By Ben Gibson Coldlight Press 5e/Pathfinder/OSR Levels 1-3
Bigfoot is coming out of the woods… The harvest season is come. It should be a time of sweat and singing and joy. But howls sound at night, and the old folks whisper about the Wild Ones, who chatter amidst the trees and dance on the roof at night. Rocks fly at merchants, and on nearby paths lie smashed and twisted household gods.The Wild Men have come to Casmir’s Mill, and each night they draw nearer.
This 22 page adventure presents an ongoing situation in the domain of a small manor lord. An investigation and exploration, feature a bunch of bigfoot monsters, it has enough elements of chaos to really bring the noise. Ben makes you work for it though, it being dense for the number of pages and written at a “game notes” level, for the most part.
This is a good example of an adventure situation with a lot going on. We’ve got a village that needs to bring their grain to the mill before it rots. But, the local “wild men” aka bigfoots are attacking people on the roads and generally harassing people. This just started. Mixed up in this we’ve got a negligent manor lord and The Old Region, a snake cult, being practiced in secret … with some human sacrifice and a summoning adding gas to the fire. Hired killers, mob justice and the ilk round out the potential energy. THis is the way things should be. You want the DMto have a lot of tools at their disposal. If the party hangs out at night, watching, you want them to see things. You want a feel that things are going on outside of the parties direct involvement, that the villagers, etc, have agency also.
There’s a density here that folks familiar with this designer’s style will recognize. It’s written in such a way as to convey a kind of DMs notes, or designers notes, or something, about a situation. A general overview of what’s going on, with specifics mentioned, but all meant to be guidelines to help the DM react to the machinations of the players. It’s high level notes on how to run the situation rather than notes on how to run an individual encounter. Taken as a hole, you get DM guidance.
That doesn’t tell yo ushit, does it? Basically, you’re going to have to read the adventure, memorize and/orr highlight it. For example, there’s the grain deliveries from the outlying villages that serve as one of the primary hooks. It’s only mentioned briefly, as well as the villagers generally not helping unless the party REALLY win them over. These are brief notes, maybe a sentence each. And, then, notes in the stable and local manor about getting horses … and the difficulty in doing so, in order to pull the grain carts. Having to get horses is never mentioned. The carts lack of horses isn’t mentioned. It’s only by recalling the stable entries that you can put 2 and 2 together. Or the ladies of the village, following the old ways in their snake cult. They are going to sacrifice some missing orphans. But, there’s not much at all about the cult or how they act, other than “on day blah they do they sacrifice and the giant snake shows up.”
So … bad or good to do things this way?
Well … not great. Or, at least, not great the way this is implemented. As written, the adventure is mixing in the action with the keyed entries of the village, and in the free text descriptions of the countryside, etc. So, hunting for what potentially triggers mob justice is not going to the easiest thing … and is scattered throughout the text at that. This is the old Keyed Location issue. Somethings, a traditional room/key format is good. If you’re exploring, or some such, the format works fine. But, in a more free-flowing environment, the traditional room/key format doesn’t work. You need a way to organize the text in such a way that the natural flow of the adventure is leveraged. So, it’s not “this is what causes mob justice” (probably, anyway) but rather “”Everyone hates the party” or “After the widow rants about cats.” IE: the DM is scanning the text to find out what happens/how to support the shit that just went down, and the text needs to be organized to support that.
Let’s look, specifically, at one entry in the village. This isn’t a perfect example, since my assertion is that a decent amount of the issue comes from the free text general overviews, but, it’s going to have to do.
“4. Mad Etta’s Hut: Rumored consort of devils and eater of babies, the sweet and slightly dotty “mad” Etta is hospitable and pleasant to anyone who shows up on her doorstep. Her modest little home smells strange from tinctures and potions she is always brewing for sale, and if she sees someone wearing flowers, she will invite them to stay with her as long as they want. She is chatty about everything except for the wild men; she has watched some of the wild men children and her home is protected by the adult wild men.”
As a DM, what can you do with this? Will you remember, when the inn/tavern, to drop hints about Etta and her baby eating? Will you run a random street encounter where the party see a dotting old woman? Or, tell the party of that strange house in the distance covered in flower garlands? How will you use the children & protection thing in the game? It’s a BUNCH of ideas. The ideas are decent to good. But they are not useful being located in the description of her home. You need something that leads the party TO her home. That street encounter. The rumors of baby eating. Given the lack of that support, explicitly, it is left as an exercise to the DM to remember to use this information, which means highlighters and notes.
And this does a middling job of that. There is a rather explicit box about “what is everyone in the village hates the party”, but, the mob justice, events, and so on, as essentially scattered through the keys. No real guidance on the cult, although, as a DM, I’m inspired .. if I could remember to do it. Bolding of key concepts is desperately needed.
This is a fun idea. I like the nature of it. I like the scope of it. I like the way Ben sets up the situation and timeline and lets the cards fall.
Ben has a style, by now, a house style, or writing adventures. And it kind of works. I mean, it works GREAT sometimes and less well in other situations. And in this case its working less well. Not terrible, but this is definitely a “needs highlighter and notes” adventure.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $2. The preview is six pages and the last three give you a great idea of what to expect.