And now we’re going to take theory and put it into practice with one of our favorite products from Kobold Press—the excellent Tales of the Old Margreve. This article will provide a guide for how to implement the advice from our last article, so you and your player can easily explore Midgard’s most famous dark forest.
There were many reasons that we were excited when Tales of the Old Margreve came out. Firstly, the vast majority of Beth’s PCs have been druids, so we were immediately interested in something with a heavy emphasis on a mysterious and ancient forest. Secondly, this book features a series of adventures that can stand alone or be threaded together by a skillful GM. We love anthology-style books that do not rely heavily on the party taking a linear path through a predetermined series of events. Most often, we are running around far off the rails as it were, and books like Margreve make it easy to grab an adventure and slide it into our campaign or adapt the adventure to whatever we need.
Below you’ll find some suggested story tweaks to narrow the focus to one PC. Then we take a look at some of the compelling NPCs that might make natural GMPCs for your one-on-one game. And finally, we’ll address how we take adventures scaled for groups and suit them to a two-person table.
Since Tales of the Old Margreve is an anthology-style string of adventures, one chapter or module doesn’t immediately lead into the next. The book does, however, offer excellent suggestions and recommendations at various points that can assist the GM as they consider how to weave the material together. The anthology nature of the book means that we aren’t provided with a clear narrative arc to stick the PC into and give the “main character” treatment.
Tales of the Old Margreve has a few different themes and vibes on offer, ranging from fairy tale to ancient cosmic horror. When considering narrative, cater to the preferences of your player. A player more interested in themes of darkness and madness might really enjoy the idea of awakening the ancient Primal Tender and unleashing a new dawn of unfettered magic and darkness in the dark forest. Another kind of player more interested in lighter themes of whimsy and fey would more readily play through some adventure encounters more along the lines of a Brothers Grimm tale and save the forest from a growing evil. Below you’ll find a pair of adventure sequences that could be appropriate for a “dark” campaign and a “light” campaign.
The Darkness of Derende
The PC is a student of the ancient cosmic forces that profoundly shaped Midgard before the rise of the mortal races. They have traveled to the Margreve after finding a reference to an enigmatic being simply referred to as the Primal Tender. I’ll leave it to GMs and their PCs if the goal is to excise its influence or to harness its power. There are three adventures that directly relate to Derende while the others fill in the gaps and provide exposition for the journey and allies along the way.
- “Hollow” is an appropriately horrifying introduction to the Old Margreve. It gives the PC a chance to witness the tension between settlers and the forest. Additionally, the PC can acquire the help of a GMPC in the town of Levoca.
- “The Fingers of Derende” could allow the PC to learn more about their quest and begin to build the tools necessary for success.
- “The Vengeful Heart” deals in blood magic and contains a strong connection with the Shadow Fey which comes back around later in the campaign.
- “The Tongue of Derende” could allow the PC to communicate in any language enabling them to forge alliances with those that could help them on their journey.
- “Gall of the Spider Crone” is both horrifying and allows the PC to make some powerful acquaintances as they get ever closer to the crux of their Derende investigations.
- “Grandmother’s Fire” follows the previous adventure as the PC must ally, or draw the ire of, the powerful Baba Yaga who reveals the last piece of the puzzle, the location and function of Derende’s Heart.
- “The Heart of Derende” serves as the climax as the PC must either harness or prune the heart just as it beats once per year in the midst of a shadow fey celebration.
The Light in the Wood
The PC has come to the Margreve in search of a special, powerful young girl. They have been visited with persistent dreams that reveal her importance to the well-being of the world, that she is in danger, and that the PC is the only one who can help.
- “The Honey Queen” kicks off the PC’s encounters with the fairy-tale aspects of time in the Old Margreve. The GM might heavily imply that Lyla is the girl from the PC’s dreams until they are face-to-face and realize their error.
- “Challenge of the Fang” offers the party another chance to save an important young girl, Czerwonya.
- “The Griffon Hatchling Heist” has the party making a powerful ally on the form of Lesharrkk.
- “Blood and Thorns” could kick off with a final dream warning of a new breed of vampire threatening to overrun the Margreve and conclude with Dame Valucka telling the party about magical triplets destined to become important crones of the Margreve: Czerwonya, Elena, and Vidanya.
- “Grandmother’s Fire” has the party encountering Elena, now a rusalka.
- “The Vengeful Dragon” concludes the campaign with an epic quest to save Vidanya and the Heart of the Legion Oak.
Easily one of our favorite parts of Tales of the Old Margreve are the compelling NPCs that the party encounters. Many of these could be reimagined into GMPCs whose motivations align with the desires of the PC.
For instance, in “Hollow” we meet Brother Arkadi. As written, he is rather uninvolved in the preservation and running of Levoca. However, an individual wizened to the nature of the wood and steeped in its magic and ritual could be reimagined into an ally ready to provide powerful aid to the party. If I were going to make him a GMPC, I’d recommend the priest stat block.
Or what about Teresa Garlook in “The Honey Queen” as a woman of dubious moral standing? She definitely seems like someone who could wield a dagger from the shadows. Perhaps she has the spy stat block. Or Frauleene, the herbalist from the same adventure? She could be on the same vision quest as the PC and tag along using the druid stat block.
There are many natural allies in this book of adventures. I thought Adrik from “Gall of the Spider Crone” or Lieutenant Hass from “The Tongue of Derende” would additionally make interesting traveling companions or GMPCs. The thing is, potential GMPCs are represented in nearly every adventure in Tales of the Old Margreve because this book prioritizes compelling characters, and that’s what it takes to have a GMPC—a strong sense of character.
A Matter of Scale
In Tales of the Old Margreve, the adventures have been designed with a traditional adventuring party in mind. That means that we are going to have to scale back encounters in terms of number of combatants and challenge rating. In my experience running these, the encounters even in a full party tend towards the more difficult. For that reason, I recommend building in a release valve of sorts for your encounters.
For example, the forest is very much a character in these adventures. So if the party finds themselves woefully outmatched but are on the side of the forest, perhaps the Margreve dramatically extends aid for the party in the form of healing, hampering enemy movement, or offering other such aid. Done well, these won’t feel so much like a deus ex machina but more that the forest is powerful and present.
We talk a lot more about how to scale adventures for one-on-one play in one of our earlier articles.
Tales of the Old Margreve offers up a series of adventures that would make an excellent one-on-one campaign. We hope that these articles and this roadmap will enable more people to experiment with playing duet-style 5th edition. Playing together with one other person has been a magical, transformative experience for the two of us, and we hope it will be for you too.
For more adventures and advice for this unique style of roleplaying, please check out our blog at dndduet.com.