Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The Quiet Launch of Oathmark

My fantasy battle game, Oathmark: Battles of the Lost Age is now available to order from North Star MilitaryFigures. They are packing them up and shipping them out as we speak.

It’s all so different than it was planned. I was supposed to travel to Ireland to shoot videos with Beast of War. I was supposed to go to Adepticon to talk it up. It was supposed to launch at Salute with glorious fanfare. The Salute launch was to be accompanied by all kinds of new figures, special deals, online sales, etc.

But… well, you know the ‘but’. Planes were grounded, travel cancelled, all of the shows postponed. The London ExCel, where Salute is held, is currently being converted into a massive hospital. That fact kind of puts my complaints and disappointments into perspective.

Still, life and games must go on, and our hobbies remain important outlets for relieving stress and finding fun and happiness, especially as so many of us are forced to stay inside most of the time.

If you are interested in Oathmark, and want it sooner rather than later, you are probably best off ordering it from North Star.

If you are just hearing about the game, there is lots of information, and even a few battle reports on the Osprey Games Blog

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Undersea Adventures!

Many months ago, I noticed that Reaper miniatures had released a new ‘zombie shark’ figure, and I wanted one. I just couldn’t quite figure out how I would use it. I began to think of various ways I could cut the figure to get it ‘half on the surface’ so I could use in Ghost Archipelago games, but the more I thought about it, the more it just seemed like too much effort. Plus, I’d probably just end up destroying the figure in the process.

Then one day it occurred to me that if a scenario was set under the water, I wouldn’t have to cut the miniature, I’d just need to mount it on some kind of base. Of course, if I did that, I would need a bunch of other undersea creatures…and some new terrain…and a new mat…and new rules…

And so I set-off on a new miniature project. Oddly, I didn’t start by buying the zombie shark. Instead, I bought a pack of ‘vicious fish’. I figured this would be the best way to start my undersea bestiary, as they are sort of the ‘lowest common denominator’ monster, in the same way that skeletons are in Frostgrave. Anyway, this pack really let me go crazy with the colours, which is a nice change, as most of the figures I tend to paint are more on the drab side.

I also painted up a couple of Frostgrave magmites which I’m going to use as bottom-feeding creatures.

I got a new mat from Cigar Box battles. After a good bit of thought, and much consultation with my team of gaming experts, I decided to go with a desert mat, which is serving as the base for the photos. This is somewhat ironic, a desert mat, serving as the base for undersea adventures, but I figure in the clear waters of the Ghost Archipelago, it’ll make a great sandy bottom, especially once I decorate it with some cool terrain.

Now, I must admit, the virus has somewhat interrupted my plans, and I’m now more painting ‘whatever I’ve got’, than ordering new stuff at the moment. But I’ve got a few other undersea things to work on, and I’ll definitely continue working on this project!

Friday, 27 March 2020

Frostgrave is Free!!!

I have been talking with Osprey Games about how we can help out with all of the people who are currently stuck at home, either by government order or because they are helping by self-isolating. It seems like this is a time when everyone could use a little solo gaming! I suggested that we give away Dark Alchemy, since that has 3 solo scenarios… but that only helps people who already play Frostgrave.  So, in the end, we just decided to give away the Frostgrave rulebook too!

Right now, you can go onto the Osprey Publishing website and download both the Frostgrave Rulebook and Dark Alchemy as FREE PDFs using the code: FGV2020.

But that didn't seem quite enough for what is likely to be a long lockdown, so we are also giving away the first section of Frostgrave: Perilous Dark, which includes 3 more SOLO scenarios, as well as some advice on creating your own solo scenarios.

So, if you’ve ever wondered about the game, but weren’t sure, here is a chance to give it a look! You can even try it out, solo-style, by using the scenarios found in Dark Alchemy and Perilous Dark

And don’t worry – Frostgrave has always been a game about using whatever miniatures and terrain you have – no need to buy anything new to start. So, have some fun, roll some dice, fight some monsters and see if you can survive. Then hop online to the Frostgrave Facebook Page, Board Game Geek, Reddit, Lead Adventure, or any other wargame hangouts and share your stories and your pictures, so we can all share in the adventure.

Good luck!

P.S. Play Dark Alchemy first, Perilous Dark is much harder!

Drichean Princess

I have been taking my time assembling my new Ghost Archipelago crew, really scouring the internet to find figures that really excite me. Well, I saw this one, and knew I just had to have her. She comes from the Wargames IllustratedGiants in Miniature’ line of limited-edition figures. You can order one from North Star. The figure actually represents a historical figure, but I didn’t want to know too much about her, as I wanted my own story.

What is most immediately noticeable about this figure is that she has a baby on her back! Certainly unusual for a wargaming piece, but wonderful in its way. This immediately got a story forming in my mind.

I haven’t got a name for her yet, but she’s a Drichean princess who has been banished by her father after she had an illegitimate child. Captured, and nearly killed by a group of Tribals, she was inadvertently rescued when Cassandra and her crew came crashing through. Cassandra took an immediate liking to the naïve, but tough, princess and figured that her knowledge of the island could prove useful. Thus, she was invited to join the crew.

