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Frostgrave Terrain

Frostgrave: 9 out of 10, would frost these graves again

I got a chance to play my first game of Frostgrave (paid link) last night. My friend Bobby and I got together, made warbands, talked about the rules for a bit, and dove right in. It was awesome!

The city felt right to me, crowded and full of interesting elevated positions. (Here’s my Frostgrave setup, with links to all of the terrain that goes into it.) Using Pathfinder Pawns for minis worked out great: They didn’t feel out of place at all, and having lots of variety was a big plus.

I stuck little sticker-dots on each base (front and back) so we could tell our pawns apart. (You can see them in this photo .)

The game itself is a blast. It’s easy to pick up — simple without being at all simplistic. It feels like a refined, tested design; there’s no fat on it, and everything that’s there is interesting. Quite a lot of D&D pokes through, too, even though the game has nothing to do with D&D.

I absolutely love the turn structure, with each “mini-turn” offering interesting things to chew on: the order in which they occur, how you position soldiers for group activations, the way leaving a bunch of soldiers until the final phase can feel like a bum rush, etc. Attack resolution is brilliant, and keeps things moving briskly.

We learned a lot, and although we called the game after about two hours (it was my bedtime), we could tell we’d be able to speed up play in the future. Even after just one play, spells started to come into focus: three Leap spells in a row got Bobby’s wizard to the tallest point on the board, and then off the board with a treasure.

I like the swinginess of the d20-based resolution system. It keeps things surprising. We had a thief/thug fight where one hit completely annihilated my thug, as well as a lucky arrow shot that knocked off 50% of Bobby’s wizard’s health in one whack. (In the photo below, his wizard is atop the tower, and my archer is in the foreground.)

Sitting here writing this, I’m already thinking of things I’d do differently next time, and rethinking my wizard and warband. I lost the game, which isn’t uncommon for me, but I had a fantastic time losing. That’s one of the surest signs of a great game for me.

Frostgrave (paid link) is a brilliant game, and I highly recommend it.

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Frostgrave Miniatures Terrain

My Frostgrave setup

My first game of Frostgrave (paid link) is tonight, so over the weekend I spent some time setting up a sample city — “my” Frostgrave. I’ve done proofs of concept before (most of which resulted in buying more terrain), but this is the first version I really like.

I spent a lot of time researching terrain and looking at other folks’ takes on Frostgrave, and I often wished they’d break things down a bit more. This post is my answer to that wish: Along with pictures of the finished city, I’ll share my goals and list everything that went into my version of Frostgrave.

(Here’s a larger version of this top-down view.)

Goals

Here’s what I had in mind when buying and setting up my city of Frostgrave:

  • Don’t paint or build anything. I don’t really enjoy painting minis, and I have no interest in painting or making terrain.
  • Make it look as good as I can. I tried to get the most bang for my buck with every terrain element.
  • It should be crowded. Per the rules, line of sight should never exceed 24″ (and should usually be a lot less). It’s a knife fight in a phone booth, not a battle in an open field. I’ve seen some otherwise gorgeous setups that have lots of wide-open spaces in them, and to me that isn’t Frostgrave.
  • Incorporate elevation. Everything in Frostgrave can be scaled by default, and elevation is fun.
  • Make it feel real. Real ruins are cluttered (and some Frostgrave tables looks too clean and tidy to me), so I added clutter. Real cities are rarely just one color, so my Frostgrave isn’t mono-colored either. A city full of undead servants and crazy wizards, like Frostgrave before the big freeze, would have a death motif, so I added one. It would also be a weird place, so I tried to make it feel weird.
  • Keep it portable. Except for the battle mat, it all fits in a plastic storage box.

The other parts of the equation are miniatures and storage, which I’ve written about on Yore in the lead-up to this post:

My Frostgrave

I took photos of the city from all four sides, and then took a few “in-the-streets”-style shots to round things out. Weird factoid: I don’t own a table large enough for Frostgrave (although our coffee table is close), hence the carpet.

From all four sides

First view (larger version):

Second view (larger version):

Third view (larger version):

Fourth view (larger version):

Street views

Street view one (larger version):

Street view two (larger version):

Street view three (larger version):

Street view four (larger version):

Looking at the photos, I can see a spot or two where I’ve got a sight-line over 24″, but I have plenty of stuff to drop in or move around to eliminate that. I assume it’s easier to police LOS during setup with two people looking at it, too.

