Laidback DM: Free Map!

It’s been a while since I gave away a free map. So, without further ado! Okay, just a little…

I love drawing maps for Dungeons & Dragons adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give away my hand-drawn maps any chance I get.

This week: Descending Caves!

Okay, it needs a better name than that, but I’m sure you’ll think of something! The PCs enter from the left, via a vertical cave shaft. Then its down, down, down, as the caves and ledges drop them lower and lower to where some dark and dangerous beasties dwell…  

Laidback DM - Descending Caves - stevestillstanding.com

Above: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve 😊

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Laidback DM: World Building

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.

Pros:

  • Most of the heavy lifting is done
  • Great maps, locations and adventure seeds just waiting to be used
  • Can be very immersive

Cons:

  • 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.

Pros:

  • Most of the work is already done
  • Can use the maps, locations and adventure seeds available
  • Can make small or large changes as needed

Cons:

  • 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.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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).

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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Laidback DM – Pathfinder 2e Product Reviews

I went a bit crazy and bought all of the Pathfinder 2e products currently available. Here’s a short review of some of them.

Pathfinder 2e Gamemaster’s Screen

A strong, 4-panel GM screen with great art and useful tables and reminders: conditions, actions, DCs, death and dying, monster types, etc. P2 is a rules-heavy system, and every GM is going to need some sort of support aid to help them remember everything. I think this screen should have included a separate insert with armor, weapons and inventory items listed on it. I find I use these things with players all the time and so made my own, but including them as reference sheets with the GM screen would have been ideal.

Rating: 8.5/10

Pathfinder 2e Character Sheets

P2 has a pretty complex character sheet. The sheets in this pack have been individualised by class, with a breakdown of specific class feats on the back of the sheet, but they’re still very busy and you will need multiple sheets to keep track of everything (high level characters would be a bit of a nightmare, I imagine). There’s also a handy cheat chart attached to the folder with conditions and actions listed.

Rating: 9/10

Pathfinder 2e Adventure: The Fall of Plaguestone

A cool one-off adventure with a straightforward murder mystery, lots of role playing opportunities, and a few fairly linear dungeon crawls with a great villain and motive. A handy toolbox for GMs at the end of the adventure includes new backgrounds, magic items, monsters and side quests. A very good introductory adventure for beginners and those GMs considering investing in the P2 Adventure Path campaigns.

Rating: 9.5/10

 

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Laidback DM – Descent into Avernus review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

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Laidback DM: Weapon and Armor Durability

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

Flanked!!

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

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

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

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

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

Easy weapon and armor damage? Done and dusted!

Game on!

Steve 🙂

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Laidback DM – One-Page Dungeon Competition 2019 Winner

Hi all

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

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve

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Laidback DM: Treasure Alternatives

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

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Review

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Summary:

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve 😊

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

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Laidback DM: Keeping Secrets

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

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

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

What are some ways to stop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve

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

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Laidback DM: Alignments in Games

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

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

Cave exit
Escaping the confines of alignments…

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Laidback DM: Shotglass Adventures II available in print!

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

You can buy these new products at https://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/browser/publisher/13989

Game on!

Steve 😊

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Laidback DM: Playing in the Sandbox

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

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

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

Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.com

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve 😊

For more Laidback DM, click here.

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Laidback DM: Saving Throws – the Nat 20 Bonus

So you scored a natural 20 on that saving throw? Awesome. You passed. Doesn’t sound as great when you think about it, now does it. But what if you got something a little extra to celebrate with?

Here’s some ideas that won’t break the rule bank. Obviously you only get to choose one of these each time:

  • You get 20% extra experience point for making it through the trap. If no experience is allocated, you receive a 200 XP save bonus instead.
  • If making the save meant half damage, you now take a quarter.
  • If you made the save against an attack or poison, you now have resistance to that type for 5 minutes.
  • You gain an automatic save against the next save of the same type e.g. if it was a CON save, you make the next CON save automatically without rolling.
  • Your HP are topped up by 10. If you are already on max HP, you gain 10 temporary HP.
  • You gain Inspiration, which you can use to replace any D20 roll you fail.

