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 😊

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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 – 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

 

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Laidback DM – Descent into Avernus review

I was sooooooo looking forward to getting this adventure. But like so many things in life, the experience didn’t quite live up to the expectation. I’m not going to explain the storyline—by now you would have read the advertising blurb.

Descent into Avernus is a campaign adventure for characters levels 1-13. It has great art, decent writing and a huge amount of campaign information for DMs who want to use Baldurs Gate as a city setting. And then there’s a somewhat short adventure in the city which then continues in Hell which kind of feels like it was tacked on, despite the fact it leads the book and has been hyped to death.

Laidback DM Descent into Avernus Review
Yep, I was so keen for this I bought both the adventure and the dice set with the add ons. We’re they worth the $100 au total investment?

Don’t get me wrong—there’s much to enjoy about Descent into Avernus. Although it’s very linear (yes, that includes the sandbox-style section on Avernus), it has some great ideas and plenty of opportunities for DMs to improvise. Once the players are in Avernus, however, the resolution of the storyline is tied to very specific story paths and an annoying NPC (Lulu the hollyphant) that I can just see my players killing in the first few minutes. (Oh, don’t worry. She’s so essential to the story that she comes back to life later if she’s killed.)

I’ve been asking for monster stat blocks to be included in the main text of adventures for ages (but who’s going to listen to me?). And finally, some blocks are included, with the rest at the back of the book, as usual. But the brevity of the main campaign leads me to believe this decision was more a text padding choice than a specific design one.

I guess what I object to is paying $60 AU for a book that purports to be a full campaign, and ending up with something that may need a fair bit of additional fleshing out by the DM. Each Avernus-based mini-adventure is incredibly brief. The story plot points and quests are so closely connected that Descent feels railroaded. The overall campaign itself is decidedly shorter than any other WOTC has put out. In fact, it looks like it was designed this way to allow community content from DMs Guild to fill the gaps.

And the Mad Max-style vehicle combat and rules that were promoted so much? Well, let’s just say they’re a bit underwhelming. I guess you can homebrew a bit. Or a lot. Or buy lots of DMs Guild supplements. Either way, this adventure feels a lot like a computer game release with DLC to come. All we need now are micro transactions…

As I said previously, the swathe of information on Baldurs Gate (including random encounters, adventure seeds, backgrounds and group secrets/motivations) is great for DMs, but it’s not required to run the main adventure. So, if you’re wanting to run a homebrew campaign with Baldurs Gate as the hub, you have everything you need right here.

Pros

  • Great art, decent storyline
  • Baldurs Gate setting information is detailed and ideal for homebrew city campaigns
  • Almost linear adventure storyline may be ideal for beginner DMs
  • Plenty of opportunities for improvisation for experienced DMs

Cons

  • Not enough adventuring in Hell
  • Most of the adventure’s plot points feel railroaded
  • Annoyingly cutesy NPC for players to drag through the story
  • Infernal War Machine rules and Avernus sandbox sections are a bit light
  • DMs may want to create or purchase additional content to fill out the Avernus experience

Opinion: While Curse of Strahd retains the WOTC campaign crown, Descent is at least better than Princes of the Apocalypse and the Baldurs Gate material is fantastic, even if it’s not required to play the adventure. 7.5/10

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Laidback DM: Weapon and Armor Durability

I know what you’re going to say—in D&D it’s so much easier not to have to worry about weapons getting damaged. But what happens when they do? And how do you have a simple (or laidback, as I prefer to call it) system that doesn’t bog down the game?

Flanked!!

Here’s my personal take on weapon and armor damage:

  • Every time you roll a 1 (critical fumble) on an attack roll, your non-magical weapon takes damage. It loses -1 to attacks and damage. This stacks with further crit fumbles, up to a maximum of -3, after which the non-magical weapon breaks and can’t be used.
  • Armor is treated a little differently: when an NPC or monster scores a 20 (critical hit), you as a player can decide whether you want to take the double damage or whether your non-magical armor is damaged with a -1 penalty to AC. This penalty stacks with successive crit hits up to a maximum of -3, after which the non-magical armor breaks and is unusable. (This option might potentially save the PC from being knocked unconscious or killed by a critical hit.)
  • Damaged weapons and armor can be repaired by an armorer, weaponsmith or bowyer (depending on the weapon/armor) for half the original price of the weapon or armor.
  • A PC can repair their own weapons and armor during down time if they have have the relevant background and tools (e.g. Guild Artisan or Clan Crafter Backgrounds with relevant area of expertise: armorer, bowyer, weaponsmith). They’ll need a forge if the weapon or armor is made of metal. The price for repairing their own weapons and armor is a quarter of the original cost of the item.
  • No matter who repairs the item, it takes 1 day per -1 to fix (i.e. 3 days to fix -3 damaged weapon).

