Monday, 13 August 2018

Everything Frostgrave


After nearly four years of continuously working on the world of Frostgrave, there is a lot of stuff out there. To help those who might be a bit confused, or fear they might be missing something, I have compiled this list, which I believe contains everything I have worked on that is currently available. (Please let me know if you seen something I have missed). This list is always available on this blog by clicking on the Frostgrave tab in the bar above. I will do my best to keep it up to date!

All Frostgrave products currently available:


Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City (Main Rulebook)

Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich Lord (Campaign and Expansion)

Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits (New Rules for Underground, Beastcrafter wizards)

Frostgrave: Forgotten Pacts (New Rules for Demons)

Frostgrave: The Frostgrave Folio (Rules for Captains, A solo/co-op campaign, a couple other campaigns).

Frostgrave: Ulterior Motives (Card Deck with 40 Secret Mission / Side Quests)

Frostgrave: Maze of Malcor (Some Rule Updates, New Wizard Types, Big Campaign)

Frostgrave: The Grimoire (Spellcards - Includes all Spells from all Supplements)

Frostgrave: Tales of the Frozen City (Fiction Collection - Not by me!)

Frostgrave: Second Chances (A Novel by Matthew Ward contains an exclusive scenario written by me)

Frostgrave: Oathgold (A Novel by Mathew Ward contains an exclusive scenario written by me)


Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine

Issue 1 (Black Powder Rules, Horses, Knightly Orders, Solo Scenario, Mini Campaign)

Issue 2 (Rules for Dragons, Traps in Ghost Archipelago, Frostgrave Mech War)

Issue 3 (Rangifer Warbands, Rangifer Solo Campaign, Ulterior Motives in Ghost Archipelago)


Freebies!

Arachno Assassins in Frostgrave (Stats for a great set of Reaper Miniatures)

Standing in the Eye! (A charity scenario)

Troll Hunt (A scenario for wizards who think they are so tough...)



Magazine Articles

The Frostgrave Auction (Wargames Soldier and Strategy Issue 83)

   Extra Content for Above Article (Posted on this Blog)

Scenario: The Bridges of the Mal Dreath (Tabletop Gaming Issue 3, Reprinted in Spellcaster 1)

Skeletal Archers in Frostgrave (Wargames Illustrated Issue 341)

The Cuelebre (In Spanish - Falcata Issue 1) [Rules for a dragon-like creature]

The Failed Breed (Tabletop Gaming Issue 6)

Planar Storm (Miniature Wargames #405 [Scenario for use with Forgotten Pacts])

Designing Ulterior Motives (Miniature Wargames #410) [Two exclusive Ulterior Motive cards]



Campaign Days

The Lost Formula (written for Wargames Illustrated Frostgrave Campaign Day)

[The link for this on the Wargames Illustrated Pages seems to be broken at the moment.]

The Catacombs of the Evrenbright (In Spellcaster: Issue 1)


All Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago products current available:

Ghost Archipelago: Fantasy Wargames in the Lost Isles (Main Rulebook)

Ghost Archipelago: Lost Colossus (10 Scenario Campaign Expansion)

Ghost Archipelago: Gods of Fire [September Release] (Creating New Tribes, 3 Campaigns)

Ghost Archipelago: Accessory Pack (Contains Blood Burn Die and cards for Heritor Abilities and Warden Spells)

Ghost Archipelago: Tales of the Lost Isles (Fiction collection, include exclusive scenario by me)


Magazine Articles

The Floating Hulk (Solo scenario in Wargames Illustrated 361)

The Fire Swamp (Scenario based on The Princess Bride in Tabletop Gaming 13)



Friday, 10 August 2018

Ghost Archipelago: Gods of Fire

Look what just landed on my desk! It’s an advance copy of Ghost Archipelago: Gods of Fire, due for release next month.

The first thing that is noticeable about this supplement is its size. At 96 pages, it is significantly longer than the previous supplement, Lost Colossus. I suppose I should know, since I wrote nearly 50% more words for this one. This is actually going to be the size of all of the Frostgrave supplements going forward. Personally, I find it much more satisfying, not just because it is a thicker book, but because it gives me a lot more room to play around with things and include fun stuff.

