Friday, 21 September 2018

Creating a Ranger (for Rangers of Shadow Deep)

One of my goals when I started work on Rangers of Shadow Deep was to make the process of creating a Ranger closer in feel to designing a character for a role-playing game than to the methods commonly seen in wargames. I believe that the time you spend working on a character, and the choices you are required to make during the process, leads to a greater attachment to that character. The greater the attachment, the more the player cares about developing that character’s story and the more they care about their ultimate fate. 

Today, I am going to quickly run through how to create a Ranger.

In truth, I would advise most players to start with a miniature. This is your chance to use pretty much whatever miniature you want to be your hero. In my case, I am drawn to the traditional ‘ranger’ aesthetic of rough traveling gear, long cloaks, and plenty of weapons. A figure that looks like it can move fast, but strike hard. For that reason, I’ve decided to use the miniature photographed above (which is from the Frostgrave line). Don’t let the name of the game worry you too much though. If you would rather have your hero be a knight in shining armour or a crusty old mage, go for it. The rules are open enough to allow it. So, pick your favourite mini that you’ve never gotten to use, and let it guide you through the creation process.

I’ve named my ranger Aelwyn, mainly because it has a bit of Tolkien feel to it.

Once you’ve got your mini, and your name, you now have to decide how to spend your ‘Build Points’. Every ranger gets 10 Build Points and can use these points to improve their stats, buy Heroic Abilities and Spells, gain skills, and increase their Base Recruitment Points total. Some of these categories have limitations on how many points you can spend. Let’s start with Stats.

People who have played Frostgrave or Ghost Archipelago will be pretty familiar with the basic stats of a figure in Rangers of Shadow Deep, so I won’t go into the specifics here. For now, it is enough to know that each ranger starts with the following base stats.



A player can exchange up to a maximum of 3 Build Points to increase the ranger’s stats (except Armour) on a one for one basis. However, you may only increase each stat once. I see Aelwyn as lightning quick, and a tough hand-to-hand fighter, so I increased her Move to 7 and her Fight to +3. I could spend one more, but I suspect I’ll want that build point later, so I’ll stop there.

Next comes Heroic Abilities and Spells. These are the special abilities that really set the rangers apart from the common soldiers of the kingdom. Heroic Abilities and Spells work similarly during the game. Both are one-use abilities that allow figures to make special moves, attacks, and otherwise break the normal rules of the game. The only major difference between Heroic Abilities and Spells is that generally a figure must use an action to cast a spell, while Heroic Abilities can be used as a free action.

I don’t see Aelwyn as a spellcaster, so I’m going to ignore those and concentrate on the Heroic Abilities. I’m allowed to spend up to 5 Build Points (of my remaining 8) to buy Heroic Abilities at the cost of 1BP per HA. I decide to take 4 Heroic Abilities that fit with my vision of Aelwyn as the close-in fighter: Frenzied Attack, Powerful Blow, Parry, and Hand of Fate. I’ll leave it to your imagination for the moment as to what exactly those do during a game.

We now move onto skills. There are 15 different skills in the game. Obviously not all of these skills will come up in every game, but all of them will be useful at some point. For every Build Point a player spends on skills, they may increase 8 skills by +1. So, your maximum starting bonus in any given skill will be equal to the Build Points you spend. After much agonizing, I decided to spend 2BP on skills, so she ends up with the following skills: Ancient Lore +1, Armoury +2, Climb +2, Navigation +1, Perception +2, Stealth +2, Survival +2, Swim +2, Track +2.

This leaves me with 2 Build Points remaining. The final category is Recruitment Points. These are the points you will use to assemble your companions when your ranger sets off on a mission. Each ranger starts with 100 and each build point you spend adds +10. So, spending my last two BP gives Aelywn a 120 Recruitment Points. I’ll go through exactly how these are spent, and what Aelywn chooses to do with them next time.

The truth is, you are probably going to find that you don’t have quite enough BPs to do everything you want. That is deliberate. Remember these are starting rangers. Over the course of a campaign, you’ll gain levels, and you’ll be able to improve all of these areas. I really wanted to give Aelywn more skills and went back and forth on spending 2 BP on Recruitment Points. We’ll see how that works out.

