March of the Windmills

By Ben Gibson
Coldlight Press
OSR/5e/Pathfinder
Level 2

Warm autumn sunshine filters through the harvest’s dust. The singing of the women threshing grain and the lowing of cattle makes it hard to hear the muffled thumps at first, but the screams of alarm clue you in before long. Coming around the hill…is that Old Leuro’s windmill?  Why is it groaning? And…moving?

This thirty page adventure uses four pages to describe a windmill moving across the land toward a city that it will destroy. It’s a pretty basic scenario that falls short in expanding on a few key points. You know what they say, when you make a simple dish every component must be perfect because there’s no place to hide. 

This is a One Session Kit, to the page count isn’t quite a bad as made out. In addition to pregens, you also get little stand up paper counters to use as the baddies. The concept being that you print it out and you have everything you need to play D&D tonight. In the PDF world where page counts are free, the addition of these elements is a nice touch. 

A woman collapses off a horse in the town square saying his kids been kidnapped by the miller and his windmill is heading to the town(!) to destroy it. The merchants guild offers 1000gp, on the spot, to stop it. At this point a few things pop in to my head. What is evil millers were a long running thing in a campaign? A kind of Freemason thing. Didn’t people already dislike millers, thinking they were cheating them and being jealous of their wealth? Also, riffing off of Gone Fishin, I probably would, as the designer/DM, have a made rush of townsfolk running out to stop the windmill to get the 1000gp, a treasure beyond belief for most of them. Up to and including a quadrapalegic pulling themself along. But then, I like a little farce in my games and a mad villager rush, ala a DCC funnel, would add a lot of extra content to the adventure if that thread had been followed up upon. Also, the woman eclaims “Oh, the monster!” which of course should always be “Oh, the humanity”!

It’s a pretty basic adventure. You encounter some bandits fleeing the windmill, who were hired by the miller, and then arrive at the windmill, which is indeed moving, to find some bandits hired by the miller manning the wrap-around balcony. Getting inside you fight some giant cogs, deal with explosive flour clouds, and the miller and kidnapped kid. Pretty basic. Nothing wrong with that for a single nights adventure, but, agin, I point out that a basic dish must be executed to perfection and I find a lot lacking here.

It’s all pretty generic. Our cogs are just that, cogs. Even the paper minis just show some gears. Some modron style arms, legs and eyes would have been in order, I think, to help bring them to life. Perhaps with some unique attacks like arm grabbing/crushing, with a penalty to little hands that get in to them better? 😉 

The bandit encounter, in the wilderness, is similarly given short shrift. They are simply laden with goods they’ve pillaged, know that they were hired by the miller and ran when the windmill started moving. Nothing more beyond that. A little personality, some specifics in the laden nature, a brief expansion of the encounter … all of that would have helped bring the encounter to life. As is, it’s just some bandits, almost ot the point of saying “4 bandits” and leaving it at that.

At some point the miller may use the boys life energy to power the windmill, if the party mess up the gears. THis is be accompanied by the wail of the boy and the remaining bandist fleeing. Again, not really expanded upon in any evocative manner. Again, a missed opportunity. Most of the adventure is this way, with just very brief encounter description, almost abstracted, given no specifics that would breathe life in to them. Does the windmill have legs? Does is just scoot along? It seems like a pretty simple thing but no advice is given. I don’t need a simulationist thing in here, but something would have been nice. 

The page count does include a column explaining what a One Session Kit is, wasting the word count in what could have been included in the marketing blurb. I can’t help but think that this would have been used to help breathe more life in to the encounters. And thus is goes with these short page count adventures. Constraining by page count you must work with what you have and it is, in many cases, much harder to produce something good when you limit yourself artificially to just a few pages, the one pagers being the platonic example of this.

There is a little backstory here to the local merchants guild paying the miller less and less each month and having him beat up if he sells to other towns, and him charging the farmers more, which causes them to go elsewhere, etc. It’s a nice twist … “oh, the victims brought this on themselves and were working for some questionable people!” It’s told, not through a journal or diary, which is almost universally bad design, but through the millers ledger and the entries therein. Again, a nice little design detail and, while still written, a good departure from backstory through a diary.

It’s an interesting concept, all parts of it, but it feels half formed. Or, rather, not expanded upon.. Like these were the notes and now it needs the specifics added to it. With those specifics you’d have a nice little One Session Kit. 🙂

I would not also that the conclusion is pretty well done. The townsfolkd treat the party as heroes, free room and board, discounted wine, friendly smiles, claps on the back and so forth. The woman gives the party her entire life savings, 30sp, for saving her kid, if they did that. And the boy, to quote “He will have his vengeance upon artificers and all windmills, this he swears upon his name: Alonso Quixote.” And you thought we’d get out of this without a Cervantes reference? I think not! 🙂

The one session supplemental material doesn’t trump the quality of the adventure though. 

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1. The preview shows you the four pages that actually make up the adventure, so, god preview for making a buying decision fromit. 

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/261950/One-Session-Kit-K4-March-of-the-Windmills?1892600

This has been episode three of “Bryce reviews everything on his wishlist, in order.”

BONUS FEATURE! – Fast Locations – Silverfish City!

