Friday, 25 May 2018

Victory's Knife

Although I often forget it myself, I was a writer long before Frostgrave. In fact, my first love was writing fiction, mostly dark fantasy and sword and sorcery short stories.

Not too long ago, I collected the best of my fiction writing into an ebook called Victory's Knife.

So, if you like action oriented fantasy, with a touch of the weird and horrific, check it out.

You can get it on Kindle.

Or as a PDF on DriveThruFiction.

Victory's Knife
The tales of the Endless Isles are filled with piracy, war, horror and heroism. Containing the swashbuckling adventures of Stevan the Targeteer, the wanderings of the grim gunfighter, Bowis de Lleiva, and the darkly humorous accounts of the mysterious gravedigger, Nick Bury, Victory’s Knife collects the folklore of a lost world.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Quick Shot Reviews

I've read several interesting books lately, so I thought I would share...

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

Okay, I admit it. I checked this book out from the library almost completely because of the title. Seriously, it's one of the best titles I think I've ever seen. I'm glad I did though, as I learned a huge amount. In a nutshell, at several points in its history, Timbuktu has served as the world centre of Islamic learning and culture, and in the late medieval and early modern areas, hundreds of thousands of hand-written manuscripts were produced in and around the city, covering all sorts of topics. Many of these manuscripts still exist. This book tells the story of how one man helped collect these manuscripts for preservation and then had to try and save them again, when Timbuktu was taken over my Islamic extremists.

The book is part biography, part history, part adventure, and even part military history, and most of it is really fascinating. It's not perfect though. It's a short book and in places it feels a bit padded - with biographies of characters that seem pretty tangential to the story. Also, the story bounces around a bit, with the author himself seeming to intrude on his own story sometimes. Finally - something that really annoyed me. The book opens with a little narrative introduction, where some of the manuscripts are being smuggled through a terrorist checkpoint. It's a great, tense scene, but it also struck me as deliberately misleading. Not the event, that seems to have happened as described, but the author seems to purposely avoid naming the person involved. We are left with the thought that it is the main character of the book, and it is not.

Still, all of these things are minor gripes about a really good book.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - ed. Brian Stone

In my opinion, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the greatest works of the English language, and the pinnacle of medieval Arthurian writing. I have read the story numerous times, in several translations. Unsure if I had read this specific translation, I picked it up at a used book store. I always get something new when reading this poem. This time, in one of the footnotes, I learned that one of the challenges of translating this poem into modern English is that our modern language only really has one word left to describe the weapon wielded by the Green Knight. Today, we'd call it an ax. Apparently, back then, they had lots of different words to better distinguish between many similar weapons.

Only by bring this distinction back do we learn that the Greek Knight is wielding a different weapon at the beginning of the poem than he is at the end. Apparently at the beginning he's wielding a weapon closer to a guisarme and at the end, it's more like a Danish ax. Is that important? I don't know, but it fascinated me!

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield 

This short work is like a literary punch in the stomach. The central theme is 'stop messing around and do the work you were born to do', and Mr. Pressfield approaches it kind of like a marine drill instructor. His main audience is artists - specifically writers and painters, but really, his point applies to everyone.

If you are an artist, or some one who is struggling because they sense (or know) that they are not doing what they really believe they should be, then I strongly suggest you check it out. It's not a book that is likely to make you feel better about yourself, but it just might teach you an important lesson.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Ghost Archipelago shortlisted for UK Games Expo Awards

It was a good day for Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago yesterday, as it was short-listed for the UK Games Expo Awards in the Best Miniature Rules category! Two years ago, Frostgrave won this same award.

That said, as good a day as it was for me, it was an even better one for Osprey Games, as they published all three titles that were short-listed in the category!

Also vying for the award are Gaslands by Mike Hutchinson and Kobolds and Cobblestones by Rob Burman. I am lucky enough to have met both of these guys on several occasions, and I can honestly say that they are both really dedicated wargamers and fun to hangout with. I think both of their games have brought something new and fresh to wargaming. Gaslands, especially, seems to have caught the popular imagination as it has given wargamers everywhere an excuse to buy and convert hot wheels and matchbox cars!

The winners will be announced at UK Games Expo in Birmingham in early June. Unfortunately, I won't be in attendance this year due to family commitments, but I have often thought it one of the most genuinely fun conventions in the UK.

Well, good luck to all of the nominees, but if you are going to Games Expo, vote Ghost Archipelago!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Spellcaster 3 – Now Available!

Issue 3 of Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine is now available.

You can get the PDF at RPGNow.


You can get it for the Kindle.

A print-on-demand version will be available through RPGNow in 2 or 3 weeks. (Hopefully, this isn’t completely under my control).

With 56 pages, the new issue is significantly longer than issues one and two, and contains the following:

* Expanded rules for rangifer, including rangifer shamans with their own spell list, new rangifer soldier types, and a two-scenario solo campaign.
* Rules for making deals with thieves’ guilds in Frostgrave.
* New Frostgrave fiction from Matthew Ward.
* Eight Ulterior Motive cards for use in Ghost Archipelago.
* A Frostgrave auction featuring new magic items.

Just to make it more fun, the guys at North Star and Osprey Games have released a special ‘Rangifer Warband’ pack of figures, including a brand new rangifer shaman, for use with the new Rangifer rules. You can pick that up through North Star.

Anyway, please let me know what you liked or didn’t like about the new issue so that I can continue to improve in the future!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Maze of Malcor - Experience Points Table

With Frostgrave: The Maze of Malcor just around the corner, I thought I would share a little piece of the new book that I think will be of great interest to many players. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the book includes some rules updates, including a new Experience Table.

The experience table has probably been the most controversial piece of the game since its release, and I have probably spent more time thinking about it than any other aspect. I could tell by the reaction of many players that it needed work - not specifically because it was unbalanced, though you could make that argument, but because it was interfering with too many player's enjoyment of the game.

