Borderlands 27

This session is really just a continuation of the previous session: a travel adventure from point A to B as the party hits a few locales of note and encounters a few minor wandering monsters. Thankfully, I don’t need to worry too much about pacing. I can end as they just reach their destination, or if there is time I can continue after they reach the town, rest, and then plan their next move. If they rapidly blast through events then they just spend more time in town and I improvise and react to their unpredictable shenanigans.

This is also the second session where I’m down a player. The dragonborn paladin is absent for two weeks because of work related overtime (he’s a teacher and too busy marking exams to come out and play).

Over Hill and Dale

The player characters have mostly reached level 10 or 11. At this point of the campaign, travel adventures have become less interesting. Teleportation is often blamed for ruining travel at this tier, by making long journeys too easy. But this is less of a problem and almost more of a cure for lame travel adventures. At high levels, most characters have so many resources that a single encounter in a day of travel cease to be threatening. It’s hard to put a creature on the board that will prove a genuine challenge to a fully rested party that is freely able to nova. In 5e this is even harder as even non-spellcasters now have limited use powers that can be spent to maximum effect in a short fight.

There are four ways around this problem. The first is simply to have multiple encounters in a single day, thus sidestepping the problem. The second is changing the rate of recovery, so a “long rest” is a week rather than overnight. Effective use of terrain is the third method, by sapping resources through exploration encounters or natural hazards that can drain away hit points or make a single fight more devastating. The last solution is to using much more powerful monsters.

I don’t want to change how long a rest is for a single session, and I had a three-encounter adventuring day last session. So this session will likely be a couple higher Challenge Rating encounters, possibly supplemented with terrain.

Surprise Worm

Knowing I can throw a high CR at my rested party, my first choice becomes a purple worm. I like them and even have a mini, but haven’t used one before. They’re a little high, but I imagine they can take it. I might even have to buff the hit points a little.

My players are experienced gamers and know how to build characters. In general they’re going to rip through monsters straight out of the Monster Manual, and this has only grown worse as the party has gained levels. I regularly give my critters 75% hit points rather than 50%.

Knowing my party will likely rip through it, and wanting something a little more memorable than an encounter in a flat, empty plain, I’m thinking an ambush on a cliff-side pass. A narrow walkway with a cliff face on one side and a drop on the other. It’s easy enough to line up my Dungeon Tiles boxes for the path, with the drop being the cliff. And then I can place some styrofoam terrain along the top of the tile boxes for the cliff, so the purple worm can burst through the cliff, attacking a creature on the trail, and then potentially burrowing back into cliff.

Slave to Lore

The current overarching goal for the party is to venture into a foreign nation (The Grigorian Imperium) where they plan to assassinate the God-King Grigor, thus freeing the slaves held by that nation.

I’d also like to have some of this session focus on humanizing the people of the Imperium (the Grigorians) as well as those who worship the God-King and follow the state religion (Grigorites). Possibly even differentiating the two.

Grigor is basically a giant racist who believes humans are the best of the D&D races, and others are somewhat inferior. Specifically the planetouched races (tieflings, genasi) who lack a soul. And as they lack a soul, it’s not immoral to use them for slave labour. Slowly reiterating these points to the party is necessary at these points, and over the next few sessions I’ll have to repeat it to them through the voices of various NPCs. Because as any teacher will tell you, the best way to learn some information is to hear it multiple times. And since I don’t just want to talk AT the players as the DM but TO the player characters as an NPC, I need to set-up situations where NPCs will be introduced who can fill this role of repeating the world lore.

Meeting an escaped slave is one way. This is useful for providing the other perspective (that of the slaves) but also because they can provide a route through the mountains. Having a safer route helps speed things along.

Encountering some “benevolent” Grigorites might also be nice. This is dangerous as I don’t want to present a religion of hate and racism overly positively. But I also don’t really want them to be cartoonish one-dimensional fantasy Nazis. They need to be realistically complex people who are capable of both goodness and evil who just happen to have a religion that believes something monstrous.

Plus, this way I get to ask the question “is a horribly unfair and racist society better than no society?” Which is a valid concern in a crapsack largely post-apocalyptic world. I need to set-up any potential consequences of having the God-King assassinated—presuming the PCs succeed—so the fallout seems natural and not arbitrary. Because you can’t just kill the living god of a religion AND the head of state without causing some problems.

Post-Game Report

Things pretty much went as expected. The two combat encounters were easy and largely unremarkable diversions. The kind of paint-by-numbers combats that occur when everyone rolls adequately and all the strategies go off as planned. Wholly forgettable with little risk and entirely predictable expenditure of resources. Textbook and not boring at the time, but not particularly exciting.

What was memorable was the filler roleplaying encounter that occurred early on in the session. I had planned to have some halflings encountered in the previous session as the party passed through a town. But I had forgotten as the party went all murder-hobo and stole an innocent shopkeeper’s livelihood.

To add a break to the travel, I added a small band of halfling traders. Most of the halflings in my world live in the frozen tundra facing away from the sun, in the ice and snow of perpetual night. I hadn’t done anything with them yet, and wanted to include this people and their culture, just as a not to halflings being different. Trying to emphasize their nature as wild hunters, I decided to reference Netflix’s [i]Castlevania[/i] and had the halflings say they only cared about three things: things they could eat, “eff”, or turn into sled. Which broke my wife and became a recurring joke that session.

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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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.