On my wishlist but not really an adventure. I like city and town locales so I picked this up. It’s nine pages, but the first two are the cover and title page. The last page is the credits page and there are two pages of a poor map. One of the remaining pages is only half a page. That leaves us 3.5 pages of content … not much. It’s just generic town text. “Tavern “The maket’s bowl”, economic place in which most people with enough money eat during the long days of work at the market. It’s cheap, but not bad.” All of the entries are like that, aggressively generic and abstracted, nothing specific, nothing really going on. There is one city hook, about a dungeon nearby and the effects of the people who have gone looking, that is well done in a naturalistic way without being overly long. Quite an interesting hook idea, but nothing beyond that. Quote the disappointment.

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13 Responses to March of the Windmills

  1. The Heretic says:

    WotC had an adventure like this at the end of the 2e era. Doomsday Clock? It turned out to be a giant Derro warmachine that was set to destroy Greyhawk. Ohnoes!

  2. Jonathan Becker says:

    Huh. This is the first time I read a review here that makes me wonder “is Bryce nit-picking too hard?”

    What you’ve described sounds like a fairly interesting adventure for a single session. A little weird, a little whimsy, the bandit touchstone (so it’s not absolutely gonzo), proper scaling/treasure for a 2nd level party (considering it’s something to be played in a single evening), along with a sense of urgency (how much personality do bandits require when you’re tasked with stopping a rampaging windmill? I just want to know if they have crossbows)…is the adventure really so generic that it ranks the same as The Giant’s Shield?

    On the other hand, I have no idea what a One Session Kit is, so maybe I’m not judging by the proper standard. Since it’s PWYW, I guess I *could* just pick up a copy and check it out.
    *sigh*

    BTW, just how does a quadriplegic “pull himself along?” With his teeth? Um….

    • Jonathan Becker says:

      Okay, I read it (he “adventure” part is really only four pages long).

      I get your point Bryce. There are a couple kernels of good ideas here, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. There’s also some nonsense (fleeing bandits looting smashed hovels are good, but they shouldn’t be running IN FRONT OF the windmill), and…as you wrote…a lot of key points could have used elaboration (and textual data just could have been better distributed, although I kind of like the layout).

      Apologies for doubting.

  3. Sevenbastard says:

    I like the mad rush to destroy the windmill as a added complication. A bunch of rable, rival adventurers, maybe a group bent on taking out the PC after they destroy the windmill to steal the proof.

    I guess what I am saying is I would be down for it’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World type scenario

  4. Picador says:

    “The page count does include a column explaining what a One Session Kit is, wasting the word count in what could have been included in the marketing blurb”

    About that: the cover says this is a “One Session Kit(copyright symbol)”. Perhaps the author is unclear on the difference between a copyright and a trademark? Seems like something you’d want to clear up before slapping a giant, intrusive copyright symbol in 48-point font on your cover. If you were the kind of person who wanted to get things right. Just saying.

  5. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around “OSR/5e/Pathfinder”
    I mean, huh? Is this another case of a module designers trying to be all things to all people?

    • SG says:

      Yep. “Confident game masters versed in the old school should have little difficulty converting hit boni and AC numbers to THAC0 and descending AC; hit die totals for most of the monsters included in this adventure correspond to class levels.”

      Does that really make it OSR?

  6. SG says:

    The windmill is “a mobile adventure location”. That sounds potentially interesting, but the changing location has no impact on play (other than being timer.)

    The movement doesn’t even matter to people on or in the mill! It can’t be easy to move and fight in a room that’s “lurching” irregularly. Will people be flung off the platform? Would some bandits tie themselves to the platform (penalizing their AC & mobility)? Are people inside constantly slammed against the walls? How does movement and combat work? Who knows.

    As Bryce said, we aren’t told what the mill’s movement looks like. I’d guess it’s like a penguin tilting and waddling from side to side. As it teeters, do those massive blades swoop close to the ground smashing and flinging huts, trees, creatures? Are people and things likely to be accidentally stepped on by its 50′ diameter foot? Who knows.

    How do you referee a character trying to climb onto a platform 20′ in the air attached to a moving and lurching mill? Who knows, but they can use “trees and ridges”.

    Room 1: “the simple living quarters of the miller look to be swept clean”. Really? All his shit is not smashed up and strewn everywhere inside this tower “lurching” through the countryside?

    The miller is obviously going out it a blaze of glory, right? He’s not going to have a mill or customers or suppliers after this. So why is he hiding down in the basement instead of watching and guiding the mill on its triumphant destruction of the town?

    I’m glad some of the bandits have fled — these guys realized they’d never be paid after the miller’s insane plot plays out, and should’ve used their time to case the mill, then absconded with any valuables once the chaos starts. Just give them the miller’s treasure instead of leaving it hidden. And as someone else said, they’d move from the path of the mill, not toward town. Maybe as the party approaches the mill, have them see a group of bandits leaving.

    Having the kid as a back-up power source for the mill seems like an awkwardly engineered excuse to have a named innocent in peril, with a good opportunity for the party to rescue him. The whole town is already in peril, but who cares about them, they’ll just be statistics. And it makes no sense anyway because the miller already animated the windmill without a human sacrifice the first time. Just require a sacrifice every time or none of the time.

    And why did a miller with no prior interest in magic buy a book of black magic at all? How did he afford a “powerful artifact”? And once the players have this book, how do they harness human batteries to power Animated Objects? Who knows.

  7. SG says:

    Can someone explain this?

    If the players manager to knock over the windmill sideways (with no DM advice about how to judge such attempts), then: “The traps set by [the miller] will still work in the turned-over room.”

    What traps? There are no traps discussed at all in this adventure.

  8. Olle Skogren says:

    “Using the boys life energy if the gears are messed up” is lame and non-specific. He should cut him and use his blood as lubricant for the ailing gears.

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