Updating Borderlands II: Storytelling

Last week, I talked about the mechanics of updating the Pavis and Big Rubble and Borderlands campaigns. This week, I’m going deeper into the other problem; the adventures are written with certain storytelling assumptions in mind, many of which no longer hold.

First of all, characters are explicitly illiterate. They arrived in New Pavis and they didn’t read and sign and keep adventurer certificates. They did get given tokens, though, and an Irripi Ontor sage did the papyruswork, and they got warned about the taxes and not wearing metal armour. Most things stayed the same, I just got rid of the stand-out from the RQG rules.

Finding their feet in town was easy, because the barman at Geo’s was from their clan. That’s another difference with RQG. Clan and community are much more important. There were going to be a few Varmandi exiles in New Pavis, and a POW roll put one in a convenient place, and he even knew a bit about their families. An exiled group is still a group, and the clan structure, and the Sartarites sticking together, is important. There’s an Orlanthi quarter, and to some degree I’ve made that generic Orlanthi, but I also know who the other Varmandi are, and there’s a non-zero chance of meeting some Orleving or other Malani, and the internal troubles aren’t going to go away.

When the group chose to sign up to the Duke’s service, they already had a fair idea of how they would be treated as adults. It wasn’t a first RP experience, and the oath they would have had to make would have been something off-putting. I was pretty sure the players would look at it as breaking immersion, and the PCs would not want to swear to it, in particular as I was asking them to spy on Raus, as a mission given by the NPC rebels in New Pavis. So, I decided that Raus would be aware of that possibility, and be willing to work with it. He needed people who could be relied on, and he didn’t need to give them any secrets, and he didn’t need to bind them to him permanently or with great vows. The Humakti Rune spells Oath and Detect Truth are both highly usable here, so that you can get the PCs and NPCs trusting each other enough without throwing in another paper document, and without using rules that might surprise them OOC. If it’s the very first contract they’ll be taking on, and you want to define the rules that way, do so, but to me they felt like things that Orlanthi would not want to swear to. In particular, the Varmandi are hard-headed and proud, and these PCs are very Varmandi.

The tour around the area didn’t have many breakable bits of plot, and the PCs had a lot of sympathy for the Men and a Half, and for their determination to die rather than to cost their people ransoms. The only thing that I wanted to be sure of was not to put people off Raus and Daine when there was the execution, so Daine gave the White Lady the chance to hang back, and I didn’t make anyone kill anybody. They just witnessed it, and got to make a few Scan rolls1…to start working out how important the newtlings were, even if they had no idea what seeing them *meant*. They were already veterans, and it was going to make them more annoyed to be tested than it was worth; that was an OOC decision, but I decided that Raus, Daine, and Varna were good judges of people. They were just watching to see reactions, and that way I’d have better IC buy-in to these people.

We have a Shaman with the group, so pretty early on it became clear to him that Raus was also a Rune Master of Daka Fal, although they had no shared ancestors. I played up the details of the people a lot, making them intriguing, save for Jezra, who was just a little brat, because she could be.

Having a Chalana Arroy healer pretty much breaks Muriah’s Revenge, and having the rules for diseases as things that can be dealt with by PCs boots the rationale for it onto the Zola Fel and piles rocks on. So, this is an ideal example of how to change things. If you don’t have a White Lady, you’re still going to have plenty of people who look at the rules and go ‘hang on, how is this working?’

I figured that the White Lady would be able to tell as soon as disease arrived, so I swapped around Muriah’s Revenge and the Tusk Rider episode. That meant that the group were out dealing with ducks when the White Lady felt there was a problem, although not one she could put her finger on. It also meant that there wasn’t a slow-rising disease problem during which the healer was sent away on a rescue mission. The adventurers were key to working out what was happening, and I made it a sudden, real problem for them to deal with. That did mean that there was an outbreak of disease, so I discussed with the White Lady what needed to be done. I could have worked things out so that it was more appropriate for her to go deal with the problem, but instead she stayed back by the growing fortification and managed the disease, while playing an NPC that the group knew well, and that she had helped to define.

The important part there is that if she hadn’t been able to find an NPC, I’d have either defined someone, or redefined the problem, such that she could go out and deal with it. The PCs were the people who worked out what was up, in part because they had her. And, because they had her, they then felt obligated to go deal with the problem. Meanwhile, the White Lady managed the problem as an expert, and when Duchess Varna got involved and came down with the Shakes, cured her. It was far more satisfying than having someone die outside their control, and fulfilled the emotional purpose; it bound them more tightly to the Lunar group. They’d helped, they’d been in control, and the Duke now owed them.

After that, I had the players talk about a Heroquest to deal with the remains of the disease, and that led into the kidnap of Jezra, while everyone was busy. It also put them in the ascendant over the Tusk Riders, because one of them was killed2“Darlanth, all those people are celebrating, but you seem to be holding someone’s head in your hand, by the hair.” by a PC in the Heroquest3Odayla got pretty damned angry, and tore his opponent apart – his opponent was one of the Tusk Riders sneaking around to manage the kidnap.. Thus, they were the ideal people to send on this rescue mission…

They had flight magic. They had the ability to sneak up. They had Daine and an army causing a distraction. It still nearly went sideways, and they ended up chasing the main bad guy down the stairs in Tusk Rider Central.

That’s where I hit them with the 12m drop into the pool surrounded by skeletons. I’d say I’m sorry, but some things are just too classic to ignore.

Soon, we’re going to do Five-eyes Temple. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • 1
    …to start working out how important the newtlings were, even if they had no idea what seeing them *meant*
  • 2
    “Darlanth, all those people are celebrating, but you seem to be holding someone’s head in your hand, by the hair.”
  • 3
    Odayla got pretty damned angry, and tore his opponent apart – his opponent was one of the Tusk Riders sneaking around to manage the kidnap.

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Good post, and I like the choices you made as a GM.
The 12 m drop is a surprise just as “Oh, the Orlevings are raiding us!” so it is OK as long as you don’t overdo it.
I had fun running Five-eyes temple, I hope it goes well for your group too! 🙂

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