Nope – this isn’t a post about hosting huge drunkfests the whole street will remember. But nerdfests? Bring it on…
There’s a reason most modules are written for four players. Over time this was considered the average number of players most DMs could get together for one game session. Times have changed though, and with D&D reaching a level of popularity far beyond the original golden years of the ‘80’s, parties are bigger, tables are bigger and the associated problems of running games are bigger. Yep, facilitating large parties of players can be fun, but they can also be awkward and fatiguing. I’ve regularly run large parties of players. Here’s a few things I’ve learned over the years to help run big games and avoid some of the pitfalls.
Set ground rules – this is important for any game, especially big groups as they can become unruly faster than a smaller one. Establish your basic game ground rules early: no insulting, no vilification, don’t humiliate other players, etc. get your players’ input in coming up with ground rules so the group is not only accepting but knows where they shouldn’t go regarding discussions/behaviours.
Involve everyone – managing a party of players is like managing a team in a workplace – everyone has different strengths and motivations. Over time you’ll get to know your players well, and you’ll know what best motivates and engages them. Use that knowledge. Directly involve your players in some time of the administration functions of the game. Got some who are rules experts? Ask them for help on rules decisions, if needed. Got overly responsible players? Let them take over roles like organising initiative, mapping, marching orders, etc. Got vocal players? Give them opportunities to role play and describe their scenes. Got quiet players? Be inclusive, give them opportunities to speak and be heard. Give everybody opportunities to shine. In short, let them make your job as a DM easier, while playing to each player’s core strengths and motivations.
Manage the pace – make sure the story is moving along. This may sound a little obvious, and it’s true for any game, no matter what size: slow pacing kills engagement. Make sure your game doesn’t drag. If the wilderness encounters are tedious, drop them and so a travel montage instead. Better still, get one of your players to describe the flow of days on the road. If there’s a part of the adventure that’s boring, move through it quickly. And combat? “Many battles do not a good game make,” said Yoda. Even if your party are die hard hack-and-slashers, every game should be a balance of role play and combat, so that everyone gets to do something they enjoy.
Let your players contribute to the story – give each of your players the time to describe what they do in down time, or how they react to a new environment or new NPC. But beware the over-talker! If someone’s going on too long and the other players are switching off, acknowledge that player’s contribution and continue to move the game forward.
Run faster combats – big parties mean more down time between turns. This is ok for those players who are intensely involved or planning their upcoming turn, but there will be a few who aren’t – playing with phones or side conversations about non-game stuff are an indicator. Use faster combat to keep players engaged. Forego some of the lengthy descriptions of battle. Make the combat fast and keep everyone involved and excited. Theater of the mind becomes tricky the more players and monsters are involved, but it’s still quicker than using a grid. That said, the bigger the party, the better a grid for combat becomes as it’s easier to manage where the PCs are in relation to opponents. It’s your call, just remember to drop the unnecessary bits.
Increase the challenges – as mentioned earlier, adventures are generally written for four players. If you have more, up the ante. Parties of eight are easy – just double the number of bad guys. But what about the big bad? Rather than duplicate him/her, increase their hit points. Give them legendary actions. Up their armor class. Give them a powerful magic item to wield (if they don’t have one already). Remember, the more players, the more actions they have and the more hits the bad guys take, thus lessening the threat. You need to counter player character overkill by ensuring each combat encounter and the final boss remain suitably epic.
Consider more role playing opportunities – large parties of people respond like large groups of people. Often they split into cliques, or favour particular people in the group they know or identify with. Role playing encounters give an opportunity for groups to play as a party and introduce some ‘game’ conflict into the mix. Just make sure it doesn’t become REAL conflict – as facilitator, maintain control of the flow of discussion and immediately cut off anything that vilifies or denigrates another player.
Big parties are lots of fun to run. Just make sure they don’t run all the way over you.
PS Do you have any hints for running big parties? Leave a comment! Heck, I’ll even respond to the ones about wild drunkfests.
My KickstarterShotglass Adventures 3: Black Meridian Heart has just unlocked its third stretch goal, with more to come. If you love D&D and want 10 quality high-level adventures and heaps of bonus campaign material, jump on board at the link at the bottom of this post!
I’ve been buying most of the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them.
Paizo has a monthly release schedule for their products, which is great for those of us with collector mentalities that like to have everything (but terrible for our erstwhile budgets). I was pretty impressed with the Lost Omens World Guide, so it was a no brainer I would pick up the Lost Omens Character Guide.
A slim volume at 135 pages, the Character Guide manages to squeeze a lot of content in. There is expanded lore for all the Core Rulebook ancestries, new heritages and ancestry-specific feats. I was most interested in the new ancestries: the militaristic Hobgoblin; nature guardian Leshies (I love how Gourd Leshies can store physical objects inside their hollow heads); the patient and adaptable Lizardfolk. Each of these ancestries has multiple heritages with specific abilities, and ancestry feats. Want a Lizardfolk from the desert – try the Sandstrider. Or maybe an Unseen Lizardfolk which has chameleon abilities. How about an Elfbane Hobgoblin with resistance to elvish magic? Leaf Leshies are so light they can fall any distance and not be hurt.
One of my criticisms of the P2e Core Rulebook was the lack of new ancestries other than the Goblin, but these additional ones start to make up for that. They are all substantially different from the D&D takes on these races and there is the promise of more to come.
Next up is organisations, with detailed entries on the ostentatious Firebrands, the dogmatic Hellknights, stalwart Knights of Lastwall, the ancient magical Magaambya, and the adventurous Pathfinder Society. Not only is there a wealth of information on these organisations, how PCs join them and how each organisation relates to one other, there’s also loads of new items specific to each group, new abilities and archetypes, and feats galore. The Firebrands have access to an Insistent Door Knocker that whispers hints to you when you’re trying to unlock another door. Knights of Lastwall gain access to the new Sun Blade spell. Magaambyan attendants can gain Mask Familiars.
