Monday, September 5, 2016

Playing Frostgrave and Family Terrain Crafting

I don't remember where I first heard about Frostgrave, but I fell in love with the idea of a fantasy-themed skirmish-level wargame that I could play with the miniatures I already have. I have been painting for almost three years now, and so I've built up quite a collection of good-looking miniatures who never see the table. I ordered the rulebook over the summer, and my eldest son and I started a campaign. I created an Enchanter, using my Ezren miniature that I painted for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. I expected my son to go with something like an Elementalist or, given his penchant for buying undead creatures, maybe a Necromancer. He actually went with a Witch, I think in part because he had a nice Feiya miniature he painted up a while ago. To play the first game of our campaign, we simply raided the box-o'-blocks and made sure not to have long lines of sight.

First game. Watch for the Statue of the Mayor in the middle of town---the orange conical shape with red tip.
Ezren bravely hides behind a wall
We had a fantastic time, each of us securing three treasures, building strongholds, and leveling-up our wizards.

For our second game, we added some height-variation. The changes in elevation added a lot to our enjoyment. I came away with four treasures to his two, thanks to the amazing enchanter spell, telekinesis.
We actually got part of the climbing rules wrong, but we still had fun jumping and running around the multiple levels. Also, a good view of the Statue of the Mayor in the center of town.
A frost giant, played here by an Ettin, appeared right in the middle of my reserves. The archer and war dog are about to take one for the team.
Our board designs got a bit more sophisticated as we moved to our third game, and this was also where we started using scenarios from the book. This is the Worm Hunt, where there's a chance each turn of a giant Herbertesque worm emerging from the ground and attacking the treasure hunters. I feel kind of bad about this one, since a worm came up right around my son's guys, and in an amazing twist of luck, he got it down to one health. He sent in his war dog to finish it off, but missed (and the dog was eaten). I won initiative and was able to pick off the worm's one health for the XP reward. We both agreed it was lame but also that there was no good reason not to do it. He is very gracious, and I got away with four to his two again, plus two giant worm kills.

More of a ruined city, especially in the front and center areas of the right-hand side.

The view from the famous Statue of the Mayor's Dog
Our fourth game involved a scenario with a magical well in the middle of town. We envisioned it as a market center, with an old grand arch and ruins around it, including a collapsed temple and stores. My wife walked through the room and commented that this was our "best-looking" table yet. I agree!

The paper strips are Fog markers. We both have the spell and end up with a lot of fog on the board.
Around the time we started playing Frostgrave and realized we both loved it, I started looking for cheap terrain or tutorials on how to build the same. The search for the first is easy: there really isn't any "cheap" terrain. We looked at some options at the exhibit hall of GenCon, but nothing really caught my eye. I turned to YouTube and ended up watching several videos by Mel the Terrain Tutor, which were really helpful. In particular, his series about making cheap terrain using foamcore is excellent; I look forward to trying these techniques sometime, although some specific elements of his design are more modern-urban than the kind of fantasy-urban we're going for in Frostgrave. I came across Luke's APS purely by chance, and I find his cheerful demeanor infectious, and he pays special attention to making things nicely but cheaply. However, It was watching Mel's videos where I first heard about DMG and, more importantly for our purposes, DM Scotty

DM Scotty has a two-part series (part 1, part 2) on how to build cheap ruins, mostly from ruins and hot glue. Oh my, does this guy have a lot of uses for hot glue. I've used the stuff to hold my miniatures to corks for painting, but that's been the extent of my adult experience with hot glue, ... at least until a few days ago. My son and I watched his videos and decided that we would give it a shot. Family crafting time!

In the videos, DM Scotty uses two-wall corrugated board for the main body of the ruins. We only had single-wall, so we started by just gluing cardboard flats together using some white glue. I took a tip from Mel's video about cheap basing materials and turned the corrugations orthogonal to each other, hoping that this would give a solid body. Then, we set to cutting out our shapes and hitting the hot glue. For most of these steps, I went first, and my son gave it a shot next, although he would frequently remember things from the video that I didn't. In both pieces, I think we were both a bit overzealous with the vertical glue effect, reflecting our exaggerated recollection of the video: DM Scotty's is much nicer, and so shall our next pieces. We also didn't remember his trick of adding more cardboard verticals to appear like support beams on the walls. Again, a note for next time.

Mine's on the left, with the doorway cut out. It also has a small second level, which you cannot really see here.
After a trip to the store to pick up some all-purpose sand, we added texture to the pieces using white glue and sand. We also used play sand to fill in the corrugations on the side, which does indeed make the finished project look more like a ruins than like a corrugated cardboard!

I took these outside and painted them black using some black primer spray paint I have for miniatures. The weather here in Indiana is not always good for outside spraying, but we hit this at just the right time.

Next up, we used some sponge-brushes to stipple on our medium grey and light grey highlights. I dabbed much of the paint off of mine, leaving a much darker color. My son had a lot of paint in the sponge, and so even stippling, he got a lot more paint on the walls. He also took some time to paint on some cracks, but I decided to skip that step, in part because my overzealous hotgluing didn't leave a lot of central surface area.

We added some burnt grass flock that I had from painting miniatures, something I often use with my grey-rubble bases as a subtle accent. My wife pulled out some assorted mosses that she acquired for an amazing ent costume she made my second son for Halloween last year, and we used these as the finishing touches. 

Here are the final results!

While we both agree that there are things we would do differently, we are also very proud of our first terrain pieces. I'm sure we'll make time in the coming days to use these in a Frostgrave game.

I am reminded of what I wrote about when I first returned to the miniature painting hobby. When I was young and playing a lot of D&D, we didn't have a lot of resources to connect with a community of players. Now, it's amazing what you can learn from a combination of YouTube, reflective practice, and whatever your wife pulls out of the closet. I am grateful for guys like Mel, DMG, DM Scotty, and Luke for what they bring to amateurs like us—a family that enjoys playing and crafting together.



  1. They look great! And I concur about DM Scotty. His channel is excellent for terrain building. I actually carved up some new Frostgrave terrain myself out of some scrap pink foam insulation a couple days ago, and only after finishing three big pieces remembered I'll have to coat the stuff with Elmer's glue to seal them before I can safely prime and paint (insulation melts under spray primer). Bah! Should've gone with corrugated board!

    1. When I picked up the all-purpose sand at Lowe's, I scoped out the prices on foam too. I think at some point I'll pick some up and try to add some topographical interest to our boards. I also have a sheet of foamcore waiting to be sliced up, and I think it would be fun to compare the two approaches myself. There's always more projects than time!