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 an weapon and armor damage system like this, you shouldn’t really use a critical fumble system as well. Or 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 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: Treasure Alternatives

All too often, treasure seems to be the major incentive for PCs to complete missions and quests in fantasy role playing games. So what about something else just as beneficial?

Here’s some ideas for things that are just as useful as mo money, that could be offered as alternative rewards for jobs:

  • An ongoing discount at particular traders, armourers and weaponsmiths around town.
  • Elite access to the local Sages’ Guild and their libraries for access to rare knowledge and information.
  • The best horses money can buy and free stables in any town they travel to.
  • Alchemical or magical formulas for crafting rare magic items.
  • A ship and crew.
  • A letter of marque from the local king, lord or mayor that can be used by the PCs to get audiences with important nobles and privileged circles of people.
  • Free travel on stage coaches anywhere in the country.
  • Access to safe houses in multiple major cities.
  • Noble titles and estates, making the PCs part of the ruling elite.
  • Access to street-level networks of messengers and informers, providing an unparalleled information and rumour network in a major city.

Of course, some players will still prefer a chest of gold pieces. Some habits are hard to break.

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Laidback DM: Keeping Secrets

Are you one of those DMs who finds it hard keeping secrets from your players? This may be the case if you see your players regularly, through work, school or at the pub, and enjoy talking about your game. You may find it’s hard not to blurt out some spoilers.

Telling secrets about your game may make you feel good, but does it make the players happy?

But think about it. Spoilers are exactly what they mean. Your players look to you as a DM to not only provide them with a night of entertainment, they also trust you as a referee, game runner and friend. If you tell them secrets about the campaign, what else are you letting slip? This could lead to concerns about non-gaming stuff they tell you in confidence, questioning your overall integrity as a person.

What are some ways to stop?

Journal – record your thoughts, so you want to talk about them less. Use your phone—who needs a paper diary, nowadays?

Think – before you open your trap. Spoilers spoil—it’s in the name.

Talk – not to your players, but to non-players. Unloading to others means less chance of spoilers for your players (as long as the non-player doesn’t tell them).

Play – maybe you’re not playing your games regularly enough. This can be tricky when your group has commitments, but talk with them about it. Maybe shorter games or a public venue, rather than someone’s house (why a venue? Sometimes people feel more obligated when it’s not just going over a mate’s place, plus there’s less onus on the house-owner to set up, clean up, etc.).

Do – make time for other stuff. Thinking about RPGs all the time is probably not ideal. Get your mind on other things—go out, go to the gym, drive, walk, see the country. Then come back and play RPGs!

So, stop the spoilers. Just think how much more exciting a reveal is for players when it’s unexpected.

Game on!

Steve

PS thanks to Chaoticcolors.net for the idea for this blog 😊

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Laidback DM: Playing in the Sandbox

So what exactly is a sandbox? And how does it relate to RPGs? ‘Sandboxing’ is where you let your players loose in the world to do whatever they want. Give them a map and they decide where they go and what they do. Consequently, the world is built around their actions.

It’s a bit like computer games such as Skyrim and GTA—if you don’t follow the main story quest you can literally play in an open world sandbox, and do almost anything you want. But computer games are limited by their code, system memory and processing power. TRPG sandboxing is not.

For new DMs, sandboxing can be scary. With the players left to do what they want, go anywhere and do anything, it’s up to you to respond and create interesting NPCs, story, sidebars, and world building while they do it. Obviously you’ll have a little something pre-prepared, but it might not get used as the players may decide on a different course of action. You have to constantly think on your feet and improvise, and this can be daunting for some.

Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.com

So how do you prep for and run a sandbox campaign?

  • Learn to improvise. Let the PCs make the decisions and let your logic and creativity respond to their decisions.
  • Let the players help design the world. Your players are a source of joint creativity here—use them!
  • Use random tables. Random names, random towns, random locations, random quests – there are loads of supplements and online tools out there for generating content on the fly. Have them on hand to use during the game. Shotglass Adventures volume 1 has a bunch of useful tables in the back – shameless plug.
  • Keep lots of notes – as you create stuff with your players, keep notes so you know what you did in that session (this is a given in any DMing session, but it’s even more important with sandboxing as you don’t want the PCs going back to a town you created on the fly only to find you’ve forgotten all about it.
  • Have some one-shot adventures on hand to slot into the campaign and save some prep time. The party might not take the bait but you’ll feel happier knowing you had them (this feels like a great time for another shameless plug – Shotglass Adventures volume 1 and 2 are ideal for this).
  • Have a few random maps on hand, for towns and dungeons (hark! Time for yet another shameless plug – my own Connectable Fantasy Town Maps and Old School Maps for RPGs are perfect for this).
  • Don’t panic! Your players are going to do unexpected things. That’s what they do. Don’t stress—just go with the flow.

