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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Hi all,

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

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

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

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

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

· Guide for OSR conversions!

You can purchase it now at

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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


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

Hi all, 

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

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

Game on!

Steve 🙂 

Week 1-2 (March 2017):

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

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

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

Week 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Laidback DM: Raw Dice and Partying on the Edge

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

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

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

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

Game on!


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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Reviews – Bestiary Battle Cards

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5/10

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

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

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

Extinction Curse1

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

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

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

Rating: 8.5/10

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Laidback DM: P2e Review – Bestiary Pawn Box

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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