Thursday, 18 October 2018

Battletech: Shadow Hawk


I have just finish painting my third mech from the new Battletech box set. This time, it’s a Shadow Hawk. This has always been one of my favourite mechs for several reasons. First ‘Shadow Hawk’ is just an awesome name. Two, the Shadow Hawk was depicted on the cover of the City Tech rulebook – the first Battletech book I actually owned. And, finally, even before I was aware of the existence of Battletech I owned a little plastic Shadow Hawk toy. It wasn’t a miniature, but came, I think, in a bag of cheap plastic robots. I think the original Shadow Hawk was based on a robot in an old anime, and I guess that little toy was based on the same thing.

I have no idea what happened to that little plastic toy, but now I’ve got this shiny new little plastic toy! Like his brothers, he’s painted up in the red and blue of the Fire Hawks Legion (which makes him a Shadow Fire Hawk…which is starting to sound like a balrog).

Interestingly, in the group shot above, you can see how much shinier the Thunderbolt is than the other two – a result of me still learning to use the ‘Anti-Shine Matt Varnish’. I fear I put much to thick a coat on the Thunderbolt. Oh well, I’m learning.

Also just visible in the photos is the new hexed battlemat I got from Cigar BoxBattles, perfect for Battletech and Ogre. I’ll be showing it off and talking a bit more about it in future posts.



Monday, 15 October 2018

Rangers of Shadow Deep - Cover Revealed!

I know a lot of people are patiently waiting for the release of Rangers of Shadow Deep, and I can report that a lot of progress has been made. In fact, we now have an official cover! Many thanks to Barrett Stanley for providing the cover art and Steve Meyer-Rassow for the graphic design!

The internal layouts for the book are now underway. This is the last major step towards completion. (There are a couple of minor ones, but they should take no more than a day or two once layouts are completed). So, when in the book going to be available? Not this week, I'm afraid, but next week is looking possible...

I will, of course, keep you updated!




Friday, 12 October 2018

Pursued by Wolves

Yesterday afternoon I was cycling along, enjoying the autumnal sunshine, when I glanced over my shoulder and saw... a pack of wolves running after me! Despite the heavy fence, I must admit, it was a little unnerving...


Frostgave: Maze of Malcor Miniature Pre-Order Campaign!

It is a big day for Frostgrave fans! It is the start of the Maze of Malcor Miniature Pre-Order Campaign.

As of today, a host of new Frostgrave miniatures are available to pre-order, including five new wizards and apprentices, a dozen or so new monsters, some new specialist soldiers, and the Frostgrave Soldiers II box set. This last item, which features twenty, plastic, multi-pose female soldiers is something that me and the gang from Osprey and Northstar have wanted to produce since the game was launched. 

To make it all more fun and interesting, the pre-order campaign has taken a page from Kickstarter and established 'spend-goals'. Basically, as the campaign reaches certain total-order thresholds, everyone participating gets freebies. In this case, there is a chance to pick up the phantasmal 'shade' versions of each of the five new wizards.

Most of the figures in the campaign are drawn from Frostgrave: The Maze of Malcor. You can also pick up the book, if you don't have it, and you'll even receive a special bonus treasure token if you do. (A really cool one, I might add).

The campaign lasts for 28 days, so get your order in now. And, remember, this is not a Kickstarter; it is not crowd-funding. All of these figures are either already produced or in the final stages of production. So all of the orders should be shipped soon after the campaign ends. 

I'll post periodic updates for those who are interested.



Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Tiny Cars to Stomp (and a Fun Day with My Son)



This past weekend, I took my two-year-old son to the Folkestone Model Railway Exhibition. He can’t fully articulate his interests, but he doesn’t need a full vocabulary to make his love of ‘choo-choos’ apparent. As for myself, I’ve always loved model trains, even if I have never owned one, and only needed this slight pretext for attending the show. Besides, I figured there would probably be a few items there that would be suitable for wargaming…

The show was actually a bigger, more impressive affair than I expected. There were something on the order of 40 different track layouts on display, and probably 20 dealers. This is the show’s 47th annual installment, so it’s well-established, and even on Sunday it seemed well-attended.