I painted the figure using the same colours as the ‘official photo’, for the simple reasons that they looked great, and I’m not so good with coming up with colour schemes on my own.

For now, I plan to use her as a ‘standard crewmen’, but at some point she might get upgraded to a blade-dancer (from Cities of Bronze).

Another happy addition!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft could probably identify this figure without the title, others might need help. It’s a Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath from North Star. It is cast is resin (thank goodness, cause it’s big!), and comes in about 4 parts – a few of the tentacles need attaching.

I had no specific need for this figure, I just wanted to paint it. That said, it should work great as a scar-bark in Ghost Archipelago, or some-kind of demon-tree in Rangers of Shadow Deep. Who knows?

A great figure, easy and fun to paint, I might just have to get another one.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Heritor from Hero Forge

This figure has a bit of a story attached to it. At the end of last year, I decided I would reconstitute my Ghost Archipelago warband. At the time I originally made it, I was really struggling with painting (because of a lack of glasses) and thus I was unhappy with some of the paint jobs. Also, some of the figures just didn’t excite me. So, I salvaged a couple, and then set off to recruit a new crew. One, the Stargazer, I’ve shown off already.

Well, all Ghost Archipelago warbands begin with the Heritor. I had gotten pretty attached to the concept of Cassandra (a.k.a. Big Red), but the figure just didn’t have the size and bulk I wanted. I looked everywhere for a suitable replacement, but couldn’t find anything. Then a friend suggested I check out Hero Forge.

I must admit, I’ve been curious about Hero Forge for a while. If you haven’t heard of them, it is basically a service where you can design your own figure, by picking various races, clothing, weapons, poses, ect., and then get it 3D printed. My friend even sent me a ‘quick build’ of my proposed figure. Well, I had a little play with the system, and found it very easy to use. There really is loads of choice, and if you want to dig deep into it, you can make all kinds of subtle changes to a design.

Now, there is one big drawback – it is pricey. For a single figure you are talking between $20 - $30… There’s no way I’d build a warband that way, but for a one off figure, and as an experiment, I thought it was worth the risk. In fact, I was so curious about how changing the posing on the figure would affect the printing that I ordered two copies of my Heritor in different poses. (An extravagance I slightly regretted, but turned out to be very thankful for, as shall be seen).

It took a little over two weeks for the figures to arrive, but when I opened up the box, they looked great! The detail was a little shallow in places, but probably better than most plastics. With the figure you see painted here, I honestly couldn’t have said that it wasn’t sculpted from the ground up. The other figure, which was in a crouched pose, was also good, although the way the leather straps hung over her skirt looked just slightly unnatural. Still, I would rate both figures as good. Anyway, I preferred her standing up straight, and striding forward, as it made her look more powerful.

I ordered the figures in ‘premium plastic’, which had the feel of normal plastic – but, as it turns out is a bit more brittle. The figure came on an integral base, but I wanted it on a GW base, so I cut/broke it off and re-glued it.

I took a lot of time painting this figure. For the most part this was an enjoyable process, just trying to do my best work. I must admit, the leather skirt-straps were a pain as the detail was shallow there, but most of the rest of the detail was sharp and fun to work with.

After several painting sessions, I had happily completed her. The next morning I blue-tacked her to some cardboard and took her outside to spray with sealer. Unfortunately, a gust of wind caught the cardboard, flipped it in the air, and landed figure-side down on the concrete. For a moment, I thought she had escaped unscathed. Then I realized that her warhammer was gone, neatly snapped off both above and below her hand (kind of astounding really).

After the anger and sadness passed, I started looking for ways to fix her. I couldn’t find the missing bit of hammer…then I realized I had an exact duplicate on the other figure I had ordered. So, I carefully cut off my newly-painted Heritor’s hand, and replaced it with the one from the other figure holding still holding the hammer. The wrist was too thin to risk pinning so, it was all glue and greenstuff. Thankfully, the surgery was a success. She now has a heavy ‘cuff’ on that wrist, but it’s not too noticeable.

So, Cassandra is back, ready to lead a new crew into the Ghost Archipelago. Overall, I’m happy with my Hero Forge experience. It’s expensive, and the material isn’t as good for painting as metal, but if you’ve got a clear mental picture of a figure you want, for an RPG character, or for the hero to lead your miniature warband, it might be worth giving it a try.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Time for Solo and Co-Operative Wargaming!

Games may seem trivial in a time of crisis, but they are anything but. Keeping our spirits high, continuing to smile and enjoy our hobbies, and having other, more enjoyable things to focus on, is going to be necessary to get us through.

I can't deny it, it is looking bad for the hobby at the moment. Adepticon and Salute have cancelled. Most wargaming clubs are going into hibernation. If you aren’t already in some kind of isolation, you likely will be in the coming weeks. Thankfully, the mail order places are still running at the moment, and anyway most of us have a pretty good backlog of painting to do. (Yes, even I, a wargaming minimalist, have a ordered in a couple extra boxes of plastic minis, just in case.)  But, for most of us, just modelling and painting is not enough, we need to play something…

It just so happens that I have written several solo and co-operative wargames, including fantasy and science-fiction...

