Frostgrave Miniatures

Pathfinder Pawns for Frostgrave: soldiers of the Inner Sea

I’m still raiding my Inner Sea Pawn Box (paid link) for Frostgrave (paid link) miniatures, and since yesterday was all about the wizards and apprentices I figured I’d circle back and share some soldiers.

“Soldier” is Frostgrave’s generic term for hireling, covering everything from thugs to thieves to knights to apothecaries to war hounds. The first thing I came across was a themed group of Norse-looking folks:

It might be hard to see in my photo, but one thing I like about Pathfinder Pawns is that every pawn has a unique identifier. In this case, it’s “IS” (for Inner Sea”) and a number; the number denotes its position in the big list on the back of the box. And when there are multiple copies of the same pawn, the field around that number is a different color on each of them.

Here are enough medieval-knight types for a second themed group:

After pulling these two groups, I realized I was quickly going to find myself punching the entire box — there are a lot of Frostgrave soldier-appropriate pawns in this box! Offhand, except for the war hound, I saw options for every type of soldier. (I’m not sure there are more themed groups with enough pawns for a warband, but I’m not positive about that.)

Here are a host of pawns that didn’t share a theme, but which nicely map to several soldier types:

And just to round things out, some cool one-offs to cover more expensive troops:

Again, that’s nowhere near all of the soldier options in the box — I just stopped punching out pawns at that point.

Looking through all of these soldiers, I realized that it’ll even be handy to reference the pawns’ names (listed at the bottom of every pawn): I can note them on the character sheet, both so I don’t forget which is which and so my opponent and I can tell our pawns apart. Neat!

I think the Inner Sea box (paid link) can easily provide more than enough wizard, apprentice, and soldier options for several players — and that’s assuming everyone wants a correspondence between pawn and unit, as in “archers should have a bow, knights should look knight-y.” Just in this box alone, the roster is deep.

Frostgrave Miniatures

Pathfinder Pawns for Frostgrave: wizards from the Inner Sea box

After picking up Frostgrave (paid link) and liking what I saw, my next purchase for the game was a box of Pathfinder Pawns (paid link) — specifically, the Inner Sea Pawn Box (paid link).

From poking around online, I had the impression that Pathfinder Pawns would be a cheap, versatile, and attractive option for Frostgrave. You get a ton of them in the big boxes — somewhere around 250+ in the Inner Sea box, for example — and I figured there’d be a ton of possible wizards and soldiers in the more character-centric boxes, like Inner Sea.

I spent about three minutes flipping through the sprues and punching out all of the pawns that screamed “wizard” to me, and came up with a bunch right off the bat.

Here are 10 wizard/apprentice pairs that suggested themselves:

And here are another 11 I couldn’t immediately pair up, but which also seemed all wizardy:

When I was lining them up for the photos, my daughter Lark walked over and said, “Are they all wizards, Daddy?” Success!

The artwork is great, they’re double-sided, and the chipboard is nice and thick. There are exactly enough medium bases in the box for two Frostgrave warbands (20), plus a bunch of large-size bases. I also dig that the characters are super-diverse, with lots of options for women, men, different skin colors, and lots of distinct personal styles on display.

In the time it took me to find these, I saw what looked to be dozens of excellent soldier options, too. I may circle back to those in another post.

I’ve got a couple more Pathfinder Pawns boxes on the way, but I’m already happy with how the Inner Sea box (paid link) is working out as a source of Frostgrave minis.

Frostgrave Miniatures

Frostgrave: campaign-oriented fantasy skirmish wargaming

I got Frostgrave (paid link) and its first, and currently only, supplement, Thaw of the Lich Lord (paid link) in the mail yesterday, and so far it’s everything I was hoping it would be.

What I dig about Frostgrave

Frostgrave is a fantasy skirmish wargame set in a city recently released from the grip of a magical winter — formerly Felstad, now known as Frostgrave — and its core conceits are right up my alley. Here they are, along with some of the many other things I like about it:

  • You play a wizard, with a character sheet and everything, who leads your warband.
  • The warbands are small: 1 wizard plus a maximum of 9 other figures, 1 of which can be an apprentice. That’s super-manageable if, like me, you don’t like painting or fussing with large armies.
  • The play area is small, too, at 3′ on a side.[1] That’s an easy amount of space to find just about anywhere.
  • You don’t need official miniatures (though they’re available if you like), so you can slap together a warband from whatever stuff you already have on hand. Sure, you can always do this, but Frostgrave goes out of its way to encourage this approach. This was the single selling point that pushed me over the line and made me order the book.
  • The default objective is treasure, which is scattered around the map. The winner, unless a scenario says otherwise, is the player who gets the most treasure.
  • And finally, it’s geared for campaign play: You can establish a base on the outskirts of Frostgrave, level up, learn new spells, etc.

