on the cover to get the EPUB file!

As some of you might know, I converted Richard Bartle’s charming hand-gesture game WAVING HANDS into a miniatures game back in 2012, and ran it at conventions and at the Game Camp I run with generally positive reviews. As I am running it again next week for the Game Camp, I decided to tidy up the language (which still maintains some of Mr. Bartle’s references to what I consider a somewhat complex model of two-handed spellcasting) and no references to the random somatic card gesture mechanics I added in later. I think this is probably a simpler game than Mr. B. imagined, but it plays fast and works well with children. Full credit and respect to Richard Bartle for coming up with Waving Hands, the foundation upon which the Magi is built!

You can also get a PDF of this character sheet and spell reference (combined) by clicking this picture.

I’ve run the magi the last two years; it’s a great game for gatherings and small cons.

The Burning City, by Niven/Pournelle, reviewed


The Burning CityThe Burning City by Larry Niven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do not have much background in Larry Niven’s Magical parallel universe of Warlock and drowned Atlantis, but that’s mostly a matter of missed opportunity. I have read LIMITS, the short story collection, which references Lion’s Tower, which plays a part in this tale. Niven has a certain style, so does Pournelle, and when they write together it is often different for either author’s style on their own. The combined Niven and Pournelle authorial voice is less engaging than either writer by himself, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable as a team– as anyone who has read The Mote in God’s Eye, Footfall or Inferno can attest to. Still, I think both a protagonist and plot might suffer from being divided between authors, and I think that might be the case with the Burning City. I like the Magical universe setting– especially for the reason that Magic is treated as a non-renewable resource. The energy that powers the universe, Mana, started being used up long before the events in this novel and only occurs naturally in a series of unlikely places where Wizards don’t usually go. The setting for the first part of the novel is Tepps’ Town, home of Whandall Feathersnake, the novel’s protagonist. Whandall is a “Lordkin”, which is group of sanctioned thugs that routinely commit crimes against a conquered underclass, called the Kinless.  In addition to this, there is a mysterious, only semi-defined group called the Lords, who live in a better part of town that the Lordkin are not allowed in on pain of death.

Magic doesn’t appear to work in Tepp’s Town, as a result of the intervention of the local fire deity, Yangan-Atep.  Yangan Atap has almost grown dormant over the years but still wields great influence in the town. For instance, cooking fires go out when lit indoors. The central character, Whandall, spends his childhood and young adulthood in Tep’s Town, plotting to escape.. somehow. The second half is Whandall as an adult, having fled Tep’s Town to start a new life as a Trader, and the confluence of events that bring him and a Wizard comrade back to Tep’s Town again.

As I’ve mentioned, the Niven/Pournelle combination creates characters that don’t’ reveal much about their motivations and desires. So there was a lot of me rewinding, rereading passages and pondering where the heck THAT came from going on as I read. There’s a lot of allegory in this book– The crazy custom of burning the city to the ground that occurs once in a great while while the citizenry is possessed by Yangen-Atep clearly is meant to portray the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King beating (in fact, Rodney King shows up, after a fashion, in this novel, and yes, his beating does set in motion a great burning). There were a lot of quirky references to real or literary events in the Burning City, including the Tale of Othello, the O.J. Simpson murder case and others.   The entire Lord-Lordkin-Kinless relationship evokes modern imagery of race relations in Los Angeles (on purpose, I think)– and perhaps the mysterious “Toranesti” are the LA Cops?  Hard to say!

For all of their standoffish literary style I ended up liking the setting and the story of Tepp’s Town and Whandall quite a bit. It takes a while to jump in with both feet, but it is a very satisfactory read after you figure out the world that Whandall lives in.

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Citadel of Blood (SPI, ARES magazine) now in digital rules library


The original ARES #5 cover

I guess I’m on a roll! Making DEATHMAZE for epub format recently had me re-reading Citadel of Blood, the Deathmaze-style tile-laying dungeon crawl game that was published in ARES Magazine, issue 5, in 1980. This magazine can be found in the Internet Archive as a PDF download, and an EPUB download. However, the epub download is of very poor quality, so I remade it from scratch.