The most well-known is called Rangers of Shadow Deep. In it, you create a ranger, gather a band of followers, and do battle against the forces of the dark realm known as the Shadow Deep. You can order the Deluxe Edition from North Star or Modiphius or pick up the PDF on DriveThruRPG. The basic game includes over 15 scenarios to play, but if you manage to make it through all of those, I’ve released four supplements with additional adventures: Blood Moon, Temple of Madness, Ghost Stone, and Incinerator! You can get all of them in either PDF or Print-on-Demand on DriveThruRPG.

If you are more of a science-fiction player, I wrote a solo game of soldiers fighting alien bugs on a doomed planet, called Operation: Last Train. I made the game freely available as part of a charity project I ran last year.  You can find all of the details about it here. There are three scenarios, and you can find some more fan created ones on the associated Facebook page.

If you aren't ready to dive into a new game, but you are interested in solo gaming... well, I've got something for that too! It’s called Frostgrave: Perilous Dark.  Okay, the book is written specifically for Frostgrave and includes ten solo or co-operative scenarios, but the meat of the book is ideas, tips, and techniques for designing solo scenarios for any skirmished-based wargames, even historical ones. You can get the book in print from North Star or Amazon or buy a PDF straight from Osprey.

I’ve also included several solo Frostgrave scenarios in past issues of Spellcaster Magazine.

Just because you are stuck at home, isolated from all your gaming buddies, doesn’t mean you can't get a game in. There are plenty of adventures that await! And if you don’t think solo wargaming can be as good as player-versus-player, you’ve never had a ranger down to his last point of Health facing a pair of gnolls, blocking the only exit…

Wednesday, 18 March 2020


Here is the latest member of my Rangers of Shadow Deep warband. I’ll be using him an arcanist. He's even brought his giant 'Book of Lore'. He’s another wonderful Bobby Jackson sculpt and fits in perfectly with my ranger, and the official Rangers minis.

I actually waited a long time to add this guy. I first saw him in Reaper Bones about mid-last year, but I knew I wanted him in metal. So, I waited several months for him to be released in metal, only to watch it immediately go out of stock in the UK. So, I waited, and a month or so later, he came back in stock, and I jumped on it!

I gave him the green/brown paint job to match the rest of the band. His shadowed face, and his broad robes given him quite a presence when standing with the other members of the band.

I am still in the market for an herbalist (sneak preview – coming in the next Rangers supplement) and a recruit, but haven’t identified figures for either of them yet, so I’ll probably swap over to my Ghost Archipelago warband for a bit.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Spellcaster Ranger

I am slowly assembling my go-to Rangers of Shadow Deep warband, and have just finished up painting this figure to use for my conjuror. It’s actually a figure of Nesra, from the official Rangers line. After several years of painting fancy Frostgrave wizards, it’s nice to take a break and paint a more practically dressed spellcaster!

Monday, 9 March 2020

It's Not Easy Being Green!

In general, I dislike when people take childhood characters and put them in adult settings. I know it is all for fun, but mostly, I don’t find it funny. So, on the surface, a miniature of Kermit the Frog wielding a chainsaw should have no appeal.

But! While I’m sure this miniature was made with dark-comedy horror gaming in mind, that’s not how I see it. You see, I love the Muppets, always have. I think Jim Henson was a genius. I love Kermit the Frog…but as fans of Kermit know, that frog could lose his cool. In fact, he occasionally just completely flipped. Okay, not to the extent of grabbing a chainsaw and attacking people, but, consider if the source of his annoyance was a tree, or a log, or a piece of furniture...

I can honestly envision the scene where he comes flopping and flailing across screen, shouting his ‘aaaaaaaaa!’, with his chainsaw held high. All of the actual sawing would occur off-screen, possibly with saw-dust spraying into the shot.

Anyway, the figure was a gift. It made me smile, and I had fun painting it.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

War of the God Queen by David Hambling

You don’t have to read The Dulwich Horror by David Hambling to understand and enjoy his new novel, War of the God Queen. But, as that anthology is excellent, and provides some interesting background and context to Hambling’s new novel, I highly suggest it. Here is my review of The Dulwich Horror.

For those that have already read it, or don’t plan to, read on…

Near the end of The Dulwich Horror, a band of Oxford graduates, living in London in 1927, take on the forces of Cthulhu. During that fight, one of the characters is swallowed up by the earth, and presumed killed. That is, the characters in the story thought she had died, and for that matter, so did I. I am very glad to learn that we were both mistaken.

War of the God Queen opens up with that young woman falling through time, back to some distant age, in some unknown part of the world, where nomadic tribesmen are engaged in a low-level war with cthuloid monsters.

What follows is less of a mythos story, and more of a very modern take on the early ‘planetary romances’ of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. I almost hate to conjure those two names, for their writing is so at odds with Hambling’s. Where both Burroughs and Howard write stories involving brawny heroes with super-human abilities, Hambling’s hero is a classically-educated, ‘modern’ Englishwoman of the 1920s. Sure, she is athletic, but she is no warrior.