So next time you roll that natural 20 during the save, look on the bright side and let Lady Luck send a little bonus your way.

Game on!

Steve 😊

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Shotglass Adventures at DrivethruRPG.com

Splitting the Party: strength in numbers? Nah!!

Every time I GM an RPG, whether it be D&D, Stars Without Number, Numenera, Kids On Bikes or another genre, the players take it upon themselves to split their party because some want to do one thing and others want to do another (usually because strong personalities compete). And every time they do it, the separated weaker parts of the whole inevitably suffer.

I have no problem with players splitting up. I can handle multiple groups and jump back and forth to keep them engaged. I can modify stuff on the fly so they are not overwhelmed unnecessarily by their enemies. But that doesn’t change the fact that the sum of the whole is generally better than the individual parts.

Where’s my backup?!
Where’s my backup?!

An example: in a recent playthrough of the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, the party decided to split up to check out the gardens around the old manor. A few checked out the back yard. One investigated the burrow under the rose bushes. A couple decided to see what was in the well.

The solo crawl down the burrow didn’t end well, but the PC’s screams of pain brought the rest of the party running from the backyard, so they were able to pull them out and stabilise them (as well as kill the poor giant weasels that were just defending their home).

Down the well went perhaps the party’s weakest character, with the stronger character controlling the rope. Poisonous snake attacks later, dead PC pulled back out.

Would this have gone better with the full party at both scenes? Probably. With more party members, more than one may have descended the well. Perhaps they would have left the burrow alone, or perhaps used fire to smoke out any inhabitants first.

My point is, strength in numbers is not just about raw fighting or magical power—it’s about the ideas the group bring to the table. More heads may come up with interesting solutions where only a few might not.

I don’t really mind parties splitting up. It makes for interesting play and certainly ups the tension (and makes for some pretty funny outcomes). Sometimes splitting the party is necessary for the adventure, but in that case the players would normally be working to a plan (nothing may go according to the plan, but it’s the thought that counts). Players often forget that ‘many = strong’, no matter how long they’ve been playing RPGs. Oh well…

Game on!

Steve 😊

For more Laidback DM, click here.

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Flanking: Good Team Work or Unbalancing the Game?

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

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

Flanked!
Yep. She’s flanked by Goblins.

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

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

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve 😊

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Shotglass Adventures 2 Preview

Hi all,

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.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Support the Shotglass Adventures 2 Kickstarter at
‪https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/laidbackdm/shotglass-adventures-2-10-adventures-for-dandd-5e-and-osr-rpgs‬

Shotglass Adventures 2 Kickstarter is ALIVE and KICKING!

Addendum: The funding goal was achieved in 6 hours, six times faster than the previous campaign! Now happily moving into the stretch goal phase! YAYY!

Steve 🙂

———————————————————————————————–

Hi all

My second Shotglass Adventures book for D&D 5e and OSR fantasy role playing games is now live!

If you’re a role playing gamer, you’ll love this project – the last one delivered lots of free additional content and was delivered a month ahead of schedule, so get on board!

Play on, fellow gamers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Support the Shotglass Adventures 2 Kickstarter at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/laidbackdm/shotglass-adventures-2-10-adventures-for-dandd-5e-and-osr-rpgs

Connectable Town Maps Volumes 1 & 2 and Maps for Fantasy RPGs available now!

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Connectable Town Maps Volumes 1 & 2

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 Maps Volumes 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 2 to 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).

Connectable Town Maps Volumes 1 & 2 can be purchased by following this link.

Maps for Fantasy RPGs

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.

Maps for Fantasy RPGs can be purchased by following this link.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

 

Shotglass Adventures available now in Print and PDF!

Hi All!

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

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve 🙂

Laidback DM: Trading Places

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

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

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

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

Game on!

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Laidback DM: Shotglass Adventures in Print!

Hi All,

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:

Shotglass Adventures book - Laidback DM Shotglass Adventures book - Laidback DM

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.

Game on!

