Thursday, 22 October 2015

Frostgrave for Beginners

The Ground's Gone All White!
It's All-Skype Fight Night!

Hello and welcome to another new game system for the Woffboot Battle Report World Series! Tonight, we're delving into the wintery world of Frostgrave. I, Kraken, will represent myself Boldly...

And I, Stylus, shall be Plain as the rains in Spain.

Frostgrave has a great reputation online, not only with hardened veterans like us who remember when Mordheim was a twinkle in Necromunda's eye, but also with fresher gamers looking for a simple skirmish campaign system. 

Frostgrave Campaign
Searching for gold and glory in a ruined city? I'd say that's a completely original idea.

Low model count, snowy setting, magical duels - what's not to like? So we got the rules, set up warbands and had a crack at it. It's d20 based, so our first challenge was finding some.

I found myself lacking such resources, and so improvised using a D6 for the tens (1-3 = 0, 4-6 = 10) and a D10 for the units. I'm hoping someone with a better grasp of percentages than myself will reassure me I was rolling accurately (because it really didn't feel like it at some points of the battle).

More importantly, you can sing the Duck Tales theme song but swap in Frost Grave instead. Although you could do that with Mordheim as well, it's not as satisfying somehow. It's that soft terminal 'm', it's not as punchy.

Warband Selection

So the game starts with the selection of a Wizard, your avatar in the game, and his/her warband. There's a huge selection of spells from ten different schools of magic. Each wizard specialises in one, from which they get three spells, then a selection of three more from affiliated schools and two from neutral schools (and one you can't pick from for each kind of wiz). 

'Gold' Dolgur and his associates

I went Necromancer, because I've got this thing about siding with the bad guys in any given game. Not that they are in this, all the Wizards are plundering the recently-thawed site of a magical disaster for knowledge and cash. So we're all pretty scabby types, really. Necromancers still have a bad reputation, something to do with hanging out with dead guys a lot. 

To break the mould, I didn't take any Raise Dead type spells. A ranged Bone Dart, Steal Life to suck health points from other models and the deadly but difficult Strike Dead spell for my home spells, then a range of protective spells (Elemental Shield and Familiar), buffs (Leap and Fast Act) and out-of-game experience generators (Absorb Knowledge). Lots of tools to pick from, although a fairly aggressive Wizard overall. 

Apprentices cast all the same spells, but aren't as good with them. I bought gave mine a staff for fun, which allows slightly more defensive fighting. Then a trio of cheap cannon fodder Thugs, some nippy Thieves to go and grab treasure with, a fast Warhound for interference, and an archer and a crossbowman for ranged support. 

Slothslayer the Soothsayer (authentic)

I went with a Soothsayer (named 'Slothslayer' - a throwback to when I first read about them and had a habit of jumbling up words. When I was 7, I really did believe fortune-tellers had a sideline in killing tree-dwelling anteaters) and his Apprentice ('Claire Voyance' - see what I did there?).

As muscle. I splashed out on the gold coins to get a Man-At-Arms, hoping for some more formidable combat prowess, then four thugs for some cheap filler and a couple of archers for ranged support. So I was already going to be outnumbered, but I was interested in how our two bands would differentiate.

For spells, I took Awareness (a cheap cast to give me a permanent bump to the Initiative roll), Forget Spell (which could mess up my opponent's plans), Mind Control (which was the one I was really looking forward to), Fast Act (similarly, a cheap spell to get around the Initiative order), Invisibility (as you'd imagine), Miraculous Cure (no combat benefits, but could be very handy in the campaign phase), Enchant Armour (an armour boost) and Elemental Bolt (ranged attack).

Slothslayer the Soothsayer (proxied)

Terrain and Deployment

We were taking it easy on the rules. They're simple, with very few optional extras for a more complex game, but we decided not to use these for our first game. A standard fight is a battle over stashed loot - the winner is either the last warband standing or the one who carts the most loot away. 

Players take it in turn to place treasure counters across the board, at least 6' from each other and 9' from deployment zones. Then you roll for table edge, with the winner sticking his band down first, and then it's game on!

Almost, anyway - some wizards can cast out of game boosts and bonuses. Like my Necromancer, who had summoned a familiar to boost his health before we even started. The apprentice tried the same, and stuffed it up. Idiot. 

This photo is rotated through 90 degrees anticlockwise compared to the maps

Snowy ruins are pretty much my specialist subject in terms of terrain, and the game is supposed to work best with heaps of cover and few long sight lines. I did my best to cover the 3x3 table with rotting architecture, swamps and fencing, then we slapped out our loot and our 'bands.