For example, a large section of this book is devoted to creating different groups of Tribals. This centres around a long list of positive and negative attributes, that include everything form armour weavers and death worshipers to poor tool makers and herb addictions. Using this system of attributes, there are hundreds of distinct tribes that can be created, each with their own unique rules.

This is especially important because Tribals play a much greater role in the scenarios in this book than has previously been the case for any group. Some of the scenarios are played twice, with one side bringing their Heritor and the other bringing a Tribal warband. Other scenarios are a more traditional player vs. player, but with each player bringing some Tribal allies. In each case, players can create their own tribe when fielding these troops (or just use one of the sample tribes provided).

I also wrote a few new rules concerning small boats, including  capsizing, using canoes instead of small boats, and for mounting a ‘swivelbow’ in your small boat. Oh yeah, who doesn’t want a swivelbow!

The new scenarios are bunched into three campaigns, one with two scenarios, one with three, and one with five, and as mentioned previously, a couple of those should be played twice. So, plenty of adventure found in these pages.

Finally the book includes new treasures and new monsters, including rules for the Kraken! (Am I the only one who thinks ‘Kraken’ should always be capitalized, even if it is one of many and not a unique monster?).

As you may, or may not, have heard, Osprey Games and North Star will also be producing a set of plastic Tribals to accompany the book. I’m not sure of the exact release date on those, but I have seen a mock-up of the sprue and can confirm that it contains optional masks for all of the figures!

Monday, 30 July 2018

Tales from the Miskatonic University Library


With the recent enjoyment I received from reading Cthulhu 2000, I have been on the look-out for other weird tale anthologies I might enjoy. Recently, Tales from the Miskatonic University Library came to my attention, and it intrigued me for two reasons. One, being a bibliophile, I am attracted to books that have books as one of their central themes, but also, being a bibliophile, I was interested because the book comes from PS Publishing, an England-based, small-press publisher specializing in fantasy and science-fiction.

Long story made short, I bought a copy. So, let’s take a closer look.

The book is 6” wide by 8.5” tall, making it just slightly shorter than average hardback novels, and about the same dimensions as Cthulhu 2000. It comes with a dust jacket with appealing (if not ‘attractive’) cover artwork. This artwork is repeated, without the text, on the front and back covers of the book, an interesting and slightly unusual choice. Normally I prefer cloth boards, but I like this. I even briefly considered ditching the dust jack, but this left a blank spine, which doesn’t look so great on the shelf.

The paper is of a nice, high quality; the printing is excellent, and the text is extremely readable. The book was printed and bound in England (by T. J. International). This is somewhat unusual as British printers usually can’t compete with foreign printers, and probably speaks of a small print run.

I was slightly disappointed the book did not have head and tail bands (these are the little bands on the top of the binding, inside the spine). It’s a minor point, but it’s a very easy, and not overly expensive, way for publishers to increase the quality feel of their books.

Overall, I was very pleased with the look and feel of the book. At £20 for 200 pages, this seemed a reasonable price from a small-press publisher.

Now, to the actual contents! The book features 13 short stories, from 13 different authors. One of these, Harry Turtledove, I would put as a ‘big name’. Of the remaining dozen, several are well-known within the weird-fiction/pulp/Lovecraftian subgenres.

Of the tales, I probably enjoyed about half of them. I don’t generally care for humorous, or tongue-in-cheek weird tales, and this anthology includes several. These may be great stories for those who are into such things, I’m not really qualified to say.

There were, however, a few tales that really stood out for me.

The first of these, and the first in the book, is Slowly Ticking Time Bomb by Don Webb. This is a terrific little tale about a pair of used/rare book dealers, a lost city, and a very odd book of magic. It’s a really inventive story, and covers a lot of ground in its 14 pages. Although it’s a horrific tale, there is a really nice heart to the story. Definitely an author to keep an eye on.