There’s a roleplaying flavor to Frostgrave — hell, the whole concept of recruiting a bunch of mooks to go steal treasure from a monster-haunted city is straight out of old-school D&D. I roleplay a lot more than I wargame, so that aspect of Frostgrave appeals to me.

The backstory fits on half a page, and the rulebook is pleasantly short — about 130 pages, and those are 8×10 pages to boot. Joseph McCullough‘s writing is clear, warm, and inviting[2], and the layout is just as clean and useful.

The very first rule in the book, which addresses situations where no exact rule exists, really sets the tone:

In these cases, use your best judgement and try to come to a mutual agreement with your opponent. If you can’t agree, each player should roll a die and go with the interpretation of whichever player rolls highest. You can discuss the situation further after the game and decide how you will handle the situation next time.

I love the art style, too. All of the art is by the same artist, Dmitry Burmak.

And of course there are plenty of photos of miniatures, terrain, and scenes in Frostgrave.

Short, sweet, and casual-friendly

Everything from the hook, to the premise, to the simple-but-not-simplistic rules, to the production values, to the brevity of the book points towards me enjoying Frostgrave. I’ve been playing wargames since I was a kid, but I’m not hardcore — I’m a lot closer to the casual end of the spectrum.

Hell, my first purchase after the rulebook (once I realized all of my D&D miniatures, which I’d planned to use, were hopelessly buried in our storage unit) was a bunch of Pathfinder Pawns (paid link) to use in lieu of actual minis. Which, again, Frostgrave totally encourages.

I like shorter games with manageable armies, and without a lot of worrying about time-consuming details like whether your mini’s weapon matches her description. I also like an interesting premise, and Frostgrave (paid link) has that, too. I’m excited to finish reading it, punch out some pawns, pull together some terrain, and find an opponent.

[1] Of course you can play on a larger or smaller field of battle, and the book mentions this option. It mentions lots of options, all throughout; it’s a relaxed, conversational sort of rulebook. I dig that.

[2] Thats a weird trio of adjectives to describe wargame rules, right? But it fits!

Tabletop RPGs Zines

The Zine Vault, a rather nice box for your zines

I’ve been buying old-school fantasy RPG zines like a madman (and writing about them here on Yore), and storing them was becoming a bit unwieldy. Enter the Zine Vault, from Stormlord Publishing.

It’s box! Specifically, a stout little 9″x6″x1.375″ box with a sharp black interior, the perfect size for most RPG zines. (But not all! Measure first.)

Here’s one of mine with a copy of Crawling Under a Broken Moon inside:

To store a whole pile of zines inside a Zine Vault, I divide the heap in half and flip one half over.[1] I can fit 10 issues of CUABM in there neatly, but fewer issues of, say, The Gongfermer’s Almanac, which is a thicker zine.

I can actually squeeze all 12 current issues, plus the bonus issue, in one box, provided it’s shelved with some other stuff to keep it closed. And that’s one of the big benefits of these little boxes: They make it possible to neatly shelve a whole bunch of zines.

Here’s the vault all closed up:

At $25 for four boxes, Zine Vaults aren’t cheap, but they’re a priced right for a niche product that’s quite well-made, and which works just as intended. I like them.

I’ve filled three of them, and just half of my fourth one is still open for business, so in all likelihood I’ll wind up ordering another pack of them before too long.

[1] For extra efficiency, flip over every other zine. I often store the contents of RPG boxed sets this way, as it keeps the books from developing a curve over time.

DCC RPG Tabletop RPGs

Wilderness encounter chance by terrain type for DCC RPG

I use the wilderness encounter system from the B/X D&D Expert Set in my DCC RPG hexcrawl (the binder for which is full of hexcrawling tools), but it occurred to me that it would be pretty easy to tweak that system to take advantage of DCC’s dice chain.