Pros:

  • Creativity unleashed!
  • Everyone is fully involved in creation
  • Will take your campaign in directions you never expected

Cons:

  • Can be difficult to plan for
  • Often more resources are required at the gaming table
  • Some players prefer more structured gaming approaches
  • Pacing may be an issue
  • May be stressful if you’re not used to improvising on the fly

It may be that sandbox gaming is not for you. That’s okay. There are plenty of other options for your game. And your players will have fun, no matter what.

Sandboxing is one of those things you might want to try out sometime. And who knows? You and your players may just love it. Then there’s no going back.

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Flanking: Good Team Work or Unbalancing the Game?

Flanking is an optional rule in D&D 5e, generally used with miniatures (although you can also use it in theater-of-the-mind combat if you want—I do). Flanking is where two or more miniatures ‘surround’ another (which we’ll call the 3rd), on directly opposite sides. The theory is that the 2nd miniature is distracting the 3rd while the 1st attacks, granting Advantage to the 1st’s attacks (and then the 2nd’s, if they are still in the same position when their turn rolls around). Flanking applies to melee attacks only. Sorry, archers—you already get it pretty good (especially if you’re a Rogue).

If my description is a little unclear, here’s the official rule from the DM’s guide: “When a creature and at least one of its allies are adjacent to an enemy and on opposite sides or corners of the enemy’s space, they flank that enemy, and each of them has Advantage on melee attack rolls against that enemy.”

Flanked!
Yep. She’s flanked by Goblins.

Not every DM uses the flanking rule, but it is an option that enables the party to think more tactically (and in more of a meta-gaming way, if you want to think of a downside) in combat. Much like the use of special abilities using bonus actions that stun or trip opponents to give Advantage first before your actual attack action, the flanking rule means players will tend to think how they can get an Advantage in any fight by flanking opponents any opportunity they can. Having finished off a monster, a player might deliberately move behind another monster to allow one of their team mates an opportunity to move up to the opposite side and have Advantage on their attack.

Flanking does have a downside to play – battles with miniatures tend to be more static, as inevitably those monsters or PCs escaping the flanking situation tend to be subjected to opportunity attacks as they move out of the flanked situation. Thus they hold their ground more often.

Multiple flanking is where a miniature is surrounded on all sides, with each character directly opposite giving the other Advantage. This makes short work of big monsters, but also means the characters can be damaged more easily as they are all in close combat with a major beastie (I roll randomly to see who gets hit in these situations, simulating the monster flailing around it to try to get out of the situation. Unless it’s two sizes bigger than the PCs, and then it can step over them).

Does flanking unbalance the game? That depends. If you’re the sort of DM who likes to use small numbers of more powerful opponents, the PCs can gain the upper hand if they can use their superior numbers to constantly flank. If you prefer to use large numbers of weaker monsters it makes them more effective as they can use flanking tactics to hit the PCs more often and wear them down. With flanking, even large numbers of low-level Goblins can wear down higher-level melee-based characters. I don’t believe flanking unbalances the game. It just means both players and DM need to think more tactically when using the rule.

So, if you’re not currently using flanking, you may wish to consider it. And remember: players may get Advantage from flanking, but monsters do, too.

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Shotglass Adventures available now in Print and PDF!

Hi All!

SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES, my first D&D 5e/Old School Revolution (OSR) role playing game book, is now available at DrivethruRPG, the world’s largest online role playing game store.

