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Advice for Caves of Chaos/B2

doseyclwn

First Post
So, I'm running a 1e version of Keep on the Borderlands. I'm struggling with how to make the caves interesting. It takes sooooooooo long to level up in 1e, that I'm afraid they won't have the juice for the rest of it. Plus . . . honestly, it's kind of boring. I want to spruce it up a bit. Any suggestions?
 

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ccs

41st lv DM
1) In your game, why are all those monster tribes living {relatively} peacefully right next to each other? Answer that & you've got yourself a plot.
2) There's all kinds of NPCs scattered throughout the caves in the form of prisoners. Add details to them. And there's even more NPCs back in the Keep.
3) On leveling - there's enough monsters/treasure/magic items to lv up a few times.
4) Whatever you decide is your plot should suggest an "ending". Otherwise all you've got is a slog to kill every last monster hiding in the nooks & crannies.

Ex:
The last time I ran this I had the Temple of Evil be a remnant of one of the Elemental Evil cults from ToEE. After the 1e Temple fell some of the priests retreated here, set up shop, & over time started secretly drawing in monster tribes.

The PCs were a guard patrol nearing the end of their compulsory military duty, stationed at a small keep along the northern Kings Road. A nice quiet posting at essentially a tax collection station for the local farming communities harvests. Now & then, especially in the fall, they'd have to be alert against a local tribe of forest goblins. But in general, pretty quiet duty.

Until a band of brigands began operating in the area. Then they had to do some actual work....

They did, tracking down the bandits, killing most of them & taking a few prisoners. Thus learning about the Caves roughly a days ride north. They went in there thinking it was a simple Wipe-out-a-Bandit-lair raid. They discovered "OMG! There's 7 different monster clans, an assortment of misc monsters, and a branch of the Cult of Elemental Evil."
The Keep was alerted.
Word was sent that actual troops were needed.
And thus began a campaign of guerrilla warfare to weaken the monsters as much as possible while awaiting the actual army.
And when we reached a point where it seemed that everyone was tiring of these raids? That's when the Kings forces showed up & there was a battle royal.
Surviving characters got to muster out & chart their own course with the new friends & contacts that they'd made.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Don't?

I've ran B2 twice, once at about age 11 and once at about age 15, and I'd never do it again - or at least not in anything remotely like its written form. Your assessment of the adventure is perfectly correct. It's fairly boring and redundant, and it tends to devolve into a series of mass combats involving entire tribes versus the party. And those combats tend to devolve into the fact that plate armor wearing PC's can be nigh impossible for most foes to hit, resulting in lots of tedious rolling and very little cinematic combat.

The real irony of B2 is it that it is an adventure that only can come to life in the hands of a very experienced and competent DM who is capable and willing to add a ton to the text that doesn't really appear in it. It's an absolutely lousy module for a beginning DM. I've heard of mini-campaigns around B2 that sounded like they might have worked, that involved inventing massive backstories for the castle, surrounding towns and wilderness lairs, an evil warlord, an insidious cult of chaos, spies, assassins, fleshing out the interior of the keeps and the NPCs there in, and the merchants that visit it, and adding additional dungeons and so on and so forth. But at that point, B2 itself is only a tiny and partially irrelevant launching point for the DM's imagination.

And at that point that the scenario has become logical depends on nothing actually in the text of the adventure. Examining the text alone, you have to ask why in the world any of these tribes are even there. They've got no apparent loyalty to the cult, and the cult has no apparent means of imposing control on the tribes. The tribes hate each other and their are no resources that would tie the tribes to the caves. Nothing in the text suggests what they are vying over in the first place, and only the goblins seem to have any sort of economic activity (and that not very much). There are no workshops, no mines, no really anything, to suggest what this is all about. Moreover, the supposed threat represented by the tribes is ridiculous, since the keep is quite capable of repelling any attack that the tiny poorly equipped tribes could mount even if they did work together. And, the keeps soldiers and officers are vastly better equipped to assault the caves than the PC's are, so if it really came to that, why is it the PC's job to deal with the caves? And if the cult actually had a goal, why do they passively allow the PC's to disrupt it. Like, the second time the PC's show up, why doesn't every tribe and all the undead and the cultists attack the PC's together? If they can't manage to do that, why does the cult imagine it can arrange an assault on the keep?