Maybe it’ll feel different in play, but just messing around with it I’m happy with how my Frostgrave turned out. It’s crowded and death-y, with lots of elevation, and there’s plenty of variety to the terrain.

Terrain elements

Hold onto your hat! Here’s everything you see in the pictures above:

  • F.A.T. Mat Alpine 3×3 (paid link): Holy shit are there a lot of battle mat options! But this one was my favorite by far. It’s basically a huge mouse pad, complete with a smooth-but-not-slick play surface and a neoprene bottom that makes it roll up smoothly, lay perfectly flat, and stay in one spot. The graphics are great, and I was surprised how big a difference this made over the piece of plain white felt I used in earlier incarnations. It’s worth it.
  • Battlefield in a Box terrain (the irregularly shaped dark grey ruins): These are out of print, but they’re awesome if you can find them. I have Collapsed Corner (paid link), Fallen Angel, and Buried Monument, and I love all three. Collapsed Corner, which is the tallest and most impressive of the three, is the best value.
  • LEN Design Concepts custom pieces (big grey squares, bridge, wide stairs): I was amazed how hard it was to find “hills” that don’t look out of place in a city, but this Etsy seller offers just the thing. I got in touch with him and asked if he could take the mossy green out of the paint job, and wound up buying four risers with fieldstone sides, a bridge, and two small sets of stairs as a custom order. They’re all prepainted, and the risers in particular are great for giving the city a much-needed “crowded streets” feeling. He was awesome to work with, too.
  • Mage Knight Castle Keep (paid link) and Gatehouse (paid link): These are awesome! (Here’s my Yore post about them.) I’ve got two keeps and one gatehouse in my Frostgrave, and they’re one of the best values in prepainted terrain. They’re out of print too, but often available cheaply (at least for now).
  • A big aquarium decoration (paid link): Aquarium stuff is an interesting option for prepainted terrain, but it’s often out of scale, expensive, or both. This huge head is perfect.
  • War Torn Worlds terrain (smaller square ruins, walls, tiny rubble piles): They’re out of business and this stuff is tricky to find, it’s worth the hunt. It’s made of recycled tire rubber, and it’s tough and looks good. I have 8 Ruinopolis sections, a host of walls (curved, ruined, modern, and fieldstone), and a few rubble piles.
  • Legendary Realms terrain (all the little stuff): This is my clutter — little resin bits and bobs scattered all over the place. (Here’s the Yore post about it.) I have large and small trees, graves, skull piles, seated skeletons, lizard god statues, stairs, knight statues, skeletons on slabs, 2″ bubbling pools, and wooden treasure chests. These folks are currently producing terrain, so for once I’m not recommending something out of production.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing about Frostgrave over the past few weeks, and I can’t wait to actually play it!

Hopefully this breakdown was helpful to you. Thanks for reading!

Categories
Frostgrave Miniatures Terrain

60 quarts of Frostgrave

The compactness of Frostgrave (paid link), both in terms of the size of the play area and the amount of stuff you need to play, is one of the things about the game that appeals to me most.

I started with none of what I needed, and went from “zero to Frostgrave” pretty quickly. As I picked up pieces of terrain, played with sample layouts, and thought about how to maximize my budget, I kept another end goal in mind: I wanted everything for the game to fit into a single box I could toss in the truck and take to gaming venues. I came pretty close!

100% of my Frostgrave stuff fits into this 60-quart Ziploc WeatherShield (paid link) storage box, excluding the battle mat:

It ran me about $20 locally, and it’s one hell of a sturdy box. It includes a foam seal that’s supposed to keep out moisture (handy in Seattle), and I like that it locks in six places for a snug fit. We’ve got some holiday decoration storage tubs that only have two latches, and they don’t hold up all that well.

I also like that its more squared-off than a lot of similar boxes. Sometimes they have deeply curved corners, bulges on the bottom to facilitate stacking, etc. that cut into the usable storage space for terrain. This sucker can swallow a lot of stuff.

Inside are three big pieces of Battlefield in a Box terrain, an aquarium decoration, a Plano box full of Pathfinder Pawns (plus a sidecar baggie of monsters), three Mage Knight Castle pieces, a ton of War Torn Worlds rubber terrain elements, the rulebook, some stickers for the pawns’ bases so we identify who’s pawns are whose, four custom “risers,” a little bridge and some stairs, and a big baggie full of Legendary Realms clutter to round things out.