I’m fairly pleased with the results. I added a few graphics here and there and that bumped up the file size a little. I think it’s far better than the epub that was on the Archive, and easier to read than the original PDF on the archive, as it’s based on an old scan.

However, if you are interested in a high quality READABLE PDF (graphics intact!) of Citadel of Blood, I strongly suggest you check out the great Todd Sanders’ re-imaging of Citadel of Blood he completed in 2012. The graphic update is splendid, the tiles and counters excellent, and you just need to invest in some glue and cutting time. FILES ARE HERE (in the FILES section).

You will find the EPUB in the DIGITAL RULES section of this website, under “Commercial games, out of print”.

NOTE! This is JUST an Epub file, for use when playing the physical game and you want to read the rules on a tablet. It does not have any counter images, map tiles, or anything other than the rules themselves. If you want to play the actual game instead of reading it, you’ll need the physical components for the game. I don’t think there’s a better set around for this game than what Todd Sanders has created (including the originals published by SPI). Check out the links above.

Short Review: The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan


The Steel Remains (A Land Fit for Heroes, #1)The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Steel Remains is a book I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while.. it’s been staring at me on my Ipad for about a year without me cracking it open. I’ve been a fan of Joe Abercrombie for about three years now, and his gritty, realistic hardboiled fantasy introduced in the First Law trilogy, so I was hoping for a new series similar to that one. Richard Morgan is an author that I’m familiar with, having read Altered Carbon and tried to start Market Forces for a Goodreads book club but failed miserably. I like Richard Morgan’s style, too, and discovered he is quite capable of lending his sparse, hard boiled prose style to an epic fantasy setting. How well does he execute this transposition? Well, it’s a mixed bag, really. The Steel Remains takes place in a world that is recovering from a cataclysmic war with some Reptilian race that featured Lizardmen and apparently dragons. I liked that the story starts at least 15 years after the big “Epic Event”.. imagine a Lord of the Rings novel taking place 20 years after the One Ring was destroyed. The story is told through the primary POV characters Ringel, Archeth and Egon, all of whom were heroes of the previous war. Egon (Dragonbane) is a doughty Viking-like northman who has become to urbanized for the tribe he has returned to after the wars. Archeth (Lady kir-Archeth Indamaninarmal) is your elf-standin from the Elf-Standins in this novel, the Kiriath, who have “departed these lands” after the end of the last big war (does that sound familiar, Tolkien fans?). And the PRIMARY focus of the plot is on one Ringil Eskiath, the tough as nails warrior type and anti-hero who did something big and impressive at a place called Gallows Gap during the big war. Right up front, it’s clear, Ringil is gay, and that’s a huge driver in his character. Ringil lives in a world that isn’t very live and let live about homosexuality. Much of his plot line is influenced by societal rejection of Ringil, and society’s grudging respect for his battlefield prowess. The plot was a lot of stuff we’ve seen before in fantasy.. an ancient race called the Dwenda returning to reclaim their world. The Kiriath, their ancient enemies, have long departed these shores. Predictions of dark lords rising, etc. Morgan really amps up scenes to “Noir up” his fantasy, including explicit gay sex scenes told in explicit detail and a very modern argot that I found more off-putting than any sexual references. The casual use of “Fuck” and “Yeah” and other linguistic 20th century speech nuggets took me out of the setting.. frequently. Not a terrible sin. After all, Joe Abercrombie can sling the F-bomb on occasion too, and I love his work.

In general, the plot is decent enough, and I won’t dispute that Morgan is a good writer in the SF genre, at least. The Steel Remains reminded me of a SF novel full of genre archtypes putting on a fantasy costume. Mysterious demigods or demons. Hardbitten heroes.. we’ve kind of seen this before. Maybe Morgan intent was to play with the genre a little and experiment. I liked it enough to try more in this series, but it’s nowhere near as good as Joe Abercrombie’s novels. I’ll give it a solid mezzo-mezzo.