Inevitably, our heroine gets drawn into the war as it is both escalating and potentially holds the key to her return to her own time. But, despite her obvious intelligence and breadth of knowledge, that knowledge holds no obvious secret weapons. She doesn’t know how to make gunpowder, or steam engines, and even if she did, the low, Bronze Age technology of the people around her couldn’t make use of it.

Thankfully, she is soon joined by another group of woman pulled from various points in time – all but one from her past. Again, none of these women know any devastating military secrets, but each bring the interesting skills of their time and place. And this is the central premise of the novel – how these women, using what knowledge and abilities they possess, manage to change the society they are thrust into. It is a war story about organization, logistics, and intelligence gathering. Sure, there is plenty of fighting, and some gruesome deaths, but these are generally of less importance than the ‘big picture’.

This approach really works with Hambling’s writing style. His is not the break-neck pace of Burroughs or Howard. Instead, he writes with a slower, more considered, more mature style. It reads as though it is written by an Englishwoman of the 1920s. While parring this style with a weird-military-horror story is not an obvious approach, it somehow works.  It easily held my interest for all of its 370 pages.

Did I enjoy War of the God Queen as much as The Dulwich Horror? No, not quite. But, I did thoroughly enjoy it. Not only is it an interesting story, with an intriguing cast of characters, but it felt different from any of the ‘weird fiction’, I have read before, and that’s not an easy feat to manage these days. David Hambling is a skillful wordsmith, who I'll be keeping an eye on!

Friday, 28 February 2020


Sometime last year, Reaper miniatures released three packs of wraiths, containing a total of 6 different figures. As soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted them for my Nazgûl.

The figures are produced in a translucent green plastic, which I suppose gives them a kind of spectral look, but it also makes it hard to see the wonderful detail on the figures. Anyway, I wanted my Nazgûl mostly black, so I sprayed them with black primer.

I’ll admit, the painting process on these figures wasn’t the most interesting. Dark metal highlighted up to shiny metal, with a bit of wash, and black cloaks highlighted up to grey. I painted the rocks they are floating over a uniform yellow, partly to tie them all together, but mainly to give them a bit more colour and contrast. The truth is, it doesn't take a highly skilled painter to make these figures look great.
The 6 as they come in the packs.
The only challenging part of the project was that there were only 6 different wraiths, and I needed nine. I could have just painted up 3 of them twice, but I wanted each one to be unique – so I did weapon swaps on three of them. 

One had its axe head replaced with an even more vicious looking one. Another had its sword replaced with an axe. The third – my favourite – gave up both of its swords and gained a brutal looking cleaver like weapon (from the Ghost Archipelago Snake-man kit). All-and-all, I’m really happy with this conversions, and with the look of my nine overall!

The 3 Conversions

Monday, 24 February 2020

The Engagement at Simmon's Bluff

My great-great-great grandfather, Col. James McCullough commanded the 16th S.C. Volunteer regiment during the Civil War. While he wouldn’t see major action until 1864 and the battles around Atlanta, he was involved in at least one minor incident, known as the Engagement at (or Battle of) Simmon’s Bluff. Here is the official Confederate record of the incident.


June 21 1862. – Engagement at Simmon’s Bluff, S.C.

Report of Capt. L. Parker, C. S. Army, Marion (S.C.) Artillery.

HDQRS. Second Military Dist. South Carolina,
Adams Run, June 23, 1862.

Maj. J. R. Waddy,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Charleston, S.C.:

Major: Herewith I have the honor to inclose the official report of Captain Parker, Marion Artillery, of the affair with the gunboats at Simmons’ Bluff on the 21st instant. Owing to the absence of the regiment of Colonel McCullough the rifle pits were not complete when the attack commenced. I am having them arranged and have strengthened the position with two additional companies. I would here state that I will forward the report of the engagement on James Island on the 16th instant as soon as I can collect the reports of the immediate commanders.
            Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

                                                N. G. Evans,

Simmon’s Bluff, S.C., June 21, 1862

Captain: I have the honor to report that at about 11 a.m. this day the alarm was given of two gunboats approaching. I was at Colonel Whaling’s place, on a visit to pickets there stationed, and caused the alarm to be given also from that point. My guns were in the road and wagons parked before I could get to camp, nothing having been lost. The boats approached rapidly – one large three-masted propeller and a side-wheel, probably the Planter.
            I ordered the companies of Captains McJunkin and Barnett into the incomplete pits in the process of construction for rifleman, directing them if driven form the pits to fall back and skirmish (if they landed) along the road and in the corn back of Simmons’ negro settlement. The battery I ordered to the bluff, where I am erecting batteries for my guns about 800 yards above the point. The road through the corn was so miry from the recent rains that my guns could not use them, and I had to take a circuit and approach it from the north. When we cleared the road we found the large vessels just below the point, the Planter on the south side of said point. To reach the bluff I would have had my battery exposed to fire from both ships for 400 or 500 yards, and then would only be able to reach the large vessel at the range before named, say 800 yards. I deemed it wiser, as I could inflict no injury, to run no risk.