This book is a treasure trove of ideas for P2e players, especially those who like to get deep into their character’s background story and customise their skill sets appropriately. GMs will be happy, as well. Aside from all the lore available, the end of the book includes an NPC gallery with low and high level NPCs from each organisation, along with guidelines to apply themed templates to create organisation NPCs at differing levels and using other ancestries.
Paizo has impeccable production standards for their products, but it doesn’t make them perfect. I’ve mentioned before I’m not a fan of having rules and information spread out over multiple books. There are feats and archetypes in the Lost Omens World Guide that flow into some of the archetypes in this book. When you look at that book and this one, it seems like one book was split into two to ensure a regular flow of product. I have no problem with companies safeguarding their bottom line, especially when the products they produce are so good, but I usually like to have most things in one place. I’m not a fan of lugging my books around, so I use PDFs on a tablet for reference during games. Even jumping between PDFs can be a pain, but I am happy Paizo had the foresight to include page references when referring to feats or archetypes in other books. I guess I’ll just have to live with an annoyingly high number of rules sources.
Lost Omens Character Guide is a worthy addition to your P2e library (and believe me, with all the content being released, it becomes a library VERY quickly). There’s great content here for players and GMs, and it will definitely add some spice to your herb rack (a terrible analogy, but you know what I mean).
Far be it for me to spruik for a living, but hey – it’s how I make a living now. So, here are some of my products available on DrivethruRPG in print/PDF/digital. You can buy any or all of these fine products by visiting this nifty little link:
And let’s not forget my current Kickstarter for SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES 3: BLACK MERIDIAN HEART, a product that is bigger then Ben Hur and just as ostentatious, but full of great maps, cool adventures, fantastic campaign lore, game aids and great art! Just click on the link down below to support this fine project, which has already opened up its first STRETCH GOAL, with lots more to come!
SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES 3: Black Meridian Heart is the sequel to the successful Shotglass AdventuresVolume 2 Kickstarter!
Published under the OGL and compatible with 5e and other OSR fantasy role playing games, SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES 3: Black Meridian Heart is over 100 pages long. Inside you’ll find:
10 one-shot adventures of all varieties – investigation, dungeon crawl, planar, puzzle, quest – complete with DM and player maps! The adventures are for PCs of 11th-15th level, designed for minimal preparation and flexible delivery. Each adventure can be run as a ‘fill-in’ for 2-3 gaming sessions (7-10 hours per session) or played as a mini-campaign. Almost 100 hours of gaming content!
Hand-drawn, full-color maps! Old school style with new school flair!
26 New Monsters + 20 Monsters from Kobold’s Tome of Beasts/Creature Codex! 5e stats included! New monsters include life-drinking Covenantals, manastatically-mutated Meridian Wyrms, mania-inducing Shrooms and the planet-sized Great Old One Asgarte!
12 New Magic Items! New items include the magical battery Plume Stone, spirit controlling Ghost Collar, psionic Gerth’r Mentor Helm and legendary ForNev’r Shards!
All new city setting of Meridian’s End, complete with important NPCs, factions, backgrounds, rumors, adventure seeds and city map! A frontier town, bordering the wasteland of the Black Meridian, Meridian’s End stands frozen in time, a legacy to Invicia’s defeat of the old Kereshi Empire. There are darksecrets here, whispered behind closed doors intremblingvoices as the Baron’s undead guardians glide overhead, always watching. Corruption and fear pervade thisnewmagical frontier…
New rules and tables for magic, travel and weather, background lore, random encounters and adventures seeds for the magical wasteland known as the Black Meridian!A vast desert created by a magical disaster centuries ago, the Black Meridian is the only source of the valuable but cursed mysticalPlume Stones. There are ruins and treasures untold in that desert, trapped behind a magical barrierthat only the most courageous – or most foolish – enter. Are you brave enough to face the rampant manastatic storms, bizarre temporal and spacial effects and manastatically mutated monsters of the ForNev’r wastes?
Random Ruin Generation tables! Roll up a ruin – its size, type, features, inhabitants, manastatic effects and adventure seeds! Perfect for creating a ruin on the fly for sandbox play or planning a ruin in advance.
Completely revised Verona Province – updated two-page map and extended lore for the Verona Province setting, the region featured in SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES I and SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES II!
Loads of new and revised lore for the Invician Empire – everything you need for campaign play!
Deck plan and stats for the Gerth’r Planar Assault Ship! Compatible with the ship rules in the official GoS adventure!
I’ve been buying all the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this adventure path. Just call me lazy.
Tomorrow Must Burn is the third part of the epic Pathfinder 2e adventure path Age of Ashes, containing three adventures for characters of 9th-11th level. The PCs face off against the Scarlet Triad, the slavers behind the Cinderclaw Cult and the adventure path’s overarching conspiracy (which I won’t spoil).
Tomorrow Must Burn is set in the country of Ravounel, which gained its independence in a previous adventure path (remember I said a while back these adventure paths have a real impact on the game world?). It’s nice to see a return to a previous adventure location (even if I get the faint impression this might have been to save on production time).
There are several interesting town and city-based adventures and a showdown with the slaver boss in a remote quarry location, and although the investigations and missions have less variety than the previous adventure in the series, they are nonetheless enjoyable.
As usual, Tomorrow Must Burn includes loads of additional information for GMs, including a gazetteer of Ravounel, all about Dragons, seven new magic items, three pages of new feats that can be learned from NPCs (the Lacunafex spy network and Bellflower underground railroad that frees Halfling slaves), 10 high-level monsters and three detailed NPC overviews.
All of this wonderful added content can be an issue in the long term, however. When spread out over multiple supplements—a concern with Pathfinder 1st edition and also with the various new Lost Omens hardcovers—it can become problematic trying to find references during your future games. Perhaps Paizo will consolidate all the new material at some point, however the current example of division of Lost Omens’ content makes this doubtful. I hate having to look through multiple books for references (D&D 5e is getting this way as well). It’s inevitable as games age and new content for players and GMs is released, but P2e has only been around a few months and it’s already racking up a significant supplement count. Having said that, it’s the GM’s choice to use the additional content or not.
