Borderlands Session 31

Totally fell off the wagon in terms of blog writing. This session happened a couple months back, but I’m only finishing up this blog now…

The session planning was simple: at the end of the last game, my players opted to go on a side quest to investigate a mysterious location on the map. A quest seed/ adventure hook I worked into my setting guide, akin to the open-ended hooks you often find in published campaign books. I didn’t have any firm plans beyond the hook of it being an abandoned city that had been completely overgrown by plants and thorns.

Which is honestly kinda problematic. Because I had the loosest of hooks but no real adventure. The story wasn’t there, or I probably would have used the story immediately, rather than saving it for theoretical payoff. I had to create an adventure based on a hook I’d written because I had the hook and no adventure…

But the point of this campaign was to have the players find adventure where they wanted to go. So sidequest!

Map Remapping

In my previous session I created a city block from TerraClips. For a combat encounter that never ended up happening because the players decided their plan was stupid and it was better to lay low and not pick a fight.

With the adventures heading to an abandoned city encircled in thorns (like in Sleeping Beauty) I could reuse that set piece. I hit a dollar store and bought some twine, which I wrapped around the buildings to create the impression of a thicket. The idea was that passing over the vines would be difficult terrain or slow down travel.

I populated the buildings with a few plant monsters and some hints about what happened in the city, through the unusual medium of forgotten journals. I’m not entirely sure why people always just decide to leave their diaries lying around, but it seems that people in fantasy games can’t help but abandon notebooks full of their hopes, dreams, most personal of secrets, and vital clues for adventurers.

Seeding the Future

One of things I’m taking the opportunity to do with this session is to see a future villain. I know that following the current story, the next big arc will involve a war with the faerie courts against the fomorians. Who need a “boss”. A big bad. At the time of this game, my Reaper 3 Kickstarter rewards were expected to be arriving soon, which would include Baba Yaga’s dancing hut and Baba Yaga mini, providing a solid excuse to paint those up. And she’s stated-up in Creature Codex giving me an excuse to crack that book.

You can’t ask for a better villain than Baba Yaga.

With that in mind, I can tease her inclusion in the world here. Have her presence be responsible for an entire city being covered in brambles. That way her appearance doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Two Choices

I’m planning to end the game with a firm choice. The adventurers can head to the capital to confront the Godking of the Imperium—their plan for the past half-dozen session—or go and train at the monastery of the greatest swordsman in the kingdom.

It’s not really a firm choice, as the players could theoretically do both. However… time could pass swiftly in the fey realm and they could be due back the the River King’s Court immediately for the looming war with the underfey, making it an either-or choice. The dice are in charge of that. The dice are in charge of that. So there is a chance they could miss their window to overthrow the God-king…

But that just creates another choice: continue their quest to overthrow the ruler of the Imperium or fulfil their obligations to the River King of the Faerie Courts.

Post-Game Report

The brambles were a little underwhelming in play. At this level, control plants kinda minimized their impact. And because I’m dumb and had the plant monsters mostly inside buildings, the brambles didn’t really have an in-combat effect, mostly delaying people from getting to a combat, just making it harder for them to participate. Aka watching and not playing. It was less fun than expected.

Given my party is 12+ level, small fights outside of a dungeon just don’t work as well: monsters need to be that extra bit deadly for a one-off fight. Which can be slow and make for an unsatisfactory filler encounter.

I keep forgetting I need to turn up the danger to 11.

As such, I ended up dropped a few of the less exciting combat encounters and just focused on the exploration of the ruins. The encounter became more narrative in nature, which was tricky with the giant set-piece terrain piece on the table. The players wanted to move their miniatures about, but there wasn’t really a reason to do so.

It also turned out to have been a mistake having the source of the brambles absent: it felt anticlimactic. Maybe it feel feel more important later, when Baba Yaga is revealed to be behind events in the Feywild, but after the weak exploration this just fell flat. It made the players feel like they had wasted their time on the sidequest.

This was a big reason this blog was so delayed. It was such a disappointing session I kept putting off revisiting it.

The session did end well at least. When I revealed the Monastery of the Immortal Master was a day away from the capital, the swashbuckler leapt at the opportunity to train, happily taking the bait and causing some fun party interactions as they tried to justify their largely selfish decision to fulfil a personal quest.

Of course, there was also the twist: access to the monastery was magically barred. I’d previously sketched out a map to the location, writing some “elven” words in UV ink. So I could reveal the “moon runes” with a UV light. Which made for a neat revelation.

And the dice gods were kind to the players. I rolled super low and the entire time at the monastery would slow compared to time in the feywild. I had planned a one or two week training session, but since time wouldn’t pass it made sense to change my mind and have them training for a couple months. You don’t get better at swordsmanship overnight.