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The Rebirth of Ares Magazine… well, hopefully


Simulation Publications, aka SPI Games, Inc, the late and still lamented games publisher, was an innovative and incredibly prolific publisher of games that existed between 1969 and 1982. I liked their approach– their forte was military conflict simulation games, of which I owned plenty, and they published maybe the best gaming magazine of that distant era, Strategy and Tactics, a magazine with a wargame in every issue. S&T (as it is commonly abbreviated) outlived its parent company, and has lived on under a variety of owners, the most current being Decision Games. S&T was a great magazine and a great marketing tool that allowed the parent company to stay in touch with the core audience’s likes and dislikes using a simple feedback mechanism using postcards in every issue. The magazine would poll the audience about future game proposals and generally make decisions about what to publish based upon that feedback. A simple system, and it worked very well.

say whatever you like about 70s graphic styles, this is colorful and memorable.

say whatever you like about 70s graphic styles, this is colorful and memorable.

One market niche that was taking root and growing fast in the late 70s and early 80s was the desire for fantasy and science fiction games, a niche that SPI did very well, in my humble opinion. Their version of War of the Ring, John Carter of Mars, War in the Ice, even supposedly “lowbrow” stuff like The Creature that Ate Sheboygan… well, maybe they weren’t genius designs, but they sure were fun to play, and the market was growing by leaps and bounds back then. Remember, D&D had been out for just a few years (from roughly 1975 onward, but really 1977). The market wasn’t nearly as saturated as it is today for F&SF game products, so SPI did reasonably well in that niche. To support their expanding hobby base, SPI decided to create another magazine, specifically themed for fantasy and science fiction games, with the intention of supporting the existing SPI F&SF game products, adding in short fiction and science articles, and of course product reviews from inside and outside of SPI. Best of all, there would be a game included in every issue, just like S&T managed to do. Thus, SPI could field a publication that could included in different marketing outlets that might not support a military history themed gaming magazine, like comic book stores. The new magazine was called ARES. From the start it was big and bright and colorful, displaying Redmond Simonsen’s particular genius for evoking themes from simple images and bright colors.  Individual issues retailed in the six dollar range.   A grand total of 17 issues were printed before the parent company SPI, facing disastrous financial issues, was swallowed up by TSR, the company that published D&D.   TSR, though in the fantasy business, of sorts, didn’t know what to do with a gaming magazine that was a former competitor to their own in house magazine, THE DRAGON (1976-2007 in printed format, online thereafter).  So they added an “Ares Section” to each issue for about a year or so (focusing solely on TSR Science Fiction games like Gamma World! and Star Frontiers), then even that died out, and that was that for ARES magazine.  During its short and productive life, ARES created some fun games and a magazine that was genuinely entertaining to read.  The fiction pieces were no slouches, either, with some genuine talents here and there.  John Boardman’s science essays were generally very informative.  One in particular, “No, you won’t be going to the stars”,   which was featured in the premiere issue, has stuck with me my entire life as a reference for just how LONG travel between stars will be.

Greg Costikyan, who contributed his share of F&SF games to SPI’s output, published a canonical List of Ares Issues and contents on his website.  He’s what I would call an authority.

Nowadays, if you’re interested in revisiting individual issues from that long ago era, you can download every issue published before the TSR takeover in various formats from ARCHIVE.ORG, though I recommend the PDF version.  The Epub conversion are less than optimal.

One Small Step Games (who I had thought folded tents a long time ago) is a not very prolific publisher of small format games that used to fit in the “Microgames” niche– noticeably from their own (long defunct) gaming magazine, GAMEFIX/COMPETITIVE EDGE (ceased publication in 1998).  Like SPI of old, their magazine also had a game in every issue while it lasted, which was 13 issues.  I liked GF/CE games– many of them designed by some reputable designers like Richard Berg and Joe Miranda.   I had lost track of this little company a while ago and thought they had jumped on the road to palookaville, like a lot of small game companies.  I’m glad they are still around, as it turns out– they recently announced on their blog that they are in the process of acquiring publishing rights to ARES MAGAZINE, the great old Fantasy and Science Fiction themed magazine-with-a-game product from SPI’s past.   I’m a little apprehensive of the language being used, here.. 

