Tales of the Old Margreve is the latest patronage project released by Open Design. It’s a gazetteer with 8 full adventures, all set in the deep and dark forest of Old Margreve, located north of the famous Free City of Zobeck, in the Midgard setting.
The cover illustration, by Richard Clark, is well done with a style reminiscent to me of old school products. It clearly evokes the dark enchanted forests that define this patronage project. The inner art is B&W. The .PDF version of the book is bookmarked.
The authors aim for an Eastern Europe type of fantasy, with material draw from Slavic and Germanic myths. The old forest itself is a like a creepy offspring of the Grimm Brothers’ tales and Tolkien’s Fangorn; it is literally alive and treated like a NPC (there’re even rules for determining it’s attitude toward the players characters). We’re definitely in an fantastic horror setting and Tales of the Old Margreve oozes with flavor.
The books opens with a short fiction about Mikhail the Woodcutter and the Moonlit King. The short fiction is classic faery tale sample and an enjoyable reading.
The first part of Old Margreve is the gazetteer, detailing the forest’s powers and mood. We also get a geographic description (with a map) of the area’s most important locations. That includes details on the native Margrevians and their strange customs. Because the Old Margreve feeds not in natural nutrients, but on magic energy, we have new setting mechanics like siphoning magic effects. One curious consequence of the forest’s hunger is that it actively tries to force spellcasters to cast more and more spells, usually by luring monsters against such individuals (and their unfortunate allies). Other interesting bit of this section is the metamagic components and locations (again, both help to conjure the faery tale atmosphere of the adventures).
Finally, there’s a small bestiary and new spells (my favorite is spy my shadow) and incantations (like the awesome stories that wolves tell). The new monsters also share the setting’s otherworldly and strange flavor. Examples are the ala, strange hags whose whirlwind form can only be seen by men with 6 digits on each hand; and the hydra-like and lustful zmey dragons, responsible for hunting maidens for nefarious purposes.
The first adventure – “Hollow” – places the heroes against a mighty adversary that cannot be defeated by traditional combat, swiftly demonstrating that Tales of the Old Margreve is not your usual Pathfinder/d20 setting. In “The Honey Queen”, the party must brave the woods in search of magic honey, while in “Challenge of the Fang”, the heroes are in middle of a folkloric clash between man and wolf. “The Griffon Hatchling Heist” deals with the abandoned griffon towers built by a fallen noble house (corrupted by shadow fey) and an unlucky polymorphed griffon. In “Gall of the Spider Crone” the PCs are, ironically, charged with helping a hag in distress. This NPC returns in another adventure – the vegetal révolution of “Blood and Thorns”. “Grandmother’s Fire” is probably the most mythic story, where the heroes encounter the great witch Baba Yaga, after she had cursed the entire Old Margreve. The final adventure, “The Lustful Dragon”, is about the awakening of an elder zmey dragon and the supernatural forces that try to influence the event.
The adventures deal with dark, bloody or sinister encounters, like the original legends behind most faery tales (if you want a modern example, watch Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth). All scenarios also twist, in intelligent and funny scenes, famous characters of popular myths – like the quintessential Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood.
Tales of the Old Margreve is a great alternative to the traditional wilderness adventures of exploration. Open Design already released two downloads as support products. The first is a compilation of all the Web material released Old Margreve (like the new sorcerer bloodline). The second is a .PDF with paper miniatures for the new monsters (including a very cool 3D zmey dragon).