The Secret of the Key Islands – Campaign Outline
Last week I shared my thoughts on a fan-made book that translates the Borderlands video game series to a tabletop RPG experience, using Savage Worlds. I’ve been enamored with Savage Borderlands for more than six months. After all, Borderlands is one of my all-time favorite video games. As a result, I’ve been working on a campaign, titled The Secret of the Key Islands.
Anytime you see bolded text in this article, it’ll eventually point to a specific article on that topic. Just a heads up.
The campaign will be set, once again, on Pandora. This time, however, events will take the players to the southern hemisphere, on the opposite side of the world from what you’ve seen before. The campaign starts about seven or eight years after the events of Borderlands 2. You have heard stories of yet another vault on Pandora. I know! Another one?!? Most people don’t believe it either. Least of all that it’s in the ocean below Pandora’s pirate-inhabited retirement destination of choice.
In The Secret of the Key Islands campaign, players will get to experience some new mechanics for Savage Worlds, inspired by the Borderlands games. You’ll meet new characters, and interact with some old favorites. You’ll be able to work through a series of more than 80 story and side quests to gain experience and become the master of the Key Islands. Oh, and did I mention that there’s loot. Yeah, not only can you generate almost all the basic weapon and item types from the Borderlands games, I’ve added a new kind of equipment specifically made to make a melee character more playable: Melee Mods.
Guns & Equipment
Let’s be honest, this is one of those things that fans of the video games want to see. One of the biggest points in Borderlands advertising was the sheer number of possible combinations of guns. I won’t say we have nearly as much complexity as the video games did, but I’ve built on the exceptional work done by Brice Naudin for Savage Borderlands. The GM (and often the players) will be able to randomly generate a variety of weapons that will become better and better as the campaign progresses. I’ve intentionally left out Eridian weapons, E-Tech weapons, Laser weapons, or any guns made by Atlas for now, solely because I haven’t thought of the right ways to emulate the things that make them different from the other manufacturers.
On the flip-side, I’ve included ways to generate Grenade Mods, Shields, Oz Kits, and a new type of equipment for Borderlands – the Melee Mod. When I was working with creating characters and doing some test-runs of the gun generator I built, I found that any character who didn’t use guns missed out on most of the loot. Not only that, but they didn’t improve at killing baddies as much as gun-based characters did. As a result, I changed the way melee works for the campaign, but only a bit. Read the upcoming article specifically covering how I designed the Melee Mod for more information.
I know, I know, Savage Borderlands introduced enough new mechanisms. Do we really need more? The answer is yes, but only a few. Some of the best things about Borderlands, in my opinion, got skipped over in Brice’s treatment of Savage Borderlands. Most of those things are conscious design choices, which I respect. I just respectfully disagree. To that point I’ve added a few new mechanisms that help with my immersion in the world. The incomplete list includes Oz Kits, Melee Mods, Money and Item Generation.
The first of these changes is adding in Oz Kits. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel wasn’t the best game in the series by any stretch. It did have one very cool bit of equipment that lends itself to underwater adventuring: the Oz Kit (O2, but whatever). Mechanically, these will work a lot like shields, but with some additional effects that make them a different beast.
Another new mechanism, as discussed earlier, is how melee damage works. In brief, the concept is the same as in Savage Worlds: Deluxe. The difference is that every character has an iconic melee weapon that does damage based upon the Melee Mod, not upon the type of weapon. So a buzz-axe could potentially do the same amount of damage as a dagger. Without mods, your two-handed sword will be just as piddly as my backhand. It seems like it gimps weapons instead of making them stronger, I know. But really, what it does is allow your melee attacks to not be too strong when you’re low-level, and to be strong enough when you’re at high level.
I’ve also added money back into the Borderlands system. I know that Loot Points were an elegant way to handle getting loot, and I kept them. I just decided that I’d find a way to make random money drops, and weapon values, and quest rewards all make sense for a tabletop RPG. The trick with this is that it’d need to be tracked in a way that isn’t just a pencil & paper. I’ll talk more about The Secret of the Key Islands Web App in another post. Just suffice to say it’s awesome, and still in development.
Finally, I love Brice Naudin’s weapon generation system in Savage Borderlands. It works great. It’s also not fast enough or pretty enough for me. As a result, I’ve been working with my cousin, Sam, to create an online item generator as part of the Web App. What this system will allow players and GMs to do is generate equipment on the fly. Yep, click a button and you’ve got a new gun, shield, grenade mod, melee mod, Oz Kit, etc. Not only will it have all the stats worked out, it’ll look gorgeous too. Oh, and you’ll have some customization options.
One of the problems with building on someone else’s world is that sometimes you mess it up. I don’t want to overwhelm players with new characters. Especially when there are so many awesome ones already in the Borderlands universe. I also want to tell a different story than has been told before (at least the major strokes). As a result, I’m bringing in many of the characters from the franchise, but introducing some new ones I hope will quickly become fan favorites. A good friend, Nikki, has volunteered to do some artwork for these.
These are just the Vault Hunters I’m offering as pre-made characters. The list of new Non-Player Characters (NPCs) featured in the campaign would be much longer.
Valentine’s an odd duck. He’s a bit like Zorro. Less in the “helping the people” way, and more in the “I’ll carve a big ol’ heart out of my victims” way. He’s eccentric, odd looking, and he’s really freakishly good with a sword. He’s got a pair of bloody overalls with a big heart patch sewn onto the front pocket. Oh, and a BIG SWORD. Not a wimpy katana. Nope. Like a massive claymore.