(The DM who trained me told me that his PC party had concluded that the real goal of the module was to rob the keep, and his group had treated the module like a heist game. That's a good example of making lemonade out of lemons, but not evidence of the module not being boring as written.)

Briefly, I considered rewriting B2 to suit my current standards of play, and to me that involves mostly dealing with its problematic but iconic map and its lack of compelling hooks or obvious purpose of play beyond kicking down the doors and taking their stuff. But it's too much work for too little reward.
 
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Schmoe

Adventurer
I started the adventure earlier this year, and I posted a thread about the updates I've made to the module. You might find that interesting to look over. I've since added more updates that I haven't posted, but it's a good start.

I agree that it is really a bare-bones module and even for beer-and-pretzels dungeon-crawling it needs some tweaks. That being said, there are a lot of things you can work with there. Fleshing out three things in particular can, I think, really make a difference:

1.) What are the goals of the Temple of Evil?
2.) How do the monster tribes co-exist, and why are they here?
3.) What role does the corrupt priest in the Keep have?
 

David Howery

Adventurer
B2, of course, was one of the earliest printed modules from TSR, and back in those days, everything related to D&D was pretty skimpy on details and relied heavily on the DM doing his own work on it. Back in the day when RPG was in it's infancy and just about everyone was new to it, B2 was pretty neat. But it hasn't aged well. Still, you could probably make it all more interesting.
First thing, expand the area it's in and add some more stuff to the sparse area map. Second, feel free to revamp the caverns, add some more connecting corridors between the various clans, and ramp up the animosities between the assorted critters... have the PCs walk into a couple of pitched battles, and show some war in the tunnels kind of thing. Change out some of the critters... there are two tribes of orcs, replace one of them with... something else. Third, add some more NPCs in the Keep itself. It's a lot of work, but if you really want to use B2, it would make it more interesting...
 


pming

Hero
Hiya!

OK, Celebrim, don't take this the wrong way. What I'm noticing is that with older style modules, like this one, it fits with the older style DM'ing...and it flies in the face of most/many of the newer style DM'ing ways. Basically, it's a comment on just how different your ideas of what is a "good DM'ing adventure" and what my ideas of what is a "good DM'ing adventure". :) I think others reading this thread may want a different take on it...so here I am! ;)

Don't?

I've ran B2 twice, once at about age 11 and once at about age 15, and I'd never do it again - or at least not in anything remotely like its written form. Your assessment of the adventure is perfectly correct. It's fairly boring and redundant, and it tends to devolve into a series of mass combats involving entire tribes versus the party. And those combats tend to devolve into the fact that plate armor wearing PC's can be nigh impossible for most foes to hit, resulting in lots of tedious rolling and very little cinematic combat.

Do! Definitely DO! :) The fact that plate armour wearing PC's can be nigh impossible for most foes to hit is not a flaw. When you buy/get plate mail (as it is called in the game), you are trading off movement/weight for protection. From my experience with B/X or BECMI D&D (and even 1e), one or two 'front line' fighters should try and get some plate mail. Everyone else should stick to medium or light. I can't tell you how many times I've had one fighter in Plate go down next to his buddy, also in Plate, and then have the buddy have to leave his friend to die because he can't just pick up 350 lb's and run away. Moral of the story: If you are in plate mail and go down...don't expect to be surviving if the bad guy/s are still up. :)

As for cinematic...BECMI and 1e aren't really based around "cinematic" combat. They are more based on "very rough approximation of realism...with a heroic sprinkling". In 1e, a Fighter could attack a number of less-than-1HD creatures per round equal to his level. So a 7th level fighter against a bunch of goblins would get 7 attacks PER ROUND against them. Add another fighter, stick them both in plate mail and, well, there's your "heroic sprinkling". ;)

But this doesn't really pertain directly to B2, and more to the systems in question. Lets continue.


