Borderlands Session 35 & 36

Still a few recap and brainstorming blogs behind where my campaign currently is (spoilers: it ended). 

In order to catch-up and because I have fewer thoughts, I’m combining a couple sessions… 

I started the campaign doing some light prep and planning, but as the game went on I definitely began to slack in my planning and writing for each week. Some of that was a changing work schedule and less time to write, while part of it was just laziness. It didn’t seem as necessary to plan the sessions out and I wasn’t as motivated for one reason or another. I’ve focused far less on set-piece encounters than I did early on. 

And, really, because the characters are now 13th level, they should be a lot more active in their destiny and planning, and I should be more reactive. It’s not up to me to lay out the entire plan and guide them by the nose anymore. They have the tools necessary to do whatever they want.

That said, the game also isn’t the “new shiny” anymore, which makes it hard to devote as many hours to planning.

I tend to fixate on whatever my current obsession is. I fall in love with an idea then prep and brainstorm endlessly for a few weeks and then it just gets shelved because of life and I never return to it. Too often instead of prepping for my D&D game I’ve found myself photoshopping character sheets for a theoretical Vampire: the Masquerade game while listening to L.A. by Night or brainstorming a mini-game set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

It’s hard to keep the focus on the game I’m running and not the games I could be running. Because the theoretical is many things while the actual is just one. It’s easy to fixate on potential fun you’re not having. 

It also helped that I’m a lot more comfortable with 5e and just more willing to throw monsters at the party, and feel more comfortable improvising scenes and encounters. That and the party is somewhat high level (level 12-14), so they have more ability to bypass plot or do highly unexpected things. 

Session 35

I’d seeded the idea of conflict on the Shoals of the Midsummer Sea in the previous session because I wanted a different location for Faeries to be battling that wasn’t just a forest or some magical mountain or stone circle. A sea was a largely arbitrary choice. When thinking about this session, I knew the PCs would want to continue their plan of “cutting the head from the serpent” by killing Baba Yaga, the defacto leader of the fomorians and under-fae. And having her potential location be on an island made sense. Plus, one of the PCs had aspirations of being a sailor, so it made sense to have at least one long scene on a boat. 

That and I just bought Ghosts of Saltmarsh and it was an excuse to use the ship combat & sailing rules, justifying that purchase somewhat. 

From there… stuff. I had few ideas. Some ocean encounters and a fomorian ship, but I wasn’t sure where the story was going to go beyond reaching an island. That part was largely going to be responsive to the PCs, how much time was left in the session, and the like. 

35 Post-Game

Where the adventure ended up going was into the dancing hut…

During the last Reaper Bones Kickstarter campaign, I’d picked-up a copy of said hut, painted it, and set it out to surprise the players while also letting them know they were in the right place. I placed it off to the side so they could ambush some fomorians doing an evil ritual and then stake out the hut. Instead they decided to charge right into the hut and hunt for Baba Yaga there. Oops.

Suddenly, I had to improvise a jaunt through a magical hut. Thankfully, I’d just finished looking through Tales of the Old Margreve from Kobold Press, which includes a map of said hut. So I pulled-up that PDF and went to town. I improvised the contents of each room, drawing from legend and fairy tales. As well as dumping magic items and gold on the party like it was going out of style. Because the campaign was ending and there was 2-3 combats left. 

Session 36

This session I blanked on entirely until the last few days prior. I knew this session probably had to end by reaching Baba Yaga but I had no ideas how to get from A to B apart from just having her show up. She didn’t seem like the kind of opponent who would just be sitting around waiting for enemies to reach her. 

Which is arguably fine. Not just fine, but ideal: at this level, the player characters are more active, and really should be initiating the plans and not just reacting to what is going on in the world. So I need to basically be passive and let the players tell me how they find her. Figure out where she’ll be and what she’s doing and let the players connect the dots. My prep should be planning what the villain is doing. 

Plus, the Baba Brawl likely isn’t going to occupy the entire session (but, as a boss fight has the potential to be long), so I need a filler encounter first to round out the session. However… if I have her encountered early enough, I can have that encounter immediately followed by the battle with a cursed elder aboleth whose soul was trapped in the hat of the Red Mage, a story thread I introduced in the first couple sessions and might want to tie off.

As an added wrinkle, the grippli rogue had failed a saving throw against a fomorian curse, and was all twisted and deformed. With disadvantage on all attacks, she couldn’t use Sneak Attack, and would be largely passive and uninvolved in the Baba Yaga fight. A terrible way to end the campaign. So I also needed to let the party rest overnight. They need to feel safe and things need to start somewhat slow. 

Looking for something interesting to do with this session I recalled an old Acquisitions Incorporated adventure I’d seen some time ago, where there was a modular dungeon, where chambers could slide about like a tile puzzle. Bam. Easy. A couple fomorians following that bit of exploration, and maybe a trap or two and that would get things started while also being memorable and giving me room to let the players get to or find Baba Yaga. Ideally, they’ll just reach her and I can end with meeting her as the session cliffhanger.

36 Post-Game

The initial bit occurred relatively slowly, with the players laboriously exploring the chambers and not realizing they could move. They assumed they were more modular and could be created and destroyed. But it was interesting when they realized, and they had fun screwing over the fomorians trying to invade and catch them. 

From there they figured out how to ambush Baba Yaga, putting themselves right beside her. Which worked for me, but would be the definition of a surprise round. Knowing they’d have a round to do as much damage as possible, the player characters drank rare potions, used powerful buff spells, and pulling out all the stops immediately prior. And then just proceeded to stomp Baba Yaga. It was an impressive crushing of what was supposed to be a scary boss. As always, I made a tactical blunder: I loved DMing and storytelling, but I am not a master strategist. So Baba Yaga didn’t use a Legendary Resistance when she should have (as I figured the damage from the prismatic spray) wouldn’t be too great, and she ended up blinded. Which dramatically changed the fight, as she was suddenly hit by every attack and critted multiple times. 

Oh well. Sometimes it’s okay for the PCs to feel like big damn heroes. 

Then I ended by Baba Yaga exploding in a burst of energy, as the magic she had been absorbing was released. Which, of course, freed the aboleth from its prison the Red Mage’s hat setting up the final session.

Shameless Plugs

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