Laidback DM: Pawns vs. Miniatures

When I run face-to-face (IRL for all you young whippersnappers) role playing games I like using a grid and pawns for combat (that’s not to say I don’t like using Theater of the Mind – I do, I just prefer using grids for larger scale battles). In some games I’ve used combinations of pawns and miniatures. But which is better? Pawn or mini?

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What do I mean when I say ‘pawns’? Pawns are upright standing 2D tokens, often backprinted, that provide a visual representation of a character or monster. They are normally colour, but you can also get black and white ones.

What’s the difference between a pawn and a token? A token lies flat on the table, whereas a pawn stands upright. This means the pawn can display a whole image of the creature its representing, and can accurately represent not only the number of spaces a creature takes up (via its base) but also its height.

Miniatures are printed, moulded plastic or die cast metal 3D figures, which come unpainted or pre-painted. Collecting and painting miniatures is a hobby unto itself, and can bring years or a lifetime of enjoyment. Anyone who’s played Warhammer 40K will know it can also become an obsession!

For most DMs and players, the choice between pawns and miniatures comes down to cost, time, immersion, transport and personal choice.

Cost

When it comes to pricing, pawns are hands down cheaper than miniatures. You can generally buy several backprinted pawns (depending on the company you buy them from) for the price of a single, unpainted miniature.

Once you have pawns, you also need bases to hold the pawn upright. Some companies supply bases (yay!) with their pawns, but others you have to buy them separately e.g. The Pathfinder 2e Bestiary Box from Paizo includes bases, but you may want to buy extra base sets.

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The issue for most DMs and players purchasing miniatures is the amount of money you have to invest in the hobby. If you want lots of fancy miniatures, be prepared to spend big. And if you like 3D terrain, to spend a LOT more. (Yes, you can also purchase and/or print out low cost cardboard buildings and walls – DrivethruRPG is a good place to find a variety of these kits.)

Time

Miniatures are awesome on a tabletop, but unless you buy them pre-painted (expensive!) you’ll need to invest time painting them (okay, you don’t have to, but grey miniatures on a tabletop look awfully dull, which defeats the purpose of having miniatures. Pawns are already colour and ready to go.

Immersion

There is no doubt that having cool painted miniatures and colour battle mats increase player immersion in play. Pawns look cool, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they only have two sides – three dimensional beats two dimensional every time.

If you’ve got a limited budget, you can always use both. Use pawns when you have hordes of minions, and miniatures for major monsters. It’s up to you.

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Transport

This won’t be an issue if you run games from your own home, but if you’re like me and travel around between venues the transport of several cases to carry miniatures becomes an issue. They are bulky, and if you can’t take all of them then sorting and packing is required as part of your prep time for a game.

Pawns are flat, and easily stored in folders which can be alphabetised if you’re into that. Clear sheets in the folder make it easy to locate the pawn you need for the job.

A few folders versus multiple plastic carry cases? I know what I prefer. I used to be a drummer, and drummers are usually the first to arrive at a gig and the last to leave – they lug the most gear. But they do get the groupies, so it’s not so bad lol.

Summing Up

In the end it’s always going to be a matter of your own personal preference. I’ve seen some awesome pawns that blow some miniatures out of the water e.g I acquired some great pawns from a recent GTGminis Kickstarter.

I’ve seen brilliantly painted miniatures and terrain that makes you feel like you’re right there in the dungeon. For me, it comes down to cost and portability. But you and your players will have your own preferences. And in your game that’s all that really matters.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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Laidback DM: Products for Sale!

Hi all!

Far be it for me to spruik for a living, but hey – it’s how I make a living now.

So, here are some of my role playing game products available on DrivethruRPG in print/PDF/digital formats. You can buy any or all of these fine products by visiting this nifty little link:

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/13989/Laidback-DM?term=laidback

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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P.S. WordPress – your new block editor sorely tries my patience. Give me the classic mode any day. Unfortunately, it seems I’m unable to select it when using my PC. Thanks for taking my money and annoying me.

Laidback DM – Curse of Strahd 2017 – Week 19

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 19

This week, after a long rest in Asgarte’s chamber, the party elected to burn the demon with Natasha’s Gnomish Druid’s wall of fire. This didn’t work, instead burning away the magic sigils keeping the demon imprisoned. Before Asgarte could get out and ravage the party, William’s Dragonborn Paladin decided to grab the Gnome and drop him on the back of his spirit horse in the corridor they had previously traversed while the horse was flying (they were expecting a trap, after all). Unfortunately the spirit horse wasn’t flying this time. The corridor floor became a slippery downward ramp and the Gnome and the horse slid down into the opposite wall and then further down to the bottom of the shaft, 40 feet below the double doors of the previous room.

Meanwhile Asgarte decided to take advantage of the situation and push the Dragonborn Paladin and Kasimir, the handy dusk elven NPC wizard, down the ramp. Kasimir, being an all-around weakling, went all the way home, crashing into the horse and gnome. The Dragonborn was made of sterner (stupider?) stuff and stood his ground. Asgarte took a few swings at the paladin, and then decided (in what turned out to be a bad move) to slide down the floor to take out the magic users. Dan’s Halfling monk, casually poisoning his blade, decided to slide down the ramp and give the demon a damn good rodgering. This wasn’t entirely successful, and he ended up flat against the demon’s back. The paladin decided to slide down with a javelin and missed by that much, both the demon and the monk. So now all the party was down at the end of the slide, packed in like lemmings.

The Gnome cast another wall of fire just in front of him. The NPC wizard cast some magic missiles. The monk stunned Asgarte for a round, and the monk and paladin took advantage of this to finish him off. A mighty divine smite was the killing blow, with William’s paladin claiming the title of “Demonslayer” forevermore. Or until someone else killed a demon. Either way.

The party climbed back up to the room, took the 4 x 2000 GP diamonds from the walls and made their way out of the tomb. The short, skull-encrusted romp was a success. “That’s the most treasure we have ever found in Barovia,” said the Dan’s monk, telling everyone what they already knew: Barovia is full of poor and depressed people.

Meanwhile, what to do? After much discussion, the party decided to take a wagon and some horses and go to Vallaki, as it was really close. There they found much of the population had deserted the town, due to lack of wine the party had failed to deliver. Oh, and that little Vampire Spawn massacre a week ago. Looks like the church where Ireena and her brother were holidaying was destroyed as well. Ireena and Ismarck were missing… 

The party headed back to the Inn, where they had a free meal on behalf of the Martikovs. The dragonborn changed into a raven to show solidarity with his wereraven chums, then had to put all his armour back on. The wereravens got a good laugh out of that. 

The party decided to question the burgomaster to find out what they could do. The monk got antsy during the discussion, attacked and killed the burgomaster (despite a valiant attempt by the Gnome to save the burgomaster by changing him to gaseous form). The rest of the party set about supporting the guards who took the monk off to gaol. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 GP. 

The burgomaster’s wife was not amused.  No, dragonborn, it wasn’t a good time to ask her about that strange mirror in her bedroom. “And how did you know I have a mirror in there, anyway?” said the lady. “And where did my wedding dress go?”

“We’ll just be going, we’ll make our own way out, no need to fuss, see you next time,” said the party, tip-toeing to the door).  