My son loved it. In fact, he liked watching the trains so much, it was often hard to get him away from one display so we could look at another. There were some impressive set-ups. My favourite was a mining scene that had several trains running, including one underground, as-well-as a kind of cable-car set-up. Strangely, my son’s favourite was the guy who was at a table fixing broken trains and running them back and forth on a very short track to see if they worked. He did have a pretty cool engine that was billowing smoke.

The only drawback to the whole experience was that I had to constantly lift up the heavy little kid so he could see the trains. The show did have stools you could use, but even with these he was still a little too small. So, by the end of the show, my arms were burning. 

It’s hard to do any shopping while carrying a 2-year-old who wants to look at trains, but I did manage one little purchase. I bought some tiny cars that I thought would work with my 6mm set-up. I think they are ‘Z-scale’. In truth, they are actually too big for traditional 6mm – although a lot of 6mm is bigger than it is supposed to be these days. Also, when compared to my mechs, which are up on bases, they look even smaller. Anyway, they work for me.

A good day, all-and-all. I suspect we’ll go again next year, if he’s still into trains, when he’ll hopefully be tall enough to use the stool.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The Problem with Novels

Over the last few years, I’ve been having an increasing problem with novels, at least as they relate to my favourite genres of science-fiction and fantasy. It’s not the form itself that bothers me, but the frequency with which I have encountered stories expanded to novel length that would have been better served by some shorter form. These stories just don’t have enough plot – in genres traditionally driven by plot – to fill up 300+ pages. Often you get 100 – 150 pages of really interesting story mixed in with about 200 pages of ‘filler’ – scenes that may be interesting in their own right, but don’t really advance the story.

Unfortunately, this can often be very hard to recognize until you are deep into a book. That said, I do suggest wariness of any books that switch the point-of-view character a lot, especially those that switch to the POV of the villain. While this can be done effectively to tell a great story, it is also the easiest, and laziest, way to fill pages in a book without expanding the plot.

It is easy enough to understand why this happens. The whole fiction publishing industry is driven by the novel. It is by far the easiest format of fiction to sell. For whatever reason, society has decided that a 300 page story is worth £9; this unfortunately leads to the natural (if erroneous) conclusion that shorter stories are only worth a proportional amount. This has had the knock-on effect that short stories, novelettes, and novellas are often not worth an author’s time. All of these forms are actually harder to sell (at professional rates), and earn the author significantly less money than a novel. Thus, authors often don’t want to ‘waste’ a good idea on a short story or novella, when they could expand it to a novel. Unfortunately, for the most part, story ideas have a natural length, and the only way to expand them is through filler.

All of this was brought home to me recently as I read Of Whimsies & Noubles by Matthew Hughes. This science-fiction (maybe science-fantasy) novella clocks in at 74 pages and was published as an independent hardback by specialty publisher PS Publishing for the price of £12. It’s a terrific little story, a sci-fi crime-caper filled with interesting ideas. The main character is an overweight art-forger who likes to live the good life. He’s not an attractive character, but he is interesting. What I really love about the story is that it has no fat whatsoever – no filler at all. Every scene drives the story forward until it reaches its logical conclusion. That’s not to say the story is predictable, just that it never wanders from the main story line, and when it reaches a natural stopping point, it ends. Because of its short length, I don’t want to say much about it, but if it sounds like your kind of thing, it is definitely worth a look.

Now Matthew Hughes got lucky. He found one of the few publishers willing to publish a stand-alone novella. He probably even got paid a decent amount for it. That said, I have little doubt that he could have easily expanded the idea into a novel, sold it, and gotten a much bigger paycheque compared to time worked. On the other hand, the reading public would have lost a great novella to have it replaced by a likely mediocre novel. That would have been a real shame.