LaidbackDM Shotglass Adventures Ad
SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES is published under the OGL and compatible with 5e and other OSR fantasy role playing games. Inside this 52-page book you’ll find:

  • 10 ‘adventure-on-a-page’ one-shot adventures of all varieties – murder, dungeon crawls, heists, breakouts, sieges, love stories – complete with additional DM and player maps! These adventures are fully playtested, for PCs of 1st – 5th level and are designed for minimal preparation and flexible delivery. Each adventure can be run as a ‘fill-in’ for 1-2 gaming sessions (3-4 hours per session) or played as a mini-campaign. Over 50 hours of gaming content!   
  • 12 New monsters! 4 new magic items!
  • Hints on the art of improvisation to bring your NPCs and adventures alive
  • How to use these adventures in OSR games 
  • Random tables – for names, motivations, adventure introductions, room dressing and special items to add additional nuance to your adventures
  • Verona City – a city for adventurers to use as a base
  • Verona Province – a region for players to explore, complete with every location used in SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES
  • Additional blank maps – Five additional hand-drawn, unkeyed maps with adventure seeds for you to use in your own adventures

SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES can be purchased in print or PDF by following this link.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

Laidback DM: Trading Places

During long campaigns, some players might not turn up for sessions, some might retire, new players will join. There are good reasons for changes in your ongoing cast—work and family commitments, sports, meetings and significant events in peoples’ lives. And some players just move on because your game might not be what they’re looking for.

So, what can you as a DM, do to prevent players from dropping out of your game or to cover short-term absences?

  • Accept that some things are outside your control. Don’t stress unnecessarily about it.
  • Get feedback from your players. Ask them what they like and don’t like about the games you run. Take the feedback on board and use it constructively.
  • Have you picked up the signals being given off by your players? Boredom, non-game-related cell phone usage, missing sessions for no reason? Ask the player if they’re okay. Ask them what you can do to re-engage them with the game. What type of game do they prefer? Work with your players to make the campaign one you all want to play.
  • If a player has real life reasons why they can’t attend, work with them by making it part of the story. Maybe the PC goes off to a monastery to study and only joins the party once ever four adventures. I have a standing rule that if a PC drops out for a short period they can drop back in anytime—when they turn up the party comes up with a story reason for why the PC was absent from the earlier part of the adventure.
  • Use Milestones for PC advancement rather than Experience Points. That way all PCs stay the same level, whether they are there or absent from sessions. The other players will understand because there will be times when they’re absent as well.
  • Treat everyone equally and even-handedly and don’t play favourites.

And hopefully you’ll have less player movement. Or at least you’ll be more prepared for when it happens.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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Kickstarter Completed Successfully!

The SHOTGLASS Adventures Kickstarter has completed, and I’m more than happy with the outcome. It means I can pursue a career in writing and game design, something I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager playing my first role playing game.

I love poetry, and will still publish poetry regularly in book form and on this site, but it’s the RPG work that will pay the bills in the long term (not there yet, this is just the first one lol). I’m sure most poets out there (aside from the few published ones who might make a decent income) will agree that poetry is a labour of love, and love alone.

Thanks to everybody who supported the Kickstarter, and to all the poetry lovers who waited patiently for me to post poems in between Kickstarter updates!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

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Laidback DM: Free Map/Encounter – A Simple Trader

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: A Simple Trader

The text on the map contains encounter information, compatible with D&D 5E!

stevestillstanding - A Simple Trader

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 😊

P.S. This is just a sample of some of the stuff I’m writing for my 48-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

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Free Map! The Living Tower of Moka-Shul

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: The Living Tower of Moka-Shul!

So, who is this Moka-Shul guy anyway? And what’s the go with his living tower? Well, I picture Moka-Shul as a powerful wizard, perhaps a Lich or Vampire. His tower exists on a lower plane and travels inter-dimensionally depending on its master’s whims.  The tower is populated with all sorts of beasties the players will have to confront as they make their way to the top.

The tower is alive, the walls extruding living tentacles in surprise attacks that suck targets into fleshy maws that appear wherever the tower needs them. And the inhabitants aren’t immune to this either, which is why they regularly bathe in the waters of the fathom beast, one of Moka-Shul’s pets. The fathom beast sweats a particular oil that the tower recognises as friendly. But the fathom beast isn’t very amenable and often makes a meal out of bathers!

The Living Tower of Moka-Shul

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 😊

P.S. I’m writing a 48-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

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It’s about time for a free Dungeon Map!

Time for another of my (currently) irregular Laidback DM posts, and a new free map! Map drawing for D&D adventures is my thang. I have far too many maps, so I’m giving them away every chance I get.

This week: Border Keep!

Reminiscent of the original Gary Gygax classic D&D Keep on the Borderlands castle, this outpost is much smaller, but can be filled with murder, mystery and intrigue…Of course, I leave that up to you, intrepid DMs!