While the party went back to the inn, the monk shared some pipeweed with her guards. The druid felt bad, went back to the monk’s cell, changed into a spider and walked under the door, changed the monk to gaseous form (that spell has been pretty useful this time around) so she could escape and then toddled out again. The Halfling monk decided to hide in her wagon as she wanted to avoid the dragonborn, who was a bit peeved the monk had killed the burgomaster (“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” said the paladin, having conveniently turned the other way when it happened). 

The party decided to go to Berez and recover the third green stone for the Wizard of Vines and also find whatever it was the Tarroka Cards were referring to that lay there. Somewhere. Their wagons got bogged (lots of mud in Berez) and they crossed the river to talk with a wereraven spy who gave them intel on the witch Baba Lysaga who lived in a tiny hut in the center of Berez with her freaky scarecrows.   

Next week: Back  across the river, and taking out that witch. Or making friends and influencing people. Or smoking pipeweed. Or whatever they want to do.

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SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES: GRAVIS TOWN BLUES now in print!

Published under the OGL and compatible with 5e and OSR fantasy role playing games, SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES – Kal-Zar’s Bane: GRAVIS TOWN BLUES is a 68-page book with adventures for characters of 1st-4th level, that can be played as One-Shots or as the first module in a four-part campaign

So, what’s in SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES – Kal-Zar’s Bane: GRAVIS TOWN BLUES?

· 6 adventures, complete with full color maps! Varied adventures – investigation, assault, river raid, rescue, dungeon crawl, escape – ranging from 1st-4th level, designed for minimal preparation and flexible delivery. Each adventure can be run as a One-Shot, or as part of the Kal-Zar’s Bane campaign. Every adventure has both Campaign-specific and One-Shot-specific hooks. The One-Shot hooks ignore all the sub-plots and provide you with exactly what you need to run each adventure as a one-off for your players – you can either slot them into your existing campaign or run them as separate, individual side quests.

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

· New Monsters – 11 new monsters and NPCs!

· New Magic Items – 10 new magic items and a new spell!

· River Encounters & Adventure Seeds – 8 short encounters, as well as adventure seeds that can be expanded into mini-adventures!  

· New Ships – 2 new ships, fully compatible with the ship rules in official adventure GoS!

· Fully detailed city & region setting – Gravis Town is a rich frontier town, fueled by sapphire mining. It’s based in the vast and wild Orinwood on the northern periphery of Verona Province, just south of the Daggershield Mountains that form the border with Skandara. The setting includes maps, gazetteer, NPCs, rumors, adventure seeds, additional short river encounters and more!

· Expanded map of Verona Province – including the Jarldoms of Skandara – a new, expanded map and brief gazetteer of the Invician Empire and Verona Province! New and expanded lore for the Shotglass Adventures campaign setting!

· Full guide for OSR conversions!

To get your copy in print, simply click on the link below:

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/327887/SHOTGLASS-ADVENTURES-Gravis-Town-Blues

Game On!

Steve 🙂

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RPG. A poem.

My game is never done
Or lost or won
Even when the final die is cast
And the last
Player upon this infinite stage
Writes their page
Another memorable tale
It’s safe to say
That lives on in mind and soul
The final
The ultimate
And ever-lasting
Goal.

For more Poetry, click here.

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For more of my poetry, check out Poetry for the Sad, Lonely and Hopelessly Endangered and The All or the Nothing, available in print.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

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Laidback DM: Curse of Strahd 2017 – Week 18

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 18

After a two-week enforced delay, the game was afoot.

The party was pleasantly surprised by…you guessed, it, fog! And lots of treasure (most un-Barovian). After ransacking the remains of the Vistani encampment, everyone seemed more excited at the prospect of horses and wagons, rather than gold pieces. But it’s been that sort of campaign – it’s all about sore feet and the indignity of walking.

While searching the main tent, William’s Paladin discovered a well, hidden under the campfire (isn’t that where all the best wells are hidden? In Barovia, anyway…). The wall of the well were studded with human bones and skulls. Naturally everyone felt a bit worried. So, the next day, after a very brief discussion, money signs flashed in their vision and they decided to explore it.

Natasha’s Druid shape-changed into a bat and scouted the well and the first corridor below, seeing through the illusion-covered pit with her echo location (“Damn,” said Steve. “Foiled!”). To get across the pit, William’s Dragonborn Paladin piggybacked individuals as he climbed the walls. He only fell off once. The floors were also covered with skulls and bones (a Barovian designer choice, perhaps: “I think I will go with skulls for the floors and walls, it’s so in, this season”).

The first set of doors opened easily, and the Paladin’s spidey-sense picked up lots of undead (“Damn,” said Steve. “Foiled again!”). The party very slowly made their way across the room, tested the doors at the other end and that’s when the undead skeletons and a mummy made their brief guest appearance, thanks to the Dusk Elf leader’s fireball (“Damn,” said Steve. “Foiled again!”). Yeah, turns out he’s a bit of a wiz. Wizard, that is.

Next room, a teleporting hole in the floor over a water laden pit, guarded by two Hook Horrors. Lots of fun, with William’s Paladin’s spirit horse activating the trap and the paladin being dragged down into the water after grappling with one of the monsters. The party hung back at the door, using ranged attacks (“Damn,” said Steve. “Foiled again!”). Eventually the horse and paladin were saved. The Wiz cast fly on the horse and the party were safely transported over the floor. The Druid fell into the floor with the Wiz, changed to a giant spider and carried the Wiz out (“Why do I bother with traps at all,” said Steve).

The last room was home to a trapped Demon called Asgarte, who promised the party anything they wanted if they freed him. So, the party slept on it, taking a long rest in the room and thoroughly annoying Asgarte, who stood watching all night with crossed arms, tapping his foot.

Next week: The end of the mini-adventure (Steve’s excuse to use his new dungeon tiles), and back to Barovia-proper!

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Laidback DM: Curse of Strahd 2017 – Week 15

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 15

Barovia, Barovia, we so love Barovia
It’s dark and foggy, we’re so fancy free 
So sunny, so bright, please won’t you save me
Barovia, Barovia, we so love Barovia
It’s chock full of wolves and so much desperation
Damn the devil Strahd and his cursed temptations
Barovia, Barovia, we so love Barovia
It may not be as good as we made out before
So give me some wine or I’ll show you the door
– Barovian National Anthem

Curse of Strahd continues, inexorably, to its exciting conclusion…which is actually a fair way off. In the meantime:

The party argued over whether to go to Berez and face the Witch, or to go and save Baron Van Richten, who they learned had been taken hostage by the Vistani and was about to be delivered to Strahd. Eventually, they agreed (begrudgingly, in some cases) to undertake a rescue.

On the road they fought a couple of berserkers (obviously the Druids at Yester Hill were still a bit miffed about them hacking up their Gulthias Tree…), capturing and interrogating one, whom they then killed (such a pleasant party).

Savid the Dusk Elf led the party to the Vistani Camp outside of Vallaki. On the way, they came across Van Richten’s carnival wagon and signs of a battle. They found an absolutely fascinating page of the egotistical Van Richten’s journal and his dead sabretooth tiger.

A quick wereraven/Paladin reconnoitre of the camp showed the Vistani were mostly drunk and a bit lax at guard duty. Sneaking (and riding) into the Vistani camp, they met with the Dusk Elves’ leader, Kasimir Velikov, still peeved that Strahd killed all the women of his tribe hundreds of years ago and pining over his dead sister Patrina, who wanted to be Strahd’s bride. Kasimir explained the Amber Temple might hold the secret of Strahd’s curse, and he would willingly escort the party there.

