What Do I Know About My Campaign? Tales of the Old Margreve Campaign Journal #1

If you follow the reviews that I write, you know I had some concerns over Tales Of the Old Margreve. Most importantly, there are references to the Kariv in the gazetteer and one specific adventure that play into harmful real-world stereotypes. Because I already own the adventure, and because the material outside of the problematic content is very compelling, I moved forward with running this series of adventures for my group.
If you haven’t read it, I would recommend reading my review here: Tales Of The Old Margreve Review
What I would like to do in this series of articles is look at how I adapted this material for my own campaign. Some of this will deal with reacting to player expectations, concerns, and actions, and some of this will just be showing how I approach published material. Hopefully, it will be an enjoyable read.

Session Zero

After sending out a campaign standards document that had all of the legal materials for the campaign and my proposed optional and house rules (see the campaign standards here), I waited to see if anyone had any concerns or modifications they would like to propose, and then we had our session zero.
In session zero, we found out that we have the following characters:
  • Bearfolk Warden
  • Bearfolk Barbarian
  • Bearfolk Cleric
  • Gearforged Warlord
  • Halfling Warlock

You may notice the Warden and Warlord classes present in this list. I really wanted to see how the Max Press classes worked in a game, so I made them legal for the game, and they were intriguing enough that two of the players picked them up. When something interesting comes up with how those interact with the campaign, I’ll try to bring it up.
In general, we ended up with the following backgrounds for these characters:
  • Bearfolk Warden, Bearfolk Cleric, and Halfling Warlock are all Margreve natives—the halfling warlock asked if she could have Baba Yaga as a patron (I said yes emphatically)
  • Bearfolk Barbarian is a native of Shadow Realm
  • The Gearforged Warlord is a “noble” from Zobeck, related to one of the council families (in their past, more fleshy life)

Pulling This All Together

Coming up with a background for all of these, I thought about the best way to get them all together in one place, and how to task them with helping the small town in the opening adventure. I also wanted to create an overall campaign framework to explain why they would stay in the Margreve and continue to accept future adventures that are only tenuously related in a few cases.
What I came up with is that all of the bearfolk were present at one of the Bear King’s competitions. I wanted to have Baba Yaga’s presence felt, but I didn’t want to overuse her, so I had the halfling guided to the gathering by Baba Yaga’s dentures to spy on the proceedings.
Since the Gearforged wanted to be from an upper-class family and be from outside the forest, I decided to tie him to my previous Midgard campaign. In that campaign, the party ran into a gambling-addicted, hapless, but generally earnest retainer of the Greymark family, Lhatmir, who accidentally got them lost and captured by the bearfolk.
Seeds for Session One
I asked the bearfolk players to come up with a competition that they had one at the Bear King’s competition, so that each of them had been singled out in the gathering of bearfolk. This was partiall so I could introduce the idea of the Bear King handing out charms to get the PCs going with limited use magic items (I felt that in a fairy tale/horror hybrid adventure, having magic right out of the gate felt right, especially if they were limited use items). This also let me address something that came up later.
Player Concerns
The players weren’t as happy with the idea of magic not working to full capacity in the setting, or with the continued issue with metal items rusting. They were okay with having status with the forest that might introduce positive or negative random events.
I wanted to keep the idea of the Margreve “eating” magic, and rusting metal in the untamed woods, but I understood the concerns the PCs had. Initially, I had said that characters that took the forest native background wouldn’t have to worry about this, but that restricted some of what the players wanted to do with those backgrounds.
Eventually, I decided to tie the “magic works normally for you,” and “you don’t have to worry about rust” to the charms given to them by the Bear King. Even once their regular magic runs out, they still protect against some of the quirks of the forest, as well as making traveling the shadow roads less dangerous. That let me explain that “if you lose these” there is a consequence, but not a consequence I have to follow up on, so it becomes a “thing” in the campaign that doesn’t exert constant pressure.
The players couldn’t help but have a bit of a comedic tone to them, having three bears, a gold plated gearforged, and a halfling named Scarlett. One thing that is important to me about this humor, however, is that it is generally “in character.” The bears are good-natured and love honey, and are only really scary when they get into fights. The halfling is wide-eyed and continually over her head. The gearforged is comedically elitist and out of place in the rural villages and among the woodfolk.
So far, we haven’t had too much “meta” humor or out of character jokes, because the personalities and backgrounds of the characters allow for “venting.” On top of all of this, even though the adventures have a horror-themed leaning, it is also very much “dark fairy tale” horror, so instead of undermining the tone of the adventures, the more light-hearted PCs kind of serve to underscore the horror elements when they come up.
It’s not entirely unlike when (most of us in this group) played Curse of Strahd with characters based on Disney princesses, and we constantly played them as being horrified about the conditions in Barovia and the consequences of their actions, as they assumed any proactive heroism would solve problems unconditionally.
Overall Campaign Framework
Once I had the idea of how to get the whole party together, it helped to inform the overall campaign framework and theme that I wanted to present as I run the adventure. There are some times between adventures, but many of them are just connected by “they all take place in the Margreve,” and I wanted more of a through-line than that.
Between the Bear King and Baba Yaga being involved, and the three Derend adventures that are short adventures interspersed through the original stories and acting as a capstone, I realized that I could frame this campaign as “Fey versus Cosmic Horror,” which also feels a bit like “Older than Time versus As Old as Time.” That appealed to me, especially since it meant that sometimes this would feel like good versus evil, but it isn’t literally good versus evil.
This gives a reason for the Bear King and Baba Yaga to be (tenuously) allied, and it gives me an excuse to have the Bear King or some other Fey Lord show up at the end of various tiers of adventures to hand out more gifts and remind the PCs that this is all related and to keep moving forward.
The Future Awaits
I am going to try to keep this as a regular feature of varying lengths, focusing more on how I’m changing the adventures to adapt to my preferences and also to the player’s actions and reactions to the content. As of the time of this writing, I’ve got two sessions under my belt, so I’ll try to work on how the first adventure shook out soon.

Tales of the Old Margreve Campaign Journal #2

One comment

  • Look forward to your posts on this. I backed this in pdf form (p&p to UK being insane)… And at some point I want to run this. But maybe in 3-5 years. Having just run The Darkening of Mirkwood, I believe other gaming environments and ideas need to be explored first! Share your concerns on diversity and likewise creating party rationale. Are you using the Icons concept from 13th Age?


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