Border Fort Map

Above: Actual map size is 14cm x 22cm. 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 😊

The Laidback DM #12 – Free Village Map!

Time for another of my irregular Laidback DM posts, and a new free map! Map drawing for D&D adventures is my thang. I now have far too many maps, so I’m giving them away free each week.

This week: Village at the Crossroads!

At first this may seem like a boring little map, but imagine your player characters defending it against an attack by Hill Giants, Trolls, Ogres and Ogrillons, led by an Arch Mage! Just got a lot more exciting, huh? And imagine there’s a mysterious tomb under the local temple that the Arch Mage is trying to access to recover a powerful magical staff, that will give him enough power to take over the region (gotta start small: today, this village and region, tomorrow, THE WORLD! Bwah-ha-hah!

Actually, I drew this map in the style of those found in the old Judges Guild’s City State of the Invincible Overlord supplement. Anyone remember that classic? Ah, memories. What good are they…

Village at the Crossroads - 13x20 - stevestillstanding

Above: Actual map is 13cm x 20cm. 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 😊

The Laidback DM #11 – Free Dungeon Map!

Yes, it’s that time of the week, and in the tradition of my irregular Laidback DM posts, here’s a new free map. I really enjoy drawing maps (nerd alert!) for D&D adventures, so much so that I have more maps then I know what to do with. So, I’m giving one away free on my blog each week.

This week: Plentar’s Mine!

I created this map because I really wanted to learn how to draw raised shelves (not cupboard shelves, cave shelves) and ledges properly. I was happy with the results. So happy, in fact, that I’m not even going to give you any hints for a scenario. You’re smart enough to stock this baby yourselves.

Plentar's Mine (Map)

Above: Actual map is 19cm x 13cm. 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 😊

The Laidback DM #10 – Free Map!

Yes, it’s that time of the week, and in the tradition of my irregular Laidback DM posts, here’s a new free map. I loooooooove drawing maps for D&D adventures, so much so that I have more maps than I know what to do with. So, I’m giving one away free on my blog each week.

This week: Slaughter Sewers!

Who doesn’t love a good sewer to romp in. And very appropriate, given that my last poem, Enthroned, was about sitting on the toilet (read it, you’ll get it then). These sewers could be under an existing town or a ruin; up to you.

I love monster versus monster conflict in D&D games. In this instance, Lizardfolk and Troglodytes are having a go at each other. Additionally, a bunch of Wererats have moved in and set up house. And a Myconid group for good measure. And lots of other beasties I’m sure you can dream up.

The daughter of the Lizardfolk king and the son of the Troglodyte king have fallen in love (a Romeo and Juliet thing), and the opposing kings don’t like that one bit. The PCs can help solve this dilemma via diplomacy. Or killing lots of things. Either way.

In the meantime, the Troglodytes have started worshipping a Giant Shark that found its way into the central water pit and got trapped when the underwater tunnel collapsed. It now depends on food sacrificed by the Troglodytes, Naturally there is a nice bit of treasure down at the bottom of the pit, but watch out when crossing that wooden bridge: the shark can leap out of the water (gives ‘jump the shark’ a whole new meaning…).

I see this as a 2nd level scenario (watch that shark, though, players!), but get that imagination flowing and come up with something better! Happy to hear your ideas in the comments.

Slaughter Sewers - 14x21 - stevestillstanding

Above: Actual map is 14cm x 21cm. 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 😊

The Laid Back DM #9 – Free Dungeon Map!

Yes, it’s that time of the week, and in the tradition of my irregular Laid Back DM posts, here’s a new free map. As you know I like to draw maps for D&D adventures. Often I have more maps then I know what to do with. So, I’m giving one away free on my blog each week.

This week: Lava Caves!

The raised path is three feet above the surface of the lava river, which flows beside and under the path. This cavern is occupied by Firenewts and their Giant Striders, plus a few Firenewt Warlocks (see Volo’s Guide to Monsters), who will vigorously defend their lair. There are heat-acclimatised Piercers along the path through the caves, which will drop down at inopportune times when the party is fighting Firenewts. Additionally, in the lava at several points along the way are Fire Elementals, which will leap forth and drag PCs into the lava.

