Here’s some poetry and photography, in equal measures.
Heart Tree. A poem.
Light shines through the trees above
Forming a shape, too like my heart
Coloured by light and silhouette
Reflecting all of my life’s regrets
And if I stare for a little too long
My vision is burned, my heart is wronged
So move along, let heart trees be
And continue on, consequentially
It’s been a while since I gave away a free map. So, without further ado! Okay, just a little…
I love drawing maps for Dungeons & Dragons adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give away my hand-drawn maps any chance I get.
This week: Descending Caves!
Okay, it needs a better name than that, but I’m sure you’ll think of something! The PCs enter from the left, via a vertical cave shaft. Then its down, down, down, as the caves and ledges drop them lower and lower to where some dark and dangerous beasties dwell…
Above: Just right click and save.
This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.
Have you ever spent far too much time drawing a map of your world, developing and designing societies, cultures and religions to fill it, creating reasons for its existence, only to find you didn’t need all that for your campaign or the players didn’t care anyway? I guess all burgeoning DMs have at some point or other. So, how can we go about world building for an ongoing campaign in a way that’s time efficient and campaign-friendly?
Here’s some options and tips:
Use an existing setting
There are a host of fantasy settings available commercially. You can buy one that matches the flavour you and your players like and drop your adventures into that world.
Most of the heavy lifting is done
Great maps, locations and adventure seeds just waiting to be used
Can be very immersive
It may not be exactly what you wanted
A lot of reading and familiarising to do
Modify an existing setting
Add to the existing setting. Make changes that work for your players and your campaign.
Most of the work is already done
Can use the maps, locations and adventure seeds available
Can make small or large changes as needed
Adding to an existing setting may change context of some areas or affect continuity of commercially made adventures from that setting
Keeping track of what you’ve changed might be a concern
Depending on how much you change, might be time consuming
Create your own setting
Create a world on your own or with your players.
An opportunity to flex those creative muscles
You get exactly what you and your players want (assuming they’re on board with the creative process)
It’s not too hard to modify commercial modules/adventures to fit your setting
Can end up being very time consuming
You may overdevelop, producing more content then is needed
Tips for world building
Here are some tips for world building, whether you create your own new world or add to an existing one.
Start small. Your characters are 1st-level? All you need is a village and the surrounding area. Expand on it with your players as they rise in level and explore.
Have a theme. Think about why you need a new setting for your adventures, and what sets it apart from other settings. The theme of your world should support the reason for its being and the internal logic behind your campaign. If it’s a standard high-fantasy setting, a la Forgotten Realms, Golarion, Glorantha, Midgard or Middle Earth, maybe you should just adopt one of those existing worlds. But maybe it’s run by evil Gnomish warlords who have outlawed magic, resulting in steam-powered machine technology and an underground resistance of illegal magic users. There’s no limit to your imagination, just the time it will take for you to develop your world.
Develop as needed. You don’t need to create multiple world-spanning pantheons of deities, or the social structure of the capital’s ruling elite (unless it’s essential to your ongoing story). Develop the bits you need as you need them.
Leave space for future developments. That timeline doesn’t need all the gaps filled in. Leaving space in your world means flexibility to add more later. Filling in every hole now can limit you later on, when you may come up with new or better ideas, and nobody is a fan of retroactive continuity changes.
Build naturally. Add things as part of the story. Another country is invading? Time to put together a culture/backstory for them. Leave any other surrounding countries until they play a part in the ongoing story.
Use your players. Your players are going to have interesting backgrounds for their characters. Make these backgrounds part of your world. Connect your players closely to the world—they will be more engaged with the setting and their personal stories will pay off big time. Use their imaginations to supplement your creative process. It doesn’t have to be all up to you.
