Friday, June 15, 2018

The Graydeep Marches Review — Charming Mini-Setting

I was a pretty big Star Wars D6 fan in the latter days of West End Games. So it was kinda depressing to see them go under, especially as their last products were really top notch. Also sad because it seemed like so many talented people there, artists, writers and editors, left the industry in the aftermath. So when I saw former WEG employee Peter Schweighofer's name on a product at DTRPG, it immediately caught my eye.

The Greydeep Marches is essentially a mini-setting, including 3 short adventures, though only one adventure is really tied to the setting. As the name implies, the Marches are a small-ish borderlands duchy that can pretty much be dropped anywhere in your game world, although apparently it's a province of a larger kingdom. As it's only 37 pages, it's really more a sketch of a kingdom. There are 7 or so population centers (including one for elves, one for dwarves, one for halflings), but each basically just gets a paragraph.
It's a relatively standard fantasy kingdom with a couple of differences. Firstly, the duke is obsessed with magic items and sends his knights out to forcefully buy them from people who own them. Secondly, there's an evil menace lurking in the mountains — dwarves who have been corrupted by evil rubies. Thirdly, most of the law enforcement is apparently done by wandering knights working for the duke.

Most of the flavor of the kingdom comes in the form of several random encounter tables, one for each region of the kingdom, plus some for special types of encounters, like with the knights of the kingdom. These tables typically have 20 entries each and have a fairly detailed (usually a paragraph) encounter.

There is very little combat involved in most encounters, even when encountering humanoids, as mostly they are fleeing from the evil dwarves. The encounter table for the knights makes me wonder how any crime in the duchy is punished, as they seem something out of a sit-com. (Also a quibble, the women knights are called "Lady", while properly a female knight's title is "Dame". See Judi Dench.)

The one location that gets described in some detail is a tavern located near a woods. It's run by a shady halfling who may or may not have ties to the evil dwarves. It's presumably something of a home base for the PCs, or at least someplace they might stop often.

As mentioned, there are three short adventures included. One is a "halfling" adventure, where the PCs are hired to find a farmer's lost pigs and instead find what could be the makings of a war. Another is a fairly standard "clear out the tombs inhabited by goblins" adventure, and lastly there is an adventure dealing with the evil dwarves who have enslaved a village (and presumably the PCs will emancipate the villagers).

It's system neutral yet uses what the author describes as an "Any OSR Key". It's really more an "Any RPG Key", as monsters are just described mostly in prose, with the GM having to adapt to the system. Hit Dice is given as Basic, Expert, or Master, and Armor Class is generally described as the type of amor they wear. Attacks are by weapon or just described.
 The PDF is nice looking and generally looks like an early '80s TSR product. There's a surprising amount of art (original, I believe), but it's fairly small and simple. The map for the Greydeep Marches is extremely nice, especially the color version and is done by the author. If he doesn't want to write or edit, he could have a career making maps

The Greydeep Marches is an interesting read and has three solid, if short, adventures. Using it as a setting in your OSR game might have a few sticky points, most notably the thing where the duke confiscates powerful magic items. That will likely force the PCs into conflict with the duke's government sooner rather than later. The nature of the evil dwarves is another potential pitfall, as almost all OSR games are based on the XP for treasure mechanic and yet the evil dwarves' treasure is cursed.

Still, it's a charming product and should prove most useful as a locale in a starting campaign. It seems especially suited for a lower key game like Beyond the Wall, though it has an early B/X feel to it as well.