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!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Ring Them Bells

In parts of Spain and France, people used to leap out of cathedral bell towers with the bell cords tied around their wrists and trust to the momentum of the ringing bells to pull them back in.

How's that for an attention-grabbing first line?

I recently finished reading The Arches of the Years by Halliday Sutherland. Back in the early 1930's the book was a best-seller in Britain; now it is almost completely forgotten. Essentially it is the autobiography of the first half of Sutherland's life, and although he isn't particularly famous, he did lead an interesting and adventurous life. He grew up in the Highlands amidst a culture that freely mixed superstition with Calvinism. He went to medical school at a time when he had to capture stray cats to practice anatomy. He voyaged with a whaling ship, first practised medicine in Spain where he 'attempted' bull-fighting, he dabbled in the stock market, served on an armed merchantman in World War I, and then returned to Britain to run a mental hospital. 

The book is written in a refreshingly honest and open style, and it is loaded with interesting details (Who knew that whale bones were used to make fake feathers as far back as the fourteenth century? You didn't think those were actual feathers on knight's helmets did you?).

One note, particularly, caught my eye. While travelling in Spain, Halliday went to Seville, where he witnessed a group of bell ringers leaping out of the top of the cathedral bell tower and swinging around on the bell ropes. This bell tower was nearly 300 feet above the ground!

I must admit, I'd never heard of anything like this, and it seemed to stretch credibility a bit. I did a quick internet search, but couldn't find anything on it. Still curious, I dropped an email to an acquaintance of mine who happens to live in Seville, the talented artist who goes by the name aRu-Mor. She explained that she wasn't native to Seville and was unaware of the tradition, but that she had heard of a group of acrobatic bell-rings in a nearby city. She did a bit of asking around and discovered a couple of amazing things. The first is the video below. Okay, they don't actually leap out of the tower, but they do leap up onto the bell and lean out of the tower! (Skip to about 4:50 to see the move).

Pretty amazing, but not quite proof. However, Ru-Mor also pointed me to this Spanish blog which looks into the question. It includes these rather amazing little pieces of art that come from near the beginning of the twentieth century.

That's got me pretty well convinced. As it turns out, I once wrote a fantasy short story in which the ringing of 'Spanish Bells' played a very big roll. More on that soon...

Monday, 13 February 2017

Adepticon Bound

Just a quick note to say that near the end of March, I will be heading for Chicago for Adepticon. Not only is Adepticon one of most enjoyable miniature shows I have ever attended, but this year, I will be helping to host a special Frostgrave Campaign Day. I'm especially excited because Ash Barker, of Guerrilla Minaiture Games, is going to be running the event.

I have written three special scenarios for the campaign day, and everyone who participates in the campaign will be given a special 'Event Scenario Pack' containing these exclusive scenarios.

There are still some places left in the event, but they will almost certainly fill up, so register now if you want to be sure to take part. Just click on this link, and type in Frostgrave to find the event.

So, if you are headed to Adepticon, and you really should if you can, please come by and say 'hi'. I will either be hanging out at the Osprey Games stand or at one of the several Frostgrave events that are running over the weekend.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Barbarian Hack

The problem with being a Renaissance Troll is that I am very easily distracted. A few months ago, while I was really supposed to be working on something else, I instead designed a quick-play, solo, dice-based, board game which I called 'Barbarian Hack'. The premise is the player is a barbarian who has a few turns to kill off all the monsters and rescue the prisoner. A game takes about 2 to 3 minutes to play.

I liked it, but it was such a small affair in terms of scope and rules I wasn't sure what to do with it. However, I spoke to the new editor over at Tabletop Gaming Magazine, and he was keen to have a look. Well, some months later, and I am a published board game designer!

So if you fancy giving Barbarian Hack a try, pick up an copy of Tabletop Gaming Magazine Issue 8, grab a couple of six-sided dice and some coins or figures, and you are ready to go!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy

The Marian Conspiracy is a beautiful example of the 'heart' that has kept Doctor Who relevant and popular for over fifty years.