This isn’t just any soldier. He has experience. He takes pride in his soldiering experience. His hair, though graying is thick and parted conservatively. His British accent complements his well-groomed friendly mutton chops. Sure, on the surface he seems a lot like Sir Hammerlock, but he’ll calmly assure you that he is no relation to that hack. He is a professional, modern soldier who takes pride in his work.
Long, flowing dark hair. Blue tattoos. You know the drill. Serene’s got a Maliwan in one hand, a fireball in the other, and death in her eyes. You don’t want to mess with this Siren. After the legendary successes of Lilith and Maya on Pandora, why wouldn’t Serene want to take her turn at becoming a legend?
This CL4P-TP has been programmed specifically to drive anything. Boats? Check. Cars? Check! Dreadnoughts? Double Check!! Now, being a CL4P-TP, he follows the basic designs. But he prefers to show off his flight cap and goggles, or sailors cap, or whatever headwear best suits whatever he’s driving around. Because style. Obviously.
Bobby’s got a chip on his shoulder and drones for days. Sure he could shoot a gun or stab someone, but he’d rather just have his drones take care of that. He’s a scrawny guy who stays to the back of the crowd. He’s got a tool belt and at least one drone in hand while another buzzes around overhead.
Blitz and Burnz
Blitz is Krieg’s little sister. She’s got an impressive mohawk and a rabid Skag friend named Burnz. She’d take the psycho lifestyle with a grain of salt. Sure, grenades and gore are great, but those masks can be a drag. She’s got a short fuse, but is surprisingly loyal to the “friends” she’s made.
Since I’m introducing a new area of the world of Pandora for this campaign, you’d have to expect that there are going to be a bunch of new locations for Vault Hunters to explore. If you expect that, you’d be right! Not only am I creating new areas, I’ve also been mapping them out and planning which creatures show up in which locations.
Red Fin Fishery
The Red Fin Fishery is a beach-side complex where Patchy-Beard, the former pirate captain, has set up shop. It’s here that he shares the stories of his time as a roving pirate, terrorizing Pandora’s southern seas. You can also find a unique fish in the ocean just off the beach here, and it’s one of Patchy-Beard’s favorites to cook up.
Deepshore is the primary city for anyone who isn’t a pirate or a native of the Key Isles. It’s dirty and small, but it’s home for many people. Not to mention it’s got amazing ocean views. It’s here you’ll find some of Pandora’s most notorious retirees, including Mad Moxxi, Marcus, and Dr. Zed.
Five Domes is a city on the ocean floor, hidden from most outsiders. The city has five sections, each covered by a dome. There are tubes connecting the domes. This is a bustling center of activity. The people of the city are outcasts from the surface, dedicated to destroying the pirate plague on the surface.
Greasy Priest Lighthouse
Greasy Priest Lighthouse is an old, run-down lighthouse on a coastal cliff overlooking the Key Islands. The lighthouse has been in disrepair for nearly a decade. Most people hope that pirate ships will crash, but sadly, honest vessels are more often the victims.
The Flotilla is a mass of run-down ships that have been partially disassembled and lashed together to form an on-water city. Shielded from storms by a ring of islands around it, the Flotilla is where most pirates live, and it is the point from which all raids around the Key Islands embark.
What would a good pirate story be like without roving bands of natives? These natives have all the hallmarks of a primitive native people. They wear headdresses, loincloths, and perform human sacrifices over the mouths of open volcanoes. Of course, you really shouldn’t trust your eyes.
The Chasm is a deep rent in the ocean floor. It’s rumored to be the home of one of Pandora’s most feared creatures, the Skraken! Nobody in living memory has dared enter the Chasm, but rumors abound that if there is a Vault remaining on Pandora, it’s going to be there.
When you adventure using The Secret of the Key Islands, you’ll have access to 85 pre-made quests. Every quest has a name, and several objectives. Not only that, it has an in-character blurb from the person giving the quest and specific rewards for completing it.
As the Game Master running this campaign, you’ll have access to more detailed information on how the quest should run and what kinds of encounters to throw at the Vault Hunters. That can include information on NPCs, enemies, locations, or previously hidden information that the quest is meant to reveal.
Of course, there are some quests that are meant to be completed in order, but many more of the quests simply require that you be at a certain level to obtain them. Other than the necessity of following a few minor quest-paths (including the primary story arc), players are able to explore the world freely and complete whatever quests they feel like.
You should recognize many of the enemies you’ll encounter throughout the course of the campaign. From Bandits and Skags to Threshers and Rakk, The Secret of the Key Islands is a story that includes many of the things you love most about the Borderlands video games. Because this is a story that explores new areas of Pandora, however, I’ve added some new enemies as well.
You’ll obviously have to battle pirates. Sure, you might say they’re just the bandits of the sea, but they’ll have some unique mechanisms that make them feel different from normal bandits. You’ll also fight a variety of new creatures and native peoples that should challenge your players in the best possible ways.
I’ve also created some Bennies. They’re pretty cool.
Hey, if you want to question my design choices, I’d welcome the feedback. If you would like to contribute, I can definitely use the help. Feel free to comment below, to contact us on the site, to message our Facebook or Twitter pages, or send smoke signals if you think we’ll get them. This campaign is one that I hope you’ll enjoy playing as much as I am enjoying creating it.
If you haven’t experienced the wonder of the Borderlands games, I highly encourage you to pick them up now.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Audible Free Trial
Although we love Amazon and other online stores, we also support your local businesses. Whenever you have a chance, stop by a local game store, hobby shop, or library.
Shopping locally supports your community and ensures your money will do the most good for you and your neighbors.