Borderlands Session Twenty

Season Two of my Borderlands campaign is rushing towards an ending as I potentially resolve the second character arc, wrapping up the Red Mage’s quest, which has driven the last three or so sessions. The character is already operating at partial power, so I don’t think I can stretch this out more than a session or two. Anything more is likely to end up as filler that gets in the way of the story, delaying the resolution while not adding real tension or drama.

In many ways, being a Dungeon Master is editing a film without the ability to go back. You need to know what to leave on the cutting room floor before doing the scene. By the time you realize the scene was completely extraneous and went on far too long, it’s too late to remove it. The edits needs to be proactive.

Plotting out the needs of this session, it’s easily divided into two acts. Act One is getting to the unicorn that is the goal of the quest and necessary for repowering the Red Mage. Act Two is completing its task.

The quest the unicorn sends the heroes on could be long or short. It could be a lengthy Herculean set of twelve tasks or as short as a MMO fetch quest. But, as this is a character’s personal quest and the culmination of side quest for the campaign, a single mission they can complete in half a session is fine. The go-to half-session quests are doing something at a location (purifying a site, fixing a ward) or killing a creature. Recovering an item is possible, but the tropes of a D&D imply a dungeon crawl with that, which are generally longer.

Act One: Into the Woods

The party is currently outside a fey wood. They need to enter the forest and find a unicorn. Which isn’t that hard: if you’re in its wood, the unicorn will find you. That search could be a lengthy skill challenge or hex crawl, but this feels unnecessary when hunting for a beast that knows all that occurs within its demesne. Finding the unicorn isn’t the hard bit: convincing it of your intentions is the challenge.

That said, just getting through the woods can be a *small* challenge: getting past magical terrain, avoiding being lost, catching food, etc. The forest’s name is the “bramblewood” implying thorns and prickle bushes should be somewhat problematic. And, of course, I should play up the regional effects of the unicorn from the Monster Manual. The wood should be magical and unnatural, with small subtle oddities. Paths that shift and unseen animals despite the constant reminder the wood is teeming with animals.

After three weeks away, this will likely end up an introductory refresher of the game: reiterating goals and setting up problems. Just chilling and being silly. I shouldn’t fight the urge for silliness and should probably just play up the inevitable goofiness. Thieving monkeys hurling poo might be fun. As would pranking fey such as a couple pixies.

Act Two: Into the Swamp

With half a session to wrap up the quest, the easiest mission is a kill quest. The unicorn wants something murdered and the party is just the band of murderhobos to get it done.

Whatever “it” is should be evil. And bad for the environment, so that the unicorn is pained by its existence. An aberration or other abnormal being would be nice.

It could also be a tribe of bullywugs, who have some flavor of corrupting the land. But wiping out a tribe of humanoids might take longer and be more morally grey. As such, a single big, nasty monster is good, either alone or supported by associated critters. As it’s likely a stand alone fight, a solo monster will be fun. I haven’t used many of those. Perhaps something with lair actions to really make the battle nasty and painful.

I did a PDF of Legendary Monsters for the DMs Guild. One of those would be perfect. Looking at that, the hydra is about the right CR. Unicorns cure poison with their horn and are celestial beings of health. A venomous hydra is pretty much the perfect antithesis of that. Easy winner for the villain there.

A small encounter or two before might be nice. Burn some resources and get everyone a little hurt. But I can play that by ear depending on time. If roleplaying and chatting about The Last Jedi take too much time, it might be a single small incidental fight. Or if we rocket through the introductory scenes, there might be time for a couple smaller battles. A swarm of horrible leeches in a swamp might be fun and icky. Or a massive snake. I’ll browse through the MM looking for CR appropriate marshland critters.

Post-Game Report

Due to a tailor issue (i.e. it was only open for the exact hours the game was running) one of my players had to leave early, making this was a short session. So I kept the table talk to a minimum and skipped some incidental encounters and small scenes. The hydra fight was long and dramatic but ended at just the right time. And with this, the Red Mage’s side quest has ended. And it’s also an opportunity to adjust the character from the playtest favoured soul to the new Xanathar’s Guide divine soul.

Through the unicorn I was also able to seed some more hooks for the Soul Monger, aka the Tomb of Annihilation adventure, seeding the idea that resurrection magic has failed. As two of my PCs have died and been raised, I hit them with the Death Curse this session (albeit as flavour and not mechanics).

For me the highlight was probably pranking the party with a pair of invisible pixies. The party blamed the grippli rogue (played by my pretty wife), who responded by tracking down the fey and offering suggestions for pranks. She just about died laughing.

Other than that… this session was fun but unremarkable. The hydra fight was scary and somewhat memorable, owing to the surprise of Legendary Actions and their inability to regularly take out its regeneration. Which is the thing about D&D sometimes: you can have a lot of fun at the time while nothing memorable happens. The best sessions of D&D—the sessions you will tell again and again—occur when things don’t go according to plan and things go wildly off the rails. But this session was smooth like clockwork for me, and fairly paint-by-numbers in terms of plot. Forgettable apart from the pixies. Which happens. You can’t plan for the unexpected or purposely push things off the rails. The story advanced and the character arc was wrapped up. That’s all one can hope for.


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