Despite being the sixth instalment in Big Finish Productions Doctor Who Audio series, and the second to feature Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor, it is really a new beginning. For one thing, it goes back to the series' roots with a solid, historical adventure, designed to both entertain and educate. For another, it introduces a brand-new companion, the history professor, Dr. Evelyn Smythe (played by Maggie Stables), who will go on to be one of the best companions in the histor of the series. One of the mistakes of Colin Baker's short television run was the companions he was paired with, both of which tended to accentuate his worst traits. Dr. Evelyn Smythe, an older, more experienced, and wiser companion than almost any seen in the series before helps bring the Sixth Doctor down to a more human level. 

And that is the real key here. With this story, there is significant shift in how Colin Baker plays his Doctor. Yes, he's often still arrogant, bombastic, and egotistical, but these come only as little flashes now and then. Instead, it feels as though he has 'grown up'. He's a little wearier, a lot more introspective, but most of all, he has a lot more heart. 

In truth, The Marian Conspiracy is a bit short on plot. When you boil it all down, not a lot actually happens over the space of four episodes, and yet the listener is pulled along anyway. It is the setting that shines here. Tudor England, in the midst of its horrific religious upheavals is a wonderful, if challenging, place to set a Doctor Who. The writer, Jacqueline Rayner, doesn't pull in punches in presenting the setting, but nor does she (or, more importantly, The Doctor) take sides. The Doctor never supports cruelty, but nor is he quick to judge either. He knows how history must play out, and he is sympathetic to its actors...however, being the Doctor, he will occasionally go a bit off the script of time, just a bit around the edges, if it means saving a life or two...

So, if you've ever thought diving in to the Doctor Who Audio Adventure Range, this is a good place to start. Also, it is such an old one now that you can download it from Big Finish for a mere £2.99. It's good value entertainment.

As another reviewer said, 'Practically faultless, the one reason this isn't getting full marks is that Evelyn's adventures get even better later'

Friday, 27 January 2017

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago Cover

Today I am allowed to show off the cover for Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago! Once again, the artwork comes from the talented Dmitry Burmak, who did all of the artwork in the original Frostgrave book. For this project, he is being joined by his wife, Kate.

So, in the centre, you've got the Heritor. Heritor's are the protagonists in the game. To his right, is his warden, in this case a 'Wind Warden', who not only helps him in battle, but is crucial to his hopes of navigating the Lost Isles. Unfortunately for the pair, they've managed to venture into the territory of some snake-men who are pretty famous for their dislike of visitors...

One other piece of news that I'm allowed to reveal, Osprey Games and North Star Military Figures are once again working together to produce miniatures for the game. This will include a plastic box set of 'crew' figures that will make up the bulk of the Heritor's crew. This will hopefully be released at the same time as the book, in September.

More info coming soon...

Or see my previous post on Ghost Archipelago if you have no idea what I'm talking about! 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Why to Read?

According to my parents, I was not a child that took to reading. They tried a lot of tactics to get me interested in books, before finally finding some success with comic books. Even then, I have remained a slow reader, who occasionally struggles with word order and spellings. However, what I have lacked in natural speed, I have made up for with determination, and now I list reading as my favoured pastime.

Lately though, I have been dissatisfied with my reading. Too often, I think, I have picked up books because they just happened to be in front of me, or because, in my laziness, I fell back upon some comfortable genre, instead of choosing my books with careful intelligence.  Lately, I have found no challenge in the books I’ve read.

I had been having these thoughts a lot as last year came to an end. Then, by happenstance, I found myself in a small charity bookshop in my wife’s hometown. Upon the shelf, I saw a small red volume entitled Sesame and Lillies by John Ruskin. I knew of Ruskin more by reputation than acquaintance, having read only a single lecture by him, but I find him an intriguing figure. He spoke a lot about art and its relationship to society.

One of the interesting things about buying really old books is that they do not have blurbs. This book was old enough that it contained no information at all on when it was printed. So, knowing nothing but the author, I turned over £1 to the man at the counter and took my new book home. 