At the end of the path is a giant, crystalline formation, which is the hibernation shell for an adult Red Dragon, who was trapped by a spell many years before, encased in crystal. Of course the PCs are unaware of this, having heard about the ‘huge crystal’ and investigated. The Firenewts worship the crystal, but if the shell is broken the Red Dragon will awaken…

Lava Caves

Above: Actual map is 18cm x 12cm. 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 😊

The Laidback DM #8 – Yet Another Free Map!

Yes, it’s that time of the week, and in the tradition of my irregular Laidback DM posts, here’s another free map. As you know I like to draw maps for D&D adventures. Often I have more maps then I know what to do with. So, I’m giving one away free on my blog each week.

This week: a river keep ruin a stone’s throw away from an Ogre lair. The current occupants of the river keep are Goblins, and they’re not on good terms with their Ogre neighbours. Let’s just say the feud has been going on a long time. The Goblins have trained the giant spiders that nest in the grove of trees near them to work as watchdogs and mounts, which gives them a bit of an edge against the larger and more vicious Ogres. To spice things up, a Green Hag lives in the tower on the ruined wall, and has nothing to do with either group, although she has been eying the tower as a possible new lair. Meanwhile, down in the valley below the caves and keep, a group of Treants is having a meeting to determine what to do about their warring neighbours. Looks like the player characters could be entering the scene just as everything goes to hell…

River Keep and Caves - 20x13 - stevestillstanding

Above: Actual map is 13.5cm x 20 cm. 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 😊

The Laidback DM #6 – Free Map!

Despite being a bit laidback when it comes to D&D Dungeon Mastering, I do like to draw time-consuming maps. Since I don’t always use the maps I draw, I thought I’d offer them for free here on my blog.

The following map is a base for a bunch of pirates who have an alliance with a Blue Dragon. The pirates are part of a death cult that regularly raids coastal villages for sacrifices before returning to their island. Naturally they provide the Blue Dragon with a sampling of treasure. They have a high observation post for spotting incoming ships. The tide plays an interesting part in this map—as it rises the caves on the left of the map are swamped with water. The Blue Dragon’s lair is above the tide level of course, and it can conveniently use its lightning breath to electrify the water if anyone approaches during high tide…

Pirate Cove and Dragon Lair Map

Above: Actual map is 15cm x 10 cm. 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 😊

The Laid Back DM #5 – Foiled again!

Don’t know what a Dungeon Master is? How uncool. Click here to find out. 

So what happens when that wonderful adventure you put together, with all its interesting surprises and nasty traps, gets circumnavigated by the party because they have some nifty spells and additional tricks up their sleeve you didn’t think about?

Aside from taking it on the chin and continuing in the spirit of fun, there’s not much you can do for that session. But it can give you some ideas to prevent said players from getting out of similar traps next time:

1)      Use a trap that breaks concentration. Something that projects loud noise, for instance. Have them save each round in order to keep their concentration up (you have to be fair, after all).

2)      Make traps only respond to human/humanoids, or have a weight limit. Using the poor mascot or familiar to activate a trap is just nasty, but some parties do that sort of thing. Think about your trap set up for next time: perhaps the mechanism is too complicated for an animal or it’s too light to activate it.

3)      Surround your mechanically-based traps with an Anti-Magic Shell. No magic works inside its 10 foot radius sphere. Take that, player characters…

4)      Trap the walls or the air. Now this is really evil. If the characters climb up the walls to avoid the trapped floor, the wall trap triggers. If they fly over the floor the air trap triggers. Bwah ha ha!

5)      Make their spells go haywire.  If the characters cast a Fly spell in the trapped area, make the spell go crazy and fly them straight into the wall, damaging them and possibly breaking their concentration. If they persist, have the spell go crazier still. You can ad lib the various effects if needed. You’re the DM, after all.

In the end, the whole point of traps is to challenge the players and let them have a good time figuring it out. Yeah, you can make them hard, but they shouldn’t be impossible. You want some of them to survive to play another day, don’t you?

You can find more Laid Back Dungeon Master posts by clicking here.

The Laid Back DM #3 – Maps and random encounters?!

Welcome to my occasional series on Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)* refereeing (makes it sound like a sport, doesn’t it? Well it is, my friends: a sport of the mind. Okay, that sounded better before I read it out loud…).

