Borderlands: Session 23

The current “hook” of my D&D campaign was rebuilding a town. After my last session, I had a list of what my party wanted to build and in what order. I made a chart of these projects, based on the number of days it would take and calculated it would be a year and change before everything was done. After all, they were rebuilding and expanding a town. That doesn’t happen overnight

With that in mind, I picked four rough dates to be the periods something would happen: the introduction of a new PC, a random monster, random town events, some lost people to rescue, etc. Each four or so months apart. This gives some passage of time, but allows me to make four maps of the town, showing its gradual progress. Which is pretty easy on Photoshop, as the additions and changes can just be done on separate layers. This way time would pass (and the adventuring careers of the PCs would be lengthened) without having to spend several dozen sessions chronicling the passage of time. And by spacing out the changes, the seasons will also progress and change, further emphasising time was moving forward in a way that my just saying “time passes” does not. 

I also remembered to pull out the lifestyle costs from the PHB and ask the players what lifestyle they were maintaining. Which is a nice way of draining a few extra gold pieces.

Dig In The Bandit Queen

Where the party had left off was prior to facing the so-called “Bandit Queen” of the region. Named such because it sounded cool.

I’d name-dropped her in the previous session but didn’t have many ideas beyond saying she was in charge of the bandits. I recently reviewed the Guildmasters’s Guide to Ravnica and the idea of gorgons/ medusa being in charge of organisations jumped out at me. But that didn’t seem like a nasty enough challenge, so I took a medusa and gave her some rogue levels. By making her a swashbuckler (from Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Guide to Everything), she could hold her own without allies. Archery would be a way to go as well, but that keeps her petrifying gaze less relevant. But I opted not to for other reasons:

I also realized that despite almost being midwinter, I hadn’t emphasised it was getting cold. So I threw in a blizzard, with howling winds and cold that was slowing down the party. The advantage of the former was it kept the archers from devastating the bandits, and encouraged the party to get up and close. They couldn’t rely on a woodland ambush where they could devastate the already inferior foe and make a relatively non-challenging combat into a cakewalk. While I don’t like to pick on players too much, the Sharpshooter is pretty devastatingly effective from a couple hundred feet away, and it helps to keep him close enough to the group that he can either take damage, or move forward to stabilise a fallen ally. 

Gug Lite

For a couple “wandering monster” encounters planned for later in the session, I turned to the best inspiration I have: my collection of minis. I looked through my monsters, and picked a mini I had never used and had assumed I would never use. The gug. It’s from Lovecraft, but it’s not super well known. I pulled this from a random booster, which was disappointing at the time as it was just a wonky aberration that I can’t really use in place of another humanoid: it can’t really serve as a giant or other large humanoid, because it looks cooler than most monsters it would be replacing. As a PC, you almost want to be fighting and defeating the interesting beast with the sideways mouth more than a plain ol’ boring ogre. But it’s also not weird and gooshy enough for it to serve instead of a more twisted aberration: it’s not messed up enough to be a shoggoth. You can really only use it as a gug.

Thankfully, there were stats for the gug in Kobold Press’ Tomb of Beasts, which was an excuse to break that out. Not that I really need an excuse…

It has some other neat hooks, with the gug being vaguely Strager Things demogorgon-like, while also being form its own “Upside Down”. As such, I placed it near a cave that serves as a dimensional pinch point, allowing travel between coadjacent planes: Faerie, the Shadow World, and the Dreamlands. Mostly so I can namedrop some of them.

Similarly, I have an idea for a wendigo encounter for the following winter. Maybe a fight in a deep snowbank where there’s paths of snow you can walk down, but deep snow beyond that really slows you down. This being inspired by one of the players naming a region “the Wendigo Highlands” when asked to mark areas on the map. And also that monster being in the Creature Codex. Need to justify my purchases somehow…

Post-Game Report

The initial bandit fight lasted far too long and ate up a lot of the session. Really, we had a slow start and an unfocused session. Some of that is on me for not keeping the table talk down.

I also blew a chunk of time with ranger talk. I allowed a couple players to use the Revised Ranger from Unearthed Arcana to test that out. But I’ve been unhappy with how much of a revision that is, and wanted to pull back to something closer to what is in the PHB, so we can use the book in play (with a small note) rather than a PDF that no one ever seems to have at hand.

But that required some explanation and thought, and a little discussion of why and the details. And that ate up some time.

(For the curious, I’ll go over my ranger thoughts at the end.)

For ineffable reasons (chest cold, out of practice with the improv, life, whatever) I was not at my best for a lot of the session. I had planned and given myself a lot to work with, but wasn’t at the top of my game. Fun was had, and there were some amusing and memorable moments, but I just think I could have done better. I mean, I always think I could do better. That’s the curse of the DM. You never know exactly how much fun your players are or are not having.

The Swashbuckler ended up challenging the Bandit Queen/ Medusa Rogue to a one-on-one duel, which was surprisingly close. A well timed spell helped turn the tide, restraining the medusa and denying her sneak attack while negating the disadvantage from having to look away. In the end, the Swashbuckler was at 1 hit point and managed to reduce the medusa to 1 hit point so she offered to call the fight a “draw”. He accepted and she was offered a job in the village, defending the roads she had formerly raided. As “community service”.

The rest took some time, with some fun interactions and generally putzing around before the group hunted and slew the gug. They wandered into the cave that is a transitory point between the mirror worlds, and discovered that by entering the cave they could randomly step between realms. This prompted the Swashbuckler to declare they were going to explore Faerie, where he had ventured before. Mostly to report back to the River King regarding his success against the Soul Monger. I should have seen this coming, but it will be an interesting diversion/ side quest. I might have to play that by ear next week. And I’ll have to remember to take advantage of the Feywild’s ability to mess with time and memories.


I’m currently adding this to the ranger:

Favoured Enemy. You add half your proficiency bonus (rounded up) to damage rolls with weapon attacks against creatures of the chosen type. In addition, you can select humanoid as a favoured enemy instead of two types of humanoid.

Natural Explorer. You are skilled in the hunt. You add your proficiency bonus to initiative rolls. Additionally, on your first turn during combat, you have advantage on your first weapon attack roll any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in the combat yet.

Beast Master

The beast master archetype has the following addition:

  • Your beast companion adds its Constitution modifier to its hit points a number of times equal to your ranger level.
  • Your beast companion gains a number of bonus hit dice equal to your level.
  • When a beast companion is reduced to 0 hit points, it falls unconscious but is stable. In addition, when the spell revivify is cast on a beast companion, it does not consume the material components.

Favoured Enemy really feels like it should be a combat ability. Some of this is just the expectations of past editions… but classes should be designed with the assumptions of the past in mind. That’s the whole reason certain classes even exist.

When a class feature goes that much against your expectations of what it should do, that’s problematic design.

Also, it felt like the rangers needed something that worked in combat encounters at low levels. At first level, they had two exploration based abilities. Yes, they can hold their own with weapon attacks. But so can an elf wizard. That doesn’t mean the wizard class can do away with at-will magic. The ranger should still feel like a ranger at level 1.  

Giving them better initiative felt like a small perk, as did the ability to hit better during an ambush. This implies tactics for the class while increasing their average damage but not their maximum damage.


Shameless Plugs

If you liked this review, you can support me and encourage future reviews.

First off, I play in a Star Trek Adventures game every other Saturday at 3:15 EST, streamed on Twitch and archived on YouTube. I  also regularly post STA content on Continuing Mission.

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