One of these ships is the Planter.
            The fire of shot, shell, case shot, and canister was very heavy from both ships. I kept my men and guns under cover, anticipating a landing. The riflemen kept up a continuous and steady fire until their position was enfiladed, when they retreated to the road, straggling far ahead of their officers up it. I halted them and deployed them to the left of the road, directing a gradual advance, under cover of woods, hedges, and corn, to the negro settlement. The men were very much fatigued and I could not get the movement properly executed. A few men were landed from the Planter, I think, who got as far as the infantry tents and burned them. My pieces I had withdrawn to the causeway, as both boats, shelling vigorously, moved up as though to land above our position.
            One of the scouts reported to Major O’Neill that the enemy had landed and were marching up. My guns were then thrown forward, and I detailed scouts from my own men, who proceeded to a point between the two camps, under charge of Lieutenant Lowndes. Two of my pieces were to take positon near the bluff on left of road, two in our drill ground on the right; Colonel McCullough who had arrived, to advance under cover of the hedges to the point where my scouts were with four companies; Major O’Neill, with the other companies, to advance through the corn – and thus I hoped, had they landed, to attack them in front and flank. They, however, had not landed any force, and I can only conjecture that they landed at all. Had the original intention been carried out, and the riflemen on leaving the pits occupied the road and the corn, I think we might have been able to bring our guns into play; as it was, I thought my best plan was to keep prepared for what I expected – a landing. Before we could reach the boats, however, immediately after burning the tents they turned and went rapidly off. The buildings at the point were much injured by shell, grape, cansister, &c., and some very narrow escapes were run.
            The conduct of the men while in the pits was very good, and they all say that cries were heard after several shots. The men kept very close on deck. Had rifle pits been dug all along the banks I believe that the enemy would have suffered very much; as it was, it was very difficult to rally the men after leaving the pits. Very little time was given for a proper disposition of the troops. I do not think that over twenty minutes elapsed between the alarm and the first shot. Some system of signals is necessary by which we may be notified of the entrance of a vessel into the river while out of our sight. The lookout on the mast of the steamer enables her to direct her fire at objects not seen from her hull. Captains McJunkin’s and Barnett’s companies have both some baggage.
            I have no casualties to report. One shot passed through my commissary room, but our stores were out of it. Lieut. [James] Salvo, of the Washington Artillery, came over, offering Capt. [George H.] Walter’s battery, and was of much service to me. I declined sending for the battery, as under the circumstances I did not think it could be advantageously used.
            Respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                            Edward L. Parker
                                                            Captain Marion Artillery, Commanding Post.

Capt. A. L. Evans, C. S. Army
            Assistant Adjutant-General, &c., Adams Run.

An official Union account also exists, which agrees with most of the particulars – though it notes that no casualties were taken, and that resistance was light. It is through that account that the ‘three-masted propeller’ is identified as the U.S.S. Crusader.

The Union had been hoping to cut the rail line into Charleston, but abandoned the attempt after burning the confederate encampment for reasons unstated.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Frostgrave 2nd Edition – Cover Reveal!

Exciting news, Frostgrave fans! Today, Osprey has revealed the cover for Frostgrave: 2nd Edition! The next chapter in the saga of the Frozen City draws near!

Personally, I love the way it harkens back to the original cover, and yet also appears bold and new at the same time. Now we’ve got the Necromancer and the Sigilist battling on the cover, showing off their new look!

Now, this announcement comes with some good news and some bad news. Sharp-eyed viewers might notice that the cover artwork is not by Kate or Dmitry Burmak who supplied all of the artwork for Frostgrave, 1st Edition. After six years of painting for Frostgrave, that wonderful pair have decided to move onto other things. However, Osprey will be celebrating their contribution by collecting all of their Frostgrave artwork into a single book, Frostgrave: Wizard Eye.

Obviously, the loss of the Burmaks was a huge blow, but when Osprey asked me who I might like to create the artwork for Second Edition, I already had an answer ready: aRu-Mor. If you’ve never encountered the works of this mysteriously named Spanish artist, you are in for a treat! I urge you to take a look at the artwork in Dracula’s America or Ragnarok if you have a copy to hand.

My connection with aRu-Mor goes back a long way. When I was the commissioning editor for Osprey Adventures, I recruited aRu-Mor and contracted her to work on her first Osprey book – Sinbad the Sailor. Since then, I’ve watched her artistic skills grow and grow, and have longed for the opportunity to work with her again.

I’ve now seen most of the artwork that aRu-Mor has produced for the new book, and it includes many, many stunning pieces. Although she has continued the colourful, adventurous style laid down by the Burmaks, she has also brought her own touch to the Frozen City. Her work is perhaps a bit more ‘earthy’, and just a touch darker perhaps. This will probably be more obvious in the internal pieces than it is on the cover.

In the near future we’ll be showing off some more of aRu-Mor’s work for the new edition, and I think you are going to love it. Her artwork is going to get you reaching for your paint brushes and shouting out for some new miniatures!

