Game Day: Back to the Borderlands

As I wrote last week, the Blackrazors and their children will be running through the venerable module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands as part of our D&D Kids campaign. We’re playing D&D 5th Edition, and are running a version of the module updated for that edition.

We chose B2 for a couple of reasons:

  1. It is an iconic module with a sandbox setup. There isn’t a tight storyline pushing things along, and the Caves of Chaos provide an excellent location for shortish dungeon crawls. That said, there is the skeleton of a story involving the Temple of Evil that can be used to keep things moving
  2. The module has sentimental value for a lot of us; most of the dads and older players cut their teeth on B2 and were eager to return to it.
  3. It’s signature fortification, Kendall Keep, is located on the frontier. If the Caves of Chaos proves to difficult we could introduce other adventures that used the keep as home base.
  4. It was easy to set in the World of Greyhawk, our default D&D campaign setting.

I spent a good chunk of time assembling my three-ring binder for The Borderlands campaign. First up was my print copy of the module, purchased a MEPACON a few years back to replace my own long-lost edition. The module is also available as a digital download on Dungeon Master’s Guilde.

Before D&D 5th Edition was released, Wizards ran a long beta test known as D&D Next. They released several playtest dungeons for it, one of which was the Caves of Chaos. I got it as part of the playtest and while it is technically flagged as “confidential, do not distribute”, a quick search of the Internet will turn up several copies of the PDF. It’s very much a proto-5e document, but the stat blocks and mechanics are close enough to the finished version for my purposes. It’s important to have a copy of the original B2 module if you’re running this; the playtest document only covers the Caves of Chaos, it doesn’t detail the nearby keep. The original module has both.

If you’re unable to find a copy of the playtest PDF, Jay Murphy did a 5th Edition conversion guide for The Keep on the Borderlands It updates for the necessary rules in the module and provides a quick reference guide for encounters, magic items, and monsters. The PDF is available for purchase on the Dungeon Master’s Guild.

As part of the D&D Next playtest, Wizards of the Coast published a “Return to the Caves of Chaos” PDF on their website that offers advice for running the Caves’ myriad monsters, tactics for their reinforcements, and possible story hooks. It’s handy to have when considering short-term story arcs for the campaign.

The Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999) is notorious in Greyhawk circles for its mangled attempt to place the keep in that campaign setting. Rather than use Greyhawk’s gods and history, , Return invented its own. I have a print copy of the module, which is helpful mostly for the fact that it gave names to all of the NPCs in the original module. Oerth Journal #11 includes fan-created fix for Return that fixes all the incorrect references with the proper Greyhawk ones (hey, Greyhawk fans don’t call their online community Canonfire for nothing; these folks love canon). Oerth Journal 11 is also notable for an article by yours truly about “The Crystal Skulls of Nerull”.

Another option for naming NPCs is Sly Flourish’s “NPCs for the Caves of Chaos D&D Next Playtest” which provides an overview of the keep and names — with motivations and quests — for its many NPCs.

B2: Keep on the Borderlands only included floor plans for the keep and one of its buildings, the Guild Hall. The assumption is that fledgling dungeon masters would create the rest of the buildings on their own. If you don’t have time for that, check out Super Dan’s “Floor Plans for “Keep on the Borderlands” which has maps for all of the key locations including the bank, chapel, inn, smithy, and stable.

One of the key aspects of B2 is that the Caves of Chaos evolve on their own. Players may decimate the vile goblins, only to find that the neighboring hobgoblins have moved in. There are a dozen odd factions and managing their movement through the caves may seem intimidating (or at the very least, time consuming. The Alexandriansolves this with its post “Keep on the Borderlands: Factions in the Dungeon” which has random tables for determining which factions are fighting one another as well as the results of that fight.

Sword and Stitchery, an old school RPG blog, offers up its own take on the Keep with “Meditations On The B2 Keep On The Borderland Adventure Module & Some Free OSR Resources For Old School Campaigns.

There have been several modules inspired by the Keep. Kenzer & Company’s had two Keep inspired products for HackMaster. The first I found was Little Keep on the Borderlands. I haven’t read it, but this thread on Dragonfoot suggests it is a faithful adaptation and expansion of the source material, despite having a few comedic elements to it (this module having been released for the D&D 1st Edition-inspired parody version of HackMaster Kenzer posted a web expansion for the product on their website: Hackmaster: Beneath the Little Keep [PDF].

Kenner’s second take on the venerable fortress was Frandor’s Keep (PDF) for HackMaster Basic, their more serious take on a HackMaster rule set. The 140-page source book is clearly inspired by Keep on the Borderlands, but it’s very much its own product.

Disclaimer: I write the “Summon WebScryer” column for Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine.

If Pathfinder is more your speed, you may want to check out Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands (PFRPG). The module by Raging Swan Press offers the Keep’s style of sandbox play for the Pathfinder RPG.

One of the great things about D&D 5th Edition is how backwards compatible it is. Unlike 3rd Edition, which was far more complex than its predecessors, and 4th Edition, which had an alien rule set, 5th Edition takes pride in its adaptability. It doesn’t take much effort to borrow content from prior editions. Heck, I’ve used my old 1e and 2e books more in the last two years than I had in the previous 15. I haven’t tried converting any of the old modules to 5e, but other folks have:

You can learn more about The Borderlands campaign by visiting our gaming group’s wiki:

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