Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999) by John D. Rateliff In Mystara - An Alternative Campaign Placement For The Keep

Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999), by John D. Rateliff, is a Silver Anniversary adventure for AD&D 2e. It was published in June 1999. While it is a second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons product there are numerous reasons why it can be used for Mystara. 
"Now, almost twenty years later, the Keep has declined into a sleepy outpost settlement. The trained warriors once stationed here and the experienced adventurers who once flocked to the spot are long gone. But evil once again stirs in the fabled Caves of Chaos. Humanoids, undead, and evil minions of a dark goddess plot to destroy their enemies. Only novice adventurers who have come to try their hand at dungeon delving in this traditional training spot stand in their way. Light your torches, assemble your marching order, draw your weapons, and sharpen your wits. It's time for a new generation of heroes to take on the challenge. "
 The back of the module blurb makes Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999), by John D. Rateliff, sound very similar to T1 The Village of Hommlet By Gary Gygax. 

Like I said yesterday when it comes to  B5 Horror on the Hill By Douglas Niles in my eyes its  a continuation of Gary Gygax's B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. There are several reasons for this one of which is a thread that I recently read on the Piazza site which goes all the way back to 2010 called Reclaiming "Return to the Keep on the Borderlands" This thread goes a long way towards making the case that the Return module is definitely Mystara.  Basically this thread goes into the deep end of placing the Keep on Mystara. Not only that but taking the Mystara references from B2 Keep on the Borderlands to better position the 'Return' module for use. This is all due to the efforts of Piazza memberpaleologos. He outlines his Mystara intentions quite nicely in this thread; "Up until recently, I'd thought that our Keep from B2 was actually officially moved to Greyhawk in "Return to the Keep on the Borderlands". I mean, who could blame me?

Then I actually, finally, read the thing (I posted some comments in the Reviews section on Dragonsfoot). Here is what the module has to say about Greyhawk (emphasis mine):
If you're using the World of Greyhawk setting, the Keep should be located in the southwesternmost part of the Yeomanry, a lordless land of freehold farmers shielded by monster-haunted mountains from the great desert beyond.
As I read on, it became pretty clear to me that Mystara remains the default setting for the Keep. (Just look at the elaborate changes required to actually adapt the module to the World of Greyhawk). The module was published in 1999, a few years after Mystara was officially transported into the 2e sphere (with the K:KoA and G:KoM boxed sets, etc). Furthermore, it requires virtually no "adaptations" for Mystara.

Here is a list of Mystara references in the module:

1) Dubricus d'Ambreville is a first-level mage, "scion of a famous family of wizards", who came to the Keep several months ago seeking an adventuring party to join up with.

2) "Third", warrior maid of "Maruda" (sic) "hails from the distant underground city of Cynidicea" from the desert across the mountains.

(She apparently doesn't speak Common, but if Cynidicean is related to an older dialect of Thyatian, then PCs may be permitted to roll an Int check to understand her. In fact, "Maruda" might simply be a clumsy mispronounciation of "Madarua")

3) Tomas and Holga are a couple of strangers who turn up at the Keep. True, they originally hail from the distant Lendore Isles, but are en route to distant Cathos City (another island).

4) Another reference to "Maze of the Riddling Minotaur" is a tapestry of "Lady Durnsay and the Bugbears." Lady Durnsay (of Cathos) is described as a famous adventurer of four hundred years ago.

Compared to that, the only Greyhawk references are the various deities, such as Erishkegal and Nergal, which could easily have Mystaran counterparts (like Orcus).

There's also the matter of Quasqueton (which still leaves me scratching my head, a bit) but that's easily explained away as a hoax (since even the entrance to the dungeon is not as described in B1).

Heck, the only thing required is a reasonable backstory for the original founder of the Keep, Macsen Wledig. Since there was a historical figurewith this name from Roman times, a Thyatian connection is not hard at all.