Celebrim said:
The real irony of B2 is it that it is an adventure that only can come to life in the hands of a very experienced and competent DM who is capable and willing to add a ton to the text that doesn't really appear in it. It's an absolutely lousy module for a beginning DM. I've heard of mini-campaigns around B2 that sounded like they might have worked, that involved inventing massive backstories for the castle, surrounding towns and wilderness lairs, an evil warlord, an insidious cult of chaos, spies, assassins, fleshing out the interior of the keeps and the NPCs there in, and the merchants that visit it, and adding additional dungeons and so on and so forth. But at that point, B2 itself is only a tiny and partially irrelevant launching point for the DM's imagination.

Ahhh! Here is the crux of diversion between your style and mine. :) Y'see, IMHO and IME, a "very experienced and competent DM" is one who learned how to add tones to a module. He/She is one who DID add massive backstories, evil bad guys, insidious cults, spies, assassins, and spent ample hours fleshing out all that "boring stuff the PC's may never encounter". Again, IMHO, B2 is the perfect module for beginning DM's as it encourages them to do just that. And, in doing that over the course of weeks, months and years...they become those very same "experienced and competent" DM's.

With my style, B2 is what I put up as the best, most 'perfect' adventure module for D&D ever written (although Kenzer & Co's "Little Keep on the Borderlands" gives it a VERY good run for it's money!). Back in ye olden days, a DM was required to do all that adding, tweaking, and adjusting. That was the core "job" of being a DM. So, where you see B2's, shall we say, "sparce" detailings as a failure, I see them as a rousing success!

Celebrim said:
And at that point that the scenario has become logical depends on nothing actually in the text of the adventure. Examining the text alone, you have to ask why in the world any of these tribes are even there. They've got no apparent loyalty to the cult, and the cult has no apparent means of imposing control on the tribes. The tribes hate each other and their are no resources that would tie the tribes to the caves. Nothing in the text suggests what they are vying over in the first place, and only the goblins seem to have any sort of economic activity (and that not very much). There are no workshops, no mines, no really anything, to suggest what this is all about. Moreover, the supposed threat represented by the tribes is ridiculous, since the keep is quite capable of repelling any attack that the tiny poorly equipped tribes could mount even if they did work together. And, the keeps soldiers and officers are vastly better equipped to assault the caves than the PC's are, so if it really came to that, why is it the PC's job to deal with the caves? And if the cult actually had a goal, why do they passively allow the PC's to disrupt it. Like, the second time the PC's show up, why doesn't every tribe and all the undead and the cultists attack the PC's together? If they can't manage to do that, why does the cult imagine it can arrange an assault on the keep?

Back to style preference...and, seeing the small paragraph below, maybe how we both learned to DM. Again, the DM is the one who gets to decide whatever he/she wants to be the "logical goal" of the caves inhabitants. I've run no less than 3 entire campaigns using B2. Each campaign lasted between one and almost three years. Yes, YEARS of actual time. Basically, I've spent roughly 5 years of my DM'ing career running campaigns using B2 (I've been DM'ing for about...hmmm...38'ish years I guess). In fact, B2 was my "learning module" back in '81.

Celebrim said:
(The DM who trained me told me that his PC party had concluded that the real goal of the module was to rob the keep, and his group had treated the module like a heist game. That's a good example of making lemonade out of lemons, but not evidence of the module not being boring as written.)

Ahhh...I didn't learn from anyone. I was self-taught....like pretty much every single DM at that time (1981). There was no internet in those days, and most people didn't have a PC. It was read, trial, error, read, fix/adjust, rinse and repeat. So with that in mind, B2 was perfect for beginning DM's as it gave us SOMETHING to start with. It gave us a small safe area, some NPC's for more RP'ing sessions, a small but varied wilderness area to wander around in and hide "long lost temples" or "ruined towers" or whatever. It gave us a multitude of dungeons, roughly linked together in that dreadful box canyon. It gave us hints at what some of the caves inhabitants might be up to or wanting (or what they didn't want). It gave us nudges towards developing more in-depth plots, story lines and all that 'behind the scenes' stuff that a DM could either happily ignore, or run with and embellish.

Basically, B2 taught you how to DM by making you DM...not by telling you exactly what to do and having everything planned out for you. :) Perfect module, imnsho.

