Thursday 30 November 2017

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay news from Cubicle 7!

This isn't rumour or conjecture - this is full-on press release goodness from Cubicle 7!

My favourite game of all time is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition, unbalanced rules and clunky magic system and all, and even though the 2nd Edition had much tighter and, frankly, better rules I always fell back into 1st Edition; the atmosphere, the completeness of the rulebook, it was a wonderful game that I played religiously.

So, now we have the first announcement from Cubicle 7 about the game and the first thing that punches me in the gut is the cover - just look at that! Not only have we got the glossy Warhammer logo based on the original, we've got a whole new bunch of heroes nailing some Skaven. And say hello to the mohican dwarf, the character that sold me on the original game in the first place. John Sibbick's original cover gets some love, and Ralph Horsley is an excellent choice.

Okay - you can mark me down as officially excited and terrified. Excited because this is a great image to get me all excited about Warhammer FRP again, terrified because I can't wait to see what's between the covers so that I know what changes have been made.

Anyway, enough of my excited dribbling - on to the meat.

From Cubicle 7:

We’ve been hard at work on the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and this week we’re going to be sharing the first big slices of news with you!

Release Date

There has been an amazing amount of excitement around Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition – we’re at the beginning of the journey but it’s already been a tremendous project thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of all the Warhammer fans we’ve been talking to since the project was announced. Thanks to you all for being awesome, and thanks for your patience waiting for news!

Design lead Dominic McDowall is on hand to tell us about the game’s development:

“The initial plan was to make some small updates to the awesome second edition, and that would mean we would be able to release the game in 2017. We’re all huge fans of the first and second editions of WFRP, and we wanted to take the game back to those roots. 

“When I got into the guts of the game I started seeing more opportunities to add in some of the things we’ve learned over the years. This more creative direction meant a longer development phase. Games Workshop are extremely supportive of us taking the time we need to make WFRP Fourth Edition the very best game it can be, and so that’s what we did. I’m very excited about the way things have come together! 

“The release date of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition will be set for mid-2018, with a specific date to be set in a few months. Thank you for your patience while we invest the time to make the best game we can.”

We have some exciting events planned around the release date, so stay tuned for the latest new on those!


The initial releases for WFRP Fourth Edition will be a core rulebook and a boxed starter set. We’ve commissioned Ralph Horsley to paint a pair of covers for these which we’re very excited to share today! As you can see our desperate band have been enjoying some good times in Ubersreik, (or at least some of them have) before a familiar scene unfolds!

We’ll have more to share tomorrow, including news of the return of a multi-part campaign favourite from first edition, so keep an eye on our website and social media!

Over-eager players at the table

Jumper Silhouette by dmenestHaving eager players at the table is great. Players that get right into their character and drive the story forward is brilliant. But is there such a thing as too much of a driving force?

I had this player once – let’s call him Brian – and he loved to get right into the game. He planned, he roleplayed, he played the setting to the hilt and he delved both into the characters he created as well as the adventure he was playing in. In most respects he was the perfect player, a GM’s dream. He made you feel like all the hard work you’d put into creating the adventure was more than worth it as he was excited to experience what you had created. The one-on-one games we used to have were intense and very exciting.

But not all players, or GMs, appreciated this level of involvement. Because he was so driven he always wanted to be sure that the game was progressing, so that his PC could experience what was going to happen next, to keep the game moving forward. It could be exhausting at times; I’d take a breather for five minutes and next thing I know I’m being pushed for narrative and descriptions of the next location and encounter. He’d also be the self-appointed ‘voice of the group’ and take actions that would pretty much help decide what direction the game would go in.

I could handle this. I knew the guy well, I knew his intentions and the way he did things and I could react to it with little to no detriment to the gaming group. There were, however, GMs who couldn’t handle it and I fully understand why. When Brian was on form he’d push the game in all kinds of different directions and as long as you were a seat-of-the-pants GM, fully adept at winging it, you were okay. In fact, he’d make sure that you as a GM would have a great time and keep you on your toes. But, if you were the kind of GM who had carefully structured a game and you knew where it was going and the order in which things were going to happen – railroading, some people call it - you were going to be in deep trouble. Brian didn’t want a selection of options, he wanted the world. If he could think of a sensible way to get around or through something that made sense in the gameworld he would give it a go and woe betide the GM who wasn’t prepared for his out-of-the-box thinking. Double woe betide if the GM was a rules lawyer and the things that Brian wanted to do weren’t really covered in the rulebook. This created all kinds of problems at the table, and Brian, being Brian, wasn’t the most patient of players when there was, as he put it, ‘An unrealistic action-stopping pause’ while the GM tried to work out how to adjudicate the actions he’d declared. More often than not, just to keep the game going, he’d drop the action and do the obvious because his impatience got the better of him.

Other players would sometimes get a little stressed with him, too. He was loud - not annoyingly loud but loud enough to be sure that his was the dominant voice at the table – and they felt that he was overriding their decisions by simply drowning them out. Sometimes, if the group was taking too long to decide on the next course of action, he’d declare an action that would force the other players to react immediately and therefore keep the game flowing. He’d make meticulous plans, sure, but at the first sign of failure he’d just jump in feet first and push on as best he could, dragging the other players with him even though they were calling for a retreat and regroup to try another plan. Some players felt marginalised by his way of gaming and, as one gamer indelicately put it after one session, ‘Honestly, it’s the bloody Brian Show’. They had a good point, it’s true. To be fair, Brian’s way of gaming sometimes forced other players to raise their game and the sessions where they were all energetic and driving the game were simply incredible. Still, if you think you’re gaming in somebody else’s shadow it can be frustrating.

The gaming group broke up after a couple of years – I can categorically say that it wasn’t Brian’s fault that it did – and we went on to one-on-one gaming for a while in which he positively revelled. We had some great games and as he was the focus of attention and he could fully indulge in what he wanted out of gaming we had some of the best games I’ve ever run in my long gaming history. He was most definitely suited to these kinds of games, or maybe with one or two other players who understood the way he gamed, and it was a massive shame when real life took him away from it all. I still hope that we can bring him back into the gaming fold at some point as he was definitely one of the best gamers I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with.

These kind of players are a dream for the right kind of GM and group. They’re a nightmare (throws cloak open) for others! (disappears)*.

*Bonus points if you get the reference.

Originally posted February 2012

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Interview - Brett M. Bernstein of Precis Intermedia

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger Brett M. Bernstein of Precis Intermedia.

As well as bringing back classic RPGs such as Shatterzone and Bloodshadows, Precis Intermedia also has a few original roleplaying and war games under it's belt as well as some fun paper miniatures and accessories. I caught up with Brett to see what's up with Precis these days.

Welcome to the site, Brett – how’s life in the RPG publishing industry?

Ever-evolving. Every time I turn around, there is some new fad or trend, or even more expensive product that people can't wait to get, yet I fail to even find remotely interesting. I'll never understand it.

What’s your history with tabletop gaming?

I started playing D&D back in the 80s, followed by Star Frontiers, RuneQuest, Marvel Superheroes, and then tons more.

What is it about gaming that attracts you? What is it about the hobby that makes you want to write, produce and play games?

I like that it draws out people's creativity. It does mine, so that's why I like to create new settings or at least put my own spin on existing ones.

Do you still get time to play? What are you playing at the moment?

I don't get time to do much these days, so I don't really play much anymore.

How did you, or what drove you to, get involved in producing roleplaying games?

I've always wanted to create things. And when you pick up skills during your life experience, it sometimes puts things into perspective, so that you can motivate yourself to get the job done. It's easy to start a project, but hard to complete one.

You have a long list of games in your catalogue; I don’t want you to pick a favoured of your children, but what do you enjoy working on the most? Which one is most personal to you?

It's hard to say which I like working on most or which is most personal. It changes with my mood, but they all become very personal to me -- otherwise, I wouldn't work on them. Bloodshadows 3E is fun, because it can be pretty whacky, as can EarthAD to a degree. HardNova and Ghostories are easy to write for. I'm really digging working on Supergame 3E right now too!

My favourite is the ENnie Award-winning Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! You’ve already released the core rules and the wilderness expansion, will we see any further releases?

Treasure Awaits! is a favorite of mine too. Apart from adventures, I don't foresee any future books. It does what I set out for it to do, so that's it. The supplement license lets anyone create their own material, so new settings and adventures can be done by others too.

Older titles such as Shatterzone and Bloodshadows also make an appearance on your list; are these games personal projects of your love for the games, or did you see a market for them out there? What made you want to get them back in the market?

