08 July 2022
What happens when a Gloomhaven fan project gets out of hand? Let’s find out with The Crimson Scales
Words by Christopher John Eggett
Fan projects are often really about paying tribute to something you love. Whether that’s new characters, scenarios, games and so on – it’s all about saying how much you loved the original. Most people who feel this passionately might create a few scenarios and share them on Board Game Geek. There’s a line that gets crossed however when you’ve gone beyond homebrewing some rules and you’re making a whole game that’s two-thirds the size of the original. And when the original is Gloomhaven, you know you’ve really gone overboard.
We chat to the creators about putting together this mammoth fangame, now on its second printing, the generosity of Gloomhaven designer Isaac Childres, and how exactly The Crimson Scales got so out of hand.
Who are you? Can you introduce yourself?
Nick Sims: We are a group of Gloomhaven fans who met on a Discord server for producing custom content. The main person behind the project is Motti Eisenbach, known in the Gloomhaven community as boardgame613. As well as designing several of the characters, he is the main person responsible for producing The Crimson Scales.
My name is Nick Sims, I’m from the UK and I joined the predominantly US-based team a little later to build a story around Motti’s scenarios. This is the first writing of this kind that I’ve done (I sell accounting software for a living!) but it’s something I’d love to do more of.
Tim Tesstor used his professional graphic design skills to great effect to create new character cards, item cards and to lay out the rule book in an easily accessible way. Everything in The Crimson Scales has crossed his desk at some point.
The character art was commissioned from Alexandr Elichev. His work will be immediately recognisable, as he did all the art for Gloomhaven.
The people known as Dysent, Quasilocal and Disciple all contributed character classes, and many, many people have been involved in the hundreds of hours of testing that each character has received. It’s been very much a team effort.
What is The Crimson Scales?
NS: The Crimson Scales is an unofficial expansion for Gloomhaven. Set just after the original game, it contains 66 new scenarios and 11 new characters (with miniatures), as well as new items, monsters and conditions. It uses the map tiles, monsters and attack modifier decks from Gloomhaven, but it is not a small add-on; it weighs about 5kg and is about two-thirds the size of the original game.
How did the project come about?
NS: There has been an active community of people making custom content for Gloomhaven even before the game came out. Isaac Childres made everything included in Gloomhaven free to use as long as no commercial gain is made under a Creative Commons licence and ran a contest to design scenarios following the initial Kickstarter.
Once the game was released and people realised the potential of the world, this community also started making custom characters. These go through a rigorous testing process involving countless hours of playtesting, including by playtesters of Frosthaven.
Can you tell us a bit about how it grew to the size is it?
NS: I think it was mainly due to no-one saying ‘Do you think we’re getting a bit carried away here?’
It was originally intended to be a bit of fun and to be released online as either a print and play or on a Tabletop Simulator mod. However, as Frosthaven got delayed, and the pandemic gave some of us more free time we had an opportunity to do more. The motivation largely came from the Gloomhaven community though – as we started to post characters on BGG or TTS, people would give really nice feedback and ask if they could get a printed version. Motti had commissioned some art and it seemed like it would be wasteful not to bring it to as many people as possible. From that point, it just snowballed – we originally had four scenarios, but we kept having fun and we had more stories to tell. Once it became clear that there might be enough interest to do a print run, there was no turning back.
Talk us through a few of the new mechanics and characters – what makes this ‘new’?
Motti Eisenbach: The characters each take the original Gloomhaven player mechanics and add a new twist. For example, the Orchid Chieftain class is a summoner, but has the ability to ‘mount’ and ride around its summons. The Quatryl Bombard, surrounded by cannons, can shoot out delayed ‘Projectile’ attacks. Each class brings a
new twist to the mechanical foundation laid out by Gloomhaven in a way never experienced before.
And what are you most proud of personally?
NS: For me it’s simple – seeing a board game with my name on it has been a dream of mine for a long time. To get to do that within the world of Gloomhaven and with a great bunch of people has been incredible.
This an ‘officially sanctioned’ expansion – if not official – how did you interact with the ‘canon’ of the world?
NS: For the characters, it was important to all the creators that they fitted with the races that Isaac created. We wanted to introduce new mechanics and roles, but still be true to the original canon - so you won’t see the small but technically skilled Quatryls as tanks, or Aesther’s forgetting their innate ability to manipulate the elements.
From a story point of view, the idea we always had was that we wanted it to be ‘more Gloomhaven’ rather than something new. That means that it takes place in areas that are familiar to fans of the original, and follows the same tropes (spoiler: the story opens when the party are approached in a tavern by someone shifty). It does contain a couple of callbacks to characters from the original too.
There’s also a very neat appearance from a Frosthaven character – I asked Isaac about a particular role in Gloomhaven and he told me about this person – it’ll be great for those who’ve played The Crimson Scales to see them appear in Frosthaven!
We’re used to seeing fanmade expansion content in RPGs, but it’s rarer to see it in board games – what makes the Gloomhaven world worth expanding?
NS: Mechanically, there are tools which make designing great looking scenarios really easy, and the card system that is used in Gloomhaven just has so many possibilities for character design. As for the theme, it’s just such a great world to write for. The physical world is relatively familiar to most fantasy fans, but with these unique and interesting races, and lots of room for creating fun and interesting characters within it.
Will people be able to complete this before Frosthaven lands?
NS: The original aim for The Crimson Scales was to give people ‘more Gloomhaven’ and some extra content before Frosthaven, so I hope people can finish it before the new game arrives. The first print run of The Crimson Scales is arriving in June, and I believe Frosthaven is currently due to ship in September, so it probably won’t be delivered until October or November. That should mean that a committed group has time to finish it. We are doing a second print run too, so while that might arrive after Frosthaven, the characters are compatible with all official games.
NS: During this project, we learned a lot about game design and development, not to mention sales, marketing, production and shipping – in other words, everything involved in being a board game publisher! We’ve decided to use our experience to form our own company – Addax Games – with our first game, Rove, heading for crowdfunding this Autumn.
We didn’t want to stray too far away from what we knew, so Rove is also a thinky dungeon crawler, but is very much its own world, and with some unique mechanisms we’re very excited about. We’ve brought in some new people, and The Crimson Scales team are back, including Alexandr Elichev. It’s been great to see him create amazing artwork outside of the Gloomhaven world.
You can order the second printing at www.thecrimsonscales.com
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