So, I studied the games that I played, or saw played. I canvased opinion here on the blog. And, finally, I created a new experience table. Here it is.

So what is different about it? Well, the biggest difference is that I have removed all of the experience points for wizards killing other wizards, apprentices, and soldiers. Not only was this rule generally unpopular, but it was leading to occasions where a wizard could have a huge game and gain 5 or 6 levels. While this is unlikely under the new table, I have also added a rule that caps experience gain at 300 xp per game.

Otherwise, I went with one overriding principal - keep it simple. I went through lots of different methods for experience gained for casting spells, but most of them added complexity without really adding any enjoyment. So, there are only two minor changes to that. Players now receive 5xp when they cast a spell that damages the spellcaster (learning through mistakes) and they no longer receive any xp when casting a spell with a Casting Number of 6 or less (you've learned most of what their is to learn by then).

Finally, wizards now get 40xp just for showing up, which is partly to maintain balance as wizards progress, and partly to make up for the fact that under this new system there are only 5 treasure tokens on the table.

Anyway, I hope players like it, but, if not, feel free to keep using the old system, or whatever home-brewed system makes you happy.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Wagon Wheel

Despite growing up in North Carolina, I don’t listen to a lot of what most American’s would call ‘Country Music’ (1). However, I recently came across this song, which hit #1 in the Country charts, and I’ve got to admit, I absolutely love it.

In fact, my love for the song extends beyond Darius Rucker’s wonderful voice, and it being a great, rolling-along, driving tune, containing the wonderful line ‘If I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free!’. No, there are two other reasons I love this song.

The first is that the origins of the song lead straight back to my all-time favourite artist, Bob Dylan. Dylan wrote the tune and the refrain around the same time he wrote ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. He went so far as to record a version before consigning it to the trash can. Eventually, the bootleggers go a hold of that recording and released it. Years later, it reached the ears of Ketch Secor, lead-singer for Old Crow Medicine Show. He loved the tune, but couldn’t make out any of the words in Dylan’s mumbled lyrics, so he wrote new ones. The new song, Wagon Wheel became the group’s signature song, with Ketch and Dylan listed as co-writers.

The other reason is more personal and relates to Darius Rucker. As many will know, Rucker was once the lead singer of a band called Hootie and the Blowfish. This band had a brief period of stardom while I was in college. While I wouldn’t call myself a ‘fan’, I enjoyed several of their songs, and had friends who really loved them. Fast forward several years. I was living in Rockville, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. I had recently returned from a year living in Wales, where I had left my heart with a young lady. I was working two jobs to keep myself busy, but it was a pretty miserable time, all told.

One night, I was coming home late after a long shift at the gaming store. After getting off the Metro, I started across the parking lot that led to my apartment. However, instead of cars, the parking lot was full of people. There was stage. There was music. There were no gates or tickets, so I wandered up. There, on the stage, was Hootie and the Blowfish, hired by the city of Rockville for some-another festival. I only got to hear them sing two songs before they left the stage, although that included their most famous, ‘Only Wanna Be With You’. In that moment, I felt very lucky. Not just to hear those two songs, but in life in general. It doesn’t really make any sense, but there it was.

Looking back, that concert probably represented a real low-point for Hootie and the Blowfish, and I’m not sure how much longer they lasted as a band. It was a great moment for me though, and so I’m just taking this opportunity to say thanks to Darius and the rest of the band.

(1) I do listen to a lot of what the British would term 'Country Music' which tends to include American Folk, Bluegrass, and Americana. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Spellcaster 3 – Coming Soon! (And Contest Winners)

More good news for Frostgrave fans. I have nearly put the finishing touches on Issue 3 of Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine! In fact, I am hopeful that the PDF version will be out next week with the print-on-demand not too far behind. As with the previous two issues, the POD version will come with a free PDF, so if you want both, it might be worth waiting. 

A kindle version will also appear around then as well, although, I must admit, buyers are getting a much nicer looking product going with the PDF or POD.

So, what’s in the new issue? Well, as you can probably guess from the cover, the big story is rangifer! This issue contains rules for making a rangifer shaman and his bodyguard, including a unique spell list, new troop types, and a rangifer treasure table. There is also a two-scenario solo campaign to get your shaman started on his adventures!

Fresh from writing his second Frostgave novel, Oathgold, Matthew Ward shows up in this issue with his new Frostgrave short story: Unfinished Business!

There’s a little treat for Ghost Archipelago fans in the form of 8 Ulterior Motives cards designed for use in the Lost Isles.

Phil Smith returns to Frostgrave with rules for making deals with the thieve's guilds.

And, of course, I present another Frostgrave auction with magic items created by Spellcaster readers. In fact, I can now reveal that the winners of the Spellcaster contest – those whose items appear in the issue – are:

Matt Napolitan
Andres Villaseca
Tim Lisauskas
Louis Napolitan
Richard Coulson
Dave McClumpha

Congratulations, you will all receive a free PDF of Issue 3.

So, hopefully, coming next week. Keep your eyes peeled!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Richborough Roman Fort

Dwarfed by the walls of Richborough

Bike Wheels and Battlefieds 

Spring has come, and the cycling season is upon us. This year, I have decided to combine my love of history (especially military history) and my love of cycling. I’m calling this new campaign: Bike Wheels & Battlefields, and I’ll be sharing some of my (hopefully) more interesting adventures here.