And now you’re going to say, why not just buy a new one? That’s entirely possible, but not every PC may have the money, and it may be the sword is a family heirloom or that shield is the Cleric’s holy symbol. Or the player might just prefer to be self sufficient.

When using a weapon and armor damage system like this, you shouldn’t really use a critical fumble system as well. Or if you do, you could alternate crits with weapon and armor damage. Either way, as long as your players are happy with it.

And remember: monsters with weapons and armor should be affected, too. All’s fair, after all.

Easy weapon and armor damage? Done and dusted!

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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Laidback DM – One-Page Dungeon Competition 2019 Winner

Hi all

I was one of the winners of the 2019 One Page Dungeon competition at https://www.dungeoncontest.com.

I used one of my old adventures from Shotglass Adventures volume 1, which is available in print and PDF from DrivethruRPG (see the link below).

Here’s a copy of the adventure I submitted, which you can download by right clicking and saving. I had to change the name of the major monster because of the system-neutral guidelines of the competition, but it’s an Invisible Stalker. All the other monsters are in the D&D 5e MM.

Cross My Heart Hope To Die - One Page Dungeon Entry 2019 - Laidback DM

Game on!

Steve

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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Review

I bought copies of the Pathfinder 2nd edition Core Rulebook and Bestiary the other week, and after a solid read (they are over 600 and 200 pages respectively) here are my thoughts on the game.

Laidback DM- stevestillstanding.com
Pathfinder 2e is pretty awesome. But veeeeeeeeery time consuming.

Pros:

  • Great layout and design – tabs and index make it easier to find stuff. The PDF is also fully indexed (and where are your official PDFs, WOTC?! And don’t say D&D Beyond, because I object to paying again for content I already own).
  • Superior character options and customisation – you can customise characters very deeply. Ancestry and backgrounds give specific skills and feats. Character creation is straightforward and easy to follow. HPs are standardised, ability boosts add or subtract from a standard ’10 for everything’ array. The Alchemist class is cool!
  • Consistent advancement for every level. Hero points awarded allowing players to re-roll a bad roll or save themselves from death.
  • Alignment is closely tied to some classes – when doing stuff considered anathema to their alignments, Champions and Clerics must atone.
  • Action Economy – everyone has three actions, every activity has an action cost. You can choose to use the actions any way you want, which makes for more tactically focussed combat (movement counts as a standard action, so you can choose to move three times if you want). Much better way of managing actions.
  • D20 rolls incorporate Critical Successes (10 or more above the DC) and Critical Failures (10 or more below the DC) which can modify the outcome based on the check performed. Not as intensive as the spell success and failure tables in the DCC RPG, but a nice touch.
  • Well laid out spells – take up less space and are less vague and open to interpretation. Spells can be heightened, and this is consistently applied (unlike higher-level casting in D&D 5e).
  • Specific spell schools and domains mean less spell lists (but roughly the same amount of spells) as D&D 5e. Rituals are done by groups and make much more sense.
  • Specific Crafting rules – The crafting system is second to none. Rules for general, alchemical and magic items. Specific formulas and costs. No more guess work like in D&D 5e.
  • Levels instead of CR – you can now tell the level a monster or magic item is at a glance, and they’re not as misleading as D&D 5e CRs can be.
  • A detailed story world (Golarion) is fundamentally part of the ruleset. The roles of the gods and their alignments work in directly with Cleric and Champion classes.
  • Very much focused on grid-based combat, for those who prefer this approach to RPGs.
  • Well designed monsters that are just different enough from D&D 5e to keep things interesting.

Cons:

  • So much to read, so little time. The size and cost of the Core rule book may be a disincentive to new players.
  • Lots of ongoing record keeping needed during combat just for the condition effects alone, compared to D&D 5e.
  • Sometimes a rule that has been written to simplify is layered with additional rules to make it more complex, potentially defeating the initial purpose (e.g. Bulk replaces item weights for encumbrance).
  • Less core ancestries than D&D, with only the Goblin standing out as any different.
  • Don’t like Golarion? You’re going to be home brewing some things to fit the new system (e.g. as gods are closely matched to alignments and roles you will need to develop your own pantheon).
  • Don’t like playing on a grid? You can play ‘theatre of the mind’ but be aware it might get a bit tricky (see next point).
  • Big numbers involved in ability, skill checks and combat, especially at higher levels. If you’re not decent at maths you may balk at some of the numbers (e.g. one high level monster has an AC of 42). There is a high reliance on multiple bonuses (see the next point).
  • No Advantage/Disadvantage, one of the best new rules of D&D 5e. (Okay, so there is fortune and misfortune, which is the same thing, but it’s not used to the extent it is in 5e. In fact it’s a sidebar, more an afterthought).
  • Way too many conditions to remember. Luckily you can buy condition cards, if you want.
  • Even with that really well-designed character sheet, you may run out of room attempting to record all the information for feats and the like.