In the middle of the book comes Will Murray’s A Trillion Young. I’ve encountered Will Murray’s name many times before, but usually when writing about pulp heroes such as The Shadow or Doc Savage; this is the first time I’ve seen his Lovecraftian fiction. In truth, I didn’t expect to like the story, which opens up with the Necronomicon being digitized and released onto the web, but Murray drives it forward with such relentless energy that I couldn’t help but be pulled along. It’s basically an ‘outbreak’ story with weird tale trappings, but it is thoroughly enjoyable.

Probably my favourite story in the whole collection comes in the second half with The White Door by Douglas Wynne. This is a relatively simple tale about a book that moves itself from library to library. I think the amazing thing about the story is the ending. Douglas shows off some real writing skill in presenting an ending that is as horrific as any imagined by Lovecraft, and yet manages to put just the tiniest glimmer of hope in there. It’s rather refreshing in a genre with its clichéd ‘but it wasn’t actually dead! endings’.

While several others stories were enjoyable enough, those were the stand-out tales for me. In truth, I would have hoped to enjoy the whole book a tad more than I did, but, as I said, a chunk of the stories were not of the kind that would ever appeal to me. Others may find more to love.

Combining the text with the book itself, however, I am impressed by the offering from PS Publishing. The book's quality was high, the editing was terrific, and it contained some really good writing. I would happily order other titles from them.

Friday, 27 July 2018

I Cracked – The Fall of Gondolin


I am a weak. For most of my life, I have operated a strict ‘no pre-order' policy. Although this means I sometimes end up paying a bit extra, and on rare occasions, miss-out, I think it has stood me in good stead.

I have found, through long life experience, that I tend to enjoy an item less when I pre-order than I do if I purchase it when it is already available. My interests are extremely varied, and tend to flit from one thing to another very quickly. Thus, if I pre-order something I’m interesting in at the moment, it is possible, likely even, that I will be significantly less interested by the time it arrives.

But…a few rare things are so close to my heart, that I am confident my interest will be high whenever they arrive. And thus, I have pre-ordered The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Readers of this blog will long be familiar with my love of Middle-earth, so I don’t think it is worth elaborating upon. I do believe, though, that this book has a special place. I am pretty confident that it is the last time we will get a book, with a Middle-earth story, written by J.R.R. and edited by his son Christopher. And not just any story, but one of the true epics of Middle-earth.

I have no doubt the Tolkien estate is going to continue to make money off Middle-earth after Christopher Tolkien is done (in fact, they already are with the sale of TV rights to Amazon), but I really doubt that anyone in the future will treat the original writings with the same respect, love, and devotion that Christopher has shown in a lifetime of editing his father’s work.

So, in some ways, I think this is it. It is not something I want to miss, and I know it is going to be a book I want to sink into as soon as it is released. Also, I know I'm going to want it in hardback, and not just because of the gorgeous Alan Lee artwork on the dust-jacket!

I am weak, but occasionally, just a little bit of weakness can be fun.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Snakeman Mercenary and Ancient Stone

Another miniature (or two) has fallen before my brush. This time it is the snakeman mercenary sculpted by Bobby Jackson to accompany the release of Ghost Archipelago: Lost Colossus. While I intended to paint this guy merely for use in random encounters and what-not, I am so pleased with him, he might have to join up with a crew for some adventuring. He certainly looks more like a great hero than a run-of-the-mill fighter.

Once again, the contrast really works here; the green skin nicely off-setting the white skirt and the gold armour. It’s such a clean sculpt, it was extremely easy to paint. In fact, it was so easy, I felt comfortable trying a little freehand on it, as can be seen in the blue edging of the skirt with its golden decorations. (Actually, the decorations seem to have gone white in the photo, I guess from reflecting light.)

Whenever I’m working on a miniature, I like to keep a couple of extra little ‘bits’ on hand – scenery, or treasure tokens, or the like. This gives me something I can work on if I’m waiting for paint (or more often a wash) to dry on my main miniature. So, while I painted the snakeman, I also painted up this ‘runic stone’. This stone comes from the Frostgrave Ulterior Motives Red Herrings set. Something like it is necessary for use with Frostgrave: Ulterior Motives, but it is also the kind of thing I frequently include in scenarios as an objective of some sort. Even if it isn’t specifically needed for a scenario, it’s just adds a bit of visual interest to any tabletop.

