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Thanks for the Info, Bluenose! I really enjoyed what I played so far (the big expansions). Terrain-wise, I tend to use a lot of books, since I don't have much in-door/ruins terrain from my primarily wargaming days. But yeah, Frostgrave is a damn fun game! I may well check out Sellsword as per your recommendation!
Part II of my review:
The book also has, obviously, feats. A TON of them. The table for them alone spans more than 2.5 pages. It is here, that the races of the setting can gain a significant array of customization options; P'tan adding their shadowspark to their unarmed attacks, eat the brains of your vanquished foes to gain temporarily some of their skills, disrupting the use of spell-trigger items, storing spells within a cynean's body...or what about the option to wield spears as double weapons? Yeah, there are some flavorful, nice choices here - and disrupting spell-trigger items, for example is something I had feat-codified in my own game...so yeah, I like being able to do that.
After a massive assortment of spell-lists by level, we do get a bunch of...bingo, spells. This chapter begins with a bang, namely a spell that can, based on concentration, halve an existing non-instantaneous, non-permanent, non-concentration's spell's duration. A sphere that hampers communication, hampering both spellcasting and even item activation based on command words and the like. High-level annigilation of foes, locking shapechangers in their current shape...and there would be the super nasty bloodletting, which lets you execute an untyped damage-dealing attack that also causes nasty bleed...and said bleed accompanied by an effect that basically curses the target to have SR versus healing spells for the duration, making it tough to stop the damage...and cauterization a very real option. Specialist spells available only to specific clerics (or those that dabbled in the forbidden secrets of the First Ones), total sensory deprivation - there are some seriously cool ideas here. The editing of the spells, originally an issue in the previous iteration of the setting, has been improved. As a whole, the options here tend to be on the upper level of the power-scale, but considering the flavor-restrictions imposed n many, I'd generally consider the chapter to be a significant step forwards.
The book also contains a significant array of alchemical items, from smelling salts to stabilization-enhancing wines and instant ropes. Magic item properties alongside specific magic items can be found here as well...oh, and remember the Treasures of NeoExodus-series? Guess what: The items with their extensive back stories can also be found here: Grasscutter, Ichor Sting, Mordant Wrath, Peace & Tranquility, Raindrop and Rampager's Irons are included - for a reason, mind you: These are the gems of the series, the items that reflect the best and most creative it has to offer so far. So yeah, some really detailed gems here. The book also contains easy to use, fully described tomes, with detailed notes on languages employed, benefits gained, current status of the book, etc.
Now NeoExodus obviously also features some unique threats, and thus, the book goes on to depict just that: Arcanebloat template (CR +1) can detonate upon death and receive a chaotic, reactive retribution for being harmed. Alchemists can btw. learn to make these... At CR 4, arcaneslimes get a retributive splashback, emit noxious fumes and feature 2 variants. Aspic creatures ( At CR +1) are basically poisonous. Calibans and their nasty hounds (CR 1/3 and 2), 6-legged feline crystalline cynean-hunters, CR 8 draco-humanoids...some nice critters here. The holocaust and wrath conflict dragons from the excellent Dragons of NeoExodus-pdf are featured here as well. At CR 1, mebers are mischievous fey with a penchant for pyromania and protectorate golems...well, are badass. A total of 4 of them can be found. The Giger-Alien-like Locari and the CR 14 melted flesh ooze (!!!) are neat; the thermal vampires Necryos (CR 4), the needle-firing avians (CR 9) and the sonic-vulnerable CR 3 Razorfiends similarly are nice. The dreaded extraterrestial slave-making oozes called quickslavers get their representation, as do the scythians. A nice section of appropriate monster cohorts, inlcuding stats, complements the section.
After this, we take a look at the "influentials"-chapter - it is here we get the lowest level (and least impressive) iterations of the amazing Folding Circle as well as of the glorious threat that is Cyrix before gaining several helpful statblocks, NPC codex-style, for various beings. Now, I mentioned psionics before, and indeed, the powers of the mind have been an integral part of NEoExodus lore for some time; as such, I very much applaud the inclusion of the previously pretty obscure Psionic Cavian racial variant in the book...oh, and the chapter also features alternate racial traits that tie in with the psionic rules. Favored class options for cavians are included here as well. The Hive Mind Martyr archetype for the vitalist is pretty intriguing: Anyone within his established collective may instead be the recipient of any benevolent effect; granted, I am not a fan of using opposed Will-saves to settle the differences, if any here, but e.g. the option for members of the collective to heal the martyr by touching him, transforming effectively damage into nonlethal damage (you heal and then take nonlethal damage) is VERY interesting...and abuse-proof due to daily cap; indeed Health Sense, as a whole, is improved as well, with the collective gaining interesting options here. Here is the really cool component of the chapter, though: Know how people are suspicious and prejudiced towards powers? Well, in my campaigns, more often than not, people's reactions to magic tends to be pretty much getting the pitchforks ready...and psionics don't fare better. In NeoExodus, there are some nations that REALLY fear these gifts; as such, there are several feats to make the non-subtle tricks of psionics...well, more subtle. Glamered astral suits, nondescript astral constructs, redirecting displays...I love these options. Oh, and there is this one cool swift telepathy-power that allows you to erase one round's actions. Advice on handling psionics in your campaign and different ways to emphasize them can be found before a couple of powers that are linked to the racial flavor - like Dalrean Photosynthesis. 3 psychoactive skins and a the mindlink interrupter represent the items featured in the book.
The chapter's focus on Stealth and subtlety hearkens from the new cabal features herein, the Unseen Hand of the Seventh Order, who can best be envisioned as the anti-Section Omega. They also get a 5-level PrC with +3 Ref-and Will-save progression, moderate BAB, 6 + Int skills, d8 HD and full manifester progression. Basically, these would be the covert-ops psionics guys that try to shield the psionic beings from persecution. With means that emphasize getting away and smart playing, they make for a thematically concise little PrC well in line with the themes of NeoExodus. The psionic amalgam swarm (CR 7) may absorb other swarms, growing in size and potency (OUCH!) and we also receive a CR 12 imprint of the kaga. The phrenic scourge, in its CR 8 iteration, can also be found here.
This is not everything, however - the final chapter of the book is devoted to mythic power on NeoExodus - in the setting, there is a strong disparity between mythic monsters and characters, with only a precious few being chosen by the powers-that-be...or rather, branded, for in NeoExodus, deities brand those chosen. The deity most commonly associated with this practice would be the mysterious Lawgiver, whose Lazarus Brand provides the source of the mythic power of the character in question...but at the same time, this does mean that it can be suppressed...a noteworthy and required drawback, considering the significant powers the brand bestows. The pdf also features a significant assortment of mythic iterations of feats featured herein and we conclude the book with fluff-only notes on some known ascended as well as an array of mythic versions of spells featured within this book.
Editing and formatting are pretty good as far as I'm concerned - there are instances of a word missing here and there; you can find minor glitches like "electrical" instead of electricity and untyped damage that should be typed. That being said, these glitches do not, as a whole, botch the rules-language and don't wreck the generally evocative prose herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column standard. The book's artworks are absolutely glorious; fans of NeoExodus may know some from previous books, but there are actually more new ones herein, some of which rank among the best the setting has featured. The pdf-version sports copious, nested bookmarks, making navigation simple. The cartography for the cities herein is excellent, though I wished we got 1-page-hand-out versions. I cannot comment on the physical version of the book, since I do not own it.