I created my own setting for Shotglass Adventures 1 and 2, which I’ve significantly expanded on for Shotglass Adventures 3. I started off with a small province in a remote part of a large empire. The theme was high fantasy, so the adventures could be easily slotted into any existing world. As I created adventures I added locations to the setting, developed a province capital and a shady regional government that would cause some moral quandaries for my players. A small pantheon of gods, a little bit of history as the games progressed, but only as much as was needed for the fledgling campaign, leaving plenty of room to expand later. I added new races as they were needed, arch foes as they appeared. The next iteration expands the area of the province significantly, adding lots of new locations, intrigue and adventure seeds. Time will tell how large the setting gets, and I already have notions for the rest of the world. But I won’t develop any of it unless it plays a part in the ongoing campaign. My best advice: use your time wisely, and try not to overstep the mark (you will want to—we all do).
There’s nothing wrong with developing a world setting, even if you don’t end up using it. If you have the time to invest and the desire, then go for it. But time is a luxury for most people nowadays, so use it constructively (yep, that’s a pun).
Too many pop stars
popping off like stars
or popping corn, just
grabbing my attention
in an explosion of pop culture
Setting the scene
In just fifteen
minutes of sobriety
I went a bit crazy and bought all of the Pathfinder 2e products currently available. Here’s a short review of some of them.
Pathfinder 2e Gamemaster’s Screen
A strong, 4-panel GM screen with great art and useful tables and reminders: conditions, actions, DCs, death and dying, monster types, etc. P2 is a rules-heavy system, and every GM is going to need some sort of support aid to help them remember everything. I think this screen should have included a separate insert with armor, weapons and inventory items listed on it. I find I use these things with players all the time and so made my own, but including them as reference sheets with the GM screen would have been ideal.
Pathfinder 2e Character Sheets
P2 has a pretty complex character sheet. The sheets in this pack have been individualised by class, with a breakdown of specific class feats on the back of the sheet, but they’re still very busy and you will need multiple sheets to keep track of everything (high level characters would be a bit of a nightmare, I imagine). There’s also a handy cheat chart attached to the folder with conditions and actions listed.
Pathfinder 2e Adventure: The Fall of Plaguestone
A cool one-off adventure with a straightforward murder mystery, lots of role playing opportunities, and a few fairly linear dungeon crawls with a great villain and motive. A handy toolbox for GMs at the end of the adventure includes new backgrounds, magic items, monsters and side quests. A very good introductory adventure for beginners and those GMs considering investing in the P2 Adventure Path campaigns.
These sheets and slips
Abide with time,
Like tides and shores,
Old pick up lines.
These mountains climbed
To sheets and slips
And angst-filled lives;
That lost their way,
Were found again,
In the arms of a wayward,
No wind or rain
From north or south,
fear or doubt.
Just sheets and slips
And subtle mouth,
To find my way
Bring this ship about.
My arms like tree limbs,
gnarled and objectified.
Here in the last remaining light,
reaching for an unreachable sign
by the side of a road,
long and bitterly loathed.
My feet encased in clay,
entrenched along with attitudes
I left in yesterday,
along with foolish platitudes
and angst-ridden symphonies
in flight and obscure.
Still the creaking joints reach out,
suppressing every thought and doubt
that lingers in the weary caress
of roots and reeds and weeds.
If you are only passing by,
perhaps you could spend some time with me.
At least I can guarantee
it will be time well spent, indeed.
I was sooooooo looking forward to getting this adventure. But like so many things in life, the experience didn’t quite live up to the expectation. I’m not going to explain the storyline—by now you would have read the advertising blurb.
Descent into Avernus is a campaign adventure for characters levels 1-13. It has great art, decent writing and a huge amount of campaign information for DMs who want to use Baldurs Gate as a city setting. And then there’s a somewhat short adventure in the city which then continues in Hell which kind of feels like it was tacked on, despite the fact it leads the book and has been hyped to death.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s much to enjoy about Descent into Avernus. Although it’s very linear (yes, that includes the sandbox-style section on Avernus), it has some great ideas and plenty of opportunities for DMs to improvise. Once the players are in Avernus, however, the resolution of the storyline is tied to very specific story paths and an annoying NPC (Lulu the hollyphant) that I can just see my players killing in the first few minutes. (Oh, don’t worry. She’s so essential to the story that she comes back to life later if she’s killed.)