I've always liked Bloodshadows and Shatterzone. The MasterBook system is a perfect fit for Shatterzone (though this is an earlier version of the system), but I never felt that it fit Bloodshadows. That's why I created the third edition of Bloodshadows, which is a stand-alone game (unlike previous editions, which were just setting guides). I definitely love these games, but there is clearly a market as well. They are very popular. I don't like to see old games fall by the wayside, so when I see something abandoned to which I have some sort of connection, whether out of nostalgia or appreciation, it makes me want to snap them up and get them available for more people to check out. I sometimes reprint them or redesign them (or both). The two oldest games I have acquired are Supergame (1980) and A Fistfull of Miniatures (1986).

You’ve got some other nice tabletop games and accessories as well, such as the miniatures games Warcosm and Brutes, and the Disposable Heroes paper minis. Will we see any more of these?

There are a few tabletop games in the works, but nothing I can announce at the moment. They have been in development for some time, but haven't reached a final stage that makes me want to release them just yet. I am also working on adding a basic dungeon-mapping system to the existing Disposable Tilescapes+Starmaps™ app for Mac, but not sure when that will be ready.

What else does Precis Intermedia have planned? What’s on the horizon?

You can expect Supergame 3E and Two-Fisted Tales 2E within the next few months. Supergame 3E is a low-cost superhero roleplaying game, designed to be very quick and easy, yet with the details needed to simulate heroes from the comics. Two-Fisted Tales is more refined, focusing on gritty to cinematic pulp heroes, as well as golden age supers -- it has been called "the definitive pulp RPG." Beyond that, there's also Brutes, a stand-alone fantasy game using an updated version the MasterBook rules. Also look for a re-release of Crosshairs, a supplement for Shatterzone, plus new supplements for Bloodshadows 3E. You can check out my blog ( ) or Precis Intermedia web site ( for the latest info on these projects.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

A physical copy of my free game 'To The Stars, Stellar Cadets!'

A while ago I put out a free roleplaying game called 'To The Stars, Stellar Cadets!', a game that I conceived, designed and wrote in about five and a half hours, all based on some free images I found on the internet. It was a challenge I set for myself as a bit of fun to see if I could get a game written and laid out in six hours.

You can download it here:


I'll have a free adventure out for it in the next few days called 'Danger on Bakk-Alpha-Four', with some extra rules to help groups be a lot more heroic and daring. In the meantime check out this printed copy that a cool dude called Jon Salway produced. It's on A5, 120g paper with a 170g shiny cover.

It's always cool to see your work in print, but it's even better to know that someone went to the trouble to not only download the game but print it out, as well.

Nice one, Jon.

Wargame Review - Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago

Frostgrave: Ghost ArchipelagoBy Joseph A. McCullough

Published by Osprey Games

‘The Ghost Archipelago has returned. A vast island chain, covered in the ruins of ancient civilizations, the Archipelago appears every few centuries, far out in the southern ocean. At such times, pirates, adventurers, wizards, and legendary heroes all descend upon the islands in the hopes of finding lost treasures and powerful artefacts. A few, drawn by the blood of their ancestors, search for the fabled Crystal Pool, whose waters grant abilities far beyond those of normal men. It is only the bravest, however, who venture into the islands, for they are filled with numerous deadly threats. Cannibal tribes, sorcerous snake-men, and poisonous water-beasts all inhabit the island ruins, guarding their treasure hordes and setting traps for the unwary.

In this new wargame, set in the world of Frostgrave, players take on the role of Heritors, mighty warriors whose ancestors drank from the Crystal Pool. These Heritors lead their small, handpicked teams of spellcasters, rogues, and treasure hunters into the ever-shifting labyrinth of the Ghost Archipelago. Using the same rules system as Frostgrave, this standalone wargame focuses on heroes who draw on the power in their blood to perform nigh-impossible feats of strength and agility. This game also includes 30 spells drawn from five schools of magic, a host of soldier types, challenging scenarios, treasure tables, and a full bestiary of the most common creatures that inhabit the Lost Isles.’

I’m a fan of the original award-winning wargame Frostgrave and part of my love of the game stems from my fascination with Felstad, the city of the setting. The frozen ruins, the shadowed history, the sheer mystery surrounding the place made for some compelling games and – and this is something I will say over and over again – it made for an excellent setting not just for a wargame but also for a roleplaying game. The stories that could be told there call out for dungeon delving and melodrama.
When I first heard of Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago I was both excited and wary. Here was a new Frostgrave game for me to battle through but it was far removed from one of the things I loved about the original. Gone were the cold, snow-covered ruins from ages past to be replaced by the jungle-rich islands and clear blue waters of a tropical paradise. Would the game carry over? What would it bring to the games, other than a change of location?

The rulebook is a gorgeously illustrated 144-page hardback. It’s sturdy and well put together, and the excellent art by Dmitry and Kate Burmak is of the high standard and quality of the original rulebook, which is something that really sold the setting of the game to me, and the snows of Felstad have now been replaced by the sun of the Ghost Archipelago. The images are wonderful and capture the atmosphere beautifully. It also contains some great miniature photography, so there’s plenty of ideas for modelers.

This book is a stand-alone rulebook – you don’t need the original Frostgrave to play it – and as with Frostgrave the system uses a 20-sided die and 28mm miniatures. It is based around a small party of adventurers, crewmen supported by a Warden led by a Heritor. Each character has a Stat-Line, a series of numbers that define a single character. Movement (M) determines how far a character can move. Fight (F) and Shoot (S) are an indication of a character's prowess in man-to-man and ranged combat. Armour (A) is what they are wearing and how much damage they can absorb. Will (W) determines a character’s determination and how much they can resist certain spells and Health (H) is how much damage they can take before incapacitation or death. As with Frostgrave’s Warbands, a Crew cannot number more than 10.

Heritors are the primary characters, akin to a Frostgrave Wizard, and these are the descendants of those who drank from the Crystal Pool more than 200 years previously. This means they have special abilities they can bring into play, such as Crushing Blow (doing extra damage), Leap (jumping pretty much where you want to) and Death Strike (I’ll let you figure that one out, but ouch). These make the Heritor almost super-human, and they are by far the most important figure on the board. You see, there is an end game to the Heritor’s quest across the islands; each player is trying to locate ‘Map Stones’ that lead them to the Crystal Pool. There is a chance you can get a Map Stone at the end of the game, and once you have all ten then your Heritor has found the Pool, and the campaign is won. This is all decided randomly and, make note, it is not easy and will take a long, long time to collect all the stones.

The Heritor is supported by a Warden, wizards capable of influencing the natural order of things. Dismissed by the wizards of the north as hedge-wizards and animists (nice!), they have come south to use their powers. Each warden has a different branch, a set of skills they can utilize; there are Beast Wardens, Earth Wardens, Storm Wardens, Vine Wardens and Wave Wardens, all able to manipulate their chosen titles. Each branch has a number of spells to choose from.

Finally, we have the crewmen. These are split into two groups; standard crewmen and specialist crewmen. The standard crewmen take up arms and are there to fight, whereas the specialists have much more focused abilities such as Archer, Pearl Diver or Scout. They also have specific equipment that you may find helpful during a fight.

The die mechanic is the same as the original game. Want to cast a spell? Roll 1D20 and score higher than the spell's target number. Want to hit someone? Both of you roll 1D20, add your Fight or Shoot skill and whoever rolls the highest wins, and the roll also determines damage.

There are some additional rules for moving, fighting in and boarding small boats - which is a lot of fun – and the Heritors have a special rule called ‘Blood Burn’. This is a drawback of using Heritor abilities; you can literally take damage by using them. It makes for some rather intense ‘do I/don’t I’ tactical choices, especially in the later stages of a fight.

On top of all this, we have some treasure tables, a bestiary to give players something to worry about, and eight scenarios to play through.

So… how did I get on with it?

Well, I’ll get this out the way; I still prefer the original Frostgrave; the frozen roads of Felstad appeal to me much more than the islands of the Ghost Archipelago, but that’s just a preference of setting and does not reflect at all on the book I have here. I think Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago is an excellent book and game, and I’ve already had some great fun with it.

I created a Heritor and I named her Sorsha. Yes, I named her after that character from that film, but the model that had been loaned to me had a shock of red hair so it seemed suitable. Her Beast Warden friend Dar (please don’t judge me) and her crew headed into the first scenario ‘X Marks the Spot’ and got completely trounced. It was a sad day. It was my own fault for misusing her abilities and not taking the effects of Blood Burn into account. I also shouldn’t have sent her off with four of the crew, and Dar off with the others. Never split the party.