My last task in getting Aelwyn ready to go is getting her equipment. All of a ranger’s starting equipment comes from the kingdom’s armoury. There is no cost to it. A ranger may carry five items. Aelwyn is going to start with light armour, a shield, a hand weapon, a bow and a quiver. The combination of light armour and a shield will increase her Armour stat up to 12. But wait, I hear someone say – the miniature doesn’t have a shield or a bow and arrow. True enough, but who cares. I assume she slings them on her back when not in combat. Rangers of Shadow Deep doesn’t care too much about completely accurate depictions. I’m playing this solo, so it’s not like I’m trying to trick anyone. Even if you are playing co-op, everyone else is on your side, so if the info on your Ranger Sheet doesn’t perfectly match your miniature,  don’t worry about it. It’s all for fun after all.

So that’s Aelwyn complete. As soon as she is given her first mission by her superiors, she’ll need to round up some companions. We will look at those next time.

Due to popular demand, I have created a Rangers of Shadow Deep Facebook page, where I will post a few other tidbits (but don't worry, all major announcements will be posted here). Just search for Rangers of Shadow Deep.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Fall of Gondolin by J. R. R. Tolkien

When I started reading The Fall of Gondolin, I must admit, I didn’t like it. The narrative sort of clunks along, seemingly going nowhere, but highlighted by archaic words and other difficult to follow language. It feels very much like Tolkien himself either didn’t know where he was going with the story or was afraid to jump in and really tell it. Eventually, around the time our hero Tuor actually finds the hidden city of Gondolin the story really starts to pick up. The archaic (and I mean archaic for Tolkien) writing continues to appear, but as the narrative continues to gather pace, it becomes less noticeable. Then Morgoth launches his final assault upon the city, and I was spellbound. The battle is epic in every sense of the word. Dragons and balrogs tear through the gates; armies of elves launch counter-attack after counter-attack. Heroes fall as the lines of defence crumble. Really, if you like epic fantasy, you’ll love it. Then the narrative ends, at page 111.

The next section of the book comprises 4 fragments that tell part of the story, written at different periods in Tolkien’s life, and give a glimpse on how he was shaping the tale, both to be a better story and to better fit in his greater mythology.

Then comes the incomplete ‘Last Version’. This was Tolkien’s attempt to rewrite the whole story, some 35 years later, after he finished work on The Lord of the Rings.

This version is everything that the original is not. Now the story of Tuor is a conherent narrative. All of his moves seem to make sense as part of some greater story. Gone is the young Tolkien’s stuttering voice, replaced by the master of Anglo-Saxon metre. Seriously, take a look at this little example:

Here the hands of the Valar themselves, in ancient wars of the world’s beginning, had wrested the great mountains asunder, and the sides of the rift were sheer as if axe-cloven, and they towered up to heights unguessable. There far aloft ran a ribbon of sky, and against its deep blue stood black peaks and jagged pinnacles, remote but hard, cruel as spears.

This is a master at the pinnacle of his craft! And then, just as Tuor reaches Gondolin once more, the story ends, abandoned by Tolkien. It is heart-breaking that he never finished what clearly could have been another masterpiece.

There are many who have avoided this book because it is not a complete narrative in the same way as The Children of Hurin. (See my review of that book here.) For my part, I completely respect Christopher Tolkien’s decision not to assemble such a work. While any author could take these pieces and stich them together, the differing voices, even where both are Tolkien at different stages of his life, would be jarring. It is better to present the pieces just as Tolkien left them.

For myself, I have an abiding interesting in both the creative process that goes into building a story, as well as a deep interest in mythology and how mythological tales get changed and modified over time. So this book with all its fragments, and its commentary by Christopher Tolkien, was right up my alley. Not only do we get to see some of Tolkien’s best writing, we also probably see some of his worst. In some ways that is very jarring, in others, it is beautiful.

I have seen a few reviews that have complained that his book contains ‘nothing new’. That may be true. I don’t claim to own every Tolkien book published, and probably couldn’t remember it all if I did. I can say, it is nice to have all of these related stories and fragments collected together so that they can be seen side-by-side, to see how the story, and the author, changed in the telling.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Ghost Archipelago Crew

Here it is! (Click on the photo for a bigger view.) My completed Ghost Archipelago crew. Collandra and the gang are ready for action. If I seem inordinately proud of this, you have to understand how infrequently I finish a painting project. Seriously, in order to have any hope of ever playing a wargame with figures I painted, I had to write one that only needed ten figures, and then I consistently failed to even manage that!

