B2 Keep Off the Borderlands

Blacked out by 19 bong O'clock and the modulo arithmetic of sobriety dice.

B2 Keep Off the Borderlands

Last report was our first session of Barkeep on the Borderlands, played with Electric Bastionland. Do read that first, to extract but a modicum of more sense from what is to follow. I confessed my emergent existential crisis regarding the fundamental truths of roleplaying versus gaming. The procedures for pubcrawling and drinking (a usage sobriety die) were more honoured in the breach than the observance. Yet, we had Big Fun™ (evident in the write up). Castellan Ty of Mindstorm (for each blog is but an imaginary sand castle in which to lay down our heads and dream) kindly assuaged my disordered mind on Discord: "seems alright." Well, there you go, the last word.


We were graciously joined by two new friends this session:

  • Father Pastry Cream: Pie Smuggler and Jovial Priest
  • Marlarke Hatiarti (the Great): Repressed Psychic and Guild Criminal
    And our original three players were returned in name and spirit:
  • Geanne: Revolutionary Duellist and Reformed Gambler
  • Rigella: Star Blessed and Parliamentary Candidate
  • Gurney: Newspaper Intern and Beleaguered Bouncer, who will surely go far in journalism, as their player kindly provided additional notes I had forgotten to elaborate this report


The second day of the Raves of Chaos dawned - dubbed the Orgy of the Orcs - and our party had conveniently slept right through until 17 bong O'clock (called them such as clocktowers loudly 'bong' the number of the hour). They came to half-buried in the sweet & sticky melting moments of what remained of Off-Central Park after the embiggening (a fortuitous result on the d20 for starting establishment).

Father Cream is immediately challenged by a pink-mohawk denim-jacketed punk to a spitting competition. Loosening his oral cavity up with a draught of holy water, and proclaiming he has an average 80 spits per minute rate, I deem he has put the hooligan most at risk, who must now roll his save: natural 20 (the worst result among Odd children). I deem he has acutely mucous plugged and is asphyxiating - a crowd forms - no one helps, and he gasps his last: "beat on... the brat." Father Cream reads his last rites. Grim!

Marlarke joins and they set off for Ship of Thesis, but are waylaid on the riverside near the intervening Three's Company. A caricaturist is quickly whipping up insulting portraits (with a magic brush, identified by the wand of detect magic). Father Cream describes his divinity to the artist, who paints a rainbow golem clutching "fishfuls of money" (a not wholly inaccurate portraiture). Nine fish-folk also rise from the river immodestly, and beseech the party for the clothes off their backs. Gurney largely disrobes and uses the fish-folk as a distraction, kleps the art supplies, then paints them up in a variety of human-like costumes (tuxedo, flapper, pharaoh, shining knight, etc.) Rather pleased, they set off to enjoy their newfound authentic humanity.

They figure they might as well check out Three's Company on the way. They find a pool shark has just swindled the blustering Chef out of his life's savings, and kitchen is closed. The shark boasts he'll play for any stakes on any game "on the table," and Marlarke cleverly challenges him to an opposed coin toss. The shark tries to avoid by excusing himself to the bathroom, but is forced to play, wagering the 50gp he just shook down the Chef for. Here Marlarke reveals the hidden superficiality of his psychic powers: to perfectly predict the toss of a coin made by another. Besting the hustler he regains the Chef's lost coin, and the gambler runs off to the bathroom having wet his trousers. Rigella secures another Royalist vote and they are granted free food and drinks for the night, proceeding to get slammed before it's even 19 bong O'clock. They partake of the baked lobster, which is written to give "extra life." I'm feeling generous, so let them roll 2d6 and keep the higher of that or current HP.

The party finally leave and next run afoul of a rumbling, peg-legged fisherman with a glass eye who is hunting the fish-folk to make into fish-fingers. He offers to sell his dinghy for 100gp as "it'll only slow me down!" but they don't take the bait. They swap a bottle of spirits for his glass eye, and discover it too is magical, though unsure for what purpose.