I have only recently become interested in the history of Roman Britain. Partly, I wanted to fill this major gap in my knowledge of the country, and partly I wanted a better foundation for the study of my favourite period, the Dark Ages. It was during these studies that I realized that Richborough Roman Fort, one of the most important sites in Roman Britain, lay just at the edge of my cycling range…

I slipped out of bed at 6AM after five or six hours of broken sleep which included at least two long stints in a rocking chair with a wiggly toddler. I ate a quiet bowl of mini-wheats and studied my route on the Ordnance Survey maps. For those people not from Britain, OS maps are amazing, like Google Maps before the internet. They grew out of military mapping and now you can buy an OS Map for every single corner of Britain. The incredible detail of these maps outlines every building, every ancient monument and ruin, ever contour of the land, and even, in theory, everywhere you can get a drink. I would be traveling across two of these maps on my journey (OS 138 & 150), and they would be my only guides. In fact, the only digital devices I would take with me were a cheap mobile phone (incapable of internet connection) which I carried for emergencies and to tell the time and a digital odometer to keep track of the miles.
This isn’t to say I had shunned the internet in my planning. In fact, Google Maps was the first thing I checked when planning my journey. According to Google, the journey to Richborough would cover 25 miles and take just over two-and-a-half hours. I knew better than to believe either of those numbers. Now, I don’t doubt that Google is pretty accurate that the route was near about 25 miles, but that’s only if I managed to follow it exactly, taking no wrong turns and no detours. Considering my inherent lack of direction and suspect map-reading skills, this seemed unlikely. The 2.5 hours is more mysterious. I’m not sure how Google calculates cycling times, but I suspect they ask someone like Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas to cycle the route and report back. I knew I would be lucky if I could complete the route in under 4 hours.

My first sighting of St. Radigund's Abbey
I was setting out from the town of Hythe, and even though both Hythe and the fort lie near the coast, my plan was to turn slightly inland, in order to cycle the back roads of Kent. This, unfortunately, involved going up and over two major ridge-lines, first above Folkestone and then again above Dover. I am not the kind of cyclist that enjoys big climbs for their own sake, but if I must endure them to reach my goal, I will (and I’m not above getting off the bike and pushing either!).

I left the house at 6:30. The sun was already shining bright with the promise of a warm day to come. I rolled down my hill and through Hythe, encountering almost no one on this quiet Thursday morning. In a few minutes, I was by the sea, listening to the waves roll against the shingle. At some point, I passed Sandgate castle, but it is so crowded in by the town around it, that I blinked and missed it. Before 7, I had reached the end of my easy shoreline cycle to Folkstone. The route now went up, and up, and up. In fact, it continued up for about 500 feet over a depressingly short distance. I passed Folkestone’s pair of Martello Towers (Napoleonic-era gun towers), but was so busy grasping for breath that I spared them nary a glance. I had little time for distractions today.

Twice, I had to stop and carry my bike up a set of stairs, but mercifully the second set lead me to a quiet cycle path that finally brought me to the top of the ridgeline. It was a pretty brutal start to the trip, but I was at least rewarded with fantastic views over Folkestone and out across the English Channel.

Back on the level, I continued on my way in higher spirits. I cycled pass the Battle of Britain Memorial, which appeared to have a nice little museum as well as a Spitfire and Hurricane parked outside. It was definitely something I would have to visit in the future.

I rode through the small town of Caple-Le-Fern and then out into the quiet Kentish countryside. One of the great things about Britain for cyclists is that it is crisscrossed by numerous little country roads that are rarely used except by farmers and the few people that live in the scattered hamlets. When cycling in the middle of a weekday, it’s not unusual to cycle for an hour down these little roads and encounter next to no-one. As I was cruising along, enjoying the sun and the bike-generated breeze, I saw a dark and craggy shape looming through some trees. It was hard to make out at first, but it was clearly some sort of ruined tower. Despite my plan not to get distracted, I decided to take a quick detour to get a closer look.

The impressive remains of the St. Radigund's Abbey gate tower.

Turning down another quiet road, I rolled up in front of the ruins of St. Radigund’s Abbey. The tower I had seen was a large gateway tower, whose modern gate made it pretty clear that visitors were not encouraged. Smaller ruins stretched around it in all directions, mixed in with the trappings of a modern farm. In fact, glancing through some of the ruins, I could see the main farm house, which was rather remarkable as it appear that it was composed of sections form at least three distinct periods including modern and medieval. Only after I got home would I learn any more about these romantic ruins. The Abbey itself was built in the 12th century, and was dedicated to Radigund a saint and Frankish queen from the 6th century. The Abbey never really flourished and was already in bad shape by the time The Dissolution finished it off in the 16th century. Apparently, some of the stones from the Abbey were carried away to help build Sandgate castle. Well, at least they got to carry the stones downhill…
From the Abbey my route ran down, down, down. While it is fun whizzing down the hills, it is also rather depressing to give back all of that hard won elevation. A little while later, I rolled into the delightful little town of River, which is kind of a suburb of Dover. By now it was 9:30 and time for a break. I pulled into a little park by the river Dour, and found a seat near where the river cascaded over the remnants of a watermill. Listening to the pleasing sound of the water, I ate a sandwich, and thought about my destination.
My picnic spot in the town of River.
I am far from an expert on Roman Britain, but I know enough to be impressed by the importance of Richborough. It was at this site in 43 AD that the first Roman troops of the invasion of Britain came ashore (The invasion under the Emperor Claudius, the one that stuck, not the earlier attempt by Julius Caesar). It would serve throughout that campaign as the main supply base of the army. Later, a port town called Rutupiae grew up around that initial beach head, as the site became the main crossing point from Gaul to Britannia for Roman couriers and the like. Sometime in the later 3rd century, some of the town was destroyed to make way for a huge stone fortress, one of the new ‘Saxon Shore Forts’ designed to help defend the province against seaborne raiders. Significant portions of these walls still stand on the site, and served as the biggest draw to me.
Snack done, my next task was sneak out the back of the town. According to my map, there was a road that lead out of town and would allow me to slip under the main A2 road that cut through the area. As I quickly discovered, ‘road’ was perhaps giving the path a little too much credit. It was paved, but it appeared to that no one had used it in many a year and the trees and shrubs grew close all around it. This was actually quite welcome as the high branches provided some nice shade as I once again struggled up a steep hill (I might have pushed it a bit here – hey, no one was watching)

Why not spend a night at the Blazing Donkey?
The map was true to its word, and I passed under the thundering traffic of the A2 and onto a back road of the town of Whitfield. Unfortunately, at that point, my map reading skills failed. Somehow I managed to do a complete circle around Whitfield and came back to near where I had started. Eventually, in exasperation, I asked some locals at a bus stop for help. They sent me tearing out of town on a wonderful bike path through the countryside. Not the path I was supposed to be on, as it turned out, but lovely! Thankfully, I wasn’t headed in the complete wrong direction, and once I figured out where I was, I was able to get back on track having only spent a few extra miles of pointless cycling.

