Joseph A. McCullough hit the table top world in a big way with the release of Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City in 2015. Frostgrave earned multiple awards and a loyal following since its publication. Mr. McCullough followed up Frostgrave's launch with several folios, novels, and accessories.
His follow-up setting, Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago, saw publication in 2017, introducing a sunny local and pirates to the game. McCullough's released his newest setting, Rangers of Shadow Deep on November second, which is currently the number one game on RPGNow.
Bleeding Cool: Thanks for joining us, Joseph! What can you tell us about your newest game, Rangers of Shadow Deep?
Joseph A. McCullough: Thanks for the invite! Rangers of Shadow Deep is a solo & co-operative fantasy skirmish war game, set in a kingdom that literally stands on the brink of destruction. The vast realm known as the Shadow Deep keeps collapsing kingdoms and covering them in dark shadows, and your kingdom is next. The players take on the role of 'rangers', who are kind of like the special forces warriors of the kingdom. In the game, they are assigned missions to gather information, rescue prisoners, fight a delaying action, and generally explore and battle against the Shadow Deep and the numerous evil creatures that flood op from it.
The goal in design was to see if I could push skirmish war-gaming one more step towards role-playing, and thus the game utilizes a few things not generally seen in war-gaming, such as skill tests, hidden information, and even a bit of freedom to choose the next step in a campaign.
BC: Is Rangers a stand-alone game, or does it tie in to Frostgrave in some way?
McCullough: Rangers is a completely stand-alone game, so you don't need to own or even have played Frostgrave to give it a try. It does use some of the core Frostgrave mechanics, although it expands upon them. That said, a lot of the same monsters that appear in Frostgrave also pop up in Rangers… always nice to have another excuse to use the minis you've already painted!
BC: You say that Rangers is a solo or cooperative game experience. How does that work?
McCullough: The game is designed for 1-4 players. Each player creates a ranger, which is more like creating an RPG character. Each ranger can then recruit a number of companions based on the number of players. So, if you are playing solo, your ranger can recruit a maximum of 7 companions, if you are playing with 4 players, each ranger can only have 1 companion.
The players then choose a mission, which consists of 1 or more scenarios. Each scenario is a separate game, and they can vary greatly. In the first mission you are sent to find a missing ranger, which involves exploring a deserted village. You have to search for clues, but as you do so, a bunch of zombies attack. In 'Burning Light', the last mission in the book, you are sent to look for an ancient healing artifact in the ruins of a convent in the Shadow Deep. This mission utilizes a map. The players can choose the order to explore the ruins, with each area being its own scenario. The order they explore matters because the longer they stay, the more the Shadow Deep becomes aware of their presence and bad things start to happen. Hopefully, the rangers can move fast and find enough clues to determine where the artifact has been hidden.
BC: It was fun watching the development of Rangers on your blog, and I was excited to see that the game focused on my favorite fantasy archetype. Are players able to make characters that "bend" the Ranger trope in any way, or is it a strictly 'hoods and arrows' type of thing?
McCullough: Character creation allows for a huge variety, and you can create a 'ranger' that looks more like any of the classic kind fantasy adventurer types. You could easily make a wizard, cleric, paladin, knight, thief… or a classic Aragorn type ranger. The term 'Ranger' here is more about their position in the service of the kingdom than a specific skill set.
BC: You are self-publishing Rangers digitally instead of going the traditional publication route. What brought that decision about?
McCullough: A lot of reasons really, the biggest one, I guess, was just to try something new. I've had a couple of games published in the traditional manner, and that has been a great experience, and my publisher Osprey Games are great to work with. But, I also wanted a place that I could experiment and create without any limitations or boundaries. With Rangers I have no publication schedule. I can write a supplement of any length. So, if I feel like writing just a single scenario, I can release that. If I want to write a major expansion, I can go that way.
It also allowed me the freedom to choose who I work with, especially the artist, Barrett Stanley, and the graphic designer, Steve Meyer-Rassow.
BC: The artwork in Rangers is really striking. How did you find Barrett Stanley?
McCullough: Barrett is one of my oldest friends. We met in high school and very soon were spending many weekends together. We had a garage band, and we did a lot of role-playing. Barrett used to draw all of our characters for us. Twenty-five years later, I am in a different country, but we still try to see each other whenever we can.
One of the reasons to create Rangers was to have an excuse to work with Barrett on a big project. As you said, the artwork is really striking, and I knew if I could get his work in front of a wider gaming audience, they would love it. If you want to see more of Barrett's work, although in a somewhat different style, you should check out his self-published comic book, Heartbreak Quadrant. He's got two issues out and is working on a third.
BC: What else do you have in the works for the gaming world, if you don't mind sharing?
McCullough: I'm pretty busy! So, I'm working on the first supplement for Rangers, called Temple of Madness. I've got a new Ghost Archipelago supplement, Cities of Bronze, coming out in the not too distant future, and I'm working on a new Frostgrave supplement. Just to top it off, I have spent a good chunk of the last year working on Oathmark, a mass-battle fantasy game to be published by Osprey to accompany their Oathmark miniature line being jointly produced with North Star Military Figures.
BC: Congratulations on the successful launch of Rangers of Shadow Deep, Joseph! Thanks so much for taking a few minutes to talk with us!
McCullough: My pleasure!
Thanks again to Joseph A. McCullough for taking the time to chat with us.
Rangers of Shadow Deep is currently available at your favorite online games retailer. Plans are in the works for a Kindle and Print on Demand options. Frostgrave, Ghost Archipelago, and Oathmark miniatures are available at your local friendly gaming store, and if they don't carry it, they can probably order it for you!