A hugely ambitious fan project for Gloomhaven has blossomed into a staggering expansion featuring dozens of new scenarios, a fresh cast of original characters, artwork from the board game’s illustrator and a blessing from its creator, Isaac Childres.
The Crimson Scales grew out of a community Discord server where fans of the 2017 dungeon-crawler would post custom-made content for the board game, including homebrewed scenarios and characters. Gloomhaven creator Isaac Childres released the original game’s assets under a Creative Commons licence, allowing creators to make and share their own creations for free.
A number of fan-made characters and scenarios created by designer Motti Eisenbach - known in the Gloomhaven community as boardgame613 - were woven together by a story, which continued to expand into a fully-fledged expansion with brand new character classes, items and more. The custom creations go through their own in-depth playtesting process among other players, including testers for the game’s upcoming sequel, Frosthaven.
“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,” recalls Nick Sims, an accounting software salesperson by day who joined the Crimson Scales team to help write the expansion’s story. “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 [BoardGameGeek] or TTS, people would give really nice feedback and ask if they could get a printed version.”
As the ambitious project continued to grow, the team tapped up Gloomhaven illustrator Alexandr Elichev to commission original artwork for the game’s cards and components, including 100 new items.
“Motti had commissioned some art and it seemed like it would be wasteful not to bring it to as many people as possible,” Sims says. “From that point, it just snowballed; we originally had four scenarios, but we kept having fun and we had more stories to tell.
“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.”
Eventually, The Crimson Scales garnered enough fervour among the community that its creators decided to produce a physical print run of the fan-made expansion, offering the $119 set on a not-for-profit basis to abide by Childes’ Creative Commons licence. (Interested players can also download the whole thing for free and print it at home.) The project’s website also offers standees or 3D-printed miniatures - or the accompanying STL files - for the expansion’s new characters.
The Crimson Scales includes 66 brand new scenarios - including 11 single-player quests - that are written as a continuation of the story and world of the original game, along with 120 smaller events players can encounter in the city or out on the road. The story includes a number of nods to the original Gloomhaven, as well as a cameo from a new character - revealed by Childres - set to appear in Frosthaven.
“The overriding aim of this expansion was 'more Gloomhaven', so we wanted to keep it faithful to the original,” says Sims.
“From a story point of view, the idea we always had was that we wanted it to be immediately recognisable to Gloomhaven fans,” Eisenbach adds. “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.)
“Narratively, I wanted to give people definite choices but maybe with fewer options; so players always knew what they were supposed to be doing even if they'd not picked the game up for a month or so.”
The 11 new characters in the set similarly recall those in the main game, but introduce new gameplay ideas and twists on top of the existing classes. The Orchid Chieftain brings a new riding ability to the summoner, for example, while the cannon-ringed Quatryl Bombard can fire projectiles with a delayed explosion.
“For the characters, it was important to all the creators that they fitted with the races that Isaac created,” Sims stresses. “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 Aesthers forgetting their innate ability to manipulate the elements.”
The Crimson Scales has already proved a hit, with fans pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the first and second printings of the expansion. The team have since created a smaller expansion, Trail of Ashes, that offers an additional 16 scenarios and another five classes for players to continue their adventures in Gloomhaven.
Asked whether the team is considering a similar addition to the upcoming Frosthaven, Sims says: “We’ll have to wait and see.
“I’m really intrigued by the new town elements in particular. I think there’s real potential to develop that narratively, and I’m sure there’ll be some great mechanical hooks too.”
Meanwhile, the team - several of whom had never worked on a game before - have used the experience of creating The Crimson Scales to found their own board game publisher, Addax Games, and plan to launch a crowdfunding campaign for original title Rove this autumn. Elichev will once again provide artwork, with the existing Crimson Scales team joined by a number of new designers.
“We didn't want to stray too far from what we know for our first game, 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,” Sims says.
Rove is the next step for a team that has already created something quite staggering, the staggering realisation of a passion project that turned into something much, much bigger.
“Seeing a board game with my name on it has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Sims says. “To get to do that within the world of Gloomhaven and with a great bunch of people has been incredible.”