Monday, 17 February 2020

The Frostgrave Immersion Tour (Part 3 of 3)

Wheel out the catapult!

When I first set-off on my journey to Estonia, I admit, I was a tad apprehensive. Although I knew a couple of the guys that would be going, most of the tour participants were strangers. What if I didn’t like them? What if felt trapped with them for a full week?

Well, not only did this fear never materialize, but actually, the exact opposite occurred. The group was amazing. Brought together by our shared passion for a wargame, and a gnawing sense of adventure, we quickly became just one big gaming group. Despite the fact we had people from England, Canada, the U.S.A., Australia, Germany, and Japan, friendships were quickly formed, stories were shared, and we laughed a lot!

Perhaps no event promoted more laughing that when Mizuho’s wizard managed to roll three consecutive natural 20s in hand-to-hand combat, single-handedly trashing poor Jon’s warband…  Mizuho said he wanted to play more ‘aggressive’ than he normally did, and he certainly did that night!

Now, where were we? Oh yes, Rakvere! After a night spent gaming in a classy spa, and sleeping on seriously soft and comfortable beds, we got back on the bus for another adventure. The temperature had dropped again, and a fresh blanket of snow covered the ground.

We cruised down the Estonian highways for a while, stopping at a small roadside café at one point – they had no idea what had hit them! Then we took another short hop on the bus, until we saw the high wooden walls of our destination: the Viking village!

I was not the only one who thought it all look a lot like the new Rohan battlements set from Games Workshop.
After a quick tour through the crunching snow, we got down to the serious business of the day. It began with axe-throwing (I was bad), spear throwing (I was really, really bad), and archery (I did alright).  After everyone had a few goes at all of that – and proved that spear throwing especially takes a lot of practice – they wheeled out the catapult! Well, sort of a small, man-powered trebuchet really. In teams of two, we then got to bombard the fort. Well, some of us did – one team managed to launch their ammunition almost straight up in the air, sending us all scampering. Okay, the ammunition was mainly just a big ball of duct tape, but still, it was great fun!

Despite the fun, by this point, everyone’s fingers and toes were starting to numb, so we retreated inside. There, while we ate traditional Estonia fare (more sausages!) while we listed to an in-depth talk about Viking weaponry.

Stuffed and educated, we embarked on our bus, and headed back to Tallinn. There, after a rest, we were back in the atmospheric confines of the Old Hansa for another feast, and another night of gaming in that great medieval house.

The next day was the last, full day of the tour. Again we assembled in the hotel lobby for another tour of the city. This time when climbed to the upper old town, crowned by an incredible cathedral, the Estonian parliament building, and more medieval walls and battlements. We went to several glorious viewpoints that looked back across the city and out to the sea. We also went down into the old tunnels beneath the city. Although we got a lot of history of this from the audio guide – I’m still not quite sure why these tunnels were made – but they were filled with interesting stuff.  That said, the main amusement of the day for most was seeing if I could walk under the increasingly smaller doorways without ducking! (As it turns out, there was only one that even I had to duck through.)

We could totally LARP down here...
When the morning tour was done, a lunch at pub consumed, we were free to go our various ways until dinner. Five of us decided to spend the time gaming. Since there were five, me and John teamed up – he took his wizard, a I took my apprentice. It was a hilariously fun game… and my last of the tour. Although everyone gathered that evening for another game (after a dinner which featured a sword fight), I decided to sit that one out so that I could float around and talk to everyone.

I am a man prone to sentimentality, at least concerning people and places, and already I could feel the end approaching. I had come to the tour apprehensive, and now I was seriously regretting its end. Eventually though, all the games finished, the terrain was packed away, and everyone retreated to their rooms.

The next day was filled with quiet (and not so quiet goodbyes). The only event of note was when I sat on my plane, ready to fly home. We actually sat near the runway for over an hour while the pilots tried to get the plane's computer to work. Eventually, they turned the whole plane off and on again – and – as it seemingly does for everything else, that sorted the problem.

There is no doubt my Estonian adventure with Geek Nation Tours was an incredible experience and one that I will remember for a long time to come. I think, and hope, that it will not be my last!
Brent's 'Shadow Hunters' advance into the Frozen City for one of the last times on the tour!

The whole, unforgettable gang! 

Thursday, 13 February 2020

The Frostgrave Immersion Tour (Part 2 of 3)

Every good tour should involve cannon fire!
Robert starred at the table with wide-eyed horror. I was trying not to laugh. Teras had just used a Transpose spell to switch the positions of my warhound and Robert’s wizard, which left the poor wizard standing next to my barbarian and within easy striking distance of my templar, treasure hunter, and man-at-arms. In Frostgrave terms, that is about as dead as a wizard can get before the dice are rolled. Thankfully, Robert saw the humour in it all, and soon everyone around the table was laughing. Anyway, Robert would soon have his revenge as the rest of his warband went on a rampage that drove Teras’ figures from the table.

The green ork on the left is Robert's wizard. Every other figure in the photo is mine...
It was the third day of the Geek Nation Tours Frostgrave Immersion Tour and the gang was back in our gaming dungeon beneath our hotel. We’d had the morning to sleep in, relax, or go for solo explorations, but now it was time for serious gaming. And we needed to get the gaming in, for this night, we were off into the darkness.

The bus picked us up just after dinner, and drove us deep into the dark, Estonian wilderness. Soon we left the paved roads behind, and bumped down dirt tracks into the wilds of Estonia’s largest national park. There we were joined by a local guide, who passed out flashlights. With our breath condensing in the freezing night air, we plunged into the quiet dark. As we walked down a deserted track, one of our guides pointed to the heavens, where a gigantic glowing circle framed the moon. Apparently, this is a phenomenon known as a ‘winter moon’ or a ‘22° halo’. It was stunningly beautiful, and I’d never seen anything like it before.

Our first stop that night was by a strange set of rectangular foundations – all that remained of a set of bronze-age tombs that had been recently excavated. From there, we climbed up a hill to where those bronze-age people had built a hill fort on a cliff edge. If it were the day, we could have seen the sea, but in the inky blackness, all we could see was the ominous nothingness where the cliff dropped away. Nearby, stood three large standing stones. While they looked like an ancient monument, they were actually modern, one of Estonia’s most important World War II moments. (If I heard correctly, Estonia only has 8 living WWII veterans).

After our brief tour of ancient Estonia, we hopped back on the bus for a short ride to the ruins of a gigantic manor house. In the darkness, I couldn’t help think that it looked like something straight out of Ravenloft, with its incredibly heavy construction, and its’ gigantic stone columns. Delightfully, our guide had the key and we got a look at a couple of the bottom rooms. I have always been attracted to ruins, and the cracked and crumbling walls and floors of this once great home did not disappointed. In one spot, we found a pentagram scratched into the floor. We got also got to go up the grand staircase, but where it turned to go up to the next level, it was sealed shut with a massive, iron door. I wondered whether the door was really to keep us out, or perhaps to keep something else in.

Are you in there Strahd? 

We arrived back at the hotel late, but since there was no gaming, I actually went to bed earlier than any previous night. Which was just as well, because we were all up and back on the bus early the next morning! This time, as we again drove off into the wilderness, the snow started to fall for the first time on our Frostgrave tour! By the time we got off the bus, and started our walk through the Estonian bogs, a thin layer had covered the ground. Northern Estonia is a flat country, and much of the soil is poor, leaving large chunks as boggy scrubland. It is gorgeous walking country.

After the walk, we got back on the bus and headed for the small town of Rakvere, which is known for three things: its gigantic statue of an aurochs that looms over the town, its ruined Teutonic castle, and its spas…

The bus parked beneath the castle, and with cool breeze whistling in our ears, we ascended a long staircase that lead up the giant bull statue and the imposing castle gate. I am told by several people that Rakvere castle looks a lot like Winterfell from Games of Thrones. I can just say, it is an imposing structure that seemed to get bigger the more you wandered around it.

The castle was actually closed to the public for the winter, but our guides had arranged a special tour… and it was special! It began in the torture room, where we learned all kinds of gruesome, but interesting facts. We then took a walk through ‘hell’. This was actually a dimly lit, narrow tunnel, with glowing red faces learning from windows, and purposely extremely uneven floors. It was like a ‘fun house’ except with some real challenge to it. This eventually spat us out in a deep crypt, where an animatronic ‘Dance of Death’ greeted us like some demonic version of Chuck E. Cheese. In truth, it was all rather cheesy, but it was also good fun.

From there things picked up significantly. We were taken into the reconstructed great hall and given a talk on various swords throughout history – and even got to try swinging a few recreations. Then we descended into the old kitchen, where one of our number mixed up a batch of gunpowder! I’m not kidding; with the help of our guide, he took charcoal, saltpetre, and sulfur, crunched them up, and mixed them together. Then – the highlight of the day – we took the gunpowder, loaded it into a small cannon, and fired it off. Okay, it was just a signal gun, and obviously there was no ball, but it was still an impressive, and impressively loud explosion! (Though it didn’t even phase the sheep that were pinned nearby).

Having survived all of this, we had a rustic but delicious lunch in the castle. Although it was a wonderful time, it should be remembered that none of it was heated, and it was below freezing. So, having finished our meal, we got back on the bus, and headed to Rakvere’s best spa (and waterpark). There most of the group spent the afternoon and early evening splashing about or trying one of the many saunas (including the 100° Celsius sauna. I honestly wonder how often people pass out in there).

I didn’t join the group for this. Needing a bit of time alone, I went for a walk around the town. I took a look at the imposing church, walked through their interesting town square, and wandered around a mall, where I bought a couple of small gifts for my children. I returned to the spa in time for dinner, and afterwards we all retired to one of their conference rooms for another night of hard-core Frostgrave gaming! Even our guides joined us for this one, staying up well past midnight to see if they could get just one more treasure off the table!

The trip was not over though – we still had a Viking village to see, and some more of Tallinn to explore, but that will have to wait until the next post!

Again thanks to all of my fellow tour participants for taking all of the photos!

Despite the unfortunate Transpose, Robert and I had a great battle for the central treasure that game!