However, she returned for the second scenario ‘Drichean Cages’ and did much better. In fact, she did quite well over the next few games and, even though I got very little in the way of treasure and Map Stones, I was pleased with her progress.

Then the fun started. We decided to have an encounter with three boats. Me and my opponent had a vessel each, and the third was much larger and in the centre… and full of treasure. We started at opposite corners of the board and had to sail up, board, fight, grab what we could, and get off again.
It was great. We both ended up leaving some crew in our boats to slug it out ship-to-ship while other members got on the deck of the big ship and fought it out there. With undead on the ship and sharks in the water, it made for an intense game.

Sadly, Sorsha did not survive. She rolled a 1 on the survival table after the game. She already had a permanent injury from a previous battle, ‘Lost Fingers’, and this was to lead to her undoing two games down the line. It was a huge shame, but straight away I was ready to create another Heritor and get back on the trail. I really wanted to get those Map Stones and that’s the driving force behind the game; there’s a goal to reach, a payoff that changed from being the target of a game to the determined drive of a character; that’s where the roleplayer in me takes over. I gave my Heritor a name, a personality, and instead of being a playing piece she had a purpose in life. She also kicked someone in the face, so her namesake lived on.

And that’s what makes this game so much fun. Just like Frostgrave, there’s something of an emotional investment in the game as you’re creating personalities that have a goal, abilities and sometimes drawbacks. Things happen to them and I not only measured it in statistics and how it affected the game, but also how it changed the character. That, to me, makes for a fantastic experience.

And do you know what else? Both the games – Frostgrave and Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago – are interchangeable. For example, Heritors could travel to Felstad to follow clues, or magical items might only be usable at the Ghost Archipelago, meaning a wizard could travel south. We haven’t created a game where the two worlds meet yet but it’s going to be fantastic, especially when Sorsha’s best friend Brania travels south to find out what happened to her…

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago is an excellent game and a wonderful addition to the series. The new rules make for a unique experience and there’s enough material in here to satisfy Frostgrave fans and wargamers alike. It’s new-gamer friendly, easy on the eye and easy to follow. The setting doesn’t appeal to me as much as the original game but the games are just as much fun and the new additions are something I can’t wait to try out in Felstad, just to see how a Heritor and a Warden matches up against a Wizard and Apprentice.

The world of Frostgrave is a bit bigger and a whole lot more fun.

Highly recommended.

Monday 27 November 2017

Post apocalyptic games

Bomb, Explosion, Explosive, NuclearHere’s a genre I haven’t really spent much time in at the roleplaying table; the post-apocalytic. I wrote a SKETCH game called ‘The 13th Year’ a few years ago after a long stint playing Fallout 3. It was a game about an alternative atomic-ravaged world after World War 2, but even after playtesting and running a few short games I never got a full campaign on the go, and that surprises me because the post-apocalyptic setting is rich with opportunities for drama, adventure, combat and inventory management.

And I think that could be the core of a post-apocalyptic game; inventory management. Yes, let’s worry about the wild animals, the supermutants and the nuclear fire-breathing ants, but let’s also remember that this is a world after a huge disaster, and we’ve been thrown a thousand years back from our comfortable internet-enabled lives into what could be the end of the world where very little is available. Where’s the next meal coming from? Is that six-legged cat okay to eat? Is the water poisonous, dirty, infected? When will I next be able to change my underwear? Do I use these last three bullets for hunting, or will I need to protect myself? Can that man on the horizon be trusted? Yes, I know they just ate my mates but maybe they’ll trade for some of that spam?

Keeping the players constantly guessing is a must for a game like this, not knowing what threats are around the corner in a possibly morally ambiguous world is a great impetus and almost forces a group to band together, but having them make sure that they write down everything they own, have scavenged and are able to carry or hide is a game in itself. Every drop of water becomes precious, every bullet is something to be treasured and food is a commodity as well as a source of life. You’ll be amazed at how the equipment and inventory lists become the most important thing on the character sheet after a short while in the wastes, and every item on that list can be an adventure in itself. When they need a replacement item, ammunition or fresh supplies, that’s a quest. A mission. An adventure hook that already has the goal and the rewards set up – continued survival.

And what is beyond simply surviving? Building a new community, with new philosophies and laws? How big do want to make it? How will you treat your lawbreakers? Are people with two heads allowed? What would you do, how low would you stoop, to protect the things you own and the places you have built?

The post-apocalyptic setting has so many possibilities far beyond the window dressing and the reasons why the world has ended. Nuclear war, asteroid impacts, natural upheavals, resulting in mutants, insane petrolheads, zombies or crazy psychic magic powers are the visual and world-building cues and can help create amazing adventures filled with tense, blood-pumping moments of high adventure, but inventory management… that’s where the heart of the post-apocalyptic game lies, and characters can die from a badly managed equipment list just as easily as from a blow to the head from a missile covered in barbed wire.

Sunday 26 November 2017

Interview - Scott A Woodard of Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Scott WoodardPlease welcome to the site Scott A Woodard of Pinnacle Entertainment Group, brand manager and lead writer of THE SAVAGE WORLD OF FLASH GORDON, running on Kickstarter as of this interview.

This is all pretty exciting for me as I'm a huge Flash Gordon fan, especially the Buster Crabbe serials - my prize possessions are a Big Little book from 1937, a Flash limited edition action figure set from SDCC 2015 and a hearty handshake from Sam Jones. I was forced to wash the hand, sadly.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your gaming history.

Hi guys! My name is Scott Woodard and I have what many might consider to be a pretty wide and varied CV!

Not only have I worked as both brand manager and writer on The Savage World of Flash Gordon for Pinnacle Entertainment Group (currently on Kickstarter as I write this), I previously adapted The Sixth Gun comic series from Oni Press into a Savage Worlds RPG (also for Pinnacle) back in 2015. 2016 saw the publication of my ENnie Award-nominated book, Cinema and Sorcery: The Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Film co-authored with my friend, Arnold T. Blumberg and published by Green Ronin Publishing. Prior to that, I edited well over 70 RPG products for a variety of publishers including Modiphius, Crafty Games, Triple Ace Games, Reality Blurs, and a few others.

Before working in the game industry, I did a fair amount of professional voice work, I wrote audio dramas for Big Finish Productions including Doctor Who and Dark Shadows, I worked as an award-winning promo writer/producer for network television (Warner Bros. and Disney), and I built and puppeteered animatronic puppets for movies and TV (you can check out my IMDb record for more information about that).

Beyond all that work stuff, I have been into tabletop roleplaying games since (cough-cough) about 1978 when my parents gave my older brother and me a copy of the Holmes edition of Dungeons & Dragons for Christmas. In other words, I’ve been dabbling in RPGs for a very long time!

What’s the attraction to tabletop roleplaying games?

Since tabletop roleplaying games have been a part of my life for a VERY long time, I feel like I’ve grown to really appreciate and respect them. To me, RPGs are the pinnacle of the gaming experience. The collaborative story-telling aspects thrill me to this day. Also, as a life-long bibliophile, I just adore RPG books and I have a pretty decent sized collection that I dip into often.

All that said, I have never been one to don the grognard cap and crunch numbers to maximize my games. As long as everyone is having fun around that game table, I’m happy. This is why I often open my games (whether at a convention or with a group of friends) announcing that I run my games “fast and loose.”

Lastly, I’m a bit of a ham, so I like RPGs because they give me the chance to do a few voices and characters, even if I’m just doing them to get some laughs from my players.

So, Flash Gordon. What drew you to this particular franchise?

Flash was an important part of my childhood. As a kid, I was watching the original serials with Buster Crabbe on TV and a little later, I became a huge fan of the Filmation Saturday morning cartoon (even occasionally wishing that I could somehow transform into Thun the Lion Man from that series and beat up all the bullies in my school). At the same time, I was also tracking down comic books, toys, and pretty much anything else that had Flash in it.

When the offer came my way to work on the official Flash Gordon RPG for Pinnacle, it was a bit of a childhood dream come true. There was absolutely no way I could say “no.”

There’s been a lot of Flash Gordon over the years; the Alex Raymond originals, The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon radio serial, the Buster Crabbe serials, the Steve Holland TV show, the Filmation cartoon, the Dino De Laurentiis movie, the not-so-recent TV series and all the other shows and comics and novels… you’ve got a lot to choose from which means a lot of fans will be coming at Flash with different visual cues or attitudes. The artwork hints at the classic strips and serials so what era of Flash Gordon are you getting most of your inspiration from? What elements of the world of Flash Gordon do you hope to emulate?