In the meantime, the party needed to rescue poor old Van Richten from the clutches of the Vistani. Natasha’s Gnomish Druid changed into a spider and snuck into the Vistani leader’s tent, where Van Richten was being tortured. That’s where the plan started going a bit askew. Meanwhile, Mark’s Gnome Bard tried a distraction (amazing juggling, by the way) and Dan’s annoying Halfling Monk hid under the eave of a building(!).

A big fight ensued, with William’s Dragonborn Paladin riding in on his skeletal spiritual warhorse and slaughtering Vistani left, right and centre. Isaac’s reticent Tiefling Warlock provided support and it was on for young and old. Dan’s monk managed to dispatch the assassin leader, and eventually took out the Vistani second-in-command as well.

Unfortunately, poor old Van Richten was killed. Oh, well, you can’t make a Barovian omelette without cracking some vampire eggs (or so goes the old Barovian saying…). The friendly wereravens, who had been following the party’s progress, stopped the Dusk Elves from slaughtering the fleeing Vistani (seems the Dusk Elves have long memories…).

So, now the party can get down to what they really need to do. Looting!

I know I said don’t level up, but I’ve decided you’ve all done a lot over the previous few weeks, so I’m changing my mind. You can level up to 8th. Yay! Why? ‘Cause I think you’ll need it…

See you all Wednesday night, same Barovian Time, same Barovian channel!

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Laidback DM: Curse of Strahd 2017 – Week 14

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 14

This week, it was unexpectedly foggy in Barovia.

In further exciting news, the party, still recovering from the Revenant fever of last week, spoke to wounded Dusk Elf Savid, who was resting after being attacked by needle blights  while looking for the daughter of the Vistani chief. Savid explained that he was part of a colony of Dusk Elves located in the Vistani camp outside of Vallaki. They were a lovely elvish community, but a long time ago Strahd decided to punish them by wiping out all the females and kids. The Dusk Elves are now “overseen” by the Vistani. Savid noted that a carnival performer matching the description of Van Richten had been captured by the Vistani recently, and was due to be delivered  to Strahd any day now.

The party was joined by Pablo, new player Jame’s crazy Half Orc Fighter/Wizard with low intelligence and a penchant for mending stuff (hey, he spent two hours magically mending sheets. First time that’s happened…). Pablo decided to make his mark by stirring up the revenants upstairs and getting the bard and monk injured in the process. Nice use of that magical fog cloud to prevent everyone from seeing, but hey, nobody’s perfect. We look forward to Pablo’s high jinks next week (or should that be high jinx? Time will tell…)

Eventually the party made nice with the Revenants, having a good old chin wag with Sir Godfrey Gilfrim and the mightily depressed Vladimir Horngaard, leader and mightiest warrior of the Knights of the Silver Dragon (lucky you didn’t fight him, eh?)

Lots of history uncovered this week:

  • Argynvost was a silver dragon who liked to pose as human who fought and was killed by Strahd and his armies, before Strahd became a vampire.
  • Argynvost’s spirit appealed to the characters to save his fallen knights, who had fallen into darkness. Isn’t that everyone in Barovia, really?
  • The revenants were originally good human knights, part of the Order of the Silver Dragon. They fought Strahd’s armies to a standstill, and were originally in Barovia to prevent anyone from getting into the evil Amber Temple down south.
  • Argynvost’s body was cut up and shipped back to Ravenloft as trophies. If the bones are returned to the mausoleum at Argynvhostholt, and the beacon relit, then the knights will be saved and sent to their rest.
  • When Strahd became a vampire, Horngaard and his knights marched on Ravenloft, but were confronted by Madame Eva (remember her – not such a spring chicken after all) who told them that Strahd was now a prisoner in his own land as a result of his pact with the evil forces that made him a vampire (bummer). The knights did not go to their rest, and over time have become consumed by hatred. Obviously, they’re all in need of a good hug.

So, a few things to do now:

  • Recover the green stone for the Wizard of Vines vineyard and the thing alluded to in the card reading, from the ruins of Berez.
  • Rescue Van Richten from the Vistani camp outside of Vallaki, before he becomes vampire stew.
  • Talk to the leader of the Dusk Elves that Savid informed might be able to help.
  • Visit the Amber Temple and see just what all the fuss is about.
  • Traipse on over to Ravenloft and collect some dusty old dragon bones (I’m sure it will be a bit more complicated than that…).

Oh, and Ezmerelda’s body disappeared (no one thought to do anything about a decent burial. The party was more interested in stringing up revenants from the rafters just in case they came back to life…).

Next Week: Get the feeling that everything is coming to a head? No? Must be just me, then.

 

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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 6-12

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 6-7:

After returning from the Old Bonegrinder windmill, fighting scarecrows and dire wolves on the road and facing Strahd for the first time in battle in the Vallaki Town Square last week, this week saw the party headed to the village of Krezk (“To the left,” said direction-accurate Steve), where they were told they couldn’t come in unless they could bring them some wine…how convenient.

Off to the Wizard of Vines vineyard this week, where the party met old Davian Martikov and his family. Davian has been making wines for the valley of Barovia for many years, providing his services for free to keep up the spirits (see what I did there?) of all Barovians. Unfortunately, his evil druid neighbours and their blight servants had taken over the vineyard (as they do).

After a huge battle, in which the John and Dan’s Monks proved they were better than any fighters, Nigel’s Barbarian took more damage from friendly fire than he did from blights, Mark’s Bard was the damager via multiple thunderwave spells, Isaac’s Warlock enjoyed blasting blights back 10 feet, William’s Paladin rushed in where fools fear to tread (“I run toward death, not away from it”, should be his catchphrase) and Courtney’s Dwarf saved the day several times with mass Healing Word (without it the party would have been creamed, to put it bluntly).

Weeks 8-12:

Yep, we’ve been campaigning in sunny, effervescent Barovia for 12 weeks now. And don’t the kids just love it! Sunshine every day, mountain fresh air, gallons of ice cream, and such friendly, helpful people! Who would want to leave?

 But seriously, I’ve been a bit lax the last few weeks and have forgotten to send out summary emails…

In week 8, you all (mostly) fought a giant tree blight called Wintersplinter, that had been sent by the evil next door neighbours of the vineyard to destroy it! Being the heroes you are, without any need for financial recompense, you promptly slaughtered the poor tree, took its green crystal and then made Davian Martikov pay you all 250 gp each to have it back. You were told that the third crystal may have been taken by a witch who operates out of the ruins of Berez, just across the valley there. Because you are all caring, sharing souls, you promptly decided to take the remaining wine and head off to Krezk, so you can gain entry and drop Ireena off at the Abbey of St Markovia, on the hill overlooking the town. 

Escorting three big casks of wine to Krezk, you came dangerously close to being slaughtered by masses of dire wolves…

In week 9, arriving back in Krezk, delivering the wine and visiting a lovely sacred pond on the far side of the town, you prevented Ireena from merging with the spirit of her long lost lover from the past, and then everyone was zapped by a lightning bolt from the clouds above. Unfortunately, Ireena was barbequed. Ismark had heard that the Abbot could perform miracles, so the party traipsed up the hill and entered the abbey. After encountering lots of Mongrelmen, all locked up by the Abbott as they are all a bit crazy, you spoke to the man himself who revealed he made a flesh golem woman for Strahd to marry, but needed a wedding dress. Obviously the mongrelmen weren’t the only crazy ones.