But now, I put forward the question: how many people are willing to pay £12 for 74 pages? The answer is – not many. That is why the book is published by the small press. I admit it, I would have a hard time paying that much for a novella unless I was a BIG fan of the author. That’s not a short at the publisher, they have to charge that kind of money if they have any hope of making a profit (Actually £12 is a really good price, usually these kinds of things are closer to £20).

Seemingly anthologies would be an answer to this problem, but, strangely, these sell significantly worse than novels, possibly even worse than independently published novellas.

The only answer, I suppose, is to be willing to pay for good fiction even when it is in a shorter format. The more people that do so, the larger a print run becomes, the cheaper the publisher can make the cover price. A good book is nearly always worth the price, a bad one never is. Of Whimsies & Noubles is a really good book.

[In the interests of full disclosure, I was sent this book for review, and had previously never encountered the author Matthew Hughes. I will be looking into him ore now. Over the last few years; however, I have purchased several independently published novellas, most recently The Last Full Measure by Jack Campbell]

Monday, 8 October 2018

Gamorrean Guards and Me

Return of the Jedi was first released when I was 7 or 8 years old. Thanks to the magic of terrestrial television and Betamax, I had seen the previous two Star Wars films, and absolutely loved them. I suspect my parents struggled with whether or not to take me to see the film, but, in the end, I think they deemed it important for my education. So, on one Saturday afternoon, my Dad took me to the dollar theater to catch the film before it exited theaters for good. (Remember when dollar theaters were a thing?).

The opening segment of the movie absolutely terrified me. Jabba’s palace is such a creepy, evil place. The rancor was the scariest thing I had ever seen, and when it crunched into that Gamorrean Guard I think I nearly passed out. To this day, that whole sequence remains my favourite bit of Star Wars. (Although Lucas damaged it badly with the Extended Editions). In fact, if Return of the Jedi ended with the destruction of Jabba’s sail barge, I think it would still be my favourite Star Wars film.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for taking the risk of giving a kid nightmares. That little investment in my future has paid huge dividends.

I am still slowly working my way through the stuff I acquired at GenCon this year, and that includes a load of Star Wars: Imperial Assault figures, most of them from the Jabba’s Realm expansion. The figures in the box are terrific. Wonderful detail, crisp casting. They are significantly better than the figures that came in the original box.

Now, in truth, I don’t play the game, but I enjoyed painting this figure a lot, and I am looking forward to trying a few more. I actually like these figures a lot better than the Star Wars: Legion figures, that are all the hotness right now, for the simple reason that they are more or less in scale with every other miniature I own. Legion figures are just too large.

I’m not sure what I’ll use these figures for, but I’m sure I’ll find something…

Standing next to a Pig Iron trooper for scale purposes.


Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Aerospace Support!


Yesterday, I mentioned that my new mech was part of my ‘Firehawks Legion’. I am using the term ‘legion’ under its definition as a combined-arms military unit. In the future I hope to add tanks, infantry, etc. For the moment though, I am concentrating on aerospace support.

The fighter is a ‘Salamander’ miniature that was originally manufactured for Silent Death: The Next Millennium, a space-fighter game from the 80s/90s. I am a huge fan of this game, which I think has really stood the test of time, and plan to use my work on the Firehawks as the basis for painting up a bunch of fighters to play the game. I’ve even ordered a new outer space hex map from Cigar Box Battles!

For those interested, the fighter is part of a set of twelve plastic minis that can still be obtained from EM-4 in the UK (although they are listed as out of stock at the moment) and Metal Express in the USA. It’s probably the best deal in space fighter minis around!

I painted this guy up in the blue and red of the Firehawks. Nothing fancy, just slap some paint on, give it a wash, a bit of dry brushing, and there you go. Easy and effective!

Well, I say easy – this guy actually had a wing-man, but he didn’t survive the painting process... 

Foolishly, I painted the figure while not on its flight stand, and got enough paint in the hole that it would no longer fit. In order to clean out the hole, I got my dremel tool and, in a fit of over-enthusiasm, managed to drill straight through the figure. I probably could have salvaged it, but decided it probably wasn’t worth the effort, considering I’ve got at least three more of them.

