Laidback DM: Curse of Strahd 2017 – Week 13

Hi all,

Over the last few weeks I’ve been posting some warts-and-all email summaries of the Curse of Strahd campaign I ran in 2017. This is the first campaign I started sending summaries to players by email after each game (I was a bit lazy prior to that).

Some of the summaries may be dull, some may be amusing; some are written in present tense, some in past tense – these are unedited emails, so please forgive their somewhat chaotic nature and poor sentence structure/grammar.

If you’re a D&D fan you may enjoy them, but I warn you: I’m not Mathew Mercer and this is not Twitch.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

Week 13

Sunny Barovia just keeps getting foggier, if that’s at all possible…

This week, the party (reduced in number with a few away) were about to be attacked by werewolves and wolves, so they retreated into Van Richten’s tower and let the tower defenses take care of the wolves. Unfortunately, Isaac’s Tiefling Warlock was on the roof, and got electrocuted as the defenses kicked in. After jumping through the ceiling to save herself, the Tiefling joined the others who watched as the wolves all ran away. Exiting the building to get on the road, they were very lucky as once they got out the entire tower collapsed, destroying Ezmerelda’s caravan in the process (“…but that caravan was a gift from my dearly departed grandmother” – okay, she didn’t say that, but she wasn’t happy).

William’s Dragonborn Paladin persuaded the party to try a location they didn’t know anything about, in preference to one they did, to save themselves from certain slaughter. So, off to the mansion of Argynvoshtolt they went.

In the courtyard they discovered a huge silver dragon statue that failed to freeze them at the front door (a bit old, you see), a grand reception, a nifty dining room with carved dragon chairs and a bunch of revenants hanging out in the chapel, who attacked them. The fight that followed was one of the hardest and most exciting the party has experienced yet, as the revenants proved harder to beat than expected. During the fight, Natasha’s Gnome Druid used Moonbeam to great effect, Dan’s annoying Halfling monk had her wings clipped a bit (seems he was using too many bonus actions in the past for his character’s additional attacks), and Ezmerelda bit the big one as Isaac’s Tiefling decided to assassinate her in the midst of the battle.

The party was surprisingly nice about the death of the major NPC that the Taroka cards had predicted they would need to defeat Strahd. “If you do it again,” said Natasha. “We’ll have to leave you behind.” Suitably admonished, Isaac promised to be a good Tiefling.

No he didn’t, I just put that bit in for effect.

William changed into a wereraven (remember, he picked that little curse up last session) and flew around outside the building, scouting out the premises, spotting an old dude on a throne and lots more revenants. Natasha changed into a spider and crawled under several doors and scouted internal rooms. In the store room next to the kitchen, she spotted a wounded elf (and here we thought there were no elves in Barovia, racist nation that it is…)

Next week: Who is the wounded elf? Who is the old dude on the throne? Will those revenants make mincemeat out of the party? Why is the Tiefling being so nice? Where does the druid store all her gear when she transforms? How many more questions will Steve ask before he finishes typing?

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Laidback DM: Curse of Strahd 2017 (Weeks 4-5)

Hi all,

Over the next few weeks (months, years, who knows) I’ll be posting some warts-and-all summaries of several campaigns I’ve run in the past. This is one from 2017 – The Curse of Strahd. Some of it will be dull, some of it may be amusing; some of it is written in present tense, some of it in past tense. These are the unedited email summaries I sent the players each week, so you’ll have to forgive their somewhat chaotic nature.

If you’re a D&D fan you might enjoy them, but I warn you: I’m not Mathew Mercer and this is not Twitch.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

Week 4:

Last Wednesday night in Vallaki, the intrepid adventurers faced death by vampire spawn, long drawn out discussions and wine shortages, not necessarily in that order.