Celebrim said:
Briefly, I considered rewriting B2 to suit my current standards of play, and to me that involves mostly dealing with its problematic but iconic map and its lack of compelling hooks or obvious purpose of play beyond kicking down the doors and taking their stuff. But it's too much work for too little effort.

I'd argue that what you get out of B2 is exactly what you put into it. Kind of like virtually everything else in life. :) I put LOTS of work into it...three different times. Each of those 1 to 3 year campaigns was different from the other. Each one could be transcribed into a novel (or novels), and other than names and the general layout of the area, each would be a unique and interesting story.

Taking B2, delving up to your elbows in it and making it your own is exactly the kind of modules we need nowadays. Too many young'ish DM's, imho, get rattled when the players do something completely unusual simply because most adventures (and almost all Adventure Paths) expect a logical progression of the prescribed 'story'. If more modules were "skeletons" and less "fully formed personas", I think we'd have a lot more DM's who don't get the cold sweats when they are DM'ing "The Savage Tide" and hear the PC's say "Hey! Why doesn't Brad the Beautiful Bard run for Mayor of Farshore? He's a shoe in! With a Charisma of 20 and all his skill focuses and what not...it'd be OUR town then! Lets do that!". ( <--- actually happened when we played Savage Tide; DM had to totally and unabashedly cheat us...because the adventure assumes that someone else becomes Mayor).

At any rate...style and preference here I think. :) I LOVE B2 and, as we just started a new B/X D&D campaign a couple weeks ago, I'm pretty sure yet ANOTHER B2 campaign is in the very near future! Who knows what I'll come up with this time? And...isn't that part of the whole "imagination" thing that RPG's are built for? ;)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Celebrim

Legend
Why when people disagree with me, must they disagree with me on the basis of who they think I am and not what I said? I mean seriously, please stop telling me how to DM unless I actually ask for advice. (Ironically, when I actually ask for advice, no one ever wants to give it.) If you developed B2 into a more worthwhile campaign than what is presented or what the text would naturally result in after you did a period of trial and error, then good for you, but don't imagine my distaste for doing that is based on my inability to do so. Seriously, no one here is going to be particular impressed by 1-3 year long campaigns. B2 gave you nothing to work with and as template for how to develop dungeons or campaigns it largely sucked and probably led to innumerable terrible designs (see G1, G2, G3 or anything I produced prior to 1986 or so). The idea beginner scenario is not one that has to be completely redone, but one that shows on a small scale the sort of thing he ought to aspire to create on a larger scale.

It's not that you can't have fun with that sort of 'it's the 1970's and we just invented the RPG' stuff - certainly my middle school friends and I did have a lot of fun with kicking the doors down and taking their stuff - it's just that at this point I've been doing this more than 30 years and I've no more interest in that sort of thing. Besides which, by the time B2 was printed people - including Gygax - were already experimenting with much grander ideas. The sole idea in B2 seems to be, "These are the monsters in the basic handbook. Let's use them all." Which is probably the first idea that occurred to any budding DM.

Look, before you go talking about how you have to delve into your elbows in a module, you might want to look up my threads on how to turn the ideas in otherwise terrible modules like 'Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits' or 'Temple of Elemental Evil' into something actually worthy of play. Or you might want to consider that I have large portion of Isle of Dread mapped at a 1 mile to the hex scale with something like 500 pages of notes. I don't think anyone has ever accused me of not being able to build a sandbox. I got problems as a DM, but setting design isn't one of them. And I'm just saying, B2 is just not worth giving that sort of treatment because the fundamental ideas therein are so barren and unimaginative and well lacking. There is nothing in B2 that I couldn't expect an imaginative 13 year old with a thesaurus to write themselves. It's a module that was equaled and excelled probably tens of thousands of times. It would have never been accepted for publication in Dungeon magazine. It's just not very good. What you made out of it might be great, but that's like saying 'Iron Chef' is a great way to teach novice cooks.
 