Steve 🙂

img_2307

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Laidback DM: Free Map – Sewer Neighbours

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: Sewer Neighbours

There’s nothing like neighbours who don’t get along. Four lairs, all next to each other, all causing a problem for the folks upstairs in the streets. Time to clean up!

laidback dm - sewer neighbors - 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, click here.

Kickstarter Completed Successfully!

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

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

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

Cheers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Laidback DM: Have Merc(er)y on Me

Matt Mercer hosts Critical Role on YouTube, one of the many D&D online channels that have helped propel the game’s popularity into the stratosphere, and is arguably one of the best DMs around. A trained voice actor, he has a wonderful storytelling ability and excels at immersive and engaging story telling. And for the rest of us mere mortals, that can be a little bit of a problem.

I don’t get the chance to play that much, but when I do I like to observe how other DMs run their games. As one would expect, there are differences in style, the way some rules are interpreted, the way people manage their players. Some are good, some are average. Some are appalling. One aspect that shows up more often or not, however, is DMs trying to be Matt Mercer.

Now, I have the utmost respect for Mr Mercer, but the fact that he is so good makes it difficult for most DMs to measure up. Many DMs just don’t have the range and acting chops that he does, and sometimes it comes across like they’re trying too hard to be like him. Here are a few things DMs need to realise (especially beginners).

1. You don’t have to be Matt Mercer to be a good DM. Just be yourself and establish your own style.

2. Matt Mercer is a trained actor. He also does a LOT of preparation for each session you see. And while he was previously an unpaid DM, now he is employed to do that job. Many of us mortals have full time day jobs or are full time students or have full time family responsibilities. Remember you can still be a good DM, but you need to be aware of your own limits.

3. Long, drawn-out Matt Mercer-style descriptions during combat can be great and really bring combat to life, but they do slow combat down (which can be a long and sometime frustrating process to start with if you have a lot of players at the table). Include your players—let them take part in describing the scene. If you do everything it seems like the game’s more about you being the centre of attention than them.

4. If you want to be an evocative DM, don’t forget to learn how to narrate the non-combat scenes. This is an area that some DMs appear to struggle with.

5. You don’t have to do accents if you’re not good at them. Focus on telling a good story, and involve your players. Evoke the scene with interesting descriptions. Play to your strengths.

6. You shouldn’t focus on jokes if you’re not good at them. If they fall flat every time, it’s generally a sign. Adventures with a serious tone can be fun, too. And if you’re not a funny DM, your players will fill in the humour gaps.

Yes, Matt Mercer is great, and he has a wonderful style. But be aware you aren’t him. You can always learn from him, but be yourself and you and your players will still find the game rewarding.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Support the Shotglass Adventures Kickstarter at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/laidbackdm/shotglass-adventures-10-adventures-for-dandd-5e-an?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=d%26d

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Laidback DM: Villains – upping the ante

Role playing games enable players to take part in their own ongoing TV show—a soap opera of sorts, with a growing number of support characters, a fantastic and evolving environment, and ongoing stories linked to the players’ backgrounds and adventures.

As with any melodrama, what can make or break a long form story is the villain. A good villain is worth a thousand henchmen, as it were. Here’s a few ideas to up the ante with your campaign villains.

1. The Recurring Villain

Some of the best villains are the ones that come back to aggravate the player characters (PCs) again and again. This can be tricky in a game where the bad guys are regularly dispatched. If you want a villain to return, make sure he has an escape plan. One of my fave villains was a quirky NPC with the mannerisms of Captain Kirk, as played by the inimitable William Shatner. Great fun for the players and me, and one of the reasons they didn’t kill him.

2. The Apocalyptic Villain

This guy is set on destroying the world. Always great for a campaign, as it ups the stakes and drives the heroes onward to stop them. Must be immensely powerful, so that the PCs have a great challenge and really feel like they’ve earned their win (or death). I like using a major villain who was defeated in an earlier campaign but has come back more powerful than before, using his followers to harangue the PCs and providing gradual insights into his nefarious schemes of revenge and world domination.

