There are a few words in the English language that always throw me for a loop. I just look at them, and it takes me a few seconds to fully process what the word means, how it is pronounced, and how to leverage it. I suspect this is because I tend to read words to myself with an inner voice; that is, I say the word in my mind as I read it. “Apotheosis” and “conscious” are examples of this. Even when the concepts are simple, or the words are common, it’s just a relationship I have with language that I find myself paying special attention to certain words.
I suppose being harassed about your accent as a child will do that to you. When you’re the only one from the hills of Tennessee in your family, people tend to point out your pronunciation. Something else about Tennessee is that you don’t have many island chains, so you don’t really get the opportunity to say the word “archipelago” in common discussions.
To hear of an upcoming release of a new setting and ruleset for Frostgrave was thrilling. To find out I had a copy waiting on me made me ecstatic. To discover an additional book — I nearly swooned. To realize I was going to be bombarded by one of “Those Words” because of the inherent setting, well… guess I needed the practice.
The release of the ruleset for Frostgrave Ghost Archipelago is to be supplemented by a collection of short stories, “Tales of the Lost Isles,” a set of nine short stories and one in-game scenario totaling around 300 pages of swashbuckling wonder. The line-up for the authors is impressive. If you’ve read anything from a variety of sci-fi and fantasy settings, you are probably going to recognize at least a few of the authors. This familiarity is going to give you a variety of styles and tones to delve through, while leaving open the potential to expose you to someone you may not have previously read.
The stories are self-contained, and most are easy to parse. One author has a way with words that makes my head spin a little, and I forgot the beginning of the sentence by the time I got to the end. Others flow more smoothly from beginning to end.
The only thing that connected each story was the setting, the fabled Ghost Archipelago. A swath of the map that draws anyone looking for fame, fortune, or power. This draws a variety of swashbucklers, magic slingers, souped-up super-types, and the poor shmucks that get hired to do whatever the previous three don’t want to do. The folks that get drawn out to explore the Ghost Archipelago are drawn from the world of Frostgrave. Even if you aren’t already familiar with that universe, you’ll find analogues to knights, crusaders, general fighters, thieves, and wizards. Whether or not you have spent time in Frostgrave and its inhabitants, it is incredibly accessible. Almost any fantasy fan will find ways to connect to the environment and its motley inhabitants.
Unfortunately, that familiarity can be one of its downfalls as well. It is so easy to find connections that it can begin to feel lackluster. When looking at the world, a fighter is a fighter and a wizard is a wizard, and the special wrinkles that make the setting matter get a little lost. The collection is an attempt to shed some light into this world, where many tabletop gamers throw warbands against each other in a constant struggle for power. The authors all have the power and ability to invoke certain images to mind with their writing, and they’re mostly very effective. There are specific examples I still visualize and wouldn’t mind seeing a scenario written for them. One of my favorite moments in the collection is a character receiving a letter from someone in a location from the original Frostgrave collection. More of those tie-ins would have made for a stronger collection, and there wasn’t much else that pulled this series into line with the greater world. Absent that connection, everything felt isolated. This will be fine for folks not looking for incredible depth in that world, but for those who are seeking more, you might find yourselves disappointed. That said, because there isn’t much world content for this mysterious place, fans will probably be willing to take whatever they can get.
One of the series’ strengths is its variety of perspectives. You are not always following the most obviously powerful person in the pack. You also get to see a variety of magic users you might recognize from the rulebook. Although I was disappointed they didn’t get to shine a bit more. Out of the 5 “branches” of magic possible, some felt over-represented and some didn’t get much of a spotlight. It seemed that the writers were trying to represent every possible type of participant as best as possible, and they were effective.
Overall though, it’s a series of quick, pulpy, pirate-filled adventures focusing on a variety of characters from this universe. For fans of Errol Flynn movies, Indiana Jones types, scrappy seat-of-their-pants survivors, or any similar specimen, this is a worthwhile and entertaining read.