This is the work of a lot of people: Neal Bailey, Thomas Baumbach, Clinton Boomer, J.P. Chapleau, Joshua Cole, Richard Farrese, Lee Hammock, Marc D. Irvin, Jeff Lee, Owen K.C. Stephens, Christopher Alaniz, Andrew Balenko, Thomas Bell, Santiago Delgado, Richard Goulart, Marc Irvin, Kevin A. Shaw, Kary Williams and Louis Porter Jr. It is thus pretty surprising in how holistic the whole campaign setting feels; this is a very sensible, unique world steeped in high fantasy; a world that feels distinct.
Now the question for fans of NeoExodus, at least partially, will be whether to get this, in light of some overlap with previous publications. The reply to this inquiry would be a resounding "Yes" - the revised iteration of NeoExodus is superior in every way to the previous iteration, and it features a significant amount of new content, much of which is exceedingly evocative and fun. I was pretty positively surprised to note the fact that this is not just a compilation of previously released material; instead, we receive an impressive assortment of new information. More importantly, this version of NeoExodus feels more like a big, concise campaign setting - we simply have more information, more space to make the setting come alive.
There is another aspect I feel I should mention. I've been using NeoExodus files for several years now and they have a pervasive habit of creeping into my games; I often talk about idea-scavenging, but ultimately, more so than in many comparable settings, NeoExodus' concepts, organizations and critters have made their way into my game. Quite probably, this is at least partially due to the massive assortment of novel ideas and their execution. This book portrays a fantasy world that stretches the meaning of fantasy; a setting that is a breath of fresh air for everyone, regardless of system, who is tired of Tolkienesque fantasy. While the execution of rules-operations herein is significantly better than in the previous version of the setting, it is ultimately the ideas that represent the capital, the unique selling propositions of the setting.
After having read a ton of fantasy settings, I can attest to this being pretty much the antithesis of generic fantasy and, by virtue of its ideas, a book of great value, even if you do not intend to use the setting at all. In fact, the book contains several races I'd consider to rank among my favorites available. So yeah, this is well worth getting for the fair asking price, even if you already have all the other NeoExodus material. The campaign setting's increased page-count and expanded material help form this into a concise whole and I found myself pleasantly surprised to read the new psionic material, which provides a perfect counterbalance to Section Omega. How to rate this, then? While not perfect (no book of this size is), the campaign setting as presented here is an awesome book well worth having for the ideas alone. The original NeoExodus setting, in spite of its flaws, made my Top Ten at that year, in spite of its flaws and by virtue of its concepts...and this, while not perfect, is better in pretty much every way. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars + seal of approval -and I will round up for the purposes of the diverse platforms. With a caveat: If you go into this expecting mechanical perfection, you'll probably consider this more of a 4 or 4.5-star-book; as a reviewer, though, I rate this as a campaign setting and in this regard, it absolutely excels. There is one more aspect to note: Since the original iteration already made my Top Ten list, this one can't make the list again.
That being said, much like AAW Games' superb Snow White, this does get the respective tags as a means of recognizing the book's achievements.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
Demiplanes, traditionally, have not been consistently qualified as fully realized planes, but rather as basically shreds of the plane from which they originated; at least when they were anything else but the dominion of a powerful outsider. Examples include Ravenloft, which, for most intents acts more like a material plane (though a jealous, malignant one) or the demiplane of dream, both of which traditionally do not require plane shift of similar magics to enter. Heck, the latter is entered on a daily basis by some folks. Similarly, there are a ton of precedence cases in which a wizard's sanctum sanctorum is not treated as a plane, but rather as a location on the prime material plane, albeit one that occupies an impossible space. Perhaps it's the years of Ravenloft-GMing, but at least that's how I handled this when I played Jade Regent back in the day; to see the demiplane as a plane for the purpose of the seal never even crossed my mind. So yeah, that's how I handled this.
Part II of my review:
The final archetype herein would be the Studied Theosophist, a cleric archetype. This fellow uses Intelligence rather than Wisdom as governing attribute for all class features, extending to spells etc.1st level nets all Knowledge skills as class skills and instead of domains, he may 1/day while preparing spells select a domain associated with the deity and choose it, gaining, its benefits until another domain is chosen. Also at 1st level, he receives a metaphysic pool equal to 1/2 class level (min 1) + Int-mod. These points may be used in a variety of ways: He may spend any number of points to cast a domain spell of a level equal to or less than the number of points expended. I assume that to only work for the domain chosen, as per the example, but I am not sure- this represents pretty much the one instance where the rules are not mega-precise. Secondly, any number may be expended to spontaneously cast a cleric spell of equal or lower level than the points spent. Thirdly, the theosophist may lose a prepared spell and spend an amount of metaphysic points equal to the spell level to spontaneously cast any cleric spell of that level. All of these abilities do follow spontaneous spellcasting rules and if this looks powerful, it's because it is...however, the archetype loses spontaneous casting and channel energy. And yes, once again, an FCO's provided.
Editing and formatting are excellent on both a formal and rules-language levels - apart from one nitpick, no complaints. Layout adheres to Forest Guardian Press' two-column standard and is pretty neat, with numerous of the evocative and well-made paper-cut-style artworks providing a unique sense of identity on a visual level. As a minor complaint, the ends of archetypes tend to leave a bit of blank space on the pages. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and also with a second, more printer-friendly version - kudos for going the extra-mile here.
The author has penned this under the nom de plume of "Secret Wizard" - and frankly, dear lady or gentleman out there, let me thank you: I read A LOT of uninspired, bland archetypes. This is the anathema to that. Each and every single one of these archetypes is meticulously balanced; additionally, and more importantly perhaps, in spite of some hybrid-y themes, each of the archetypes herein features not one but multiple unique tricks that set it apart and make it more than the sum...wait, scratch that. This is not the "Let's cobble stuff together"-school of design, this is "Blend two concepts and make them UNIQUE." This pdf manages to actually make me excited about some classes I am not the biggest fan of. Oh, and it does so with rock solid rules operations I HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. It's actually creative as well!
In short: This is one massive all killer, no filler file for an amazing price point. Well worth 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans the slightest bit of hesitation. Get this gem!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The third expansion-book for the wargaming/RPG-hybrid Frostgrave clocks in at 70 pages, minus 3 for editorial, etc., leaving us with 67 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!
This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a physical copy of the book.
All right, so what is this one about? Well, forging pacts. D'UH. So how does this work? Well demons and similar entities have two names - the commonly used one and a true name. True names may never be bought, exchanged or traded, but can be received as treasure. Forging a pact requires at least level 10 as well as a Will-roll versus 18; on a failure, the wizard starts the next game at -1 health. On a success, the wizards notes having a demonic pact and the Demonic Servant spell. He also gains one sacrifice and one boon; sacrifices can be reductions of health, gold, less warband members (someone must stay behind, worship the entity) randomly lose one spell for the game or lose one action at the begin of the game, gaining only a move. The boons include options to mitigate the wounded optional rule, random demonic attributes, rerolls on treasure tables or a one-use bonus to an out-of-game spell, among others. getting a nasty chilopendra demon as one warband member is also possible...and generally, you'll notice something here: While flavorful, I am not 100% sold on the balance of the sacrifices. With enough spells and them being pretty easy to learn, losing one is something that can be cheesed much easier than the other sacrifices. An easy way to eliminate this is to have the other player(s) choose the spell. I'm frankly a bit surprised the book didn't go that route.
Anyways, at level 25, you gain another boon and must provide another sacrifice; if a wizard dies, the apprentice has the option to take over the pact when taking over the wizard's role. The book also diversifies how the out-of-game version of Summon Demon works, with 20 minor and 20 major demonic attributes adding some serious randomness, but also flavor to the extra-planar entities you can conjure forth. These powerful options range from numerical escalation to unearthly beauty, being insubstantial, etc., adding some serious options to the demon in question, which in turn makes playing characters dabbling in these dark arts more rewarding. The book features two out of game spells, the first of which would be Demonic Servant (guess what this one does...) and the second being Mystic Brand, which can be applied to non-animal, construct, undead or demon members of the war-band and adds some seriously needed flexibility for the sigilist.
