Laidback DM: Free Map! Giant Mound

Time for a free map! 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: Giant Mound

You can use this map for any kind of giant insect or burrowing animal you like: Giant Ants (KTOB), Burrowlings (KTOB), Thri-kreen (MM), Kruthiks (MTF), Cave Fishers (VGM), Chitines (VGM), Choldrith (VGM), Meenlocks (VGM), Neogi (VGM), Tlincalli (VGM), Dogmoles (KTOB), Millitaurs (KTOB), Ratfolk (KTOB), Giant Rats (MM), Tosculi (KTOB), etc., to name a few.  

Change the scale and suddenly it’s a Purple Worm (MM) breeding mound! Or home to mutant insect/dragon hybrid creatures! The sky (or rather the mound) is the limit!

Giant Insect Mound - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.jpg

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.

Laidback DM: Free Map – Tower and Undertemple

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

This week: Tower and Undertemple

Local villagers have been going crazy after visiting a ruined tower on a peak not far from town. Something has been climbing up from the bowels of the earth, infecting them and the denizens of the ruined temple below the tower with madness. The huge cracks lead to the source of the infection, deep down… 

The lowest section of the temple is partially flooded, and a cure for the infection lies in the south-eastern cavern. The PCs need to get past the crazed guardians before they can claim it, and try to stay sane themselves…

Ruined Tower and Undertemple - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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.

Blatant Advertising!

I like to mess around in Adobe Photoshop and other photo apps. Here’s a collage of my various site headers I made for Instagram. Just because.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Laidback DM: Free Map – Big Bad Boss Castle

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

This week: Big Bad Boss Castle

Yep – there’s always an endgame, and the Big Bad Boss is the dude or dudette at the end of the adventuring horizon. Here’s a castle for them, hovering miles above the world in a patch of magical ocean. Eldritch sigils prevent flying/teleporting, impossibly sheer cliffs prevent scaling – I guess it’s time to grind through high-level beasties from one keep to the next. Every bridge is a new underboss and a new environmental hazard. Taking to the water? Sea Dragons and Water Super-Elementals might make your PCs think twice.   

Big Bad Castle - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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.

Laidback DM: Free Map – Clifftop Temple

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: Clifftop Temple

After climbing all the way to the top of the cliff, the PCs must bypass the Animated Armours (MM), various traps and crazed Zombie (MM) monks to access the inner well. Down the well, past flying Flameskulls (MM) to the undercliff, where a terrifying Draegloth (VGM) stalks those who seek the treasure of the pool. Watch your step, as quicksand, Piercers (MM) and pit traps abound… 

Clifftop Temple - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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.

Laidback DM: Free Map – Entombed!

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: Entombed!

This partly collapsed tomb features magic guardian statues in the reception antechamber, a number of sarcophagi with undead occupants, treasure rooms and narrow tunnels, home to infected, undead underdwellers. Enjoy!

Entombed - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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.

Laidback DM: Free Maps – Four Encounter Settings

Time for some free maps! 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: Four Encounter Settings

Here are four maps that I’d call basic encounter settings: a small mansion, a country farm, a tiny temple and a mountain pass. It wouldn’t be too hard to combine all of these into a single adventure – come on, DMs! You can do it!  

 Basic Setting Maps - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding copy

Above: Just right click and save.

These maps are free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use them commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve

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

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Laidback DM: New Approaches to Inspiration Rewards

D&D fifth edition (or 5e) has this lovely little bonus for players called ‘inspiration’. It’s an extra d20 that is awarded to the player for doing something cool, great role playing, etc. They can use it to re-roll a d20 roll they’ve failed. It’s a groovy concept, but it is a bit limiting (they can only have one at a time), and I’m one of those DMs who often forgets to give it out. Doh!

Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.com
I was ‘inspired’ to take this photo. Yeah, I know. Sorry.

This is complicated by the fact that some players are more extraverted or better role players than others, which can make it a bit harder for others to shine. As DM, it’s our job to ensure everyone gets their time in the sun, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to award inspiration!

If you’re like me, maybe you need a new approach to inspiration awards. Here’s a few ways you can up the ante with inspiration:

1.Inspiration Pool – each time the party does something great as a team—like working together to cross a tricky ravine or solving a puzzle collectively—award the party an inspiration d20, added to a pool in the centre. This can be drawn on by anyone in the party (as agreed by the team). The pool can be carried over from game to game and has no limit.

2.Multiple Player Inspiration Awards – each player starts the game with an inspiration d20. During the game they can award their inspiration die to any other player, but not themselves. A player can be awarded multiple d20s.

3.End of Adventure Inspiration Awards – everyone receives a d20 inspiration at the end of each game session—the contribution and inclusion award. It has to be used before the end of the next session (yes, this is a lazy way of doing it, but it does make your job easier).