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Libramarian

Adventurer
The old modules often play better than they read. Try running it. In fact try running it off the page with almost no prep (maybe an hour to read the introduction and skim the rest). Identify yourself as the game's referee, not the author of tonight's play experience (or even the emcee). Your job is to adjudicate the game fairly and consistently, not to make sure everyone has fun. It's the players' responsibility to have their characters survive and thrive. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
 

David Howery

Adventurer
B2 always seemed fine for a group that is brand new to RPGs/D&D, but not for anyone experienced at it... it's not the best campaign starter for an experienced group. Unless you rework the hell out of it, as lots of us have noted above.
One of the problems I always noticed in it is that there is this horde of monsters who all hate each other in that rather tiny area. Since the area map is pretty sparse as it is, I was always tempted to add some more hills/rugged terrain to the Caverns area and spread them all out some more...
 

So, I'm running a 1e version of Keep on the Borderlands. I'm struggling with how to make the caves interesting. It takes sooooooooo long to level up in 1e, that I'm afraid they won't have the juice for the rest of it. Plus . . . honestly, it's kind of boring. I want to spruce it up a bit. Any suggestions?
As suggested - it is boring, repetitious, even tedious. That really needs to be taken as a challenge to both the DM and the PC's. For starters, it's a good module for TEACHING the game. It's small combats, one after another after another. The players cannot help but learn how combat works, what dice to roll, when, and why. They start learning the tactics their PC's will need. Almost certainly they will learn that the game will chew up and spit out lots of PC's until the players get smart and the PC's get lucky with rolls.

The NPC's they find and free along the way will provide roleplay interactions both in the caves themselves where the DM will need to provide details and background for those PC's, as well as tag-alongs for the party to equip and use in their explorations and rewards and more NPC contacts back at the keep.

For players who already know the mechanics of the game they should NOT find it boring in simply slogging through one room at a time ad nauseum but opportunity to try new tactics and strategies ("Let's burn them out!" or "Is it possible to flood the caves?" or "We should just go in there with all the henchmen we can scrounge and take it on all at once," or "Let's just wait til group X goes raiding, sneak in and STEAL the loot, then trap the bejeebers out of the the place to thin them out when they come back... and THEN go in and clear the rest," or whatever plans they come up with.

It's a good module for the DM to connect to other, later adventures where some individual or group was bribing, threatening, and/or tricking all the occupants to establish bases in the caves and start raiding the area. It can connect to slavers, simple bandit bands, drow, giants, or a new evil cult of your own devising.

Another idea is to spread the caves out across a much larger area. Don't have them all stuffed in one box canyon. Make it a string of different caves along the hills. Still another idea is to connect the caves together so section A leads into section B leads into section C and so on, with new routes to the surface also being discovered as they penetrate deeper underground. Either way, the PC's need not SLOG through the module but can come back and delve a bit further down or farther from the keep, take out the next set of higher HD monsters, and then do something else for a bit rather than just keep going back again and again and again until everything's dead. That's where those rescued NPC's can come in handy - in providing hooks to other quests and adventures. If the PC's rescued a merchant and get him back to the keep have him hire the PC's to escort his next shipment of goods to/from the keep and then use the NEXT group of humanoids from the module as raiders who attack the caravan. PC's score the same xp, gather the same loot either from what the humanoids brought with them or when the PC's return to the caves and loot the now-empty/depleted section of cave.

You can move the PC's faster through the adventure as written by having the various humanoids LEAVE occasionally to go raiding leaving fewer of their group behind for the PC's to fight. When they return to find their fellow orcs/hobgoblins/kobolds slaughtered and treasure looted they pull up stakes and leave. PC's might not get the XP for killing and looting everything but progress through the adventure would be faster.

The module AS WRITTEN is indeed dull, but that is almost the thing that makes it attractive - you can do a LOT of things with it that Gygax never thought of beyond just bullheadedly charge into it until it's empty or the PC's TPK.
 

Celebrim

Legend
For starters, it's a good module for TEACHING the game. It's small combats, one after another after another.

With respect, no, it isn't. Each of the lairs has watch posts and a system of alarms for calling all of the lair to arms to resist invaders. As written most combats will quickly devolve to 8-12 PC's or henchmen, versus 15-30 monsters. There will not be a fight versus 5 of these and then 4 of these unless the PC's are much better equipped to sneak than they are likely to be unless every player coordinates together as a strategy. And by this game not being 'cinematic', I mean that long before you've resolved that combat the participants on both sides will cease to pay any attention to the details and simply each take their turn by saying, "I attack." and rolling a dice. It has all the charm of the card game 'War', and is suitable for beginners only in that only a 10 year old has the tolerance of repetition to enjoy that.