Yeah, there is a LOT of material out there and from the very beginning of this project, I wanted to figure out if there was a way that I could somehow incorporate ALL of it. Not necessarily to take notes on every single serial, comic, novel, etc., but as I did my research (which involved a LOT of reading, listening, and watching), any time something cool or unique popped up, I tried to figure out a way to make it fit into my vision. There is a LOT of crossover (the 1980 movie, for example, features a number of extremely faithful scenes, images, and even bits of dialogue lifted right out of Alex Raymond’s strips), so in the end, it wasn’t as difficult as it might sound.

If a character in a serial or novel mentioned some sort of bird in Arboria that never popped up in the original strip, I often dragged that creature into the manuscript. It might only be an aside (a list of unusual Arborian birds), or it might actually be one of the new monsters in our bestiary!

In other words, in many ways, it is ALL in there, though there’s no denying that our primary source material was the original strips (both Sundays and dailies).

Will you be giving us in-depth details of Mongo, or will adventures enable players to travel further afield?

At this point, it is ALL about Mongo. There’s a ton of material in the core book and we are also releasing a 192-page sourcebook titled “Kingdoms of Mongo” that, obviously, focuses on several noteworthy Mongonian kingdoms, but not ALL!

There is definitely more that we can explore down the line! There are moons in the skies over Mongo that we have not explored in the current material… Flash’s Earth, especially after they begin adapting Mongonian tech for their war machines, is certainly something we could play with… And there is certainly the possibility for adventures beyond both worlds!

Savage Worlds is a good choice for this pulp-style adventure setting, so what kind of changes or additions are you making to the system?

One of the biggest additions we’ve made is The Cliffhanger. You can actually read about it in depth in Update 1 of the Kickstarter. Apart from that, you’ll find new Edges, new Hindrances, a few new Powers, nine playable races, and an extensive bestiary of new monsters!

You’ve annihilated your Kickstarter target in an amazingly short amount of time so there’s a huge demand for Flash; what kind of support will the game receive in the future?

See my answer to the Mongo question... At the very least, you can count on new Flash content to appear in future issues of the Savage Worlds Explorer magazine from Pinnacle Entertainment Group.

What else are you working on? What else can we expect to see from you in the future?

Once Flash wraps up (at least for the time being), I’ll be working on some new material for The Sixth Gun Roleplaying Game to appear in the back of the next hardcover deluxe graphic novel collection coming from Oni Press. I’m also writing an adventure for the Kids On Bikes RPG from Hunters Books titled “Between the Cracks.” My adventure and involvement was the $6500 Stretch Goal for that game’s Kickstarter. I’ve also been working with the Table Titans gang on a few upcoming projects including a 25,000 word adventure for Dungeons & Dragons 5E.

Beyond that, there are a couple other tentative projects on the wall here in my office, but time will tell on those! I’m certainly keeping busy!

Friday 24 November 2017

Interview - Francesca Baerald, Freelance Artist & Cartographer

Francesca BaeraldFreelance Artist and Cartographer Francesca Baerald has a professional background working on published games, book covers, CD covers, videogames, maps, RPGs, trading card games and children’s illustrations.

I first heard of Francesca when I came across a glorious map she created for Game of Thrones. I wanted to learn more about her talent so I got in touch and, happily, she agreed to answer a few questions.

Hello, Francesca, and welcome to the site. Can you introduce yourself, and tell us something of your history with gaming?

Hello Jonathan and thank you very much for this interview. I'm a freelance artist that has recently discovered to be also a cartographer. My love for gaming started when I was 16 and Diablo had just been published. I still remember filling Tristram with piles of gold and trying to kill the Butcher by shooting arrows from behind a window with bars. From that moment on I have discovered the existence of RPGs, boardgames and other videogames and never stopped playing.

What was it that got you into illustration?

Games for sure. I loved to draw dungeon maps during lessons at school. But also looking at some beautiful CD covers inspired me to start drawing. I have always loved music and learnt to play quite a few instruments along the years. Black and death metal bands have always had the most interesting covers and I enjoyed trying to draw my own covers in my spare time.

Who’s work inspires you the most?

This is a hard question. I'm not influenced and inspired by only one artist. I have an ever growing big library full of artbooks and comics of every kind that I love to browse searching for inspiration. If I have to list a couple of names I would say Brom and Beksinski.

I first became aware of your work via your maps; they’re wonderful illustrations that belong in frames on walls. What’s the attraction to creating these, and what kind of work goes into them?

Thank you for your kind words. I have a passion for details and maps are so full of them! I like to think that when I'm creating a map I'm also giving life to an actual world and each one is very different from the other. So every map has its own personality.

I don't like to call it 'work' but I must admit that there's a lot of effort behind every map. From the hours spent inking them to the time required to create a good balanced composition. It takes me from two to four weeks to complete a map and I treasure every moment of this process. I know the passion and dedication that my clients put into creating their fictional worlds and I want to dedicate  them the best work that I can.

Game of Thrones Map
Image used with permission

Your RPG work includes art for the big names; Fantasy Flight Games, Paizo and Modiphius, to name just three. How do you approach projects for such huge publishers?

Each project for me is important but I must admit that working for such great companies always makes me a bit nervous and shaky. However fear is the engine that drives me to do better and improve myself, also... I like challenges!

Your other work encompasses covers for most things; books, CDs and Videogames. What’s your favourite media to work on?

A part from inks and watercolours, my favourite media is oil on wooden board. It's a time-consuming technique so it's not often my first work choice for economical and time reasons. That's why I usually choose acrylics for my covers. Anyway I always exult when a good oil painting commission comes in.

Do you have a preferred genre? What do you like illustrating the most?

I'm a female artist so people often assume that I'm good at painting romantic stuff. The truth is that I love intense scenes, dark settings, heroic situations and warriors/knights/barbarians. When some freedom is given to me I usually tend to paint strong characters with interesting background images.

What was the longest, most intricate project you’ve ever worked on? How do you plan your projects?

Actually I'm still working on the most intricate project, for Square Enix. It's the in-game map for Project Octopath Traveller videogame. I don't like to give space to chance so first of all I plan every step of my work process very thoroughly. Deadlines must be respected and I always make sure that my client is kept updated on the work in progress.

What’s your favourite piece of personal work?

You probably know that every time an artist completes an illustration he's never happy with it, right? There's always space for improvement so I really can't say which one is my favourite piece of personal work. From an emotional point of view I'm attached to every single piece of work I have done. From a critique point of view there's still so much work to do!

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Certainly more maps! But also Character Sheets, Covers, Boards,...whenever a project represents a good challenge, I'm ready.

St.George´s Remorse
St.George’s Remorse
Image used with permission

Thursday 23 November 2017

Free roleplaying game design challenge GO!

I set myself a challenge - could I write and format a game in less than six hours?

I managed to do it in five and a half, and now it's done I'm giving it away for free. The images have been sourced from the public domain, and the game itself harks back to the serial science fiction shows from the 1930s to the 1950s. The system uses a single six-sided die and I've called it the ODDS (One Die Determines Success) System. It's not perfect, but it's just a bit of fun.

'Always dreamed of blasting through space on the back of a nuclear bullet trading laser fire with wicked alien menaces? How about exploring mysterious worlds and trading with exotic races? Perhaps you’d like to hunt down nefarious pirates in haunted asteroid belts?

Now’s your chance! Join the STELLAR CADETS and travel the stars for the Stellar Navy!'

You can download it for free from Dropbox

Let me know what you think. I might knock up a simple background and adapt an adventure for it.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Book Review - Frostgrave: Second Chances

Frostgrave: Second Chances by Matthew WardBy Matthew Ward

Published by Osprey Publishing

‘Time is running out for Yelen and Mirika Semova. Though the sisters have earned an enviable reputation amongst their fellow explorers of the Frozen City, their lives are haunted by a curse - the more Yelen uses her magic, the closer the demon Azzanar comes to claiming her, body and soul. But Azzanar is not the only one manipulating Yelen and Mirika...

When catastrophe separates the Semova sisters, it falls to Yelen to save them both. But in a city shrouded in deceit, who can she turn to for help... and what price will she pay to get it?’

I’ve interviewed Frostgrave’s Joseph A. McCullough, the creator, designer and writer of the Frostgrave miniatures game this book is based on. He’s told me in no uncertain terms that the wider world of the fabled city of Felstad, and the newer game Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago, will remain undefined and unexplored. There will be no larger map, of the city or the land it inhabits, and no definitive realms, kings, queens or kingdoms, and that the phrase ‘here be dragons’ applies to the rest of the world as it’s Terra Incognita.