The extra cycling did have one other effect, I was now dangerously low on water. Although the day was only pleasantly warm, cycling in any weather requires near constant hydration. I was just beginning to get worried about this when I reached the town of Eythorne and their very welcome village shop. I immediately went in (enjoying a couple minutes of blessed air-conditioning) and bought a bottle of water and a sports-drink. The sports drink was consumed in the parking lot, the water was poured into my bottle.

The names continue on the other sides.
While I was drinking in the little parking lot, I noticed that the parking lot also contained the village war memorial. It seemed only appropriate and respectful that I take a minute to read the names. Now, Eythorne is a little spot of a town, and one suspects it was even smaller during the World Wars, so how could they have lost so many sons… I think, perhaps, this is the best way to understand how crushing the World Wars (especially the First) was to Britain. Every little town has one of these memorials, covered in names.

Despite these sombre reflections, I left town in good spirits, aided by the sugary sports-drink. From Eythorne I continued on the back roads to the town of Eastry, where I happened to glance down at my handle bars and realized that I had left my bike lock at home. I give myself credit for not shouting anything to discredit myself, even if there was no one around to hear. However, I must admit that several choice expletives did come to mind.

Every time. It happens every time I clean my bike; I take the lock off the handle bars and forget to put it back on. I had cleaned my bike the day before in preparation for the trip, and once again, left the lock in the shed. Well, there was nothing for it. I decided to press on and hope to luck that I could find a bike lock somewhere along the way.

Perhaps because of those thoughts, I managed to make a wrong turn leaving Eastry and found myself on the main road leading into Sandwich. Thankfully, it was only a short ride at that point, and my only time spent on a large road ended quickly. In fact, maybe the wrong turn was a bit of fate or luck, for as I wheeled into Sandwich, I saw a sign for ‘Locks of Sandwich Cycles’. (Seriously the name of the shop is ‘Locks’). It gave an address on King St, and although my map was too large to give names to small city streets, I found the place with little difficulty. A few minutes later, I was in possession of the cheapest bike lock that money could buy! (In Sandwich at any rate).

Sandwich appears a pleasant town, and even on a Thursday morning before lunch the place was buzzing with shoppers, a small market, and outdoor caf├ęs. I had no time or interest in such things at the moment; however, and I powered on through the town and straight passed my turn. Another mile or two wasted, I got back on track and even saw a sign for Richborough Roman Fort. As I whizzed by the sign, I just caught a glimpse of ‘Open every weekened…’, wait, what?

For a moment, I felt very, very foolish, but I decided to ignore it and press on. Another mile and I had arrived. I quickly checked the sign and confirmed that the site was open – it is apparently open every weekend during the year, and every day in the spring and summer. It is a good that I hadn’t come three weeks earlier. Anyway, I had finally arrived. According to my odometer, I had covered just over 32 miles. According to my phone, it was 11:30, almost exactly five hours after I had set out.

As I pulled my bike into the dirt and gravel parking lot, I caught my first glimpse of the heavy walls of the ancient fortress. Even at a distance, they were stunning in their solidity. Built to last against invaders and armies, they remained standing after 1,700 years…

Of course my awe was interrupted by the practicality of there being nowhere to put my bike. I suppose they don’t get many bike-borne visitors, but really a simple pole or two would do the trick. In fact, it occurred to me that the chance of my bike getting stolen in this place was near to nil, but, chained up, I at least wouldn’t have to worry about it. So, I did the best with what I was presented, and chained the bike to the gate that is obviously used to let vehicles into the site. I figured the grass looked recently mowed, so probably no one was coming.

From the parking lot, it was a short walk to the site entrance. I must admit, my first thought on stepping inside was ‘They have a fridge with Coca-Cola. YES!’. Clutching my ice-cold treasure, I approached the counter. If the woman had any thoughts about this sweaty, dirty, dishevelled, bearded, little man, she admirably kept them to herself. Instead, she checked my English Heritage membership card and sold me the coke and guidebook. If you’ve ever been to an English Heritage site, you’ve probably seen their guidebooks. I can whole-heartedly recommend them as a series. They give a good historical overview, are filled with interesting factoids about the site that you will otherwise miss, have loads of nice photos, and generally contain some really nice paintings that reconstruct the site as it would have been in its heyday. And, they seem reasonable priced.

Roman Dice Tower Bits!
I decided to start my tour in the small museum. Well, very small museum. Just one small room, with a few artefacts found at the site. In truth, the best artefacts were actually reproductions as the originals had been taken away to the British museum. Still, two items caught my eye. One was a group of decorative pieces thought to have adorned a roman dice tower! I knew the Romans were big on their dice games, but I always assumed dice towers were an invention of the modern game community (look, I make my living writing dice-based games, so it was cool to me). The other was a bronze swan head (reproduction) noted as being for the prow of a ship. However, the whole thing was about the size of an actual swan head and neck, which struck me as strange – so I’m not sure if it was an actual ship decoration or a piece of some kind of model.

