Behind the Curtain: Tales of the Old Margreve

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Tales of the Old MargreveOver the river and through the Margreve…

Another patron project very recently got the green light: Tales of the Old Margreve. This anthology-to-be, guided by the capable hands of Tim Connors, features an eerie series of adventures set in a distinctly Old World, fairy tale inspired package right in the city of Zobeck’s backyard.

So how does this kind of collaborative project really work? Right after it got the green light for commission—even before, actually, since everyone was so excited—patrons started brainstorming what they wanted from the project and the set of adventures that would help flesh out the Margreve. The area was given the framework for a personality all its own, and a ton of monsters and magic and people, all heavily inspired from folklore, were designed by patrons.

What we’re currently in the middle of is adventure proposal. We just wrapped up the third of 4 rounds of pitches. From each, 2-3 winning pitches were selected from the 10 or so submitted, and those winners are even now being designed with patron input the whole way.

To learn a bit more about the process, we went to the designers of the first 4 winning adventures pitches and asked them:

  • Your pitch was selected by the patrons to be expanded into an adventure. What is it about?
  • Whether a veteran of Open Design’s patron projects or a newcomer, tell us something about your experience with it?

Be warned, though. Spoilers have been sighted ahead in the woods today. You best stay on the path, or you may be eaten by them…

Richard Pett, “Hollow”

The adventure: Don’t answer the door after dark.

“Hollow” is a 1st-level adventure set on the very edge of the Margreve Forest. The superstitious locals have a very real fear of things in the trees, and what staggers out of the forest during “Hollow” causes them to bar the doors after dark and pray it doesn’t knock.

The Hollow Man comes from the forest every night to collect a head for his mistress: his scythe is sharp, his work relentless. He has no time to dawdle, only to collect—the head must be fresh for the magic to work, you see, for without its voice, the head is useless to her…

While the adventure provides action night after night, it’s what happens during the day that can really influence the adventure. Can a group of outsiders befriend the superstitious locals and work with them? The roleplaying opportunities during the day will influence the action at night, both combining for a satisfying experience to play and to run.

The process: At first, I was a little daunted pitching an adventure. I haven’t had to since the days of Dungeon, and the quality is notoriously high in Open Design. I was pleased, therefore, to see “Hollow” come out among people’s favorite submissions. (Thank you everyone who voted for it!)

I’ve been very keen to work closely with the patrons—you never know if the next Greg Vaughan is out there waiting in the dark—and I have invited ideas for several parts of the adventure. The quality of feedback has, as expected, been high, and I’m now metaphorically wandering the dark edges of Levoca with my scythe and their suggestions. Soon, I’ll be knocking on someone’s door for their head to take back to my mistress the Singing Tree. She’s dying you see again and desperately wants to live, to breathe and walk again, so she must have her heads. And have them now. Soon the harvest will begin.

Join us, won’t you?

Jonathan McAnulty, “The Honey Queen”

The adventure: “The Honey Queen” is a 2nd-level adventure, and it features a quest for enchanted honey on the southern edge of the Margreve. Getting the honey won’t be easy. First, PCs will have to find the cave in which the bee’s make their hive, and then, there’s the bees themselves. Led by an intelligent, spell-casting queen, they don’t take kindly to strangers who take their honey without asking.

Finally, in my mind, the real hallmark of the adventure is Lyla, a 12-year-old girl who has been sleeping for the last 50 years, tended by the bees. Though asleep, her personality manifests via bee: swarms that shape themselves into versions of herself as a girl or woman and act with intelligence. PCs might “rescue” Lyla from her endless, honey-induced sleep. Unless, of course, the honey queen doesn’t take kindly to people taking her child.

The process: This is the second patronage project I have been involved in (the first being Shore to the Sea), and I am quite excited to be able to have a hand in crafting at least one of the eight adventures. It’s quite different writing an adventure for a project like this since there’s more opportunity for feedback. While I might have interesting idea, a word, comment, or creature suggested by another patron very often transforms it into a great idea. I enjoy receiving feedback and reading the brainstorms of patrons; all of it sets my mind working and helps me to see different perspectives and other possibilities.

Daniel Voyce, “Challenge of the Fang”

The adventure: Sometimes, we start a story with “once upon a time and far away.” We do it to distance ourselves from the power of the talefrom the blood, the gnashing teeth, and the tearing flesh.

“Challenge of the Fang” is a grim tale that sees 4th-level characters delve deep into the forest for the first time, dragged into an age-old struggle for dominance between wolf and man. As civilization’s champions, they must prevent the would-be king of wolves from devouring a sacrificial innocent sent into the Margreve’s depths. If they fail, the wolves will strut proudly for three generations, and men must cower in fear before their fangs.

In fairy tale adventure, PCs face beguiling fey maidens, fearsome forest demons, and impossible challenges, testing the ingenuity of PC and player alike as they pursue the Big Bad Wolf. The blood-soaked results won’t be suitable for a bedtime story—but the PCs may well end up as a cautionary tale!

The process: This is my third involvement with Open Design, and the experience really does get even better each time around. Patrons have again raised their game both in pitching and constructive criticism, and there’s a real sense of people (including myself) honing their craft as the rounds progress. As always, bouncing ideas around so many talented brains and watching the results ricochet to ever more polished heights is amazing, especially if you’re used to designing and running adventures being solo activities. If you want to get involved, this adventure has just opened its doors to patron contributions.

So please, grab your red-hooded cloak and join me on the walk to Granma’s house. And pay no mind to the furred shape padding up behind you.

Michael Furlanetto, “The Griffon Hatchling Heist”

The adventure: Lesharrkk, the proudest of the Margreve griffon-pride mothers, was forced from her family’s tower by brigands, leaving behind a clutch of nearly hatched eggs. She needs help retrieving them, and perhaps, some adventurers will succeed in stealth where her talons failed.

After an arduous slog through the spring mud, PCs reach a forgotten entrance to the tower. Using knowledge of the structure’s secret ways given to them by Lesharrkk, they attempt to sneak past watchful bandits to reach the rooftop nests. There, they must defeat the vicious cyclops leader of the outlaws—and must do so covertly if they wish the rest of the brigands to remain unaware of their presence.

The eggs hatch as soon as the adventurers recover them, and now, high atop a tower surrounded by bandits many leagues from civilization, the PCs must figure out some way to escape with a clutch of loud, hungry, confused, and vulnerable hatchlings.

This adventure for 5th-level characters changes the pace a bit. It rewards stealth over steel, problem-solving over force, and above all, it  tries to make players look at their characters’ abilities in new ways.

The process: This is my seventh Open Design project, and the third for which I’ll be designing an adventure. The patron model has the unique advantage of bringing together engaged, enthusiastic gamers to make the best adventures possible. Essentially, each project has dozens of developers and editors, each drawing from their experience, interests, and play style. Each project presents its own challenge, though, for the composition of the patronage changes from one to the next, and the steampunk vibe of the last might fall completely flat to the fairy-tale-minded patrons of the present endeavor. That renewal keeps each project fresh and challenges writers to stretch themselves to different styles and genres. Best of all, every patron gets to see something of themselves in the final printed product.

Come to the Margreve—the eggs may hatch any minute!

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