Coming finally to their goal, the Ship of Thesis, they are immediately accosted by a preppy student unionist who requires their aid. They negotiate a round of drinks in lieu of payment for the forthcoming job, but then Gurney (now blackout drunk and handed off to Marlarke's player for a spell) upsets the apple cart. He peers through the magic eye at unionist Preps Baleen and is shocked to find it's Freaky Friday: they've swapped minds/bodies (a wonderful result from quickly rolling on Knave 2E's Powers d100 table). And I confirm his request that this resets his sobriety die - the booze is of the body, not the mind.

They then follow the crowd out front as a wizard tennis match is starting up between a young upstart and a veteran, well past his prime. Wagers are being taken, and no one can really follow the game or rules, least of all as the pair of umpiring goblins seem to be watching different games and sometimes through extra balls or small creatures onto the field. Regardless, everyone makes off like bandits with winnings despite mutually incompatible bets, and they take a second round of classic D&D spell-themed drinks.

Jinkies! It's a potion miscibility table: Geanne becomes a swarm of locusts, Gurney begins to fly at walking speed (and so begins the hunt for a speedwalking aero helmet), and Marlarke becomes (at least outwardly) a walking, putrid corpse that knights are prone to smite between all their windmill-tilting. Rigella and Father Cream each aged backwards a few years and reset their sobriety die, and the former managed to achieve the remarkable feat of drinking herself back into sobriety (having been just about to black out).

Rathskeller Grubenfalle calls to them next, and they manage to piss off the indentured Elven minstrel by laughing at his jaunty ballad, but save the mood by inciting a flash-orchestra of the 25-strong local brass band. The menu appeared uninspired ("meat," "milk," and "beer") but they order the Milchbier Rouge and find its the same as the cheap beer, just in a red glass, but at the bottom of the glass is a red poker chip.

They find a secret tunnel under a patron's table, hypnotise the guard-dog-kobold, and enter the secret casino. They make a few unfortunate high-stakes gambles, then Gurney cum Preps Baleen slowly realises they are sat beside a small black dragon in a trench coat, who only wants free beer and to preside as an eternal autocrat over all kobold-kind. The dragon is tricked into peering through the magic eye at Preps (the player figuring they wanted the item in possession of their new body, but exposing the risk of the dragon just pocketing it). They make the save, and so next session, they will be in the form of a black dragon.


Shoulder to the Wheel. Refereeing both this and last session has been some of the most tiring gaming that I can remember. The closest experience I can otherwise recall was running Blades in the Dark, due to being both new to the game and running it with zero prep. Despite the wealth of material to draw from in the Barkeep module, I still felt the need to be constantly switched on. Swinging the spotlight around between players, bringing the provided vignettes to life, and looking for opportunities to reincorporate established fiction. We absolutely could play this material in a more ponderous fashion, but I couldn't bring myself to slow down once we got going.

Let it Ride. Last session I doubted the play of the wand of detect magic, but I ended up permitting it to be used to find other magic items (with risk of depletion). This lead to both the magic brush and magic eye items (the latter owing to a fitting random table roll) that were highlights of the session. In 'normal' games I am very hesitant to hand out powerful items, but this whole exercise has been an excuse to play feral, and it's been a lot of fun! Establishing the risk of wand depletion occurred as a conversation at the table, and I think any problems from imbalance or degenerate play can be sorted out with a quick conversation as people. We might get there with the magic eye, but I'd rather wait and see, rather than needlessly defang a great source of fun (for one player in particular, but I think the whole table enjoyed watching these antics).

Earning Buy-In. Despite my attention to spotlight sharing, I don't think we did perfectly this session. Some players definitely got more time 'leading the charge' than others, and one player in the debrief (I'm trying Stars & Wishes currently) identified their highlight as a moment occurring at the start of session, leaving me worried they didn't feel enough agency for the rest of the session. I consider spotlight sharing a goal for the whole table: just like when you play a pickup game of catch or football, everyone should be playing towards setting each other up, and making the most of it when it is their turn. A nice way I've seen this phrased is in Fellowship 2E by Vel Mini:

Don't steal the Spotlight...
...But shine on when you have it