Mark’s Halfling bard got into a feud with a spidery mongrelman down a well, who ended up eating Mark’s beloved toad. Exploring one of the other abbey buildings, the party fought another flesh golem, battled loads of shadows (where Dan’s annoying, I mean, heroic monk was KILLED (gasp!)), and located Ezmerelda D’Avenir, who was foretold in the card reading of Madame Eva as being a person of note who could help the party defeat Strahd. She joined the party, but not before Mark tortured a poor raven…The Abbott promised to grant the party three raise dead’s if they get the dress. The Monk was raised (doh!), and the party decided to head back to Vallaki to see if they could get a wedding dress from the Baron’s wife, who, conveniently, had one lying around. 

Arriving in Vallaki, the party found that Rudolf van Richten, famous vampire hunter, had left town with his wagon and sabre tooth tiger and nobody knew where he was. Everyone’s favourite (read: annoying) Halfling monk decided he wanted to burn down the Baron’s house. He was attacked by vampire spawn, who had started ransacking the town. The rest of the party were at the inn when the major vampire spawn assault started…

In week 10, Natasha’s gnome Druid and Isaac’s Tiefling Warlock went undercover via an invisibility spell, to find the wedding dress in the baron’s mansion. Luckily the town was in turmoil, so after a tension filled search of the upper levels, they found the dress and headed out the back window to the inn.

The wereravens running the inn persuaded the party to escape from the vampire spawn attack through an escape tunnel under the fireplace. The party sent a number of villlagers through the tunnel, who then ran off into the woods and were promptly killed by nasty night creatures.   

Meanwhile, Dan’s annoying Halfling Monk made his way upstairs and started searching for the dress himself, as he didn’t know that the others had found it already. Ending up in the Baron’s bedroom, resting at the window and surveying the chaos, he saw William’s Holy Symbol of Ravenkind casting light from outside the north wall, and decided to head through town over the wall to join the rest of the party.

The party hid in a cave, and then headed back to the abbey, giving the Abbott his dress. He raised Ireena from the dead. Ismark and Ireena decided to head back to the church at Vallaki where they couldn’t get blown up.

In week 11, the party headed to Yester Hill to deal with the nosy druidic neighbours. They discovered a huge wicker statue of Strahd, which didn’t burn. They fought lots of druids and berserkers. They then went to a huge Gulthias tree on the property, fought loads of twig, vine and needle blights.

Week 12, and William’s Dragonborn Paladin got the magic axe from the tree, and he and Isaac toppled the tree. Twiggy blights continued to grow from the roots, but by that time the party couldn’t be bothered doing anything more and headed back to the vineyard for shelter before night.

At the vineyard, the party found out Davian and his family were wereravens and related to the Martikovs who own the inn in Vallaki (small world…er, valley). William promptly got them to bight him, so he could fulfil his life time dream to fly. Naked. Without any equipment. Oh well, nothing’s perfect.

The next morning the PCs had to battle a large number of scarecrows sent from the witch in Berez (no one seems to like this vineyard, despite the fact they give their wine away for free). Steven’s elvish wizard (back after a long stint away) used his fireballs to perfection, but still managed to get knocked unconscious. The party decided to head to Van Richten’s tower to see if they could find him. On the way, they fought more dire wolves, and Steven’s wizard was knocked out again! A lesson learned – remember to protect the spell caster…

At the tower, both Mark and Steven touched the door and got electrocuted. Dan’s annoying Halfling did the fancy dance to bypass the trap and then they all got in. After spending the night on the roof, because she didn’t want to offend Van Richten (who wasn’t there and couldn’t have known), Isaac’s Tiefling got pneumonia and had to suffer a level of exhaustion for a day…

 Exiting the tower to head to Berez, the party is about to be attacked by werewolves and…yes, you guessed it, more dire wolves…

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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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DUNGEONS YOUR PARTY WILL DIE FOR available in print!

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 https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/315245/DUNGEONS-YOUR-PARTY-WILL-DIE-FOR

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:

#BlackLivesMatter

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!

Steve

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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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Laidback DM: P2e Review – Broken Promises

Time I got back to reviewing some Pathfinder stuff! I’ve been buying literally everything, so here’s my opinion.

All good things come to an end, and this final adventure in the Age of Ashes Adventure Path pulls no punches. It’s for 18th-20th level characters and features some pretty hard challenges. An assault on the PC’s citadel (gained in the first adventure and built up over time) and home town, then it’s off to the idyllic city of Promise, where things are not all they seem. I’m not going to spoil this adventure, because this is a fantastic conclusion to this saga and should be experienced fresh.

Paizo have outdone themselves with their first Adventure Path for Pathfinder 2e. I’ve been most impressed by the attention to detail, impeccable production and the loads of additional content they present in every adventure. This book is no different, with a gazetteer of the island of Hermea and the city of Promise, 4 new backgrounds for the children of the heroes of this campaign, 3 new magic items, 12 new feats, 2 new focus spells, 8 new high-level monsters (including Pathfinder’s Tarrasque, which leaves the D&D version for dead) and detailed NPC stats.

Great work Paizo!

Rating: 9/10

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Laidback DM: Taking the Roll20 Plunge…

I’ve always played tabletop role playing games (TTRPGs) face-to-face, ever since I was knee-high to a tadpole, a loooooooooong time ago. Yes, I have a background in information technology; yes, at one point I could program…stuff; yes, everyone always came to me at work to fix their computer issues (“Have you tried switching it on and off?”). I use computers every day in my current job. Heck, I’ve played Zelda and Skyrim. So, I guess it’s a little surprising that I’ve never played a TTRPG online.

All that is about to change, however. Social distancing and social isolation are the new buzzwords, Covid-19 is the new bad guy (um, bad it?) and Skype and Facetime are the new hugs. And that makes virtual tabletop platforms like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds the new ‘face-to-face’ for TTRPGs.

Why have I avoided online TTRPG’ing for so long? Is it the torrid tales of low bandwidth voice and video dropouts, the loss of tactile dice rolling replaced by button pushing apps, the thought of avatars rather than real faces? Or maybe it’s just that I’ve invested so much money in physical gaming aids (maps, pawns, books, etc.) that I’m reluctant to give up the face-to-face experience.

Well, with nothing but a computer in my room at the moment (yep, even my girlfriend is socially isolated from me), I’ve decided to take the plunge and not only play a Roll20 game, but also DM one as well. I got on the Roll20 platform the other day, muddled around and watched a few videos, did a test run with some players and now I’m reasonably confident we can run a game online. My players may not be so gung ho, however. Fear of technology? I don’t think so. Fear of embarrassing gaffs? Certainly not. Fear of my DMing? Well, they ARE a new group. Maybe your players are a bit reticent as well.

I’ve put together a VERY basic task card to help alleviate a few of the initial fears some people may have about the platform. I can’t guarantee it’s going to fix everything, but it’s a start. Possibly for a conversation with your die-hard, face-to-face-only, gaming group.

Laidback DM - Roll20 Task Card

You can download this A4-size Roll20 players task card by right clicking and selecting ‘save picture as’ on PC, or hold your finger on it on your phone or tablet until the device offers to save it.

So, here’s to the virtual near future. Not sure how long this pandemic is going to last, but at least I won’t get bored in the meantime. And here’s hoping you don’t either.

Game on!

Steve, Laidback DM 

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Laidback DM - Shotglass Adventures 3 - AD6

 

Laidback DM: SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES 3: BLACK MERIDIAN HEART in Print/Digital

SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES 3: BLACK MERIDIAN HEART is now available in digital PDF and print from DrivethruRPG! 136 pages of awesome, mind bending adventures and campaign materials for 5e and OSR role playing games!

