Frostgrave is a surprising breath of fresh air. Anyone who has had anything to do with role-playing in the last thirty years cannot help but recognise the feel and much of the detail of the work. To me it is probably the best distillation of classic D&D that I have seen, and I have been trying to keep up with the mass of OSR retro-clones that have appeared – and have even tried to play a few.
Certainly it is not 1st edition AD&D. It’s not even the three white books. It is something purer than that: it is probably a lot closer to what the original wargaming guys had in mind when they asked themselves, ‘what do the heroes of our big battle games do in the weekends?’ And the answer is go on adventures in the ruins of ancient civilisations.
Frostgrave is set in a Medieval/Renaissance tech level, European fashions, and this if nothing else has caused most commentators to label it as a reboot of Mordheim. The comparisons are obvious and one would be silly not to recognise that. But I think that there is more to it. I believe that this particular interpretation is a concession to the market: a necessary leader to get people talking and buying.
There are two AD&D settings that I always wanted to play. The first was Maztica, an Aztec inspired setting. The second was Al Qadim, an Arabian Nights setting.
When I hear, ‘city lost for a thousand years after a magical cataclysm’, I think of Arabian Nights. I think of evil sorcerers and of malicious genies. I see a vibrant city suddenly snapped into the desert where it is consumed by the sand for 1,000 years as an act of spite by some powerful force. And I see 1,000 years later it suddenly reappears, being revealed by the wind, rising from the dust, magnificent with its palaces and fountains and gardens. But the inhabitants are dead, of course, or transformed – no longer human.
That’s what I see when I think of Frostgrave: I think of Sandtomb. I think of Caroline Munro in Sinbad, of Ray Harryhausen and all the stop motion magic that made my youth and informed my ideas of fantasy.
That is my project: to interpret this game in an Arabian Nights, specifically Al Qadim, flavour. This is exactly how the story of Aladdin progresses: intelligent sorcerer recruits idiot to do the dangerous stuff so that he can get the magical loot.