There are two categories of these marks: Burning Marks can be sacrificed to deal additional damage; 5 options for burning marks are provided...but one a rolled natural 1, a character with this mark turns temporarily insane, becoming an uncontrolled creature until the end of the "battle" - I assume this can happen beyond fights in game and is supposed to refer to a game. Devotional Marks grant all +1 to Will-rolls and sacrifice them for +3 to a Will-roll; and no that does not stack with itself. 5 of these more defensive marks are provided.
The book also introduces 5 new soldiers: The first would be the assassin: Any creature damage by these guys that is not undead or a construct is poisoned and only gets one action per turn until healed; they also increase their Fight when supported, but never are treated as a supporting figure. At 80 gc, only the sucky armor keeps this strong soldier type in check. Demon Hunters cost at least 100 gold crowns...but if you dabble in demon summoning, you will pay more. With a two-handed sword and a crossbow, F, S and W +2 and a further +1 versus demons and those possessed, these guys are pretty amazing all-rounders.
I already mentioned demonic servants; these guys actually grant you a bonus to summoning via Summon Demon and have a +4 Will...but otherwise are mostly defined by the minor demonic attribute. Weird: The tables of the two final soldiers lack the "gc" part in the cost-entry of their stats in a pretty obvious glitch, that is cosmetic, though. Monks are glass cannons: F and W+4, but armor 10, they fight with a bladed staff that nets +1 damage, while still granting the enemy damage modifier reduction of the base staff. Mystic Warriors are identical to monks in stats and cost, but fight unarmed sans penalties and treat their attacks as magic. They may not use weapons.
The magic item selection of this book is more expansive than those I have seen before, with over 25 items provided. The items per se are cool, though there is more numerical escalation here than in previous books. A good thing, btw.: There are several magic arrows/bolts. These are one use, but powerful indeed: Wraith arrows let you shoot through intervening terrain. Nice here: Since it still requires line of sight, the shooter cannot fire through walls when used with Into the Breeding Pits. Gaining an extra action on a natural 20 can be a gamechanger and immunity versus some particularly nasty demonic tricks, modification of golems...there are some cool options to be found here.
The book "only" contains 4 scenarios...but before you boo and hiss: Two of these are actually mini-campaigns of three sequential parts! One of the briefer scenarios sports telescopes that may summon demons as well as limited escape-routes. Okay, but nothing groundbreaking; mainly a way to showcase demonic entities. The other brief scenario is more interesting: In it, you get a dangerously unstable sphere of magical power that emits random elemental blasts in the center; to complicate things further, notorious barbarian outcast and wooly rhino riding Kornovik alongside some barbarian flunkies enters the game as a deadly boos with a relatively complex "AI", making the scenario rewarding and risky to play.
Okay, let's talk about the first 3-part mini-campaign: It begins with a unique angle: The players divide, in secret, their group by half; one half uses the apprentice, one the wizard as leader. Scenario one thus features two halves of a warband duking it out - potentially with one wizard vs. an apprentice; the goal here is to get an amulet of constancy...though it is not easy to actually get the item, but picking it up paints a big targeting sign on the character...so beware. The second half on the group, in the meanwhile, also tries to get such an amulet...but here, time is subject to flux: On any initiative roll, you get unique tricks or penalties, depending on your roll. And yes, this makes the set-up even more cool. In the climax of the sequence of scenarios, the warbands are reunited...and arrive at a place where an extremely powerful boss demon manifests...the amulets help dealing with this threat, though the scenario is very tricky: It is actually one of the few examples, where the spawning of entities exceeded the ability to kill them off unless the players are really good.
Speaking of properly brutal spawn rates: The second sequence of connected scenarios features barbarian guards for the treasures...however, upon engaging them, two per round will spawn as reinforcements. Considering Frostgrave's lethal, swingy combat, that can be actually rather challenging. After that, the next one features a circle of standing stones with funny glyphs - the most experience can be gained by reading these glyphs...but unfortunately, casting into the circle is hard and there is a very real chance of the wizard not being able to act due to the unique magic of the circle!! Oh, and there is a very real chance of the barbarians on the board spontaneously mutating into chilopendra, significantly more powerful, demonic entities.
Having transcribed the glyphs, the wizards deduce the reason for the barbaric incursion: They have captured a prince and seek to ritualistically sacrifice him to summon their dread demon deity Tiszirain. The barbarian wizard Balken's ritual is well on the way when they arrive and foiling him will be hard...but then again, there is an interesting question of ethics here. Which one? Well, there is 50 experience in for the PCs if they prevent the rite...but if Tiszirain is summoned, defeating him nets a whopping 150 experience points. This can be particularly cool when one player roleplays his wizard as rather good, while the other play his as more evil.
Now the book obviously contains massive encounter tables (including one devoted exclusively to barbarians). I already mentioned the bosses herein: Two barbarians (both with a nice "AI") and two powerful demons (with Tiszirain gaining also a neat "AI") and 6 other creatures, the book offers some nice adversaries to face; the flavor-writing for the entities here is particularly nice.
James A. McCullough's "Forgotten Pacts" is interesting. The density of "bosses" herein is awesome and adds a cool, personal touch to the scenarios. In fact, they, to me, were the highlight of this book and were received very, very well in my playtests. The story-aspect of the scenarios, the one thing I did not consider perfect n "Into the Breeding Pits", is perfectly executed here and the modifications for them are amazing. Similarly, the power/versatility upgrade this represents will benefit i particular sigilists and, obviously, summoners; both can use it in comparison to other wizards, so yeah, I'm pretty cool with the power-increase the options provide. The expansion also plays very well with the other expansions for the system, so maintained compatibility is a big thing.
That being said, the new soldiers are less interesting than the paradigm-changers featured in previous expansions, with only the assassin bringing something really new to the table. In direct comparison to "Into the Breeding Pits", this offers no paradigm-change/multiplication of options...unless you are a summoner...or making a demonic pact. The demonic pact system, while not perfectly balanced in my book, is rewarding and fun, but emphasis design in depth rather than breadth and I'm not sure Frostgrave necessarily needs these minmaxy options. This is by now means a bad expansion, but when compared to the other two Frostgrave expansions, it does feel like it is a slightly bit less refines, a bit more specialized. This should not mean that it's bad, mind you, but I consider it more optional than the previous expansions...unless you are into the demonic gifts angle or want more options for sigilist and summoner; in those cases, this is just what you wanted. Additionally, the superb scenarios and bosses certainly warrant getting this if you are thirsty for more Frostgrave goodness. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. I certainly recommend getting all 3 expansions for the game, though; using all three makes this system truly a fun way to have some neat, relatively uncomplicated gaming. As an intro to or crossover of wargaming and RPGs, this certainly delivers.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here, on amazon, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The first expansion-book to Frostgrave clocks in at 62 pages, minus 4 if you subtract editorial, ToC, etc., leaving us with 58 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This supplement/expansion is the first big campaign for Frostgrave, and it is a cool one (pardon the pun) - but before we go to the linked scenarios, let's take a look at the supplemental material, shall we? The first of these would be the bard - at 100 gc, he clocks in at the upper end of the soldier cost-spectrum, and at Fight +2, Armor 11, he looks like a pretty sucky choice; however, he has a phenomenal Will +4 and conveys a +1 bonus to Will to all soldiers within 6'' of him, but only if they have line of sight. Nice: These benefits cannot be stacked. The Crow Master is just as expensive,, but has both Fight and Shoot +0, armor 11 and +2 Will...so why get him? Well, each crow master comes with a domesticated blood crow that has Move 9, flies, armor 14 and +3 Will...but only 1 Health. So yeah, deadly skirmisher-potential held in check by low Health...and by the restriction that your base needs to have one Blood Crow Roost per such soldier hired...and these restrictions better should be in place, for the blood crow does not count towards the soldier maximum.