This structure is classic Gygaxian and is the way the module is intended to run - see also the moathouse bandits in T1 Village of Homlet, the escalating fight in G1 versus an army of Hill Giants, or the massive set piece battle that begins WK4: Forgotten Temple of Thardizun. B2 in many ways harkens back to D&D's tactical wargaming roots, but it in no way reflects how D&D is usually played now or really any time since 1979. B2 is in many ways an atavism of a module.

The difference between B2, and those other three modules however are important. In T1, G1, and WG4 there is one tactical/attrition skirmish game layer, and after it is ultimately won, the module enters into a different stage and offers a different sort of gameplay - exploration/dungeon centered play or even puzzle centered play in the case of WG4. Further, G1 and WG4 are modules intended for expert and highly experience players and DMs, wielding characters with many more tactical options to choose from during a battle. In B2, one tactical/attrition skirmish game is likely to be followed by 6 or so other ones differing only in the drapes from the ones before it, and the PC's have almost no options but to attack with the weapon at hand. Even the horrid temple of chaos itself, probably the most Gygaxian in its employment of special magic and bizarre events, ultimately ends up being, "You fight 20 zombies and 20 skeletons at the same time."

All of this repetition and heavy focus on combat means that fighters shine in the adventure far more often than members of other classes, making this a rather lousy experience for someone playing a character lacking in a combat focus. It repeatedly winnows out anyone not able to wear heavy armor unless the DM metagames to keep M-U's and thieves alive. Both parties that went through it for me ended up losing all M-U's, thieves, and other light armor wearers, simply because stray missile weapons eventually found them. The only M-U I ever saw get through was an Elf (Fighter/M-U in AD&D terms).

For players who already know the mechanics of the game they should NOT find it boring in simply slogging through one room at a time ad nauseum but opportunity to try new tactics and strategies ("Let's burn them out!" or "Is it possible to flood the caves?" or "We should just go in there with all the henchmen we can scrounge and take it on all at once," or "Let's just wait til group X goes raiding, sneak in and STEAL the loot, then trap the bejeebers out of the the place to thin them out when they come back... and THEN go in and clear the rest," or whatever plans they come up with.

Again, that makes sense if we are talking about G1 or WG4 but it is not applicable to B2 because unlike those modules, we are dealing with first level characters. First level characters simply do not have the resources to do any of those things, nor does the text of the module facilitate or validate any of those plans. The answer to all of them should be 'No.' No, there is no stream on the map running through the canyon to facilitate flooding the caves, nor even if one was added do 1st level characters have the means to manipulate the terrain quickly nor produce more water than the average rainstorm in the area would. No, there is no way to burn them out, because 1st level characters simply cannot manipulate the environment fast enough to implement that sort of besieging strategy. None of the tribes as written engages in any sort of economic activity other than the goblins (I already mentioned that), and their economic activity is limited to a single wandering encounter that shows up if you linger around too much so strategic operations to strangle the logistics of the tribe are basically impossible unless the DM goes far beyond the text (which, why would you expect a novice DM to do). Moreover, the PC's are poorly equipped to lay siege to an area as vast as the caves, as they simply could not encircle it or effectively lay an ambush. Low level thieves certainly do not have the means to successfully lay a ton of traps even were it to occur to someone, and if it did, suddenly you are asking a DM to house rule as well as invent a scenario. There is no sign that the tribes do raid anything, so waiting for them to do so is asking for cooperation of the DM that he has no reason to give. Ironically, the 'tips given to novice DMs on how to run the module' may in fact work against the flexibility of the module you claim it has, because the DM is told how the monsters behave and given no reason to think they ever behave otherwise.

Another idea is to spread the caves out across a much larger area....