In this tweaked version, an encounter occurs on a 1 or 2, but the die type varies by terrain.[1] In general, roll once per day.

If the PCs are doing something that would dramatically increase or decrease their chances of bumping into something while traveling, like leading a small army of hirelings (increase) or wearing camouflage cloaks and moving at a snail’s pace (decrease), just step the die type up/down accordingly.

For example, if they’re in the woods (d6), but wearing camouflage garb, roll a d7 instead. Now the odds of getting a 1 or 2 have gone down from 33.33% to 28.6%. If they’re also moving super-slowly, consider rolling a d8 (25% odds) or even a d10 (20% odds).

Be wary of adjusting the die type by too many steps in already-dangerous terrain. Two steps down on a d4 is a d2, which is a guaranteed encounter.

The terrain types in the table above match “fantasy western Europe,” and play nice with my wilderness travel speeds and encounter tables by terrain type for DCC, but the sub-system itself should work fine with other approaches.

The only difference in odds between this table and the one in B/X is plains, which gives 20% odds here and 16.67% odds in B/X.

[1] In B/X, it’s always a d6, but the range of results that produce an encounter changes based on the terrain.

Miscellaneous geekery

Stepping down from Gnome Stew

As of today, I’m no longer running or contributing to Gnome Stew. There’s no drama or bad blood, it was just time for me to stop, and fortunately the Stew’s own John Arcadian is taking over — the site is in great hands.

Today feels super-weird. The Stew has been a fixture in my life for 8 years. To put that in perspective, during that time I’ve had a kid, bought and sold a house, changed jobs, and moved to another state. I woke up sad this morning, and post-coffee I still feel about the same.

I won’t retread all the ground I covered in the linked farewell article, with one exception: To everyone who has contributed to, read, commented on, or spread the word about the Stew over the past 8 years, thank you!

Old school Tabletop RPGs

Doodle Temple and Gormand’s Larder: illustrated DIY dungeon generators

Doodle Temple and Gormand’s Larder, both illustrated by Cédric Plante, are two of the coolest gaming books I’ve bought in recent memory.

They’re both dungeon generators, but instead of random tables, they consist entirely of Cédric’s beautiful illustrations. And they’re weird. I love weird! Mundane dungeons are boring, and neither of these books will turn out a mundane dungeon.

Doodle Temple is for making a peculiar temple, while Larder covers a small dungeon/lair. There are no stats or rules, just pictures of what to roll and indicators for what die roll produces what result. Totally system-neutral.

But oh, those pictures! They’re creepy, esoteric, graceful, twisty, sometimes quite dark, and above all they’re imaginative. I can’t flip through these books without thinking about what they might mean in-game, and how my players might react to them.

They’d work well in just about any old-school fantasy campaign, and probably in other genres, too — there’s nothing about the temple, for example, that wouldn’t fit right into a sci-fi game. Fantasy-wise, they’d be a perfect fit for a darker setting, which I wouldn’t have guessed beforehand.

Doodle Temple

(I didn’t have great light for these photos, so please ascribe any oddities to me, not Cédric.)

Doodle Temple opens with rooms and dungeon dressing (larger version):

What do the doors and windows look like?

And what lives there?

This is my favorite creature in the book, but it was by no means easy to choose just one. The temple denizens are all equally strange and wonderful.

Gormand’s Larder

The Larder is in black and white, and ups the creepy factor quite a bit. Here’s the foyer and its potential denizens and dungeon dressing (larger version):

You don’t need a written room description — it’s all there, clear and detailed, including the contents of the chamber.

What happens when you eat that weird thing in the recipe room? Why, this, of course!

This dude hangs out in the meat zoo. The meat zoo. I’m going to have weird dreams about this room.

On the whole, Larder feels more distilled. It’s denser with ideas, and the skin-crawl factor appeals to me, as does its strong sense of place. Doodle Temple is more loosely themed, and instead of lots of small pictures, you get fewer illustrations, but they’re larger and in color.

For Doodle Temple, Cédric collaborated with Benjamin Baugh, Ian Reilly, and Edward Lockhart; for Larder, Baugh was his sole co-contributor. Hats off to all of these folks, especially Cédric, for coming up with such a nifty idea and executing it so well.