When you are piloting a mech, it is good to know you’ve got support in the skies above!


Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Battlemech 2: Thunderbolt


Continuing my slow painting of the new Battletech box set, I recently finished this Thunderbolt. He’ll be joining my ‘Firehawks Legion’ – which for the moment consists of him and the Locust.

I don’t have a lot of knowledge about how various mechs compare, but it looks like he’s a good ‘all arounder’ with some pretty heavy armour and a mix of short and long range weapons. Maybe not the most ‘offensive’ of mechs, but one who is going to stay the fight.

Once again, I am really pleased with the new mechs. The design looks tough and military in the 1980’s science-fiction kind of way that I find most appealing. I’m somewhat less pleased with my own paint job. It probably needed another coat of blue drybrush over the top to de-emphasis the black wash and to take a little shine off it. Still, it looks good enough for the tabletop, and I can’t be bothered to go back to it when I’ve got so many more figures waiting to get painted!

Monday, 1 October 2018

Thanks, HATE


I want to say a big Thank You to the guys from the Hackney Area Tabletop Enthusiasts who came out to Tabletop Gaming Live this weekend and ran demonstration games of Frostgrave and Ghost Archipelago for anyone who was interested. They had a small, dungeon set-up for Frostgrave, and then a bigger (and significantly more colourful!) table for Ghost Archipelago. I’ve chatted with some of them before, when they’ve run demos at Dragonmeet, but it was great to have a chance to really hang out, talk about games and gaming, and meet a bunch of new people. I even signed a few books.

I am seriously lucky (and grateful) to have people like this playing my game and encouraging others to play it as well.

One of the highlights of the weekend was having a chance to play a quick game of Ghost Archipelago with Gary and Maciek. To speed things along, we only played with half-sized warbands. The good news was that I had brought along my newly painted Ghost Archipelago crew for just such an eventuality. The bad news was that Maciek had brought along his horde of newly painted giant spiders… 

The game opened with Cassandra, her Warden, a scout, and a couple of crewmen jumping in a boat and rowing over to ‘spider island’. Boldly, Cassandra jumped out of the boat and promptly lost a fight to giant spider, took one point of damage, and was poisoned. She had to be rescued by a crewman. So actually, I had a stronger opening than Gary, who quickly lost his Heritor to a giant snake. Things picked up from there. My scout shot down a couple of spiders, and a crewman took out another. Cassandra eventually killed one on her own.

Due to the heavy population of snakes and spiders, actual crew-on-crew action was minimal. I did manage to cast warp weapon on Maciek’s Warden and destroy his sword. This led to one of the best moments in the game, when his Warden, now unarmed, punched a goliath scorpion in the face, before jumping in a boat to make his get-away. Meanwhile, Gary’s Warden washed away one of my crewman with a well-placed Wrath of the Waves.
There are so many spiders lurking just off camera!

Eventually, I managed to secure two treasures. Gary had one, while Maciek had one in the bag, with another being carried by a lowly crewman. The crewman had two choices – face the goliath scorpion or jump into the water and try to swim. He opted for later, jumped into the water and promptly drowned as Maciek rolled a 1 for his swimming roll…  Victory by default!

Now, one may question whether I should count experienced points earned in this very casual pick-up game, but I talked to the designer and he said it was okay. So, Cassandra gained 130xp, while Sliss the Warden got 100xp. I also rolled for treasure and came up with 20gc, a Gemstone of Casting (nice) and a dose of stinkwort.

Anyway, once again, thanks to all of the members of the HATE club that came out over the weekend, and an special thanks to Sasha for organizing it! I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

See that treasure token on the right? That's where my crewman was standing before Wrath of the Waves...

