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.

Interview: Joseph A McCullough Frostgrave Author

Oyt and Bogdan

So I have two more minis painted for my Frostgrave warband.

I present to you Oyt the Thug:

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Sluggish but docile Oyt is the perfect servant. Reaching for the loot and getting the hell out when told to.  

And Bogdan the Thief:

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Brigand turn treasure-seeker Bogdan is often a spearhead in the exploration of the ruins.

I’m not 100% happy with what I have done so far with these guys but I strive to have my complete warband painted to a tabletop standard as soon as possible. I’m trying to tie-in the purple on each mini to keep an unifying theme.

I still have another Thief, two Treasure hunter (models from Redbox) and a Crossbowman to finish. I also made a hard decision to change the mini I will use for my apprentice. I was going to use Magda from afar from Redbox Miniature: 

But since I have been using Malifaux 35 mm and Heroic 28mm miniature she’s really too small being a truescale 25mm fig.

So I will turn again to Malifaux and my apprentice will be Meister Yosef a spin on Geppetto from Pinochio using the Collodi mini:

So I’m even more on board with my plan to slowly switch most of my human for Construct as he came with even more dolls.

Oyt and Bogdan

Milosh the scarred

Here’s a quick post just to let you guys see the first fig I consider finished (or at least table ready) for Frostgrave.

So here’s Milosh our Thug #1:

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Milosh, previously a farmhand in the country side, was in a terrible pitchfork accident which left him with nasty scar in the side of the head and half his wits. Good thing it also made him fearless and violent. He serves Varushska mostly by rushing in and killing everything he sees.

I’m a bit disappointed by the light effect I tried in the lantern but due to time constraint it will have to do. I might try to redo it Milosh ends up not dying early on.

Milosh the scarred

Felstad or bust

So I have been crazy busy getting ready for our upcoming Frostgrave campaign which should’ve started November 1st but has been delay (much like the snow here) to mid to late November since a bunch of the guys don’t have their minis yet. I’m looking at you Redbox miniature! 🙂

Since I received the Frostgrave plastic soldier box, I got into building the model I will need to start my warband.

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My two thieves well equipped to plunder Felstad
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Here’s a shot of the same thieves but from the back to show all the equipment.
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My two thugs. I went for the ruggish simpleton look. Hodor!

Then I had more bodies, so I planned a bit ahead and made:

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Two Men-at-arms.
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Two Infantry men.
a Knight
a Knight
a tracker or a ranger depending on how I feel.
a tracker or a ranger depending on how I feel.

All these are made by mixing some old GW Empire bits with the Frostgrave soldier kit. They were pretty compatible, if I was less rushed I might have taken the time to fiddle more with the models and maybe add greenstuff but for the time being they will do.

I already had my snow base for the minis so tonight I painstakingly remove the stupid little plastic base (that was a pain!) primed the mini and glued them to the base.

Here were they are as of now:

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Next up painting the damn dudes!

Bonus:

While I was sifting through my bits, I started putting aside interesting stuff that was finding and I ended up with enough bits to create 6 custom treasure markers:

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I’m pretty happy with the result and I’m glad that I will have decent Treasure tokens of my own to play with. I like how the token don’t only represent gold and riches but rather include more magical item like tomes and potions.

I also got a painting contract from a friend who will also partake in the Campaign. He asked me to paint his pathfinder goblin based Soothsayer warband (he plays Ouunch Scrollburner in our campaign).

Here a picture the figs I will work with:

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(From left to right) top: two models of Thugs, a thief and an Archer bottom: a Treasure hunter, a Infantryman, a dog and a Barbarian.
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Ouunch Scrollburner herself. She’s on a palanquin pushed by 4 diminutive goblins so she will be on a bigger base. It’s a conscious decision of the player. We will see if it affects the gameplay in any ways.
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And the apprentice with his trusty staff.

I think I will have fun doing them alongside my more traditional Frostgravers.

So that’s all I have on my desk for now. work work work!

Felstad or bust

Shhhh… It’s okay to be afraid.

So as Halloween weekend closes in, I have finally settled on what I will be playing in the Batman miniature game. I debated playing good guys or bad guys for quite sometime.

I liked Commissioner Gordon and the cops but in the end they fell a bit bland as minis for me.

I wasn’t a fan of Joker’s clowns. I even considered painting them in a realistic ”I created a mask of my face by mutilating myself”, but the sculpts weren’t good enough to try that.

I was bummed that Riddler has robots and not actual henchmen

and Penguin’s crew felt like just dudes in parkas.

I was strongly leaning towards Bane but then I found out they had a pack one of my favorite Batman villain:

Zsasz! The psychotic serial killer who tallies his kills on his skin.

have no dysfunctional family background. I suffered neither childhood abuse or trauma. I kill for ONE reason only, doctor -- because I CHOOSE to.
I have no dysfunctional family background. I suffered neither childhood abuse or trauma. I kill for ONE reason only, doctor — because I CHOOSE to. I kill because I want to kill. Because I choose to kill.
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Zsasz with Pavilion A, Pavilion B and file 08923

Unfortunately this Arkham Asylum inmate can’t be taken as a Leader in the game….

but then who would crazy enough to use this deranged coldblood killer to further his own end?