All of that is quite viable, but now you are talking about rewriting a module intended to teach a beginning DM. Again, showing a novice DM a poor module and expecting them to realize its a poor module and that it needs to be rewritten and manipulated is a terrible idea, as the most likely thing that will actually happen is the DM will consider the module a template for play as written and will emulate it until eventually some revelation may occur that the game doesn't have to be played this way (likely after buying some completely different module and discovering completely different approaches).

The module AS WRITTEN is indeed dull, but that is almost the thing that makes it attractive - you can do a LOT of things with it that Gygax never thought of beyond just bullheadedly charge into it until it's empty or the PC's TPK.

That damns rather than defends the module. And what Gygax may have thought is irrelevant. I'm quite certain he wouldn't have ran the module as written either. But what the module is as written looks like a slapdash job intended to meet a deadline. It has flashes of creativity and there are all sorts of quintessentially Gygaxian flourishes (the way treasure is hidden in plain sight, the inexplicable magical effects, the large set piece battles, the 'gotcha' allies that turn against you, the archaic words describing the contents of the rooms, and so forth). But on the whole I would not recommend running the module, and I note no one is recommending running the module 'as is', but instead arguing how great the module is if you invest in it and invent all sorts of stuff that isn't in it. And that's fine, but it's largely true of any module, and in this case I'd argue that the resulting campaign would probably be better without the caves themselves.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip lots of great advice) But what the module is as written looks like a slapdash job intended to meet a deadline. (snip)

That's pretty much the definition of any Gygax product: Gygax had great ideas but his execution sucked, probably because he was incapable of working with others - such as editors - in a collaborative fashion and because he was always rushing before a deadline. (The classic example is the Temple of Execrable and Unfinished Evil.)

I prefer to take the core of the ideas, and the positive memories of making them work in my less cynical early teen years, and then rewriting them completely. When I run the Caves of Chaos part of B2, which I have done in each edition from BX to 5E, I run the basic idea flavoured with those earlier memories. It's certainly not the published version and I don't even bother to refer to the module itself.

Arguably the most important thing I do is to determine what has united the disparate tribes. As I normally run FR, that typically involves the Zhentarim with the temple of Evil becoming a temple of Bane or Cyric or similar evil power. (I may be running another version soon with the Shadovar of Netheril occupying the same position.) I think this is one of the keys to providing some sort of verisimilitude, especially if you have players who wonder why such antagonistic humanoids are in close proximity and draw the (logical?) conclusion that something must be uniting them.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!

It's not that you can't have fun with that sort of 'it's the 1970's and we just invented the RPG' stuff - certainly my middle school friends and I did have a lot of fun with kicking the doors down and taking their stuff - it's just that at this point I've been doing this more than 30 years and I've no more interest in that sort of thing. Besides which, by the time B2 was printed people - including Gygax - were already experimenting with much grander ideas. The sole idea in B2 seems to be, "These are the monsters in the basic handbook. Let's use them all." Which is probably the first idea that occurred to any budding DM.

Look, before you go talking about how you have to delve into your elbows in a module, you might want to look up my threads on how to turn the ideas in otherwise terrible modules like 'Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits' or 'Temple of Elemental Evil' into something actually worthy of play. Or you might want to consider that I have large portion of Isle of Dread mapped at a 1 mile to the hex scale with something like 500 pages of notes. I don't think anyone has ever accused me of not being able to build a sandbox. I got problems as a DM, but setting design isn't one of them. And I'm just saying, B2 is just not worth giving that sort of treatment because the fundamental ideas therein are so barren and unimaginative and well lacking. There is nothing in B2 that I couldn't expect an imaginative 13 year old with a thesaurus to write themselves. It's a module that was equaled and excelled probably tens of thousands of times. It would have never been accepted for publication in Dungeon magazine. It's just not very good. What you made out of it might be great, but that's like saying 'Iron Chef' is a great way to teach novice cooks.

Er...ok? I didn't mean to tick you off or anything, sorry if I did. That said...

If you have B2 available to you (probably, you've been at this almost as long as I have), read page 2 again. Therein the module basically instructs the DM to "make stuff up; make up reasons; make up the why's and wherefores of the mini setting; expand it as play progresses". That's how it is "meant" to be used. That was it's intention - let the fledgling DM stretch his/her wings and adapt it to their burgeoning career.

