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A Cold Night in Frostgrave...

The Second Saturday Scrum Club met again last weekend in my dining room, with charter member Walt O'Hara organizing an introductory game of Frostgrave for us. I've owned the rules and some of the supplements for Frostgrave for about a year but had yet to play it, so I was especially interested to try what is arguably the hottest miniatures skirmish game on the wargaming circuit these days.

Loyal readers will note that I have played Ghost Archipelago, the sequel to Frostgrave, twice in recent weeks, both times in games organized by Chris Palmer and Don Hogge of the HAWKs club (recap and recap). The core mechanics seemed identical to this untrained eye, though the folks I played Ghost Archipelago with had recently finished a long Frostgrave campaign and claimed that Ghost seems designed to promote more melee combat. While spell casting seems central to both games, Ghost's substitution of a mystically imbued fighter for Frostgrave's wizard protagonist likely explains some of that sentiment.

Since none of us but Walt and his son Garrett had played Frostgrave before, we asked Walt to pre-generate some warbands for us to march to their doom. I rolled poorly and chose fourth, ending up with a warband led by an Illusionist and his apprentice.

Once warbands had been selected, the scenario was designed for two teams, three players to a side. Jared Smith, John Sears, and I formed the "less evil" team, while Walt O'Hara, Garret, and special guest Rich McKee banded together in alliance as the "more evil" team. (It was great getting to play another game with Rich, whom I had met through mutual friend and fellow Scrum Clubber Zach Howard at Trident Con last fall, where Rich ran a fun Tekumel role playing game scenario. If you're going to GenCon this year, sign up for one of Rich's games; he's slated to run several, and I can attest to him being a fun game master.)

The scenario was straightforward and good for a group of newbies like us: Scrape and scrounge around this little corner of the city of Frostgrave looking for loot while contending with the hostility of random monsters and our rivals on the far side of my dining room table. Periodically, a golem of some sort appeared at the periphery of the playing area and started stomping toward the nearest group of figures.

Below is not a traditional battle report, per se, as much as a melange of snapshots from various stages of our game that evening, which carried us from about 6:00 p.m until the self-imposed cutoff of 10:30 (daylight savings time and a long commute back to Virginia for some players helped drop the curtain on our game). Most of the below pictures were snapped by my lovely wife Ellen, who would rather serve as war correspondent than join the fray (those few not by Ellen are likely from the smart phones of me or Jared). All of the miniatures were from Walt's great collection, as was about 80% of the terrain. A few scratch-built buildings came from John's shadowy wargaming past, and I provided perhaps a dozen small pieces of scatter terrain I had recently painted. All in all, it was a suitably dense, atmospheric board on which to play out our treasure hunt.

Golem City

The center third of the battlefield. We were playing on a roughly 40"x72" area, and so even standing on a dining room chair couldn't yield a shot of the full battlefield.
Walt and son Garrett fixing the roofs while the sun still shines.

Pre-game battlefield inspection by one of our new kittens, Cha-Cha. Fortunately, it passed muster, otherwise one of the warbands would have to confront her as a wandering monster during the game.
Some fun photography filters to create the springtime in Frostgrave effect.

A thief from Jared's warband contemplates the risks of dashing across the open terrain toward a treasure pile in the distance. Attacks from crossbows and the like are particularly far ranging in Frostgrave.

A mechanic that Walt introduced into the game involved the need to search various bits of scatter terrain to determine if you actually find any treasure. Jared's men start poking through this stack of barrels hoping to uncover some loot.

One of cultists from Rich's Necromancer warband scaled up the side of the ruined building to see if this candelabra on the second floor was valuable. Being the former residence of Liberace's forefather, the candelabra was indeed a real treasure, which had to then be dragged back down and off the map if Rich's team wanted to claim it for victory points at the end of the game. 
Jared's men fighting one of Reaper's disco zombies.

My Illusionist hoping that there is still enough time to run a treasure off the board if his bowman throws it down to him.

One of Walt's stooges about to grab a treasure chest.

Walt looking up some rules after placing another golem on the battlefield.

"You killed my apprentice! He will be avenged!"

Walt's archer up on the second story of some ruins was giving me a hard time.

My archer trying to decide if he should take the chest and run or keep to his perch for clean shots at Rich's band of necrophiliacs.

This was a nice piece of terrain from Walt's collection, a city gate by Miniatures Building Authority, I believe, with a nifty guard room under the removable roof.

I quite liked those temple ruins, and with Walt's help have tracked down the seller to order my own.

One of Jared's men with his trusty war hound at his side.