4.Fate Points – the Fate Core game has ‘Fate points’, allowing players to invoke or compel aspects during the game. The DMG includes a system called ‘hero points’. Fate Points in D&D would not be limited by the hero point rules. Each player would have 5 Fate Points per game to spend on d20 re-rolls, no matter what type of d20 roll it is—including an NPC’s roll. This gives players a LOT of heroic leeway, but is fun nonetheless (especially when multiple rolls fail, lol).

5.Inspiration Fails – the player is awarded an inspiration die when they fail a skill roll. Sort of a reward for screwing up—“better luck next time”. The normal inspiration rules apply i.e. one die per player until used, but means they should get more inspiration dice on average per game.

I hope you were inspired by these ideas, if not the bad pun.

Keep on gaming!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Laidback DM: The Virtues of the Mini-Campaign

I like short role playing game (RPG) campaigns. That’s not to say I don’t like the occasional long-termer, but mini-campaigns (say, around 3-4 months) are my current preference.

For those not in the know, a campaign is a series of adventures linked by a common thread or goal—a bit like a season of a modern TV or cable show. Some RPG campaigns can last for years, representing long term investment in player character stories and plot development. Some campaigns might last only a few months, representing a tangible milestone completed—for example, a huge Orc Boss whose ongoing machinations to take over the valley the heroes call home is finally brought to his knees. It’s these shorter campaigns I’m talking about.

Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.com
Short or Long Campaign? Either way, I’m ready!

I enjoy long campaigns, however I don’t like them going any longer than a year. This is due to time restraints, but also because any longer can sometimes lead to burnout—mine, specifically. I found this the case playing Tomb of Annihilation with one of my groups. All up it took about nine months to play, and I was glad when it finished. We stuck to mini-campaigns after that (DM’ing Curse of Strahd was a different matter—that’s one I would have enjoyed even if we played for longer than the seven months it took).

Long campaigns are great because players see their characters, the game world and the story they are contributing to, evolve like a living thing. But mini-campaigns have many attractions, too:

1. Generally less preparation is required

2. The goal is tighter and more specific, so players don’t lose focus on what they’re trying to achieve

3. It’s easier for players and DMs with busy lives to commit to a shorter campaign

4. Mini-campaigns don’t tend to drag because they have a short end date, so there’s less chance of DM and/or player fatigue

5. The goal can easily lead into another mini-campaign—remember that Orc Boss? Turns out he had an even bigger boss manipulating him behind the scenes…

So give some thought to the mini-campaign. You can still have a long endgame goal, but break it into smaller, more manageable chunks. It could save you a few headaches.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Laidback DM: Avoiding The TPK

As DMs, we’ve all done it at some time or other: we’ve killed the entire party and drained the fun out of the D&D session. Sometimes it’s unintentional, sometimes it’s mean spirited, sometimes it’s to punish players for being complete d$&@s.

But no matter how you look at it, the Total Party Kill (TPK) is a bummer for your campaign. No one wants to go out that way, unless it just happens to be the final battle of the campaign and a TPK means the big bad gets it as well.

Most players get attached to their characters. Having them all die at once can lead to losses from your gaming group, or players giving up playing the game altogether (a bit extreme, but it does happen).

Total Party Kill
Odds are, they’re not getting out of this one alive.

Here’s some ways to avoid the TPK:

1.Have a contingency prepared – perhaps the PCs were all knocked unconscious and saved as they proved useful to the villain’s plan. They awaken chained up and breaking rocks. Now you have a cool prison escape scenario instead of multiple funerals and habitual moaning and mourning.

2.Fluff your dice – I’m not a fan of this option, but you’re the DM. Just don’t make it too obvious.

3.The Deus Ex Machina – something amazing happens that saves the party: A company of Dwarven Commandos intervenes; the ground cracks open, swallowing the bad guy before he can deliver the coup de grace; an even bigger bad guy appears and fights the villains, giving the party time to escape. Just make sure the rescuer/event is relevant and part of the ongoing story, not something that just happened “because” (even if it did).

4.The alternate universe/another plane save – the PCs are dead, but now they find themselves in the afterlife or a screwed up version of their world (come on, you always wanted to run one of those Star Trek Mirror Universe episodes, didn’t you?). Now, they just have to find their way back home. A quest to return to life!

5.It was all a dream – This is another one of those options I don’t like much, but it could work if used the right way and if it makes for a better story. Perhaps the real big bad is a dream deity manipulating things behind the scenes and wants the players to suffer both mentally as well as physically to harvest their energy on the way to achieving ultimate power?

In the end, if the PCs are just being stupid, then maybe they need to die to teach them a lesson. As always, it’s up to you, the DM, to decide. Just remember this: killing everyone almost always kills the fun.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Laidback DM: Free Map – Duergar Stronghold

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: Duergar Stronghold

Down into the Underdark we go, to a Duergar Stronghold protecting the only bridge connecting north and south for 300 miles!