The team achieved some great gains:

– Discovered Rictavio, the carnival half-elf bard, is actually Rudolf van Richten, famous vampire hunter, who has pledged to assist when they finally face Strahd
– Found out there is a big Vistani camp outside of town
– Returned the bones of St Andral to the Vallaki church and foiled a plot by vampire spawn to destroy the church
– Moved Ireena to the church as she is on protected, hallowed ground
– Made friends with the burgomaster (no thanks to Dan’s Halfling Monk, luckily all good now) and promised to return some missing children, who appear to have been kidnapped by an old hag with a cart selling dream pastries (William’s Dragonborn Paladin’s ears pricked up: “Pastries? Did someone say pastries?” Cue Homer Simpson gurgling sounds)
– Have taken possession of a very powerful artifact, the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, which helped them defeat 6 vampire spawn in no time (big thanks to Natasha’s Gnome Druid’s web spell) – Gone in 60 Seconds
– Have been asked by the local innkeeper to get some wine from the Wizard of Wines, in return for free board and food
– Are considering taking Ireena to the Abbey of St Markovia, in the village of Krezk, to get her farther away from Strahd
– The party is now off to visit Old Bonegrinder, the windmill they passed a few days back…
Week 5:

Last week, the intrepid adventurers ventured from the safety of the walls of Vallaki to find the missing children. While en route to the Old Bonegrinder Windmill, they encountered a few dire wolves and despatched them without even raising a sweat (much to DM Steve’s chagrin).

Proceeding to the windmill, the party then engaged in a massive 3 hour battle with the 3 Green Hags who called the windmill home. Highlights included:

– William’s Dragonborn Paladin waiting for the dream pastries to cook

– Mark’s Halfling Bard taking out the stairs and then riding the dragonborn (in a good way, that is) on his back. And then taking the magic items for himself and pretending he hadn’t found any…

– Dan’s Halfling monk being thrashed and cowering outside with a caltrop trap set up at the door (“So, I guess the party won’t be coming out then?” asked DM Steve)

– Natasha’s Gnomish Druid saving the day with a Moonbeam spell that frazzled the hags but good

– Isaac’s Tiefling Warlock scaling the windmill, leaping onto the vanes and then falling to the ground. And being knocked unconscious in battle – twice! That’s the first time Isaac’s character (in any D&D game) has been properly wounded lol

Next week: Taking the rescued kids back to Vallaki, the festival of the blazing sun is about to begin, more wine is needed for the town and Ireena needs to go to the village of Krezk… 

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Hi all,

DUNGEONS YOUR PARTY WILL DIE FOR is now available in print through DrivethruRPG!

Compatible with 5e and OSR fantasy role playing games, DUNGEONS YOUR PARTY WILL DIE FOR is a 36 page book packed full of fantastic content at a low price. Inside you’ll find:

· 10 ‘adventure-on-a-page’ one-shot adventures of all varieties, complete with full color maps! Varied adventures ranging from 1st – 9th level, designed for minimal preparation and flexible delivery. Each mini-adventure can be run as a one-shot or as a side-quest, easily slotted into any campaign.

· Hand-drawn, full-color maps – old school style with new school flair!

· The rural region of Nothl’nd Central District containing the vast lakes and Wind’n Plains of Verona Province from Shotglass Adventures! Each adventure is tied to towns and villages throughout the area, and can be used in conjunction with any Shotglass Adventures campaign, or they can be run separately without the need for the setting. These adventures can easily be dropped into any campaign or run as a one-shot.

· Guide for OSR conversions!

You can purchase it now at

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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And while I’m at it – I’m sure you don’t need reminding, but I’m gonna do it anyway:


Laidback DM: Curse of Strahd 2017 (Week 1-2)

Hi all, 

Over the next few weeks (months, years, who knows) I’ll be posting some warts-and-all summaries of several campaigns I’ve run in the past. This is one from back in 2017 – The Curse of Strahd. Some of it will be dull, some of it may be amusing; some of it is written in present tense, some of it in past tense. These are the unedited email summaries I sent the players each week, so you’ll have to forgive their somewhat chaotic nature.

If you’re a D&D fan you might enjoy them, but I warn you: I’m not Mathew Mercer and this is not Twitch.

Game on!

Steve 🙂 

Week 1-2 (March 2017):

After being mysteriously transported to the valley of Barovia by magic mists (or something), the PCs learned (slowly) that the Vampire Strahd lived in the Castle of Ravenloft overlooking the village of Barovia, and that he was cursed so could not escape the land. And neither could anyone else. Bummer.