Here’s some more time saving stuff:

  • No random encounters – hold on a second?! Didn’t I just say ‘save time’? Or something like that? Prior to the session I think about what the ‘random’ encounters will be. In a four hour session the players might have 1-2 random encounters, as well as play part of the main adventure, with its pre-set encounters. All I need to know is the monster types. I then ad lib the encounter as appropriate for the number of players present, terrain and challenge rating. Screw rolling for it.
  • Provide maps – there are lots of great maps in published adventures, but I hate mapping and so do the players. Sometimes you have to map manually; other times I use the story to give the players the map: maybe they get the town map from a local merchant or town guards, or find the dungeon map in a crevice in the wall, left behind by the original architect. Is it really that big an issue if they know where some of the secret doors are? You can always set additional challenges for them when they open them. And if you prefer theatre-of-the-mind, don’t use a map at all. Just describe the areas. Screw mapping.

More stuff in future columns. Subscribe if you’d like email notifications 🙂

* What is this guy raving about, I hear you say? Click here.

Didn’t see the previous columns?

For more on RPGs, check out my Top Ten favourite Roleplaying Games, or if you like D&D inspired poetry, my D&D Haiku Tetralogy.

When Good Dungeon Masters Go Bad

(“You’re ranting on that blog-thingy, aren’t you?” says Beta Max.

“Yes,” I say. “About the perils of unprepared Dungeon Masters.”

“The what? The tennis masters tournament?”

“No, the……yes, the tennis.”)

 

As you may know, I’m a nerd and proud of it. Not an over the top nerd, but one nevertheless. Every once in a while I get a chance to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)*, sometimes as the Dungeon Master (DM)**, sometimes as a player character***.

Have you ever played a game where the referee just doesn’t know what they’re doing? In D&D, it’s the type who rolls up (pun intended) to the game with no preparation, no rule books, no dice and very little clue. I experienced a game like that the other night.

The DM had the adventure “all in his head” (the first danger sign), hadn’t brought any dice, pencils, books or materials to help him run the game, instead relying on his players to supply everything (the second danger sign). Throughout the game he would constantly reference Pathfinder**** rules (the third danger sign), wasn’t sure how the various D&D rules worked, asking his players for clarifications (the fourth danger sign), and would provide routinely easy challenges and overly large treasure hauls (the fifth and final danger sign).

You might be saying “that’s fine with me”. After all, some of the best adventures are often ad libbed, and if everyone’s having fun, then what’s the problem? Well that’s the thing. If the game is dragging to the point where people are checking their phones often and are saying “that was easier than expected”, then you know something’s not right (aside from the rule gaffes and absence of materials, I mean).

D&D is about having fun. It’s about fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants challenges and escapes. It’s about edge-of-your-seat dramatic tension as you wonder whether you’ll survive. It’s about the feeling of relief when you do. It’s about bizarrely humorous situations that naturally arise during the course of play. It’s about experiencing the wonder of battling and living in a fantasy world. It’s all these things that make for a great D&D (or other RPG*) game.

I have six basic rules I ask of DMs:

1 – Be prepared, but be flexible as well (those pesky players can basically try anything, y’know).

2 – Know the rules of the game you’re playing. You’re the DM, for Pete’s sake (and know what game you’re playing. That’s always a big help).

3 – DM honestly and fairly (if you’re making it up as you go along, please make it at least look like you know what you’re doing. And don’t play favourites, just because they know the rules better than you do).

4 – Involve all of your players (if they find their phones more interesting than the game, that’s a subtle sign to amp it up a bit).

5 – Learn from your mistakes so you can make the next session even better (read the rules, bring the dice, draw a few maps, bring along an adventure with some meat on the bones, as it were).

6 – Every game should be fun for you and the players (should be rule number one. If you as the DM are not enjoying yourself then you may need to prepare a little better. See rules 1-5).

Use this wisdom well.

And hopefully my next game with you will be better.

* For those of you who don’t know: D&D is a fun role playing game (RPG) played with dice but no board, where players become characters in a fantasy adventure, fighting monsters, gaining treasure, etc. There are lots of different RPGs, with different themes, rules and settings. Haven’t you read my earlier post Real Men Play D&D?

 ** The DM is the referee who adjudicates the adventure and controls the non-player characters. Just like at the tennis or the cricket. Except more hands on and with more power, death and destruction.

 *** The player character is the role undertaken by the player – it could be a fighter, a cleric, a wizard, etc. I told you, it’s a nerd game.

 **** Pathfinder is a fantasy role playing game originally based on D&D 3.5. The new D&D 5.0 and Pathfinder have diverged sufficiently to have various differing rules. You don’t really care, do you? Fine.

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