What are the mysterious stone-carven columns over the bottomless chasm’s north side, and why do strange lights flicker and move amongst them, barely perceived out of the corner of one’s eye? Any who linger amongst the columns are never heard from again…

The Drow Outpost on the north side supplies local Duergar addicts with Faerie Dust, the latest magical hallucinogenic drug. What’s their true purpose here?  

And what is the mysterious mist that rises from the Stronghold’s streets, bringing madness in its wake? 

Duergar Stronghold - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding copy

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 book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Symbaroum – a tabletop fantasy RPG that reeks of deep darkness, blighted evil and drawn out death. Fun!

One of my favourite Tabletop Role Playing Games, ever! Here’s a post many may have missed when I posted it back in early 2017. I must be feeling nostalgic 🙂

Steve Still Standing

(“You and your crazy role playing games,” says Alpha Girl surveying the books, sheets and dice on the kitchen table. “You’ve even got Beta Max involved.”

“It’s all good fun,” says Beta Max, rolling a handful of dice and cheering at the result. “Another dead goblin, thank you very much.” He sits back, hands behind his head, looking smug. “Any time soon, those magical math powers will kick in.* ”

“You know, you could play if you want,” I say.

“Would I be able to kill you?” says Alpha Girl.

“I guess so-”

“I’m in. Tell me what I have to do.”)

I like role playing games (RPGs). I can’t help it. There’s something about giving up mundane reality to become a fearless knight fighting evil monsters in fantastic and mysterious lands. Yeah, it’s nerdy, but that’s okay. It helps to relax my overwrought brain. It also enables me to…

View original post 600 more words

Laidback DM: D&D 5e Rules Summaries

Hi All!

I’ve been DM’ing and playing D&D 5e since the new version premiered (and AD&D – or 1e – previously), and like many people I occasionally forget rules. So, I created a few placemats your players can use as reminders.

Starter Placemat – Laidback DM – stevestillstanding (just click on this link)

  • This one is for beginners – those who have never played the game before – it has pictures of the various polyhedral dice on it as well as the rules summary.   

Rules Summary Placemat – Laidback DM – stevestillstanding (just click on this link)

  • This one is for more experienced players – those who just need a reminder about the rules every now and then – and doesn’t have the dice on it.

They look lovely when they’re printed and laminated (I’m a bit of a laminating junkie).

Free to use and enjoy!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM posts, including free maps, CLICK HERE! 

Laidback DM – Free Map! Dungeon A La Carte

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: Dungeon A La Carte

A simple dungeon map I drew with a 1st-level party in mind. Some easy monsters, a few traps: the north-east room fills with water while the PCs solve the puzzle; the south-east room has two teleporting pools that shift stuff back and forth while gargoyle heads spew poisonous gas; the central chamber is a floor tile puzzle that, when solved, reveals the secret door behind the statue (an easier way to the main treasure room); several trapped and impossibly locked doors; pit traps; triggered floors; undead guardians. Phew!

Dungeon A La Carte - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding copy

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 52-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Laidback DM – Free Map! The City State of Ranisvlad

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: Ranisvlad, City State of Thieves

Anything goes in Ranisvlad, a murky, muddy and depraved city state in the outlands, ruled by Ranislov, so-called Lord of Thieves. Humans, humanoids and otherworldly creatures mingle and mix, fight and trade. Dangerous job offers and shady deals can be found all along Skull and Dagger Way. Disputes are settled in the Lord’s Arena, the only real justice in town. In Ranisvlad, you can find fame, fortune or a quick death, if you choose.

Beware the dark secrets of Barislev Tower, where vampires and wizards collude to raise the Demon King of Bats. Lone travellers are often waylaid by cannibal brigands on the Bridge of Thieves. The necropolis of Death’s Throne is the repository for Ranisvlad’s dead, who rise from their graves at night to claw at the cemetery gates…

Ranisvlad City State of Thieves - Laidback DM - stevestillstandingAbove: 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 52-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Laidback DM: Free Map – Demonic Prison

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: Demonic Prison

Ever wondered where evil wizards keep their raised demons? How about a special-built magical prison in the side of a cliff? Heck, why not? Have fun using this baby!

Demonic Prison - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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 52-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Laidback DM: Barrow Mound – Free Map!

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 Barrow Mound of the Ghengar Urgs

The Ghengar of the mightiest Orc War Band to ever plague the world was put to rest in a burglar-proof  barrow mound, his many Urg Leaders buried with him. Magical energies seeped up from the underworld and re-animated the bodies, changing them into Wights, Zombies and Unger Dogs; the Ghengar himself was transformed into an undead Deathlok. For a hundred years they have waited for release.

Recently, an adventuring party came across a strange Orcish statuette, one that sages informed them fits the oddly shaped depression in the barrow mound’s door…

Barrow Mound of the Ghengar Urgs Map - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Laidback DM: Free Cave Map/Encounter!