I based the stone for use in Ghost Archipelago because I have recently written some Ulterior Motives cards for use in the Lost Isles. These appeared in Spellcaster:Issue 3.

Even outside of the world of Frostgrave, I can see this stone getting use. It’ll look good on any Middle-earth or even Dark Age battlefield.

Since my wife was out when I painted this, I had to keep one ear glued to the baby monitor and thus I was unable to listen to anything.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Kai Lord / Middle-earth Ranger


This miniature has been languishing on my lead pile for nearly two years. It’s not that I don’t like it, quite the opposite in fact. It’s just that I never had a handle on how to paint it.

The figure is the Frostgrave assassin, and I think it is one of Giorgio Bassani’s best sculpts in the range. However, my thoughts about the figure have always been ‘coloured’ by the artwork upon which it is based. In the artwork, the woman is dressed all in grey (as makes sense for an assassin), but I just didn’t think I could pull that off.

Recently, I was having a flip through the Lone Wolf Adventure Game by Cubicle 7 (based on the premiere series of fantasy adventure books of my childhood), and I noticed how closely some of the depictions of the Kia Lords in that book were to the figure. So, instead of grey, I painted the figure a combination of brown and green. As I’ve discovered many times in the past, it is often contrast in colours on a miniature that really makes it a success, and I think that is the case here.

I love how she came out. She’s ready to go fight giaks in Magnamund, orcs in Middle-earth, or maybe even gnolls in the Shadow Deep…

***

I painted this figure while listening to Blood of the Daleks Part 1 and Part 2. (It really is just one story). It’s an enjoyable Doctor Who adventure, if not ground breaking. The story kicks off a full season for Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor, and I am hoping to listen to the whole thing in time. Paul McGann is definitely one of my favourite doctors to listen to on audio.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Cthulhu 2000


During a recent trip home, that mostly consisted of visiting friends and family and watching minor league baseball, I had time to go through some of my old books that are still lingering in my parent’s attic. Among these half-forgotten tomes, I found one entitled Cthulhu 2000, which I don’t remember purchasing. It comes from Arkham House, that legendary publisher of the weird.

I had been disappointed by the book I had brought with me to read, so, despite the miserable title, which makes it sound like ‘Retro Cthulhu in Space!!!’, I picked up this anthology instead. The first story, ‘The Barrens’ by F. Paul Wilson sucked me right in. It’s a fantastic example of a modern Lovecraftian story, and opens with a couple of the best opening lines I’ve seen in a long time:

‘I shot my answering machine today. Took out the old twelve gauge my father left me, and blew it to pieces’

In fact, I would rate the whole book as an above average collection of weird tales. Most are ‘Lovecraftian’ in one way or another, but not all of them. There are a few duds, as there always are, but a few real gems as well.

More important than the stories themselves, was the effect the book had on me. For a while now I have been feeling the urge to write some fiction, and reading Cthulhu 2000 helped kick me into gear.

Last week, I wrote my first fiction story in several years. Okay, it’s a piece of flash fiction that doesn’t even make it to 500 words, but that is of no matter. It is a complete story, and I am proud to have written it. Now I need to start looking for places to submit it so I can start collecting rejection letters again! Because that, more than anything else, is how you really know you are writer!

Anyway, although my copy of Cthulhu 2000 is an Arkham House hardback, I see the book is also available as a cheap paperback. I didn’t realize that Arkham House licensed their books out for paperback. Anyway, if you are in the mood for some weird fiction, it’s got some good reads.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Episode 2: The Black Riders

My adventure in Middle-earth continues, with the second episode of the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. You can read about Episode One here.

The second episode opens up with Gwaihir the Windlord arriving at Orthanc and rescuing Gandalf. I must admit, I found it a bit strange to hear one of the great eagles speak. Although Gwaihir certainly speaks to Gandalf in the book, I  assumed that Gandalf could speak the language of the eagles, not that Gwaihir could speak in the tongues of men. The story continues to follow Gandalf for a bit as he’s dropped off in Rohan, meets Theoden and Grima Wormtongue and eventually rides off on Shadowfax.