The party played their way through the ‘Death House’ adventure, which took two weeks to finish, culminating in a battle with a nasty Gibbering Mouther. Mark’s Halfling Bard sacrificed his tweety bird mascot on an evil altar for the good of the party and William’s Dragonborn Paladin ate it afterwards (burp!). Isaac’s female Tiefling Warlock grabbed a very small centipede from a swarm, because she was feeling lonely…

Then a visit to the village provisioner (where everything was really expensive), meeting Ismark Kolyanovich (son of the burgomaster) at the pub, being invited back to his place and encountering Mad Mary in her house along the way, where they learned Mary’s daughter Gertrude had gone missing.  

Week 3:

* The party spent 30 minutes discussing the various ways they could transport the dead burgomaster’s coffin 200 yards up the road to the church. Options included whipping it magically, cremating it, and not taking it at all. They finally decided to carry it!

* William’s Dragonborn Paladin was stoned on the old hag’s dream pastries for 6 hours and had to be led around with a rope.

* Steve’s human Wizard’s magic missiles made short work of Father Donavich‘s Vampire Spawn son in the Church undercroft.

* Shame Father Donavich was asleep (thanks to Isaac’s Tiefling) when his son was brutally beheaded and teeth extracted for a souvenir. When he awoke, nobody knew how that happened…

* DM Steve accidentally sent the party to the Tser Falls to see Madame Eva. She’s actually at the Tser Pool. Luckily, he remembered. Eventually…

* Rolling for wandering monsters, everyone on edge as the encounter is revealed as…a lost trinket. Not even silver. Doh! 

* Dan’s halfling Monk changed name several times (it started with ‘Tiny Longbottom’ – not sure if that was a euphemism), missed lots of times (damn dice!), and made sure everyone knew she was of noble descent. And the darts that were shurikens, became darts again…”Are those shuriken darts in your hair or are you just happy to see me?”

* Natasha’s Gnome Druid nearly died in the wolf attack, but recovered to transform into a horse to carry the numerous wolf carcasses to Vallaki. Unfortunately, the PC ran out of time and transformed back into a Gnome, covered with wolf blood and guts. Where is the well?

* Isaac’s Tiefling Warlock attempted to scale the 1000 foot cliff walls at the Tser Falls, managed to get 300 feet (thank you, heaps of chalk – knew those ten pounds would come in handy), fell in love after Strahd visited her (and rejected her), and finally caught up with the party after all the wolves were dead. Take that, wolves! 

* NPC (Sink the) Ismarck proved himself handy with a blade, and may possibly become a long-term party member. Okay, probably not. Just wanted to get your hopes up.

* The little boy the party saved from the old hag selling dream pastries from her cart (everyone hated the fact she had a cart – oh, the injustice!) is living it up by himself in the Burgomaster’s mansion in Barovia Village. No doubt scoffing dream pastries…

 The party has now arrived in Vallaki, where the guards conveniently provided a map of the town’s local tourist attractions, and have just entered the local inn.

What dangers await the party next week? Spoiled wine? Gritty, undercooked wolf steaks? More sad Barovians? Squawking ravens? Another trinket encounter?


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Laidback DM: Virtual Tabletops and The FTF gamer.

So, you’ve never played D&D or your preferred role playing game online before? Now’s the perfect time to do it.

I was a virtual tabletop virgin. All my games were face-to-face (FTF) and the idea of playing a game specifically designed for FTF social contact on a computer didn’t appeal to me at all. I enjoy being with my players in the same room—the sights, smells, the interaction—and the joint feeling of community that brings. Then the pandemic hit, and many of us were socially isolated to prevent the spread of the virus (and despite the opening up of many countries and industries, many of us will continue to stay in isolation). So, I decided to wet my feet in the online gaming ocean via Roll20 and Discord (there are many virtual tabletop applications, such as Fantasy Grounds and Astral Tabletop, but I’m going to limit my comments to the platforms I’ve used).

When I first started DMing online with one of my regular FTF groups, not everyone had PCs (astounding, I know). We used Discord and I displayed maps and tokens in Photoshop, screen sharing with my players. Eventually everyone migrated to Roll20 and we continue to use Discord for audio (as Roll20’s servers don’t always handle audio/video that well).

Role playing online isn’t so different from role playing in the same room. If you use video you can still see everyone’s reactions (but never take your Discord/video link on a phone into the toilet with you. Especially if you forget the video is still on). If you just use audio you can generally still pick up enough vocal nuance to know how players are responding/reacting.

