Monday, September 23, 2019

Tales from the Borderlands – Episode 3 – Triumph & Tragedy

               This week’s adventure was full of ups and downs with the characters being overly happy with themselves, and also getting a bit overconfident as well. They had some great rewards, and some low points as well. To keep everyone up to speed I have an open table game that I run at my school for my students, each week the party’s members can fluctuate and this does cause a bit of hand waving on my part mostly at the end of the session stating, “and you get back to the keep safely” so that each week they can start at the keep. This week there was no new players, only people playing for at least their second go around. I had a dwarf, elf, fighter, and two thieves. Still no dedicated magic user or cleric, but they seem to know that and do not care.

                I am trying to get the party use to the idea of hirelings, without outright coming out and saying, “You guys NEED to hire some help.” Whenever they are in town, I mention that they can do the following things, 1) buy equipment 2) gather information 3) visit the church 4) talk with the local authorities 5) possibly hire someone. They seem good with 1 and 2, and even tried 3 this week, but I had to ram number 5 down their throats to at least hope they would get the idea. I had them meet Kip. Kip was a local street urchin that heard the group came back with lots of money, and no deaths. Kip wanted to go on the adventure. Kip asked to be their porter and torch bearer, for 30 silver a day and no share of the loot. What better deal can I throw at them? They legit hemmed and hawed over it, because “We can carry our own gear and torches?” I explained encumbrance, and not being able to use one arm with a torch, still they were unsure. Kip laid a sob story on them about trying to feed his family, and the thieves of the party took pity, and hired him. Off they went to the caves.

                Again they rolled no random encounters on the way there, and arrived promptly on the morning of the second day. They wasted no time and headed straight for cave G, and I was horribly nervous. As veterans of B2 know, cave G can easily turn into a TPK. They enter the cave system and instantly start heading down into the darkness. I continue to roll listen checks for the various beasts in this cave system, but they continue to luck out. They make it to outside the opening of a wider opening and they stop to listen for noises. One of the thieves hears the sound of cracking bones coming from down the tunnel. They decide to send the dwarf and the elf, due to their infrafvision, into the entrance to see what is happening. Again I roll a listen check for the creature with bonuses because of their armor, nothing. They end up seeing a massive creature eating the carcass of a humanoid. I play infravision exactly like “Predator” vision from the movie. They see heat, but making out details is not possible. The dwarf decides he wants to get a better look, and goes back to the party retrieves a bow, rags, and oil. He goes back into the cave lights the arrow and fires it over the creatures head. Needless to say the Owlbear was surprised, and screams and begins to charge. Upon hearing the scream the rest of the party runs, the dwarf is running too. The party with their head start clears the cave, but the Owlbear catches up to the dwarf at the cave entrance, stabbing him with his beak and bringing him to 1 hit point.

They loved this picture when I showed it to them.

                I inform them that the Owlbear is faster than most of the party, and they can run, but odds are it will chase down one of them. They decide to fight it in the open, and used decent tactics. They spread out initially and the Owlbear charged the Elf who was guarding Kip, the rest began using ranged combat to try and bring it down. The fighter took a round to get into flanking position, and they had a decent system going. The thieves with their bows were on fire, hitting about 80% of the time, and getting at least one critical. (Note: I read somewhere that Gary did not like critical hits and the double damage, he claims it throws the math off of the monsters a bit. I can see that especially with creatures having much lower HP. So instead of double damage, I went with a Gary suggestion and just max the damage on a 20. Keeps the rolls within the bounds of possibility.) Besides the thieves, everyone was down to 1 or 2 hit points by the end. Except poor Kip. Kip bravely stood his ground with the elf in the initial charge of the Owlbear, and took a natural 20 to the face. This made the thieves state, “We are not running from this fight, this thing MUST die,” and it did. They ended up taking the Owlbear’s claws, head, and getting several Owlbear steaks. As they continued messing with the body, I kept asking one at a time randomly to roll a d6. They’d ask, “What for?” I would reply, “Nothing, it’s fine.” Eventually they were like, “Is this for the Ogre trying to hear us?” I just sat back and smiled, they then packed their belongings and left. They never did go back and search its lair, maybe they will in the future.

                They returned to town, conquering heroes with their Owlbear head. It was taken and put up on the ramparts to signify civilization’s triumph over chaos. They brought Kip’s body back and took it to the chapel, they also asked the Priest to make them a Healing Potion, which he started upon. They searched out for Kip’s sister, Alania, only to discover they were twins and she wanted to get revenge. She was going to go with the party on their next trip and raise hell at the caves. The elf decided to go full Legend of Zelda and buy flute. He asked, “Do I know how to play it?” I responded, “Yes, you’re an elf. I am sure you spent 1 full year of your life devoted to music theory.” The fighter then asked, “Can I play it?” I looked coldly, “No, you are not a beautiful creature, like the elves.” They rested, made merry, and decided to head back to the caves.