If I had to pick just one, it’d be Larder, but I’m glad I don’t have to pick just one. Gormand’s Larder and Doodle Temple both get starred entries on my big list of Lulu RPG recommendations. I highly recommend them both!

D&D DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs

DCC RPG wilderness travel speeds

I wanted to use the wilderness travel rules from the B/X D&D Expert Set in my DCC RPG hexcrawl, but character’s movement speeds don’t translate 1:1 across the two games.

I compared species (races) in both editions, crunched the numbers, and turned the results into a one-page PDF reference for DCC RPG wilderness travel speeds by terrain type.

I also tweaked my favorite weather mechanic, weather as a reaction roll, from The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, and stuck that on the bottom of the page, mostly because there was room for it.

This one-pager is designed to work with my DCC RPG wilderness encounter tables and Hexmancer (for procedurally generating terrain), and all three share the same terrain types (“fantasy western Europe”).

DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs

DCC RPG wilderness encounter tables

I needed wilderness encounter tables for the DCC RPG hexcrawl I’m running, but there aren’t any in the book. Jeff Rients created some excellent tables for wandering monsters by dungeon level (which also appear in Crawl! #5), but after searching high and low I couldn’t find any wilderness encounter tables online. So I created some.

They’re broken down by terrain type (for “fantasy western Europe”) and include number appearing for each monster. You can download them as a free PDF: DCC RPG Wilderness Encounter Tables. They’re also available as a plain text file so that you can fiddle with them to your heart’s content.

(2018 update: My tables, along with a shortened version of the design notes, appear in The Gongfarmer’s Almanac – Volume 3, 2018, with excellent editing by Rob Brennan.)

There’s no scaling by PC level or party size in these tables, and they’re not “balanced” in any way. The world is the world, and what’s out there is what’s out there.

To use them, you’ll need a way of figuring out whether or not a random encounter takes place (I use the system from the B/X Expert Set). That’s all!

I love design notes in gaming books, and a surprising amount of design goes into making wandering monster tables (these took me about 12 hours to make!), so the rest of this post is about my goals, process, assumptions, and the theory behind my tables.

Design goals

I went in with a few goals in mind:

  • Quick and dirty — when in doubt, make the choice that sounds the most fun, and do a lot with one roll
  • Showcase the flavor of DCC
  • Give each terrain type its own feel, which should be discernible to players after just a few encounters
  • Use only the monsters in the DCC core book, and use whatever they say (including rarity)
  • Don’t have too few monsters, because lack of variety is dull
  • But don’t have too many, either, because that dilutes each terrain type
  • Reflect “fantasy western Europe,” and a borderlands/wilderlands kind of region
  • Match the terrain types I used in Hexmancer, my system for procedurally generating hexcrawl terrain and features
  • Play nice with B/X D&D’s encounter chances by terrain type, since that’s what I use

The overuse of “men” in the monster names, while matching the feel of Appendix N, bugs me, but I figured changing it would make these tables less useful to others, so I left all of the monster names as-is.


My baseline was always “What does the DCC rulebook say?”

If a monster entry listed terrain types, number appearing, relative rarity, or other details, I used those. If it didn’t, I looked at B/X and/or Jeff’s wandering monster list, and then came up with something that felt right to me.

I excluded monsters that are listed as underground-only, as well as the weird ones that seem like they’d work best as placed encounters, not random ones (extradimensional analogues, for example). I also left out things that only live in hot places or jungles (which aren’t in fantasy western Europe, or in Hexmancer).

Massage, dismantle, repeat

My first step was to list every DCC monster under all of the terrain types where it could appear. That gave me a picture of what a world created with this monster manual might look like, as well as some unique monster for specific terrain types and a host of critters that appear only in a couple places — both great starting points for flavor.

It’s not a short list, but it is short on specific things — normal animals, for example. And it’s a quirky list, which I like! Sure, the world likely does have animals in it the PCs could meet . . . but I didn’t worry about that.

I started out with d8+d10 tables, because that roll produces one of my favorite distributions for encounter tables. But I quickly found that I wanted more granularity, which led me to percentile tables. Those also have the added advantage of making the odds immediately discernible, which I like.

A few hours in, I hit on the idea of creating a template table based on the concept of using “brackets” of monsters to convey things about the world.