Published under the OGL, inside you’ll find:

· 10 one-shot adventures of all varieties – investigation, dungeon crawl, planar, puzzle, quest, role playing, sci-fi – complete with full color maps! The adventures are for PCs of 11th-15th level, designed for minimal preparation and flexible delivery. Each adventure can be run as a ‘one-shot’ for 2-3 gaming sessions (8-12 hours) or played as a mini-campaign. Over 100 hours of gaming content! High-level adventures mean greater challenges – these adventures are longer and feature more content than the previous books.

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

·  31 New Monsters + 19 Monsters from Kobold’s Tome of Beasts/Creature Codex! 5e stats included! New monsters include life-drinking Covenantals, manastatically-mutated Meridian Wyrms, mania-inducing Shrooms and the planet-sized Great Old One Asgarte!

·  13 New Magic Items and Vehicles! New items include the mystical Plume Stones, spirit-controlling Ghost Collar, psionic Gerth’r Mentor Helm, legendary ForNev’r Shards and deck plan and stats for the Gerth’r Planar Assault Ship!

· All new city setting of Meridian’s End, complete with important NPCs, factions, backgrounds, rumors, adventure seeds and city map! A frontier town, bordering the wasteland of the Black Meridian, Meridian’s End stands frozen in time, a legacy to Invicia’s defeat of the old Kereshi Empire. There are dark secrets here, whispered behind closed doors in trembling voices as the Baron’s undead guardians glide overhead, always watching. Corruption and fear pervade this new magical frontier…

· New rules and tables for magic, travel and weather, background lore, random encounters and adventures seeds for the magical wasteland known as the Black Meridian! A vast desert created by a magical disaster centuries ago, the Black Meridian is the only source of the valuable but cursed mystical Plume Stones. There are ruins and treasures untold in that desert, trapped behind a magical barrier that only the most courageous – or most foolish – pass. Are you brave enough to face the rampant manastatic storms, bizarre temporal and spacial effects and mutated monsters of the ForNev’r wastes?

· Random Ruin Generation tables! Roll up a ruin – its size, type, features, inhabitants, manastatic effects and adventure seeds! Perfect for creating a ruin on the fly for sandbox play or preparing a dungeon ruin in advance.

· Expanded Verona Province – updated two-page map and extended lore for the region featured in SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES I and SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES II!

· Loads of new and revised lore for the Invician Empire – everything you need for campaign play!

· Full guide for OSR conversions!

· Two bonus Laidback DM articles: on running sandbox campaigns and how to handle split parties.  

· Includes bonus unkeyed maps to use in your own adventures!

 

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You can find my D&D 5e and OSR products at https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/13989/Laidback-DM

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Laidback DM: P2e Review – Against the Scarlet Triad

Time I got back to reviewing some Pathfinder stuff! I’ve been buying literally everything, so here’s my opinion.

The 5th adventure in the Age of Ashes Adventure Path progresses characters from 15th-17th level. It’s time to face the Scarlet Triad in their home town of Katapesh, battling a Wendigo in the town of Flinderplain and networking and influencing the guilds of Katapesh to gain some credibility before an all-out assault on the Triad’s Red Pyramid base. Lots of mission variety in this adventure, including gladiatorial contests, animal hunting, infiltration, investigation, dungeon crawls and preventing assassination attempts!

My favourite adventure in this series so far. It includes lore about the Witchwyrds and Lost Aiudara gates, new items, feats, poisons, companions, a new archetype with 5 new feats and 12 new monsters. If you don’t play any of the others, play this one. Well designed and well worth the investment of money and time.

Rating 10/10

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Laidback DM: P2e Review – Fires of the Haunted City

Time I got back to reviewing some Pathfinder stuff! I’ve been buying literally everything, so here’s my (short) opinion.

The Age of Ashes Adventure Path continues with this adventure for 12th-14th level characters. The PCs use one of their portals to get to the underground Dwarven city of Kovlar and the nearby haunted city of Saggorak. They’re on the trail of the Scarlet Triad and have to influence the Court of Regents in Kovlar to help them out (a cool mini-game within a game), battle Accursed Forge-Spurned, explore the haunted city and face the Scarlet Triad and Veshumirix, a huge Magma Dragon!

Another exciting adventure with high production standards, wonderful art and maps, a gazetteer of Kovlar, 7 new magic items, a new archetype with 4 feats and a focus spell, 11 new monsters and detailed NPC stats.

Rating: 9/10

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You can find my D&D 5e and OSR products at https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/13989/Laidback-DM
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Laidback DM – Free D&D 5e Adventure

Hi all,

Here’s a free copy of one of my adventures from Shotglass Adventures volume 1. It was a winner in the 2019 One-Page Dungeon Contest.

This image is 1200 dpi so you can view it easily on tablets and PCs. Just right click on laptop/PC or hold your finger on the image on your phone or tablet to save it, then print and play!

Laidback DM Free Dungeon

And if you like that, why not check out my other products, available at DriveThruRPG!  Click on the link below for more.

Game on!

Steve 😊

 

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Laidback DM – Running Big Parties

Nope – this isn’t a post about hosting huge drunkfests the whole street will remember. But nerdfests? Bring it on…

There’s a reason most modules are written for four players. Over time this was considered the average number of players most DMs could get together for one game session. Times have changed though, and with D&D reaching a level of popularity far beyond the original golden years of the ‘80’s, parties are bigger, tables are bigger and the associated problems of running games are bigger. Yep, facilitating large parties of players can be fun, but they can also be awkward and fatiguing. I’ve regularly run large parties of players. Here’s a few things I’ve learned over the years to help run big games and avoid some of the pitfalls.

  • Set ground rules – this is important for any game, especially big groups as they can become unruly faster than a smaller one. Establish your basic game ground rules early: no insulting, no vilification, don’t humiliate other players, etc. get your players’ input in coming up with ground rules so the group is not only accepting but knows where they shouldn’t go regarding discussions/behaviours.
  • Involve everyone – managing a party of players is like managing a team in a workplace – everyone has different strengths and motivations. Over time you’ll get to know your players well, and you’ll know what best motivates and engages them. Use that knowledge. Directly involve your players in some time of the administration functions of the game. Got some who are rules experts? Ask them for help on rules decisions, if needed. Got overly responsible players? Let them take over roles like organising initiative, mapping, marching orders, etc. Got vocal players? Give them opportunities to role play and describe their scenes. Got quiet players? Be inclusive, give them opportunities to speak and be heard. Give everybody opportunities to shine. In short, let them make your job as a DM easier, while playing to each player’s core strengths and motivations.
  • Manage the pace – make sure the story is moving along. This may sound a little obvious, and it’s true for any game, no matter what size: slow pacing kills engagement. Make sure your game doesn’t drag. If the wilderness encounters are tedious, drop them and so a travel montage instead. Better still, get one of your players to describe the flow of days on the road. If there’s a part of the adventure that’s boring, move through it quickly. And combat? “Many battles do not a good game make,” said Yoda. Even if your party are die hard hack-and-slashers, every game should be a balance of role play and combat, so that everyone gets to do something they enjoy.
  • Let your players contribute to the story – give each of your players the time to describe what they do in down time, or how they react to a new environment or new NPC. But beware the over-talker! If someone’s going on too long and the other players are switching off, acknowledge that player’s contribution and continue to move the game forward.
  • Run faster combats – big parties mean more down time between turns. This is ok for those players who are intensely involved or planning their upcoming turn, but there will be a few who aren’t – playing with phones or side conversations about non-game stuff are an indicator. Use faster combat to keep players engaged. Forego some of the lengthy descriptions of battle. Make the combat fast and keep everyone involved and excited. Theater of the mind becomes tricky the more players and monsters are involved, but it’s still quicker than using a grid. That said, the bigger the party, the better a grid for combat becomes as it’s easier to manage where the PCs are in relation to opponents. It’s your call, just remember to drop the unnecessary bits.
  • Increase the challenges – as mentioned earlier, adventures are generally written for four players. If you have more, up the ante. Parties of eight are easy – just double the number of bad guys. But what about the big bad? Rather than duplicate him/her, increase their hit points. Give them legendary actions. Up their armor class. Give them a powerful magic item to wield (if they don’t have one already). Remember, the more players, the more actions they have and the more hits the bad guys take, thus lessening the threat. You need to counter player character overkill by ensuring each combat encounter and the final boss remain suitably epic.
  • Consider more role playing opportunities – large parties of people respond like large groups of people. Often they split into cliques, or favour particular people in the group they know or identify with. Role playing encounters give an opportunity for groups to play as a party and introduce some ‘game’ conflict into the mix. Just make sure it doesn’t become REAL conflict – as facilitator, maintain control of the flow of discussion and immediately cut off anything that vilifies or denigrates another player.