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 Caves That Bleed

Find the missing kid! The Caves that Bleed await! The notes are self explanatory.

Cave Map - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Laidback DM: Free City Quarter Map!

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: Poorside – A city quarter map

You can use this map for any overcrowded area in a walled city. It’s nestled against the ramparts and includes lots of back alleys for shady deals and ambushes. Many buildings’ floorplans are exposed for you to use them as bases, lairs, safe houses, taverns, inns, etc.

Poorside Map - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

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!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

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!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

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!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

The Laidback DM: Big Books of Monsters – mini-reviews

I love using new monsters in D&D and other fantasy role playing games (RPGs), and players love the uncertainty and the challenge that comes with them. Like many time-poor DMs, I’m always on the lookout for new monster books so I don’t have to waste time making my own (I still do, but a lot less than I used to). Luckily there are some great books on the market to cater to my laziness.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

Official D&D 5e product from WOTC, similar to Volo’s Guide but with a higher page count of 256 pages. They obviously listened to the feedback after the rather short Xanathar’s Guide. Extensive background on numerous races, including new race options. A number of new creatures, including more higher Challenge Rating (CR) beasties. My faves include the Cadaver Collector, Oblex and the Gnomish Clockworks.

• Great and consistent production values.

• Good race options for players looking for more variety.

• Some of the monsters are drawn from previously released adventures.

• Not as many monsters as I’d like and some of the higher CR creatures are a bit easy for their level.

Kobold’s Tome of Beasts

Kobold’s beastie book has been out for a while, and features 429 pages of D&D 5e monsters, many quite horrific. New dragon and giant types, fey lords, demons, devils and undead, and a riot of new and exciting creatures, including many high CRs. These monsters are much more challenging than WOTC’s offerings. Some of my faves are the Void Dragon with its gravitic and stellar flare breaths, Sand Spider with impaling legs, and the array of cool Clockworks.

• Fantastic art, thick paper and well bound (not likely to fall apart from use).

• Great variety of challenging and unusual beasties.

• Better value than the official D&D monster products.

• One or two beasts (Titivilus, for example) have been superseded by official content. But then, you can choose which version you prefer!

Monster Codex

A new core book recently Kickstarted for the awesome Swedish grimdark fantasy RPG Symbaroum. New monsters with adventure seeds, loads of NPC and beast listings, new monstrous traits and guidelines for balancing encounters and developing monster-specific adventures like hunts. Not only is Symbaroum a great system, it features the best layout and art of any fantasy RPG on the market.

• Awesome, atmospheric art worth drooling over.

• Write-ups and supporting documents in the style of old-time bestiaries and grimoires.

• Could have been a little longer, but the quality more than makes up for the length.

Cheers

DM Steve 🙂

The Laidback DM: Murder Hobos vs. Negotiators

Is your party the kind that prefers to fight their way through a role playing game encounter (known in the trade as ‘Murder Hobos’)? Or one that likes to talk to the bad guys, using their role playing ability or character’s skills to get out of a tough spot (negotiators)?

I believe players that prefer fight- over talk-based solutions may result from the following:

• Old school, ‘experience points-from-monster-death’ mindsets

• Characters created with an emphasis on fighting skills/abilities

• The enjoyment of a good battle

• A personal belief they’re not good role players

• Negotiating/talking means too many variables/potential outcomes

So, how do you get around these particular issues? It’s quite possible that your players just prefer fight-based adventures. But you may be growing tired with running these sorts of games all the time. And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of variety. Here’s some things you can do:

Write some deliberately role playing-focused adventures – nothing like a good murder mystery, or an adventure where the party are unable to use weapons. They’re forced to use other approaches.

Use milestone advancement in place of experience points – 5e includes the option for milestone advancement, and it sure saves a lot of XP calculations. Players think less about killing monsters and more about completing goals. Or if you really love XP, reward for solution-based outcomes rather than killing.

Reward players more for good role playingInspiration in D&D is an extra D20 that can be rolled in a tight spot to replace another D20 roll. Reward players more often for role playing and they’ll start role playing more. If you have people in the group who aren’t good role players, reward them for inventive use of player skills/spells.

Make them think more – use more puzzles and interesting traps for players to think their way out of.

Offer alternative outcomes to hacking and slashing – monsters have feelings, too! Let them have opportunities to talk their way out. I like one of the rules in the 13th Age game: everyone speaks the same language, unless the story calls for a different one. It makes it easier to negotiate. Or at least understand the bad guys as they’re dispatching you.

Emphasise consequences – sometimes your players need to see the repercussions of their violent actions to start thinking more. The orphanage for homeless goblin kids whose henchman parents were killed in that last lair assault, for instance. Or the bad guy, whose brother was killed, coming to murder the party in their sleep. Try not to get too grim, though.