One other quibble: the Ravounel gazetteer is a bit of a letdown – it reads like a bland travel brochure and there are next to no adventure seeds. WOTC managed to cram Baldur’s Gate full of them, and although that gazetteer was much bigger it shows what can be done with a city supplement. Having additional adventure seeds can really help GMs (especially new ones) with building and running their own campaigns.
The nature of adventure paths means they tend to lead PCs from one specific outcome to the next, in a somewhat linear fashion—they’re a path, after all—and there’s not much room for improvisation. Having said that, Age of Ashes compensates by providing a full and interesting campaign from 1st-20th level, and WOTC has only managed that in one of their many campaign adventures. Age of Ashes is more varied and challenging than that somewhat staid multi-level dungeon crawler.
Although Tomorrow Must Burn has less mission variety than Cult of Cinders, it will keep players interested and engaged throughout the many sessions of play in this book. I’m enjoying these adventures, and look forward to the next.
I’ve been buying all the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this adventure path. Just call me lazy.
Cult of Cinders is the second part of the Age of Ashes adventure path. It contains four adventures taking PCs from 5th-8th level, set in the vast and danger-filled jungles of the Mwangi Expanse.
This adventure has a great balance of role playing and fighting missions that include befriending the local Ekujae Elves via hunting, attending a feast, matchmaking and storytelling (among other activities); deactivating a number of protective dragon pillars throughout the jungle; disrupting a mining operation and an intense showdown with the Cinderclaw Cult antagonists in the fossilized remains of a giant dragon. Along the way the PCs learn the cult is linked to another, bigger conspiracy, and gain a key to another Elvish magic gate (and thus another part of the Inner Sea Region of Golarion). Age of Ashes is a good introductory campaign as it uses portals to take the PCs to multiple countries across the game world, providing varied environments and challenges in each new instalment.
Along with the adventures are additional rules enabling repair and upgrade of the citadel the PCs took over in Hellknight Hill, copious information on the Ekujae Elves, new treasures and diseases, extensive background information on two major NPCs and 15 new monsters.
Cult of Cinders has the usual high levels of presentation and writing we’ve come to expect from Paizo. It’s less linear than the previous instalment, with more mission variety that also very effectively demonstrates the various P2e rules for downtime and NPC interactions.
(I’ve been buying all the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this adventure path. Just call me lazy.)
Hellknight Hill is the first in the Age of Ashes Adventure Path for P2e, taking PCs from 1st-4th level. The first mini-adventure sees the PCs fighting a fire in the town hall, before accepting a job to chase down the fire starter in the citadel on Hellknight Hill, just outside of the town of Breachhill. Next up is a dungeon crawl through the citadel, rescuing a band of local goblins and defeating the fire starter. The last part of the adventure sees the PCs investigating the dungeons and caves below the citadel, fighting the Cinderclaw cult attempting to invade the region through a magic gate and discovering a series of portals that tie directly into future instalments of the adventure path. They even get to keep the citadel as a fixer-upper to use as a home base, which is a nice touch.
Overall this adventure is a well put together, somewhat linear adventure, with bonus materials including campaign information, a detailed town with a mysterious secret, 3 major NPCs, 2 new magic items and 9 new monsters. The writing, maps and art are good and the levels are decently designed (although there are the occasional questionable monster placements that seem to be there just to make up the XP level requirements rather than for logical reasons).
This adventure makes a good introduction not only to the Age of Ashes Adventure Path but also to P2e itself. I also like the fact the Adventure Path enables the PCs to significantly impact the game world (assuming they play it through to its conclusion at level 20). As with all of Paizo’s campaign materials, this is very closely tied to the Pathfinder world of Golarion, but any DM/GM could cull bits to use in their own homebrew campaigns if they wished.
I’ve been buying everything Pathfinder 2e related over the past few months, so I thought I’d do a few reviews.
Lost Omens World Guide is exactly what you think it is – a gazetteer of the world of Golarion, Pathfinder’s official setting. Okay, it’s actually the Inner Sea region, Golarion’s analogue of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but there’s also some general info on the rest of the world.
One thing that hit me about this book (aside from the surprising thinness of the tome) is the sheer volume of ideas thrown in. There are so many tropes at play in this fantasy setting it’s safe to say the authors used a ‘kitchen sink’ approach. In many ways this is good for GMs – there are so many different environments that you are likely to find a place you like that will suit the theme and style of your campaign. Like science fantasy? Try Numeria, where a spaceship crashed in ancient times and remnants of tech can be found across the land. Like Wild West fantasy? Alkenstar produces firearms. French Revolution? Galt is perpetually revolting and has a magical guillotine that traps souls. Post-Wars of the Roses Britain? Try Taldor. Ice age? Realm of the Mammoth Lords. Ancient Egypt? Osirion. All the analogues are here, but each has a creative spin that makes it fresh and original. And there are plenty of seeds for campaigns or stand alone adventures.
I especially like the fact that Lost Omens World Guide has direct mentions of previous PathfinderAdventure Paths, and that the world’s history and various countries have been affected by them. It gives the world a “lived in” feel and shows that the official adventures have lasting consequences. If you have a group who played through those first edition campaigns, the players will feel like they truly changed the world. And who doesn’t want to feel that?
There are new PC backgrounds related to each country, new magic items, spells and feats. These are all usable in the game and help to personalise your PCs more. And all laid out in the consistent P2e style.
The artwork and maps are excellent, and the writing and editing is good (only a few typos). There is a double-sided poster map of the Inner Sea region in two styles, which is pretty awesome.
The book itself is a wee bit thin for my liking (130 pages) but then I found it much easier to read than a 350 page volume. The text is tightly packed – I think a larger font would have been easier on the eyes, but I realise they are keeping a consistent look and feel for P2e.