Tossing the empty coke bottle in the trash as I exited the museum, I stepped back outside and starred up at the mighty wall in front of me. The walls at Richborough still reach heights of 8 meters, thought to be where the parapet stood, which gives a good feel for what it must have been like to approach these walls under the watchful eyes of the Roman soldiers. Stepping through a broken hole in the wall, I was immediately struck by the scale of the fortress. Because three walls are still standing, or at least large sections of them still are, you can really get a sense of the place. Inside the walls, the site is a confusing landscape of ditches, mounds, foundations and low ruins. Each of these are explained by plaques dotted around and even better in the guidebook.

The most interesting spot is in the direct centre, where a pair of earthen mounds come together to form a cross. Apparently, after years of scholarly research, this was finally understood to be the base of a monumental, four-sided archway that stood 25 metres tall. It was likely built partly to commemorate the conquest of Britain, partly to awe the natives, and partly to serve as the ‘gateway to Britannia’. At the time there would have been nothing like this in Britain, nothing even close. There is a beautiful reconstruction in the guidebook of what it must have looked like looming over the port in later years. Sadly, the great archway was torn down when the main fortress walls were constructed. (The Romans really were a strange combination of ostentatious and practical).
You can see the cross foundation of the arch in the middle of the shot.
After a good walk-around to get a feel for the site, I sat down by one of the walls and ate my lunch. A couple of days later, when I had a chance to fully read through the guidebook, I learned that over 40,000 Roman coins have been found on the site – 40,000! Seriously, this place was so littered with Roman money that when defensive works were being dug around here during World War II, the soldiers were told to sift their dirt for ancient coins. (How incredibly British is that). In fact, it is probably for the best that I didn’t know all of this while I was at the site, or I probably would have dug a few holes myself just on the off chance…
In all, I spent an hour-and-a-half at Richborough, mostly just wandering, imagining Roman soldiers patrolling, and admiring the heft of the remaining towers, that some suspect may have been made to hold artillery pieces. I would have happily lingered – it was a beautiful day, and just the kind of spot I like to stop and read a book – but, considering it had taken me five hours to reach it, I decided I had better not dawdle.
Possibly the ruins of the military commander's house.

Happily, my bike was exactly where I had left it, and even if my body groaned a little as I got back on, I was (mostly) looking forward to the ride back. The ride went smoother this time, in that I recognized many of the landmarks I had passed on the way in and didn’t have to stop near as often to check the map. Still, as I discovered when I hit the first hill, my legs didn’t have much left in them. By the time I once again reached River, and sat, once again, by the ruins of the watermill, I knew I was about done. I pulled out my phone and text my wife:

              ‘Should we order pizza? I’ll have a large pepperoni’.

As I said near the beginning, the phone was for emergencies. The road up out of River is so steep and so long, I had no chance of cycling up there. Instead, I pushed my bike and my sweaty-self up the long bending road, smiling politely at the mothers collecting their children from school. That hill truly seem to go on forever.
If they do, we are doomed!
Having eventually climbed up those 500 feet, I got back on the bike and started to roll once again, down the gentle backroads behind and above Folkestone, admiring the view, and knowing that the worst was behind me. I rolled down through the town and back to the shore, where nearly everyone was coming out to enjoy a sunny day on the beach. I had to cycle slowly because of all the people, but, in truth, ‘slowly’ was now my maximum speed anyway. I was so cooked, it was all I could do to make each pedal stroke and bring myself that little closer to home.

It was 5:30 when I pulled up in front of my house, eleven hours after I had set out. My odometer told me that I had done 59.93 miles, which I happily rounded up to 60 in my head. It was a hard, but glorious day. I had journeyed, explored, got lost, delved into history, and finally returned home to a pepperoni pizza.

If you want to learn more about Richborough Roman Fort, you probably can't do better than the English Heritage Guide Book. If you want to learn more about the Roman Saxon Shore Forts in general, I suggest Rome's Saxon Shore by Nic Fields.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Frostgrave: The Maze of Malcor

It is hard to believe, but it is almost a year since the last Frostgrave supplement set in the Frozen City (Ulterior Motives) was released. Well, that is about to change! In June the game returns to the Frozen City in a big way with the release of The Maze of Malcor.

Why is the Maze so big? Well, first off, it truly is bigger. I wrote 50% more words for this supplement than any of the previous supplements and this gave me a lot of room to play!

The heart of the book is the 12 scenario campaign, all set in the recently uncovered, and partially ruined, ‘Collegium of Artistry’. The first 6 scenarios follow most of the conventions set out in previous supplements. However, after that point, the Wraith of Malcor, the last headmaster of the Collegium, becomes aware of the intruders, and starts sending his servants, the Wizard Shades, after them. The Wizard Shades can either be run as uncontrolled creatures or played by an additional player.

Each of the Wizard Shades is a unique character that represents one of the five lost schools of magic from ‘The Pentangle’ and wields spells that have rarely, if ever, been seen in the last thousand years…

At the end of the campaign, the players get to face Malcor himself. I have, on occasion, been accused of making the final scenario in Thaw of the Lich Lord too easy. Well, hopefully I have made up for it here…

So, what else is in the book? Well, 30 spells from the Pentangle. These can be found on scrolls during the scenarios and thus used by wizards. These spells aren’t designed to be learned by wizards, but then, when did Frostgrave players ever let such things stand in their way…

Also, for the first time since Frostgrave was released nearly three years ago, I have included a section of ‘rules updates’. These are my suggested changes to the basic rules of the game. They are optional (as is everything), but I think players who try them will agree they improve the game in a variety of ways. Included in this section is a new Experience Point table.

Finally, there is a double-sized treasure table, and, of course, a bunch of new monsters to fight.  Oh, and sky gondolas, did I mention that?

Actually, June is going to be a big month for Frostgrave. Releasing at the same time as The Maze of Malcor is The Grimoire –  a set of spell cards which includes all of the spells from the basic book and all of the supplements, including the Pentangle spells in Malcor. Also coming in June is Matthew Ward’s second (and somewhat darker) Frostgrave novel, Oathgold – no spoilers, but 'rangifer'.

And will their be new minis? Of course there will!