I’ve been asking for monster stat blocks to be included in the main text of adventures for ages (but who’s going to listen to me?). And finally, some blocks are included, with the rest at the back of the book, as usual. But the brevity of the main campaign leads me to believe this decision was more a text padding choice than a specific design one.
I guess what I object to is paying $60 AU for a book that purports to be a full campaign, and ending up with something that may need a fair bit of additional fleshing out by the DM. Each Avernus-based mini-adventure is incredibly brief. The story plot points and quests are so closely connected that Descent feels railroaded. The overall campaign itself is decidedly shorter than any other WOTC has put out. In fact, it looks like it was designed this way to allow community content from DMs Guild to fill the gaps.
And the Mad Max-style vehicle combat and rules that were promoted so much? Well, let’s just say they’re a bit underwhelming. I guess you can homebrew a bit. Or a lot. Or buy lots of DMs Guild supplements. Either way, this adventure feels a lot like a computer game release with DLC to come. All we need now are micro transactions…
As I said previously, the swathe of information on Baldurs Gate (including random encounters, adventure seeds, backgrounds and group secrets/motivations) is great for DMs, but it’s not required to run the main adventure. So, if you’re wanting to run a homebrew campaign with Baldurs Gate as the hub, you have everything you need right here.
Great art, decent storyline
Baldurs Gate setting information is detailed and ideal for homebrew city campaigns
Almost linear adventure storyline may be ideal for beginner DMs
Plenty of opportunities for improvisation for experienced DMs
Not enough adventuring in Hell
Most of the adventure’s plot points feel railroaded
Annoyingly cutesy NPC for players to drag through the story
Infernal War Machine rules and Avernus sandbox sections are a bit light
DMs may want to create or purchase additional content to fill out the Avernus experience
Opinion: While Curse of Strahd retains the WOTC campaign crown, Descent is at least better than Princes of the Apocalypse and the Baldurs Gate material is fantastic, even if it’s not required to play the adventure. 7.5/10
I know what you’re going to say—in D&D it’s so much easier not to have to worry about weapons getting damaged. But what happens when they do? And how do you have a simple (or laidback, as I prefer to call it) system that doesn’t bog down the game?
Here’s my personal take on weapon and armor damage:
Every time you roll a 1 (critical fumble) on an attack roll, your non-magical weapon takes damage. It loses -1 to attacks and damage. This stacks with further crit fumbles, up to a maximum of -3, after which the non-magical weapon breaks and can’t be used.
Armor is treated a little differently: when an NPC or monster scores a 20 (critical hit), you as a player can decide whether you want to take the double damage or whether your non-magical armor is damaged with a -1 penalty to AC. This penalty stacks with successive crit hits up to a maximum of -3, after which the non-magical armor breaks and is unusable. (This option might potentially save the PC from being knocked unconscious or killed by a critical hit.)
Damaged weapons and armor can be repaired by an armorer, weaponsmith or bowyer (depending on the weapon/armor) for half the original price of the weapon or armor.
A PC can repair their own weapons and armor during down time if they have have the relevant background and tools (e.g. Guild Artisan or Clan Crafter Backgrounds with relevant area of expertise: armorer, bowyer, weaponsmith). They’ll need a forge if the weapon or armor is made of metal. The price for repairing their own weapons and armor is a quarter of the original cost of the item.
No matter who repairs the item, it takes 1 day per -1 to fix (i.e. 3 days to fix -3 damaged weapon).
And now you’re going to say, why not just buy a new one? That’s entirely possible, but not every PC may have the money, and it may be the sword is a family heirloom or that shield is the Cleric’s holy symbol. Or the player might just prefer to be self sufficient.