I’ve finally got everything I need to actually set it all up and take some photos of my Frostgrave. When I do, I’ll include an itemized list of what goes into my take on Frostgrave to help folks track down things they might like to include in theirs.

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Frostgrave Miniatures

My Frostgrave pawn storage solution

One neat thing about using Pathfinder Pawns (paid link) as Frostgrave (paid link) miniatures is that they’re flat, and therefore easy to store.

After raiding the Inner Sea Pawn Box (paid link) for spellcasters and soldiers, I cracked open the NPC Codex Box (paid link) and went through that one as well. While I was punching out interesting-looking pawns, I thought it would be fun to try to match them to specific types of Frostgrave soldier.

I pulled out every pawn I thought could match a soldier type, then sorted them all again and chose the best ones — this time, using my storage solution of choice for gaming bits: a Plano box. Specifically, a Plano 3700 (paid link):

I oriented it vertically to show the pawns better, but if you imagine it rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, the pawn slots are in the same order as they appear on the soldier table in the rulebook (left to right, top row first). Soldiers are followed by spellcasters, which occupy several slots.[1]

I rounded the pawns out with 4d20, a bunch of pawn bases, and two 3-foot tape measures (paid link). Close it up, and it makes a tidy package that fits neatly into my larger storage solution, a big plastic tub that holds everything I need to play except for the battle mat (which is too big to fit).

Some soldiers are better matches than others, but I love the variety in the Pathfinder Pawns. For this box, I chose only unique pawns — rather than every Viking-looking armored dude, for example, I just pulled one Viking-looking armored dude and included him with other unique pawns that fit that soldier type.

I’m getting together with a friend to play Frostgrave next week, so I’ll get a chance to try out this sort-and-store method, Pathfinder Pawns in general, all of my nifty terrain, and — best of all — the game itself.

[1] Monsters are in a plastic baggie, because 1) there just aren’t that many of them, 2) they’re different sizes, and 3) I don’t think they’ll come up often enough to need to be pre-sorted, unlike soldiers and spellcasters.

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Frostgrave Miniatures

Pathfinder Pawns for Frostgrave: monsters

Frostgrave (paid link) doesn’t use a lot of monsters, but it’s got a decent-sized bestiary. Since I’m using Pathfinder Pawns (paid link) for my spellcasters and soldiers, I’m also using them for monsters — in the form of the Bestiary Box (paid link).

So how does it fare?

Let’s run the numbers

There are 25 monsters in the Frostgrave bestiary. Most of the time, they’re encountered singly. But of the 60 entries on the random encounter table, 15 (25%) are with 2, 3, or 4 of the same creature (most often 2).

A couple of the scenarios in the core book also include multiples, though, so let’s see if we can account for those as well. One involves several skeletons, and the other could involve a few wraiths; in both cases, the number is variable, but low.

Finally, there’s the one non-human soldier: the war dog. Since wild dogs are in the bestiary, if we have a dog we’ve got both covered — except that we could need several war dogs.

There are over 300 pawns in the Bestiary Box, but Pathfinder has many, many more monsters than Frostgrave — all I care about is whether the subset I need, in the numbers I need, is represented in the box.

25 monsters enter, 24 monsters leave

In the order they appear in the Frostgrave bestiary, here are all of the matching monsters from the Bestiary Box.

It’s a 1:1 match, with one exception: Frostgrave’s white gorillas aren’t large, but the only gorilla in the Bestiary Box is large. That’s not a big deal (hah!) to me, so in terms of having the right subset of monsters the Bestiary Box nails it.

I made a couple of substitutions-in-name, but visually they match up well with what’s in Frostgrave.

Undead

A perfect match!

Animals

No ice toads, ice spiders, or snow leopards in Pathfinder, but those are pretty easy swaps. The riding dog is unfortunate, but the plain ol’ dog in the Bestiary Box is small, not medium.

And of course there’s the Gorilla ProblemTM. I’d just swap in another non-large furry creature, or say gorillas in my Frostgrave are large, and call it a day.

Constructs

No small golems, but given that Frostgrave constructs can be made out of plants I kind of like the vegepygmy as my alternate.

Demons

I love that Frostgrave demons can look like — and be — just about anything, and that means the Bestiary Box offers tons of options.

Miscellaneous creatures

Swapping in a leech for the worm seems legit, and I dig how well the Pathfinder yeti matches up with Frostgrave’s snow troll.

What about multiples?

Listed below are all the monsters you can encounter in groups, how many are needed, and then how many are in the Bestiary Box (in parentheses). I’ve bolded the “problem” monsters.

