Review: Tales of the Old Margreve

Way back in 2010, Kobold Press released Tales of the Old Margreve for the Pathfinder roleplaying game. A book of 8 forest adventures with 12 new monsters set in the publisher’s setting of Midgard. This review is NOT about that product.

In late 2018 Kobold Press launched a Kickstarter to update this product to 5th Edition, adding additional monsters and creating a second accompanying book of player options.

Tales of the Old Margreve has now been out for a while, and it’s time for a review.

What It is

Tales of the Old Margreve is a 200-page book, available in PDF or hardcover formats. The book is named after the Margreve Forest, a dark Germanic wood that is the location of all the adventures in this product. Inside are 8 adventures and 3 encounter sites, designed for characters of levels 1 to 10. This product is not an adventure path, and won’t take characters from first level to 10th level. Nor is there a singular story connecting these adventures.

The opening chapter is named the “Gazetteer” but is a description of how the Margrave functions—along with new optional rules—as well as any mechanics that are altered within the woods, such as certain spells. This chapter also describes how the forest reacts to characters, with reaction adjustments based on race and actions taken within the woods. At the end of this chapter are seven pages of random encounters. After this are thirty-odd pages detailing adventure sites and locations within the woods, including a fairly detailed description of a coaching inn.

The bulk of the volume is the 135-pages devoted to the 11 small adventures and encounter areas. These range from simple investigations to monster hunts to recovering items stolen from Baba Yaga. Many have a map for a key area, which is occasionally (but not always) a dungeon.

The book ends with an Appendix containing a dozen new forest monsters. There are also monsters in pretty much every adventure or encounter site, so this product contains roughly 40-odd monsters in total,

The Good

This product is basically a “big book of one-shots”. The included adventures are excellent for when you need a short adventure in the woods quickly, where a dungeon level from Dungeon of the Mad Mage will not easily fit. They’d be excellent for filling out a travel adventure where you want some events of interest to occur between points A and B. It might also be a good book of adventures for a public play program, such as at a school, library, or game store, where you don’t want much continuity between adventures.

There’s a consistent theme and setting to these adventures, as they all take place in a magical wood. The adventures in this book have a very Eastern European feel, which is consistent with the tone of the Midgard campaign setting: Kobold Press’ work tends to have a Russian/ Germanic folkloric vibe rather than the “English” feel of traditional fantasy. It can be a nice change of pace. As such, a couple of the adventures almost have a Grimm’s Fairy Tale vibe, which I adore. A few adventures have other linked elements, like the spider crones, each of which is creepy but unique. And the final adventure suggests how to reference prior adventures, making the events of those tales impact the final adventure.

There’s a nice mix of adventures, with some investigation and some combat focused, and a few where roleplaying is vital. It’s not just a book of dungeon crawls, but there are a few “dungeons” in the woods, albeit atypical ones.

The book has a moderate amount of art, which new pieces for many of the new monsters, especially the ones that need it. Kobold Press continues to have decent art. Most of the art is the standard affordable character shots with no backgrounds, but there are a few illustrations of the landscape or a memorable scene.

The Bad

While the adventures are good, the encounter locations are so-so. They’re not bad (and most are arguably quite good) but they’re very specialized. They’d be hard to work into an existing adventure and would be poor as random encounters, having too much story in the background. They feel like the climax of adventures where the preceding adventure was accidentally omitted. They’re neat, but figuring out a way to use them will be a lot of work. I would have preferred slightly more generic lairs, or seeing these fleshed out into full adventures.

Almost every chapter ends with the new monsters and magic items found in that adventure. This makes it tricky to find a specific monster for later use. It would be nice if all the monsters and magic items were grouped at the end. Similarly, there’s not even an index or chart of the new monsters, and individual monsters aren’t listed in the Table of Contents. So if you decide to add a briar man or giant aberrant moth to a homebrew adventure be prepared to flip.

The book does reprint some art of monsters, using images from Tome of Beasts. But, Kobold Press is a small publisher and having art for those monsters is nice, so this is an exceedingly minor complaint.