When using a weapon and armor damage system like this, you shouldn’t really use a critical fumble system as well. Or if you do, you could alternate crits with weapon and armor damage. Either way, as long as your players are happy with it.
And remember: monsters with weapons and armor should be affected, too. All’s fair, after all.
Your corruption has taken me
Down and done, blistered and foul
Every stream, more pain to cross
Until this bitter pill has done its
Sour and murky job
And set this soul to rights
So I can ride again
But always with this fear
That your corruption
Will bring me down again
I used one of my old adventures from Shotglass Adventures volume 1, which is available in print and PDF from DrivethruRPG (see the link below).
Here’s a copy of the adventure I submitted, which you can download by right clicking and saving. I had to change the name of the major monster because of the system-neutral guidelines of the competition, but it’s an Invisible Stalker. All the other monsters are in the D&D 5e MM.
I bought copies of the Pathfinder 2nd editionCore Rulebook and Bestiary the other week, and after a solid read (they are over 600 and 200 pages respectively) here are my thoughts on the game.
Great layout and design – tabs and index make it easier to find stuff. The PDF is also fully indexed (and where are your official PDFs, WOTC?! And don’t say D&D Beyond, because I object to paying again for content I already own).
Superior character options and customisation – you can customise characters very deeply. Ancestry and backgrounds give specific skills and feats. Character creation is straightforward and easy to follow. HPs are standardised, ability boosts add or subtract from a standard ’10 for everything’ array. The Alchemist class is cool!
Consistent advancement for every level. Hero points awarded allowing players to re-roll a bad roll or save themselves from death.
Alignment is closely tied to some classes – when doing stuff considered anathema to their alignments, Champions and Clerics must atone.
Action Economy – everyone has three actions, every activity has an action cost. You can choose to use the actions any way you want, which makes for more tactically focussed combat (movement counts as a standard action, so you can choose to move three times if you want). Much better way of managing actions.
D20 rolls incorporate Critical Successes (10 or more above the DC) and Critical Failures (10 or more below the DC) which can modify the outcome based on the check performed. Not as intensive as the spell success and failure tables in the DCC RPG, but a nice touch.
Well laid out spells – take up less space and are less vague and open to interpretation. Spells can be heightened, and this is consistently applied (unlike higher-level casting in D&D 5e).
Specific spell schools and domains mean less spell lists (but roughly the same amount of spells) as D&D 5e. Rituals are done by groups and make much more sense.
Specific Crafting rules – The crafting system is second to none. Rules for general, alchemical and magic items. Specific formulas and costs. No more guess work like in D&D 5e.
Levels instead of CR – you can now tell the level a monster or magic item is at a glance, and they’re not as misleading as D&D 5e CRs can be.
A detailed story world (Golarion) is fundamentally part of the ruleset. The roles of the gods and their alignments work in directly with Cleric and Champion classes.
Very much focused on grid-based combat, for those who prefer this approach to RPGs.
Well designed monsters that are just different enough from D&D 5e to keep things interesting.
So much to read, so little time. The size and cost of the Core rule book may be a disincentive to new players.
Lots of ongoing record keeping needed during combat just for the condition effects alone, compared to D&D 5e.
Sometimes a rule that has been written to simplify is layered with additional rules to make it more complex, potentially defeating the initial purpose (e.g. Bulk replaces item weights for encumbrance).
Less core ancestries than D&D, with only the Goblin standing out as any different.
Don’t like Golarion? You’re going to be home brewing some things to fit the new system (e.g. as gods are closely matched to alignments and roles you will need to develop your own pantheon).
Don’t like playing on a grid? You can play ‘theatre of the mind’ but be aware it might get a bit tricky (see next point).
Big numbers involved in ability, skill checks and combat, especially at higher levels. If you’re not decent at maths you may balk at some of the numbers (e.g. one high level monster has an AC of 42). There is a high reliance on multiple bonuses (see the next point).