Golems sitting idly by at the side of the board until game master Walt mysteriously decides its one of their turns to enter the fray.

New kitten Gigi looks on in horror as the battle rages across our dining room table.

My Illusionist and his henchman, Inigo Montoya.

A possible treasure tucked away in one of John's scratch-built buildings from gaming days of yore. Do you know how many cups of coffee he had to drink to construct this building?!?

Some of Jared's gang making their way through the ruins. That guy poking his buddy in the back with the spear is kind of a dick.

Some loot sitting on these ruins, ripe for the taking.

Another cool building from Walt's collection. Wonder what's inside?

"There might be something valuable in this decrepit, haunted-looking old building...Let's check!"
...and they were never heard from again. 
Why does this feel like a trap?

Rich's Necromancer started the game by summoning a skeleton archer to accompany his warband. Disgusting.

I wonder what the overdue fine is on these?

A stone golem making its way up the back of the hillside creeping on my crossbowman, who is busy taking shots at Walt's men below.

One of my infantryman about to grab some loot...alas, the game ended before getting it off the battlefield.

(clockwise from far left) Jared, John, Garrett, Rich.

My Illusionist and some of his crew near the start of the game. His greatest illusion? Competency.

Walt had some fun miniatures in his collection. I really wanted this dual wielding battle axe mini for my warband, but he wasn't a good fit for any of my profiles. Hopefully next time!

The Forces of Kinda Good (left to right: Joe, Jared, John)


Before having to deal with the stone golem, I had to dispatch with these rats nibbling at my heels.

Garrett's crew uncovered the answer to what was inside that large building!

Garrett's men flee the building after disturbing the 1,000-year slumber of a Frost Giant.
Verdict: Cowards!

"Hey! I'm thirsty!"
After drinking some millennium-old liquid from a decanter in the ruins, one of John's thugs wanders off in search of  a bathroom. 

Garret and Rich eventually took this disgusting flesh golem down.

Swarms of rats scurrying through the streets,

Begging for a head shot...

"As the apprentice to the High Illusionist, I claim this treasure as mine!"
(His last utterance.)

Walt's thug rushes in to kill my apprentice...

Garrett and Rich, who enjoyed the game enough to order a copy on Amazon while we were still in the midst of battle.

Final Thoughts and Parting Shots

It was a nice reprieve to have somebody else organize the game this month, leaving me to the mundane work of hosting prep. And it was even more enjoyable to get to see some of the Scrum Club members' miniatures and terrain. I really enjoyed Frostgrave, and I like when folks take core rules and make them their own, as Walt did by adding some narrative bits, like providing every warband with their own secret mission cards that provided the opportunity to score additional points outside of the scenario's main objective of looting the ruined city.

The next time we play, I will try something other than the Illusionist, who had nothing in the way of actual combat spells (which made that wizard type ultimately not a good fit for my typical rough-and-tumble play style). When we play again--and I can easily see us playing again and starting a campaign with games sprinkled into the regular schedule--I will definitely try my hand at working up my own warband, which is often part of the fun of these skirmish-style games.

For anyone keeping score at home, my teammates and I ultimately won the game with a slightly dubious mechanic of rolling the values of each recovered treasure after the game had ended, with no idea of what it was worth until after the fact. The games of Ghost Archipelago I played simply had major and minor treasures worth 10 and five points each, respectively. In Walt's Frostgrave game, depending on that post-game treasure roll, you might have walked away with a chest containing 200 gold or a mere 20. If this were a campaign, it wouldn't matter that much, and would likely even out over time, but in a one-off like this, that's a lot to leave to the dice gods.

But as always...who cares! I took some licks, and got some licks in, and had a generally rollicking time with pals new and old pushing our little lead adventurers around my dining room table. Win or lose, I've won.

In fact, I think we may have landed on a motto for the Scrum Club:

Voluptas supra victoriam!

But wait, there's more!

As usual, Walt, too, has written his own take on our evening's fun. Get a glimpse into the mind of the master over at his blog, Third Point of Singularity.


Well-thumbed posts

"Nighted" Evening of Lovecraftian Role Playing

I have a talented friend named Ash who, as a game master, is a big proponent of incorporating life-sized props and some evocative theatricality into the role playing games she creates. 

Last year we played in a scenario Ash concocted titled "Nighted" that I think used a simplified version of the Call of Cthulhu role playing game as the undergirding rules. She made a special GM screen that was adorned on the player side with pictures of the house and grounds we were exploring in the game. She prepared a slew of photographs to be handed out, as well as props like scrolls that got progressively more legible the more sanity we were willing to sacrifice in scrutinizing them. There were actual copies of books by the likes of Nietzsche with annotations and marginalia that offered clues. The lights in the room were connected to a remote control so that she could instantly dim them if certain events happened while exploring the game's house. 