The vision we hold is for an all-new Ares magazine, published bi-monthly, with 80 pages of fiction, 20 pages of OSS nonsense, and a complete game in every issue.

If you remember the old magazine fondly, the new edition will retain the portion of the original formula that makes sense, but provide more content and higher quality. If you don’t remember the original edition . . . well, you still get all of the delicious nutrition, but without any of the nostalgia.

There are still a hundred things that can go awry with our plan, but if we can stay on course, you should see our Kickstarter program before the end of the year. 

A little snippet of the map from ALBION: LAND OF FAERIE (Issue 11)

A little snippet of the map from ALBION: LAND OF FAERIE (Issue 11 of ARES Magazine)

100 pages a month?  That’s a lot of pages to fill.   80 pages of fiction and 20 pages of “OSS Nonsense?”  Did I get that right?  So is it.. what.. a gaming magazine with a LOT of fiction included, or a SF magazine with a tiny bit of game content??

Oh well, count me in as one of those people with “fond memories of the original magazine”.  When the inevitable Kickstarter is announced, I’ll be in on this one.

This little snippet has inspired me.. I might do an issue by issue review, like I did with Metagaming, here in this blog.  Especially now that it’s archived on Archive.org.

Big Danged Boats, Get Bit and Olympica.


Thursday: the kids were jonesing to finish Big Danged Boats from Wednesday afternoon. I left it set up for them.

The End of BIG DANGED BOATS

The Spartans were attempting a rear ram, which wasn’t going to happen, even with a broad beamed ship like the Siege Machine. They DID end up next to the Siege Machine not moving, and moved into Boarding and Melee. The melee rules now look like this:

MUCH deplete Spartans charge across the paddle-wheel housing to slaughter some Gnomes.

Boarding procedure:

Target ship being boarded fires off a defensive volley with any shooters that can fire. (The Gnomes had 8 AD worth of fire).

Line up attackers and defenders.

Gnomes and Spartans lining up

each side rolls AD and DD. If they match, go to crit table. If the net result is negative for the attacker, he retreats. If he scores positive, he’s hit his opponent.

Unlike the last game, the Spartans got the butts handed to them this time. Only the Captain and one Spartan were left.

Since the Gnome ship was sinking fast, the Gnome Captain boarded right back, and slaughtered the Spartan crew.

Bad luck for the Spartans!

Cedric, running the Gnomes, played the FROM HELL’S HEART I STAB AT THEE action card. This blows up the ship and anyone around it. He ended up losing some Gmomes and the Black Galley lost some crew as well.

The rest of the action was inconsequential. The Black Galley went down to hard poinding, and then so did the Deadnought.

The last fighting ships were the Wood Elves, Primus, the Gnomes escaping in the Hoplite, and the Dwarves.

We called it as it was starting to drag a bit. <a href="nizzocles's Story” target=”_blank”>Here’s a slideshow

OLYMPICA Game

We had a great time running a repise of last year’s OLYMPICA game at Garrett’s request. This is a miniatures version of the old Metagaming microgame, somewhat expanded in scope. Unlike last time, the UN actually got pretty close to the Web of COmpulsion generator and if they hadn’t been converted, would have won this one.

The UN started closer than usual and took advantage of a glaring hole in the tunnel network:

The Webbie’s Tunnel Network. Notice tunnel 5-6. That ends up right behind the web of compulsion, which the UN Figured out.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to finish it, but I thought the UN might have pulled this one off. They at least discovered where the web generator was in this game, but quickly got converted by it.

UN Company converted by the Web Generator. You have a new boss now!

They got this close:

See the WG counter? That means WEB GENERATOR. They were RIGHT there. Sadly the demonic web generator impelled them to desert the UN and join the Webbies.

I tinkered with the balance on this one and will publish a rewrite shortly. Both sides are a little better represented now. I think the game would have reached conclusion in about four more turns.

Olympica 2013

For more pictures, see this Slideshow.