Another sore point: a number of the names are awful – Norgorber? Please, I can’t be scared of an evil god with such a dumb name. And regional consistency in naming doesn’t seem to exist in many places (I’m sure Tolkien is rolling in his grave). But it’s fantasy, after all, and I guess it could be worse.
There are other books coming out to support the Lost Omens World Guide, and I get the impression they all could have been combined into one. I’m going to forgive Paizo for this, as I know they’re not as big as WOTC and release a crap load of regular (and quality) product every month (while WOTC seems to release content at a dribble).
I’m willing to bet money you have a group that has at least one quiet, introspective player, who tends to not speak up much (I’ll refrain from calling them an introvert as sometimes introverts can be outgoing, too). I’m also willing to bet that you’ve DM’ed a game with an unfamiliar group with subdued players in it. And what tends to happen with those quiet players? They get drowned out by the rest of the crowd.
Here’s some tips to prevent that:
Make sure your quiet players get the opportunity to contribute. All too often the loud players (and I won’t refer to them as extroverted, as some extroverts aren’t loud or over the top) have all the say. It’s important to involve everybody in the game, and addressing your less confident players directly can do that. Ask them what they want to do, or if they have another option to the one being pushed by the more confident players.
Use open questions with subdued players. Closed and open questioning techniques are used in different situations, depending on the type of information sought. A closed question generally has a yes or no answer e.g. “That’s the course of action you’re taking?” An open question allows the questioned person to provide a fuller answer e.g. “What course of action would you like to take?” Use open questions with your quieter players to allow them the opportunity to speak more.
Highlight the quiet player’s character. Often an outgoing player’s character is a reflection of the player, and thus may grab the spotlight more often. Make sure you know what the subdued player’s character is capable of, and use them. Set up some situations for their character where they have opportunities to shine.
Speak to quiet players before and after the session. Get to know all your players, but find out if your quiet players like to lead, of if they have a particular backstory or subplot they would like to explore. Build an adventure around their backstory. Maybe they don’t like speaking and prefer to stay quiet and observe. If this is the case, honour their wishes, but make sure you stay up to date with their situation as this may change as they grow more confident and willing to speak up in the game.
Quiet players are often the introspective thinkers of the group. They may be more inclined to think through situations, rather than charging in blindly (but not always). Remember to involve all at the table – don’t let quiet players get drowned out by the more vociferous ones. Tabletop RPGs are for everyone to enjoy, after all.
So, you have a map of a dungeon / building / ruin / chasm / extra-planar setting / landscape, etc. Now, you just have to stock it with some monsters and traps.
Here’s some hints for designing cool dungeons:
Who’s the Boss? Decide who your big bad is going to be from the beginning. Select ancillary monsters to suit the boss’s main theme. Then take those ideas and add a twist or two e.g. a Vampire Lord will no doubt have vampire spawn, dire wolves, bats, humanoid prisoners, zombies. But…maybe the Vampire Lord has gone crazy from a mysterious undeath disease, the Vampire Spawn are revolting against him as a result, the zombies are actually human adventurers in disguise attempting to sneak in and rob the place, and the dire wolves and bats have mutated into combined forms as a result of the undeath disease—flying wolves, baby!!
Why are the monsters there? When you select monsters, think about their personal reason for being in the dungeon. You should err on the side of logical. Maybe a monster is guarding a particular tomb. Maybe the monster is part of a tribe that lives in another part of the dungeon and it’s lost. Maybe a monster is a demon trapped in a room by adventurers hundreds of years ago. No matter what monsters you choose, and no matter what reason you come up for them being there, make sure they all relate to each other in some way e.g. the lost monster is searching for the the tomb, it has heard rumours a demon is trapped in a room near here. He thinks the demon might be able to help him get past the tomb guardian. There’s nothing more boring then a collection of random rooms with random monsters. If you want that for your group, then why not play a computer game.
Don’t fill every room. There should be a smattering of empty rooms, to lighten things up a big, introduce tension (nothing like players thinking the room has something nasty in it…), and to give PCs a place to rest if they need it.
Traps should be there for a reason. Once again, logic wins the day. A tomb might have several traps, all preventing the PCs from getting to the sarcophagus. A lair might have traps to prevent attackers from breaching the first line of defence. If there is no real reason for a trap, then leave it out.
Make the environment interesting. Think about what you can do to make the environment (and the encounters within the environment) challenging. Maybe the floor has broken away in part of one room and continues to break up during any fight. Maybe the corridors shift as the result of a magical curse. Maybe the lava flow in one or more areas occasionally shoots a jet stream into the air, splashing those around it with burning magma.
What’s the hook? There should be a good reason why the party is invading this dungeon. It’s often good to link it in some way to a PC’s backstory (although you shouldn’t do this every time) e. g. a PC’s sister has gone missing in a vampire attack on the local town. In the dungeon, she has been transformed into a vampire spawn. Save her, or kill her? Moral quandaries are always my favourite.
PS want some examples of adventures made from single maps? Check out Shotglass Adventures Vol. 1 and 2 at the link below.
Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for Dungeons & Dragons adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give away my old school hand-drawn maps any chance I get.
This week: Bandit Ruin
The Bandits of the Murkmire prey on small villages on the periphery of the swamp. Your party has been hired to take them out at all costs and return any kidnapped villagers. Unfortunately, you’re caught attempting to sneak up on them, held in the dungeon below and are forced to fight in vicious pit fights against all kinds of unsavoury creatures. Time to escape! But what lurks behind the bricked up passageways? You can hear something moaning at night, putting both bandits and the kidnapped on edge. And that incessant tapping on the wall – is that something trying to get out?
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.
So, I’m taking a break from DMing to hone my ‘player’ chops. Part of the reason was my increasing work and study loads and part of it was burn out. I just needed a break from all the work involved in preparing and running a game each week, from my brain constantly thinking about D&D all the time.