If that’s not enough for you, well, check back in a day or two for another small Frostgrave-related announcement.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Frostgrave: Maze of Malcor Scenario in Miniature Wargames

I am back in the magazines this month. Well, one magazine anyway. The new issue of Miniature Wargames (May 2018 - Issue 421) includes my article 'The Path to Frostgrave', which talks a bit about the process I go through taking a Frostgrave book from first pitch to finished product.

The article also includes a new scenario, 'The Belfrey'. I originally wrote this scenario as part of the soon to be released Maze of Malcor, but, for organizational reasons, I decided to drop it from the book. I'm glad it has found its own home!

The magazine contains a couple of other articles that were of interest to me, most notably the interview with Chris Tubb from Mithril Miniatures on his transition from traditional to digital sculpting.

The new issue doesn't seem to be up on there website yet, but I'm sure it will be soon. Otherwise, it can usually be found at WH Smiths and will almost certainly be available at Salute this weekend.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Violent Fungus!

When I was a young man, just discovering Dungeons & Dragons, I thought it was hilarious that the game included a monster called 'violent fungus'.  In fact, it wasn't until years later that I realized that misread my Monster Manual*, and actually the creatures were called 'violet fungus'.  Disappointing.

Years later, after I had created my own fantasy game filled with monsters, I took the opportunity to correct this cosmic-level oversight. And so when I came to write Into the Breeding Pits for Frostgrave, the world gained mushroom men called violent fungus. Maybe nobody is laughing but me; but you know what, even if that is true, it was worth it.

With the truth finally revealed, it is perhaps surprising that I have only gotten around to painting my first violent fungus recently. This little guy is part of a two pack from North Star.  I love his big hands and his purposeful stride. This is a mushroom that has places to be! Just like the name, the model cracks me up.

When I sat down to paint him, I did a quick internet search for 'weird mushroom' images. I found a suitably bright yellow and red one which I used as the basis for the model. So a couple of yellow/brown layers with a purple wash, and then a red top with grey spots to finish it off. Very simple, but such a characterful model only needs a simple paint job, I think.

One of these days, I'm going to have to revisit the violent fungus and learn more about these strangely angry mushrooms.

* I just checked and violet fungus are in the 5th Edition Monster Manual. You can find them under 'fungus'. 

Friday, 16 March 2018

Col. McCullough's Confederate Army Manual

When I was fourteen, I was poking through a dusty bookshelf in my grandfather’s farm, when I made an amazing discovery…

But, before I get to that, I think a little family history is needed. The first McCullough of my line came to America in the late 1700s. This man, the ‘original’ Joseph A. McCullough as he’s known in my family, bought a farm in South Carolina and became famous for breeding horses. By the time the Civil War broke out, that farm had become a small plantation, complete with little shacks where the slaves slept. My great (x3) grandfather, James McCullough, who owned the farm, joined the Confederate Army. For most of the war, he was a colonel in command of the 16th South Carolina Volunteers, part of States Rights Gist’s Brigade. He led the regiment in several battles, most notably around Atlanta in 1864. Soon after that, however, he left the Army and returned home. No one in my family seems to know the reason for this, but it probably saved his life. The army next fought at the Battle of Franklin, where the Confederates suffered one of the most devastating and complete defeats of the entire war. States Rights Gist was killed, and every officer in his Brigade above the rank of Captain was either killed or wounded.

After the war, the farm fell into disuse, and my grandfathers instead embarked on careers in law, politics, and the military. That is until my grandfather (also Joseph A. McCullough) came back from World War II and decided to give farming another go. My father was born and raised on that farm, and every summer when I was a kid, we would go there to see the family and roam through endless acres of South Carolina forests and fields.

One day, I was poking through a dusty book shelf in my grandfather’s house and saw an old battered book with ‘Army Regulations’ on the spine. Opening the book to the title page, I saw that it was ‘Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States…published in New Orleans in 1861’. I think my heart actually skipped a beat!

Flipping back to the inside cover, I examined the book more carefully.

On the inside front cover is a book plate which declared the book belonged to the ‘Hon. Joseph A. McCullough’ and was deposited as a part of a collection with Furman University in 1918. (Just because there aren’t enough Joes in the story, this one is actually my grandfather’s grandfather, generally called ‘the Judge’ to avoid confusion).

But, what is more astounding than this book plate, is the inscription opposite it. It reads ‘Lt. Col. James McCullough, 16th Regiment SCV, Adams Run, April 1862’. Thanks to the Complete Records of the Civil War, I have been able to confirm that the 16th S.C.V was stationed at Adams Run in April of 1862. On the next page spread, which contains no printing, the book has been signed again, in the same hand, ‘James McCullough, Lt. Col. 16th S.C.V’. Both of these signatures were done in brown ink that has soaked through the page.
The book itself is pretty dry, as you would expect from an army manual, but also filled with interesting historical details, such as a Rank and Command list – who knew that Hospital Stewards held the same rank as an Ordnance Sergeant? Instructions on how to organize the troops, write down orders, issue ammunition, fight battles, organize wagon convoys, the proper style of uniforms, and finally a section of blank forms for all kinds of things including forms for pay and discharges.

It’s not until we get to the last very last page that we, once again, encounter my ancestor. On this last page, he has signed the book twice, once in ink and once in pencil. This time, in both instances, he is ‘Col. James McCullough’. There is also an extremely fine, and faint, bit written in pencil at the top of the page. Despite several attempts, the only thing I might be able to make out is the name at the end, which might be ‘Col. Ellery’.

The book is in poor shape these days. I’m not sure how much longer the cover will remain attached, and the pages are all slightly warped from moisture. Still, they made books to last in those days, and I have little doubt, that baring outside damage, it will still be around when I am gone.

Back when I found the book, I took it to my grandfather. He seemed surprised that it existed, and after a quick flip through, he handed it to me and said something to the effect of ‘I think you’d better take care of this…’

I have tried to. It is my prize possession – a direct link to my ancestor and to a horrendous yet compelling war.

