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:

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