Borderlands Session 27

In the last session of my Borderlands Campaign, the party teleported to the far side of the map in order to venture to a distant theocracy (or thearchy) in order to foster a slave rebellion at the urging of one of the new PCs in the group, possibly aided by assassinating the god-king who rules the nation.

It’s a curious choice of activity and one prompted by the backstory of a PC rather than overt scripting on my part. It’s partially what I wanted from the campaign, albeit a bit more dramatic of an upheaval for the world than I was expecting. While I want the world to change and shift in response to the actions of the PCs, this might be a larger change than I was planning for. Removing a head of state is a big change.

We’ll see how it goes.

But this is still a half-dozen sessions in the future. Right now, the PCs still need to make it to that nation, crossing a deadly, monster inhabited mountain range. The group planned out their route for the next couple weeks of travel, meaning I can loosely plot out the next couple sessions with some degree of certainty. It’s nice to have a concrete plan.

Initial Encounters

I called my session slightly early last week, rather than improvising an encounter I was largely unprepared to run. I was uninspired and drawing a blank.

As the group is high level, a fight with some big humanoids might be fun. I don’t think this party has faced trolls before, and they should be able to take out quite a few at one times. Three or four at least. That might be fun.

And I have some variant trolls in my 3rd Part book Revenge of the Horde by Nord Games, and a Huge size troll makes for a lovely and terrifying boss. (Disclaimer: I did some editing for the book. So I have a soft spot for that product and pull it out whenever I have the chance.) Again, I have some pretty big troll miniatures that can work nicely for said boss, and I do like basing encounters on minis.

Aside: Of all my minis, trolls seem to come with the greatest variation on size. Most of my WotC trolls are fine, but I have a couple teeny-tiny Pathfinder trolls that look like Medium Creature on Large bases. And the next Paizo troll looks Huge on a Large base.

However, looking at the part’s current location in my campaign setting Word Document, the region they are passing through is rife with necrotic energy and overlaps with the Plane of Shadow (aka the Shadowfell aka the Shadow World). So an undead encounter might be more suitable. I can save the troll encounter for later. Heck, even later in the session would be fine, as trolls might work just as well later on, when the party actually hits rough terrain. That becomes a potential climax for the session, or cliffhanger for next session.

Returning to the first encounter, there’s no shortage of undead I can use. Perhaps a bunch of banshees and wraiths. That might be fun and nasty. Nothing says “dead elves” like a banshee. Despite the low CRs, you don’t want to use more than two or three banshees in a single encounter: that’s a lot of saves against AoEs, increasing the odds someone will eventually flub the saving throw against their death wail. Just knowing that if they fail they’ll be knocked to 0 hit points will add some terror to the banshee’s presence.

Secondary Encounters

After the above, I have two good tentpole combat encounters. Along with some travel and roleplaying, this is probably enough for a session. But to aid the exploration aspect of the game, I should add/ brainstorm some incidental encounters for the journey. I discussed incidental encounters in a blog post a long time back. To quickly reiterate, these are small little sites of interest that can break-up the journey and make it more than “You travel across the hills for three days. Nothing happens.” These might be odd ruins, signs of monsters or game, places of mystery, or just animals being weird. Heck, they can even be pausing at the edge of a mountain and enjoying a magnificent view of the surrounding valleys. Something to include in the travel montage. Ideally, these should be interesting enough that the players ask about them or interact with them. So they’re active and engaging in the game and not just listening to me talk.

While I have to combat encounters planned, and have some ideas for a framework to set-up one of them to be more than a random wilderness encounter, it won’t hurt to think of a third or even a fourth encounter. Combat can be swingy in 5e, and a quick nova and some good rolls can cause a combat to rocket past. It won’t hurt to have some smaller encounters on standby to pad the session.

As I mentioned last blog, just having a list of a half-dozen ideal monsters can help. I don’t need a full random encounter table so much as a few options for flavourful fights.

Surprise Plotting Twist

Okay… when writing this blog, I used the phrase “I can loosely plot out the next couple sessions with some degree of certainty. It’s nice to have a concrete plan.” Then, the following day, a player hit me with a warning that they might be missing the next couple sessions.

Crud.

That will derail things. And I hate forcing the story to progress with a PC absent. So much so that I normally I have a rule against playing twice with a player absent. But we’re finally moving along with a homebrew story following the Tomb of Annihilation.

However… the story will be starting in a region where planar energies are bleeding from the Shadow World into the Mortal World. It doesn’t take much to imagine someone accidently stepping from one world to the other via a shadow crossing. The character could be snatched up, and go missing like that, justifying their absence from the story. And then return, possibly after more time has passed for them. This PC also joined the party some time after the campaign started, and was a level behind. Which has been slightly awkward since they were the tank. But it occurs to me that if they are in the Shadow World and having side adventures, this might be an excuse to slip them some extra experience. Also… it might be fun to do a Shadowfell one-shot. Four pre-gens for the other players and then tell the story of the dragonborn pally’s return to the mortal world, letting them be in the spotlight for some time. Do some additional playtesting of homebrew options, like my tactician class. Maybe the artificer if WotC can get that out in time.

Post-Game Report

The initial encounter(s) was nicely terrifying, as two of the four PCs eventually failed saves against the banshee. Meanwhile, another PC failed repeated saves against the Energy Drain of wraiths and specters, and had their maximum hp drastically reduced.

Following the first batch of undead, I had more “spawn”, giving the PCs just enough time to take a short rest but not the long rest they craved. They attempted to continue their rest and more undead “spawned”. Since the party was attempting to rest after a day of travel they had to forced march and hope to get out of the region rife with undead and necromantic energies.

If you *really* want to hurt a party, force them to forced march overnight. Everyone racked up ridiculous levels of exhaustion with just a half-dozen hours of extra travel. I followed this with a final very simple undead fight, which felt much harder given how weakened everyone was.

The rest of the session was generally pretty generic. Saving villagers, killing trolls, minor dungeon crawling. While fun, this was largely like every other session of D&D. If you’ve done it once, you’ve done it a dozen times. Really, I just wanted to have the adventures do something heroic so their reputation and “legend” would grow and spread in that region as well.

Also memorable was an improvised encounter in a small town. The party stopped to ask about magical potions, hoping to find one that removed exhaustion, if such a thing existed. The only one that does is potions of vitality, which are Very Rare and thus 5,000 gp or so. Possibly more. After finding out the price, the PCs opted to just sneak into the vendor’s wagon and steal them rather than pay. A bit of a dick move. Murder hobo behaviour at its finest. Hopefully I can find an excuse to have the party visit that area again and show the consquences of that bit of theft.

Things are also on track for where I expected the party to be in this journey. While I haven’t given much thought to the next session or leg of the journey, it should progress easily enough.

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.

I have T-shirts available for sale over on TeePublic!

I have a number of PDF products on the DMs Guild website including my first level 1 to 20 class, the Tactician. I’m excited by this and think it turned out surprisingly well, despite almost being an accidental creation as the result of message board discussions.
Also available are products like the Rod of Seven Parts, Traps, Diseases, Legendary Monsters, a book of 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, but all the entries have been updated, edited, and expanded to almost two-hundred pages of advice on making your own fantasy world.