Being a player has been fun. The lack of responsibility and generally less-onerous workload for each game (read: none) is incredibly liberating. But I’ve found I’m now a bit too laidback. Without the need to be the final arbiter of rules decisions, I find myself not bothering to remember rules. Where I once kept track of every detail, now I cant be bothered to remember stuff that happened in the game last week (I’m playing several games a week, but that’s just an excuse). I find myself being enticed by other RPGs (but then, I always have been). Pathfinder 2e is turning out to be an arguably better D&D than 5e, despite the density of its ruleset (“what sacrilege is this?!” I hear you say). Whodathunkit?
My university studies are drawing to a close and once I finish this final assignment I should (theoretically) have more time on my hands to DM. But do I want to? I still find myself drawn to the idea of guiding a group of semi-crazed individuals through a fantasy world of wondrous choice and flexibility. I still find myself drawn to contentious rules decisions and bizarrely humorous indignation as players split their party and suffer the inevitable consequences. I’m still drawn to the idea of telling improvised stories and building worlds of imagination and magic with friends and acquaintances. But can’t I do that as a player? Do I really need to be a DM?
I guess I can do both. Have my RPG cake and eat it, as it were. So, yeah. I’ll DM again. I guess the decision was already made before I started writing this. Because DMs never die. They just take a break for a while, realise the grass isn’t greener on the other side, and then come back with fireballs blazing.
PS DMs – it’s okay to admit that you sometimes need a break from the game. Life goes on.
It’s been a while since I gave away a free map. So, without further ado! Okay, just a little…
I love drawing maps for Dungeons & Dragons adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give away my hand-drawn maps any chance I get.
This week: Descending Caves!
Okay, it needs a better name than that, but I’m sure you’ll think of something! The PCs enter from the left, via a vertical cave shaft. Then its down, down, down, as the caves and ledges drop them lower and lower to where some dark and dangerous beasties dwell…
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.
Have you ever spent far too much time drawing a map of your world, developing and designing societies, cultures and religions to fill it, creating reasons for its existence, only to find you didn’t need all that for your campaign or the players didn’t care anyway? I guess all burgeoning DMs have at some point or other. So, how can we go about world building for an ongoing campaign in a way that’s time efficient and campaign-friendly?
Here’s some options and tips:
Use an existing setting
There are a host of fantasy settings available commercially. You can buy one that matches the flavour you and your players like and drop your adventures into that world.
Most of the heavy lifting is done
Great maps, locations and adventure seeds just waiting to be used
Can be very immersive
It may not be exactly what you wanted
A lot of reading and familiarising to do
Modify an existing setting
Add to the existing setting. Make changes that work for your players and your campaign.
Most of the work is already done
Can use the maps, locations and adventure seeds available
Can make small or large changes as needed
Adding to an existing setting may change context of some areas or affect continuity of commercially made adventures from that setting
Keeping track of what you’ve changed might be a concern
Depending on how much you change, might be time consuming
Create your own setting
Create a world on your own or with your players.
An opportunity to flex those creative muscles
You get exactly what you and your players want (assuming they’re on board with the creative process)
It’s not too hard to modify commercial modules/adventures to fit your setting
Can end up being very time consuming
You may overdevelop, producing more content then is needed
Tips for world building
Here are some tips for world building, whether you create your own new world or add to an existing one.
Start small. Your characters are 1st-level? All you need is a village and the surrounding area. Expand on it with your players as they rise in level and explore.
Have a theme. Think about why you need a new setting for your adventures, and what sets it apart from other settings. The theme of your world should support the reason for its being and the internal logic behind your campaign. If it’s a standard high-fantasy setting, a la Forgotten Realms, Golarion, Glorantha, Midgard or Middle Earth, maybe you should just adopt one of those existing worlds. But maybe it’s run by evil Gnomish warlords who have outlawed magic, resulting in steam-powered machine technology and an underground resistance of illegal magic users. There’s no limit to your imagination, just the time it will take for you to develop your world.
Develop as needed. You don’t need to create multiple world-spanning pantheons of deities, or the social structure of the capital’s ruling elite (unless it’s essential to your ongoing story). Develop the bits you need as you need them.
Leave space for future developments. That timeline doesn’t need all the gaps filled in. Leaving space in your world means flexibility to add more later. Filling in every hole now can limit you later on, when you may come up with new or better ideas, and nobody is a fan of retroactive continuity changes.
Build naturally. Add things as part of the story. Another country is invading? Time to put together a culture/backstory for them. Leave any other surrounding countries until they play a part in the ongoing story.
Use your players. Your players are going to have interesting backgrounds for their characters. Make these backgrounds part of your world. Connect your players closely to the world—they will be more engaged with the setting and their personal stories will pay off big time. Use their imaginations to supplement your creative process. It doesn’t have to be all up to you.
I created my own setting for Shotglass Adventures 1 and 2, which I’ve significantly expanded on for Shotglass Adventures 3. I started off with a small province in a remote part of a large empire. The theme was high fantasy, so the adventures could be easily slotted into any existing world. As I created adventures I added locations to the setting, developed a province capital and a shady regional government that would cause some moral quandaries for my players. A small pantheon of gods, a little bit of history as the games progressed, but only as much as was needed for the fledgling campaign, leaving plenty of room to expand later. I added new races as they were needed, arch foes as they appeared. The next iteration expands the area of the province significantly, adding lots of new locations, intrigue and adventure seeds. Time will tell how large the setting gets, and I already have notions for the rest of the world. But I won’t develop any of it unless it plays a part in the ongoing campaign. My best advice: use your time wisely, and try not to overstep the mark (you will want to—we all do).
There’s nothing wrong with developing a world setting, even if you don’t end up using it. If you have the time to invest and the desire, then go for it. But time is a luxury for most people nowadays, so use it constructively (yep, that’s a pun).
I went a bit crazy and bought all of the Pathfinder 2e products currently available. Here’s a short review of some of them.