No Advantage/Disadvantage, one of the best new rules of D&D 5e. (Okay, so there is fortune and misfortune, which is the same thing, but it’s not used to the extent it is in 5e. In fact it’s a sidebar, more an afterthought).
Way too many conditions to remember. Luckily you can buy condition cards, if you want.
Even with that really well-designed character sheet, you may run out of room attempting to record all the information for feats and the like.
Pathfinder 2eis a great game for tactical players who love deep character customisation.
The rules have been simplified overall, but retain enough crunch to either excite of annoy, depending on your preference.
Numbers get really big, really fast.
Combat is more tactical but will take longer to run and involve more record keeping.
Lots to read and remember – detail and specificity are the middle names of this game. If you are a less is more person, this may not be the RPG for you.
I haven’t had the chance to run a game yet, but I can imagine my maths-deficient players getting their calculators out. Some of the systems are better designed than D&D 5e, while others just make things far more laborious. There is a level of specificity in the rules that eliminates a lot of uncertainty common in other RPGs. I imagine Pathfinder 2e games will take longer to run then D&D 5e. I like it, though!
Good on you, Paizo—a great update that finally sets Pathfinder apart from D&D, and in many good ways.
PS I’m not bagging D&D 5e – I love the game and play it every week. Heck, it’s how I make my living. Given Pathfinder2e’s roots, though, it was easiest to compare.
Are you one of those DMs who finds it hard keeping secrets from your players? This may be the case if you see your players regularly, through work, school or at the pub, and enjoy talking about your game. You may find it’s hard not to blurt out some spoilers.
But think about it. Spoilers are exactly what they mean. Your players look to you as a DM to not only provide them with a night of entertainment, they also trust you as a referee, game runner and friend. If you tell them secrets about the campaign, what else are you letting slip? This could lead to concerns about non-gaming stuff they tell you in confidence, questioning your overall integrity as a person.
What are some ways to stop?
•Journal – record your thoughts, so you want to talk about them less. Use your phone—who needs a paper diary, nowadays?
•Think – before you open your trap. Spoilers spoil—it’s in the name.
•Talk – not to your players, but to non-players. Unloading to others means less chance of spoilers for your players (as long as the non-player doesn’t tell them).
•Play – maybe you’re not playing your games regularly enough. This can be tricky when your group has commitments, but talk with them about it. Maybe shorter games or a public venue, rather than someone’s house (why a venue? Sometimes people feel more obligated when it’s not just going over a mate’s place, plus there’s less onus on the house-owner to set up, clean up, etc.).
•Do – make time for other stuff. Thinking about RPGs all the time is probably not ideal. Get your mind on other things—go out, go to the gym, drive, walk, see the country. Then come back and play RPGs!
So, stop the spoilers. Just think how much more exciting a reveal is for players when it’s unexpected.
PS thanks to Chaoticcolors.net for the idea for this blog 😊
Do you use the encumbrance rules as written in 5e? I don’t. I find them…cumbersome, if you’ll excuse the pun. Of all the rules brought across from the various old editions, counting weight in pounds and applying it to a factor multiplied by strength is just tedious. There’s enough math in the game without that as well.
So, time for some simpler rules. Here’s some, borrowed and slightly modified, from a great little game recently launched on Kickstarter, called Five Torches Deep.
All item weights are expressed as Load, which reflects the weight and bulk of an item. Small items and weapons (such as a dagger) weigh 1, medium or bulky items and large weapons weigh 2. Light armour weighs 1, medium armour 2, heavy armour 4. 500 coins equals a load of 1. Some items will have negligible weight, such as a single scroll, and don’t count towards Load (although a scroll case with multiple scrolls would weigh 1).
A PC can carry their Strength value in Load e.g. STR 18 = 18 points of Load. If they go over their limit, they are encumbered and suffer a 5 foot movement penalty per point of load over their Strength. They also suffer Disadvantage on ability checks, saves and attacks. When their movement reaches zero they are over-encumbered and can’t move. They’ll have to shed something.