It is by sheer coincidence that the first two lectures (of the three in the book) are about ‘what to read’. In truth, that topic is just a launching point to wander over a variety of ideas, but it still struck me as a very strange coincidence.

At the same time I had been considering my reading, I had also been considering starting a ‘Commonplace Book’, that is my own collection of wisdom that I have gleaned from books. So, I began my commonplace book with some quotes I found in Ruskin. I will share a couple here, on the subject of reading:

No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable, until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it, as a soldier can seize the weapon he needs in an armoury, or a housewife bring the spice she needs from her store.

That to use books rightly, was to go to them for help: to appeal to them, when our knowledge and power of thought failed; to be led by them into the wider sight, purer conception than our own and receive from them the united sentence of the judges and councils of all time, against our solitary and unstable opinion.

So, my goal for this year is to challenge myself with my reading, to actively seek out books that contain wisdom or that will challenge my thinking. I will still read science-fiction, fantasy, and adventure fiction, but only if I have strong reason to believe those works to be above average (why bother reading the average?). We shall see how I get on.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Empire Still Reigns

I have had a very off-and-on relationship with Games Workshop throughout my life. At times they have been my favourite games company, at other times their business decisions have driven me to despair. At the moment, they seem to be going through a bit of a 'renaissance', and are even, once again, producing a few Middle-Earth miniatures, which forms my main interest in their products these days.

Recently, on a trip to Nottingham with my friend and colleague, Phil, we swung by Warhammer World, the part of GW's corporate headquarters that is open to the public. I've got to say it, I had a great time. There is a huge shop, a huge games room, a nice pub, and an exhibition hall. I was sceptical that a miniature exhibition could really be worth the £7.50 admission charge, but it was fantastic! (If rather lacking in LOTR models!)

Phil did a full write-up of the exhibition on his blog, complete with some photos of some of the cooler displays. You can see it here.

Really, if you are a sci-fi/fantasy miniatures fan, and you get the chance - go.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Planar Storm: A New Frostgrave Scenario

I just received the new issue of Miniature Wargames which includes my new Frostgrave scenario, 'Planar Storm'. This scenario was written to go along with the ones found in Forgotten Pacts, and features a new type of barbarian adversary, 'The Tainted'.

Miniature Wargames 405 is available in either print or ebook editions.

I haven't had a chance to read the rest of the issue, but it appears to contain some interesting stuff, such as a solo scenario for The Men Who Would Be Kings by Conrad Kinch, an article from the Andy Copestake who runs Old Glory UK on what influences him as a gamer, and a full set of pike and shot rules by Arthur Harman.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Clansman of Lamedon

Although my new, ultra-bright painting set-up has really made a difference to my vision, it unfortunately hasn't created any time to actually pick up a paint brush. Still, sometime in the past few weeks I managed to finish one figure, this 'Clansman of Lamedon' from Games Workshop's The Lord of the Rings line. It's a bit of a curious figure. While I love the sculpting and the pose, it doesn't fit that well into my personal vision of Middle-Earth. Although Lamedon is one of the provinces of Gondor mentioned by Tolkien, he doesn't say that much about it. I don't think there is any reason beyond simple geography to assume they fight and dress like Scottish Highlanders. Still, designers have to design something, and when they have little-to-nothing to go on, they must draw upon other sources.

Before I started painting this figure, I spent a couple of days agonising over what tartan to paint his kilt, as every other version I had seen painted had some form of tartan. Then, I said, 'heck with it', and decided to forgo the whole idea of a tartan, or highlanders. I'd just paint it in colours I liked.

Well, I think the result is pretty striking. The heavy armour, the skirt, and the grieves, combined with my paint job makes the figure look more like an ancient Greek than a Scot; which is fine by me. The only aspect of the figure I wasn't happy with was the face. It just wasn't working for me, so I painted a beard on it. Now the figure reminds me a bit of Armand Assante in his roles as Odysseus and Alan Breck Stewart (in perhaps the best television version of Kidnapped!).

The figure came in a pack of three, so now I have to decide whether to paint them all in this colour scheme, or to give each one a unique dress.