Pathfinder 2e Gamemaster’s Screen
A strong, 4-panel GM screen with great art and useful tables and reminders: conditions, actions, DCs, death and dying, monster types, etc. P2 is a rules-heavy system, and every GM is going to need some sort of support aid to help them remember everything. I think this screen should have included a separate insert with armor, weapons and inventory items listed on it. I find I use these things with players all the time and so made my own, but including them as reference sheets with the GM screen would have been ideal.
Pathfinder 2e Character Sheets
P2 has a pretty complex character sheet. The sheets in this pack have been individualised by class, with a breakdown of specific class feats on the back of the sheet, but they’re still very busy and you will need multiple sheets to keep track of everything (high level characters would be a bit of a nightmare, I imagine). There’s also a handy cheat chart attached to the folder with conditions and actions listed.
Pathfinder 2e Adventure: The Fall of Plaguestone
A cool one-off adventure with a straightforward murder mystery, lots of role playing opportunities, and a few fairly linear dungeon crawls with a great villain and motive. A handy toolbox for GMs at the end of the adventure includes new backgrounds, magic items, monsters and side quests. A very good introductory adventure for beginners and those GMs considering investing in the P2 Adventure Path campaigns.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
Here’s my personal take on weapon and armor damage:
Every time you roll a 1 (critical fumble) on an attack roll, your non-magical weapon takes damage. It loses -1 to attacks and damage. This stacks with further crit fumbles, up to a maximum of -3, after which the non-magical weapon breaks and can’t be used.
Armor is treated a little differently: when an NPC or monster scores a 20 (critical hit), you as a player can decide whether you want to take the double damage or whether your non-magical armor is damaged with a -1 penalty to AC. This penalty stacks with successive crit hits up to a maximum of -3, after which the non-magical armor breaks and is unusable. (This option might potentially save the PC from being knocked unconscious or killed by a critical hit.)
Damaged weapons and armor can be repaired by an armorer, weaponsmith or bowyer (depending on the weapon/armor) for half the original price of the weapon or armor.
A PC can repair their own weapons and armor during down time if they have have the relevant background and tools (e.g. Guild Artisan or Clan Crafter Backgrounds with relevant area of expertise: armorer, bowyer, weaponsmith). They’ll need a forge if the weapon or armor is made of metal. The price for repairing their own weapons and armor is a quarter of the original cost of the item.
No matter who repairs the item, it takes 1 day per -1 to fix (i.e. 3 days to fix -3 damaged weapon).
And now you’re going to say, why not just buy a new one? That’s entirely possible, but not every PC may have the money, and it may be the sword is a family heirloom or that shield is the Cleric’s holy symbol. Or the player might just prefer to be self sufficient.
When using a weapon and armor damage system like this, you shouldn’t really use a critical fumble system as well. Or if you do, you could alternate crits with weapon and armor damage. Either way, as long as your players are happy with it.
And remember: monsters with weapons and armor should be affected, too. All’s fair, after all.
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.
I bought copies of the Pathfinder 2nd editionCore Rulebook and Bestiary the other week, and after a solid read (they are over 600 and 200 pages respectively) here are my thoughts on the game.
Great layout and design – tabs and index make it easier to find stuff. The PDF is also fully indexed (and where are your official PDFs, WOTC?! And don’t say D&D Beyond, because I object to paying again for content I already own).
Superior character options and customisation – you can customise characters very deeply. Ancestry and backgrounds give specific skills and feats. Character creation is straightforward and easy to follow. HPs are standardised, ability boosts add or subtract from a standard ’10 for everything’ array. The Alchemist class is cool!
Consistent advancement for every level. Hero points awarded allowing players to re-roll a bad roll or save themselves from death.
Alignment is closely tied to some classes – when doing stuff considered anathema to their alignments, Champions and Clerics must atone.
Action Economy – everyone has three actions, every activity has an action cost. You can choose to use the actions any way you want, which makes for more tactically focussed combat (movement counts as a standard action, so you can choose to move three times if you want). Much better way of managing actions.
D20 rolls incorporate Critical Successes (10 or more above the DC) and Critical Failures (10 or more below the DC) which can modify the outcome based on the check performed. Not as intensive as the spell success and failure tables in the DCC RPG, but a nice touch.
Well laid out spells – take up less space and are less vague and open to interpretation. Spells can be heightened, and this is consistently applied (unlike higher-level casting in D&D 5e).
Specific spell schools and domains mean less spell lists (but roughly the same amount of spells) as D&D 5e. Rituals are done by groups and make much more sense.
Specific Crafting rules – The crafting system is second to none. Rules for general, alchemical and magic items. Specific formulas and costs. No more guess work like in D&D 5e.
Levels instead of CR – you can now tell the level a monster or magic item is at a glance, and they’re not as misleading as D&D 5e CRs can be.
A detailed story world (Golarion) is fundamentally part of the ruleset. The roles of the gods and their alignments work in directly with Cleric and Champion classes.
Very much focused on grid-based combat, for those who prefer this approach to RPGs.
Well designed monsters that are just different enough from D&D 5e to keep things interesting.
So much to read, so little time. The size and cost of the Core rule book may be a disincentive to new players.
Lots of ongoing record keeping needed during combat just for the condition effects alone, compared to D&D 5e.
Sometimes a rule that has been written to simplify is layered with additional rules to make it more complex, potentially defeating the initial purpose (e.g. Bulk replaces item weights for encumbrance).
Less core ancestries than D&D, with only the Goblin standing out as any different.
Don’t like Golarion? You’re going to be home brewing some things to fit the new system (e.g. as gods are closely matched to alignments and roles you will need to develop your own pantheon).
Don’t like playing on a grid? You can play ‘theatre of the mind’ but be aware it might get a bit tricky (see next point).
Big numbers involved in ability, skill checks and combat, especially at higher levels. If you’re not decent at maths you may balk at some of the numbers (e.g. one high level monster has an AC of 42). There is a high reliance on multiple bonuses (see the next point).