Big parties are lots of fun to run. Just make sure they don’t run all the way over you.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

PS Do you have any hints for running big parties? Leave a comment! Heck, I’ll even respond to the ones about wild drunkfests.

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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Reviews – Lost Omens Character Guide

I’ve been buying most of the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them.

Paizo has a monthly release schedule for their products, which is great for those of us with collector mentalities that like to have everything (but terrible for our erstwhile budgets). I was pretty impressed with the Lost Omens World Guide, so it was a no brainer I would pick up the Lost Omens Character Guide.

A slim volume at 135 pages, the Character Guide manages to squeeze a lot of content in. There is expanded lore for all the Core Rulebook ancestries, new heritages and ancestry-specific feats. I was most interested in the new ancestries: the militaristic Hobgoblin; nature guardian Leshies (I love how Gourd Leshies can store physical objects inside their hollow heads); the patient and adaptable Lizardfolk. Each of these ancestries has multiple heritages with specific abilities, and ancestry feats. Want a Lizardfolk from the desert – try the Sandstrider. Or maybe an Unseen Lizardfolk which has chameleon abilities. How about an Elfbane Hobgoblin with resistance to elvish magic? Leaf Leshies are so light they can fall any distance and not be hurt.

One of my criticisms of the P2e Core Rulebook was the lack of new ancestries other than the Goblin, but these additional ones start to make up for that. They are all substantially different from the D&D takes on these races and there is the promise of more to come.

Next up is organisations, with detailed entries on the ostentatious Firebrands, the dogmatic Hellknights, stalwart Knights of Lastwall, the ancient magical Magaambya, and the adventurous Pathfinder Society. Not only is there a wealth of information on these organisations, how PCs join them and how each organisation relates to one other, there’s also loads of new items specific to each group, new abilities and archetypes, and feats galore. The Firebrands have access to an Insistent Door Knocker that whispers hints to you when you’re trying to unlock another door. Knights of Lastwall gain access to the new Sun Blade spell. Magaambyan attendants can gain Mask Familiars.

This book is a treasure trove of ideas for P2e players, especially those who like to get deep into their character’s background story and customise their skill sets appropriately. GMs will be happy, as well. Aside from all the lore available, the end of the book includes an NPC gallery with low and high level NPCs from each organisation, along with guidelines to apply themed templates to create organisation NPCs at differing levels and using other ancestries.

Paizo has impeccable production standards for their products, but it doesn’t make them perfect. I’ve mentioned before I’m not a fan of having rules and information spread out over multiple books. There are feats and archetypes in the Lost Omens World Guide that flow into some of the archetypes in this book. When you look at that book and this one, it seems like one book was split into two to ensure a regular flow of product. I have no problem with companies safeguarding their bottom line, especially when the products they produce are so good, but I usually like to have most things in one place. I’m not a fan of lugging my books around, so I use PDFs on a tablet for reference during games. Even jumping between PDFs can be a pain, but I am happy Paizo had the foresight to include page references when referring to feats or archetypes in other books. I guess I’ll just have to live with an annoyingly high number of rules sources.

Lost Omens Character Guide is a worthy addition to your P2e library (and believe me, with all the content being released, it becomes a library VERY quickly). There’s great content here for players and GMs, and it will definitely add some spice to your herb rack (a terrible analogy, but you know what I mean).

Rating: 9/10

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Laidback DM: Products Available Now!

Hi all!

Far be it for me to spruik for a living, but hey – it’s how I make a living now. So, here are some of my products available on DrivethruRPG in print/PDF/digital. You can buy any or all of these fine products by visiting this nifty little link:

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/13989/Laidback-DM?term=laidback

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Game on!

Steve 🙂

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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Reviews – Tomorrow Must Burn

I’ve been buying all the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this adventure path. Just call me lazy.

Limited Spoilers!

Tomorrow Must Burn is the third part of the epic Pathfinder 2e adventure path Age of Ashes, containing three adventures for characters of 9th-11th level. The PCs face off against the Scarlet Triad, the slavers behind the Cinderclaw Cult and the adventure path’s overarching conspiracy (which I won’t spoil).

Tomorrow Must Burn is set in the country of Ravounel, which gained its independence in a previous adventure path (remember I said a while back these adventure paths have a real impact on the game world?). It’s nice to see a return to a previous adventure location (even if I get the faint impression this might have been to save on production time).

There are several interesting town and city-based adventures and a showdown with the slaver boss in a remote quarry location, and although the investigations and missions have less variety than the previous adventure in the series, they are nonetheless enjoyable.

As usual, Tomorrow Must Burn includes loads of additional information for GMs, including a gazetteer of Ravounel, all about Dragons, seven new magic items, three pages of new feats that can be learned from NPCs (the Lacunafex spy network and Bellflower underground railroad that frees Halfling slaves), 10 high-level monsters and three detailed NPC overviews.

All of this wonderful added content can be an issue in the long term, however. When spread out over multiple supplements—a concern with Pathfinder 1st edition and also with the various new Lost Omens hardcovers—it can become problematic trying to find references during your future games. Perhaps Paizo will consolidate all the new material at some point, however the current example of division of Lost Omens’ content makes this doubtful. I hate having to look through multiple books for references (D&D 5e is getting this way as well). It’s inevitable as games age and new content for players and GMs is released, but P2e has only been around a few months and it’s already racking up a significant supplement count. Having said that, it’s the GM’s choice to use the additional content or not.

One other quibble: the Ravounel gazetteer is a bit of a letdown – it reads like a bland travel brochure and there are next to no adventure seeds. WOTC managed to cram Baldur’s Gate full of them, and although that gazetteer was much bigger it shows what can be done with a city supplement. Having additional adventure seeds can really help GMs (especially new ones) with building and running their own campaigns.