(In fact, I would have that Macsen, or Lord "Maximus" originally hailed from Caerdwicca on the Isle of Dawn. He could have received a landed lordship from Duke Stephan in the 980s and built the Keep within a few years. According to the module, after twenty years or so "the disaster of war overtook the land" and Macsen marched away in the defence of his distant homeland, never to be seen again. This could have been theconflict detailed in "Wrath of the Immortals" and Karameikos becomes a kingdom not long afterwards. K:KoA is set in 1012 AC and so "Return tothe Keep on the Borderlands" could take place sometime after that. Both products use the 2nd edition AD&D rules.)

It always kind of bothered me that the Keep was kidnapped and transplanted in the Yeomanry, but after reading the module cover to cover, I think the author must have actually started out with Mystara as the default setting, and the suggested location for those using the World of Greyhawk was just added later." 

This thread goes a long way to supporting a theory that I've had going all the way back to middle school namely that across the planes there are versions of classic TSR adventure module locations.  This takes the importance of these modules & makes it central to the dungeon master's home campaign. The caves of Chaos in 'Return' have a definitely Babylonian flavor & this takes the module making it that much more a part of the Mystara action; "
ripvanwormer wrote:

My guess is that Ratecliff used Babylonian gods because they seemed appropriately ancient and sinister, and when Keep on the Borderlands was originally published, neither Greyhawk nor Mystara (which didn't yet exist) had published pantheons (apart from the saints mentioned in B1), and most gamers probably used historical deities.
I have to confess that I love the Mesopotamian flavour for the Shrine of Evil Chaos - brings to mind The Exorcist and stuff. I also like having some new deities for the baddies in B2 since it keeps connections with other things Mystaran at arm's length (and that's refreshing). I'm all for claiming Ereshkigal and Nergal as Mystaran immortals.

On another note, there are some Egyptian references here and there, which would be a great way to nuance Nithia into the picture.
ripvanwormer wrote:I suspect the specifically Mystaran references in Return to the Keep of the Borderlands were more along the lines of "Easter eggs" than a serious attempt at creating Mystara canon, though the adventure is definitely more Mystaran than anything else, and it's a Mystara adventure by virtue of its connection to B2 if nothing else.
I have to admit I think you're right. The author likely couldn't resist sprinkling all kinds of homage through his work. I'll bet there are quite a few that go right over my head.

That said, the Mystaran ones are pretty key. Cynidicea and Cathos City anchor the Keep geographically in Mystara, (the foreign duo from theLendore Isles were on the run, and their presence on Mystara might be explained by fleeing through a gate or whatnot).

In the end, I'm just happily surprised that the module fits so neatly into that comfortable old corner in Karameikos!""

The bottom line is that the Return to the Keep on The Borderland fits in quite nicely into the rather busy world setting of Mystara. The added little details make the creeping corruption of the Elemental Evil cults not that unlikely. 
Karameikos has always been a hot bed of corruption. I'm not the only one to see this Havard made the connection right after reading the thread. He was so taken with it that he drew up a timeline along with  a cross comparison of Greyhawk gods to their Mystara immortal counterparts in his article "Return to the Keep on the Borderlands: Karameikos' by Håvard

"Gods => Immortals 
St. Cuthbert =>Tarastia
St. Erkenwald =>Halav
The Moon God => Asterius (This one is the poorest fit given the nature of the Moon God in the description of the NPC named Opal).
Sect of Qounzar =>Cult of Halav
Apep =>Atzanteotl
Hispis => Ka the Preserver
Nergal => Orcus
Erishkigal => Demogorgon

I have wanted all along to tie this to GP's work on the Dark Triad and the Humanoid Tribes as well as SB Wilson's adaptations of the Red Hand of Doom and the following Karameikos Religious Civil War."

The ties between Greyhawk & Mystara run very deep and are abiding among the fans & gamers. I'm very tempted to use Mystara for the next time I run 
Gary Gygax's B2 The Keep on the Borderlands & Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999), by John D. Rateliff. This is definitely food for thought in my mind. 

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