Wizards and Apprentices go slightly earlier in the turn than lone soldiers, so both of us packed our leaders up with some minion bodyguards, with loners and snipers straggling on the flanks.

The red targets are where the loot is. Remember them well, because they're not showing up in later maps. 

Turn 1

Play is more or less simultaneous. You know, within the limitations of these things. Your Wizards move and can activate any nearby goons. Then Apprentices do the same, then lone troopers, then any random creatures on the board. In each of these phases, you roll off for initiative, so the turns are mixed together and there's never a long wait for your next opportunity.

There's Gold in them thar Dreadstone Blights!

My Wizard set off with his thugs and doggie, heading for the loot at the bottom of the nearby ruin. He then blessed himself with a touch of Chronomancy, a Fast Act spell, allowing him to go before everyone else next turn.

My Wizard began trying to cast Mind Control, failing the roll so badly, he lost a couple of wounds in the process. His surrounding thugs push on: two of them going for the treasure, the other one veering off to watch a flank (and putting himself out of command range for subsequent turns - I'll have to watch that).

The Soothsayer takes his meat shield into battle
Two minions in front of you gives you a better armour save against shooting. Necromancers like that. 

Likewise, the Apprentice ran onto the raised platform ahead of her, taking some cover behind the crates and barrels there while her Thug ran to grab the treasure. Her attempt to cast the same spell went very bad, burning her for a couple of health points.

Bodyguards to an incompetent. Well, it's a job.

My Apprentice went forward with the Man-At-Arms and Thug, leaving the Archer behind to take aim (and miss). She did successfully cast Awareness, so I'd be adding +1 to every Initiative roll-off (while she stayed on the table).

My loners did very little. The Archer sat tight in cover, waiting for a chance, while the two thieves dashed forward. One grabbed the nearest treasure, the other carried on towards the foe.

My Archer sniper fails to connect with his target (leaving me to ponder if missile fire is that effective, or if my rolling is just rubbish).

Turn 2

Top of turn two, and the warbands prepare to close on each other

My Necromancer got to go extra-first, thanks to his Fast Act spell. Which wasn't actually very useful - he had to leave his bodyguards behind, as they couldn't benefit from his group activation thingy during this special phase! Bah. Ah well, he could cope alone, so he nipped up the staircase ahead and went towards the loot up on the bridge, then tried to cast Elemental Shield, lost his place in the incantation, tripped on the steps and banged his knee. Ow.

My Wizard once again fails to cast Mind Control, and loses another wound (note: this shouldn't be a hard spell to cast, I'm just making heavy weather of it). One of his thugs does secure the treasure though, and starts dragging it back, while the other thug moves forward to cover him.

The Apprentice sent her Crossbow buddy into cover, as she did herself. The Thug grabbed the loot, then the other two let rip with a withering fire of bolts and Bone Darts, both aimed at the Archer in Stylus' back rank. And we nearly got her, too - eight wounds out of ten! Not quite enough. And not without cost, as the Apprentice had to empower her spell to get it to work (you can burn up to three Health points to change your casting test result).

My Apprentice pushes the Man-At-Arms into the tower and up the stairs, and sends the Thug to secure the treasure within. She also moves the third Thug who had wandered away from the Wizard's range and into hers.

She then almost casts Mind Control on the Thug in the opposing Apprentice's party - and I burn a couple of wounds to ensure it goes off. Sadly, this rare success at spellcasting is foiled when the Thug passes his Will Power test.

That's not cover at the bottom, it's a really big Treasure counter. Yes, that confused me too, that's why I ended up in the open.

One thief started slowly dragging the treasure back towards base; the other held position, ready to ambush any incoming Thugs. The Warhound advanced carefully through the bottom of the nearby tower, sniffing for foe. The Necromancer's henchthugs clambered up the tower behind him, trying to catch up, but they're still both too far behind to benefit from his command.

I'm about to send my heavily-wounded archer off the table, but then realise they're expendable and just plonk it behind heavy cover. Then both Archers decide to pick on the Thug on the bridge who had shown such commendable willpower - he's right out in the open, but I still lose both roll-offs and miss him.

Taking careful aim from his vantage point, the archer hopeless misses. 

Turn 3

Now it starts kicking off. 

Take cover!

My Necromancer spots his rival tarting about in the open at the foot of the tower. Pausing only to send his minions romping forward, he flings a Bone Dart at the poxy Soothsayer. It's a reasonable hit, but because he's already woozy from a miscast, he's left on just four wounds.