So where does that leave writers who have been asked to write a novel-length tale about the city, it’s people and the dangers within? If you’re writing the first book about people in the world of Frostgrave and you need to draw new readers - and possibly players – into the setting, where does that leave you?

It leaves you with an unenviable task. Thankfully, Matthew Ward has taken the route of making the characters the centre of the story, not the world itself. And at that, I feel, he’s succeeded.

The story gets off to an action-packed start in the Temple of Draconostra, where the Semova sisters are trying to recover a reliquiary for their master Torik; Mirika is a Chronomancer and can play with time, but her younger sister Yelen has little magical talent except for that gifted to her by the demon Azzanar. The more Yelen uses the power the closer Azzanar comes to taking her body and using it for her own nefarious ends.

The relationship between the two sisters is palpable and you really feel for their plight as the story progresses. All they want is for Yelen to be rid of this demon and their delves into the dungeons and catacombs of Felstad are to realise that end. Mirika, the eldest sister, is hotheaded and rash, confident in her power and ability. Yelen, however, is jealous of her older sister’s abilities but loves her regardless, and this creates a very complicated relationship underlined by the simple fact that they love each other dearly. This leads to dramatic moments in the book where you feel for their plight, and there are times during conflicts where you find yourself really drawn in. It’s the characters and relationships of this book that really shine, and the two primary antagonists are likeable, interesting and enjoyable to read.

The secondary characters are also well defined and interesting so much so that when something happens to them - for good or ill – you do feel it. There are a couple of throwaway characters that are stereotypes to make a scene work, but they don’t last long and are there to serve the encounter. The secondary characters, especially the Knight Kain with her harsh attitude and Cavril Magnis the dashing if somewhat untrustworthy leader of a band called the Gilded Rose, really work and add a layer of depth to the story.

The story itself is a long chase – from the start to safety, then from safety back into danger as every character is given a reason to chase, flee or otherwise make haste away from or towards friends, wealth or salvation. There are plenty of plot twists and turns and sometimes you’re never too sure where the story is going to go, or even who’s side you’re on, and that adds a sense of excitement to the proceedings, pulling you into a ‘just one more page’ situation that may result in a late night or two.

In many books I read I like to feel that the world the protagonists inhabit is a character in itself, defined and with form and structure to make it feel real. With the ‘here be dragons’ proviso and not having a full idea of the larger world I can imagine that defining that world would be quite hard. I did get a feel for Felstad but could never really visualise it, not the way it has been visualised by the excellent artist Dmitry Burmak in this book or in the main game itself. There were descriptions of the locations and the city but more detail was lavished on the characters than the setting; the barrows, the tombs, the settlement they rested at, it was all there on the page but I never really felt it, or could conjure up a proper mental image. It was definitely the characters that held this book together for sure.

It’s a great book with a twisting plot, well-defined characters and great scenes of dangerous/exciting encounters, and although it ends rather abruptly the climax of the story is satisfactory and leaves it open for further adventures – and I, for one, will be in line for that.

And for the Frostgrave players out there, there’s a nice scenario at the back of the book to use in your next wargame session called ‘Corpsefire’. I don’t want to go into detail as it references a part of the book, but it’s a cool encounter with plenty of special rules.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Interview - Russell Morrissey of EN World

'Xenomorphs' Cover
The WOIN supplement Xenomorphs: The Fall of  Somerset Landing has had a very successful Kickstarter campaign and promises plenty of dark action-packed sci-fi grimness.

I got in touch with Russell Morrissey who, along with Darren Pearce and Angus Abranson, is bringing us this tale of terror and I asked him about the WOIN system and this eagerly anticipated book.

I'm going to assume that the first answer isn't entirely accurate...

Welcome to the site! Please introduce yourself.

I am Captain Kirk, and was the first man on Mars. I also invented the sea, and built Australia.

Give us some background on you and the tabletop roleplaying hobby - what got you involved and what is it that you love about it?

I started playing RPGs when I was about 10, way back in the 1980s. At the time we played at school - AD&D, mainly, but a whole slew of 80s games including FASA's Star Trek RPG, Golden Heroes, the Games Workshop Judge Dredd RPG, and tons more. I've pretty much played ever since, including all editions of D&D, and a whole slew of other games. Right now I'm in a long Call of Cthulhu campaign, and a sci-fi WOIN campaign, and recently finished running Curse of Strahd for D&D 5E. So I'm a lifelong tabletop game hobbyist!

In 1999 I started working in the tabletop RPG industry, initially as a blogger/games reporter, and branching out into publishing. I run EN World, a tabletop RPG news and reviews website, and I also co-founded, and own, the ENnies, which are the premier tabletop RPG awards program. I've published over 300 RPG products over the last 20 years!

WOIN (What Is Old Is New) is a popular system based around the humble D6. How did this come about?

It was a gradual evolution, inspired both by the many games I played in the 1980s, and by many modern game design sensibilities. Initially, my goal was to publish my ideal sci-fi RPG; however, the fantasy themes of D&D (especially older D&D) always drew me back, so I ended up designing two fully compatible games which use the same system.

There have been other D6 dice pool systems before - what makes WOIN different?

I've played a lot of different dice systems over the years, and in truth there aren't many I don't like. I think I fell in love with dice pools way back when I played the WEG Ghostbusters RPG, which was the first dice pool game; that system evolved into WEG's Star Wars d6 system. My goal when designing WOIN wasn't to be super innovative or experimental, but to do something I knew, enjoyed, and do it well. It's not the same as any other d6 dice pool system, but it definitely shares DNA with some.

WOIN includes a life-path character creation system, which I simply adore. I've always enjoyed life-path character creation systems; they feel immersive and organic to me, and the very process of creating our character also creates their background.

The dice pool system is an additive one which pools dice from your attribute (natural talent), skill (training), and equipment (higher quality equipment gives you more dice). You can then "spend" some of those dice on enhancements to your roll, and then roll to beat a target number. It's very simple and intuitive, and that core mechanic drives the entire game. What I enjoy about it is that there is not direct link between attributes and skills - you can build a pool from any attribute, any skill, and any equipment, as long as your GM agrees it's relevant. So if you're climbing the side of a building, you might use AGILITY plus climbing, or architecture, or whatever skill you have that you think will help you climb this building.

I'm also very fond of the Countdown mechanic, which can be used to create tension when you need a duration but you don't want the players to know when it's up. Each turn, the Countdown pool of d6s is rolled, and any 6s are removed. When the last die is removed, the bomb goes off, or the building collapses, or the disease reaches its natural conclusion, or what-have-you. It's a very simple, but effective mechanic.

The magic system gets a lot of attention. It's a verb-noun system (like you may have seen in some other games), so you would combine a verb ( a skill you know) with a noun (a thing you know the "secret" of) to, say, create fire, or abjure ice, or summon beasts, or compel undead. You spend magic points to power your spell, adding enhancements at-will. It's very freeform!

Xenomorphs: The Fall of  Somerset Landing was a very successful Kickstarter and looks to be delving into some serious dark sci-fi action, something that WOIN seems suited to. Inspirations aside, what was the draw to the dark horrific side of science fiction?

Oh, man! I adore those movies! My wife can rattle off the names of all the Colonial Marines (which makes me envious).

We were brainstorming ways to show off what WOIN can do. The core system is very much a "toolkit", and so it (by deign) lacks the setting elements which can draw people to the game. That's both a strength and a weakness - it means it does its "here's the sandbox; now build your universe!" approach to running a roleplaying game really, really well; but it does make it more difficult to market. So with that in mind, we discussed a range of different "settings" we could use to showcase the game. I can't talk about all of them yet, but here's some words associated with some of them: Manhattan, lower decks, exorcism, road rage....

Anyway, Xenomorphs was always going to be first. It's just SO atmospheric, all that gritty sci-fi survival horror. And WOIN can lend itself so well to both heroic sic-fantasy or gritty, darker pieces. It has the tools to "dial" to either. Suffice it to say that in Xenomorphs, we took a bit of a cue from Call of Cthulhu: don't necessarily expect to survive. Don't worry; we have backup characters you can hot-swap into!

Is there a larger world that Xenomorphs could explore? Are you producing any further supplements for the setting?

Our book is about 60 pages long. The first half describes the setting - explored space, the United Marines, the Chen Zua corporation, adventure ideas and plot seeds, equipment, and so on.

