Book Review: Tales of the Old Margreve

There is power in the dark. We have known this since childhood. But there’s actually more power in the half-lit darkness of the deep forest where things have trees to hide behind and branches to climb to lay in wait for the next victim. The woods have always provided food and shelter for those daring enough to brave the dark, but even today hunters are wary.

Tales of the Old Margreve from Tim & Eileen Connors is more than a supplement. This is a campaign book published by Open Design for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game that offers an adventure path for characters from 1st to 10th level. As soon as I opened the PDF, I was sucked into one of the most beautiful book layouts I’ve seen in forever. More on that later.

Beyond the beauty of the book, the world of the Old Margreve is alive… literally. The Margreve is a bit like Santa Claus – always watching and cataloging your actions, ticking off pluses and minuses in some mysterious tally board. And the fact that if you bleed in the forest it tracks you and your kin genetically from then on is like some Big Brother genetic tagging database. I wonder if there’s a Freedom of Information act PCs could use to get their redacted Margreve files to see what the forest knew about them…

However, the forest offers more than trees and creatures. A few villages exist in harmony with the Old Ways, which offer some interesting traditions
and practices, such as making sure the eyes of the dead are opened so they don’t get lost in the afterlife or avoiding eye contact with outsiders for fear of catching some foul disease from the outside world. It’s these little things that make a world come to life for me.

Throughout the descriptions of the Margreve, the enterprising GM will find adventure hooks galore to draw PCs into the woods. Can the PCs figure out what’s causing Pixies troubles near Sleepwalker’s Hill? Will the PCs risk death and worse at the hands of Baba Yaga‘s sisters for a glimpse of their power? From what I remember of Baba Yaga, I’d avoid anything to do with her or her sisters unless I was a very high level and stark raving power mad!

More than ten pages of monsters prowl the forest as well. From the Ala, wild hags who turn into whirlwinds, to the huge Zmey, a dragon who prefers to hunt and eat mammals, there are things in the trees waiting to do more than eat unwary PCs. Watch where you step and try not to tick anything off as you follow the forest trails if you know what’s good for you.

As far as the adventures go, they start innocently enough on the edges of the Old Margreve in the thorp of Levoca. Here the PCs can get a taste of what life near the forest is really like as they track down whatever is attacking Levocans in the middle of the night. Each chapter increases the difficulty and introduces more and more of the bizarre, yet strangely ordered world of the Margreve. These are far from simple tasks to put before a party of adventurers however. GMs looking at this book as a campaign setting will present a challenge to any players daring enough to enter the forest. With nearly 75 pages of adventures waiting for the party, PCs will encounter challenges requiring brains and brawn to defeat.

The layout reminds me quite a bit of the D&D books of old where the presentation was just as much a character as the artwork and content. The maps, done by Jonathan Roberts, are splendid with just enough detail to convey necessary information. Everything from the overview of the forest down to the individual encounter maps works beautifully. But beyond that, every part of the page – the layout, fonts, graphical elements both small and large, maps, and interior art – serve to inform and entertain without distracting the reader from the main reason they’re reading. That’s not to say that there aren’t long stretches of text, but each page provides breaks for the eyes so it’s not a constant gray. Kudos to the layout goddess – Crystal Frasier – and the rest of the team that put this great tome together.

Of the books from Open Design that I’ve seen so far, this one will stay with me as the golden example for a while. Be sure to check out Tales of the Old Margreve from the Kobold Quarterly or Paizo sites. Or pick it up from RPGNow/DriveThruRPG here.

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