Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Review: Blackmarsh

I spent most of the month of May traveling to conferences, and I just returned home from a trip to the northern rockies to find a copy of Rob Conley's Blackmarsh in my pile of mail, courtesy of Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor.  So after weeks of travel it was nice to relax at home with good coffee and a new game book.

by Robert S. Conley, Bat in the Attic Games
Available from RPGNow
PDF: Free
Staple-bound soft cover: $7.00

Blackmarsh is an old school product that would feel right at home in the 1970's; from its cover, which resembles the World of Greyhawk folder, to its layout and presentation, it radiates old school charm.  This is a product I wish I'd had thirty years ago and if it had been included in the Holmes Basic Set along with Keep on the Borderlands, I would have had a much easier time figuring out what D&D was all about and how to go about creating my own setting and adventures.

This fifteen page booklet describes the geographical area around Castle Blackmarsh, the principle stronghold of Law in the region, which, in the finest old school tradition, sits atop a dungeon that its rulers lack the man-power to clear out.  A map and description of Castle Blackmarsh is also included.

The setting consists of bare-bones descriptions of seventy-five locales, by hex number, which provide numerous adventure hooks that the DM can use to create site-based adventures.
E.g. 1911 This network of caves is home to 105 orcs (1 HD) of the Bateater Tribe.  They pay an annual tribute to the Brotherhood of the Raven (see 1807).

The minimal detail in Blackmarsh allows beginning DM's to expand upon it as they like and use it as a starting point to create their own campaign world.

There is very little to criticize in this product.  The maps are of professional quality, and the text is well laid-out and easy to read.  My only suggestions for improvement would be to put the maps at the end of the book so you don't have to hunt for them every time you want to reference a hex description with its location on the map.  Also, several of the locale descriptions are events-in-progress, such as "six trolls are feasting on the remains of a slain merchant caravan," which conjures the image of six trolls sitting around drinking tea and playing cribbage to pass the time until the adventurers arrive.  A better approach, in my opinion, would be to describe the area as home to a band of trolls who like to waylay caravans.

My understanding is that Blackmarsh will be included in the Delving Deeper boxed set, which I think is an ideal use for it.  I can't think of a better way to give beginning DMs a playground in which to place their adventures.    While Blackmarsh is not likely useful to experienced DMs I heartily recommend it for beginners and I think it may become a classic introductory product that will be as fondly remembered by a new generation of gamers as Keep on the Borderlands was by ours.


Anonymous said...

"fondly remembered by a new generation of gamers"


Sorry, but it is for to laugh sir

Like any new generation of RPG gamers outside of WOW will actually ever exist again...AND they would somehow all walk their first steps with a boutiqe press, last-generation product produced for the 150 or so OSR hobbyist gamers out there..I congratulate you on your ironic wit, sir!!


Tenkar said...

Nunya, you are probably off by 2 decimal points at least, but you already knew that, and no, it's still not a huge number.

That being said, the OSR is growing. You sir, appear to be degrading as you age ;)

David said...

1. Good review. I hadn't downloaded it before, but it's printing as I type.

2. I didn't know about the Delving Deeper Boxed Set! Thanks for the heads up!

Sean Robson said...

I'm glad you found it useful, David, Blackmarsh is a really slick little setting and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Delving Deeper looks promising, and if the boxed set includes Blackmarsh and a good introductory adventure it will be an awesome starter set.