So we have a 15-page adventure, which features the PCs arriving at Somerset Landing as colonists - miners, scientists, engineers, maybe a marine. It's a dark, rain-soaked terraforming colony. And pretty soon, all hell breaks loose. The PCs won't be having many stand-up fights (or if they do, they'll be switching to new PCs pretty quick!)

That's the plan - one book, one setting. We plan to release a few of these, covering different genres, really showing off the WOIN system and showing our love for certain archetypes of the silver screen. Any which prove really popular, we might consider for a bigger treatment, but right now that's not a thing. Not yet, anyway.

What more can we expect to see from WOIN in the future?

So our biggest upcoming thing is the official Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD RPG. That will be out this winter. It's a gorgeous full-colour hardcover book. We have the license not just for Judge Dredd, but for the entire range of 2000 AD properties, which provides us with a massive amount of completely different sci-fi and fantasy settings. We're starting with Dredd, of course, but you can expect to see all sorts of 2000 AD goodness over the coming months and years.

We have N.O.W. the Modern Action roleplaying game coming out this winter, too. That's all about superspies and action heroes, talking cars, and soldiers-of-fortune. Those who love those 80s TV shows will love that one. It even includes rules for Mutants!

Interior excerpt from 'Xenomorphs'
Used with permission

Monday 20 November 2017

I was an awful GM

Puppet Master by j4p4nLook, I’m a GM and I was guilty of this years ago: being condescending because the players can’t figure out your puzzles or get past your bad guys doesn’t do much for the group. There isn’t a player in the world, not even one desperate for a game and has nowhere else to go, who will sit at a gaming table and be basically laughed at for not figuring out what the GM has put them up against. GMs create the adventure and the dangers but that doesn’t mean that he’s against the players. It doesn’t mean that the players are in the game to beat what he has created, and therefore ‘win’ the game. And what’s worse is a GM that not only ‘wins’ but makes sure that the players know that he’s beaten them.

And it’s not just ‘I beat you with my dungeon!’ GMs, it’s those who use the game to bolster their egos, playing Mary/Gary Sue Gamesmaster Player Characters - the dreaded GMPC - that are the definition of what the GM thinks a perfect player character should be. The GMPC holds their hands, babysits, and is untouchable due to GM fiat. These type of GM-controlled characters are the most annoying, crass and downright unlikeable types of character because they not only make you feel inferior, they’re basically communicating to you how the GM feels about your progress in the game; ie, you’re all rubbish at what you do and they can do it much better.

If you’re a GM and even slightly glancing down this route, I implore you – don’t do it. You will do irreversible damage to the gaming group and lose any trust the players may have had in you. This way of gaming leads to a false sense of achievement for the GM and miserable, downbeat players who will drift away. If you run a fun, fair session, you’ll have more chance of having the players shake your hand and commend you on your game.

I don’t know of any evenings that have ended with, ‘Hey! Your GMPC certainly showed us that we’re idiots! And we all died trying to get through your awesome killer dungeon! See you next week!’

Originally posted March 2012

Sunday 19 November 2017

Interview - Sarah Newton of Mindjammer Press

There's a new Kickstarter in town - Capharnaum - The Roleplaying Game.

Sarah Newton at Mindjammer Press is bringing us the English version of 'a fantasy roleplaying game set in an imaginary Arabia-like world. It borrows from the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights, as well as semitic legends and the ancient and mediaeval epics. Capharnaum doesn't aim to be a historical game, but a heroic one, a flamboyant refraction of historical, cultural, and mythical themes, filled with light and thrilling adventure!'

As of this post the Kickstarter is still ongoing, so get over there now and have a look!

To get some further insight into Capharnaum I caught up Sarah and asked her what we can expect to see from this exciting new game.

Welcome back to the site, Sarah! So, what have you been up to recently in the tabletop RPG world? How's things in the industry?

Thanks very much indeed, Jonathan – it’s great to be back! Well, my life over the past 2 years, as I’m sure you can imagine, has been very much focussed on delivering all the cool books we were able to unlock in the Mindjammer Kickstarter of late 2015! We now have thirteen physical products in the line, which is just an amazing tribute to the power of Kickstarter and our fantastic backers – and the last of those are just about to go out to backers this Wednesday 22 Nov 2017, leaving us with 3 PDFs and some digital support products to release during the course of next year. It’s been a hectic and creative couple of years – very inspiring!

The one thing the Kickstarter did which I should have expected and maybe didn’t enough was take up pretty much all of my time! I’ve been to relatively few conventions since the Kickstarter ended – I’ve made Dragonmeet and UK Games Expo in the UK, and Les Utopiales, La Comédie du Livre, and Au-Delà du Dragon in France, but I haven’t made it to GenCon for several years, and am really missing it! Learning from the experience, I’m hoping to remedy that!

So, tell us more about your newest project Capharnaum, the game of 'Fantastic Arabian Nights adventure in a world of deserts, dragons, and crusaders'. It sounds amazing!

It is! I found out about Capharnaum back in 2009 when I picked up the frankly beautiful first edition core book at the Paris Games Fair, and I immediately wanted to do an English-language version. It was just begging for it: this deep, massive, and compelling setting, with some wonderful supplements, epic game-play, and sensational production values. I just felt its potential. It took several years to get the conditions just right to be able to do this, but the French publisher, Studio Deadcrows, and ourselves came to an agreement in 2015 / 2016 to get cracking on a joint project, to bring Mindjammer to the French-language market, and Capharnaum to the English-language one – and now that the Mindjammer kickstarter has completed its physical deliverables, we find ourselves finally able to do so!

What was the attraction to this game and genre?

I love good world-building, and Capharnaum has it in spades. You really have to see it. The designers, François Cedelle and Raphael Bardas, explained to me that, after 9/11, they wanted a game that showed the depth and awesomeness of Middle Eastern cultures, but also did so in a way in which the games you played would transcend historical and cultural conflicts and try to build something new, something which broke the chains of history and transcended its limitations. You know me – with Mindjammer, and indeed pretty much everything I write, it’s all about going beyond, breaking down barriers, achieving our potential, whether as an individual, culture, or species – and what François and Raphael said just totally resonated with me. It’s so ambitious, and yet so timely.

So, Capharnaum is a game in which the societal and cultural norm is a fantasy version of Arabian and Middle Eastern culture. It’s a vast world – as big as our own – with analogues of major historical lands, including those such as fantasy versions of mediaeval Europe – dark age Germania, mediaeval France, early renaissance Spain – and ancient world “fallen empires” such as ancient Greece and Rome, all of the playable homelands for your characters. But the focus of the campaign, at least to begin with, is a peninsula called Jazirat, which resembles in many ways pre-Islamic Arabia, say about 500-600AD. That’s the cultural norm, that’s the land the game calls “home”, and all your mediaeval knights, dark age Viking barbarians, ancient world hoplites and oracles – well, they’re all foreigners, visitors to Jazirat, with their own agendas. They’re the “other”. I don’t really know a game which takes that decision, and then follows it through with such panache, depth, and such an obvious love of the subject matter.

A key point of the setting is the freedom. Capharnaum has religion and cultural conflicts, but, while they echo those of our own world, they’re not the same. There’s no Christianity, no Islam, no Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Greek or Roman gods. Instead, you have the god-hero Jason Quartered, the martyred warrior, and his Quarterian Crusaders; you have Jazirat and its One Thousand and One Gods; you have the Chiromancers of ancient Agalanthia. These provide hooks for intrigue, adventure, and conflict which are similar to those of our own history, but you don’t have that worry of cultural sensitivity or historical accuracy – you have the freedom to improvise, to make the whole world and setting your own. There’s a lot of depth there for when you want it, but on the other hand the game setting is immediately understandable and accessible. It feels familiar, but there’s so much to explore.

That freedom is also reflected in the characters you play. In this fantastic refraction of our own world, many people are wedded to cultures and world-views in deadly conflict. Not so your characters. Each character in Capharnaum bears a birthmark on their back in the shape of a dragon’s claw: the Dragon-Mark. In the cosmos of Capharnaum, dragons are a big deal: they’re mysterious, semi-divine entities, perhaps servitors of the gods, perhaps even their progenitors and manipulators. In any case, the dragons – or maybe a dragon – is keeping an eye on your character. You have the potential to become a mythic hero; you’re marked for a special, unknown destiny. You find you have more in common with other Dragon-Marked, regardless of their origins: and, once again, transcending cultural boundaries and ancient conflicts, your adventuring party is multicultural, diverse, trying to figure out your fate, how you’re supposed to – or how you want to – change the world. It’s like you’re Sinbad, Scheherezade, Ronan, Heracles, Circe, all banded together at the start of their heroic story arcs, searching for their destiny. What will you do? What will you become? How will you change the world? I mean, as a campaign concept, how cool is that?