The benefits of online tabletops include access to a larger and more diverse player base and a broad range and style of games from all over the world. There is less chance of having too few players for a game as you can set your game to allow players to drop in at a moment’s notice (not everyone will like this function as it may impact on player continuity, however it can be useful to maintain regular game impetus). You get to interact with players with a broader range of skillsets and experiences. You have the opportunity to build a new circle of contacts and possibly access your ideal player group, one that’s suited to your ideal style of gaming. You can also easily drop games or players who don’t suit your play style.

The biggest downside of the virtual tabletop is also the bane of online computer games—bandwidth and dropout. Some countries have great internet infrastructure, others don’t. Some players have better connections, some have better computer hardware and headsets. No matter how good all the tech is, drop out can happen at any time. Dropout is where a player’s game is affected by significant lag or loss of audio/video. Communication is vital in any game, and having players dropout or their audio dropping so low no one can hear them reduces the quality of the play experience. As a result you as a DM need to be constantly aware of volume levels and interactivity, even more so than in an FTF game. And at their worst a game can be called off due to poor internet connection/PC issues.

I currently play 20-22 hours per week online (some of this is work related, as I’m a full time RPG product designer and run product play tests). All of this is as a result of the current pandemic, and I’m sure when it’s all over I’ll probably go back to a smaller amount of FTF games. But online will remain an attractive option. Now, I find myself wanting to play a more diverse range of RPGs because I have the option to use international players rather than being limited to my home town (where non-D&D players are few and far between).

Covid-19 has had a tragic and horrible impact on so many. Those of us who are only marginally affected can learn to grow from our experiences, in ways we might never have previously imagined. If you haven’t done so, why not try out virtual tabletop gaming? You may never look back.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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Laidback DM: Raw Dice and Partying on the Edge

I know you’ve been there, no doubt many times: a planned encounter, meticulously balanced to allow the party a measure of challenge, but one that you know they should get through reasonably well. And then: amazingly bad dice rolls; the astoundingly poor use of abilities; the splitting of the party at the worst of times; the tenuous bonds of friendship deteriorating as the encounter goes south and the players turn on each other looking for someone to blame. Okay, it’s not always that bad, but sometimes the perfect encounter can be overturned by bad rolls and the party ends up looking like the fantasy equivalent of The Hangover. But that’s not always a bad thing.

I don’t fudge my die rolls. In fact, when I play IRL (as opposed to socially isolated Roll20 as a result of Covid-19, as I do now) I get my players to make every roll (you want to see tension? Watch their faces as one of them rolls the damage for the 7th-level fireball cast against them by that evil mage). As we all know a DM can choose to fudge rolls if they don’t want a TPK on their hands. I choose to let the dice and fate decide—‘raw dice’ as I like to call it. That’s all well and good, but if you have an encounter where everything goes wrong, you find yourself wondering if raw dice policy is the best option. I’ve been very lucky over the years—there has only been two occasions where I’ve had to use a deus ex machina solution to pull a party’s butt out of the fire to prevent a TPK (in my B/X days I just let them all die—suffice to say I’m a more even-handed DM now). I’m not going to rave on about how to avoid TPKs—you can read all about that here.

One of the major benefits I’ve found from raw dice is the sheer feeling of undeniable excitement and tension as the southward encounter plays out. And when the PCs (hopefully) triumph, the feeling of relief, exaltation and exhilaration as the players (and I) celebrate the win and their survival. There’s something about a really difficult encounter that brings out the worst, but ultimately the best, about players and their characters. And it’s those moments that are remembered and talked about for years to come. Long term memories are formed as a result of the depth of positive or traumatic emotion and experience attached to them. And whilst role playing is not real life, the same principles apply.

So if you or your players aren’t feeling that, take them to the edge a little more often. You can fudge your rolls if you like, but sometimes it’s better to let the dice demigods take control.

Game on!


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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Reviews – Bestiary Battle Cards

The Pathfinder 2e Bestiary Battle Cards are a heavy box of 450 large-sized monster cards for GMs who run live games. Every monster in the P2e Bestiary book is included, the more powerful ones sometimes spanning two cards. Each card is 4 x 6 inches and has great artwork from the Bestiary.

