King Arthur Pendragon

Friday, March 30, 2012

Impressions: B2 - Keep on the Borderlands

As I walk the old school path, I have to decide where to begin. I have made myself promise that I would only run modules I have access to. Since I visit Ebay often and I am a collector of sorts, I have a great deal of AD&D modules, even if I hadn't decided to play them at the time. After we wrapped up our last session, which I still have to write a report about, I decided to use an old classic: B2 - Keep on the Borderlands. I have read a lot of opinions and reviews about this module so I won't repeat them here. You can easily check them with a Google search. This article is merely my impressions about the module and how I intend to use it with nary a spoiler since my players may also lurk here.

The Keep on the Borderlands was written by Gary Gygax as an introductory adventure for the Holmes edition of D&D, I think. The setting is a keep on a distant frontier against the forces of chaos and the immediate area around it. The first thing that I immediately noticed was that there is no plot whatsoever. None. Gygax merely describes the adventure's eponymous keep in glorious detail. Every building and NPC is accounted for although he does not details names or physical and personality traits. People are merely described as the Castellan, the Captain of the Watch, the Innkeeper, etc. Buildings are provided with a little more detail, just enough so the DM knows where everything is and what the characters may expect to find inside. Then, Gygax describes the surrounding area and especially The Caves of Chaos.

The area around the keep is described in broad strokes, visually supported by the accompanying map, which highlights special encounter areas. This means the characters can wander as much as they like within the geographical boundaries of the module (i.e. until they reach the borders of the map). Gygax suggests rather conservative movement rates, but those can be altered, since I am using D&D movement rates. I don't want to spoil this part to my players so I won't tell how much it takes to reach the Caverns of Chaos. Each wilderness encounter is also detailed in the book with just enough detail so the DM can customize them.

The last section details the Caves of Chaos. Every room, nook and cranny, inhabitant and trap is account for. There are suggestions on why all these strange creatures are living together and how they react to incursions from outsiders. Again, these are all suggestions and no overall plot whatsoever is overlaid on the module. I can see why others may find this a weakness since it effectively forces the DM to be creative and come up with reasons for this and that. To me, this is a strong point. I can do whatever I want with this module: shape the story, have the players shape the story and create a plot during the game, not before to the game. Sometimes the best ideas are provided by the players and all too often I have discarded plots I have created when the players come up with something better during the game. I will sketch a few ideas but that's about it.

As a module, this is quite good, in my opinion anyway. It's not as "realistic" as T1 - The Village of Hommlet, another Gygax introductory module, where everything fits naturally into the surrounding area and the village has a logic organization. It's a mini-sandbox where the characters can wander at leisure, both outside and inside the Caves of Chaos. I can even create additional encounters in the area and additional quests for the group to further customize the plot. There is even a hint of another dungeon - Caves of the Unknown - although I won't use that. I'm already planning a tie-in with another great module: The Caverns of Thracia. I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

Since the module was first published in 1979, it is not tied to any specific setting. The descriptions tell only of the Realm of Man and the areas of chaos around it. There are no names. So I decided to set this module in Greyhawk, more specifically on the border between the Principality of Ulek and Pomarj, which is riddled with humanoid creatures that constantly raid the neighoring areas. I am already preparing to tie all my adventures to Greyhawk and make the final leap to AD&D. I can't stress enough how excited I am to tread a path so often tread by others and, hopefully, create memorable adventures for my players.
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