My grandfather’s farm was divided amongst his children after his death. My father owns a part. My uncle (yup, Joseph A. McCullough) owns the part that contains the family graveyard. In the midst of that graveyard, under a small monument, lies Col. James McCullough. I hope he is at peace.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Tower of Dol Amroth

A couple of weeks ago, in a post that mostly got noticed for other reasons, I reminded myself that I should make some terrain. It’s a part of the miniatures hobby that I used to enjoy, but have gotten away from in the last five or six years. So, I went out and bought a big sheet of foam board, and then stared at it blankly for a couple of days.

Seeking inspiration, I started flipping through some old gaming magazines. I found what I was looking for in a couple issues of the old Battles Games in Middle-Earth. One contained instructions for building a Gondorian Fortress, which can be seen here. The other had instructions for building an Osgiliath tower. I really like the look and idea of the first, but figured it was way too advanced for the present. So, I decided I might try to combine the two, and make a fortified tower. Well, at first, I thought I would make a fortified lighthouse/beacon tower for Dol Amroth, but decided I would make it more generic so that I could use it for Middle-Earth, Ghost Archipelago, and even Frostgrave.

Construction has begun. I’m working on the base level first. I might even see if I can make it so that the tower itself is detachable, so that I can just use the base as a small fort.

I suspect this project is going to take quite some time. I have no deadline, and I’m not going to rush it. The photo shows what I’ve managed in an hour or so of work.

It has its frustrations - a miss cut by only a millimeter or two can throw the hole thing off, but, none the less, I am really enjoying the act of creating!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Bloody Letter

Last Friday, I got my first opportunity to get Belagus and his Dol Amroth battle company on the table…

Belagus moved his piece across the board and looked up at the Princess. She was distracted, her moves poor and uncoordinated. Finally, she turned away from the board and looked out a window. ‘I have a letter,’ she said. ‘I need it delivered to a friend in Lossarnach. A captain stationed in the mountains…’
            Belagus set-off the next day. He was joined by Coric, his old swordmaster; Levant, a young soldier in the Princess’ personal guard, and the brothers Eldamir and Caellen, who had spent several years serving as rangers in the White Mountains. Most of their journey passed pleasantly as they made their way through the civilized lands of the south, but as they headed north into the mountains the road became more difficult. They were still two days from their destination, when they crossed paths with a band of orcs…
            Seeing them coming, Belagus ordered his men to take defensive positons, while Eldamir and Caellen went to work. As the orcs charged, the brothers let fly with their arrows. In minutes, two orcs were down, and another was badly wounded. Then the orcs were upon them. Both Coric and Levant were battered back, and even the brothers were forced to join in the desperate fight. Only Belagus stood his ground, his blade flashing this way and that. Just when it looked like the small party might be overwhelmed, Belagus cut down an orc and the rest fled in panic. Taking stock, only Coric was badly wounded. The party waited a day while Coric recovered, then hurried on their way. Eventually, they reached the outpost and delivered their letter.
They stayed at the outpost for a few more days, then set-off home. Two days out, they were ambushed by the same group of orcs. This time, the fight went against them. The orcs came at such speed that bows were useless and the fighting became desperate. Just when the fight looked bleakest, the orcs, apparently having accomplished what they wanted, retreated in an orderly fashion.
Although everyone lived, the small party was in bad shape. Coric’s leg had been smashed, and Caellen had suffered a nasty sword cut to his side. Although he claimed to only have suffered small cuts and bruises, Belagus realized he had reopened the old wound that had pulled him from the front lines, what seemed a lifetime ago.

Last Friday, I met up with a friend and got in two games of the new Middle-Earth Battle Companies. I brought my Dol Amroth battle company, and he brought his Uruks. He had the advantage of numbers, 7 to 5, but I had a slight advantage in both archery and armour.
            For our first game we rolled the ‘Messenger’ scenario. Basically, we each secretly named one of our figures to be a messenger and were supposed to keep this figure alive while killing the enemy messenger. I chose ‘Levant’ as my messenger, which was a classic case of out-smarting myself, as this was probably the worst choice. I would have done better naming Belagus (who had the highest armour) or one of the rangers who were less likely to get involved in hand-to-hand fighting. Anyway, when the game started, I went on the defensive. I slowly moved my company back and around to the right, trying to keep the Uruks out of charge range, while my rangers went to work. The tactic worked pretty well. The rangers downed two Uruks and wounded one of the heros. But then they were on me. The hand-to-hand fighting went poorly for me, and Coric fell at first contact. Levant slew an orc, but then fell to the next. Belagus killed another orc, but had to rely on his heavy armour to save him.
            After a few turns, I was down to just Belagus and one ranger, while three Uruks were left. Then, in a horrible display of dice rolling, my opponent failed his courage checks for all three Uruks and they fled the table.

            Both of us had lost our messengers, so technically the game was draw, but since I held the field, it felt like a win. We both claimed a reward of 3 Influence points. Coric received an ‘Old Battle Wound’. (Meaning he has to check before each game, missing it on a roll of a ‘1’). The Uruks had one guy suffer an arm wound, meaning he could no longer carry a shield, and another one would have to miss our next game.
            We decided to immediately play another game. I was feeling pretty good about this. Coric passed his roll, and with the Uruks one down, I was only outnumbered 5 to 6. Unfortunately, the scenario we rolled, ‘The Relic’, basically prevented me from using the same tactics for game two. Anyway, the game was a disaster for me, so I won’t go into details. Belagus, Coric, and Eldamir all went down before I caused a single casualty. With the Uruks already making off with the relic, I conceded the game.
            The post-game also went very poorly. Belagus picked up an ‘old battle wound’. Coric got a Leg Wound (-1 Move), and Eldamir has to miss the next game. Sigh. I claimed my 2 Influence points for the game and limped away.
            When it came time to spend my Influence, my bad luck continued. I paid 3 for a roll on the reinforcements chart and got a ‘1’, which is nothing. Thankfully, I was able to spend another point to increase this to a ‘2’, so I could recruit another Men-at-Arms of Dol Amroth. I spent the last point getting some Heavy Armour for Coric as his poor Armour score twice proved his undoing.
            None of my men gained enough experience to make any advancement rolls.
            All-and-all, not a great showing for two games. Still, no one is flat out dead, and we’ve added another heavy armoured trooper which should help. My company rating stands at 102.
            Most importantly, I had a lot of fun. The games were extremely quick. We finished both, with lots of pauses for chatting, in two-hours. In fact, we probably would have played a third, but both wanted to have a pause to get our new men/orcs painted up.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Spellcaster Print-on-Demand is a Go!