Friday, 28 September 2018

Rangers of Shadow Deep: Companions


Last week, I talked about creating a ranger for Ranger sof Shadow Deep. This week, I want to look at the companions. Unlike Frostgrave or Ghost Archipelago, a ranger does not have a fixed ‘warband’. Instead, before each new mission, they may select a group of companions to accompany them. A ranger can select the same companions for every mission, and there is some encouragement to do so, but it is not required.

Every ranger has Base Recruitment Points (BRP) as one of their stats. This number starts at 100 and can be increased by spending Build Points as discussed last time. If you are playing the game solo, this is the total number of Recruitment Points (RP) you will have for any mission, and you can use those RPs to select up to seven companions. If you are playing the game co-operatively, there is a chart which tells you how to modify your BRP to get your actual RP for the mission. It will also tell you the maximum number of companions you have. So, when playing co-operatively, each player will have a ranger and at least one companion, but not as many as if you are playing the game solo.

The rulebook contains a large list of companions, each of which has an RP cost. Each companion has their own stats, abilities, and sometimes skills. Companions include everything from bloodhounds and falcons, to rouges and guardsmen, and even barbarian warriors and conjurers. Obviously, the more powerful the companion, the more RPs they cost. While companions do not gain experience points like rangers, they do have their own, much simpler progression system. So, it is possible for the companions to improve along with the ranger, if they are taken on a lot of missions (and survive).

With my ranger Aelwyn getting ready for her first mission, it is time for her to select her companions. I knew she would be going it solo, so I increased her BRP up to 120.

Since Aelwyn chose not to take any spells, I decided the first thing she needed was a bit of magical support, so for 20 RP she took a Conjurer. The Conjurer can take two spells each game, or 3 if you pay an extra 10RP, but I wasn’t sure I was going to have those extra points.

Next up, there are several skills that Aelwyn is lacking. So I picked up an Arcanist for 15 RP, who is skilled in both Read Runes and Ancient Lore, and a Rogue for 20RP who is good at traps, picking locks and the like.
 
All good so far, but a bit weak when it comes to fighting. Next up, I took a couple of Men-at-Arms for 20RP each – partly because I just got a sprue of Oathmark humans and wanted to paint them up.

The party is taking shape, but a little lacking in missile weapons, so for another 20RP, I selected an Archer. This left me with a total of 5RPs remaining, so Aelwyn took a loyal hound to round out her party. As a last step, I can choose one skill for each of her companions to have at +3. I won’t bother going through all of these with you. These won’t come up much, but it gives each companion just a little more character, and there are situations where it may prove useful.

So Aelwyn took the maximum 7 companions. In truth, she went pretty ‘middle of the road’ with most of them, generally avoiding either the cheaper or more expensive models. This was mainly driven by the models I wanted to paint more than anything else. Once I have them all painted, these will probably be Aleywn’s usual party, at least when playing solo. Should I happen to play co-operatively, I’ll have less RP to play with, and I’ll have to rethink who I take.
 
So there’s a quick look at selecting companions. If I manage to get the all painted, then next week I’ll see if I can give you a quick report of Aelwyn attempting her first mission.

For those really interested in Rangers of Shadow Deep,  I have shared a couple of other small bits and pieces on the Facebook group, so you might want to join, but all major announcements will be made here as well.

As you can see, I haven’t quite finished painting them up all of the companions. The two Men-at-Arms are Oathmark Human Infantry, one with a Ghost Archipealgo head. The Archer is a Frostgrave Barbarian – if you paint them green they just look like rough woodsmen! The Conjuror is the apprentice Sigilist from Frostgrave. I’ve nearly finished painting the thief, who is a Frostgrave plastic soldier. I just need to find a dog – back to the box of unpainted lead!

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Man-at-Arms of Alladore


Later this week, I’m going to write a post about selecting companions for your ranger in Rangers of Shadow Deep, but in the meantime, I need to paint a few!

Here is my first effort, a simple man-at-arms. This figure is built using parts from the new Oathmark Human Infantry box, except for the head, which comes from the Ghost Archipelago Crew set.