For example, a Rogue has Strength12. He carries his backpack (1), a dagger (1), a short sword (1), long bow (2), quiver of 20 arrows (1) full waterskin (1), 2 weeks of rations (2) a bag of marbles (negligible), 50 feet of rope (1) and wears Leather Armor (1). This brings him to 1 under his limit. He could carry a further 500 coins (1) of treasure, but any more and he’s over the limit—his movement would be reduced by 5 feet for each point over and his ability checks, saves and attacks would be at Disadvantage.
Easy to work out and apply, right? And much less cumbersome.
Alignments are a leftover from the days of old school role playing. Originally there were three—Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. Then Mr. Gygax decided in AD&D that he’d spice it up a little by adding Good, Neutral and Evil suffixes to provide a bit more clarity. But are alignments necessary in a D&D game?
Players and DMs generally fall into two categories when it comes to alignments—you either love them or hate them. There doesn’t seem to be a sit-on-the-fence (or neutral!) option here. Personally, I don’t like alignments. I think players like the freedom to play their character how they wish, and alignments are just not that important in running the game.
That’s not to say alignments are a complete write off:
They make it easy to role play NPCs and monsters because they provide a basis for their motivation.
They provide players with some guidance as to how they might play their character.
They can create interesting conflicts for parties containing characters with wide-ranging alignments.
The rules are set up to use alignments, particularly where aligned magic items are used or in certain magical areas or traps that only affect specifically aligned characters.
They make it easy to tell who the good guys and bad guys are, thus ‘aligning’ the story with traditional high fantasy tropes.
Players may feel restricted by having to ‘fit’ their role play to the alignment they’ve chosen.
Conflict between opposite aligned characters may feel ‘manufactured’ or meta-gamed, rather than natural.
DMs may feel restricted by an NPC’s or monster’s alignment e.g. that monster is Chaotic Evil, he would never do something to help out that party!
In the end, everyone has good and bad in them. Nothing is black and white in the real world, and role playing games are a bit like that, too (at least mine are). I don’t believe in the need for alignments, but I can see how they can be useful in helping to guide a player’s ethical decisions. When I’m playing an NPC or monster, I ignore alignment altogether and do whatever fits the story best.
In the end, whether you use alignments or not, you decide how they work in your campaign. Like many of the peripheral rules in TRPGs (i.e. rules that could be considered non-essential) they don’t really make much difference to how the game is played. Everyone will still have fun, whether you use them or not.
Timed and untimed,
A chaos of raindrops
Upon a sleepy roof
Filling gutters and trailing
Spume in snail trails
That wind their way
Drinking toasts to those
From the scene
Left such a hole
In awkward conversation.
The clink of glass
And amber froth
Disappeared in the wake
Like reeling in the catch
To be emptied later
Upon the deck
Before the toilet door.
But such a waste
Of good beer.
The last call
Of siren nights
A gentle gutter bed
For swift repose
And nights better off
Until the next
Your head laid upon
The tiers and tiles
Perhaps better off dead.
For more of my poetry, check out Poetry for the Sad, Lonely and Hopelessly Endangered and The All or the Nothing, available in print or e-book formats.
The products from my last Kickstarter, including Shotglass Adventures II, are now available in PDF/print on DrivethruRPG.
Here’s a look at the printed version of the book:
SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES II
For D&D 5e and other OSR fantasy role playing games.