Can't afford an archer or crossbowman, but need ranged capability? The javelineer, for only 25 gc delivers that. These guys can use their weapons in melee and ranged combat, but only have a range of 10'' and +0 Fight and SHoot - you get what you pay for, but a couple of these guys still can wreck your day. Finally, for 20 gold crowns, you can recruit a quasi-noncombatant with only a dagger and +0 in all relevant stats as well as armor 10. This would be the pack mule and his draw is that he may carry up to three items and hand them to other characters as an action. Wizards may use actions to take the item from the mule as well....or exchange it. All soldiers presented here have in common that they enrich the tactical options of the game in pretty interesting manners - Blood Crows can e.g. easily follow wizards abusing the Leap spell.
Speaking of spells - in that regard, the book offer three out-of-combat options: Witches may create homunculi; these miniature versions of the wizard decrease his health while in existence, but if he dies during survival checks, his homunculus grows to full size; this is basically an extra life. The other two spells pertaining the ascendency to lichdom; these guys are VERY powerful, but pay for that with increased experience point requirements to level...and, well, obviously, being undead. Thirdly, soldiers that died may be reanimated as revenants by necromancers...though that wrecks the reanimated corpse's Will down to +0.
The book also features a new treasure table alongside 23 new magic itens...some of which become relevant in the aforementioned campaign...while others simply allow for something pretty cool: Crystal Roses that help survival, a book that allows for the recruitment of a rangifier (think savage, undead-hating elk-humanoids introduced in the book's bestiary that are pretty badass: At M 7, F +2,A 12, W +3 and H 12 plus attacks count as magic versus undead and are made at +1.) or the eyes of amoto deserve special mention. The latter is a set of two amulets that allow the caster to cast 1/game through the line of sight of the wearer of the other amulet.
As already mentioned, the pdf does have a new bestiary, including random encounter table - the bestiary spans 10 creatures, two of which I have already mentioned; beyond death cultists (who have a REALLY good Will - +5!), the rest, surprise, would be undead of various powers...including zombie trolls or wraith knights. And yep, several are immaterial and may move through obstacles...which can be really painful. The most impressive creature here, obviously, would be the lich lord, though: His "AI", i.e. his priority list, contains no less than 9 conditions, which makes facing him surprisingly difficult. That being said, the book does suggest to get a player/GM-like entity to play the part of the monsters in the finale of the campaign and I get why.
Now how does the campaign play out? Are the scenarios worthwhile? Well, it all begins as ominous as it gets - in scenario 1, there is a timer running down towards a total eclipse that is accompanied by a significant surge in magical power...but which also limits line of sight while in progress, allowing for some cool tactics and gameplay - this one's mechanics can easily be scavenged and yes, there are bonus experience points for actually being on the table when the eclipse happens, so wizards have a reason to wait at least until it happens before vacating the premises. Scenario number 2 is slightly more complex in its set-up: It takes place on the Meregile, the frozen river; the first 6'' from the tables edge are land---beyond that, you have the river's unsure footing. From a barge on that river, a spellcasting servant of the lich lord sooner or later will emerge and taking the guy out before he can flee would be the primary goal here...though it's easier said than done in the nasty terrain. Scenario 3 is simpler: The PCs basically attempt to loot a caravan of death cultists that had bad luck and a broken down wagon; while reinforcements arrive, they proved to be not too big of a hassle in my tests.
Scenario 4 ups the ante and is called "Storm of Undeath"; not only is a magically charged snowstorm reducing sight, the goal is also risky - in the middle of the table, there'll be pylons with corpses. Each round, there is a chance for magic lightning to hit the pylons, with potentially lethal consequences...of, and the dead may be animated...but being in the area is also the way to gain the big experience points here. Just be careful to not die, or you'll have a revenant on your hands. In #5, the evocative rangifers are in the center - and they are deadly...and it's up to the wizards to prevent them being killed by a deadly wraith knight...problem is, that the rangifers are NOT nice guys...they prioritize destroying undead...but are not above splitting some wizard skull...
In Scenario #6, you best have a second table or cordoned area - the second are, ideally 1' by 1', represents a treasure room: Arcs and doors placed have a chance of teleporting those passing through to the second area, the fallen house's treasure room...problem is, you can also be teleported out of the game or killed by the attempt...risky and interesting. Oh, and if you botch it, you may well end up facing death cultists all alone in the room... One of my favorites in the campaign, however, would be #7, the "lair of the ghoul king": Situated in a vast underground chamber, the players are trapped in the ghoul king's throne room. On his throne are levers that may allow for escape...but you have to get there first. The chamber is also dark and limits sight and makes for an amazing playing experience. Scenario 8 and 9 are somewhat similar - they focus on one unique aspect: In #8, you have the Black Cauldron in the middle, which continuously spawns zombies: Tipping it over is the goal here. In #9, the center of the scenario would be a bone wheel with sacrifices to be in the middle; freeing these guys and getting the treasure is hard, as the wheel is ever turning...oh, and there are the banshees.
After all of that, the lich lord has had enough: Exerting his magical might, he lets his castle fly above the city, held in place by taut chains; escape is not an option and lethal (unless you have the amulet to slow falls...) and the lich lord is a deadly foe...oh, and if you kill him, a generous countdown's running down...be too slow and you die. Yes, DIE. This one has a very real chance of failure and is really epic in its feel. If the wizard persists, he does get bragging rights and cheaper recruitment from there on out, though.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches in either formal or rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a beautiful one-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several evocative pieces of fluffy sideboxes. Artworks are the usual blend of amazing artworks and color-photographs of minis. I can't comment on the electronic version, since I don't have it, but the softcover is a nice little book with high-quality, glossy paper.
James A. McCullough's "Thaw of the Lich Lord" is an evocative expansion - the new soldiers in particular are great paradigm-changers and the scenarios allow for cool tweaks that can easily be combined, changed, modified - but it is also here that the campaign varies a bit in its set-up: You see, there are a couple of scenarios that play like truly unique, interesting experiences...while a few feel a bit more like filler or don't make maximum use of their modifications. The bone wheel is cool, but it's engine tweak could have, for example been expanded upon. The book improves the base Frostgrave, though, and playing the campaign certainly is a rewarding experience. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-level - while some abilities can use a bit of clarification, as a whole, the pdf is precise - the orders sport some minor hiccups, but with one exception, nothing too grievous. On a formal level, there are a couple of wordings and italicizations and similar minor hiccups. Layout adheres to Purple Duck games' 1-column standard, is pretty printer-friendly and employs an appropriately Asian-font, which is a nice touch. The pdf sports 2 nice pieces of full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
This is the first book by Nathan Reinecke as a lead designer I have tackled (though Perry Fehr, N. Jolly and Shinigami02, the contributing authors have, for the most part, had the dubious pleasure) - and frankly, I am more impressed than I expected to be. The designs herein are not earth-shattering or wild, sure - but they do their job damn well. The archetypes universally find a very sweet balance in their new features and what they lose; the respective specialists actually excel at their fields of expertise sans becoming complete one-trick ponies...and they are flavorful. While the orders contain a couple more hiccups than I like to see, the feats have some seriously neat ideas and the magic items or mount left me sans complaints.