The players all had to wear masks Ash h…

Water Terrain: Cheap and Easy

For a while now I've been contemplating a variety of ways of creating a large body of water on which to play out scenarios with miniatures. I can imagine scattering some islands about and having players sailing out to explore them, not too dissimilar from the games Steve Braun likes to put together for cons (see my recaps for Historicon 2017 and Barrage 2018). Part of my dilemma has been that my dining room table is narrow and long (3'x8'), which does not lend itself to investing in a heavy pre-printed mat that's going to awkwardly hang over the table's edges.

About a year ago I bought a dark blue tablecloth and some paints with the intent of trying to make an ocean/sea mat myself but timidity about my ability to pull that off pushed other projects ahead of it in the queue. In the meantime, I came across some nautical-themed plastic disposable party tablecloths on Amazon (here, while the link lasts). When they arrived a couple of months ago, they were a bit thinne…

Historicon 2018: Running My First Convention Game

Some readers may recall that I attended my first game convention, a late bloomer at 47 years old, by making the trek to Historicon 2017. It was a wonderful experience for me, and I left the weekend with a heady enthusiasm for this hobby I'd only recently discovered.

This year's Historicon marked another first for me: Crafting and running my own convention game.

Back in December I recruited some friends and new acquaintances I had connected with in the D.C. metro area to establish a monthly game group, the Second Saturday Scrum Club. Every month we meet in my dining room and somebody sets up a miniatures game for us to play. In late spring we gathered to try a new set of intriguing rules by Ganesha Games' Andrea Sfiligoi, Sellswords & Spellslingers. They were a hit with the group, and the next day Steve Braun offhandedly mentioned how perfect they would be for running a scenario based around Robert E. Howard's classic Conan yarn, "Beyond the Black River."

All Together Now: 'Sellswords & Spellslingers' and the Pleasures of Cooperative Gaming

I've always enjoyed a good competitive match as much as the next guy, whether it was sports in high school or video games (HALO, etc.) in my thirties. But regardless of the game, I've always been partial to team play, and the best cooperative games put all of the focus on succeeding as a team. That's one of the reasons I was enthusiastic about getting Andrea Sfiligoi's latest release, Sellswords & Spellslingers (Ganesha Games), on the table for this month's Second Saturday Scrum Club gathering.

Last year I had organized a Halloween game (recap) to beta-test Sfiligoi's Run From the Dead, which is built atop the same cooperative mechanics as Sellswords. I was surprised when I discovered these rules were re-skinned for the fantasy genre and released last December ahead of Run From the Dead. Hopefully, the zombie apocalypse version of the rules is not too far behind because I definitely think Run From the Dead is the best tabletop miniatures rule set I've …

NOVA Open: My Curious Excursion

As I've mentioned plenty of times since starting this blog, I'm new to the whole tabletop miniatures gaming hobby. I am having a blast, and it has become something of a consuming pastime, sometimes scarily crowding out my interest in other things that might have once captured my imagination and arrested my attention.

So it stands to follow then that I decided I should go today to check out the biggest miniatures gaming convention in the Washington, D.C. area, NOVA Open. I liked the backstory of how the convention started as a big BBQ in a local fella's backyard, drawing about 32 players for an afternoon of fun back in 2009. It smacked of just the kind of community-building inspirational success story that's hard not to like.

Unfortunately, that homegrown spirit and sense of fun wasn't in much evidence today as I roamed around the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, Virginia (just across the Potomac River from D.C.).

The last time I was in that hotel for a conference wa…

Up the Black River Without a Paddle (Sellswords & Spellslingers)

Our most recent gathering of the Second Saturday Scrum Club (which meets once a month for friendly fights across my dining room table) was devoted to playtesting the scenarios for Sellswords & Spellslingers I plan on running at Historicon in July. After our earlier club game with this system, Steve Braun smartly observed how the game is almost perfectly tailored for running a scenario based on the Robert E. Howard's "Beyond the Black River" in which Conan and his companions spend nearly the entire story attempting to evade the rampaging  Pictish hordes in the wilderlands that the Aquilonian empire is struggling to colonize.

My aim is to run two linked scenarios based on the story in a four-hour time slot at Historicon. So as to avoid any spoilers for possible Historicon players, I'll discuss the scenario particulars after the convention. In the meantime, however, I'll share a number of pictures on the preparatory work I've been doing. I still have a fair…