Game Day: Closing the Frontier

After four years, 53 episodes, and over 200 hours of gaming, we closed the book on our Obsidian Frontier campaign for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

Begun as one of two playtest campaigns for 5th Edition, we had so much fun with the campaign — and the game — that we transitioned from “playtest” to “ongoing” campaign without really thinking about it. This is in striking contrast to our 4th Edition playtest campaign, which several players didn’t participate in and flamed out after a few sessions when it became clear it wasn’t right for our group.

Obsidian Frontier was set on the Pomarj peninsula in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting. It took place in the Common Year 514, not long after the Pomarj had been overrun by humanoid hordes and 70 years before our group’s namesake Blackrazor Guild campaign.

The campaign demonstrated that 5th Edition, unlike 4th, could match the feel of our Greyhawk campaign. Less complex than 3rd Edition and with less ability to finely describe the mechanics of the campaign world, 5th Edition nonetheless allowed us to re-capture our Greyhawk. In part, that’s because it harkened back to the 2nd Edition roots of our campaign (sans the THACO chart and level limitations on demi-humans). It made the game fast and fun while still leaving enough customization to make each character feel unique.

Obsidian Frontier and its sister campaign Heart of Darkness (set 60 years after the Blackrazor Guild campaign) also demonstrated that D&D 5th Edition would support high-level play. That opened the door for the return of our original Blackrazor Guild characters, all of whom were at least 15th level (and a few were over 20).

Responsibility for the game bounced between myself and my friend Nate, effectively creating different “seasons” of the campaign as we each executed our own story arcs. This setup also gave me a chance to my own characters:

  • Telthanas, the long-suffering scribe of the Griffins Guild who read and filed field reports without adventuring himself (at least until he finally joined the players on one of their quests)
  • Odothar Bronzearm, a former henchman to a corrupt noble in the Great Kingdom who fled his former country and lord to create a new life on the Frontier. An apt trainer in weapons and armor, he made it his mission to protect the little people, no matter the cost to himself.

The thing I enjoyed most about the campaign was how it truly functioned as a prequel. Our newer players didn’t have much experience with the original Blackrazor Guild campaign, aside from tales told ’round the table but our veterans knew what the future looked like. As sessions played out, we’d talk about what had come before (what would come in the future?) and think about how things got that way.

Our characters were present for the day when Obsidian Bay went from being an overgrown village full of refugees to a fledgling city-state with a formal government (and helped negotiate with the dragon that made it all possible). They rubbed elbows with the mages who would go on to form the Obsidian Tower, the arcane order established to protect Oerth from extraplanar incursions. They helped establish the Library of Obsidian Bay.

They also had plenty of their own stories to tell. The adventurers led a humanitarian relief effort to help Obsidian Bay recover from a blizzard that destroyed most of its ramshackle structures and threatened to kill hundreds of refugees. They fought all manner of threats on the frontier, including roaming bands of gnolls, hill giant clans and ol’Triple Threat (a wyvern of unusual size and age whom they slew). They dealt with the Green Blight, a green dragon who’d taken over a portal to the Feywild and used it to transform southeastern Pomarj into a verdant expanse. They found an ancient clockwork machine that could predict the future and saved the Pomarj from a mad druid intent on transforming people into trees.

They inadvertently helped found the Wyvern Empire, a fiefdom of lawful evil worshippers of Hextor, god of war and tyranny by giving certain cursed magical items to a former adventuring companion (introducing an unresolved mystery in the process, as the Empire doesn’t exist in the Blackrazor Guild era … so what happened to it?). And finally, in their last adventure, they saved the Pomarj — and perhaps Oerth itself — from an incursion by the Fading Land of Necros and the lich lords that ruled it.

Many stories remain untold.

  • Burgell, the gnome bard reincarnated as a dwarf, still needs to fake his death to get out of an arranged marriage.
  • Zaphrym, the gnome sorcerer, has a baby behir to raise.
  • Finn, the halfling ranger, needs to perfect his pudding recipe and figure out of being a beast master is really his best life choice (side note: the beastmaster ranger in the original D&D 5th Edition release feels underpowered compared to other 10th level characters, despite having a half-winter wolf animal companion).
  • Telthanas, the aforementioned elven scribe and arcane trickster, needs to figure out if it’s possible to tame the displacer beast kittens that he and his friends found while adventuring.
  • Hawkwind, the Flan barbarian, needs to establish his holy order of Pelor, god of sun and healing.
  • General Kor, former adventuring companion of the heroes and leader of the Wyvern Empire, needs to be dealt with.

And that’s only a sample. The campaign could likely run for another 50 sessions if we wanted it to, but there’s something to be said for ending the campaign on a high note. Plus … this isn’t necessarily the end. We’ve already talked about bringing it back for the occasional one-shot at Nuke(m)Con, and there’s nothing stopping us from bringing back Obsidian Frontier for another season of play. For now, though, the frontier is closed and we’re moving on to new adventures in other realms … and other worlds.

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My character sheets for Telthanas and Odothar, with their corresponding dice. Credit: Ken Newquist.

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