Most of all, don’t forget to keep it flowing and keep it fun!

Cheers

DM Steve 🙂

What did Steve just rabbit on about? Don’t know what D&D or RPGs are? Click here.

The Laid Back DM: Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

I’ve been a Dungeon Master (DM) for many years now, ‘refereeing’ role playing games in many genres—fantasy, science fiction, horror, modern age. I’ve had experience running all sorts of adventures (an interactive story the players undertake to complete a quest or mission, sometimes as part of a larger campaign), and I’m currently writing a Dungeons and Dragons 5e supplement to publish.

Back when I was just a beginner, I would ‘railroad’ (a linear series of events that can’t be avoided) my players through the story. Over the years I’ve grown in experience and now my adventures are looser and offer more opportunities for improvising.

Here are some hints for DMs who want to fly by the seat of their pants:

Plan Less

Don’t write or plan as much for your adventure as you may have in the past. Have a basic plot, your major NPCs, a few encounters and a map or two, but don’t go big on filling out the details. Decide things as the players decide—let them help drive the story. It will save you lots of time and take the adventure places you may never have dreamed of.

My adventures are rarely longer than a page, nowadays. And that includes the map!

Know Your Players

Some players like to role play more, some like battles, some like puzzles and some hate them. Know your team and have a balanced mix of encounters for each adventure, so that no one is left out. Players will be more engaged if you know their character’s traits and what they like, making stories and introducing subplots accordingly.

Use Random Tables

Sandboxing is a gaming artform whereby the players decide what, when, where and how they want to do things. You generally need to be able to improvise well to run these sorts of campaigns, but if you need some help, keep a bunch of random tables on hand to generate NPCs, encounters, names, etc. on the fly.

Kevin Crawford (the man who wrote Stars Without Number and other great OSR RPGs) includes random generators in all his books, and there are numerous random table/plot supplements available from various companies.

Say ‘Yes’ More

A method used in improv comedy is to say “Yes, and…”. In other words, agree with a player’s course of action and then see where it takes them next. Saying “yes” more often to players can be liberating and take the story in unexpected directions. Don’t worry, you can still say “no” to the really outlandish stuff. You’re still running the game, after all.

In a recent D&D adventure, the party was asked to help out with a murder investigation. One of the players decided they needed a writ from the vice mayor to show they were deputised, which they used several times to question townsfolk and gain access to buildings. After a run in with a local trader they decided to break into his shop at night to investigate some potentially illegal goods. The party decided to confront one of the murder suspects at the local lighthouse where he worked and during the meeting they sabotaged the light so that one of the ships in the port suspected of piracy would maroon on the rocks when it returned that night. I decided the lamp was mechanical, rather than magical, and rotated by way of two harnessed dogs, which the party co-opted to track down an Orc lair on the outside of town. The players decided to use one of the cleared suspects to stage a ruse and draw out the murderer.

None of that was planned. All of it came about because I made up stuff in response to what the players wanted to do, and said ‘yes’ more often. It opened up several options that kept them enthralled and made the adventure more fun for me as well.

So, learn to fly by the seat of your pants. Before you know it, you’ll be running the adventures you’ve always wanted to.

Cheers

DM Steve 😊

What did Steve just rabbit on about? Don’t know what D&D or RPGs are? Click here.

Finding My Voice

“In truth, I never consider the audience for whom I’m writing. I just write what I want to write.”

J.K Rowling.

“You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can—buy me or not—but this is who I am as a writer.’”

David Morrell

These quotes resonate with me because they sum up how I feel. I can only be honest with my writing: I can’t write what other people want to read, only what I want to.

At the moment I’m writing lots of poetry, Anvil, my semi-regular, unplanned science fiction series and a book of D&D one-page adventures, to be published at the end of the year. I have a novel underway, which has stalled—not due to writer’s block, but disinterest. I intend to start something else that will hold my abysmally short attention span for longer.

I’ve learned a lot about writing techniques over the last two years and this has helped me stylistically, but the feel of my writing is still mine. I may never make a decent living from prose, but I’m still enjoying myself.

And I seem to have found my voice, somewhere along the way.

Cheers

Steve 😊

The Laid back DM – Mini-Reviews

Hiya all! It’s been a while since I reviewed any tabletop role playing games (“What the?!” I hear you say. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out this link here).

Without further ado:

Vagabonds of Dyfed

This lovely little game was the result of a recent Kickstarter. It’s an elegant little system, based on the Apocalypse engine and some additional stuff from a few other games. It uses a simple, trait tag-based system in place of numeric characteristics, but still has traditional Armour Class and Hit Points.

vagabonds of dyfed RPG

The 2d6 + trait roll (with 6 or less meaning things get worse, 7-9 being a partial success, 10-12 a complete success and 13+ being a critical success), allows for lots of narrative options to push the game forward. Light on rules, but big on creativity, this is a game for more experienced game masters and players (some experience with Apocalypse World-based games or FATE is handy, if you’re only used to D&D).