You beautiful elven bastard.

                They finally got not one, but two random encounters. I was excited, I wanted them to have to deal with something that was completely not on their terms. Then I rolled the random generation, day 1 herd animals (deer), day 2 Halflings. Neither was a threat, they did get to talk with a “rival” adventuring group as the Halflings were headed to the caves too. They believe they had just gotten eight new NPCs to boss around, but since they didn’t try and negotiate with the Halflings they ventured into the goblin caves. The party decided to go into the caves they had not tried yet, cave A. I rolled and the usual surprise at the entrance of cave A was not there, and they entered in full formation.

                They wanted several yards into the cave and sprung the pit trap almost immediately, the elf managed to fall in and was reduced to 2 hit points, and more importantly they had to get him out. They were in no rush, and the guards from section 2 come pouring into the section and begin stabbing into the pit at the elf. They respond by firing some arrows back and the elf makes it back to the surface. I was hoping they would try and negotiate, because the Dwarf knows Kobold, and has a decent CHA. He tells them, “Get your gold and bring it to us, then leave the cave with your lives,” and proceeds to flub the CHA roll too. This just angers them, and they send a runner off into the deeper part of the caves, and continue to verbally spar with the party, with the occasional “F--- You Smoothskins”. With one round of completely good aim, the party kills all the Kobold with missile fire. They traverse the pit, and begin to raid the bodies. All the while I am telling them about the time passing. They find a lever on the other side of the pit to reset the trap, and head into room 2. Room 2 without guards is just generally empty, but the ransack it. When they come back to the T-section they notice 3 Kobold commanders,1 Kobold “King”, and 3 more Kobolds across from them, and 8 Kobolds blocking the way out of the cave.

Silly little monster, but they can be deadly.

                One of the brand new player of a thief immediately states, “Pull the lever, it will block the group of 8 from getting to us.” This decision most likely saved the party from a TPK. This battle went on for some time but here are the highlights. The king was slain by the dwarf hitting him with an oil flask and he burned to death over two rounds. The 8 Kobolds decided to enter the pit and try and climb up each other to scale the walls. The fighter decided to throw some of his Owlbear steaks into the pit to see what happened. I try to give everything a chance, so I decided to give the Kobolds a save versus magic with a +5 bonus to not care about the meat. They rolled a 1. Their make-shift ladders collapsed and they began fighting among themselves over who got the meat. The thief then pulled the lever again, sealing the squabbling runts to kill each other. The kobold commander were not slouches though, and managed to kill two party members, the Elf and the Fighter. This brings the death count to 4 this campaign, 2 elves, and 1 fighter, and 1 NPC. I now keep a dead pile on the whiteboard at school of the character sheets of the deceased, see the picture below.

The gone, but not forgotten. Students added the writing for flair.

                The 3 remaining party members looted the Kolbolds and found the King’s golden necklace worth 1,200 GP. You would have thought they won the Mega Millions Jackpot. They were dancing around the table, handing out high fives, and general cavorting. Now I need to consider the fate of the dead in the party. The first elf that died, never came back so I did not have to deal with it. These players do want to continue. I don’t want people to completely fall behind. I think my policy will be you can keep half of the XP of a previous character. Thus, there is a penalty for dying, but it is not a complete loss. I think this is reasonable, but tell me what you think in the comments. Do you have a better strategy for dealing with stuff like this?

                That was all for this week, the player continue to surprise me in multiple ways. They are absolutely brilliant in some situations, and completely clueless in others. Seems like just another day playing D&D.

Missed the other Episodes? Look here to catch up.

I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.


  1. Yeah, if your goal it so keep the party all at roughly the same level(s), then half the XP is doable for new characters.

    Fun episode. I'm totally shocked they didn't go raid the Owlbear's lair after killing it. We were all about the treasure when we played. Then again, maybe we were too "murderhobo"? Oh well, more fun for later! Enjoying the ongoing AARs.

    "DED"? Tell me you're not their English teacher....

  2. I honestly believe they forgot about it. As for the "Ded" the thought it was funny.

  3. Yeah, it was, "They're not just dead, they are DED!"

  4. I think there's something to be said for not trying to keep party members at comparable levels. Leaders and roles emerge. There's a potential for camaraderie when players know the new guy is squishy, and clawing your way up to level 4 means so much more when you had to earn every point.

  5. That is an interesting perspective that you do not hear often. I agree that which is hard fought often means more.

  6. Can't wait for the next episode :)

  7. I actually agree with Jarrett concerning making the new guys work for it all. I just figured you had decided on the course already.

  8. Hmm...T-Minus 3 hours till game time and I have to make a decision. I have to think on it.