Borderlands Session 29

This session was several weeks back, but I’ve been delaying posting this because a key aspect of my planning for this session took place on an episode of Behind the DM Screen  on the Tome Show network. But due to snow and likely the editor’s schedule, the episode hasn’t appeared yet, so I’m posting now.

From the start I knew this session was going to be about the dragonborn paladin, Scalus. Scalus joined the party late, as his player was brought in as a replacement when another player was suffering a severe case of “life” and was uncertain if they could continue attending the game. Because he was just forced into the game in the middle of a narrative and never had as strong a background, Scalus has just sort of been there.

When Scalus’ player found himself busy with work and likely to miss a session, rather than have him fade further into the background, I thought I’d have him separated from the group and sent on a side quest. That I’d make him the start of a session, rounding out the party with some pregens.

First Thoughts

Scalus was being pulled into the Shadow World. My version of the Shadowfell. Or “The Upside Down” as my players quickly nicknamed it. Which isn’t inaccurate.

My encounters pretty much write themselves: undead, maybe some evil death cultists, and more undead. Possibly an aberration of some kind. Basically a dash of horror. Really, once a DM has the potential creature type, making encounters for this level is generally pretty easy. PCs are roughly equal to a monster with a Challenge Rating equal to 1/3rd their level. Give or take. For pregens at level 8, I can use four CR 3 monsters for a decent fight, a CR  6 and two CR 3s, one CR 9, or something close to nine or ten CR 1s. I can pretty easily look at some CRs and throw minis onto the table.

There’s also have a number of spooky graveyard and bone strewn poster battlemaps to use. Which makes it easy to pick locations I want the encounters to be set.

I also kinda want to use a shadow dragon. Because they’re neat and don’t see nearly as much use as other dragons. This is overlapping with another thought in my head.

Bring the Boon

I’m trying to give the characters little small perks as the gain levels. Unique powers and small bonuses related to accomplishing personal quests and completing goals. And Scalus needs one. And he should get one at the end of this side quest.

I brought the character into the campaign a level behind everyone else, to avoid overwhelming him with a complicated character. And Scalus just never caught up. This session will help a little, but he’ll still be a tank that’s of a lower level than the rest of the party. As such, a bonus Hit Dice will really help him: boosting his overall hit points, but also letting him recover from fights.

Remembering the character of Dhamon Grimwulf from late Dragonlance novels, who had a dragon scale afixed to his body, it might be neat to do that to Scalus. Especially with the scale of a shadow dragon. A single black scale marring his body. But then I need to set-up a situation where that’s an outcome. What kind of situation would end with him and the shadow dragon being chums, or a hostile shadow dragon using its dying breath to ram a scale on him.

But with that neat story element, I do wonder if just giving him a Hit Dice will be interesting enough.

Casting of Pods

I was on a show. I’ll edit in a link once the episode goes live.

I discussed things and tapped the hosts, Sam and Jeff, for advice. Through their suggestions I was able to weave the disparate strands of my ideas together. I believe it was Jeff who suggested having a quest giver just assign the quest, which helped skip over the narrative “why” for the adventure. Since I wanted to bring in a shadow dragon anyway, this suggestion suddenly made it click: the quest giver should be the shadow dragon! Of course. He tasks Scalus to help his party in exchange for a trip home and maybe a boon.

Bam! With that one missing piece, everything else in the adventure clicks into place.

Post-Game Report

I made four pre-gens for the game: a gnome bard using the College of Threnody, which I wrote for my Heroes of the Mists Ravenloft book, a hexblade warlock from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, a blood hunter from the class written by Critical Role’s Matt Mercer, and a tactician (to further playtest the class I accidentally invented in an ENWorld thread).

I was very happy with how my tactician handled at the table, and the player really enjoyed the character. It was a nice combination. Always nice to get some extra playtesting in.

I chose to have that adventuring party already together, presenting them as local heroes who had participated in a number of exciting adventures that occured off camera. I did my best to set-up things as a crossover. As if this was some other campaign where Scalus was the “very special guest star”.

Things came together fairly quickly at the end. I had the central story and the assigned quest, with some brief investigation that had a main location and a couple possible red herrings. I was initially worried because of the potential problem of the PCs picking “the right path”, which might speed things along too fast and lead to a very short and potentially unsatisfying adventure. Thankfully, my players went the obvious route and hit both red herrings, padding the adventure while also resulting in a much more evenly paced session. This would have been a terrible published adventure, but it ran perfectly this one time at the table.

It’s nice when things work out. Fun was had, which is always the goal.

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.