The rulebook—black and white with a square layout, simple instructions, great illustrations and design—is gorgeous and easy to read. You can also use it with all those old d20 D&D modules you have laying around (if you’re old school, like me lol) with minimal conversion.

Ideal for GMs who like flexibility and less rules.

Stars Without Number

A few years back Kevin Crawford started his game-designing career writing a little Sci-Fi RPG called Stars Without Number. This is a revision of it, successfully Kickstarted not too long ago (yes, I went through a bit of a Kickstarter phase).

stars without number RPGD&D in space? Sort of—this OSR ruleset uses d20 systems as a baseline for a science fiction game, minus the fantasy tropes and adding some nice new mechanics like character foci and backgrounds (which are not too dissimilar to feats and backgrounds in 5e), new rules for starship combat and lots of tables to support sandbox-style gaming.

The rule book is in colour, with some lovely art and Crawford’s verbose but not overbearing style (I would like it more if he used bold or italics for highlighting important rules, as all that uniform text tends to make it harder to quickly find relevant bits in a paragraph). The great thing is, even with the changes, it’s still compatible with the loads of Stars Without Number supplements Crawford has written over the years, as well as old d20/OSR adventures. The sandbox element and lack of setting may not appeal to everyone, but this is a flexible system with a wealth of roll-up tables designed to support GM creativity: use the game as you see fit. The d20 rules are recognisable to anyone who has played D&D at some point.

Well worth a look and a lot simpler (and cheaper) than Starfinder. Plus, there’s a free PDF version, too.

Barebones Fantasy Role Playing Game

One of the shortest complete rulesets around, this percentile-based system uses simple mechanics that makes it ideal for beginners.

Barebones Fantasy RPG

This is dungeon crawling on a budget—the monsters are straightforward and easy to run, the spells and level progression limited—but still captures the essence of old school AD&D. The handy A5-sized rulebook is concise: aside from the usual character creation and game system, it also includes tables for adventure and dungeon generation, a bestiary, magic items, rules for magic item creation, and a pocket-sized fantasy setting (Kingdoms of Keranak)—all in 80 pages.

This is a lean and mean system ideal for beginners, which experienced players will still appreciate.

That’s enough for today. Until next time!

Cheers

Steve 😊

Dragon’s Ahoy! Like Chips Ahoy, but with less chocolate…

Time for another of my Laidback DM posts, and a new free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I’m giving them away every chance I get.

This week: Dragon’s Lair!

This large cave system has a number of shelves that vary the level of the terrain throughout the caverns, making for interesting challenges for the party. You can make the shelves any height you want, of course—the bigger the better. There’s also lots of hidey holes between pillars and stalagmites.

What the dragon doesn’t realise is this cave system’s original plunderer inhabitants built a number of well-disguised secret passages. Or maybe it does realise, and woe betide any characters that use them…

Dragon's Lair Map

Above: Actual map size is 14cm 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 😊

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 😊

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. A review.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is Wizard of the Coast’s (WOTC) official new rules supplement for D&D 5e. Its 192 pages contain new sub-classes, racial feats, spells, magic items and lots of tables, including expanded magic items, random encounters and character background generators.

Overall, I felt a bit ripped off. All the content included is non-essential reading. Sure, it’s nice to have some new class options, and the tables of names and backgrounds may come in handy for some of my players, but the rest of the material is already available elsewhere (most of the spells are from the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure / free Elemental Evil Player’s Companion) or is stuff that I already homebrew (rules for simple and complex traps, for instance). This book is the same price as the core rule books ($60 AU / $50 US) with far less pages and useful content; maybe if it was $40 AU I wouldn’t have been so negative. XanatharsThe production and art is a high standard, as with all WOTC products, but is it worth $20 more than what a supplement should be priced at? And still no free PDF linked to the copy you buy, as most other game companies do. I’m willing to bet that this book also costs a motza on D&D Beyond, the new online pay-for-content digital toolset.

I would have preferred some of the tables (random encounters, for example) be added to the next printing of the DM’s guide, so that future DMs get the updated versions (I don’t use encounter tables, but there are others who would appreciate them). I must admit that I did like the inclusion of Tool Descriptions and DCs for tool usage (really, this should have been included in the Player’s Handbook originally), but once again, it’s not essential to play the game.

I am realistic and aware that WOTC needs to keep making money, so they can keep producing content. I’m hoping future supplements won’t be as short shrift as this one, though.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is a supplement ideal for new DMs and players looking for new character options, spells, feats and backgrounds. More experienced DMs and those who own all the existing books may want to save their money and give it a miss.