  • Skeletons, 2 (3)
  • Zombies, 2 (3)
  • Wild dogs, 2 (1, plus 1 small one and several wolves)
  • Wolves, 2 (2)
  • Ghouls, 2 (3)
  • Ice spiders, 2 (3)
  • Ice toads, 2 (1, but there are some frog-dudes with swords)
  • Snow trolls, 2 (1, but I’d toss in an ape or girallon for the second)
  • Armoured skeletons, 3 (1, and I think regular skeletons are the best bet for subs)
  • Giant rats, 4 (2, and no great alternatives; I’d probably use bat swarms)

With the two scenarios (extra skeletons and wraiths), you’d have to rope in skeletal things to make up the difference in one, and add some ethereal undead (ghost, spectre, shadow) for the other. For war dogs, you’d need to mix in wolves if you have more than one on the table.

Some corner cases could arise, too: You could roll up a random encounter with multiple monsters, then roll up the same encounter again while the first batch were still on the board.

But on balance, the Bestiary Box comes really close to covering the multiples.

Conclusions

All in all, I’m not too worried about making the odd substitution. Hell, I’m using pawns and prepainted terrain: absolute fidelity isn’t my top priority.

Random encounters are statistically not that common, encounters with multiple monsters are even less common, and only half of those are actually a problem. I’ll take those odds.

The Bestiary Box (paid link) covers the Frostgrave monster list rather well — not perfectly, but more than close enough to keep me happy. So far, I’m liking the pawn approach.

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Frostgrave Miniatures Terrain

War Torn Worlds prepainted terrain for Frostgrave

In getting into Frostgrave (paid link) — which I first wrote about here on Yore just a few days ago — I’m basically going from zero to Frostgrave — I don’t have stuff from other games to pilfer to use for this one.

I’m not a minis — or terrain — painter by nature, so along with buying Pathfinder Pawns to use as minis, I also want prepainted terrain.

Which shouldn’t be a problem, right? There has to be tons of prepainted terrain out there . . . right? Not really!

Most of the good options I found are either not ideal for Frostgrave (Dwarven Forge) or are out of print (Battlefield in a Box, which does have tons of non-fantasy stuff, War Torn Worlds, and Terraclips). War Torn Worlds actually appears to be out of business, despite a functional website — their email address bounces, and their phone number is out of service.

So I haunted Ebay and spent a bunch of time poking around in dusty corners online, and I was able to turn up a sizable stash of War Torn Worlds stuff at Wondertrail and a smaller stash at Noble Knight.[1] Wondertrail’s inventory looked suspiciously well-stocked, so I called them to ask what they actually had on hand. They were lovely to work with, and I ordered most of their stock (and Noble Knight’s).

War Torn Worlds ruins

It looks just how I expected: like it’s been sitting in a dusty back corner of a brick-and-mortar hobby store’s inventory for several years. Which is fine by me!

Only the bags were dusty. The terrain inside — which is made primarily of recycled tire rubber — is brand new. The main thing I ordered were sections of Ruinopolis, WTW’s line of modular ruins tiles. They come in three finishes that I’m aware of, and gray and “brownstone” both looked like a good fit for Frostgrave.

Here’s brownstone:

And here’s gray:

Gray says “fantasy ruins” a bit more loudly, but beggars can’t be choosers — and in any case, when I look out my window the buildings I see don’t all match. To my eye, the gray and brown tiles go just fine together.

I also bought most of their walls, which include large cutstone, small battle-scarred cutstone, and small battle-scarred modern (WTW calls these “flex ruins”):

I figured that in a game with spells like Grenade — not to mention Frostgrave’s weird denizens and phenomena — battle-scarred walls, even modern ones, wouldn’t look out of place.

They look pretty sharp up close, too.

All in all, I’m thrilled with the War Torn Worlds line. I can’t wait to see how it looks on my battle mat (a square of white felt, at least to start with), and mingled with my other terrain.

In addition to looking good, it’s also light and durable. That’ll make it easy to transport and forgiving of bumps, which I like.

It’s a real shame that it’s not more readily available, and — assuming I’m right — that War Torn Worlds went out of business. Reasonably priced prepainted terrain is a boon to folks like me who can’t be arsed to paint things, but who still enjoy miniatures games.

[1] I also found some good Battlefield deals, which haven’t arrived yet, and one or two other things. I’ll probably wind up posting about them here sometime down the road.

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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.

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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.

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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!