Wild Men in Casimir’s Mill (2021)
Ben Gibson (Coldlight Press)
Lvl 1 – 3
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Ben Gibson is a reader, author of the quite respectable Outsider’s Doom and high-ranking participant in my successfull No Artpunk competition. When he contacted me about reviewing his latest work I accepted readily. Unfortunately this module does not quite reach the heights of those prior entries. Let us examine why.
The premise and atmosphere of the place are good, very low fantasy, more reminiscent of Harn, Beyond the Black River or the Witcher then Forgotten Realms. An unusual choice for 5e but I like it. A podunk village in the backwater of not quite fantasy Lithuania is having trouble with the formerly reclusive Wildmen, and their attacks have been getting increasingly bold. For compounded reasons, the PCs end up in Casimir’s Mill and are asked to escort cartloads of Grain for 100 gp/cart (a considerable sum!) but might end up getting embroiled in more sinister dealings. The adventure has echoes of anything from 1000 dead babies to the first part of B10.
So, low fantasy jokels, wildmen, arrogant lordlings, sinister cults, it all sounds good on paper, where do we go from wrong from there? Information presentation and conceptual density. There’s multiple redundancies in the often florid text, there’s a set of hooks leading to the region, followed by a set of hooks to actually adventure in the region, with sidebars for setting assumptions, a timeline with burning down random encounters, Wildmen behavior and whatnot. Critical information is interchanged with fluff. It’s almost more complex then it needs to be, considering the execution of the adventure proper.
Despite this there is ambiguity and some implementation problems. The village miller will pay 100 gp per cart that the characters escort from the surrounding villages to his village proper. How many carts per village? Did I miss it? The villagers will, if the PCs gain their trust, share rumors about Kukovaitis’s manor. Where is the rumor table? This adventure is full of minor details that, if combined, might get people to figure out the mystery, which has an impact on how it resolves. Why not make a rumor table for this? Lord Kukovaitis will offer 500 gp for a dead Wildman, 1000 gp for a live one. Per wildman? That’s too much, especially if you follow the OSR conversion advice and multiply all treasure x5. If you are going for a sort of low fantasy vibe you can’t have petty lordlings throwing around that much gold at starting PCs.
Village proper is okay, again very low fantasy, 120 people, a half-blind septagenerian priest with no spells, a hidden pagan religion and an asshole with a barn that will charter the PCs if they piss off everyone else, ruled over by a petty lordling with another dark secret. It’s got that low-fi color, and the intent is clearly that as you fight off the Wildmen you get whiffs that there might be more but the module does not go beyond ‘villagers give you rumors’ and then pointing the characters to the manor or the tower ruins. The hooks that prompt further investigation really should have been developed, say, via a rumor table or by describing a certain piece of information that is guaranteed to come up.
The manor of Lord Kukovatis is done better, good map. I don’t like the fact the gate has been removed, even if the region has been safe for decades and I’d suspect competent guards would at least barricade the entrances if nightly attacks are a common occurence. There are hints that there is devilry afoot in the manor proper, which is good. Since this area is likely to see use in a variety of ways, from social gathering to place of burglarly to impromptu stronghold, I would have liked to see some sort of alarm procedure or order of battle for the (6) guards (seems low), visiting huntsmen and Lord Kukovatis himself, Edit: which it turns out I actually get, it’s just located in the resolution section! It does rankle that the manor is attacked by all of 6 Wildmen with only a single Alpha. I see an opportunity missed for a full on B10 style siege. There’s a few entries that are okay, I like the subtle hints of pagan gods that can cause a party to receive either a bless or a bane spell, there’s a poltergeist of the Lord’s mother in one quiet room, a result of his dabblings in necromancy, he’s got 4 wardogs, some visiting huntsmen, servants etc. etc and percentages of where everyone is, which really should have been seperated and placed before the map key proper. I like how the ghosts are subtly foreshadowed before they attack, with an empty rocking chair or an odd room where a poltergeist challenges you to a game, that’s fun.
The second map, the dungeon under the ruined tower, is weaker. The set up is strong, a series of chambers under a decrepit ruin, used by poachers, the lower levels are thought abandoned but serve as the temple of a pagan serpent-cult. Good start, slumbering vipers that rear up as you get near the stairway. Again the numbers seem very low. Three cultists?!? And then a secret door with a Lamia chilling out who is not really affiliated with the cult. I don’t know about that addition, does it really add anything? The thing with the cult is is that if you don’t stop them within x days they will rouse a serpent demi-god and loose it upon the countryside, which is a good impulse and it has a detailed resolution, which sucks for everyone. I was afraid it would be a pushover but it is actually an almost unstoppable monster that will easily kill any low level characters sent against it (15 HD in the OSR version). Given its power, the hints to find the orphans are relatively opaque.