Of course, the answer was clear:

Jonathan Crane, famous psychiatrist and master of fear aka Scarecrow.

ScarecrowConcepts2

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Scarecrow with Militia

I’m not a fan of the militia guys, they will probably replaced by some Asylum thugs/Inmates/Crazies using these guys:

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So my backstory for this group of villains is that the Scarecrow unleashed the inmate he has been experimenting on to help spread fear and chaos on Gotham hoping to undermine the Bat itself.

There’s however a twist to this plot, Although the Scarecrow thinks he’s acting on his own volition, he’s actually getting his strings pulled from the shadows by the real true enemy of Batman, the man that hates him more than anyone else:

Thomas Elliot! aka Hush.

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Hush
Hush

I recommend that you take the time to read Batman: Hush which is one of my over favorite Batman story line.

So there you have it, that’s my Batman miniature game crew. I will be collecting them over the course of the upcoming month.

Now as we ran around today to figure out all the last minute details for Halloween, I stopped at the game store and got myself these guys:

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The pilot will be my HVT for the time being until I get an actual Lizard TAG. The Intruder is a model I have been looking at for quite some time now. He’s just in a badass pose and such a cool looking sniper.

I also finally got my half of this:

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So I that’s 10 guys to assemble and paint ASAP before we start the campaign. I guess I have my work cut out for me for the next couple of days…

And now the real question: What will my Halloween costume be!?!

Here’s a peek:

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Shhhh… It’s okay to be afraid.

A grave of Frost 2

We (Korto and me) played our second trial game of Frostgrave tonight in an attempt to figure the rules and strategies of it.

This time around we were more relaxed and we have two books to sift through when we had a rule question.

We played the mausoleum (renamed the Summoning circle due to the terrain piece used) since I found my box of shitty skeletons from days yonder.

Even though it added an entire new creature phase to the game we didn’t have to deal with last time, it was pretty easy to manage and the creature ”A.I.” rules were easy to apply.

We also found out that we had done melee wrong and realized that it’s not always safe to initialize melee with another fighter since when you lose the dice off your the one getting hit by the defender. That makes for a deadlier battleground.

Again the game was without any stakes since it’s not a campaign game so we were maybe a bit more brash. I ended up killing both of Korto’s  wizard and apprentice.

The game ended in a ”tie” since we both got 3 treasure off the table or in possession when my opponent decided to run away as per our campaign rules.

Strategy wise, I figured out that having your henchmen working in a two men team is good. I like pairing a Treasure hunter and a Thief together as they run fast and one can protect the other when he his lugging the treasure around. Also Thugs and Zombies are great to attract monsters and to keep your MVP from getting bugged down in a fight. I need to pay more attention to movement as it’s quite important to keep your Wizard and Apprentice near other soldiers to get them to move earlier in the turn.

Here’s a bunch pictures from the game:

(Please keep in mind we are currently using proxies to represent models since we are still awaiting our orders from Redbox and from Northstar)

All is quiet in the city block of Felstad before the wizard disturb the summoning circle.

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Then all hell broke loose and skeletons shimmied around!

Korto's crossbowman vantage point a top the cemetery outcrop.
Korto’s crossbowman vantage point a top the cemetery outcrop.
 Krongar will protect you little thief! Look out for this Zombie fighting a skeleton!
Krongar will protect you little thief! Look out for this Zombie fighting a skeleton!
Clusterf**k near the summoning circle.
Clusterf**k near the summoning circle.
Well organized advance from Korto's warband.
Well organized advance from Korto’s warband.
A grave of Frost 2

A grave of Frost.

Tonight was our first time actually trying out a game of Frostgrave. It was a trial run for the upcoming campaign. So my good friend Korto and I came with a bunch of proxies, made our list on Battlescribe which has a decent warband building setup and went to our FLGS (L’Abyss). We took most (if not all) of the Fantasy terrains they had and created a mess of ruins to play within and decide to play just a straight game without any particular scenario since it was the game played.

Here are some shot of the ruins:

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The game was great. Like in all new wargames, we forgot a couple things at first (adding weapon bonus to the damage, damage for spell failed, etc.) but we adjusted as we went along and by the end we were pretty at ease with all aspect of the game. I didn’t think of taking pictures while the game was in process since we were concentrating in playing it and I was too busy rolling an insane amount of good rolls. I guess bringing my ”PC slayer gamemastering dice” helped ;).  Of course, this being a one-shot sample game, we were a bit careless with our models (i.e.: I killed my apprentice empowering a leap spell so one of my guy could leave the table with a treasure in hand).

The things I really liked in no particular order:

  • Vertical movement is relevant and a strategic option as all structures are climbable.
  • Conflict (shooting/fighting) and spell casting resolution is simple and easy to learn.
  • Yet the level of strategy is deep as you have many relevant options with each characters.
  • Campaign play will create an interesting narrative which will in turn fuel the envy to play the game.

So playing the damn thing confirms what I had suspected by watching battle reports, Frostgrave is a really fun casually competitive game to play with a bunch of friends/fellow wargamers.

Now if my Redbox minis and my Frostgrave soldiers box can arrive so I can fill these bases I completed yesterday with my dudes:

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PS. Korto bought the new Batman miniature game rulebook so It’s possible you will see some of this also in the near future… So many wargames, so little time.

A grave of Frost.