Here's the thing that made me really like this: It makes the samurai feel more like a samurai. It has a couple of rough edges, yes. But it adds some staying power to the guys, emphasizes commands, social banter, iaijutsu, etc. - particularly the temporary hit points buffer-shield options feel very appropriate for the class with its emphasis on honorable combat, standing one's ground, etc. While I really disliked the order of the pack and the order of the shadow, both peacock and lotus have some serious potential and did not bore me...which is saying something after the number of orders I've read. Traditionally, first time authors get a bit of leeway from yours truly and hence, I will round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars for the purpose of this platform, in spite of the glitches. If you want to play a samurai, this very much is a book you should get.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
Part II of my review:
Speaking of one of the better races: The Tatulani would basically be Thri-Kreen by another name, stranded on Khrone and only finding its place. The 4-armed race may not use the additional arms for full-blown weapon-wielding, but allows for the balanced wielding of 1-handed weapons when TWFing or even wielding oversized monster-weapons. They also begin play with claws (1d4) and +2 to Knowledge (engineering) and a Craft skill. The claws may be replaced with +2 to Disable Device. The tech-savvy may be replaced with +2 to Survival/Diplomacy. Cool: The racial archetype here is for the artisan class and provides functionality with the Technology Guide (and alternative abilities when playing without it). As a whole, the tatulani's racil entry is my favorite in the book - it's also pretty consistent and the only racial entry that managed to elicit a contemplation on whether I'd allow it or not in my non-playtesting games. Tieflings in Khrone may elect to become Dominator eliciters, who replace convincing with the Mind Control advanced talent at 9th level. Yeah, that's it. Pretty cookie-cutting. Oh, no FCOs for any of the new races.
Okay, the racial section done, next up would be magic traditions, which include two drawbacks and the bound creature boon and over 10 new traditions - the cool thing here would be that the traditions actually acknowledge both Pact Magic and Psionics; while the traditions themselves are decent, this little inclusion is well-intentioned...but how do they actually interact with traditions? I read that a couple of times...and simply didn't get it. These traditions, obviously, have also brought forth professions; notes are provided for the roles of classes within a tradition and...we get EVEN MORE ARCHETYPES! So please, bear with me, the book just offers a ton of material! The Gun Chemist alchemist replaces bombs with gunslinging and gets a slightly modified deed-list, with explosive and poisonous shots. Tranquil barbarians gain inner peace instead of rage, which provides a bonus to AC as well as Ref- and Will-saves. Generally decent modification, but I've seen the trope done more interestingly. Now, on the fluff-side, the chapter has some nice ideas for the place of the respective classes and yes, occult classes are included in the deal.
The pdf also sports a diverse selection of feats, upon some of which I have touched before: Better engine-coaxing (more on that later), speak with plants, reduced speed, but better defenses via Steel Skeletons for the created...some nice customization options can be found here. When a character multiclasses and gets two traditions of the same general type, they choose a dominant tradition which then provides drawbacks, benefits etc. of the tradition; to gain more, you need the corresponding tradition trait. These...well, are problematic. There would be, for example, one that lets you use on casting attribute for all your psychic class casting ability modifiers. Trait. Yeah....others, like affecting vermin with Expanded Charm...are pretty much significantly weaker, so not really sure where the balancing/devs looked here; it's not that the traits are bad, but they're all over the place regarding their balance. Oh, and they are utterly confusing - the verbiage implies you get them when multiclassing and never mentions it again; the interaction is messed up...in short, I'd strongly suggest pretending that this chapter does not exist.
On the plus-side, the skill-chapter is interesting, providing concise and neat rules for Craft (cartography), Profession (navigator). Gods are opposed by the "fiends", the dark gods of the setting and philosophies as well as nature gods can be found...that being said, each deity-entry is very short: No aphorisms, no obediences...and while domains are listed, the presentation of favored weapon at the end of the little write-ups deviates from how deity write-ups are usually handled. That being said, it's nice to get symbols for each deity. The ritual writing and creation rules presented next are tight, concise and one of the highlights of the book.
But...skybourne's SKYbourne, right? Well, this is where we finally get to that part, the unique selling proposition of the system, if you will: Airship sailing and combat. This system generally makes use of some optional rules, the first of which would be the overland round: An overland standard action takes 8 hours, an overland move action 4 and an overland swift action 1 hour. Simple. Reputation, as presented here, may range from 0 to 100. Reputation is equal to character level + Cha-mod + modifiers accrued and mythic tier, if applicable. Additionally, fame and infamy are tracked - from -100 to 100 on both the law-chaos and good-evil-axis. Deeds and behavior is codified in a handy table, with alignments notes, if required. Temporary increases are noted and the effects and even secret identities are accounted for. Simulationalists like yours truly may also enjoy the optional rule of reputation distances. This system basically allows the PCs to potentially recognize it if they're about to bite off more than they can chew and steer clear of trouble/gain appropriate options. Thirdly, the pdf employs the GMG's upkeep rules to potentially cap PC power.
Okay, got that? Onwards to airships: Airships are generally defined by hardpoints: One hardpoint is a 10 ft. cube and are used for hull, sails and dirigibles, etc. They determine hit points and carrying capacity. When a ship's so large hardpoints become stupid to track, you track by deck instead; each deck is a collection o 9 connected hardpoints. Airships larger than 5 decks start having locations, which track HP separately -basically, they are treated as connected, Colossal objects. With not enough crew, you get increasingly less power output. Vehicles spaces are 30 ft. Base AC is determined by ship size (Between 4 and -3) and so is ship CMB/D and saves. A handy tables collates movement in spaces per round, ft. per round, miles per hours, etc. Shipsize affects the maneuverability of the vessel, obviously, and the pdf covers siege engines and their use as well. Environmental considerations (wing speed and altitudes) are also covered...so how does airship combat work?
Well, first of all, a ship has a facing. D'uh. At the end of a round, all ships move separately from the creatures involved in the combat, in a sequence from highest to lowest rolled Profession (sailor) check by the pilots, with uncontrolled ships moving as though they had rolled an unmodified 1. Kinda lame: Instead of providing a more fluid system, the rules here just tell us to use group initiative for ship + crew combats...and I HATE group initiative. I don't need a book to tell me that I could use it. On the plus side, hiding in a vehicle's shadow, sharp turns, diving etc. are all covered regarding special maneuvers, though the 20 base DC is pretty high...and the really weird, far-out ace-pilot maneuvers...aren't covered. More space devoted to that aspect would have been really nice to see. Now where I once again start smiling from ear to ear is with the vehicle conditions: From on fire to freefall or rolling, these add a nice tactical edge to combat and are something that I most certainly will employ.
Now here is my main gripe with the system presented herein: It, much like almost every d20-based vehicular combat system, is...just not that exciting for players. The system presents a number of crew roles with special actions that bestow benefits...but with the exception of the head engineer, the roles don't have much to offer in actual combat. I sincerely hoped the aerial combat would offer more things to do for each player...but nope. So, is the whole system flawed here? Not exactly - it just fell short of providing a truly dynamic experience. That being said, the pdf does achieve a resounding success in one component featured here: The crew-rules, which basically represent a twist on the troop-subtype that is EXTREMELY modular, with scaling potency, racial benefits, levels, saves, siege attack bonuses and special perks to further customize them. Even the equipment you buy for them has direct consequences! Yeah, crew-rules here are just as cool and surprisingly rewarding for players and GMs alike and definitely constitute a big highlight here. They may, depending on what you're planning, warrant the pdf's asking price.
The need to hire officers and a ton of tables as well as loyalty checks and modifiers can similarly be found here. The pdf also features some nice mundane weapons as well as several new items tied to the respective races of the themes of the setting and the pdf also offers several magic items, ranging in price point from 42K to 750 gp. From an ersatz appendage that may act as a crawling claw to arm-prosthetics that act as a mighty 4d8 ranged attack that regrows to a conch that draws gigantic creatures closer, the selection is pretty decent, if not mind-boggling.