• 10 one-shot adventures for characters of 6th-10th level, including murder, dungeon crawl, gauntlet, planar, puzzle, quest, siege, sci-fi. Minimal preparation required. Each adventure can be run individually or played as a mini-campaign. Over 50 hours of gaming content
• 25 New Monsters
• 17 New Magic Items
• 2 New Ships, compatible with the ship rules in Ghosts of Saltmarsh
• New playable race – Sh’Vy’Th (Sherviath) Elves! Refugees from fascistic forest city-states ruled with an iron grip by the Pale Lords…
• Information on the Invician Empire to support campaign play
• A map of Verona Province, complete with every adventure location
• OSR conversion advice
• Bonus tips for DMs
• Bonus full color and b&w maps with adventure seeds for you to use in your own adventures
So what exactly is a sandbox? And how does it relate to RPGs? ‘Sandboxing’ is where you let your players loose in the world to do whatever they want. Give them a map and they decide where they go and what they do. Consequently, the world is built around their actions.
It’s a bit like computer games such as Skyrim and GTA—if you don’t follow the main story quest you can literally play in an open world sandbox, and do almost anything you want. But computer games are limited by their code, system memory and processing power. TRPG sandboxing is not.
For new DMs, sandboxing can be scary. With the players left to do what they want, go anywhere and do anything, it’s up to you to respond and create interesting NPCs, story, sidebars, and world building while they do it. Obviously you’ll have a little something pre-prepared, but it might not get used as the players may decide on a different course of action. You have to constantly think on your feet and improvise, and this can be daunting for some.
So how do you prep for and run a sandbox campaign?
Learn to improvise. Let the PCs make the decisions and let your logic and creativity respond to their decisions.
Let the players help design the world. Your players are a source of joint creativity here—use them!
Use random tables. Random names, random towns, random locations, random quests – there are loads of supplements and online tools out there for generating content on the fly. Have them on hand to use during the game. Shotglass Adventures volume 1 has a bunch of useful tables in the back – shameless plug.
Keep lots of notes – as you create stuff with your players, keep notes so you know what you did in that session (this is a given in any DMing session, but it’s even more important with sandboxing as you don’t want the PCs going back to a town you created on the fly only to find you’ve forgotten all about it.
Have some one-shot adventures on hand to slot into the campaign and save some prep time. The party might not take the bait but you’ll feel happier knowing you had them (this feels like a great time for another shameless plug – Shotglass Adventures volume 1 and 2 are ideal for this).
Damn fool Believing you’re good enough Damn fool For thinking you got it made Damn fool For believing in life and love Damn fool Taking belief to your grave Damn fool I still believe in you Damn fool Maybe you do, too
For more of my poetry, check out Poetry for the Sad, Lonely and Hopelessly Endangered and The All or the Nothing, available in print or e-book formats.
Every time I GM an RPG, whether it be D&D, Stars Without Number, Numenera, Kids On Bikes or another genre, the players take it upon themselves to split their party because some want to do one thing and others want to do another (usually because strong personalities compete). And every time they do it, the separated weaker parts of the whole inevitably suffer.
I have no problem with players splitting up. I can handle multiple groups and jump back and forth to keep them engaged. I can modify stuff on the fly so they are not overwhelmed unnecessarily by their enemies. But that doesn’t change the fact that the sum of the whole is generally better than the individual parts.
An example: in a recent playthrough of the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, the party decided to split up to check out the gardens around the old manor. A few checked out the back yard. One investigated the burrow under the rose bushes. A couple decided to see what was in the well.
The solo crawl down the burrow didn’t end well, but the PC’s screams of pain brought the rest of the party running from the backyard, so they were able to pull them out and stabilise them (as well as kill the poor giant weasels that were just defending their home).
Down the well went perhaps the party’s weakest character, with the stronger character controlling the rope. Poisonous snake attacks later, dead PC pulled back out.
Would this have gone better with the full party at both scenes? Probably. With more party members, more than one may have descended the well. Perhaps they would have left the burrow alone, or perhaps used fire to smoke out any inhabitants first.
My point is, strength in numbers is not just about raw fighting or magical power—it’s about the ideas the group bring to the table. More heads may come up with interesting solutions where only a few might not.