I also loved the rules system. I’ve been working with Fate for several years, and for me my perfect system is one which is lightweight and elegant, quick to learn, but one which is also very scalable, and with a huge amount of depth and sophistication which comes out in play and with increasing system mastery. Capharnaum is like that, but it’s more traditional than Fate, it doesn’t have those narrative, meta-elements. I find French game systems have a really solid core, but they’re also expert at integrating genre-specific elements which bring out the flavour of the setting they’re designed for. Capharnaum is no exception. You’ll find it more traditional than Fate, but with some very satisfying touches which are really crunchy, fun, and really “pop” during play. It’s fast, intuitive, but also deep and explorational, and we’re incorporating all the streamlining and polish of the new 2nd edition of the French game. The magic system in particular is worth the price of the book alone: it’s an improvisational system which works. In some ways it reminds me of what we were doing with LEGENDS OF ANGLERRE for Fate 3rd edition, but without the Fate-y side. It works on an assembly of philosophical / linguistic components called “Sacred Words” and “Elements” – you can “Create Fire”, “Transform a Person into a Camel”, or “Destroy Flesh”, for example – but the improvisational aspect is supported by concrete game effects which stop the whole thing falling into arbitrary handwaviness. It’s really nice.

What can we expect to see in the final book? The system basics, or the full game and setting with all the bells and whistles?

It’s the full game and setting with all the bells and whistles. It’s going to be at least 400 pages in two-column layout with good-sized font. It’s a gorgeous book, incidentally – top quality art, spectacular maps (I’m a major map nerd, so these were just a must-have!), the initial offering has 16 colour panels which are lovely, and we’re hoping the Kickstarter will let us produce the whole book in full colour throughout (at the moment it’s a two-tone effect, a sort of desert sepia, which looks genre-appropriate and very attractive, but I dream of colour artwork all the way!). Most of the core book is setting material – gazetteers, histories, cultural descriptions, and lots of information on the “paths” which characters can follow on their road to greatness – the Capharnaum equivalent of secret societies, cults, guilds, legions, what-have-you. The rules part of the book is probably less than 100 pages, and it’s very quick to grasp. There’s a solid foundational bestiary of 20 very flavoursome beasts native to Jazirat, and even an introductory adventure. It really is everything you need. It’s kind of a principle here at Mindjammer Press: my interest is getting the setting and its rules in your hands, and then exploring the world with campaigns and more detail which I hope will be exciting enough for you to want them. For us, the model of releasing the core system over multiple books isn’t the right one, it’s not how I want to work.

That said, the supplements for Capharnaum are fantastic! There’s a complete Bestiary – that’s the nearest the system comes to a “second rules book”. It expands the core book bestiary hugely, by delving into the cultural depths of Jazirat, into the demons and spiritual entities of the land, and then going overseas, with the critters you can find in other lands. It’s also very readable in its own right: that’s one of the things I love about Capharnaum, all the books are a damn fine read, even without playing them (although we hope you’ll do that too!). I’ve taken a great deal of time to make sure the writing in the book is the best it can be. The initial translation has been done by José Luis Porfirio (QIN, KURO, FINAL CONFLICT: XCORP, SHAYO) – we already have the core book ready to go for a swift delivery in March/April 2018 – but I’m also a French speaker, and I’ve edited, restructured, rewritten, and even added to and changed things here and there so it’s a very smooth read and also conveys the setting and material effectively.

So, in addition to the Capharnaum core book and Bestiary, we have a player’s guide, a screen, two scenario packs, an atlas, and then this massive, world-spanning, globe-shattering, epic campaign which can provide the whole framework for your play in Capharnaum. That’s one big book – we think it’ll be a good 300 pages in English version – and can plug in beginning, intermediate, and even advanced characters, and also gives room for GM detours, sub-campaigns, and other scenarios along the way. And we have lots of other surprises along the way in the Kickstarter as we start to unlock stretch goals…

What kind of support will the game receive in the future?

That’s one of the lovely things about the deal we have with Studio Deadcrows. Our license lets us publish original material. That’s why we’re asking backers and the RPG gaming community to really jump on board with Capharnaum. It’s not a closed, finite product, but the beginning of a fantastic new game and setting in the English-language RPG world. Please jump in on the Kickstarter and help us unlock the core book and its series of stretch goals. Mindjammer Press is committed to Capharnaum as our fantasy-historical RPG – it has everything I’ve ever dreamed of in a historical-themed game, from history and politics, military campaigns, spiritual, magical and mythical exploration, and then a whole transcendent, mystical, and apotheosis-based set of themes which can take you just about anywhere you want to go. We’ve bubbling with ideas we’d love to bring you!

What else do you have in the pipeline? What else is on the horizon for Mindjammer Press?

One of the things I’ve learned from the Mindjammer Kickstarter is that my own big, personal challenge is to correctly balance my own creative writing with the need to manage the business side. We’re very cautiously expanding: Jason Juta is now deeply embedded as our art director and layout guru; David Donachie is our webmaster and an awesome writer of campaign and setting material; we have John Snead representing us in the States, and also as a great writer; and we have Paul Mitchener and Graham Spearing in the UK / Europe, not only as top writers but also as community developers, convention outreach, and organised gaming. That’s really filling out the feeling that Mindjammer Press is becoming a production studio, working hand-in-glove with Chris Birch and his fantastic team at Modiphius Entertainment, who provide us with the “front-end” – distribution, marketing, store sales and convention sales presence, and of course Kickstarter consultancy!

All that means that I’m able to devote a significant chunk of my time to writing and development – I feel that’s where my own strengths lie. I’m writing all the time, and also working with other writers, to produce our new material. In 2018, we have an ongoing production schedule for Mindjammer which should take us into 2019, and some exciting plans for Mindjammer’s 10th anniversary (hasn’t that gone quickly!); also, I’m supervising the whole Capharnaum effort, making sure everything’s effectively translated, edited, worded, and produced to the standards we need to maintain after Mindjammer and as part of the Modiphius family. But I’ve also earmarked that vital time to spend planning and working on our next big project after Capharnaum, The Chronicles of Future Earth RPG, which we’re hoping to Kickstart in the first half of 2018 for delivery twelve months from now.

Thank you again for the opportunity to appear on the site, and thanks to everyone out there for reading! Do please drop by at the Capharnaum Kickstarter page and help us take the adventure still further!

Sarah Newton is an award-winning RPG and fiction writer and co-director of Mindjammer Press. Her credits include MINDJAMMER – THE ROLEPLAYING GAME, ACHTUNG! CTHULHU, LEGENDS OF ANGLERRE, THE CHRONICLES OF FUTURE EARTH, and more. You can find her online at, on Twitter at @sarahjnewton, and at her website and Meme Machine blog at Mindjammer Press can be found online at, and you can check out and support the Kickstarter campaign for the new RPG “CAPHARNAUM – TALES OF THE DRAGON-MARKED” at

Friday 17 November 2017

Knowing your gaming world

Planet by bogdancoYou should never count on being able to run a fully successful game in a setting you love, because people may see it differently than you do.

A game I have always wanted to run a proper campaign for is Star Trek, set in either the current Next Generation era, post-Dominion War, or the classic movie era around the time of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - I like the atmosphere of the Next Generation setting and the adventure-come-combat of Trek II, and even Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I like me some Star Trek and I love the idea of adventuring in the setting. I’ve even taken the character sheet and some of the rules of Task Force Games ‘Prime Directive’ and converted them to West End Games D6 System, utilising the rules of the first edition of ‘Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game’. It’s a great game and plays really well, but my problem is that I like Star Trek but know little about the larger setting and how it fully operates and only take my cues from the films and TV shows. Gaming with players who know more about it than I do – true Trek aficionados – proved difficult as the slightest detail I got wrong was corrected and ideas were formed using words and terminology I didn’t have the slightest clue about. In these cases I let the dice decide but on a failed roll there was a long conversation, almost an argument, as to how they as Federation characters and members of Star Fleet would know how to do that or would have access to certain kinds of equipment. A basic case of Player knowledge versus Character Knowledge with not much chance of an amicable settlement because the player knew so much more about Star Trek than I did.

