FARSIGHT GAMES

Monday, 5 November 2018

[Interview] Joseph A. McCullough and 'Rangers of Shadow Deep'

Joseph A. McCullough bought us the excellent 'Frostgrave' and 'Ghost Archipelago' skirmish games, and now he delves into dark fantasy with 'Rangers of Shadow Deep'.

I had a quick chat with Joseph about the new game.

'A kingdom stands on the brink of destruction, as the vast realm called the Shadow Deep slowly swallows everything in its path. As the army fights to contain the tide of evil creatures teeming up out of the black clouds, the kingdom’s best soldiers, the rangers, must venture down into the shadows to gather information, rescue prisoners, and ambush enemy supply lines. It is a desperate fight against overwhelming odds, but every little victory brings another day of hope.

Rangers of Shadow Deep is a solo and co-operative tabletop miniatures game, in which players create their ranger, gather companions, and play through a series of missions in their fight to hold back the darkness. If their rangers survive, they will grow in power and ability, and be sent on more difficult, dangerous and intricate assignments.

This book also includes the first supplement for the game, Burning Light. In this mission, the rangers must venture to ruined convent, searching for an ancient artefact. As they choose what order to explore the ruins, and thus the order in which scenarios are played, they must gather clues to the artefact’s location. But they must be quick, for the longer they remain, the more the forces of the Shadow Deep become aware of their presence.'

'Rangers of Shadow Deep' is now available at RPGnow.com and is already making a splash. What was the genesis of the game?

It really started with the words ‘Shadow Deep’. It just popped into my head one day, and then I started wondering what it was. Once I started to realize what a dangerous place it was, I started to wonder who would go down there…hence the rangers. For a while now, I’ve been interested in seeing if I could push wargaming a bit closer to role-playing and to see if I could write a game that really worked for solo and cooperative play. While I could have done this with one of the games I’ve already created, I thought it would be easier to build such a game from scratch than to tack it onto an existing game. So, it was just a case of putting my new setting idea with my game design ambitions.

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You describe it as a 'solo and co-operative tabletop miniatures game'; what makes 'Rangers of Shadow Deep' different from all the other miniature games available?

I think Rangers really is a hybrid wargame/rpg. You still play the game by pushing figures around on the table, but it isn’t all just about fighting. Some missions are about gathering information, solving little puzzles, rescuing people, and exploring the Shadow Deep. Skills play a big role in the game, and some of the missions use hidden information, so that players really are forced to explore.

Also, the game has a real narrative to it. This is reflected in how the characters grow and develop during the campaign, but also that the world is growing with them. Each mission pushes the whole narrative a little further.

Your previous games are the award winning 'Frostgrave' and the fun 'Ghost Archipelago'. They were very focused player vs player games, so how did you approach the design of this co-operative game?

I have used those games to experiment with solo and cooperative, and those experiments taught me a lot. However, in both of those games, the protagonists can use their powers an unlimited number of times. I think for solo play, it is much more interesting to give the heroes limited powers, than can only be used once each scenario. This brings a lot more decision-making into the game. Do I cast this spell now, or do I save it for later? Also, by adding skills to the system, it means there are a lot more ways to interact with the table. Want to go into that house – you need to make a Pick Lock Roll to open the door, or a Strength Roll to break it down. It forces the player to really think about which figures he is going to send to which areas of the table.

Finally, I wanted to make sure that each game is really telling a story, and that the players feel like they are part of that story. Rangers of Shadow Deep is about a war, and the player have a real chance to effect the outcome of that war.

The game leans much further towards defined characters, making them more than just a playing piece on the tabletop. How can 'Rangers of Shadow Deep' be used as an RPG?

In truth, I think Rangers sits right on that line where RPGs and Wargames meet. You could actually discard the miniatures and I think you would still have a pretty robust set of RPG rules. If you added a games master you could easy expand the game to include what happens between the specific missions. The ‘world’ is a little bit lite at the moment compared to most RPGs, but that will change.

Is there a larger world to explore? Will there be supplements and additions in the future to expand on the kingdom and the lore?

Absolutely. I’ve nearly finished the first supplement, Temple of Madness, which expands some of the magic rules and includes a 4-scenario mission. We learn a little bit more about the Kingdom of Alladore in it, and a bit more about the Shadow Deep as well. And that’s how I plan to approach it - little by little. That way the players get to learn more about the world in the same time that their characters will be learning about it as well.

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The background to the game is really intriguing and somewhat dark; is the game solely for use in the world you have created or can it be used in other ways?

I think the world would be a great setting for an anthology of sword and sorcery or dark fantasy short stories. And, as we talked about above, it would be very easy to convert the game over to a true RPG. I have even spoken with a couple of people about using it as the basis for a board game. I think there are a lot of directions it could go, but for the moment, I want to finish up work on the core game. We are still working on getting the print-on-demand set-up, and getting Temple of Madness ready to go.

Images used with permission