Borderlands: Session Eleven
With a sudden character death halfway through the previous session, the final half was focused on resurrection and the related return journey towards civilization. Now that all members of the party are sucking oxygen again – and flush with cash and valuable art objects – they want to head back to town to resupply. As well as potentially shop for magic items. After that, details of their future plans are fuzzy. I pressed them to make some kind of decision (so I knew what to plan), and they acquiesced: declaring they were returning to the newly dragon-free ruins of Deer Los. They’re going back partially to seek revenge on the hobgoblins who murdered their companion, the Red Mage, but mostly because the hobgoblin looted their fallen friend, taking some hard won magic items, diamonds, and coins. And because he’s a threat to the region. But that last bit is mostly a justification. They want to steal back the loot stolen from their “dead” comrade.
I think I’ll start the session with a change of pace, and some city based adventuring. The party wants to resupply, sell treasure, look for magic items, and generally relax. I’d also like to suggest the party have baths and buy new clothes, which seems like something everyone would do with thousands of gold pieces after spending a month in the wilderness, but that seldom happens. Additionally, the Swashbuckler also wants to catch-up on some local business dealings, making this the time to add some complications to his entrepreneurial endeavors. Things went too smoothly last time, so there needs to be the hint of drama now.
In general it seems like an ideal time to have some courtly shenanigans, with the noble Swashbuckler pressured to help advance the family’s status or eliminate a rival. As a skilled adventurer with a source of funds, he’s suddenly a useful asset to ambitious figures. I’ll likely also have the party forced to pay some form of taxes, to bend the knee to the local ruler, who may also see the party as as useful proxies. After all, most of their deeds took place outside of civilization, making them largely unknown in local affairs, but formidable due to their advanced levels.
It will be tempting to have members of the party approached by different factions and given contradictory goals. Which also gives them a choice of allegiances and allies, while also having some working at cross purposes. But I’m uncertain how much intraparty conflict I want at this point, as the party dynamic is still recovering from the last time they were at odds.
The gods and their churches have also been underplayed in the campaign so far. At this point it might be nice to include some religious elements. When introducing a new campaign setting to players, it’s useful to slowly introduce details to the campaign, bringing in a new nation or faction or difference of the world. If you introduce everything at once then nothing stands out as memorable or significant. In this instance, there might be a new religious sects or even a cult causing problems in town. It doesn’t need to be an immediate problem that needs to be dealt, just an adventure hook or background element that can come up again at a later date. (As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I don’t want the campaign to focus on a singular threat or story-line, and seeding other events occurring in the world will be useful in the future.) Alternatively, perhaps a party member encounters a preacher or missionary during their travels. They might be invited to attend a service or given a religious token. I can introduce religion through a useful NPC.
The above are good scene to keep in mind as an aside. Given the party will likely spread out, each doing their own thing, the spotlight can drift away from individual players for a long period of time. Having a few modular scenes ready is a useful trick, scenes to be dropped in when I need to keep a player interested or feel less ignored. So I can shift the spotlight back and forth across the table, alternating between who’s active and who’s not.
Additionally, dealing with the hobgoblins narratively feels like it should be the bulk of a session. It should take the party some time to get to the fortress of the hobgoblin warlord. That means this session should focus on other activities and end with them able to spend the following session dealing with goblin slaying. The more asides and side events I have, the more I can put off a return to goblinville.
Adventure also tends to find Player Characters. It follows them. It feels like there should be some other easily solved trouble going on in the town. The above cult thread is one idea. Also, looking at the calendar for the game, it’s getting to be autumn, so farmers would be bringing in the harvests. It seems like an appropriate time for a pest in the fields. A bulette would be fun, as would a few ankhegs. But I dig kruthiks (from 3e’s Miniature Handbook and the 4e Monster Manual) and the party is a good level to wander through a hive of those critters. That might be a fun little side quest. They were included in the art pack of monsters provided on the Dungeon Master’s Guild, so I’m sure I can find some stat blocks for them, either to use straight or tweak.
For the fourth trip across the desert, I have some ideas for random encounters as well. There’s a few incidental encounters the players have just managed to avoid I can bring in. And I recently finished painting my Reaper Miniatures “Desert Thing” mini from the Bones 2 Kickstarter. I bet I can tweak a roper to fit that creature, maybe increasing the bite attack damage and giving it tremor sense. A creepy little beast.
I also need to make some magic item shops. Or rather, I need their stock. This is a tricky element of 5th Edition in that magic items are not assumed to be available for purchase, but players often still expect magic item stores. I should pregenerate a few limited inventories. I suppose stores never worked well in 3e/ PF/ 4e either, where magic items were super common, and stores had unrealistically large inventories of all potential magical items below a certain value on the shelves.
I wonder if there’s a good DMs Guild product of pregenerated magic item shops… This feels like a product that’d be available there.
Generally I just treat magic item shops like small treasure hoards that just have magic items. I roll for how many items are available and then roll on the appropriate tables. Which does the job but doesn’t always result in the best or most interesting items. I’ve been trying to focus on items that don’t just have static bonuses and giving more of the “fun” items. Items that are only semi-useful in combat but encourage creative problem solving and unorthodox use to abuse. Stuff that would never be seen in 3e/Pathfinder, as it would be too easy to just sell the magic item for gold to turn into a more obviously useful item that worked with your build. The Daern’s instant fortress or immovable rod get turned into that +2 sword or the quick runner’s shirt. I’ve been purposely eschewing items that just give a +1 bonus or other simple numerical effect.
As it unfolded, this was a session where a lot of nothing happened.
It began with a small encounter with a hill giant. The party had hidden from one before, so it seemed like a fun time to have a second meeting. Plus, I’d just recently watched The BFG, and the visual of giants hiding under patches of sod and using them for a blanket was fun, and seemed like it fit with hill giants. So a mystery hill appears and reveals itself as a sleeping giant. Which was then effortlessly dispatched after it rolled terrible for initiative and the Sharpshooter got a couple crits.
From there the party dealt with their business, shopped for magic items, negotiated partnerships, partied, had new items crafted, and more. There was a lot of haggling and searching for new items, as well as general arguing.
For me it provided some nice adventure hooks as well as actions that can ripple outward, having consequences in the campaign and the setting. A campaign like this is somewhat like being a master juggler. As stories are wrapped up, balls are taken out of the air and put aside. But to keep the audience entertained, a juggler needs to keep adding new balls, keeping them in the air and trying to avoid letting any noticeable drop. It gets boring and predictable if the juggler is just tossing a singular ball around. A session like this throws a few more balls into the air, although not always obviously.
In the long term, this session might potentially have laid the groundwork for some of the later events of the campaign. It put a lot of balls in the air. There might be quite a bit of potential fallout, both large and small. But, right now, it was mostly a session spent shopping and wandering around.
When I look back, I’m honestly a little stumped where all the time went.
But I think (almost) everyone had fun, and that’s the important thing. And as a combat-lite session, there was limited experience awarded, prolonging this level.
The session ended abruptly as the party was finally entering the kruthik lair. One of the players was called home and we were close to the end time anyway, so the session was called. I’d been prepared to seed the kruthik hook a few times during the adventure, but it never seemed appropriate until closer to the end. If it’s too obvious or forced and it was less of a chance for adventure and more a cluebat to the head. It was there as an option, and not a requirement.
Next session has pretty much written itself again: I have enough leftover scraps and adventure scenes to fill the bulk of the next session.
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