The story then cuts to the Black Riders arriving at Orthanac, and getting more or less dismissed by Saruman. However, soon thereafter, they intercept Grima on his way to Orthanc, and it is from Grima that they learn the approximate location of the Shire. The inclusion of this scene is really interesting, because it was written by Tolkien, but does not appear in the The Lord of the Rings. Instead, it can be found in the Unfinished Tales in a section about the Black Riders’ hunt for the ring. It probably shouldn’t be taken as cannon as Tolkien wrote several versions of the journey of the Black Riders (including one where they wipe out a village of the ‘river folk’). I can only assume it was included to give the Nazgul a little more ‘screen time’.

Next we join Frodo, Sam, and Pippin on their way to Crickhollow. As one of my commenters mentioned after the last post, it is a bit hard to get used to Pippin with his rather ‘posh’ accent. Still, it makes him easy to identify in the group of hobbits, which might have been the point. In fact, we stay with the Hobbits for the rest of the episode as they meet with farmer Maggot, arrive at Crickhollow, and push on for Bree and the Prancing Pony.

Although it’s all enjoyable stuff, purists will be saddened by the loss of Fatty Bolger, Gildor Inglorion, and Tom Bombadil, none of whom appear. This last omission is by far the greatest as it is such a wonderful part of the story. Also, without Tom, you don’t get the Barrow-downs, which really is one of the scariest parts of the entire book! It could have made a great episode all by itself. Still, I suppose there were time limitations and something had to go.

One thing we do get, however, is several of the hobbit walking songs, and while none of the principle hobbit actors are great singers, I think this is part of the charm.

At Bree we meet Strider. I have to say, I was a little disappointed when I first heard Strider speak. Played by the well-respected actor Robert Stephens…I don’t know, it just wasn’t quite working for me. However, at this point, I think Strider is putting on a bit of a ‘tough face’, definitely the ranger not the king. I’ll be interested to see if and how the performance changes throughout the series.

High praise does go to James Grout as Butterbur. He just really nails this minor character.

All-and-all, another enjoyable episodes with a few surprises. My tape for this one wasn’t quite as good as the first, and poor famer Maggot went a bit wobbly at one point, but nothing major.

While listening to this episode, I painted up an armoured Haldir figure. Well, I painted him more as a generic high-elf warrior. I struggled with this figure. For my ability and eye-sight, the figure is almost too finely detailed, and initially, with a black undercoat (which I always use), it was hard to figure out what was what.

I knuckled down though, and eventually got the figure to a place I was happy with. I think the decision to go with dark hair was definitely the right one as it helps contrast with all of the gold armour.

Because this figure took me longer than normal to get right, I didn’t manage to finish up an orc to go with him. That’s fine, I’ve still got eleven episodes left. Plenty of time for orcs!

Friday, 13 July 2018

Nightflyers – George R. R. Martin


I am probably one of the few fantasy fans on the planet that has neither watched Game of Thrones nor read any of A Song of Ice and Fire. I won’t go into the long-winded reasons why, but basically, by the time you are my age, you have a pretty good idea of the kind of stories you will like and which ones you won’t.

This doesn’t mean I am against everything Martin has written however, and when I saw Nightflyers on the shelf at the library, I was sufficiently curious to check it out.

Nightflyers is a collection of six science-fiction stories, written by Martin in the seventies and very-early eighties. While these stories all take place in the same universe, they don’t overlap at all. Each one was clearly written to stand alone.

The first thing that is noticeable on reading this book, is that even forty years ago, George R. R. Martin was a master word-smith. His prose even then was a smooth as anyone’s. Of the six stories, I would rate 5 of them as good or great.

Nightflyers – is a classic 'horror in space' novella. Similar in tone and setting to the movie Alien, but a bit more complex. Really good if you are into such stories.

Override – is more of a western, set on another planet, and following a guy who controls a small group of undead miners.