I had the same problem as a player in a Middle-Earth Role Playing game. It was set during the War of the Ring and we were Gondorian soldiers scouting the north and I knew the GM was wrong about the location of The Lonely Mountain. I can’t remember why it made so much difference to the game, maybe it didn’t, but the GM did not want to hear my corrections. He even had me roll to see what my PC did know, and when I failed the roll he told me that as far as my character was concerned it was where he said it was. I remember being incredibly annoyed and a bit flustered about it and my argument at the time was, ‘But I’ve been reading Tolkien for more than a decade!’

Certain settings are easier than others. I used to run a lot of games in the Fighting Fantasy world of Allansia and I knew that world inside out thanks to the book 'Titan: the Fighting Fantasy World' so any new players to the setting would get a basic crash course in the history of the world and their race, if it called for it, and then I could run smooth, effective games because I could narrate without the need to stop and refer to books or notes. I was confident in my knowledge and that confidence can make for a much more comfortable game for everyone involved.

Some settings aren't that bothered about dead-on accuracy and exist for the fun of it. Playing in the Star Wars universe is easy. Everyone knows where they stand. Good guys are heroes, bad guys are villains, and nobody cares how things work or where things are – they’re just there and they do what you need them to do and with no defined ‘this is how it all hangs together’ you can pretty much wing because, hey – everyone loves Star Wars. It’s all about adventure on a pulp scale.

But a richer setting, such as Star Trek or Middle-Earth, has so much more detail and history that parts of that can affect gameplay, or at least people’s perceptions of it. These settings can be several things at once – adventure, combat, exploration, character driven, emotional, intriguing, mysterious, lots of things – and in some cases a player’s view of the setting will be vastly different to how someone else views it. Attitudes to how the game should be played will differ, and the amount that a single person knows about the setting will differ from the amount another knows, and these levels of knowledge might bring about disagreements. How do I know that a PC can get out of trouble with the Andorians on the planet Flexagarble VII by using an inverted tri-phase resonator on the transponders they use for the transporter room? What does that even mean? How do I know that the player isn’t simply making it up – like I did just then - knowing that I know far less than he does about the setting?

These days I leave it to the dice. Unless there’s something specific in the rules that addresses this particular problem, a ruling that’ll give me something to make a decision about how to handle the situation no matter what the player has to say about it, then I’ll just match what they want to do to with the closest skill on their sheet and ask them to roll, maybe modify it depending on how plausible their argument sounds. That has to be the fairest way so that everyone comes away without feeling cheated. In these possible situations I’ll make sure this kind of ruling is going to be implemented before the game starts so that everyone knows where they stand. I realise they know more than me but I have to make rulings based on what sounds plausible and not based on what some random character in Season 5 Episode 4 did or said, or what it says in Book 3 on Page 244 Paragraph 2 of The Epic series. I don’t know these things and the players should have respect for that, the same way I’ll have respect for their breadth of knowledge by making modifiers to rolls depending on how they make their case.

It’s certainly better than simply saying or hearing, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, you can’t do that’.

Originally posted February 2012

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Interview - Joseph A. McCullough of Osprey Games

Frostgrave: Ghost ArchipelagoFrostgrave: Ghost Archipelago hit the shelves recently, promising us more fun, frolics and combat in the world of Frostgrave. This time, however, the cold of Felstad has been swapped out for the sun of the south, with new heroes to create and crews to command.

I spoke to Joseph McCullough, the designer and writer of the award-winning Frostgrave games, to find out more about the Lost Isles...

So, how did you come up with the idea for Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago? Did Felstad get too cold for you and you felt you needed a warmer climate?

Phil Smith, the Head of Osprey Games, asked me to think about writing a supplement for Frostgrave that took the game to a new setting. At first I was reluctant because I thought that would essentially just be a new list of monsters, and a bit of window-dressing for scenarios. If I was going to do it, I wanted to do something that gave players a somewhat different game experience. At the same time, I was starting to feel that my imagination needed a break from the Frozen City, just to give me a little space to refuel.

Was it a long design period? It’s been more than two years since Frostgrave, so how long have you been working on this?

The actual writing didn’t take that long, about a month. Partly this is because most of the core rules of the game are just slightly updated and modified Frostgrave rules. Partly this is because I had mentally been working on the game for several months before that. Then, of course, you have editing and play-testing afterward. I suppose from the point I made up my mind to do it, to turning in a complete manuscript to Osprey, it was about ten months.

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago is not a simple add-on to the original rulebook and is a complete game in itself, so what changes or additions did you make to make this stand out?

Well, like I said, I wanted to give players something new, something that significantly changed the game. I figured the biggest change I could make was to take wizards out of the central role, but if I was going to do that, I needed some suitably heroic figure to take their place. Thus out of my thoughts on the setting grew the Heritors, these sort of low-level superheroes who have inherited their powers from their ancestors who drank from a magic pool somewhere in the Ghost Archipelago. I liked the way the protagonists and the setting became linked. In game terms, the use of Heritor Abilities has a much more risk/reward system than magic does in Frostgrave. Also, the game tends to focus more on hand-to-hand combat than does Frostgrave.

Can Ghost Archipelago be used with the original Frostgrave? Can they be mixed up at all, such as having Heritors visit the Frozen City?

Absolutely. I didn’t write the two games to specifically be balanced with one another. In truth, I think that would be a fool’s errand. There are just too many possible combinations of wizard spells and Heritor abilities to try to balance them all against one another. That said, I think most people will generally get a good game out of a wizard vs. Heritor match-up.

This new book, as well as the others before it, hint at a much larger world. The specifics of that world are never divulged, and I’ve asked about the possibility of the world being fully uncovered before. Are you sticking with the enigmatic ‘here be dragons’ idea, keeping the larger setting vague and mysterious?

I’m afraid so! In truth, the more I write about the world (and now a few other people in novels), the more it slowly takes shape and becomes defined. So, over time we will see more and more of it, but there will still always be a large chunk that is never explained. I have no intention of writing a gazetteer or drawing a map of the world. That said, there is nothing to stop players from drawing their own maps and dropping the Frozen City in it.

What kind of support can we expect for the new rulebook? Will there be new scenarios, characters and beasts? And will there still be the same level of support for the original Frostgrave?

Osprey has said that they would like to support the game to the same level as the original. I’ve already turned in the manuscript for the first supplement, The Lost Colossus which will be out in February along with a load of new miniatures. This is a big campaign book, where the Hertiors are racing around the archipelago in search of the pieces of a giant statue that exploded long ago.

I’ve always liked the fact that the game made the characters quite personal, and that after a few levels you could get quite attached to certain creations. Will we ever see a tabletop roleplaying game, using similar stats and mechanics?

I don’t know. Certainly I’m a role-player at heart, and I think we will see more and more bits that will aid players who want to push the game in a more RPG direction, but at what point does something stop being a miniatures game and become an RPG?

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago is available now.

The Ghost Archipelago has returned. A vast island chain, covered in the ruins of ancient civilizations, the Archipelago appears every few centuries, far out in the southern ocean. At such times, pirates, adventurers, wizards, and legendary heroes all descend upon the islands in the hopes of finding lost treasures and powerful artefacts. A few, drawn by the blood of their ancestors, search for the fabled Crystal Pool, whose waters grant abilities far beyond those of normal men. It is only the bravest, however, who venture into the islands, for they are filled with numerous deadly threats. Cannibal tribes, sorcerous snake-men, and poisonous water-beasts all inhabit the island ruins, guarding their treasure hordes and setting traps for the unwary.

In this new wargame, set in the world of Frostgrave, players take on the role of Heritors, mighty warriors whose ancestors drank from the Crystal Pool. These Heritors lead their small, handpicked teams of spellcasters, rogues, and treasure hunters into the ever-shifting labyrinth of the Ghost Archipelago. Using the same rules system as Frostgrave, this standalone wargame focuses on heroes who draw on the power in their blood to perform nigh-impossible feats of strength and agility. This game also includes 30 spells drawn from five schools of magic, a host of soldier types, challenging scenarios, treasure tables, and a full bestiary of the most common creatures that inhabit the Lost Isles.

Joseph A. McCullough is the author of several non-fiction books including A Pocket History of Ireland, Zombies: A Hunter's Guide, and Dragonslayers: From Beowulf to St. George. In addition, his fantasy short stories have appeared in various books and magazines such as Black Gate, Lords of Swords, and Adventure Mystery Tales. He is also the creator of the wargame, Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, and co-wrote The Grey Mountains, a supplement for the Middle-Earth Role-Playing game. His continued ramblings can be read at: