Sunday, 2 April 2017

Frostgrave: Let’s Talk Spellcasting Experience Points

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post talking about experience points in Frostgrave and some thoughts I had for changing the system. I got a great response to that post, which has helped push my thinking forward. In fact, I have decided that I am going to include an ‘Alternate Experience Points System’ in a Frostgrave supplement that is coming out next year. I just haven’t completely decided what it is going to include!

My biggest mental stumbling block continues to be experience points for spellcasting. Right now, a wizard receives 10 experience points for every spell he successfully casts. The more I have thought about this, the more I am convinced that it is both a good and bad piece of game design.

It is good in that it encourages spellcasting, which is what the game is primarily about. Also, players are rewarded for ‘accomplishing’ which feels right.

It is bad because it encourages a player to cast his or her easiest spell repeatedly, which detracts from the magical diversity of the game and lessens tactical interest. Additionally, as a wizard gets better, that one spell will get easier to cast, making experience points more likely and potentially creating an experience imbalance between players who use just one spell and those who like to use a range of spells. I don’t think this last point is a major issue, but it is an area for improvement.

So, here are two potential solutions I came up with in my musings on the problem. Both of them address the bad points of the current system, but also have an issue of their own!

Experience Points Based on Casting Number

Under this system, whenever a wizard successfully casts a spell, he or she would receive a number of experience points equal to the Casting Number for the spell. So, if a starting Necromancer casts Bone Dart (as so many of them do), they would receive 8 experience points, as that would be their starting Casting Number. If the Necromancer later decreases his Casting Number to 7, he would receive 7 experience points every time he successfully casts the spell.

There is an elegance to this system that I find very appealing. Players still receive experience for accomplishing, but the reward actually matches the level of accomplishment. It eliminates the problem of wizards cranking out experience for casting easy spells. It also gives a little bit of encouragement for wizards to cast their harder spells.

The only real drawback I see to this system is that it requires more paperwork and more math. Not a huge amount, in truth, but... time and time again, I have seen people say that one of the main reasons they find Frostgrave appealing, is that it is simple. This change would only increase the complexity by a small amount, but how many of these small changes can you make before a ‘simple’ system becomes ‘complex’?

If Frostgrave were a role-playing game, I would most likely use this system. As a ‘simple’ warmgame, I remain unsure.

Experience Points for Failure

I recently heard someone suggest that when considering a problem, it is often useful to ask yourself ‘what if I did the exact opposite?’. So, what if wizards earned 10 experience points every time they failed to cast a spell...

Actually, this is really interesting from a game design point of view. Once again it encourages players to attempt to cast their harder spells; though I suspect, more than any other system, it encourages players to attempt the ‘best’ spell for a given situation, which should lead to the best ‘game’. Beyond that though, it brings an entirely new element of balance to the game. Players that are failing to cast spells are less likely to secure treasure. Thus, they will be falling behind in the wealth and experience point race. Under this system, the failing spellcaster would be compensated by receiving more experience from failed spells.

In pure game mechanics terms, this system has a huge amount to offer. The problem is – it feels wrong to reward failure, and I suspect most players wouldn’t like it. I don’t know of any wargame or rpg that works this way. So, either this is a rather new and original idea – or it is just a bad idea that others have thought about and rejected.

I would be very interested to hear what other Frostgrave players think. Please comment below with any thoughts, suggestions, or original ideas that I can steal...

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Play-Test Fun

Hopefully there will be a bit of good news coming soon for fans of 'Warriors of Athena'.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Kornovik, Barbarian Outcast

Frostgrave just got a new 'coolest' minaiture...

Last week I received an advance-casting of the newest Frostgrave miniature, and it is, by far, the largest model in the range. It is hoped that a limited number of these will be available for purchase at Salute, before the model goes on regular release later in the year. I don't have any details on pricing yet.

The miniature is cast in resin and came in about a dozen pieces, but thanks to the well thought-out design, all of the pieces fit together perfectly with no trouble at all. The model comes with a scenic base, but I prefer my minis on round bases.

It's actually a fun little story how this miniature came to be. Back before I had written the first word of Forgotten Pacts, I had to turn in an 'artwork brief' for the cover. I knew I wanted barbarians looking down on part of the city, but then, for reasons I can't remember, I decided to have one of them riding a giant woolly rhinoceros. In retrospect, why would I not want a woolly rhinoceros.

Dmitry Burmak did his usual amazing job and took my vague brief and delivered another great cover, including a barbarian chief riding a super cool rhino. When the cover went live, it prompted a lot of comments and excitement that the supplement would include rules for mounted soldiers. I didn't want to disappoint people, but I had already decided that I was not going to include rules for mounts - partly because I don't think they generally belong in the Frozen City, but also because I haven't yet found a way to make such rules work (yet).

