Sunday, July 3, 2016

Tried out Frostgrave... A bit of frustrating D20 swinginess, but there is something there..

Thirty years ago, I never really got into AD&D as I was always more into space opera RPGs like Traveller, Star Trek and Star Wars.. and yet as a kid I did love Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword magazine, so RPGing fantasy was always in the back of my mind. I think I played only a session or two of AD&D (I believe the "Advanced" part of AD&D is now dropped for some reason). I hated TSR as a kid though I can't remember now why, so not much AD&D for me.. The later incarnations with their D20 mechanic as well I didn't like either.

Anyway, that itch was never scratched, though I remember buying Ars Magica, an RPG where you play a Wizard, and have non-magic user troopers as your NPCs.

Never did play that either.

However, I have been hearing a lot of enthusiasm for Frostgrave by Osprey Games on certain podcasts, so I bought the rule book (beautiful by the way in terms of production values) and convinced my friend Jeff to get it as well.

Frostgrave seems to have the same premise as the old Ars Magica.. you play a Wizard and control a bunch of troopers. However, with Frostgrave, an ancient lost-in-time frozen-under-the-ice Atlantis-esque city is dethawing and is filled with magical artifacts that wizards from across the land are trying to pillage for themselves.

Enthusiastically, I painted my Frostgrave warband (as discussed here) and even the treasure tokens (which I forgot to bring along for today's session).

The game has interesting in-between sessions, where you level up and purchase weapons, grimoires, magical items, troopers and even lairs and furniture that help during the game (e.g. telescopes, etc), depending on how much loot you bring back ..

I sat down with my friend Jeff today and tried out two standard game sessions with him (e.g. not one of the official scenarios).

Rolled up my warband of the Necromancy school and even gave my wizard a name, a name I thought up 30 years ago but never got to play.... Nicolades.. (pronounced neekolaaydeees)

We built the city up and placed our warband out in game 1. Jeff did not have as much fantasy buildings, but they looked close enough..

However, he managed to snag this very morning some Heroscape ice terrain which went well with the frozen city of Frostgrave, so we threw that in as well.

My Necromancer, Apprentice and Warband, including an off-game Zombie that I added.
 I played in game 1 a Necromancy warband and Jeff an Enchanter one...

Jeff's seemed to outnumber me right from the beginning, conjuring up animal familiars and small and large constructs, totalling 9 vs my 6 guys..

Jeff's warband

I didn't seem to mind as I thought, whatevs, I can do it..


I started off bravely enough, apprentice and troopers (treasure hunter and zombie) on the right..

and Wizard, treasure hunter, man-at-arms on the left, and a crossbowman covering the middle.. 

On the right, I could see Jeff coming through the alleyways with his animal familiar, a bear, and the large construct, but there was some rough terrain that I had hoped would slow him down..

By turns 3 and 4, I was holding my own at first..

I used a bone-dart spell on the bear and managed to only damage 5 points from it's 14, but in no way was I stopping it as my D20 roll was not that high enough..

And then Jeff used the "leap" spell to send a guy over just as I reached a treasure token..

What was worrisome was on the left..Jeff had a very fast feline and a small construct that I tried to cover with my crossbowman when it came down ...

while I rushed forward on the left to get the treasure quickly..

Now came the doozy that effectively thwarted me for the rest of the session..

Jeff previously rolled Strength spells and such, so his feline and construct were suped-up.

At the same time, my crossbowman missed the construct bearing down as I rolled a damn 1 in a Dice Hall of Shame moment..

and already, the feline was on top of my treasure hunter and killed him thanks to the D20 right off the bat.

Boom....dead in one roll, and it's only like turn 3.... If memory serves, he rolled a modified 24 or such and I rolled close, say a 17, which meant he hit.. However, now his 24 is subtracted from my Treasure hunter's Armour of  11, (not the 17 I rolled) for 13 hit points. The guy only had health of 12, so he's dead as a doorbell..

Yeah, that's how bad the D20 is.. Even if in a contest of Fighting rolls you lose by 1, if the other player rolls high enough, it is your armour value that gets subtracted to determine damage, not by how you rolled.


I remember now why I never liked the D20 stuff..

No, no, but that is not the worst of it.. See that circled enemy guy...Jeff had him near the building on the left that I thought would take two turns for him to get to me as there was some rough terrain, but then he used the "leap" spell to jump all over the place, bypassing everything to land right beside my Wizard in one fell swoop.. Two or three turns into the session, by having an enemy trooper beside my wizard, I couldn't use any spells as we were now in combat..

With my dead treasure hunter, the guy in red and the feline teamed up and took out my goddamn Wizard who couldn't get away nor cast a spell (as combat precludes both)..

My wizard with both these guys on him was killed in the next turn..

I conceded the game.. I was completely shut down in just 3 turns..

In game 2, I rolled up a warband with the same minis, but this time a Soothsayer one and we arranged the city differently..

I tried to use 2 spells on turn 1 one by my apprentice and one by my mage, and they both failed it.. Thanks to the poor D20 rolls, they both took damage for that.

Frustration was rising on my part.. 

On turn 2, ditto.. they both failed their rolls badly and took health damage.

Blood pressure rising now..

However, by turn 2, I had my crossbowman cover the right side and was well positioned behind a ruined building, and my wizard to cover the middle behind another wall.. Both were behind cover, but could see through windows..

Jeff once again used his fast feline on my left..

However, I got to a building on the left with my apprentice and two troopers first..

If anyone was going to come down on the left, both my wizard and apprentice were going to attack or mind control him.. For good measure, I rolled on the invisibility spell on my apprentice in case that feline got there before I could climb on the second story for that treasure.. But, I failed my D20 roll and was still visible and took damage for that effort.

Then Jeff at a long distance used a bone dart on my apprentice and rolls very well on his D20.. so much so, that he kills my apprentice..







I miss my bone dart rolls except for one hit on the bear in the previous game, which only gave 5 points of damage, while Jeff does it just once and spectacularly kills me on one shot.

That's it.. I was done and called it a night frustratingly. It was nearly midnight and told Jeff this game with the D20 was very very swingy.. Very deadly and such..

The D20 mechanic is a killer, with rolls all over the goddamn place, with lots of insta-kills.. This is not AD&D, where some gamemaster can soothe things over with bad rolls... Bad D20 rolls in this game are brutal with no one around to take the edge off.

I can well imagine people, like in RPGs, getting attached to their wizard and becoming enraged down the road when they are killed with all of their experience down the drain thanks to the swinginess of a D20.

Anyways, after my blood pressure goes down, I will try this again, but today's first sessions were just brutal for me. However, there is something to this game.. more tactical depth than I imagined.

I realize now I made some mistakes.. I spent too much gold on expensive troopers like treasure hunters and the apprentice, when I should have stuck to the wizard and have mostly cheap 20 gold piece thugs as cannon fodder, at least until my wizard can level up.

Not having a lot of troopers, I was forced to move my apprentice and wizard too far up, which left them vulnerable..

Lastly, I also choose the harder spells, when I should have picked the lamer but easier ones at I was just a beginner wizard..

Frostgrave will thus be tried again despite today's fiasco.. 


  1. Looks like a cool game... lovely painted minis!

  2. Must be doubly frustrating given the amount of prep time invested in it. I think the thing that keeps my interest in mini tabletop games so low is that it is mostly just maneuver and combat whereas a good board game will have other VP objectives as well as cards and other elements to provide more depth.

  3. And yet Jim, I am losing interest in 2D boardgames.. maybe it's my desire to do more modeling.