I'm starting to worry about the health of my Wizard now - if the Bone Darts don't finish him off, another bad miscast just might do it. I try to cast Invisibility on myself - and fail by three points. However, I do have a choice to burn a maximum of three wounds to boost that cast into success. So I can be unseen and untouchable, but down to just one wound. With the heart of the lion, I do just that.

On the more successful side of the spellcasting team, my Apprentice once again casts Mind Control and (having to spend another wound), successfully takes hold of the other Apprentice's Thug (hah!). I'll have to wait until the Soldier Phase to use him, but he is close enough to the Necromancer Apprentice that she can't leave without being forced into combat.

For the rest of her team, the Man-At-Arms braces himself on the end of the walkway, one Thug starts lugging treasure back, and the other moves to protect him.

Whose side are you on, anyway?

The Necromancer's Apprentice considers trying the Leap spell to get away from her hypnotised former minion, then remembers that the guy is lugging loot about and thus a little hampered in a fight. I decide to take the risk and charge in, and quickly regret it, as I'm clobbered down to one Health point. Then the Crossbowman piles in too, to try and help, and ends up in exactly the same boat. Bah!

On the other side of the field, my Thief jumps out and scrags the incoming Thug, gutting him in a quick fight. The other Thief keeps going North with his haul. Then the Archer manages to pot a couple of Health points off the Man-at-Arms climbing the tower. 

Twang! Gotcha.

Mapping error - there should only be one Thug on the bridge with the Necromancer, the other one is actually slowly dragging a big box back to my table edge. The one who really is there charges the wounded Man-at-Arms. Luck is on his side, and down goes the opponent!

So much for the superior combat of my Man-At-Arms! My Wizard's Thug continues to drag his treasure back to the table edge. My two Archers shoot into the melee of Hypnotised Thug, Regular Thug and Necromancer's Apprentice (the hit is randomised, but I don't really care who goes down). Fortunately, I get the Apprentice both times, but unfortunately, not hard enough to damage her.

I may also fight a round of combat with my Hypnotised Thug, but I think everyone is so confused by that stage, the combat gets drawn.

Turn 4

The Necromancer lurches towards his homebase, carting a pile of snatched treasures back along the rickety archway. 

My Soothsayer flits around the treasure-hauling Thug, invisible, but still able to give moral support to push him closer to the table edge. I'm not risking any spells with him, so he's even less effective than usual.

In a crazed melee, the injured Apprentice attempts to take out her entranced follower but gets finished off for her pains. Luckily, her crossbowman manages to finish the job. I'd cheer, except I've just knocked one of my own men out of the fight. Dammit. 

My Apprentice's party gives up any hope of challenging for that third treasure token, and hauls out of the tower with their treasure token while the Necromancer's boys close in.

My loot bearers continue trekking for safety. The spare Thief tries to chase down the Thug with the treasure ahead of her, and her Archer buddy tries some supportive fire. There's too much cover in the way, though, and he doesn't connect. 

My two Archers find that the Nercomancer now represents their best target and loose on the wizard in the open. However, neither of them manage to connect.

In the middle, the Warhound lopes into position, ready to tackle any of the enemy Thugs who try to leave with loot. And the final Thug sprints down the stairs and gives the Soothsayer's Apprentice a game bash on the head, not quite finishing her off but making a damn good start of it. Unhappily, this leaves him pretty open to being piled on...

One more good hit should do it...

Ah, but you brought friends.

Turn 5

Cheerfully, the Necromancer dives off the end of the stairs and into heavy cover. Another attempt at an Elemental Shield (nobody else here to shoot at) goes awry, and I'm down a bit more health. 

To the Victor, the spoils! Now to change my name to Victor.

I get two loot tokens off the board in this turn, and one more on the way in the arms of the boss. That's half - if I can get one more, I've got a chance of winning this. 

My Soothsayer leaves his Thug to run to the finish line and flits off to support (as much as he can, still being invisible), the main party.

The badly injured Crossbowman limps out of cover, over the bodies of his one-time comrades, and claims a fourth treasure token. This leaves him in plain sight of both the enemy archers, but nuts to it. Faint hearts never got shafted in the open won fair maiden. 

These shattered torsos were once my friends.
Centrally, the Warhound gets clobbered. Actually, this may have happened in the mayhem of the previous turn, I lost track a bit what with all those dead Thugs. 

Down, Shep.

With the Warhound gone, my Thug is free to pile into the Necromancer's Thug that was bothering my Apprentice. Add in the other Thug that was supporting her, and I have this guy outnumbered three-to-one (which gives me a very healthy whack to my combat bonus).