After that, we're back to ships (slightly odd - why splice the single-character item-info in there?) and their 6 engine-types as well as 14 room types and several direct and indirect siege engines to outfit the vessel with, including modifications of siege engines like weapon swivels and bottom mounts. Dirigibles, pumps and goods are similarly covered, as are trade goods and various fuel types. Trading of goods is a good idea, with settlements being suggested to feature modifiers for the goods, with each modifier influencing the price by 10%. The pdf concludes with 7 sample ships.
Editing and formatting are inconsistent: There are some sections that get everything right; then, suddenly, bonus types are not properly allocated or crunch suddenly does no longer adhere to rules-language conventions. The lack of a truly experienced, nit-picky rules-developer that was NOT one of the authors to bring the disparate elements in line. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a mix of stock-art and original pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Adam Meyers, Mike Myler and David Silver's Player's Guide to Skybourne...is, as much as I'm loathe to say, a mess. The races and racial options provided are mostly cookie-cutter options and failed to grasp my interest; the takes on the races can't decide on a power-level, they have min-maxy lopsided races and worse, are inconsistent with internal rules-terminology and wording. The races, in power, oscillate between slightly over core-level to above and beyond that of aasimar and tieflings. There is no internal consistency regarding the racial power-levels whatsoever. The racial feats have some decent ideas...but ultimately, are based on flawed races and hence will not see use at my table. One final issue I have with the races: I have seen each and every twist before: Evil gnomes? Noble orcs? Yeah, not excited there, seen that done x times, often better.
As mentioned, the tradition-section similarly falls behind, is inconsistent...and then, we come to the aerial combat/airship-rules. And here the problems begin for real. Noticed something above? Yeah, I commented about the parts of the system like liking the crew system; like enjoying the conditions and the general way in which the ships can be constructed...but here's the issue: I have not talked about how everything comes together. Because...frankly, it doesn't. Beyond the organization being pretty bad (why slip character-equipment smack in the middle of the ship-rules?), I had a very hard time actually using this system as presented here; frankly, I think I would have failed, if I didn't have experience with a whole array of ship-building/customization systems for d20-games. I think I have managed to use the rules properly...but it wasn't easy. If I went be just the text here...no dice. I was also shocked to see, instead of a cool system that switches between characters, crews and vessels, this lazy group-initiative solution. It doesn't do a good job simulating aerial combat.
Similarly, the actual way in which aerial ship combat works basically has to be deduced from several disparate locations and then you still have blanks to be filled up. And it frustrates me to no end, because frankly, the system presented here, or what I can see, has the potential for being absolutely amazing, but it suffers from a fatal case of what I'd call designer blindness: When *you* know how something's supposed to work...and then write it down and it makes sense in your head...but to another person, to the reader not familiar with your background knowledge, it becomes opaque and puzzling. The whole presentation here is so confused, even I, with years of experience regarding systems like this, had to halt and look stuff up. Multiple times. Worse, the individual character options to influence ships...are all over the place and similarly confused.
The system looks like it tries to take some of the amazing ideas of Fire as She Bears and adapt them, but gets totally lost along the way...which is an adapt metaphor for the pdf, considering the nice Navigation-rules. The reputation-system, as far as I can see, has no immediate benefits that influence mechanics; the trading system is needlessly complicated and the modifiers suggested add a TON of numbers to a settlement; so many that even I, as a passionately simulationalist GM who loves tracking numbers, equipment, etc., throw the towel and handwave it. The fact that the pdf ignores downtime rules in favor of its own system would be no issue - if the system presented was a bit more concise.
Oh damn. This book is not all bad...but I sure as hell know almost nothing about the world after reading it; so in that aspect, it's not a good player's guide either. I don't want to play any of the races and there are plenty of better takes on each and every concept featured herein out there, both in AAW Games' Underworld Races-series and Purple Duck Games' Porphyran player-guides. Let's sum it up, shall we: The PC-level options failed to impress me; the ship-level system is flawed and obtuse. There are gems here, but ultimately, this whole book feels like it has been pushed out the door to meet a deadline or like the designers had lost interest halfway through. It tries to be many things and fails to get even one truly right. The different voices of the authors never gel, never blend and come together.
As written, there is not a single system I will use in my games in this book; I will scavenge vehicle conditions and a couple of components...and take Fire as She Bears by Frog God Games and modify that system to present aerial combat...or go get Ships of Skybourne, but skip this. FaSB's quick, easy to understand and concisely presented...so adding aerial options isn't that hard. Oh, and each PC gets a ton of cool, relevant stuff to do. Yeah, I know. Where does this leave this pdf? As a book that feels half-finished; that had desperately needed a dev who said: "These archetypes are bland, boring and cookie-cutter-designs"; as a book that needed someone to streamline rules-language and presentation. There is a spark of greatness here, but it is buried deep. I certainly hope we'll get to see a more concise presentation of these rules at some point. As a player's guide, this book sadly fails and leaves me hoping that Skybourne's evocative setting and concepts will receive better treatment in the future. My final verdict will clock in at 2 stars, due to the scavenging potential; if you have some serious time on your hand and want to flex your design-muscles, this may be for you.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine, posted here, on OBS, etc.
Yes, indeed - and you have the whole "reality is fluid"-aspect with wizards; you have the ostracization tinmen may experience...etc.
It was pretty obvious to me that X-men-themes are intended here; tales of coming to grips with romance, with one's identity; with negotiating one's identity with the expectations of the environments.
Additionally, a leitmotif certainly would be the establishing of the ersatz-family, which will resonate with a lot of people, me included, who did not have the best or most enjoyable of childhoods.
The problems of cliques, even though they do provide a stabilizing identity element also is a nice aspect; while exclusion is a ritual component of any social collective and to a degree, required to generate a sense of identity, it is ultimately also a potentially very troublesome aspect that the game cleverly navigates by assuming different yogangs; in contrast to VtM with sufficient motivation to not necessarily go at the other folk's throat.
Anyways, I'm rambling; tl;dr: Awesome, underappreciated classic. :)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This rule-book clocks in at 136 pages, minus 4 if you take away ToC, editorial and the like.
This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in question.
So, what is Frostgrave? Well, in-game it was once the center of magics, a metropolis of ridiculous power, steeped in arcane might; then, the ice came and swallowed the city; winter had come and devoured it wholesale. For untold years, the powerful magics of the place had been kept below the grinding glaciers...but now, thaw has come, unearthing ever more of the labyrinthine ruins that make up the city, unearthing countless mystical treasures, rife for the taking for those foolhardy or brave enough to venture inside. From all traditions and lands, wizards and their entourages flock to the place, all hoping for supreme magical power...
So that would be the in-game reply. Out-game, Frostgrave can best be pictured as a beer-and-pretzels, quick-play hybrid between fantasy wargaming and roleplaiyng, one that requires no GM and yes, the game supports more than two players. So how exactly does it work?
Well, you need a couple of things to play, but significantly less than for similar games: You need miniatures...but not more than the average gaming group has on its hands; 28 mm miniatures are assumed as default. Per player, you cannot have more than 10 minis under your command, so the game's pretty tame as far as that's concerned. You also need dice - one d20 suffices, though one per player is better. Frostgrave can be played easily on most household tables; 2' by 2' is enough for quick games, 4' by 4' or larger tables allow for more impressive games, though. A crucial difference between Frostgrave and other games of this type is the emphasis on terrain - the game taking place in the frozen ruins of the eponymous city also means that the ruins are supposed to be crowded and maze-like; if you *have* a ton of terrain, well, perfect; if not, anything from clothes to books suffices. Heck, I once played a game with clothes and coins for a lack of minis (I always carry dice with me) and it worked.