As a DM who makes my own monster cards for games, I was relieved to see Paizo providing a great alternative for P2e. The convenience of having cards on hand means it’s easy to use stats for multiple monsters without taking up too much table space and without having to refer to cumbersome books all the time – just lean them against the inside of your screen. That’s the theory, anyway.

For most cards in this package it’s fine – they contain all of the necessary information you need to run a combat encounter with that monster. Some monsters, however, feature ‘standardized’ abilities/actions listed in the Bestiary in the back, no doubt to save space in the book’s main monster listings. The cards do NOT list these effects, just the name of the ability e.g. “Throw Rock (1 action)” with either minimal explanation or nothing at all detailing the effects. And there is often room on the card(s) to detail more. It’s the same with monsters that have abilities listed under an earlier type – Dragons, for instance. Instead of a complete listing for “Draconic Frenzy (2 actions)”, it adds “see Pathfinder Bestiary page xx”. The whole idea of having monster cards is to NOT have to reference the books, otherwise what’s the point. My home-made D&D 5e monster cards include all the abilities because I know I need to have them all on hand for combat; with some of these P2e cards I STILL have to refer to the Bestiary book. Not happy, Paizo, especially considering I paid $75 AU for this box, almost what I paid for the Bestiary book itself. I feel a bit ripped off.

P2e Bestiary Battle Cards is a decent product that could have had some elements implemented better.

Rating: 7.5/10

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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Reviews – The Show Must Go On

Right on the heels of the Age of Ashes Adventure Path comes Extinction Curse. I’m very impressed at the way Paizo churns out adventures for their products every month, especially when they are all of such excellent quality. Each one is packed full of new monsters, spells, feats, magic items and lore, and the packaging is bright, colourful and consistently good. The Show Must Go On is no exception.

The Show Must Go On is the first in the Extinction Curse path, a story that once again ties closely into the history of Golarion, the Pathfinder 2e world. Looks like the Aeon orbs the dead god Aroden brought onto the islands of Kortos and Erran to make them fertile weren’t ‘liberated’ from the Darklands, and now the islands may just pay the price.

Extinction Curse1

This adventure features an unusual backdrop – the PCs are circus performers and by the end of the story they will be the de facto owners of a travelling circus. Some interesting rules are included that allow the party to develop their circus and put on regular shows to earn money and accolades. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this in a fantasy RPG, so thumbs up to whoever at Paizo came up with the idea. The idea of being circus performers may not appeal to all players, however, and throughout the adventure there is an underlying assumption they are going to do the right thing. If this doesn’t sound like your group, you should talk with them first prior to running it.

The four adventures contained in this book take players from 1st-4th level and involve a murder, town investigation and two dungeon crawls. They are well designed and serve as a strong beginning to the adventure path, which will eventually take PCs to 20th level. Along the way the party will learn more about the Aeon Orbs, the real villains and a ritual that threatens all life on the islands. They’ll also meet NPCs who contribute interesting new acts that can benefit their circus if recruited.

The Show Must Go On is a great adventure. Buy it and have some show-stopping fun.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Laidback DM: P2e Review – Bestiary Pawn Box

I love combat on a grid, but minis are too costly and take up too much space. I prefer to use pawns for this reason and Paizo makes some of the best.

I recently bought the new Pathfinder 2e Bestiary Pawn Box, which is absolutely huge. It contains 378 pawns featuring every single monster from the bestiary, with a few duplicates of the more common monsters. The artwork for each pawn is from the P2e Bestiary book and is excellent. There’s also an assortment of plastic bases included, in medium, large and huge size (convenient for both D&D 5e and Pathfinder 2e games).

The pawns are printed on thick card so they’re pretty durable. I’m already using them in my games and find they’re fairly convenient to stow and carry. I DM games away from home so I travel a lot (although the current Covid-19 crisis has me looking into online gaming). I don’t take the whole box with me – it’s fairly bulky – I tend to take a selection of pawns based on the adventure we’re playing and some extras just in case I need to improvise an encounter or two.

Even though many of the monsters are different from D&D, you’ll find something in here that will match what you’re looking for (although most of the giants are a size-class smaller in P2e).

I’m very happy with these and would recommend them to any GM/DM looking for a reasonably cheap and easy to transport replacement for minis.

Rating: 9/10

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