Weekened in a War Zone – The only story in the collection that didn’t work for me. Just a bit too linear, obvious and repetitive for my liking.

And Seven Times Never Kill A Man – What happens when religious fanatics go to war against a group of nearly pacifist aliens? This, apparently. I must admit, I had no idea where this story was headed, but it’s good, and the ending really bent my mind a bit.

Nor the Man-Colored Fires of the Star Ring – A good story with a really neat setting. I saw the ending coming, and it was a tad disappointing, but I enjoyed the ride anyway.

A Song For Lya – Another novella, this time concerned with telepaths, religion, and human interaction with an alien society. This one slowly builds and builds until the reader is presented with a big question about religion. It’s enough to make one uncomfortable, and thus really succeeds.

All-and-all, it’s a very good collection of science-fiction with a couple of really strong stories in it.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

The Shadows of the Past – Episode 1


A few weeks ago, I bought a copy of the 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings on 13 audio cassettes. A couple of weeks later, I bought a machine that could actually play audio cassettes. Last night, I finally sat down and listed to the first episode, The Shadows of the Past.

The episodes opens with a quick bit of narrative about Sauron and the rings of power, and then, to my great surprise, begins the story proper with the capture and torture of Gollum in Mordor! The scene is well performed, and as such, makes slightly uncomfortable listening. The tone of this opening is a far cry from Tolkien’s own opening, which focuses on Hobbits and birthday parties!

As an interesting side note, the agent of Mordor who captures and interrogates Gollum is never identified in the narrative, but is named as the Mouth of Sauron in the end credits.

After this opening sequence, the story becomes more familiar. We hear the Gaffer talking with Ted Sandyman about the Baggins, Bilbo and Frodo discussing the coming party, and, soon enough, the arrival of Gandalf.

By this point, the audio had fully sucked me in. The quality of the acting is excellent. Gandalf especially, played by the famous Shakespearean actor Michael Horden, really delivers. In fact, I am left wondering if Ian McKellen studied this performance before taking on the role himself, as his own delivery is remarkably similar (although McKellen perhaps plays him a bit more quick tempered). Ian Holm, as Frodo, sounds so young that he is nearly unrecognizable as the actor who played Bilbo in the movies. If you listen carefully though, you can definitely recognize the young Bill Nighy who plays Sam.

I was glad to hear that the audio stuck to the chronology of the book, and after Bilbo leaves the Shire, seventeen years pass before the story really picks up again. Gandalf returns, identifies the ring, and immediately sets off again. The Gaffer informs us that Frodo and Sam have moved to Crickhollow, with help from his friends Merry and Pippin.

Then, another slight surprise. We return to Gandalf and his encounter with Radagast the Brown. Wisely, the audio decides to follow the movements of Gandalf at this point instead of having them revealed after the fact, as in the book. It was nice to hear Radagast, and not have him sound like a bumbling fool.

The episodes comes to a close with Gandalf’s trip to Orthanc and his betrayal by Saruman the White. It’s a great cliff hanger of an ending, but also provided my only real disappointment of the episode. Saruman has one truly defining characteristic in the books – his voice. It is said to be his most potent weapon. While Peter Howell turns in a fine performance as Saruman in the episode, he just doesn’t have a voice that reaches out and grabs you. Certainly, he doesn’t have Christopher Lee’s memorable voice.

All-and-all, thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m definitely looking forward to episode 2!


As I mentioned before, I am using the listening of this series as a chance and an excuse to paint some of my backlog of The Lord of the Rings figures. For the first episode, I selected the original Radagast figure (before I knew he would appear in the episode!). I love this figure. Thankfully, it was sculpted long before The Hobbit movies, and thus we get a noble and heroic-looking wizard. I decided to paint him more or less, ‘by the book’, which is to say, I used the same basic colour scheme on him that the painters at Games Workshop did. I think it was a good decision; he’s suitably ‘brown’, but there is enough contrast to make it visually interesting.

Since it normally takes me about 2 hours to paint an miniature, and the audio episodes are only about an hour long, I had to continue on for a while after the tape stopped, but I was having fun, so I didn’t mind.