The nature of adventure paths means they tend to lead PCs from one specific outcome to the next, in a somewhat linear fashion—they’re a path, after all—and there’s not much room for improvisation. Having said that, Age of Ashes compensates by providing a full and interesting campaign from 1st-20th level, and WOTC has only managed that in one of their many campaign adventures. Age of Ashes is more varied and challenging than that somewhat staid multi-level dungeon crawler.

Although Tomorrow Must Burn has less mission variety than Cult of Cinders, it will keep players interested and engaged throughout the many sessions of play in this book. I’m enjoying these adventures, and look forward to the next.

Rating: 8/10

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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Review – Cult of Cinders

I’ve been buying all the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this adventure path. Just call me lazy.

Spoilers!!

Cult of Cinders is the second part of the Age of Ashes adventure path. It contains four adventures taking PCs from 5th-8th level, set in the vast and danger-filled jungles of the Mwangi Expanse.

Laidback DM: Cult of Cinders review

This adventure has a great balance of role playing and fighting missions that include befriending the local Ekujae Elves via hunting, attending a feast, matchmaking and storytelling (among other activities); deactivating a number of protective dragon pillars throughout the jungle; disrupting a mining operation and an intense showdown with the Cinderclaw Cult antagonists in the fossilized remains of a giant dragon. Along the way the PCs learn the cult is linked to another, bigger conspiracy, and gain a key to another Elvish magic gate (and thus another part of the Inner Sea Region of Golarion). Age of Ashes is a good introductory campaign as it uses portals to take the PCs to multiple countries across the game world, providing varied environments and challenges in each new instalment.

Along with the adventures are additional rules enabling repair and upgrade of the citadel the PCs took over in Hellknight Hill, copious information on the Ekujae Elves, new treasures and diseases, extensive background information on two major NPCs and 15 new monsters.

Cult of Cinders has the usual high levels of presentation and writing we’ve come to expect from Paizo. It’s less linear than the previous instalment, with more mission variety that also very effectively demonstrates the various P2e rules for downtime and NPC interactions.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Reviews – Hellknight Hill

(I’ve been buying all the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this adventure path. Just call me lazy.)

Hellknight Hill is the first in the Age of Ashes Adventure Path for P2e, taking PCs from 1st-4th level. The first mini-adventure sees the PCs fighting a fire in the town hall, before accepting a job to chase down the fire starter in the citadel on Hellknight Hill, just outside of the town of Breachhill. Next up is a dungeon crawl through the citadel, rescuing a band of local goblins and defeating the fire starter. The last part of the adventure sees the PCs investigating the dungeons and caves below the citadel, fighting the Cinderclaw cult attempting to invade the region through a magic gate and discovering a series of portals that tie directly into future instalments of the adventure path. They even get to keep the citadel as a fixer-upper to use as a home base, which is a nice touch.

Overall this adventure is a well put together, somewhat linear adventure, with bonus materials including campaign information, a detailed town with a mysterious secret, 3 major NPCs, 2 new magic items and 9 new monsters. The writing, maps and art are good and the levels are decently designed (although there are the occasional questionable monster placements that seem to be there just to make up the XP level requirements rather than for logical reasons).

This adventure makes a good introduction not only to the Age of Ashes Adventure Path but also to P2e itself. I also like the fact the Adventure Path enables the PCs to significantly impact the game world (assuming they play it through to its conclusion at level 20). As with all of Paizo’s campaign materials, this is very closely tied to the Pathfinder world of Golarion, but any DM/GM could cull bits to use in their own homebrew campaigns if they wished.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Laidback DM – Lost Omens World Guide (Pathfinder 2e) Review

I’ve been buying everything Pathfinder 2e related over the past few months, so I thought I’d do a few reviews.

Lost Omens World Guide is exactly what you think it is – a gazetteer of the world of Golarion, Pathfinder’s official setting. Okay, it’s actually the Inner Sea region, Golarion’s analogue of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but there’s also some general info on the rest of the world.

Lost Omens World Guide and poster map

One thing that hit me about this book (aside from the surprising thinness of the tome) is the sheer volume of ideas thrown in. There are so many tropes at play in this fantasy setting it’s safe to say the authors used a ‘kitchen sink’ approach. In many ways this is good for GMs – there are so many different environments that you are likely to find a place you like that will suit the theme and style of your campaign. Like science fantasy? Try Numeria, where a spaceship crashed in ancient times and remnants of tech can be found across the land. Like Wild West fantasy? Alkenstar produces firearms. French Revolution? Galt is perpetually revolting and has a magical guillotine that traps souls. Post-Wars of the Roses Britain? Try Taldor. Ice age? Realm of the Mammoth Lords. Ancient Egypt? Osirion. All the analogues are here, but each has a creative spin that makes it fresh and original. And there are plenty of seeds for campaigns or stand alone adventures.

I especially like the fact that Lost Omens World Guide has direct mentions of previous Pathfinder Adventure Paths, and that the world’s history and various countries have been affected by them. It gives the world a “lived in” feel and shows that the official adventures have lasting consequences. If you have a group who played through those first edition campaigns, the players will feel like they truly changed the world. And who doesn’t want to feel that?

There are new PC backgrounds related to each country, new magic items, spells and feats. These are all usable in the game and help to personalise your PCs more. And all laid out in the consistent P2e style.

The artwork and maps are excellent, and the writing and editing is good (only a few typos). There is a double-sided poster map of the Inner Sea region in two styles, which is pretty awesome.

The book itself is a wee bit thin for my liking (130 pages) but then I found it much easier to read than a 350 page volume. The text is tightly packed – I think a larger font would have been easier on the eyes, but I realise they are keeping a consistent look and feel for P2e.

Another sore point: a number of the names are awful – Norgorber? Please, I can’t be scared of an evil god with such a dumb name. And regional consistency in naming doesn’t seem to exist in many places (I’m sure Tolkien is rolling in his grave). But it’s fantasy, after all, and I guess it could be worse.

There are other books coming out to support the Lost Omens World Guide, and I get the impression they all could have been combined into one. I’m going to forgive Paizo for this, as I know they’re not as big as WOTC and release a crap load of regular (and quality) product every month (while WOTC seems to release content at a dribble).

Good job Paizo, yet again.

Rating: 9/10

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Laidback DM – The Quiet Player

I’m willing to bet money you have a group that has at least one quiet, introspective player, who tends to not speak up much (I’ll refrain from calling them an introvert as sometimes introverts can be outgoing, too). I’m also willing to bet that you’ve DM’ed a game with an unfamiliar group with subdued players in it. And what tends to happen with those quiet players? They get drowned out by the rest of the crowd.

Hey, you in the back! Yes, you! Bet there’s something you’d like to say...
Hey – you in the back. Speak up!

Here’s some tips to prevent that:

  • Make sure your quiet players get the opportunity to contribute. All too often the loud players (and I won’t refer to them as extroverted, as some extroverts aren’t loud or over the top) have all the say. It’s important to involve everybody in the game, and addressing your less confident players directly can do that. Ask them what they want to do, or if they have another option to the one being pushed by the more confident players.
  • Use open questions with subdued players. Closed and open questioning techniques are used in different situations, depending on the type of information sought. A closed question generally has a yes or no answer e.g. “That’s the course of action you’re taking?” An open question allows the questioned person to provide a fuller answer e.g. “What course of action would you like to take?” Use open questions with your quieter players to allow them the opportunity to speak more.
  • Highlight the quiet player’s character. Often an outgoing player’s character is a reflection of the player, and thus may grab the spotlight more often. Make sure you know what the subdued player’s character is capable of, and use them. Set up some situations for their character where they have opportunities to shine.
  • Speak to quiet players before and after the session. Get to know all your players, but find out if your quiet players like to lead, of if they have a particular backstory or subplot they would like to explore. Build an adventure around their backstory. Maybe they don’t like speaking and prefer to stay quiet and observe. If this is the case, honour their wishes, but make sure you stay up to date with their situation as this may change as they grow more confident and willing to speak up in the game.