Broken out, those brackets look like this (in the order they occur on the table):

  • 10% (1-10) say a lot about the world (and the style of game I like to run), while being quite rare. Results 1-10 are on every table except Water, a big-picture statement about what kind of world feels like DCC to me.
  • 25% (11-35) emphasize the importance of humans and humanoids. Humans, humanoids, and subhumans (which are kind of like a mix of both), are on every table.[1] Humans are big in sword and sorcery fiction, and humanoids are big in D&D.
    • Taken in aggregate, the first 35% (1-35) also serve another purpose: Most of them are things that won’t always just try to eat you. Intelligent monsters, and encounters that aren’t always fights, are both good things in my book.
  • 20% (36-55) round out the flavor of the terrain type. These are often unique to the terrain type, but not always, and they’re indicative of what kind of place it is.
  • 45% (56-100) define the terrain type. You have a 45% chance of meeting each terrain type’s signature monsters. More than anything else on the table, these convey what that terrain is all about.

Seeing those odds in graph form also helped me decide that this was a fun distribution model (column height equals percentage chance of that encounter):

Having a template really sped up the process, too, because it made it feel less daunting. Instead of staring at long lists and not being sure quite where to start, I could just look at each terrain type and go, “Okay, which three say ‘forest’ best? Cool, now which four also look like good forest options?”

I ripped apart my draft tables a couple of times, but once I built them using these brackets they stayed pretty stable. My last couple iterations mostly involved comparing the lists, looking for ways to sneak in monsters I regretted not including (so many!), and — most importantly — making sure that the flavor of each terrain type came through clearly.

In B/X, some types of terrain are more dangerous than others by virtue of how likely it is you’ll have an encounter there: 1 in 6 on clear terrain (plains) vs. 3 in 6 in the mountains, for example. The way my lists shook out, some terrain types are also more dangerous because of what’s on them. For example, you’re 40% likely to meet some sort of giant in the mountains, which seems like fun to me.

Surprises and rolling your own

Two things surprised me about this process: how much work it was, and how personal it turned out to be. If two GMs sat down with the DCC book and designed wilderness encounter tables, I guarantee they’d look different — and probably not much like mine!

They’d use different die rolls, different breakdowns of monsters, and different philosophies about what a DCC world looks like. One would follow the B/X model of rolling once for terrain and then again on a sub-table for that terrain; another would compress things into one roll, like I did, but use 2d6 instead of d100. And since they’d both have to choose a subset of the overall monster list, they’d play favorites (just like I did!).

Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you can think of all sorts of things you’d do differently in building a set of DCC RPG wilderness encounter tables. I included my template in the plain text version, in case you like that baseline.

If you make your own tables, I’d love to see them. Post them somewhere and share them with the DCC community — the more the merrier!

[1] Except Water. Just add “except Water” to pretty much everything. Water is weird because there just aren’t that many water monsters in the DCC core book.

Books Tabletop RPGs

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is great gaming fuel

My wife, Alysia, got me The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (paid link) for my birthday, and it’s a fabulous book.

(The rest of this post contains spoilers for the film.)

I enjoy these sorts of books as a fan, but I also dig them as a gamer. I’ve written about using non-RPG books as gaming resources and creating campaigns based on art books on Gnome Stew, and it’s a topic that’s near to my heart — like Star Wars itself.

As a gaming resource, what I like most about The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the concept art that didn’t get used directly in the movie, which occupies most of the book. (The further along you get in the book, the more things start to look like the movie.)

If you’re looking for quick visual inspiration for a Star Wars game, concept art is awesome.

Need a cool environment? Try this cantina on for size (larger version):

How about some characters for the PCs to meet?

Or cool ships plus a nifty set-piece location, like these vertically-oriented craft and the lightsaber-slashed Jedi statue “graveyard” (larger version):

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my favorite illustration from the book, which requires one from the preceding page to set it up. Here’s proto-Rey in an X-Wing, with the top popped, using her lightsaber to tear something apart:

And what’s she demolishing? A Star Destroyer, that’s what (larger version):

I hope that winds up in Episode VIII or IX! Just looking at that picture makes me want to dust off WEG Star Wars (paid link) and start up a campaign.

The whole book is that good, all the way through. If you like Star Wars gaming, give The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (paid link) a look.