Sunday, December 6, 2015

Revisiting Retro Review & Commentary On The OD&D Adventure Module - B2 Keep On The Borderlands By Gary Gygax For Your Old School Campaigns

Keep On The Borderlands is the adventure that everyone thinks of when they think redbox D&D at least in my neck of Connecticut & I've run it so many times with Village of Hommlet that I know the adventure back to front. I've run six to seven PC's through it over the years and want to flip the adventure on its ear. There are several factors that can be run through with B2 to turn this module into a sword and sorcery style adventure fest. First some quick background on B2 from Wiki, " In it, player characters are based at a keep and investigate a nearby series of caves that are filled with a variety of monsters. It was designed to be used with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, and was included in the 1979–1982 editions of the Basic Set. It was designed for people new to Dungeons & Dragons."

There's a pretty damn good break down of the module on Wiki here which reveals several things about the module; "Player characters begin by arriving at the eponymous keep, and can base themselves there before investigating the series of caverns in the nearby hills teeming with monsters.[1] These Caves of Chaos house multiple species of vicious humanoids. Plot twists include a treacherous priest within the keep, hungry lizardmen in a nearby swamp, and a mad hermit in the wilderness. It typifies the dungeon crawls associated with beginning D&D players, while permitting some limited outdoor adventures."

Keep on the Borderlands focuses on the Keep far more then it should and that's really a DM's in on this adventure. The fact is that all of land, resources, magic items, etc. make the keep a perfect target for bandits, adventurers, and outlaws. I've always made the Caves of Chaos a part of the dungeon works of the mout house from Hommlet connected by a tunnels going between each. There are several reasons for this. The caves of Chaos are a part of the Temple of Element Evil's out posts. Why were there so many +1 or +2 weapons and magic items laying around in the keep to begin with? Simply put its because originally the keep was a part of the defenses of the border against the Temple's chaos armies of humanoids. The caverns of chaos is more then simply a slaughter point for humanoids. Its the wells spring that creates the monsters for powers of chaos  from the local human population! Those spontaneous monster generators that James Mishler wrote about might really be the focus for the guardian 'mad hermit'

But why would the forces of chaos need two ways to create humanoid tribes of mutated freaks? Well, its a way of raising an army very quickly of disposable troops. What you didn't really think that they were going to live very long did you? None of that pesky 'orc baby moral consciousness BS'  to get in the way here folks. D&D classics points out the humanoid ecological imbalance issue quite nicely;"The Caves of Chaos themselves showed off the introductory nature of B2 in another way: They're pretty much a who's who of the humanoids you could meet in Basic D&D, with separate caverns inhabited by kobolds, orcs, goblins, ogres, hobgoblins, bugbears, gnolls, and even a minotaur. Gygax later admitted that the result wasn't "ecologically correct," but that wasn't really the point."  No what's really the point is the fact that you've got a small shrine and temple complex to chaos that concentrates all of those humanoids in one place.

Why? Simply put to spread the taint of chaos across the landscape. After Temple Of Elemental Evil, have the PC's go back through Keep on The Borderlands and clean out that nest of vipers right in the campaign's own midst. This also gets a way of actually using domain level play into the mix and gasp getting the war gaming aspect of D&D back into the fore. Here's where Adventurer, Conqueror,  King actually comes in useful for Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Yeah, Yeah, I'm not the first blogger to think of this at all.

Alright so what about the Lamentations of the Flame Princess dungeon masters? Well by turning to the fact that the Temple of Elemental Evil and Hommlet for that matter might be placed on the Germany/ French border the keep could easily be retro fitted into a back location between those two countries around say 1300 or so. The whole Elemental Evil religion could be a perversion of the Old Faith and the tensions of the religions brought to the fore. This enables a deeper connection to the strain of evil darkness and taint running through the region. Whip out Lusus Naturae by Neoplastic Games and turn to the sections on random monster generation on page 128 on and roll up some  truly weird humanoids for your PC's to encounter. This will add in the Lovecraftian factor in spades. This also gives the DM simple excuses to throw in his own versions of the standard humanoid races.
Back to the keep itself. There have been several games that I played in where the undead have become a full blown zombie warrior menace in their own rights. Here the undead have come under the domination of a copy of the Necronomicon or a similar necrotic item of horror. Perhaps the undead are actually  faction of chaos in their own right and due to the void and vacuum of power are making a grab for power. 

These styles of games are very desperate and very risky affairs in which the PC's must go up levels and risk all to fill in the voids left by the previous rules who are fools and cretins who were either power hungry or consumed by the forces of darkness and chaos. Setting the keep near one of the borders of Hyperborea makes perfect sense for this sort of a mini campaign and there are several gods who could easily stand in for the demon lord of the Deadites. Or the other option here is to add in Orcus as the obvious power and let a ghoul style infection go full blown across the landscape enabling lots of heavy losses but some solid grabs at sword and sorcerous power. Another monster focus that I've always loved is the Minotaur in chain mail. AS&SH has stats for a few variations on this classic bastard whose killed at least two of my PC's in the past.
Keep him almost the same you should be good to go.

Do I think that B2 is a perfect adventure? Not by a long chalk and its gotten too well known over the years but with a bit of modification you can take this classic and with a bit of customization you can truly make it yours to fit your own campaigns and really play around with many of the concepts and materials contained within its bounds for your old school campaigns.

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