Instead, I decided I would work the guy on the cover into the book as a special character, and thus, Kornovik, the Barbarian Outcast was born. And there, I thought the matter would rest.

Then Nick Eyre over at North Star starts wondering if Kornovik should have his own miniature. Phil Smith at Osprey thinks he should. Nick spoke to Giorgio Bassani, who sculpted all of the Frostgrave barbarians for Forgotten Pacts. Giorgio said he would like to give it a try, but that he'd like to CAD sculpt it (for us Luddites, that basically means sculpt it on a computer). Since all of the previous figures in the range had been traditionally sculpted, no one was quite sure about this...

However, Giorgio went ahead and started, and it became clear, pretty early, that he both he and the computer program were up to the challenge. He had to make a few changes from the guy depicted on the cover. For one thing, he had to give him a bow, since I'd given Kornovik one in the rules. He also put him in a more battle-ready stance.

Now, I'm lucky enough to have one of the first Kornovik models in existence. I can't wait to get a paint brush on him!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Victory's Knife on Amazon

My fantasy, fiction anthology Victory's Knife is now available on Amazon as both a Kindle ebook and a print-on-demand paperback. (I have ordered a copy of the later, but have no seen it, so I can't comment on the printing quality yet).

If you are in the UK you can find it at these links:



For those ordering on you can find it here:



Saturday, 25 February 2017

Death Cultist and Zombie

I haven't painted many Frostgrave figures lately. Partly this is the result of my continued battles with my eyesight, partly a lack of time, and partly a bit of lingering frustration. The truth is, the last time I painted up some Frostgrave figures, I wasn't happy with the results. After awhile, I realized it all came down to basing.

When I first wrote the game, I worried about the setting. I thought it was pretty cool, but I also knew that a lot of miniature gamers hate putting snow on their figure bases. Actually, I also hated putting snow on figure bases. It's not that it doesn't look good, but that it is limiting. The figures just won't look right on a lot of table tops. You'll never want to use them if you are fighting in the desert or the jungle.

I needn't have worried. Wargamers are practical folk. People that wanted to put snow on their bases did. Others just ignored that part of the setting, and did whatever they wanted on their bases. However, when I came to paint my first Frostgrave figures, I thought I had to be 'true' to the setting, otherwise I'd feel hypocritical. The first figures I painted had full snow bases. This looked terrible, like figures standing on a pile of cotton. Next I tried to do flagstone bases similar to the bases painted by Kev Dallimore on the figures in the book. Of course, my skill with a paint brush doesn't come close to Mr. Dallimore, and again it looked pretty terrible.

So, this time, I decided I would use my regular basing technique, a mixture of fine gravel, flocking and static grass, and then just add a little touch of snow here and there. I am much, much happier with the results. Okay, my Frostgrave has a bit more grass than I imagined, but so be it. Also, I now feel that these figures could also be used outside of Frostgrave, at least in a few colder locations.

For anyone else who is suffering from 'base indecision' when it comes to Frostgrave, you have my blessing to use whatever basing technique, and look, you want.

So here are the first two figures to feature my new basing, a death cultist and a zombie. The death cultist actually features an arm (the one with the hammer) from the barbarian box. I really like this figure. He came out looking rather heroic. Even evil has its heroes, I suppose.  The zombie I'm not as keen on. I feel like I lost control of painting him at some point. Still, he's a zombie, so I won't worry about it too much!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Victory's Knife by Joseph A. McCullough

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.

Written over a period of twenty years by Joseph A. McCullough, the designer of the award-winning tabletop wargame, Frostgrave, and the soon-to-be released Ghost Archipelago, this anthology brings together his most popular fantasy short stories.

* * * 

And with those words, I am launching my first, self-published ebook! Victory's Knife will be appearing on Amazon, Itunes, and all of the regular ebook places over the next week, selling for $5. However, I wanted to give my loyal blog readers a chance to get the book first and to get a little discount.

So, if you are interested in getting a copy, just send $4.00 to paypal: and specify if you want the PDF, ePUB, or Kindlie (mobi) file. I will then email the file to you. I am doing all of this manually, so there will be a delay between when you order and when I get a chance to send you the book, but hopefully it shouldn't be long.

Victory's Knife contains 17 short stories, most of which first saw publication in various magazines and 'zines over the years, although a couple appear here for the first time. In fact, you can read the shortest piece in the book on my blog here.

I would also like to take a moment to thank my friend, Steven Meyer-Rassow who designed the cover. He took my vague explanation of what I wanted and made it beautiful!

I will, of course, be talking more about the book over the coming days, but for anyone who wants to get it now, and save a buck, here's the chance. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think!