I also decided that with each figure I paint, I’m also going to paint one orc. You can’t have too many orcs, but they aren’t that much fun to paint, at least not in the quick and dirty style I use (which is all they really deserve). This guy is constructed from a Wargames Factory body and head, but arms from the Frostgrave Gnoll kit.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Obsolescent Technology


The word ‘obsolescent’ isn’t used very often these days. I occasionally encounter it when reading military history, usually in reference to a tank or plane that has been superseded by greatly superior models, but that’s about it.

Essentially, obsolescent means ‘in the process of becoming obsolete’. Which is ironic, because it appears to me that the word obsolescent is itself obsolescent. I do wonder if this is because the word is just little known, and thus not often used, or if the cause lies deeper in Western society. Is our society such that nothing these days is obsolescent? Is everything either ‘modern’ or ‘obsolete’? Or, put another way, is the process of society’s adoption of a new, better technology (or idea?) now so fast, that the obsolescent step is skipped, and the given thing goes straight to obsolete?

Anyway, all of that is really just a preamble for the fact that I purchased a Walkman. Okay, it’s not actually a Walkman, it’s a cheap knock-off (or at least it was 20-30 years ago when it was likely produced). I bought it for $10 during my recent trip to America. I only bought it so I can listen to The Lord of the Rings audio I bought a few weeks ago.

I’ve had a quick test-listen, and there does seem to be a slight ‘wobble’ in the sound, but since I have no other way of checking, I don’t know if that wobble is because of the player, the tapes, or even the original recording. Oh well, I’m quite looking forward to trying it out.

There are 13 episodes in the box set. My plan is to listen to them one-at-a-time, painting a new The Lord of the Rings miniature with each episode and taking the time to blog about each one as I go. So something for readers to look forward to (or endure)!

Friday, 22 June 2018

Ogre Smash!

After a bit of a break, I'm back on the painting train, and just finished up this guy. He's a Reaper Bones miniature, sculpted by Bobby Jackson. I picked him up at Adepticon this year. At $3.50 for such a large miniature, it is hard to resist. 

While he'll be my go-to ogre in future games, I also have plans to use him as a troll in my Middle-Earth battles as he fits my vision pretty well. Here's a shot of him towering over a Gondorian ranger!



Tuesday, 19 June 2018

A Questionable Purchase?


A few months ago, my friend Nick Eyre was extolling the virtues of the 1981 BBC Audio Drama adaption of The Lord of the Rings. I walked away from the conversation promising that if I ever had the chance to listen to it, I would. 

Well, today I was nosing around an Oxfam charity bookstore, when I found the pictured box set. It’s a rather attractive box, in really good condition. The thirteen cassette tapes inside, each containing an episode of the drama, are also in good condition. It even comes with a small, but high-quality reproduction of the map of Middle-earth, so you can follow the path of the adventure as you listen. With a price tag of £10 (and much of that going to charity), it was more than my Tolkien-obsessed mind could resist.

I am especially attracted to it because Ian Holm, who played Bilbo in the Peter Jackson adaptation plays Frodo in this one. I’m sure that is not a coincidence.

There is only one problem… I don’t own anything that can play an audio cassette, and haven’t for at least 15 years! It’s the worst kind of purchase – something that requires another purchase to actually use! Well, I’m going to ask around of my friends and relatives to see if anyone has something I can borrow. If not, it looks like they are neither difficult, nor overly expensive, to obtain on ebay.

I’ll keep you updated!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Spellcaster 3 – Print on Demand – Now Available!


Good news for everyone who was waiting to pick up Issue 3 of Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine in print format. I have just received the proofs and approved them for sale.

Once again, I am seriously impressed with the quality of the printing.

I especially like this issue in print because the significantly increased page count makes the magazine look like a proper little booklet.

Remember, anyone buying a print copy also gets the PDF version for free, which is especially nice in this case as Ghost Archipelago players will probably want to print out the Ulterior Motives cards.

You can get your copy from RPGNow.com



The growing spine width of Spellcaster magazine!

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.

Or

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 cafés. 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.