It is with great joy (and a little relief) that I can finally announce that both issues of Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine are now available as print-on-demand booklets from RPGNow! I’ve got copies of both sitting on my desk, and they make an attractive little set (if I do say so myself).

If you are just hearing about Spellcaster, here is what each issue has to offer:

Spellcaster, Issue 1

* Rules for using black powder firearms
* Rules for horses in the Frozen City
* Rules for Knightly Orders which add variety to your knights and templars
* Alone in the Crypt – a solo Frostgrave scenario in which you play a captain with a quiver-full of magic arrows trying to escape a crypt full of undead
* The Catacombs of the Evrenbright – a three scenario mini-campaign originally created for Adepticon 2017

Spellcaster, Issue 2

* Rules for Dragons in Frostgrave, including a co-operative scenario.
* Traps in Ghost Archipelago, including a solo scenario.
* Frostgrave Mech War, rules and a scenario for fighting with Mechs using Frostgrave rules.
* The Bridges of the Mal Dreath, a scenario reprinted from Tabletop Gaming Magazine
* The Mail Bag and Horizon

Once again, I would like to thank all of the people that have helped with Spellcaster - Andrew Vallas, who has done the internal design and production work; Steve Meyer-Rassow, who created the logo and worked on the cover designs, and Dmitry Burmak for his fantastic cover artwork!

Friday, 2 March 2018

Belagus of Dol Amroth

A few weeks back, I ordered a copy of the new Middle-Earth Battle Companies rules from Games Workshop. I was supposed to have my first game today, but that had to be cancelled because it is too dangerous to walk out my front door. An hour ago it rained for 10 minutes and left a deadly layer of nearly invisible sheet-ice over everything. Oh well, we rescheduled, and I will just have to blog about my Battle Company instead.

Belagus of Dol Amroth

With her son Breged off on his quest, Princess Ivriniel of Dol Amroth is forced to turn to others to fulfill the dangerous secret missions that do so much to keep Dol Amroth and Gondor safe. Instead, she has turned to Belagus, the son of a distant cousin and a loyal knight. For years Belagus fought on the front lines against the growing power of Mordor, battling side-by-side with the Swan Knights of his order. Around a year ago, Bealgus suffered a severe wound, one from which he was not expected to recover. Despite this prediction, the skilled nurses in the Houses of Healing brought him back from the brink, and eventually he was sent home to complete his recuperation. Back in Dol Amroth, he came to the attention of Princes Ivriniel, and the two spent many hours talking politics, philosophy, and military strategy. In this way, Belagus entered into the Princess's confidence, and when he was fully recovered, she recruited him into her special service...

As soon as I got my copy of Battle Companies, I knew I wanted to make a Dol Amroth company. The Swan Knights have always been one of my favourite parts of The Lord of the Rings, and I quite like the figures that Games Workshop have produced for them.

Dol Amorth (technically 'Fiefdom') Battle Companies are all lead by Swan Knights, which is appropriate and what I wanted anyway. I am not the best at painting armour, but I really took my time with Belagus, trying to work his armour into a glorious shine. Otherwise, it was a very simple figure to paint, and the results are mightily pleasing.

Next the Dol Amroth Battle Company calls for two 'Men-at-Arms'. This immediately presented me with several problems. First, I didn't have any 'Men-at-Arms', and while I could have ordered some, I didn't want to, for two reasons. First, you can only get Men-at-Arms in finecast, a material I avoid whenever possible, especially if the figure features a long bendy weapon, such as a pike. And there was my other problem. I hate pikes on miniatures. They are just awkward. Plus, I'm building a battle company that currently has 5 guys; why would two of them be carrying pikes? I guess that might make sense if they were on a ship (a definite possibility for Dol Amroth), but at any other time, just about any other weapon would be more practical.

I solved this problem in two different ways. For my first Man-at-Arms, I used a Minas Tirith Citadel Guardsmen with a spear. By changing out the traditional black for Dol Amroth blue, the figure fits right in. The spear is close enough to a pike without the super annoying storage issues, and, best of all, I already had the figure on my lead pile waiting to be painted.

For the other Man-at-Arms, I decided to trade him out for a Clansman of Lamedon. Well in my case, a Warrior of Dol Amroth who favours a big two-handed sword. As far as the rules are concerned, this switch is kind of semi-legal. There are two ways to assemble companies in the game, and I'm kind of mixing them. Anyway, the Clansman is, for the most part, a less powerful figure, and my opponent agreed, so there you go. Plus, I had this figure, which I painted several years ago, ready to go!

Finally, I needed a pair of archers. I had an old 'Faramir's Ranger' figure lurking at the bottom of my lead mountain. He has honestly been there for years, and I don't know why I haven't painted him. Well, I did, and in fact, I enjoyed it so much, I went to Ebay and bought a second one to finish off the company.

So here's Belagus and his boys. Hopefully we'll be hearing more about their adventures in the near future!

(The only thing I don't like about this Battle Company - Belagus is bravely pointing one way with his sword, while every other figure is facing the other way!).