There’s something strange about those woods.
Tales of the Old Margreve, one of the current patron projects, is progressing beautifully. This adventure anthology, guided by the capable hands of Tim Connors, features an eerie series of adventures set in a distinctly Old World, folklore-inspired package right in the city of Zobeck’s backyard.
Tim recently sat down to chat with our friends at 3.5 Private Sanctuary to talk about it. If you’re interested in this patron project or just curious about the process, you should definitely check it out.
KQ: But that wasn’t enough for me. I caught up with Tim, exhausted from his efforts, and wouldn’t leave him alone until he gave me the scoop…
TC: The Tales of the Old Margreve patron project continues at full throttle. Four rounds of adventure pitches have resulted in the selection of the anthology’s eight adventures, ranging smoothly from levels from 1-10. The winning authors are busy developing their adventures, querying patrons for ideas and preferences, and submitting drafts for playtest. I had the privilege of playtesting Richard Pett’s 1st-level adventure “Hollow” earlier today. Creepy!
The Margreve’s bestiary is in its final stages. The patron’s selected a dozen creatures from a buffet of 50+ creatures drawn from Eastern European folklore. To accompany these fully statted and illustrated terrors, we’ve begun re-skinning existing monsters. The idea is to give our setting and adventures the opportunity to reuse the stats of many existing creatures for “new” creatures that either look totally different or have an unexpected ability or two. The creativity in this department has been outstanding! I can’t wait to see some of these creatures in action.
Another brainstorm area that continues to impress is new magic items. As one of the adventure writers, I’m having a hard time not hogging all the coolest ones for my adventure! Aside from the items themselves, it’s incredibly cool to watch as multiple patrons bring each one to life. Some folks excel at imagining them. Others excel at statting them up. Others find the perfect way to incorporate them into an adventure. The whole thing is a mini-view into the synergy of Open Design collaboration.
The project is also taking a serious look at Old World magic, a keystone feature of the Margreve. Dan Voyce leads the effort, and he is working with senior patrons to define new spells and incantations, to alter the magic of existing spells by school and descriptor, and to re-skin existing spells to deepen the flavor and theme of the deep dark forest.
We’ve also drafted the Margreve map and sent it to the cartographer for professional rendering. The Margreve Forest, roughly the size of Ireland, has a great mix of trackless woods, evocative locations, and perimeter settlements. The heart of the forest, the Margreve tributaries, and the coaching inns along the Great Northern Road are coming to life under the cartographer’s pencil and the adventure writer’s pen.
Everyday, we inch closer to a final product, and I can’t wait to see it in all of its glory! It will truly be something grand that none of us could ever have created alone. As the lead designer, I want to take this moment to publicly thank every patron for their contributions. Bravo!
- All adventure pitches have been voted on and the final lineup for the anthology has been selected.
- The first two adventures, by Richard Pett and Dan Voyce, have been turned over for playtest and are available to the senior patrons.
- The final playtest manuscripts for all sections are due on 17 May.
- The art briefs for the bestiary are done and assigned, and sketches and finals illustrations will come in throughout May and early June.
KQ: I also caught up with the designers of the final two adventures in the anthology, Ben McFarland and Steven Robert, 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. Spoilers have been sighted ahead in the woods today. They’ve been known to attack the unwary.
The adventure. Grandmother’s Fire is a story of betrayal, of theft, of love, of revenge—and that means that it’s a story with ass-kicking and emotional investment. It’s faerie trickery in the deep dark woods, replete with man-hunting ghoul knights, flesh-rending werewolves, tortured spirits, and Baba Yaga herself. To me, that’s not just a good time but a good time with a side dish of pathos, which is something I strive for whenever possible in my RPG diet. I think this is an adventure with a little more of a fairy-tale vibe to it, one where there are larger scale issues demanding heroes but also the smaller stories of human feelings asking for sympathy.
The process. One very exciting aspect of it is the experimental spirit which infuses every project. Open Design is willing to push boundaries, to explore the niche options, to try some new and different ideas that you might not see in larger shops. The community aspect of that spirit also means those experimental ideas get scrubbed pretty good before they see print, which is a concern any GM is going to express when it comes to new material—and the fact that patrons can observe the whole process, commenting, suggesting, engaging in debate when they disagree. This classroom-like environment means that the end result is fire-hardened and battle-tested.
The adventure. As the capstone adventure of the anthology, “The Lustful Dragon” takes the PCs full circle by asking them to rescue Levoca—the same town they saved in the collection’s first adventure—against another foe much more powerful than themselves: the zmey, a dangerous three-headed dragon of Slavic folklore. The dragon, consumed by lust, demands one of the village’s girls as his own, or else, he will destroy the village. The PCs must save her from a fate far worse than death.
Along the way, the PCs must survive the zmey’s first devastating assault on the town, rescue the girl from an emaciated and power-hungry crone, match wits with a Kariv seer to whom lying is impossible, and battle the drowned spirit of one of the zmey’s former targets, driven mad by the abandonment of her own people.
Finally, amongst the towering trees of the Margreve’s ancient and numinous Heart, the PCs can execute a magical ritual inflaming the zmey’s passion to madness. If they succeed, the dragon’s singular lust and careless rage turns the forest against it, providing the PCs the opening they need to defeat the deadly beast.
But the PCs must beware themselves, for once awoken, the Heart despises trespassers of any kind.
The process. This is my fourth Open Design project as a patron and my first as a designer. The process is a treat from both sides. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed a front-row seat as some of the best designers today—who are gracious enough to ask and receive ideas and advice—craft an adventure before your eyes. On the other hand, this time out it’s been great to harness the collective mind of the patrons (a remarkably sophisticated bunch of gamers) to improve my offering. In particular, the patrons provided great input in developing creative—and fun!—ways for a group of 10th-level PCs to face a CR 14 dragon—and survive!
But it is the brainstorm sessions that most inspire me: on topics ranging from new monsters and NPCs to creative locations and magic items to re-skinned monsters and spells appropriate for an ancient and deadly forest, the patrons and our fearless leader, Tim Connors, have continually impressed me with creative, devious, and unique ideas and game elements. I think that readers will find an incredibly thematic sourcebook and anthology when all the ideas are assembled!
Check out Tales of the Old Margreve for yourself.