Perpetual daylight is scorching the Bone Marshes. An unnatural phenomenon is destroying the wetlands, drying it up and setting it ablaze. A failed merchant with a bookish demeanor and an interest in the arcane sciences needs help to stop it. Is the source of the scorching rays some sort of magic or something else? Only through exploring this boggy area can the adventurers uncover the truth and save the Bone Marshes. Bone Marshes is a sword and sorcery fantasy hex crawl inspired by the marshes of South Carolina. Its salty muck waters and pluff mud provides challenging obstacles for the exploring adventurers.
Bone Marshes is an all-in-one RPG with easy to follow rules based on Knave by Ben Milton. It features three adventures to play through with suggestions on developing more. The book features nicely stylized line art and a clean page layout. The copy within is mostly written as improvisational prompts or adjectives than fully fleshed out sentences. Along with the basic rules and the adventures, the book includes a bestiary and some handouts and character sheets. (I had the pdf and the handouts and character sheets came as two separate files). Most of the handouts were well thought out and creatively presented. All were informative, with some providing quick notes for the gamemaster and players.
Bone Marshes is more than just a playground for dangerous creatures or a place to gain wealth, but a large puzzle waiting for its solution. Each of the adventures will help the players on their way to solve that mystery but only to a point. Players need to keep good notes and carefully track of passage time if they don’t want to get lost. The marshes feature unique qualities which one may easily navigate once understood.
On my initial read-through, I found the style of writing confusing, thinking the undeveloped ideas and partial thoughts was the author inability or laziness to elaborate. Though the further I read, I released this was not the case. Its stylistic structure had a purpose. I find most published adventures have finely defined setting details and a long rich history behind it. Gamemasters with eidetic memories can easily recall its detail, while other GM resort to creating brief gaming notes, usually in the form of bullet points or short descriptions. The author here forgoes the lengthy description for a leaner easier to digest structure, which a gamemaster can build upon beforehand or improvise on the fly. This writing style is most prevalent in the individual hex descriptions where it functions the best. In other areas like the adventure details and backstory not so much. I felt these areas would benefit more with well-defined details.
Once I navigated the stylings of the text, a clear path to an exciting adventure became clear. Players will enjoy visiting each hex through the five distinct sections of the marsh, and more, while mapping their way through to meet the goals outlined with each quest set by the adventures. Each section of marsh and the hexes within contain brief descriptive words and light copy to describe the surroundings and its properties. A random encounter table for each section keeps the players on their toes with environmental hazards as well as wandering monster encounters.
The author’s own youthful experiences in the marshes of South Carolina is the template for the marshes environment. To simulates some of the author’s experiences, player characters will face various environmental game mechanics as they travel through the wetlands. Bone Marshes’ scorching heat and humidity rob the moisture from all, setting the stage for spontaneous fires to occur. The thick stinky mud not only slows travel from hex to hex but its sticky nature can weight down a person, interfering with the use of their equipment.
Having successfully navigated my way through the rulebook I’d like to warn readers to not jump around as I did on their initial read. The information within has the lightest touch and it’s presented only once. Skipping ahead will lead to later confusion and a lot of page flipping. I found it’s best to read through even if it seems confusing at the time. The copy is very light and the answers are not more than a couple of pages away.
Bone Marshes can act as a stand-alone adventure or can easily integrate into any fantasy campaign. The onboard ruleset is not necessary to use as other systems can easily be adapted to the setting; d20 systems work the best. The style in which it’s written is best for seasoned gamemasters with an aptitude for improve or unafraid of developing its details beforehand. It’s generic enough for a gamemaster to add their own flavor to the setting and system quite easily. Its content will provide a gaming group with many sessions of entertainment and tales to regal. Bone Marshes is a good investment and a worthwhile quest to take on.
~ Stephen Pennisi
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