Mutant Year Zero – Gamma goings-on in the wasteland

MYZ book cover

I said ages ago (yes, literally eons, in a time when winter frost covered the land like icing sugar. Hmmm. That’s a stupid simile) that I would review some Tabletop Role Playing Games, as I am a complete nerd nut for these things.

Today, I’m going to talk about a lovely little Swedish RPG called Mutant Year Zero. It’s an update of an RPG that originated in the 80’s in Sweden, and was very popular. Mutant Year Zero is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where a colony of mutants on the ‘Ark’ is eking out a meagre existence amongst the ruins of the ‘Zone’, battling for the colony’s survival against various threats and attempting to solve the sterility of the ark survivors—no new ark children have been born in years.

I loooove post-apocalyptic anything! This isn’t Mad Max, it’s not Gamma World (the mechanics in Mutant Year Zero are MUCH better than d20), but it’s a crap load of fun.

Mutant Year Zero is a sandbox game, meaning that your players basically call the shots as to what they want to do and where they want to go. Two Zone maps, of future London and New York, are included, or the Games Master can create their own Zone for the players to explore.

Some cool things about Mutant Year Zero:

Excellent Dice Pool mechanic. Uses six-sided dice (D6) of three colours: Base dice are yellow, used for attribute checks; Skill Dice are green, used for skill checks; Gear dice are black, and are used to supplement checks when a character is using special gear or weapons. A six on any of the dice means a success, a 1 on either the Base or Gear dice can mean raging mutant powers or gear breaking, respectively. The number of base dice you roll are determined by your attributes, the number of skill dice you roll by your skill level. The number of gear dice depends on what gear you are using, and these are added to the dice pool.

Character attributes equal the number of Base dice rolled. Simple as that. Four attributes: Strength, Agility, Wits, Empathy. Assign 14 points amongst these, with your key ability (depending on your class) having a maximum of 5. The attribute number is how many dice you roll in a check, and each attribute is associated with particular skills, so the base dice are supplemented by skill dice.

Skill levels equal the number of Skill dice rolled. 10 points to distribute amongst skills, with a maximum of 3. You also get Talents, special abilities determined by your role (class, for all you old grognards). Some of these are Fast Draw, Loner, Zone Cook (more important than you think!), Sleepless, etc.

MYZ stalkerCool Roles/Classes. Eight roles, like Enforcer (the heavy), Gearheads, Stalkers (scouts), Fixers, Dog Handlers(!), etc. They are all well balanced, and have their part to play in the game.

Everyone is a mutant. Yep, everyone gets to have a crazy mutation (or two, in some cases). They are all powerful, interesting and relevant (i.e. none are there for show). There aren’t many, but the idea is the gaming group isn’t going to be huge so there won’t be any overlap in powers. You spend Mutant Points (MP) to activate powers during the game. You can win more MPs by pushing your rolls, where there is a greater chance something could go wrong. The powers include Acid Spit, Human Magnet, Puppeteer (mind control), Rot Eater, Telepathy, etc.

Everyone works together and the ark is a major ‘character’ in the game. You are working with your fellow mutants to save the ark. You interact with NPCs, get involved in disputes, deal with petty jealousies, food shortages, external attacks. The ark has four development levels: food supply, culture, technology and warfare, and you can undertake projects to improve any of these, using your skills, your characters and time. This is another fun aspect of the game, much like building a community in computer games like Fallout 4.

Combat is easy. Anyone familiar with a tabletop role playing game will find the combat generally easier than most other games. There’s the usual rolling for initiative, take one action (roll a skill check, activate a mutation, help another character, defend, etc.) and one manoeuvre (advance, retreat, flee, etc.), or two manoeuvres. You roll a number of D6s equal to your Strength plus your Fight skill to hit in melee combat; if you use a weapon, you do the weapon’s damage (e.g. Brass Knuckles do 1 damage) plus additional effects if you score more than one 6 on your roll. The target can defend to reduce damage and effects. Ranged combat works similarly. Damage effects attributes, and if one is reduced to zero your character is broken, with the impact relating to the attribute e.g. if Agility is zero, you are physically exhausted. You can also get critical injuries, which can kill, maim and traumatise your character.

Recovery is relevant. Resting four hours and eating a ration of grub helps recover Strength; water for Agility, sleep for Wits, company for Empathy. It makes the resources you recover in the wasteland more important to your characters, as well as the ark.

There are lots of opportunities to role play. Essentially, the players drive the plot by exploring and interacting with NPCs on the ark. Each sector on the map is one square mile, and it will take time for the PCs to search. The GM rolls random encounters for the sector, or uses some handy pre-designed Zone settings/scenarios (which are very open ended to cater for the players basically doing anything they want). You will find that those players who thrive on the role playing aspects of RPGs will love this game. It also encourages team work—working alone or against the group will quickly get your character killed.

Lots of adventures. Over half the book is devoted to campaign materials, so you won’t run out of things to fuel your sessions for a long time! Some of the sectors include a crazy cult in a missile bunker, a trading post in a grounded ship, and a full campaign arc, The Path to Eden.