No Advantage/Disadvantage, one of the best new rules of D&D 5e. (Okay, so there is fortune and misfortune, which is the same thing, but it’s not used to the extent it is in 5e. In fact it’s a sidebar, more an afterthought).
Way too many conditions to remember. Luckily you can buy condition cards, if you want.
Even with that really well-designed character sheet, you may run out of room attempting to record all the information for feats and the like.
Pathfinder 2eis a great game for tactical players who love deep character customisation.
The rules have been simplified overall, but retain enough crunch to either excite of annoy, depending on your preference.
Numbers get really big, really fast.
Combat is more tactical but will take longer to run and involve more record keeping.
Lots to read and remember – detail and specificity are the middle names of this game. If you are a less is more person, this may not be the RPG for you.
I haven’t had the chance to run a game yet, but I can imagine my maths-deficient players getting their calculators out. Some of the systems are better designed than D&D 5e, while others just make things far more laborious. There is a level of specificity in the rules that eliminates a lot of uncertainty common in other RPGs. I imagine Pathfinder 2e games will take longer to run then D&D 5e. I like it, though!
Good on you, Paizo—a great update that finally sets Pathfinder apart from D&D, and in many good ways.
PS I’m not bagging D&D 5e – I love the game and play it every week. Heck, it’s how I make my living. Given Pathfinder2e’s roots, though, it was easiest to compare.
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.
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.
PS thanks to Chaoticcolors.net for the idea for this blog 😊
Do you use the encumbrance rules as written in 5e? I don’t. I find them…cumbersome, if you’ll excuse the pun. Of all the rules brought across from the various old editions, counting weight in pounds and applying it to a factor multiplied by strength is just tedious. There’s enough math in the game without that as well.
So, time for some simpler rules. Here’s some, borrowed and slightly modified, from a great little game recently launched on Kickstarter, called Five Torches Deep.
All item weights are expressed as Load, which reflects the weight and bulk of an item. Small items and weapons (such as a dagger) weigh 1, medium or bulky items and large weapons weigh 2. Light armour weighs 1, medium armour 2, heavy armour 4. 500 coins equals a load of 1. Some items will have negligible weight, such as a single scroll, and don’t count towards Load (although a scroll case with multiple scrolls would weigh 1).
A PC can carry their Strength value in Load e.g. STR 18 = 18 points of Load. If they go over their limit, they are encumbered and suffer a 5 foot movement penalty per point of load over their Strength. They also suffer Disadvantage on ability checks, saves and attacks. When their movement reaches zero they are over-encumbered and can’t move. They’ll have to shed something.
For example, a Rogue has Strength12. He carries his backpack (1), a dagger (1), a short sword (1), long bow (2), quiver of 20 arrows (1) full waterskin (1), 2 weeks of rations (2) a bag of marbles (negligible), 50 feet of rope (1) and wears Leather Armor (1). This brings him to 1 under his limit. He could carry a further 500 coins (1) of treasure, but any more and he’s over the limit—his movement would be reduced by 5 feet for each point over and his ability checks, saves and attacks would be at Disadvantage.
Easy to work out and apply, right? And much less cumbersome.
Alignments are a leftover from the days of old school role playing. Originally there were three—Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. Then Mr. Gygax decided in AD&D that he’d spice it up a little by adding Good, Neutral and Evil suffixes to provide a bit more clarity. But are alignments necessary in a D&D game?
Players and DMs generally fall into two categories when it comes to alignments—you either love them or hate them. There doesn’t seem to be a sit-on-the-fence (or neutral!) option here. Personally, I don’t like alignments. I think players like the freedom to play their character how they wish, and alignments are just not that important in running the game.
That’s not to say alignments are a complete write off:
They make it easy to role play NPCs and monsters because they provide a basis for their motivation.
They provide players with some guidance as to how they might play their character.
They can create interesting conflicts for parties containing characters with wide-ranging alignments.
The rules are set up to use alignments, particularly where aligned magic items are used or in certain magical areas or traps that only affect specifically aligned characters.
They make it easy to tell who the good guys and bad guys are, thus ‘aligning’ the story with traditional high fantasy tropes.
Players may feel restricted by having to ‘fit’ their role play to the alignment they’ve chosen.
Conflict between opposite aligned characters may feel ‘manufactured’ or meta-gamed, rather than natural.
DMs may feel restricted by an NPC’s or monster’s alignment e.g. that monster is Chaotic Evil, he would never do something to help out that party!
In the end, everyone has good and bad in them. Nothing is black and white in the real world, and role playing games are a bit like that, too (at least mine are). I don’t believe in the need for alignments, but I can see how they can be useful in helping to guide a player’s ethical decisions. When I’m playing an NPC or monster, I ignore alignment altogether and do whatever fits the story best.
In the end, whether you use alignments or not, you decide how they work in your campaign. Like many of the peripheral rules in TRPGs (i.e. rules that could be considered non-essential) they don’t really make much difference to how the game is played. Everyone will still have fun, whether you use them or not.
The products from my last Kickstarter, including Shotglass Adventures II, are now available in PDF/print on DrivethruRPG.
Here’s a look at the printed version of the book:
SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES II
For D&D 5e and other OSR fantasy role playing games.
• 10 one-shot adventures for characters of 6th-10th level, including murder, dungeon crawl, gauntlet, planar, puzzle, quest, siege, sci-fi. Minimal preparation required. Each adventure can be run individually or played as a mini-campaign. Over 50 hours of gaming content
• 25 New Monsters
• 17 New Magic Items
• 2 New Ships, compatible with the ship rules in Ghosts of Saltmarsh
• New playable race – Sh’Vy’Th (Sherviath) Elves! Refugees from fascistic forest city-states ruled with an iron grip by the Pale Lords…
• Information on the Invician Empire to support campaign play
• A map of Verona Province, complete with every adventure location
• OSR conversion advice
• Bonus tips for DMs
• Bonus full color and b&w maps with adventure seeds for you to use in your own adventures
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.