So, the "avatar" and most important figure under the command of each player would be the wizard. The wizard is further diversified by his focus on one of ten schools of magic, specializations, if you will. Each of the schools has one opposed school, 5 neutral schools and 3 aligned schools - these represent the grades and ease with which you can cast spells beyond your school's field. Aligned schools increase the DC by +2, neutral ones by +4 and opposed school spells by +6. In case you're interested, the specializations are Chronomancer, Elementalist, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer, Sigilist, Soothsayer, Summoner, Thaumaturge and Witch. For most people with any degree of familiarity with fantasy traditions, these should be pretty self-explanatory. When creating a wizard, you begin play with 8 spells: 4 from your own school; 1 must come from each of the aligned schools and finally, 2 are chosen from the neutral schools, but each must come from a different school.
This choice made, we must talk a bit about the stats: Creatures have 6 stats: Move (M) denotes how far a character can move per turn. Fight (F) is the character's melee capability. Shoot (S) depicts the ranged capability. Armour (A) represents the armor of the creature - natural or otherwise. Will (W) is the character's willpower and ability to resist spells. Finally, Health (H) is basically the hit points of the character. Fight, Shoot and Will are noted with plusses, denoting the modification to the roll - for roleplayers, think of that as basically the respective BAB or base save. In some cases, stats will be noted with splits, like +2/+3, for example - the first stat denotes the actual stat, the second the effective stat, modified by magic, items, etc..
A wizard's unmodified stats are M6, F +2, S +0, A 10, W +4 and H 14. All creatures in Frostgrave can carry items. Wizards can carry up to 5 of them, apprentices 4 and soldiers 1. Wizards begin play with a staff or hand weapon and may buy a dagger, two-handed weapon, bow or crossbow for 5 gold. Dual-wielding sword + dagger nets you +1 effective Fight. This would be the most important character all done...now let's assemble our warband.
I already mentioned the apprentice, who is the most important character beyond the wizard - you may never have more than one and the apprentice costs a whopping 200 gp. The apprentice is the only way to have a second spellcaster and his F, S and W-values are based on the wizard: The wizard's stats -2, to be more precise. Health is equal to the wizard's -4. They get the wizard's spells, but cast each spell at -2. The system also provides a total of 15 types of soldiers you can hire, ranging in price from 10 gp war hounds to the costly 100 gp veterans. The price for these guys, just btw., goes up exponentially with skill. The stats of these soldiers never increase via spells or magic items - they are basically your lackeys or mooks. The system does not distinguish between races - elven or dwarven soldiers use the same stats, though admittedly, you can easily introduce racial modifiers, if you so choose.
Frostgrave knows a total of 6 item classes: Daggers reduce damage by 1; two-handed weapons increase it by +2; staves come at -1 damage, but also decrease the damage received in hand-to-hand combat by -1. Bows have a maximum range of 24''; crossbows take one action to load and one to fire, but hit at +2 damage, with a maximum range of 24''. Finally, unarmed combat means -2 Fight and -2 damage.
Now, since I already talked about setting up the table, let me mention that, at the beginning of the game, after terrain has been placed, the players put 3 treasure tokens per player on the ruins, taking turns when doing so. The tokens must be placed at least 9'' from a player's table edge. After placing the tokens, you do roll which designated player side becomes your starting side...so just placing them close for convenience may fire back big time.
Ok, that covered, we have begun talking about actions, let's take a look at the structure of turns. At the beginning of each turn, every player rolls initiative, ties are rerolled and players act in sequence of the result rolled. Each turn is divided in 4 phases, which, in sequence, are as follows:
The wizard is activated (the term for using a miniature) first and may also activate up to 3 soldiers within 3'' of the wizard alongside with him. When a figure is activated, it gets to perform two actions, one of which MUST be movement. The other action may be a second move, fighting, shooting, spellcasting r any special actions eligible. A figure may only perform one action, if it so chooses or is otherwise handicapped. The use in conjunction with the nearby soldiers is called group activation. During the wizard and apprentice phase, soldiers within 3'' of the caster may be activated alongside him/her/it. The thus activated soldiers must all move in conjunction and the first action of group activation must be movement. All figures thus activated get to act. Once a wizard's turn is done, the next wizard may act. Yep, you don't have to wait through x phases to act - this keeps the game pretty dynamic. After the wizard phase, it's time for the apprentice phase - which follows the basically same structure. Then, it's the soldier phase and after that, the creature phase.
Movement is pretty simple in general: The first move is at the full Move stat in ''; any subsequent move takes half the Move stat; a character with move 6 could e.g. use both actions to move 9''. Moving over obstructions (you agree on those when setting up the table) costs 2'' per inch; rough ground similarly halves movement. Which brings me to one of the very few rough edges of the system - as you may have noted, there is some halving going on. The lack of a grid means that you don't have something and you don't round up or down. For people used to the metric system, this becomes slightly more annoying; at least alternate distances may have helped there and rounding guidelines would have sped up play; in my playtests, the lack of rounding up/down constitutes one of the few instances where the game did not play as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. When two creatures are in contact, they are designated as "in combat" and may not move. Why am I talking about this now? When a figure moves within 1'' of another creature, said creature may force combat, placed immediately next to the creature passing. Movement by spell etc. is btw. not considered to count as movement, but any creature using this that ends movement within 1'' is forced into combat.
Figures moving off the board are out of the game and may not be involuntarily be forced off the board. A creature can jump as part of the movement if it moved at least an equal distance prior to jumping - a creature with move 4 can e.g. jump up to 2'' after moving 2''. If a creature falls more than 3'', the critter takes 1.5 times the number of excess inches in damage.
Combat is simple: You spend one action and both figures involved roll 1d20 and add their Fight stat plus any additional modifiers. The figure with the highest number wins. After that, you subtract the armor score from the winner's roll. If the score is positive after detracting the armor score, the target takes damage equal to the remaining points. In the case of both rolls being equal, the combatants hit each other and cause damage to one another, allowing for double K.O.s. After determining damage caused, the winner can decide to either remain in combat or push back either figure by 1'', directly away from the opposing figure. Figures thus moved are no longer in combat, Combats with multiple figures are slightly more complex, but they are explained in a very concise and easy to grasp manner. The system, as you can see, is pretty lethal due to its swingy nature of opposing d20s - which means that it emphasizes tactics over strategy. You can, if you'd like to, also use a critical hit optional rules for even more lethal combat.
Shooting has two terms to keep in mind: In range, which means within 24'' and line of sight, which is self-explanatory. The comparison here is btw. 1d20 + Shoot vs. 1d20 + Fight., with damage being determined analogue to melee, though cover types and terrain hamper shooting with modifiers. Shooting into melee is random: You have a random chance to hit any participant. Creatures reduced to 0 health are presumed killed, unless you're playing in a campaign (more on that later); as an optional rule, characters reduced to 4 or less health are considered to be wounded, taking -2 to all die rolls and only gaining one move; I'd strongly suggest playing with this rule, it adds some neat drama to the games.
Spellcasting is handled similarly: You roll a d20 and compare that to the spell's casting number; on a success, you cast the spell. The game has a degree of failure system; the worse you fail the casting, the more risky it gets; on a failure, you can take damage. Spellcasters may empower spells, which is determined after the casting roll is made, but before effects are determined. The spellcaster may choose to lose health to increase the roll; if a spellcaster would, for example, fail a spellcasting roll by 4, he may sacrifice 4 health to still succeed. When a wizard colossally fails at casting a spell by 20+, he may empower spells to actually take less net damage. This is intended. The target resisted by the spell rolls 1d20 and adds the Will stat; if the target succeeds, he resists the spell. Spellcasters may empower Will rolls by expending Health on a 1:1-basis akin to how empowering spells work.