I don’t really mind parties splitting up. It makes for interesting play and certainly ups the tension (and makes for some pretty funny outcomes). Sometimes splitting the party is necessary for the adventure, but in that case the players would normally be working to a plan (nothing may go according to the plan, but it’s the thought that counts). Players often forget that ‘many = strong’, no matter how long they’ve been playing RPGs. Oh well…
I’m a huge fan of maps. I draw lots of them, and occasionally give them away free on this site. But I’m a bit old school when it comes to my preferences. I love hand drawn maps, but I’m not a fan of digital maps.
Why don’t I like fully digitally created maps? They take just as long as hand drawn ones, and arguably are just as good or sometimes even better looking. For me, purely digital maps look a bit too much like a computer game, and often they look a bit artificial. The really good ones look a bit TOO good. In many ways, they get away from the idea of a pre-tech fantasy world.
But hand drawn maps? They fit the fantasy setting. When I see a good hand drawn map, it invokes warm, fuzzy feelings and feels as if it was drawn by a cartographer on an actual fantasy world. It’s more in keeping with the games I play and the main reason why I will never go ‘full digital’ (I hand draw my maps and then color them digitally in photoshop, but that’s only because I’m an awful painter).
There are a number of old school, hand drawing cartographers out there. Many provide their maps for free or have patreon sites where you can get regular maps for a low price. Here’s a few of my faves:
Flanking is an optional rule in D&D 5e, generally used with miniatures (although you can also use it in theater-of-the-mind combat if you want—I do). Flanking is where two or more miniatures ‘surround’ another (which we’ll call the 3rd), on directly opposite sides. The theory is that the 2nd miniature is distracting the 3rd while the 1st attacks, granting Advantage to the 1st’s attacks (and then the 2nd’s, if they are still in the same position when their turn rolls around). Flanking applies to melee attacks only. Sorry, archers—you already get it pretty good (especially if you’re a Rogue).
If my description is a little unclear, here’s the official rule from the DM’sguide: “When a creature and at least one of its allies are adjacent to an enemy and on opposite sides or corners of the enemy’s space, they flank that enemy, and each of them has Advantage on melee attack rolls against that enemy.”
Not every DM uses the flanking rule, but it is an option that enables the party to think more tactically (and in more of a meta-gaming way, if you want to think of a downside) in combat. Much like the use of special abilities using bonus actions that stun or trip opponents to give Advantage first before your actual attack action, the flanking rule means players will tend to think how they can get an Advantage in any fight by flanking opponents any opportunity they can. Having finished off a monster, a player might deliberately move behind another monster to allow one of their team mates an opportunity to move up to the opposite side and have Advantage on their attack.
Flanking does have a downside to play – battles with miniatures tend to be more static, as inevitably those monsters or PCs escaping the flanking situation tend to be subjected to opportunity attacks as they move out of the flanked situation. Thus they hold their ground more often.
Multiple flanking is where a miniature is surrounded on all sides, with each character directly opposite giving the other Advantage. This makes short work of big monsters, but also means the characters can be damaged more easily as they are all in close combat with a major beastie (I roll randomly to see who gets hit in these situations, simulating the monster flailing around it to try to get out of the situation. Unless it’s two sizes bigger than the PCs, and then it can step over them).
Does flanking unbalance the game? That depends. If you’re the sort of DM who likes to use small numbers of more powerful opponents, the PCs can gain the upper hand if they can use their superior numbers to constantly flank. If you prefer to use large numbers of weaker monsters it makes them more effective as they can use flanking tactics to hit the PCs more often and wear them down. With flanking, even large numbers of low-level Goblins can wear down higher-level melee-based characters. I don’t believe flanking unbalances the game. It just means both players and DM need to think more tactically when using the rule.
So, if you’re not currently using flanking, you may wish to consider it. And remember: players may get Advantage from flanking, but monsters do, too.
So, you rolled a 1 on d20 attack roll. It means you categorically missed, no matter what your modifier. The opposite goes when rolling a 20 on d20 attack roll. You hit and get to roll your weapon’s damage dice twice, adding any relevant modifier after.