Retro Review: Keep On The Borderlands

Hello all, this will be the very first of a series of articles I’ll be doing, their main focus on Old School RPG tabletop and video games. Why Old School? Well it tends to be my preferred style of games that I enjoy playing, especially for tabletop games. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was 8, and me and my buddy who was DM for me played through this adventure that he got, along with the two red and blue rule books, from an older kid from school. The adventure just happened to be B2: Keep on the Borderlands, B2 stands for Basic 2, as it was the second adventure in the series of modules that was being released in the Basic level range. I figured since this will be my inaugural post that what I review should be none other than Keep on the Borderlands.

KOTB

Many a young adventure got their start here, and met their end as well…

Now I had never played Dungeons & Dragons before but had heard of it, and my friend knew that some of the kids a few years ahead of him in his school played, he asked one of them if he could borrow the rules and surprisingly the older kids took pity on us and let him borrow the rule books and the adventure for a few days. I immediately went over my buddy’s house and we sat down in his living room and made my first character as he started taking notes and reading the adventure.

I rolled up my first character and decided upon The Dwarf, I loved The Hobbit and Thorin Oakenshield was and still is my favorite character from Middle-earth. We didn’t have a full idea what to do or exactly how to fully play, but we got the idea, and after buying my weapons and armor, I remember buying a silver dagger just in case I ran into a werewolf, I asked around the Keep about what I should do and learned that there was a lair of evil, The Caves of Chaos they were called, so that is where I headed for.

I headed out into the wilds and managed to reach the canyon that the caves were located in without any trouble. I then set to investigating the closest cave, which on the map below is marked as A, and fell into a pit trap and then assaulted by kobolds. By sheer luck I survived and killed the kobolds who ambushed me, after that I remember drinking a healing potion and then searching more of the caves and fighting more kobolds before returning back to the Keep and rest. Sadly after that we had to return the rules and module, we weren’t able to get a copy for a few months and proceeded to play during the holidays. But enough of my reverie of first time in the Caves, let’s move onto the review and how I feel the adventure has held up over the years.

 

Keep on The Borderlands is one of the most played published adventures in Dungeons & Dragons, as it was included in the original Red Box, B1: In Search of the Unknown was in box before, but was soon replaced with KOTB. It’s definitely a module that appeals to players and Dungeon Masters who prefer sand box style games, while B1: In Search of The Unknown is even more along that style, it needing to be fully fleshed out by the DM beforehand didn’t lend itself to an adventure that was to start players off with their first time playing and so B2 was introduced instead and kept a good amount of the openness but had enough to let players and DMs alike sink their teeth into what it’s like to play D&D.This module is a classic, and is fairly bare bones when it comes to the setting.  It documents The Keep, and the surrounding wilds, and The Caves of Chaos to the north.

The Keep itself is the only bastion of civilization in the area, and truthfully the only safe place for adventurers, straying out into the wilds is very dangerous at the early levels of the game, and a few bad dice rolls or an encounter with the wrong monster could quickly end a young adventurer’s career. The Keep offers NPCs that are not named, which is a little work to get everyone named and some preparation done for the DM, but it’s open and lends itself to being customized as however you see fit.

The wilderness beyond the keep presents its own dangers, there are plenty of wandering monster encounters to run afoul of, and some locations that are marked on the map that let the players have some adventure outside of The Caves. The area marked The Cave of The Unknown is for the Dungeon Master to come up with, and is another prime location for adventurers to explore and leave their mark.

Keep wilds

The real heart of this adventure is The Caves of Chaos, where most if not all of the adventure takes place. Now first things first, this is a brutal and unforgiving place to explore and seek fame and fortune. Basic D&D is a pretty deadly game, and at low levels you can’t take on everything and often knowing when to retreat or not pushing your luck can really help you stay alive. Each cave is home to a different threat, some caves are the home of a local tribe of kobolds, another a tribe of goblins, a lair of an ogre, and even one that is the base for a Cult dedicated to Chaos. There is no real way to gauge how deadly a cave will be if you just charge in and attack. Scouting and learning some rumors from town can definitely help you avoid some of the more dangerous parts on your first forays, but not all rumors are true so some caution needs to be given on which advice to heed.

There are a lot of interesting groups and things to discover in The Caves themselves, and while it is a lethal place to start off in, the satisfaction you feel when conquer and claim riches of a caves former inhabitants is unparalleled, but the same could be said for when you meet your end at the end of an ogre’s club, or a skeleton’s rusty spear. This is a great adventurer to start with for a group of players, the more the better. I’ve personally run groups as large of 7 players into the caves, and their numbers have had a direct impact on their survival, which if you are only having a few players at your table, let them recruit hirelings at the keep to come adventure with them for a share of the treasure.

Caves of Chaos

The proving grounds of many young adventurers, and the resting place of even more.

The Keep on The Borderlands has seen some reprints over the years in different editions of the game, I prefer the original version myself, and if you play D&D 5th Edition it’s not too much of a conversion to be done for a lot of the module. It’s pretty easy to look back on something from your youth with rose colored glasses and think so fondly of it, but I’ve run this adventure for many groups over the years and often use it for the starting area for campaigns, I enjoy the freedom it allows while giving enough for me to work with. If you’re interested in checking the module out you can pickup the pdf copy of it at DrivethruRPG it’s pretty cheap and if you are looking for a game to run and need a quick adventure this is a perfect one.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to doing more reviews and discussing more old school related topics in future articles.

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