Now to work on that ranger and companions for Rangers of Shadow Deep.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Ghost Archipelago - The Translator

My Ghost Archipelago crew was nearly done, but I just couldn’t decide on the last figure. I needed a ‘standard crewman’ to round it out, but I just couldn’t find a figure that appealed at the moment. I could have used one of the plastic crewmen, but since the rest of the crew were metal, I kind of wanted a ‘full metal crew’.

In the meantime, I had this figure in my painting queue. He’s actually the cultist apothecary from the Frostgrave range. As I picked him up to paint, I realized he had a serpent pendant…  It occurred to me that I was letting the game rules limit my thinking. Just because I needed a ‘standard crewman’ didn’t mean the figure had to look like a crewman. Instead, I realized what my crew really needed was a translator to help the snake-men in the party communicate with everyone else. He also does double-duty as the crew's healer.

I haven’t given him a name yet, but here he is! The final member of my crew.

Interestingly, I realized with the way the rules work, this guy is functionally immortal. Since standard crewman don’t roll for survival, since they can be freely replaced anyway, this guy will always come back no matter what happens to him. I think that might be part of his story, the guy who keeps getting wounded, but always survives. He wiry, but he’s tough!

Now that I’ve got all ten, I’ll see if I can get them to line up for a team shot tomorrow.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Wizard's Conclave Contest

Congratulations to Paul Souchon, the winner in my little Wizard's Conclave cover contest. Paul correctly noted that none of the wizards on the Wizard's Conclave cover have appeared on the covers of any of the other Frostgrave expansions.

Basically, when I sat down to write the artist brief for the cover, I realized that exactly half of the ten wizards presented in the main rulebook had appeared on expansion covers. These are the five that had not.*

Anyway, once again, I think Dmitry and Kate Burmak have turned in a stunner of a cover. The Soothsayer has obviously seen something important, but the rest of the wizards obviously don't agree on what it means!

Thanks to everyone who took a guess.

* The Necromancer has appeared on the cover of the Tales of the Frozen City fiction collection and the Catacombs of the Evrenbright Adepticon special (Available in Spellcaster: Issue 1), but never on one of the full game supplements. In both of these cases, the artwork was reused from inside one of the books.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Frostgrave: Wizard’s Conclave Cover

Check this out! And pay special attention to the names at the bottom…

This is the official cover for Frostgrave:Wizard’s Conclave which is due out next February. Once again, Dmitry and Kate Burmak have turned in an exceptional piece of artwork, but for the moment, I want to focus on that text at the bottom.

Although the full story is told in the introduction to the book, basically, one day I realized that years of working for Osprey Publishing had given me numerous contacts in the games industry, including many of the biggest names in wargame writing. I began to wonder what would happen if I asked them all to write a scenario for Frostgrave. Well, this is the answer - a big book filled with scenarios of every description, written by a ‘greatest hits’ type collection of games writers. I think it is something unique in the wargame world, and I feel very honoured that all of these people have had a crack at writing for my game.

Now, back to that artwork for a second. I’ve got a little prize for whomever can guess why those specific wizards are depicted on the cover. Put your guesses in the comments section below and make sure I can identify you. First one who gets it right gets a signed Frostgrave: Grimoire box. One guess per person. Employees of Osprey, North Star, and anyone who somehow already knows the answer are ineligible.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Resk, Snake-man Scout

I have nearly finished my new Ghost Archipelago crew. Here is the penultimate figure. To my mind, this is one of the best figures in the entire Ghost Archipelago range. Technically he’s a snake-man Heritor, but since I’ve already got a Heritor, he’s going to be a scout in my crew. (He’s got a bow and quiver on his back.)

I did, at one point, consider painting up an all snake-man crew, with this guy as the Heritor, but I think it is more visually appealing to have just a few in there. Plus, considering my track record with finishing projects, I probably need to focus on just one crew and work to get that finished!

One figure to go.