Quiet players are often the introspective thinkers of the group. They may be more inclined to think through situations, rather than charging in blindly (but not always). Remember to involve all at the table – don’t let quiet players get drowned out by the more vociferous ones. Tabletop RPGs are for everyone to enjoy, after all.

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Laidback DM: Designing Dungeons

So, you have a map of a dungeon / building / ruin / chasm / extra-planar setting / landscape, etc. Now, you just have to stock it with some monsters and traps.

Here’s some hints for designing cool dungeons:

  • Who’s the Boss? Decide who your big bad is going to be from the beginning. Select ancillary monsters to suit the boss’s main theme. Then take those ideas and add a twist or two e.g. a Vampire Lord will no doubt have vampire spawn, dire wolves, bats, humanoid prisoners, zombies. But…maybe the Vampire Lord has gone crazy from a mysterious undeath disease, the Vampire Spawn are revolting against him as a result, the zombies are actually human adventurers in disguise attempting to sneak in and rob the place, and the dire wolves and bats have mutated into combined forms as a result of the undeath disease—flying wolves, baby!!
  • Why are the monsters there? When you select monsters, think about their personal reason for being in the dungeon. You should err on the side of logical. Maybe a monster is guarding a particular tomb. Maybe the monster is part of a tribe that lives in another part of the dungeon and it’s lost. Maybe a monster is a demon trapped in a room by adventurers hundreds of years ago. No matter what monsters you choose, and no matter what reason you come up for them being there, make sure they all relate to each other in some way e.g. the lost monster is searching for the the tomb, it has heard rumours a demon is trapped in a room near here. He thinks the demon might be able to help him get past the tomb guardian. There’s nothing more boring then a collection of random rooms with random monsters. If you want that for your group, then why not play a computer game.
  • Don’t fill every room. There should be a smattering of empty rooms, to lighten things up a big, introduce tension (nothing like players thinking the room has something nasty in it…), and to give PCs a place to rest if they need it.
  • Traps should be there for a reason. Once again, logic wins the day. A tomb might have several traps, all preventing the PCs from getting to the sarcophagus. A lair might have traps to prevent attackers from breaching the first line of defence. If there is no real reason for a trap, then leave it out.
  • Make the environment interesting. Think about what you can do to make the environment (and the encounters within the environment) challenging. Maybe the floor has broken away in part of one room and continues to break up during any fight. Maybe the corridors shift as the result of a magical curse. Maybe the lava flow in one or more areas occasionally shoots a jet stream into the air, splashing those around it with burning magma.
  • What’s the hook? There should be a good reason why the party is invading this dungeon. It’s often good to link it in some way to a PC’s backstory (although you shouldn’t do this every time) e. g. a PC’s sister has gone missing in a vampire attack on the local town. In the dungeon, she has been transformed into a vampire spawn. Save her, or kill her? Moral quandaries are always my favourite.

Game on!

Steve 😊

PS want some examples of adventures made from single maps? Check out Shotglass Adventures Vol. 1 and 2 at the link below.

For Laidback DM products, in print/PDF/digital, visit https://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/browser/publisher/13989.

To support my Kickstarter for Maps Your Party Will Die For, click on https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/laidbackdm/maps-your-party-will-die-for-for-5e-pathfinder-osr-rpgs

Laidback DM – Free Old School Map!

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for Dungeons & Dragons adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give away my old school hand-drawn maps any chance I get.

This week: Bandit Ruin

The Bandits of the Murkmire prey on small villages on the periphery of the swamp. Your party has been hired to take them out at all costs and return any kidnapped villagers. Unfortunately, you’re caught attempting to sneak up on them, held in the dungeon below and are forced to fight in vicious pit fights against all kinds of unsavoury creatures. Time to escape! But what lurks behind the bricked up passageways? You can hear something moaning at night, putting both bandits and the kidnapped on edge. And that incessant tapping on the wall – is that something trying to get out?    

LAIDBACKDM_BanditRuin_600DPI_stevestillstandingcom

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.

Happy Gaming!

Steve 😊

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

For Laidback DM products, visit https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/13989/Laidback-DM?term=laidback​

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Laidback DM: Anatomy of a (not quite) break up

So, I’m taking a break from DMing to hone my ‘player’ chops. Part of the reason was my increasing work and study loads and part of it was burn out. I just needed a break from all the work involved in preparing and running a game each week, from my brain constantly thinking about D&D all the time.

Being a player has been fun. The lack of responsibility and generally less-onerous workload for each game (read: none) is incredibly liberating. But I’ve found I’m now a bit too laidback. Without the need to be the final arbiter of rules decisions, I find myself not bothering to remember rules. Where I once kept track of every detail, now I cant be bothered to remember stuff that happened in the game last week (I’m playing several games a week, but that’s just an excuse). I find myself being enticed by other RPGs (but then, I always have been). Pathfinder 2e is turning out to be an arguably better D&D than 5e, despite the density of its ruleset (“what sacrilege is this?!” I hear you say). Whodathunkit?

Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.com
Hey, you in the wagon – stop dawdling! Damn these laidback Dragonborn…

My university studies are drawing to a close and once I finish this final assignment I should (theoretically) have more time on my hands to DM. But do I want to? I still find myself drawn to the idea of guiding a group of semi-crazed individuals through a fantasy world of wondrous choice and flexibility. I still find myself drawn to contentious rules decisions and bizarrely humorous indignation as players split their party and suffer the inevitable consequences. I’m still drawn to the idea of telling improvised stories and building worlds of imagination and magic with friends and acquaintances. But can’t I do that as a player? Do I really need to be a DM?

I guess I can do both. Have my RPG cake and eat it, as it were. So, yeah. I’ll DM again. I guess the decision was already made before I started writing this. Because DMs never die. They just take a break for a while, realise the grass isn’t greener on the other side, and then come back with fireballs blazing.

Game on!

Steve

PS DMs – it’s okay to admit that you sometimes need a break from the game. Life goes on.

For more Laidback DM, click here.

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For Laidback DM products, in print/PDF/digital, visit https://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/browser/publisher/13989.

Laidback DM: Free Map!

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…  

Laidback DM - Descending Caves - stevestillstanding.com

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.

Happy Gaming!

Steve 😊

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

For Laidback DM products, in print/PDF/digital, visit https://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/browser/publisher/13989.

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Laidback DM: World Building

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.

Pros:

  • Most of the heavy lifting is done
  • Great maps, locations and adventure seeds just waiting to be used
  • Can be very immersive

Cons:

  • 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.

Pros:

  • Most of the work is already done
  • Can use the maps, locations and adventure seeds available
  • Can make small or large changes as needed

Cons:

  • 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.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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).

Game on!

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

For Laidback DM products, in print/PDF/digital, visit https://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/browser/publisher/13989.

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Laidback DM – Pathfinder 2e Product Reviews

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.

Rating: 8.5/10

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.

Rating: 9/10

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.

Rating: 9.5/10

 

For more Laidback DM, click here.

For Laidback DM products, in print/PDF/digital, visit https://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/browser/publisher/13989.

 

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