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).
I’m a huge fan of maps. I draw lots of them, and occasionally give them away free on this site. But I’m a bit old school when it comes to my preferences. I love hand drawn maps, but I’m not a fan of digital maps.
Why don’t I like fully digitally created maps? They take just as long as hand drawn ones, and arguably are just as good or sometimes even better looking. For me, purely digital maps look a bit too much like a computer game, and often they look a bit artificial. The really good ones look a bit TOO good. In many ways, they get away from the idea of a pre-tech fantasy world.
But hand drawn maps? They fit the fantasy setting. When I see a good hand drawn map, it invokes warm, fuzzy feelings and feels as if it was drawn by a cartographer on an actual fantasy world. It’s more in keeping with the games I play and the main reason why I will never go ‘full digital’ (I hand draw my maps and then color them digitally in photoshop, but that’s only because I’m an awful painter).
There are a number of old school, hand drawing cartographers out there. Many provide their maps for free or have patreon sites where you can get regular maps for a low price. Here’s a few of my faves:
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’sguide: “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.”
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.
Here’s a little preview of the adventures and contents of SA2, currently on Kickstarter!
The adventures are for D&D Fifth Edition (the current version of the game) and Old School Revival (OSR) games like Swords and Wizardry, OSRIC, White Box and Dungeon Crawl Classics (to name a few). Here’s a taste:
I’ve upped the ante with my design work and maps on SA2! Here’s what some of the pages look like:
There’s also a digital maps package available with a royalty free license to use the maps in your own projects. Here’s some of the maps (over 35 + bonus stretch goal maps):
Hope you like the preview!
If you want to support this project, click on the link below.
SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES II is the sequel to the successful Shotglass AdventuresVolume 1 Kickstarter in March!
Published under the OGL and compatible with 5e and other OSR fantasy role playing games, SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES II is currently 52 pages long, but will be longer once stretch goals are included. Inside you’ll find:
· 10 ‘adventure-on-a-page (or two)’ one-shot adventures of all varieties – murder, dungeon crawl, gauntlet, planar, puzzle, quest, siege, sci-fi – complete with additional DM and player maps! The adventures are for PCs of 6th – 10th level, 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!
· 25 New Monsters + 10 Monsters from Kobold’s Tome of Beasts + 6 Monsters from Kobold’s Creature Codex! 5e stats included! New monsters include the Devil Door and the alien Sargalith Swarm!
· 17 New Magic Items! New items include the magic-dispelling Spongebob Squarebub and the consciousness-altering Phenol’s Mindswapper!
· 2 New Ships! Compatible with GoS!
· An all new playable PC Race – Sh’Vy’Th (Sherviath) Elves!
· Notes on the Invician Empire to support campaign play!
· An updated map of Verona Province – the region the adventures are set in, complete with every location used in SHOTGLASS ADVENTURES II!
Ever had your players wander into one of those random towns along the road and start raising a ruckus, just because they could? I have. Players are nothing if not unpredictable. In fact, they’re predictably unpredictable. That’s why I put together these little maps packages – Connectable Town MapsVolumes 1 & 2.
These PDF and digital maps packages each consist of ten A4-size print-and-play maps you can arrange any way you want, for any occasion your players enter a new town or village and you don’t have one available. Use all ten maps in any number of combinations, or just a few of them, and voila! A new port, town or village. Add Volume 2to make walled cities, forts, castles, ports and island towns!
There are several buildings on each map with floor plan exposed and no furnishings, so you can use them as you wish. Print and laminate them and you can draw on them with a dry-erase whiteboard marker.
Included in this package are grid and grid-less maps (20 x 600DPI JPEGS) – use whichever version you prefer. Oh, and the inclusion of a commercial license means you can use them in your own publishing projects as well (‘cause I like to share the love).
Maps for Fantasy RPGs is a collection of 24 hand-drawn maps and zip file of 35 digital image files, which come with a limited commercial license allowing you, the purchaser, to use them royalty-free in your own commercial or private publication projects.
Dungeons, mansions, temples, towers, ruins, lairs, wilderness, streets and more! All map images are high quality 600DPI (print quality is 300DPI) black and white (with one in color) JPEGS and are unlabeled, so you can add your own labels as needed.
These maps are system-neutral and can be used with any fantasy game.
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.
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
I’ve started selling some products on DriveThruRPG.com, the biggest seller of online role playing game PDFs in the world! My intention is to release more products onto the site for 5e and OSR gamers, including Shotglass Adventures, once the Kickstarter is completed.
My handy Initiative Cards are a no-fuss turn order tracker, whether you’re using figures on a grid map or running theater-of-the-mind combat. Each card folds in half, and can be hung on a GM screen or stand on the gaming table. Each two-sided, free-standing card lists the PC’s class and has space on one side for players and the other side for the DM, so PC/NPC names, passive perception or current conditions can be recorded.
The convenient Condition Cards are designed to be used during 5e games by players and DMs. Condition Cardscan be issued to players or placed on the map as a reminder of the condition affecting the PC or monster.
Critical Fumble Cards bring a new element to your 5e games! When your players roll a 1 on a d20 during combat, have them draw a Critical Fumble Card to add some spice to the outcome. Use them for monsters, too!
All cards are double-sided, but can be printed single-sided if preferred, in color or black and white. For extra longevity, you can laminate them. I use these cards in all my 5e games to free me up to concentrate on running fast combats and telling better stories with my players. Now you can, too.
The print proof for Shotglass Adventures arrived today and I just finished sending rewards emails to all the Kickstarter Supporters (who get a digital copy for free, along with all the digital stretch goal rewards shown at the bottom of this post, and have the option to purchase a softcover book version at cost + postage).
I’m pretty proud of this book. Here are a few shots of the cover and interiors:
I’m already working on Shotglass Adventures II, which is turning out bigger and better! It will be on Kickstarter soon, so keep an eye out both there and on this blog.