3. The Sympathetic Villain

This villain has a backstory or motivation that puts the PCs in a moral quandary, forcing them to choose between helping or hindering them. I love these types of villains, and use them a lot. One of my faves was a priest who lost his wife and child to a scouting party and sought revenge by tracking down the murderers. The PCs were tasked with protecting the murderers, but as they gradually discovered the villain’s backstory they had to choose who to back. Made for some fiery discussions.

4. The Hidden Villain

This is the ‘slow burn’ villain. You don’t know much about them as they manipulate from behind the scenes. It’s often someone known to the PCs as an upstanding citizen, supportive of the party in public but secretly working against them behind the scenes. As long as they remain a mystery, the big reveal leaves the PCs gobsmacked, making it all worthwhile.

Great villains are the foundation of great campaigns. Spend a bit of time creating your villain, and the payoff will come in spades for you and your players.

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Support the Shotglass Adventures Kickstarter at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/laidbackdm/shotglass-adventures-10-adventures-for-dandd-5e-an?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=d%26d

Laidback DM: Free Map – Tinsen’s Bluff

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: Tinsen’s Bluff

From a recent adventure I ran for my 13th-level players. Tinsen’s Bluff was a quiet backwater until the people started mutating into crazed, blighted beasts. The Duke’s distant cousin sent a letter indicating this might be some kind of infection that could spread across the country. But what is the source? No one has heard anything more from the town. Time to investigate. Don’t forget to wrap up – it’s the dead of winter and you know how the snow brings out those mutated abominable yeti and white wolves…    

laidback dm - tinsens bluff - 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.

Support the Shotglass Adventures Kickstarter at
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/laidbackdm/shotglass-adventures-10-adventures-for-dandd-5e-an?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=d%26d
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Shotglass Adventures – 10 adventures for D&D 5e and OSR Role Playing Games – KICKSTARTER LIVE!

Hi all!

I’ve been working very hard over the last few months to write a book of D&D adventures, and the Kickstarter to fund the project is live right now!

Follow the link below to read all about it! I’d appreciate your support, as this is the first time I’ve done this!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM, click here.

Support the Shotglass Adventures Kickstarter!

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Laidback DM: Free Map – Elemental Cruxis

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: Elemental Cruxis

The party have to recover elemental seeds from each part of the cruxis, teleporting from the column room to each of the elemental crucibles and facing various elemental hazards and creatures. Once the seeds are joined, they summon an elemental god of your choice. Who’s not very friendly…    

elemental cruxis - 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 – Ruined Tower and Crypts

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: Ruined Tower and Crypts

Here’s a map you can spring on your players. The labels may be misleading – after all, the map’s pretty old, and it may have passed through a few sets of hands and many years before it got to the current possessors…  

ruined tower and crypts - 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 – Mountain Monastery

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: Mountain Monastery

Nothing like a remote mountain monastery and temple full of crazed monks for the player characters to discover. Not only will they have to fight those jazzed-up, battling ninja monks, they also have to deal with the deadly demons the monks made pacts with to fuel their power…

This is a bit different from my other maps – I spent a bit of time getting the architecture of the temple sections right. All hand drawn, of course. I thought it turned out pretty good!

laidback dm - mountain temple monastery - 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 – Serial Killer Inn

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: Serial Killer Inn

The party stops overnight on the road between adventures. It just so happens this roadside inn is run by a serial killer, who preys on travellers who stay overnight. They kidnap unsuspecting guests during the night and hold them in deep, sound-proof pits in the cellar. They only go after individuals. Looks like each party member will be getting a room to themselves, tonight…  

serial killer inn - 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 – Above and 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 hand-drawn maps any chance I get.

This week: Above and Below

An interdimensional nexus created by a mad wizard, ‘Above and Below’ features moving corridors and rooms that rise up and down. Rooms that pass near corridors can be seen from the corridor (if the corridor is above) and vice versa. This moveable feast makes for interesting combats and pursuits, say by a few Goristro demons (MM). Of course, the player characters will need to recover several items in order to activate the teleporter in the middle to escape. Oh, did I mention the nexus is unstable, so the construct is collapsing in on itself? The PCs are on a timer, upping the ante and adding another layer of tension…   

above and below - 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! 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.

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 🙂

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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 🙂

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