Summary:

  • Pathfinder 2e is a great game for tactical players who love deep character customisation.
  • The rules have been simplified overall, but retain enough crunch to either excite of annoy, depending on your preference.
  • Numbers get really big, really fast.
  • Combat is more tactical but will take longer to run and involve more record keeping.
  • Lots to read and remember – detail and specificity are the middle names of this game. If you are a less is more person, this may not be the RPG for you.

I haven’t had the chance to run a game yet, but I can imagine my maths-deficient players getting their calculators out. Some of the systems are better designed than D&D 5e, while others just make things far more laborious. There is a level of specificity in the rules that eliminates a lot of uncertainty common in other RPGs. I imagine Pathfinder 2e games will take longer to run then D&D 5e. I like it, though!

Good on you, Paizo—a great update that finally sets Pathfinder apart from D&D, and in many good ways.

Game on!

Steve 😊

PS I’m not bagging D&D 5e – I love the game and play it every week. Heck, it’s how I make my living. Given Pathfinder 2e’s roots, though, it was easiest to compare.

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Laidback DM: Easier Encumbrance

Do you use the encumbrance rules as written in 5e? I don’t. I find them…cumbersome, if you’ll excuse the pun. Of all the rules brought across from the various old editions, counting weight in pounds and applying it to a factor multiplied by strength is just tedious. There’s enough math in the game without that as well.

So, time for some simpler rules. Here’s some, borrowed and slightly modified, from a great little game recently launched on Kickstarter, called Five Torches Deep.

Five Torches Deep TRPG
Five Torches Deep is a cool 5e/OSR crossover game, I recently supported on Kickstarter. Find it on DrivethruRPG!

All item weights are expressed as Load, which reflects the weight and bulk of an item. Small items and weapons (such as a dagger) weigh 1, medium or bulky items and large weapons weigh 2. Light armour weighs 1, medium armour 2, heavy armour 4. 500 coins equals a load of 1. Some items will have negligible weight, such as a single scroll, and don’t count towards Load (although a scroll case with multiple scrolls would weigh 1).

A PC can carry their Strength value in Load e.g. STR 18 = 18 points of Load. If they go over their limit, they are encumbered and suffer a 5 foot movement penalty per point of load over their Strength. They also suffer Disadvantage on ability checks, saves and attacks. When their movement reaches zero they are over-encumbered and can’t move. They’ll have to shed something.

For example, a Rogue has Strength 12. He carries his backpack (1), a dagger (1), a short sword (1), long bow (2), quiver of 20 arrows (1) full waterskin (1), 2 weeks of rations (2) a bag of marbles (negligible), 50 feet of rope (1) and wears Leather Armor (1). This brings him to 1 under his limit. He could carry a further 500 coins (1) of treasure, but any more and he’s over the limit—his movement would be reduced by 5 feet for each point over and his ability checks, saves and attacks would be at Disadvantage.

Easy to work out and apply, right? And much less cumbersome.

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Laidback DM: Alignments in Games

Alignments are a leftover from the days of old school role playing. Originally there were three—Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. Then Mr. Gygax decided in AD&D that he’d spice it up a little by adding Good, Neutral and Evil suffixes to provide a bit more clarity. But are alignments necessary in a D&D game?

Players and DMs generally fall into two categories when it comes to alignments—you either love them or hate them. There doesn’t seem to be a sit-on-the-fence (or neutral!) option here. Personally, I don’t like alignments. I think players like the freedom to play their character how they wish, and alignments are just not that important in running the game.

Cave exit
Escaping the confines of alignments…

That’s not to say alignments are a complete write off:

Pros:

  • They make it easy to role play NPCs and monsters because they provide a basis for their motivation.
  • They provide players with some guidance as to how they might play their character.
  • They can create interesting conflicts for parties containing characters with wide-ranging alignments.
  • The rules are set up to use alignments, particularly where aligned magic items are used or in certain magical areas or traps that only affect specifically aligned characters.
  • They make it easy to tell who the good guys and bad guys are, thus ‘aligning’ the story with traditional high fantasy tropes.

Cons:

  • Players may feel restricted by having to ‘fit’ their role play to the alignment they’ve chosen.
  • Conflict between opposite aligned characters may feel ‘manufactured’ or meta-gamed, rather than natural.
  • DMs may feel restricted by an NPC’s or monster’s alignment e.g. that monster is Chaotic Evil, he would never do something to help out that party!

In the end, everyone has good and bad in them. Nothing is black and white in the real world, and role playing games are a bit like that, too (at least mine are). I don’t believe in the need for alignments, but I can see how they can be useful in helping to guide a player’s ethical decisions. When I’m playing an NPC or monster, I ignore alignment altogether and do whatever fits the story best.

In the end, whether you use alignments or not, you decide how they work in your campaign. Like many of the peripheral rules in TRPGs (i.e. rules that could be considered non-essential) they don’t really make much difference to how the game is played. Everyone will still have fun, whether you use them or not.

And that’s what the game’s really about.

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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