The game is about treasure, and a character next to a treasure token may use an action to pick it up; thereafter, it moves with the creature. If the creature carrying treasure is killed, the token remains there, ready to be picked up again. A character can only carry one treasure token. In order to secure a treasure token, the carrying figure must move off the board. Now, Frostgrave features more than just competing warbands - the ruins are haunted by various creatures. The system presents basically the analogue version of an AI for them; simple steps of handling them and priority sequences. So no, you do not need a GM, though obviously, it is possible to play the game with a referee/GM. A game of Frostgrave usually ends when the last treasure token has left the board or when one side has been completely wiped out.
So yeah, short instant games are fast play and can last between 10 minutes and an hour....but you'll get the most out of Frostgrave when playing a campaign. Ina campaign, a creature reduced to 0 Health is not considered to be killed, but out of combat, which means you get to roll on a survival table; wizards and apprentices have better chances to live...and yep, you can suffer permanent injuries; a total of 9 of which are provided with rules-relevant repercussions. After a game in a campaign, you award experience to the participants: Successfully cast spells, enemy soldiers, apprentices or wizards defeated and treasure tokens secured net experience per default. Every full 100 experience points for a wizard grants the character a level, which can be used to improve a stat, a spell (granting +1 to its spellcasting level) or learning a new spell. Each treasure token secured in a campaign nets a roll on the treasure table. There is also a potion table. Scrolls are one-use fire and forget spells; grimoires are books that allow a wizard to learn a specific spell and, if you choose to, you can determine spells randomly with a table. Magic Weapons and armor, magic items, etc. - there is a lot of material here - and yes, the magic items come with concise rules.
Gold crowns accumulated allow the wizard to replace slain apprentices, hire new soldiers, buy items, etc. However, in a campaign game of Frostgrave, the game adds another cool option to using your hard-earned gold: Namely establishing a base, which may contain labs, inns, breweries, etc. - the rules presented here are concise and have relevant repercussions in game. Kudos for that addition!
Now obviously, a game focused as strongly on spellcasters needs a massive magic chapter - and indeed, it is BIG. Some spells are out-of-game spells and happen "off screen"; other are self only, have line of effect, area of effect or a range of touch; each spell has a base casting number, as mentioned before...and that's pretty much already the extent of the framework's rules - concise, easy to grasp and elegant...with a couple of minor hiccups: The damage-causing elemental spells or poison dart are very powerful if a wizard increases the quickly, making the respective character a nasty arcane artillery. The other spell that is somewhat OP is Leap. Yeah, I know, I didn't expect that either until I started testing the system. Leap's benefits: Immediate 10'' move, not hindered by terrain. Considering table size, it's very easy to grab treasure and jump off the board with this one, basically grab and run. Having the spell scale with table size and nerfing it, may be a smart choice; similarly, including a caveat that you can't jump off the table would be appreciated - getting at least one turn to defeat the escaping wizard would be nice. As an optional spell-goal for campaigns, researching transcendence and successfully casting it can be used as a generic campaign goal.
Now, while campaigns make Frostgrave more rewarding, this also holds true for playing scenarios - these would be games with unique rules modifications. Creature spawns are very conservative in the default game and e.g. in "The Mausoleum", you get infinite skeleton spawns; Genie in the bottle unleashes a very powerful and nasty genie when picking up a treasure and being unlucky. Featuring a tower that kills all magic inside and has the best treasure. Libraries with limited exits; museums where statues may come to life, exploring an area where giant worms dwell, exploring a haunted house...pretty cool. Or what about the super-lethal well that also may grant health when drunk from? The keep with the teleportation arcs? These modifications, which may btw. be combined, greatly diversify the game - and they engender roleplaying...when you and your fellow player agree on the need to research and thus pit your wizards against one another in a library...it's an easy means of generating a bit of roleplaying. Speaking of inspiration and dressing - the book features a ton of small boxes that contain VERY evocative little quotes describing the wonders and horrors of the frozen city, acting as a great way to make the reading experience more inspiring and pleasant.
Now, I already mentioned creatures and the optional rule for very limited random encounters...but the book also features a ton of monsters that range from undead to animals and yetis/werewolves or trolls.
The book also contains handy spellcards by school and an easily used wizard sheet; speaking of which - I happen to have a nice, high-quality cardstock version of the sheet, which actually manages to collect the crucial rules of the book on this one less-than-GM-screen-sized sheet.
Editing and formatting are excellent; I noticed no significant glitches in either the formal criteria or the rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a mixture of a two-column and a one-column standard and is in full-color and aesthetically pleasing. The artwork is copious and features both pictures of neat minis in full color...as well as absolutely stunning artworks of the same quality as featured on the cover. This is, in short, a beautiful book. The hardcover I receives has nice binding and has borne the brunt of all my use well. I can't comment on the electronic version.
Joseph A. McCullough's Frostgrave is an amazing game. I came to RPGs from a wargaming background and this book should prove to be amazing for both types of gamers. Wargaming strategists that want to have an edge via placement etc. will not be too keen on it, but personally, I loved the swingy nature of the game here; Frostgrave keeps you on your toes and features these unique moments where victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. The focus of the game is certainly PvP, but you can actually roleplay; wizards clashing again and again will enact feuds over campaigns and the game becomes particularly amazing when using more than 2 players, as alliances are formed and abandoned; if you have a passionate GM who likes making complex scenarios, you can bring a campaign up to a whole new level and increase the nastiness of the creatures featured; potentially, you can make scenarios where the wizards have to ally themselves against superior odds, etc. - in short, you can play this wargame like a wargame, like an RPG or like a mix. It's also very fast play: I managed to run a 10-game campaign in a single day without any problems and had a blast.
More important for a core rulebook, the Frostgrave-system used here is extremely simple. Anyone who has ever played a d20-based game will immediately get how to play this. Reading the totality f the rules takes about an hour, tops; you can explain them in 5 minutes to someone else, though. Frostgrave is easy to learn and the presentation of the rules is EXTREMELY concise and well-structured. At no point did I think I could have presented the rules in a more concise, stringent manner. That being said, as mentioned before, there are a couple of rough edges; the lack of rounding up/down guidelines was remedied by house-rule in my games after a few playtesting games. Leap and the wizard artillery spells can imho use a bit of a nerf and thus, balance is not always perfect; so tournament style gaming, admittedly not the focus of the system, is not something it does too well.
If you are looking for an atmospheric, easy to learn and play game that allows you to play a game or two during lunch break and scratch that gaming-itch, then this absolutely delivers perfectly. The game may not be perfect, but it is a good offering...though one that fully comes into its own when adding in more material...and yep, I have the expansions...so expect to see those reviews soon!
The core book, on its own, is a fun, evocative and easy to learn beer-and-pretzels style game with a ton of narrative potential. While short of perfection when played on its own, the core book as a stand-alone still manages to score an impressive 4.5 stars, though for the book on its own, I'd have to round down; if you want to get the game, I'd strongly suggest also getting at least one expansion; with more material (or a creative GM/players designing more), Frostgrave does become 5 star-material, though I can't represent that in the core book's rating.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine, posted here, on amazon, etc.
You did a nice job there and books like this thrive on reviews; the more word of mouth we can generate for this, the better! Two thumbs up for reviews! :)
Btw: In my non-playtest campaign, making any magic item requires ingredients; I have my own system, and this took some serious design-weight of my shoulders...so yeah. Amazing!