Borderlands Session 34

WAR!

This session picks up with the PCs engaged in wartime shenanigans in the middle of a battle in the Feywild. 

I think I’ll start with some NPCs in a battle. I’ve wanted to do a story with a Firefly opening (again) for a while. A bunch of NPCs fighting in a hopeless war, winning a small battle or two before things go south. 

This has a couple purposes. First, I get to show the passage of time. The war isn’t just being fought over a weekend. Time has passed, people have died, and many battles have been won or lost. Second, I get to give the PCs a big hero entrance. Have them arrive as the battle is going sideways, like Thor at the end of Infinity War. So the NPCs the PCs have known for 90 minutes are about to die and lose their fortifications when the PCs arrive in a burst of magic. Which also helps remind the players that they’re no longer common, weak dungeon delvers but these grand explosive heroes capable of incredible deeds.

Commando Mission

With high level adventurers, you want them doing small but essential missions during wartime. Instead of fighting on the frontlines, you really want the PCs to undertake small essential missions: blow-up a bridge, liberate a POW camp, disrupt enemy supply lines, etc. They’re basically Captain America and the Howling Commandos, doing all the special missions.

Not that the frontlines would be bad. In earlier editions, 14th level PCs could all but win a war themselves, only being hit on a “20” and being able to drop two-dozen mooks each round. 5e makes this a little flatter, as the fighter might miss and will be hit more often, and fewer spells keep the wizard in line. Plus, you can easily have a high level swarm (or mob) of mooks that fights as a single creature. 

I could spend a half-dozen sessions letting the PCs act as the special forces, but this campaign is coming to a close. I need one or two key missions that highlight how they’re winning the war.

In this case, I’m thinking of something called “bone gates”. Which are your standard MacGuffin allowing the enemies to teleport between locations more freely. Which is a pretty serious advantage. Meanwhile, the bone gate Grand Central Station might be protected by one of Baba Yaga’s Horseman (from mythology… and the Tome of Beasts), which gives the session a “big bad”. 

The second half of this adventure should be pretty easy. There should be a central location where the MacGuffin Stargates are stored and where the boss fight probably takes place. And a few smaller chambers with guards, possibly with a few storerooms. It’s easy to grab a few poster dungeon maps or throw some dungeon tiles on the table and have a few rando sentry encounters. 

War Table

It might also be fun to cast the players into the role of general. Have a vague amount of troops that can be used as reinforcement, with the PCs choosing which fronts to reinforce and where to defend. 

I can present four locations where battles are taking place and let the PCs decide how many to reinforce with troops. A vague amount of troops really, because if I say “sixteen fey battalions” it doesn’t mean any more to the players. 

This implies a situation where they can reinforce all four, but likely with heavy losses or still losing the battle. Or have a decisive victory in two locations but likely sacrificing two others. But as I just want them to feel like generals for 10 minutes, these shouldn’t be “real” locations that have seen lots of play or the PCs have visited: I don’t want a game stopping debate where they weigh the pros and cons of whom they wish to save.

Post-Game Report

The actually session happened a few weeks back, but I’m still behind on doing these blogs. Hopefully I can catch back up (just in time to stop DMing for a while).

So….. yup, things happened. Everything else went off as expected, which leaves little room for dissection.

For the “too hard” monster fight that threatens to TPK the low level soldiers until the true PCs show up, I did use a couple of my Huge sized bulettes. Which was really an opportunity to playtest them before throwing them onto my blog. As I rolled five “1s” during this fight, it was terribly one-sided. But thems the dice. It was a good reminder that CR10+ monsters should have multiple small attacks rather than all-or-nothing attack at the mercy of those 1s.

For the introductory fight, I used official pre-gens from the D&D site for the characters, and left just a little time for bonding at the start of combat. I probably should have had some other task or conflict going on to prompt some roleplaying, but the players seemed to have fun bickering and teasing each other by playing opposites and exaggerating their Personality Traits.

During the boss fight, the Horseman from Tome of Beasts was a little anemic in terms of damage by himself, but his use of the fire shield spell hurt the PCs.

I also had the fun opportunity to use a couple fear smiths: monsters I wrote that were published in the Tome of Beasts

In an amusing bit of player shenanigans, one player kept playing the low level flunkie from the opening scene: a drow rogue that kept following and shadowing the party for the rest of the adventure. Just because. It was ridiculous and they didn’t really impact the fights much (being a third the level) but it was fun. And the player was mostly careful to avoid derailing or negatively impact the rest of the table’s actions or hog the spotlight. This is important, because you don’t want one player to have two turns and really monopolise my (the DM’s) time or have their low level NPC cause problems and be a disruption at the table. Things still have to be fun for everyone. In this case a rogue that appeared, attacked, and hid worked fine.

Following the fight with the horseman, the PCs took him captive, so they could interrogate him. This should impact the next session, serving as a lovely adventure hook.

Shameless Plugs

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