Both of these areas form about 2/5 of the adventure, with the meat and potatoes of the encounters both in the village and outside being handled by random encounter tables that ‘burn down’ i.e. they don’t repeat. The forest encounters are…good-ish, they have a good mixture of combat, social interaction, complication; say, Wildmen guarding a burial site will attempt to drive off the players with rocks but flee if they approach, Wolves fighting over a corpse near the road, the road is blocked by a tree with wildmen in ambush etc. etc. They are really generally good and varied…but! One random encounter between each village is too predictable, there should be a chance AND the numbers are too small. Given the frequency there must be multiple tribes of wodewose in the area, yet they always show up in pairs or maybe with 4 or 5 guys. The final attack on the manor is 6 men? What gives? The largest encounter, which rocks, is in the village proper, and the Wild men attack the building you are sleeping in with 10 guys. That’s perfect. THAT is a proper encounter with savage tribesmen. I know the Wildmen are much tougher then, say, orcs, with the Alpha’s having 76 hit points and dealing 2d12+something per slam which seems ridiculous but this is 5e so who knows, but it seems as if the thing would make more sense with larger numbers of weaker opponents, if only thematically.
Jeez what else. Props for a random encounter table for the village at night, which can contain anything from a drunk picking a fight to a pagan priest (no stats?!?) rousing the villagers to burn down the local church (this should have been worked out, as is it is a great little hook), to one of the players being lured into the woods by some spirit lady, to a full on assassination attempt on the players by 3 hunters hired by Kukovatis who use ‘ arrows and fire’. Again, good impulse. The scenario actually has reasonably complex resolution to it, returning the unearthed woodman bones from the lord’s manor to the Woodman alpha stops the final assault on the village, there’s suggestions for up to three follow up adventures, the consequences of either scenario is well described and your characters might end with anything from an enchanted bow to the deed of the barony, which is dope.
Again some notes on the conversion proper might be applicable, since mr. Gibson was kind enough to provide for them. Some minor skepticism for the wildman hand to hand damage in the 5e version aside, I am most dubious about the OSR conversions. It is true that OSR systems tend to have less special abilities then, say, a 5e game, but this does not mean that any sort of unique abilities are verboten. The current conversion lists snakes without poison, the Wildman Alpha’s infrasonic growl has been stripped out, the Demi-god serpent also has no poison, Shadows are listed as draining levels…? I think this scenario is an excellent candidate for OSR conversion given its low fantasy premise and relative scarcity of magic treasure but the supplied material needs refinement.
In conclusion: A second readthrough helped clarify a lot of the things I glossed over on the first run and I like the spirit but this thing has a few problems with organization (i.e. critical information is not organized in a way that enables the GM to quickly grasp the situation), there’s an odd minimalism going on with the number of wildmen the characters encounter and on the whole this one seems a little on the rough side. I think one might get something acceptable out of it if you ran it as is, maybe even good if you polished it up, but in its current state it needs work. Let’s not get complacent. A **, on the edge of ***.
It’s PWYW so if you are curious check it out here.
9 thoughts on “[Review] Wild Men in Casimir’s Mill (5e); A Hundred Dead Babies”
You make good points, although I think your verdict tends towards harsh. Still, we don’t want people thinking you have become cuddly! Rumour tables would indeed be a fine addition; I
would also like a summary chart of what rewards are on offer, for which journeys/actions. (This would answer your question about how many wagons the outlying places have.) You don’t seem to have commented much about the mechanism of penalties on the random encounter charts as time progresses, to represent the situation deteriorating.
There are a number of good features: very open-ended; the villagers having their own disastrous solution; a number of possibilities for further adventure, including the arrival of the Inquisition. For potential, I’d push this up to three stars. But it does need a couple of read throughs or you might miss important details.
I noticed Bryce nailed a point that I sort of only touched at. The module speaks more in terms of cliff notes then fully detailed encounters. I had a sentence on the burning down encounter charts that escalate as the module burns down towards the final attack but I removed it since I mention the encounters earlier on.
Ultimately the verdict represents a sort of gut-level endorsement of the work, and while I liked some of Casimir’s Mill, there were too many niggling moments and not enough OOMPH to merit that confidence. Embertrees but on a lesser scale (in terms of both flaws and benefits).
The Siege at Sukiskyn is a very high bar, but yes that has a number of meticulously detailed events to throw at the players. The initial encounter in Casmir’s Mill could be more completely described, and likewise some of the random encounters and events. (It is reasonable to expect the referee to do some improvising in a declining situation.) I’ll grant you the “Bryce point”. Your “mild case of the Embertrees” observation is apt. I think we could do with details from a playtest concerning how well the modelling of a deteriorating situation works. This could go well with the right combination of referee and players.
Most things could go well with “the right combination of referee and players.” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
I am being properly admonished for failing to define my terms: what I am imagining here is that the referee supplies some of the extra detail Prince has (rightly) requested, and the players get invested in the interesting set-up. Put otherwise, adding a few herbs to the dish, not throwing it in the bin and going out to the restaurant instead. (The latter would be a good choice when faced with a meal prepared by me.) I reserve this sort of comment for modules that might be viewed as frameworks, rather than fully fleshed out, If it is one of those adventures Bryce reviews as part of his ongoing penance, i.e. an idea of little interest done badly, then the only right combination is the arrival of a bottle of single malt whisky.
For Prince: that summarises it well.
More an observation than an admonishment, but the elaboration is appreciated (as is the food analogy).
I know what you mean, 2 stars seems harsh but 3 stars seems a bit too much. It’s a little flavorful and I like some of it, but not enough to the point where I say, I’ll run this over n other *** adventures.
Chaos came in! It looks interesting. Expect a review soon.
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Ha! Right on. I was afraid it wouldn’t reach Europe till after the holidays…international mail is crazy at the moment.
Looking forward to a scathingly honest review.