The status subsystem is okay, but feels very similar to the Renown system from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.While they probably couldn’t actually call things “renown” or copy those mechanics, they could have drawn a little more inspiration for how Renown was handled in the DMG and similar products. (In fairness, this book was probably written well before Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica was released, so it couldn’t have been inspired by that product. )

The Ugly

I found the introduction awkward. Information on the wood is spread out between the Gazetteer chapter (which isn’t really a gazetteer) and the second chapter of locations (which arguably is a gazetteer). It felt like they had one chapter written and then added a second chapter without trying to make them complement each other. It’s a little awkward, and quickly finding information you might need to run an adventure can be tricky.

There is no map! This book is all about the Margreve Forest and it doesn’t include a map of the titular forest! Not even a zoomed in image from an old campaign setting so you have a vague idea where the forest is in Midgard.

In fairness, there is a free map PDF available online. And there is the excellent map on this site http://midgardmap.koboldpress.com/ which has a lot of other features. But these aren’t referenced or reprinted in the book.

edit: Apparently there IS a map included in the print version. A fold-out physical map is included with the book, but this just didn’t make it into the PDF. If you’re buying the hardcover, you can disregard that complaint.

The Awesome

Kobold Press initially opted not to have a PDF option for this product. It was a physical release only. Because of player feedback during the Kickstarter campaign, they changed their mind and added a digital option. I opted to support the Kickstarter pretty much entirely because of this reversal, so this review exists because Kobold Press listened to its fans. I appreciate publishers who listen.

This product is limited solely to the adventure, but there is a “Player’s Guide” as well. I like that there’s a secondary product that helps players make characters that fit the setting. This is pretty hefty for a “player’s guide” and is focused around new mechanical options (13 new subclasses!) and a little less on lore. (I like my players guides to fill the players in on what the characters should know.)

I like the extra details given to the Bluebell Coaching Inn, which comes complete with interiour map and exterior shot. This is useful for a rapid forest (or forestside) inn. But this book also has quite a few new ranger beasts companions, so that’s neat.

I adore the image of the village of Levoča in the first adventure, Hollow, by Richard Pett. That’s a gorgeous map.

I’m fond of that whole adventure really, and it would make an excellent start of a homebrew campaign (especially a Midgard or even Ravenloft campaign) or just a low level one-short. The inclusion of the “A Hollow Tale” rhyme is nice and creepy and the image of the villain is fantastic.

The book has several references do Baba Yaga, who is a major villain/ antagonist in Midgard. This product casts her as a quest giver in one adventure, and I like her being this menacing yet present figure. That adventure even included a “map” of her hut (although navigating it is a little tricky).

And lastly, on a pure ego stroking note, a monster I designed for Tome of Beasts made it into the random encounter tables. This does literally nothing to affect the quality of the book for anyone else. But for me it’s a huge selling feature.

Final Thoughts

A collection of small self-contained adventures, Tales of the Old Margreve is a product many people have been asking for. While not entirely new, the adventures are modern and not quick-and-dirty updates of adventures from thirty years ago. Unless you were a follower of Kobold Press’ Pathfinder material, you might not even realize these adventures are updates of past modules.

Tales of the Old Margreve isn’t going to revolutionize your game. But it’s solid product full of decent adventures that should be easy to run and quick to add to your Midgard campaign or almost effortless port into any setting with a large, dark forest full of ancient magic. And the tone of the adventures is nicely distinct, being different from most other generic western fantasy adventures.

It’s well worth a look and more than worth your time and money.

The biggest “problem” with the book is that it’s not a full Adventure Path. You can’t just sit down and run this and get your party to level 10. You’ll need to add new adventures and fill out the campaign with homebrew. But given this product never claims to be a complete storyline adventure: I can’t fault this product for not being something it doesn’t strive to be. And this is potentially a strength, as the gaps in the campaign leave room for smaller, personal stories tied to the characters and their quests & goals.


Shameless Plugs

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