This is a review of the setting book “Blackmarsh”, by Robert S. Conley. It's published by Bat in the Attic Games; and I’m reviewing the print edition, which has a colour cover (though the centerpiece of the cover is a black and white hexmap) and black and white interiors. The cover is very clearly as much an Homage to Greyhawk as the name “Blackmarsh” is to Blackmoor; the cover clearly copies the covers of the old Greyhawk setting books, with a central hexmap and numerous heraldic shields all along the borders (sadly, the heraldry is not explained or referenced in the book itself). The interiors feature a few small illustrations and a few really amazing maps, of the sort anyone familiar with Rob Conley’s work is used to (a note of bias here: Conley was the artist responsible for the frankly amazing setting maps for my own Arrows of Indra RPG). The Blackmarsh setting is apparently included in the “Delving Deeper Box Set”.
Blackmarsh is Conley’s own “ready to run setting” that can be played on its own or put into a border region of one’s existing campaign. Its very OSR-themed; the title is a direct evocation of Blackmoor, and the content has a great deal owed to Blackmoor, Greyhawk, and the Wilderlands. The Blackmarsh setting is built around a bay, and the implication of the setting that it is a place where great empires once stood long ago but that is now a frontier region, with only a few outposts of civilization (making it easy to place in a border-area of one’s own campaign world). The setting is marked (some would say centrally defined) by a pre-historic event in the setting: “The mountain that fell”; a meteor that created an area of strange monsters, and more importantly a material called Viz.
Viz, we are told, is “pure magic” in physical form; it can be used to aid in the casting of spells or creations of items; one can use Viz to cast a spell without losing it from memory, though it gets consumed in the process. The actual details for using this wonder-material are left quite sparse; do not expect lengthy or complex mechanics on Viz-use.
Apart from the introduction, one of the first things we get in the book is a great hexmap of the Blackmarsh region, advice for how to fit it into your existing campaign world and a cool “rumours” table, complete with true and false rumours.
After this you get a page and a half’s worth of geographical descriptions; and then several dozen “locale” descriptions (keyed to numbered hexes on the setting map); these are locations of preset encounters, of ruins, lairs of major creatures (a female black dragon and her offspring, for example), communities (complete with population, race, alignment, ruler info and resources, as well as descriptions), terrain hazards, and other such things.
There’s also a map and full description of Castle Blackmarsh and its town environment; complete with keyed locations of particularly interesting places, like inns, adventuring societies, the magic store, and temples.
The whole book is only 15 pages long, but its quite complete as a small setting. The keyed hex-descriptions set up the environment for a sandbox game, and there’s plenty of encounters and interesting details in the product to keep an old-school adventuring group busy for quite a while; though of course there’s plenty of room left over in the setting-region for the GM to add his own adventures and locales.
All in all, Blackmarsh is an excellent setting book that hearkens back to some of the best details of settings like Blackmoor or the Wilderlands; its the kind of supplement material that any old-school gamer would be glad to get. If you’re less familiar with the old-school aesthetic, you might find the structure of the setting fairly odd though I’m sure that within the content you’d be able to find more than a few useful ideas. The only thing I could really say that’s “bad” about it is that, like with some of Conley’s other works, the brevity of it all leaves me wanting more.
Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia
(originally posted April 17, 2013; on the old blog)