There are a number of extras available: Genlab Alpha (a complete game in which you play intelligent, bipedal animals), Zone Compendiums (with additional scenarios/settings), maps and signature dice.

Mutant Year Zero has won several design awards, and so it should. It’s a player-driven, open-ended experience, that is fun and easy to play, with great mechanics and minimalist rules. It’s one of the best post-apocalyptic RPGs available at the moment, and well worth your time and investment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Mutant Year Zero  is available at the Modiphius Games website–https://www.modiphius.net/

MYZ ruins

 

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 #7 – Another Free Map!

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’s map is a Kobold and Demon lair. Whoa, you say? The game’s weakest creatures with some of the game’s toughest? If you’ve read the section on Kobolds in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, you’ll know that they are artful little trap-setting beasts. And the entrance to this lair is full of traps designed to bottleneck the PCs and make their life hell. I haven’t filled in the details so you can let your imagination soar.

As to the Demons? It just so happens this cave system used to be used by demon worshippers, and the Kobold’s Shaman unwittingly opened a gate to the Abyss. The demons are kept in check because the Kobold Chieftain has a soul-capturing gem which can imprison up to ten of them, so they have an uneasy alliance. The kobolds can call on the demons when things get a little hairy, making this lair no walkover for PCs assuming they’ll have an easy go of it.

Aside from the quicksand, arrow slits, tripwires, locking pit trap with poison spikes and six foot high brick walls with arrow slits, the kobold lair also has its own fungus farm (on the south wall), water source (in the northern cave), demonic gate (the southern cave), stolen supplies and a secret treasure room.

Kobolds and Demons Map 15x10 - stevestillstanding

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 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 #4 – ‘Tales of the Yawning Portal’ Leaves me Yearning for Something Better

I received ‘Tales of the Yawning Portal’ the other day, after ordering it from the Book Depository. I’d heard that Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) were updating some of its best known modules to 5e, and was looking forward to it.

Well, I’ve been reading it for a few days now. And all I can say is – WTF WoTC?! Let me explain.

‘Tales of the Yawning Portal’? They couldn’t come up with a more inspiring title? And the titular tavern is featured in TWO pages of the book. Why bother with it at all? It’s supposed to be a linking device for the adventures. But guess what? It’s not! It’s just…there. Maybe it’s a plug for a future Yawning Portal adventure. It’s fantastic that the Undermountain dungeon (Which adventurers can access via the tavern) is mentioned so many times in those two pages, but it’s NOT IN THE BOOK. Yawn!

These adventures were some of the best, and most dangerous, of all time. One small problem: they are all dungeon crawls. There is no variety. They are all dungeons, with no wilderness, urban or role playing components (okay, ‘the Forge of Fury’ has a tiny bit of wilderness). I love some of the old modules (I own the AD&D (1e) ones featured), but come on! A dungeon crawl is a dungeon crawl – but seven of them? 

And ‘The Sunless Citadel’ is boring (sorry, all you people who loved D&D 3e). ‘Tomb of Horrors’ is still spectacular. ‘The Forge of Fury’ and ‘White Plume Mountain’ are great.

Supposedly the adventures were selected so that you could play the book as a campaign. But why bother? In the same line WoTC suggests using them any way you like, as fillers. And there are no real reasons for linking them as a campaign, except for the first two adventures (which followed each other in D&D 3e), other than the fact your PCs should be at the required level by the next chapter.

And why make some of the maps so small? Would a map to a page for some of the earlier dungeons be such a big ask (some of the later dungeons have maps to a page).

There are heaps of monsters included in the back, many of them from ‘Volo’s Guide’ (I guess it didn’t sell as well as they expected).

In WoTC’s defence: the adventures have been converted well. The artwork is great. I still dislike not having monster stat blocks in the room descriptions. A monster name in bold is NOT ideal. I know WoTC wants to sell more ‘Monster Manuals’, but shortened monster stat blocks are used by other companies producing 5e adventures, so why can’t they? And like all WoTC’s offerings, the text entries for each room are always too wordy. When I’m running an adventure I don’t want to have to drill through loads of text to get the information I need.

In summary, I was a little disappointed by this offering. Yes, some of the dungeons are great. But after so many great campaign releases, overall this was a bit of a let down. And I wish they’d left the Yawning Portal tavern out of it. I would also prefer they excluded the seminal ‘Against the Giants’ adventure, and released it with ‘Descent into the Depths’ and ‘Queen of the Demonweb Pits’, all together, the way it should have been. In fact, maybe they should have released that collected edition rather than ‘Tales of the Yawning Portal’. 

If you’re looking for some killer (literally) dungeon crawls, then this is the book for you. If you already own most of these adventures, save your cash and do a manual conversion instead.

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.

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* 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.

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