Sadly, things do not go according to plan: the Necromancer's Thug wins all three bouts of combat, knocking out my Apprentice and one Thug, and putting wounds on the last one.

Finally, my Thief catches up with the load-bearing Thug on the West flank. And is immediately butchered for her pains. 

It was a long sliding tackle over the tundra. A sprain was inevitable.

Turn 6-7

The invalid Crossbowman continues plodding along under heavy fire, until the Necromancer takes pity on him and grants him a flea-like Leap off the board. Shortly after, the Necro himself trots away, safely out of range of the distant Soothsayer and his Archers.

My westernmost Thug finally makes it off the table, bagging my first bit of treasure. My central Thug finally manages to put down the Thug that  fought so heroically last turn. He proceeds to pick up the discarded treasure and make his own way off the table.

In a crucial roll of Initiative, the Necromancer's Crossbowman goes before my Archers, and is thus able to move out of bowshot before I can take any more shots at him.

My own Archer cheerfully retires, with nobody to shoot at and no reason to stay. 

There's no realistic way to catch or engage with any enemy model, so we call the battle there.

What about us? You could shoot at us.


Well, 'Gold' Dolgur has the lion's share of the loot, so that makes him the winner. Obviously, this pleases me, but there's the inconvenience of the long game here. I've taken more casualties, perhaps inevitably given I took a larger warband. 

Luck remains with me, though (I shall rue this next week) - nobody is permanently hurt. One of the Thugs will miss a game, presumably the miscreant turncoat as he sits in a cellar and considers where his loyalties lie.

All four of my casualties make it through as well, although I will miss a Thug and that useless Man-At-Arms as they recover during the next bout. Which means I'm still going to be outnumbered.

Each Treasure recovered gets you experience as well as spoils. I roll a pair of potions, quite a decent haul of cash (about 400 coins) and a Grimoire of Exploding Runes which I shall learn at later leisure. Ascending to Level 2 in one fell swoop, I improve my fight stat and my mastery of the Strike Dead spell, which I fully intend to become a signature move once I've got any chance of casting it.

With only two Treasure chests to plunder, I get less - although some decent rolls on the table help to balance that out: 230 coins, 2 x Potions of Invulnerability, 1 x Elixir of Speed and a Grimoire of Destructive Sphere (aka The Holy Hand Grenade).

I only get enough experience to get to Level 1 and I use it to improve my mastery of  Mind Control - clearly my guy needs it.

Then we move the Warband into an inn - after your first game, you pick a base. There's plenty to choose from, including Laboratories that give you free experience after every match or Temples that aid your healing spells. The Inn allows me to hire one extra minion beyond the usual limit of ten, and I splash out on a mighty Barbarian to bolster my combat lineout. He's big and hard-hitting but poorly armoured. At five times the cost of a Thug, I'm not sure he's entirely worth it, but every good Necromancer needs a powerfully muscled dope as a henchman. It's in the handbook.

I relocate to a Temple, which boosts my cast of Miraculous Cure, should I need it. I also hire a new lackey in the form of a Treasure Hunter, since that was also a failing of mine this time around.

Locker Room

Good game! The combat is quick and easy, if perhaps a little over-dependent on random numbers. But that's wargaming for you, right? Can't grumble about that. 

Yes, it's a thumbs-up from me. I could definitely get into a campaign of this.

The spells are where this shone for me. Loads to choose from, but with such a simple system you don't get bogged down. The Wizard, being the only model in your team who really levels up, is the one making all the difference, so they stay the star of the show. Not like Mordheim, where some jumped-up noob could end up being the new boss. 

Perhaps I miss some of that detail? Well, maybe, just a touch. It's a different game, though. Your mooks here are just that, and that's no problem for me. I'd happily play this again, it's a good system and plenty of fun.

I could also see it being even more fun (and not really much slower or more complicated) with more than two players facing off against each other, something that GW games systems always struggle with. The 'simultaneous' turn sequence is more flexible, so a three-way rumble wouldn't take extra planning. Potential for the days to come, I think!

On reflection, what really shone for me was the sequence of play: having roll-offs for each phase (Wizard, Apprentice, Soldier) seems to be a decent merger of the UGO-IGO system and simultaneous play. The fact that there are spells to get around the order, and you can push soldiers into an earlier phase (assuming you plan ahead) makes me think that there could be a real knack to stealing a march on your opponent.

So it's a fun game, a decent setting and plenty of scope for building warbands from miscellaneous models (a Beastman as a barbarian? a Dwarf as a treasure hunter?). Lots of customisation potential. Glad I finally started experimenting with snow bases.