That's what +2 damage looks like!

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Frostgrave Immersion Tour (Part 1 of 3)

Albert Magnus knows how to make an entrance!
I couldn’t decide. Should I pack my Frostgrave warband in my carry-on luggage or my checked bag?

It was Saturday night, and I was in a hotel just across the road from Gatwick airport. Early the next day, I would be off to Tallinn, capital city of Estonia, for the Geek Nations Frostgrave Immersion Tour. On one level, I still couldn’t believe it was actually happening. Of all the wonderful things that have occurred since I wrote Frostgrave, this seemed the most improbable – a week of travel, exploration, gaming, and feasting along with eleven other Frostgrave enthusiasts!

Eventually, I put my warband in my carry-on case. If I lost my clothes, it would be annoying. If I lost my warband, it would be a disaster. Thankfully, neither occurred.

From London, it is about a 2.5 hour flight to Tallinn, and it passed without incident. In fact, the only pause I had in the trip was when I came to passport control. It was the day after Brexit, and the UK was no longer officially part of the European Union. On the other hand, I’d heard nothing would actually change until the end of the year… so which line did I get in? Well, in truth, I was one of the first off the plane, and there weren’t any ‘lines’. There wasn’t anyone waiting. I went to the non-EU window, had my passport scanned, and was passed through without comment.
Just one of the many amazing views of the city.
A driver was waiting for me on the other side, and I was quickly trundled into a comfortable car and taken on the short ride to the medieval old town, with its numerous towers, heavy stone walls, and beautiful church spires. I won’t share many photos of the city here; you can see plenty just by googling medieval Tallinn. Anyway, this first day wasn’t about tourism. After quickly dumping my stuff in my room, I headed down to the basement where half of the participants had already arrived and were diving into their first games of Frostgrave!

I should at this point thank who provided the mats and most of the terrain we used throughout the week (it was quality stuff!) – and to Brent Sinclair who got their early with glue and fake snow to give it all an extra Frostgrave feel!

Most of the gang, settling into our gaming dungeon in the hotel, for one of many games of Frostgrave!
Over the course of the six-day tour, I would end up playing 9 or 10 games of Frostgrave – most of them 3 or 4 player affairs. Over the course of those games, my enchanter, Archadeamos, went from level 0 up to level 20. He made a lot of enemies along the way, and lost a lot of soldiers, but he also recovered a small clutch of magic books, two magic staves, enchanted weapons, and all kinds of other loot. He would encounter snow trolls, bog monsters, ravenous beasts, barbarians, wraiths, and a large number of bears!

I had actually written six new scenarios for the tour, and it was a lot of fun to try them out and surprise the other guys with brand new material. In a couple of cases, I had to modify the scenarios on the fly, because I either realized I had made an error or due to the peculiar circumstances of the tour. (Yes, these scenarios will be made available in a future Spellcaster Magazine!)

The gaming that day paused only for dinner and went late into the night!

Tour Day 1

Our guide, and newly converted Frostgrave fan.
The next morning dawned cold, but clear, with not a snowflake to be seen. Dressed in our warmest clothes, we set out to explore the town with the help of our guides from Tales of Reval. Two of their members, Ivar and Koit, would become like additional participants of the tour, as they accompanied us throughout the week, and even joined in a couple of games of Frostgrave! This day, Koit was in his full medieval get-up, and, accompanied by an equally well-dressed musician, he regaled us with legends of the city, taught us our proper lordly walk, and showed us all of the interesting sites that the lower city had to offer. We also had our first encounter with the mysterious Albert Magnus who would visit us throughout the trip, speaking his wizardly riddles. Then Koit took us to a medieval pub for lunch, where the menu included: meat soup (with no spoon), meat on a bone, and meat in a pie… and that was basically it.

After lunch, we split into two groups. One returned to the hotel for a little rest (or more gaming) while the other went off to the blacksmith. Then we switched. I admit it, I was expecting to see a big guy beating out horseshoes on a huge anvil. Instead, we were taken to a modern workshop, and guided through the process of forging a little pendant with our symbol of power engraved into it. I declined the opportunity to use the blowtorch!

That evening we went to the city’s most famous restaurant, the ancient, gigantic, Olde Hansa, for a medieval feast. There, accompanied by the strange sounds of the hurdy gurdy, we partook of many intriguingly spiced dishes… so much food I could barely hope to sample most of it. Honey and cinnamon beers were also passed out, and drunk with gusto. As the most-practiced wizard in the group, I was set at the head of the table, and got to wear the funny hat.

When dinner was done, the table was cleared, the frost mats were thrown out, the terrain set-up, and the gaming began again! Of course, with nothing but candlelight to illuminate the table, it was a very different gaming experience! We often had to use our phones to figure out the results of our die rolls!

Again, the gaming went late into the night…

My phone, illuminating my wizard!
Part II coming soon... (I mean, I haven't even gotten to firing the cannon, or the catapult, or the creepy ruined mansion, or 100 degree celsius spa!)

Thanks to Brent, Robert, Teras, and John for the photos used throughout the tour blogs.