While I am biased, I’ve got to say I love the simplicity of the Oathmark set. It really is the plastic humans I’ve been waiting for. That said, I think the switch to the Ghost Archipelago head gives the figure a much more veteran look. He’s more of an adventurer than a straight soldier.

On his shield I’ve painted the Silver Star of Alladore. Alladore is the name of the kingdom that now stands on the brink of The Shadow Deep (although players are free to use their own kingdom if they prefer). I’m not much of a freehand painter, but I think the star came out okay.



Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Battletech

Battletech probably has the most tortured history of any tabletop game in the last forty years. I won’t go into it all here, partly because I don’t even know it all, but since the game launched in 1985 it has suffered multiple ownership changes and lawsuits, a division of its ownership with regards to the tabletop versus video game, the ‘disappearance’ of several mechs from the game resulting in the strange group known as ‘the unseen’, etc. Today the game is owned by Topps (famous for its sports cards) but licenses to Catalyst Game Labs.

At the same time, in order to stay fresh, every major company development resulted in a major shake-up in the game’s ‘history’. The game now has 6 (seriously 6!) distinct eras in the history of its universe. Some people find this a real headache; others like the vast history the game covers. I’m kind of in this second camp, but I’m a very casual fan.

I was there at the beginning, or near enough. I was about 9 or 10 when the game first came out. Although I never played the game a lot, its artwork, and its fiction, filled with big stompy robots blasting one another to pieces, fired my imagination. I bought a few mechs, I played a few games, I kept track of its developments.

As the years passed though, I encountered two major problems in my enjoyment of the game. First, the rules just kept growing at a rate I couldn’t keep up with, until there were hundreds (thousands?) of mechs and vehicles, and scores of different weapons systems. More importantly, after the ‘unseen’ mechs disappeared, I really hated most of the new mech designs. These new mechs just seemed awkward and silly to me. More like comedy robots that giant death machines. So, for the most part, I drifted away. I still read the occasional fiction book, but that was about it.

Then, a couple of years ago, I noticed that the look of the mechs (at least in the artwork) had changed again. They had been re-imagined. They looked tougher, meaner, more ‘military’. (At least in an throwback kind of way). Soon thereafter, I heard that Catalyst Game Labs, in their efforts to keep the game relevant in today’s gaming market, were releasing a new box set with 8 re-imagined mechs. These new mechs looked fantastic! The new set was scheduled to be launched at GenCon, which I just happened to be attending…

So, my first stop, on the first day of GenCon was at the Catalyst Game Labs booth, where I bought the new box set, the new source book (Shattered Fortress) and a new book of fiction. I didn’t get my first look at the minis until that night, but when I did, I was thrilled. These are the kind of mechs I had always imagined. They were fantastic. In some ways they are more like board game pieces (than classic metal miniatures), being a kind of slightly bend plastic, but they have incredible detail and hold paint well.

Catalyst sold out of the new box set sometime on day two of GenCon, I believe. I have recently seen that the general launch has been delayed until sometime later this year. From what I have seen, this is the main knock against Catalyst - getting their product can be extremely difficult. Hopefully it will be out soon.

Although GenCon is now a ways in the past, I’ve only just started to paint my new mechs. Here is my first one, the smallest one in the box, the ‘Locust’. It’s a great example of the new style of mech. Lots of hard edges. In truth, I have no great talent when it comes to painting machines. Most of my practice has been on 'living' things. Still, I’m happy enough with how it has turned out.

Will I play the game? I don’t know. I might give it a try. I still like aspects of it, although some of the mechanics seem a bit dated to me. If nothing else, perhaps it will kick me into doing more work on the Mech War / Frostgrave variant I included in Spellcaster: Issue 2.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Songbird Treasure Token


Believe it or not, this is a Frostgrave treasure token. It was produced to go with a specific scenario in The Maze of Malcor (set in an aviary) and given away to those who purchased the book through North Star. It has since been unavailable, but rumour says it will return with The Maze of Malcor figure Nickstarter that is coming in the next week or two.

