Interview: Joseph A McCullough Frostgrave Author

In January I did a serie of interviews for our local wargaming forum (Wargaming Montreal). Here’s one I did the author of what was one of the best new wargame of 2015: Frostgrave.

You can follow Joseph blog for all the update on his game at The Renaissance Troll

You can acquire Frostgrave from more and more FLGS or on North Star miniature website

Thanks again to Joe for the time and the great answers

Can you give us a bit of background on how you started in the hobby?

It all began with Dungeons and Dragons. I picked up my first red box edition when I was about 8, and although I couldn’t really understand it, I knew it was for me. For most of my youth and through college, I was mainly a role-player, and I spent a lot of time at it. I dabbled in wargames here and there, but it was always a secondary part of the hobby. After I left college, and my gaming group behind, I spent more time painting miniatures. I used wargaming as a way to role-play solo. A lot of what is Frostgrave grows out of that.

When did you decide to write your own game and why?

After a conversation between myself and Phil Smith, the Games Manager at Osprey Publishing. I was complaining about how I could not find my perfect fantasy wargame, and he challenged me to write it. If it was good enough, he said he would publish it. Up to that point, I had no real intention of writing a game.

Was Frostgrave your first attempt at writing a wargame ruleset? Was there some other game you had to ditch early in the design process?

I’ve always been a big fan of house rules and modifying systems, and I did once write a very simple set of rules for an Alternate Napoleonic setting, but this was my first real attempt at writing a game from the ground up with an eye to possible publication. By the time I came to write Frostgrave, I think most of the game already existed in my head, so it really just flowed out. I don’t think the core mechanics have changed much at all from the first draft of the rules.

What are some of the challenges you faced when writing the game? Was it something you expected?

I thought the biggest challenge would be working out the combat system, but that actually came together pretty quickly. The hardest part was writing the spells. I originally wanted to have 100, but the challenge of creating that many spells that were all unique, interesting, and attractive to players proved too great. Thus the basic game only has 80. Now that my brain has had a bit more time, there are new spells coming, so it might eventually get up to 100!

How did you relationship with Osprey developed? Why did you decide to publish the game with them instead of self-publish or to go the Crowd-funding way?

I’ve worked for Osprey for over 9 years. In that time, I’ve done just about everything in the company. I started in production, switched to marketing, and have spent the last several years working in editorial, heading up Osprey Adventures. In that time, I’ve written a number of books for Osprey, but this was my first shot at a game. In truth, when I wrote the game, I never imagined it would achieve the popularity it has. I’m extremely lucky that so many talented people have gotten involved in the project. Phil as editor, Dmitry Burmak the illustrator, the gang over at North Star who have handled the miniature production, and the big name sculptors who lent a hand. It all snow-balled very quickly. Up to this point, I’ve never considered myself a ‘game designer’ so self-publishing or crowd- funding never even entered my head.

Since the game encourage people to use any miniatures they like, do you have some particular favorite figs or companies you would recommend?

I have always been a fan of Reaper. I watched them grow from a tiny company to one of the dominate players in the market. Even after I quit role-playing, I still bought their figures. They really do have a figure for just about anything you can imagine. Really though, I wanted to make a game that could let people use whatever they want. For me, the whole point of a fantasy world was the freedom to tell the stories I wanted to tell. There are so many companies producing cool miniatures these days – I say use them all!

Do you have a favorite anecdote from one of your game of Frostgrave?

The first two games I played in the Osprey offices both featured my wizard dying to a critical hit from an enemy archer. I’m not saying that is why critical hits are an optional rule…

What is you favorite Wizard type/Spell/Strategy when you play?

As a wargamer, I’m not terribly aggressive! Perhaps not the best trait in a wargamer, but there you go. I really like the Illusionist. I think it is a generally under-rated wizard, with some extremely powerful spells. If I can grab some loot without risking combat, why not? Hopefully though, people have found there are a lot of viable strategies and spell combinations.

What are you working on now? What can we expect in the future for Frostgrave?

I have just turned in the finished manuscript for Into the Breeding Pits, the second print supplement due out in July. I’m already working on the one after that, Forgotten Pacts, as well as a couple of smaller e-supplements. After that, I have plans for something bigger in 2017, but I’m not allowed to say anything about it yet!

Any advice for someone who would like to create his own wargame?

Mainly, write the game that you want to play. At the end of the day the only thing you can really control is your own satisfaction with what you have created. The market is a fickle beast, and many worthy games end up ignored. There is a lot of luck in it. Otherwise, I would just keep one thing in mind. The biggest difference between the successful games of today and those of the past is the level of player involvement. Gone are the days of strict IGOUGO. Players don’t want to sit around for long stretches of time doing nothing. The joy of a game is in the back and forth nature, and the more of that your game has, the more likely people are going to enjoy playing it.

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Interview: Joseph A McCullough Frostgrave Author

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