Borderlands: Session Sixteen

My homegame is finally resuming after four or so months of hiatus. One of my players took over the table for a mini-campaign that ran for five or six sessions, but was heavily delayed due to busy schedules. This delay has made planning the session tricky: I’ve grown used to not spending a couple weeks planning a session, balancing encounters, or generally thinking ahead to the game. And because the game is a sandbox, I’ve actively avoided spending several those months plotting out the next part of the campaign.

Planned Reminder

After the big climactic end of the “season” I’m skipping ahead a year. A full year because this amount of downtime grants the opportunity to train, learn a new tool proficiency or language, and the like. Perhaps even do some magic item shopping or crafting.

The time jump is strategic: skipping ahead means the player’s fuzzy memories of the last thing that happened will mirror the character’s. I don’t need to worry about who was poisoned, how much damage was retained, what abilities were used, etc. Time has passed, small adventures were had, and the group is reuniting.

To get everyone thinking about the game, at the very end of the previous session, I handed out small little quarter-page sheets describing what the characters had been up during the intervening year. At the very end, I had asked the players to send me their ideas for activities and ran with those when possible.

I also used that as an opportunity to seed a few adventure hooks and potential revised character motives for the players. Some reason they sought out their old allies of two or three months after a solid year apart. And I could do fun things like have one character go missing for a couple months and return a few years older with no memories of the intervening time. Another character is having strange dreams that could be sent from their god.

Rapid Travel

I plan on starting at the fortress claimed by player from a small army of hobgoblins. Which has been cleaned up and fixed for the past year. Somewhat. I don’t want too many repairs to have been done so I can still use “gathering resources” and “finding craftsmen” to be a potential quest.

Once everyone has gathered together, I can ask them their next step. Which I had asked about earlier, so I could do some planning. This is more to roleplay the reuniting and accepting of the quest hook/ plot. As such, I already know they plan on heading south to the hometown of one of the adventurers, hoping to repel an undead plague and finish rebuilding the town.

As the party is fairly high level now (Level seven? Damn, I should check.) I don’t require many random encounters on a road they have travelled five-ish times before. I can handwave and montage the trip, describing some random bandits or goblins that are effortlessly dispatched or scared off with a casual display of magic. They can pretty much just quick travel between points at this level.

I should have them encounter someone on the road. Perhaps an explorer making maps of the remade world? Something to remind them that the world is dangerous and savage for common folk, and reinforce their place and big damn heroes. There should also be some small random fight to get everyone used to combat and remind the players how to handle their characters before life-and-death stakes are introduced.

I’m not sure where I’ll have these encounters. I’m testing out a magic item called a portal stone (found in my Artificer document on the DMsGuild). The item basically lets you cast teleportation circle once a day. However, the item doesn’t create the circle, but instead activates and existing circle letting you travel between known locations. The Red Mage in the group knows the sigils for the city of Brighthome (the effective starting zone of the game and hometown to a couple PCs) and their fortress. Plus a circle in the buried yuan-ti ziggurat (not very useful) one on a map gained from a roll on the trinket table at the start of the game. The map is an old adventure seed of a gnome vault conveniently located by the destination hometown, and a potential future adventure location. I’m uncertain if the party will teleport right to Brighthome and walk two or three days to the half-ruined town, or just decide to hoof it the entire way to razed Norall. So it’s safer to just leave the location of the travel encounters fluid.


Seasonal Arc

The player who ran the minicampaign re-caught the DM bug with his arc, and would like to run a sequel. Which is cool, but does mean this next leg of my campaign is finite. I need to think ahead for what I want to do this time, and plan more of an arc. Or at least something more structure than previous.

Or not.

One of the ways I’ve been thinking of this campaign is that it’s not a “story” but rather a few important events in the lives of a band of heroes. The events going on as they adventure. Their story rather than mine. But that doesn’t have a good place to “end” to signal when it’s time to switch campaigns for a break.

Perhaps, instead, I need to think of things from a character perspective. Let each character have a goal so this leg of the campaign end when each player fulfils their major story arc. Which means I just need one solid plotline for each character, and to establish those early on. Or, given the sandbox nature of the campaign, seed a couple different hooks for arcs and let the players decide where to go.

Post-Game Report

I try to keep this blog rated PG. So all I’ll say is bleepity bleep bleep.

The one thing I hadn’t considered the PCs doing was just teleporting directly to the gnome vault. “Hey, let’s just teleport to this unknown location and just hope there’s air and space for us all and a way to get out.” It was super tempting to just have them appear in a collapsed room and suffocate. But I didn’t because that was my bad. I should have freakin’ known. Especially when the map is labelled “treasure of the ages”. You can’t hand your players a loaded gun and then whine when they shoot you in the foot.

So, I had to improvise a dungeon on the fly.

I cheated horribly. I decided all the gnomes were dead and then created the reason. In this case a plague. And then had the party wander around the creepy abandoned city. I quickly grabbed monsters I thought were cool, pulling golems and undead that seemed about the right CR that haven’t been fought yet. I also grabbed minis that haven’t seen use in some time, and found monsters that matched, because that was quick and have an instant effect on the table. A cool mini is a rapid crutch for an encounter when the monster is random and the encounter area is unremarkable. The party wandered until they found the hoard of treasure, for which I rolled randomly. This turned out to be far, far from a “treasure of the ages”. There were a couple small encounters and the possibility of infection, and then the party escaped the Vault of the Dead and decided to continue with their mission of clearing the undead from the crypts of Norall.

I’m set for next time. Right off the bat we have a dungeon crawl through an ancient gnome & dwarven crypt filled with undead. AND I need to think of a better treasure for the gnome vault as well as a damn good reason it was missed during the first pass. AND then return to a PC’s hometowne followed by seeding of at least two more hooks.

I already know the loose plot of the Red Mage. His magic is fading, and he needs to reinvigorate it, and has heard tell of the location of a unicorn that can be used to empower him.

And the Swashbuckler wants to be the finest swordsman in the land. The player still has the 3e/Pathfinder mentality that the best way to improve your character is magic items and the mechanics in the books. So, they assume the best/only way to do so is a very particular item. So their plotline should do the reverse and have the character doing the in-world way of improving their skill rather than the in-game way. I need to direct them to a famed sword-master that can teach them new techniques, which should be entirely unrelated to magic items and gear. The character just gets a special boon, or new feature related to swordplay.

This adds a balance issue to the game. If I’m thinking about giving one character a boon then everyone probably needs something cool. That means when the sorcerer gets empowered, they get some other neat perk. And I need to consider boons and perks for the other characters at the table.

So this past session was a gong show, but I’m ready and have a great foundation for the next few sessions.


Shameless Plug

If you liked this blog, you can support me and encourage future content.

I have a number of PDF products on the DMs Guild website including the 5 Minute Workday Presents line, with such products as the Rod of Seven PartsGiant Killer’s Companion, Traps, Diseases, Legendary Monsters, and Variant Rules.

Additionally, my book, Jester David’s How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding, is available for purchase on DriveThurRPG or Print on Demand through Amazon. The book is a compilation of my worldbuilding blog series, and all the entries have been updated, edited, and expanded to almost two-hundred pages of advice on making your own fantasy world.