I painted mine up last week, although I must admit, I wanted it more for my Ghost Archipelago table than my Frostgrave one. It’s just such a lovely little piece of scatter terrain. (That’s hard cover for any figure standing right behind it!)

I loved painting the head and the creeping vines, but I hated painting the songbird. I made two attempts to paint it in multi-colours based on real songbirds, and both attempts were dismal failures. With the paint starting to get a little thick on it, I gave up and just painted the whole thing a pinky-purple with a yellow beak. I think it works, though I’d love to see what someone like Kev Dallimore could do with it.

My daughter wandered into my office while I was painting it and declared,‘See, you do have pink!’ I don’t think I had ever denied this – although, for the record it is Vallejo Magenta…

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.

Move
6

Fight
+2
Shoot
+1
Armour
10
Will
+4
Health
18

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.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Rangers of Shadow Deep, Coming Soon!


A kingdom stands on the brink of destruction, as the vast realm known as the Shadow Deep slowly swallows everything in its path. As the army fights to contain the tide of evil creatures teeming up out of the black clouds, the kingdom’s best soldiers, the rangers, must venture down into the shadows to gather information, rescue prisoners, and ambush enemy supply lines. It is a desperate fight against seemingly overwhelming odds, but every little victory brings another day of hope…

As readers of Spellcaster will know, I have been quietly working on a new game that I hope to self-publish in the next few weeks. Rangers of Shadow Deep uses some of the core Frostgrave mechanics, but takes them in a new direction. First off, Rangers of Shadow Deep is designed to be played either solo or co-operatively, with up to 4 players all taking on the roles of rangers. Also, while the game is still very much a table-top miniature game, it takes one more step in the direction of role-playing. Each player creates their own ranger, choosing from a host of different abilities, skills, and spells. While the players are called ‘rangers’, it is easy enough to create a character that looks more like a knight in shining armour or a devious spellcaster. You could even play a ranger who is more of an academic, focusing on skills, while letting your companions do the majority of the fighting. Every ranger also has companions, the number of which will vary depending on the number of players, but these too will have their own abilities and skills.

Once the players have created their rangers, they can start playing missions. Each mission is like a mini-campaign and consists of two or more scenarios. In some cases, these will be straight-forward: play scenario 1 and then scenario 2. In other cases, each scenario has an important effect on the next one. Once the players have finished up the three starter missions in the book, they will be ready to tackle, Burning Light. This is the massive 9-scenario mission that forms the last quarter of the rulebook. During this mission, the rangers will explore the ruins of a convent in the Shadow Deep. The rangers will be able to choose what order they explore the different areas of the ruins, and the order they choose could have a profound effect on how easy or hard each scenario turns out. Each area/scenario gives the rangers the opportunity to find clues as to the resting place of an ancient artifact. 

Of course, as the rangers go through all of these missions they will gain experience, which will entitle them to increase their stats, abilities, skills, etc. Their companions will also progress, becoming more useful as they become hardened to the dangers of the Shadow Deep.

In many ways, Rangers of Shadow Deep is the next step in the development of the Frostgrave system, but, more importantly, it is a stand-alone adventure game, where players must work together to defend their kingdom against a seemingly unstoppable darkness.

I have completely finished the manuscript for Rangers of Shadow Deep, and I have all of the artwork as well. (All of it created by my friend Barrett Stanley). All of this material is currently with the designer. There will probably be a few back-and-fourths on the design, then I will give it one final editorial check, and then the game will be ready for release. I am hopeful that the game will be out in just a few weeks.

In the meantime, over the next couple of weeks, I will be showing off different parts of the game here on my blog, including creating a ranger and companions, and maybe showing off a scenario or two.

I am also hard at work on the first little supplement for the game, which will both give the players a new mission to complete, and also push the whole narrative of the game forward.

The game will originally be available as a PDF from RPGNow.com, or directly from me, with a print-on-demand version to follow at some future date. I hope I’ve got you interested!