Advanced Dungeons & Dragons started to really get codified in the pages of Dragon magazine in Eighty five but for third party publishers it was still sort of open season in the wilds of the table top world. Different Worlds, White Dwarf, & even to a certain extent Dragon magazine gave us a glimpse into the world of role playing outside of our New England small towns. Which brings me to the The Keep an adventure our dungeon master saw advertised in the pages of Dragon magazine.
During the Winter of '85 I got my characters were of sufficient level to tackle a really hard adventure & the Keep was on the docket for us to run. The game adventure was part of an early licensing agreement/ promotion for the film 'The Keep between Paramount pictures & Mayfair games. Because of the popularity as well as the infamy of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. But there's a lot more to this forty two page adventure then meets the eye. First some quick background the Michael Mann directed film, 'The Keep'.
If you haven't seen the picture then this adventure isn't going to make a lot of sense. "The Keep is a 1983 horror film directed by Michael Mann and starring Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, Jürgen Prochnow, Alberta Watson and Ian McKellen."
Yes that right your looking at an all star cast for this film & it should have been a hit. But its now a cult classic with certain fans of the F. Paul Wilson novel cycle later known as The Adversary cycle , published in 1981 (1982 in the United Kingdom). The Keep is woven into the Transylvania & Romanian landscape from the very foundations of the mythic Biblical era. I say mythic because its tied in closely with the weird mythology that runs throughout 'The Keep.
The whole cycle forms part of the greater background of Wilson's Repairman novels. And the adventure picks up with the characters having to fight in three different ages against the Lovecraftian evil that inhabits 'The Keep'. The adventure comes with its own mythology, background, region, & in fact could be considered a mini campaign buts a very high mini campaign for characters ninth through twelveth level. The plot involves Dracula, the order of the Dragon, sorcery most foul & the PC's are intimately woven into the whole affair.
The PC's start in the mythic era or the First Age then due to adventure circumstances get transported to 1476 & finally to 1941. The whole adventure has the PC's rooted into the creation, connection, & possible destruction of 'The Keep' which is a prison for a Lovecraftian god. The final confrontation with the Lovecrafian evil that plays center place with the whole affair comes to a head in 1941 Romania where a unit of Nazi officers is stationed at 'the Keep'. One by one they can get picked off 'ten little Indians' style or the PC's can interfere in the affair.
'The Keep' adventure has its own internal mythology. The PC's get hosed as 'the Death of Magic' happens ala the same as the Wilson novel so that all of the magical spells of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons don't work. Clerical magic is reduced, wizard's spells are reduced, etc. The first time I got a chance to play through this as a player my wizard was totally useless & died rather messily. So you might want to ignore that end of things. The whole adventure is played very straight & seriously because its based around the film which is really a horror movie at its core. I've used 'The Keep' adventure from Mayfair as the basis for a Dark Ages Cthulhu game & it went very well!
But recently I've run 'The Keep' last Halloween for a bunch of players & I used a much more a 'beer & pretzels' tone with the adventure. The fact is that I based the whole thing on the Army of Darkness films instead.
This worked out much better & in fact not taking the whole 'The Keep' seriously is a good idea. The modern weapons rules are nasty & very dangerous to PC's. Take these as a dungeon master with a bit of salt.
'The Keep' adventure from Mayfair games is a really complex mini campaign that you as the dungeon master are going to want to read through several times. There are literally dozens of NPC's. Even though the adventure is only forty two pages the whole affair has three eras & lots to keep track of. The demon god Molasar is not to be taken lightly & should the players fail then the dungeon master could be facing a post apocalyptic demonic held world. This is not an adventure for the novice dungeon master.
Now with all that being said I can actually see using this with a number of OSR retroclone gaming systems especially with OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord Advanced. There would be a bit of adjustment for running this with say Lamentations of the Flame Princess but it could be done if the DM really wanted to. But the player's PC's losing could see the players in a demonic held 1940's or 1950's world with the minions of Molasar knocking the PC's teeth in.
Is the module good?! Hmm that's good question, because the production values are up to Mayfair games standards of the time, the maps are well done, but the overall product is really only going to appeal to the cultclassic audience. But as an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons toolkit this is a solid grab. The modern weapons rules are solidly done, the overall feel is very old school, & the whole cloth background could be ported over to other old school AD&D settings or world backgrounds easily.