I get what you are saying...I just think that you are looking at it from a "story" point of view and ignoring that the idea of "story adventure paths" weren't even a concept at that time. Keep on the Borderlands is perfect for teaching a DM how to do DM stuff. I definitely agree with you, however, that from a "logical story progression" type of teaching tool for a new DM...it sucks. But then again, as I said, it isn't trying to teach a DM to be a 'story teller' so much as how to be a Dungeon Master. All that story stuff? That will come naturally as the DM's style, knowledge and preferences mature.

IME, telling a DM how to "get the players back on track" to continue a story is a bad way to teach DM'ing. But that's me. Obviously you disagree. Different strokes and all that. No worries! You do you and I'll do me. At least both of our groups are having fun, right? That's the whole point of this hobby after all... :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!

So, I'm running a 1e version of Keep on the Borderlands. I'm struggling with how to make the caves interesting. It takes sooooooooo long to level up in 1e, that I'm afraid they won't have the juice for the rest of it. Plus . . . honestly, it's kind of boring. I want to spruce it up a bit. Any suggestions?

This is my suggestion: Go find Kenzer & Co's "Little Keep on the Borderland". Use that. :) It's written for Hackmaster 4th Edition (the 'Knights of the Dinner Table' play 3rd edition Hackmaster, btw). HM4 is pretty much an enhanced amalgamation of 1e (60%), 2e (20%) and BECMI (20%). This "Little Keep" is expanded GREATLY and has a LOT more "story logic" added to it. Awesome adventure. I don't think you will be disappointed!

PS: Just remember to remove 20hp from everything...as, in HM4, everything gets a 20hp kicker (so, yeah, kobolds have 21hp to 24hp).

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Celebrim

Legend
Hiya!...Er...ok? I didn't mean to tick you off or anything, sorry if I did. That said...

Howdy. You didn't "tick me off", and if you did, the fault would lie with me and not you, so you'd have nothing to apologize for in that regard. That said, what you did do is build an argument that relied not on your comprehension of what I wrote, but on your preconceptions and assumptions, leading you to have a conversation with yourself in which you were speaking not to me, but to some construct you'd erected in your mind. This makes it very hard to discuss anything with you without first kicking down the straw man and forcing you to confront my actual words.

If you have B2 available to you (probably, you've been at this almost as long as I have), read page 2 again. Therein the module basically instructs the DM to "make stuff up; make up reasons; make up the why's and wherefores of the mini setting; expand it as play progresses". That's how it is "meant" to be used. That was it's intention - let the fledgling DM stretch his/her wings and adapt it to their burgeoning career.

Sure, but there is a big problem with that line of reasoning. If that is what makes B2 a great module, then surely B1: In Search of Adventure is even better, as certainly it does even more to encourage the fledgling DM to stretch their wings and make up their own unique world. Page 2 does not address the fundamental problem that a novice DM has at this point in his career. That problem is that he does not yet know how to make stuff up. Encountering an exhortation to make stuff up is therefore useless, as the novice DM must immediately ask, "How?", and the text does not give a good answer. The only actual tutorial the DM has on what to make up at this point is the text of the module itself, which suggests, "Make up more stuff like this." Therefore, it is very much in the interest of the game and the budding DM's education, that the module present something that is actually really well done, so as to provide a template for all that future imagination. But B2 doesn't do that. It instead presents something fairly unimaginative, incoherent, repetitive, and one dimensional.

I get what you are saying...

That's just it. No you do not.

I just think that you are looking at it from a "story" point of view and ignoring that the idea of "story adventure paths" weren't even a concept at that time.

Look, you are wrong in every particular. B2 wasn't written in 1975, but in 1979. By the time 1979 rolled around, not only had lots of people done things with grander conception and better execution than B2, but so had Gary Gygax. Gary had already written S1 Tomb of Horrors (1975!!), S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (1976), S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojanth (1976), T1 Village of Homlett, and most critically the entire GDQ adventure path. So yes, adventure paths were already a thing, if in a primitive form, at least out there. But Gygax himself though he'd already produced several real master pieces and better work than B2 (some of it not yet published) had been surpassed as a writer of modules. Paul Jaquays by this point had written under the Judge's Guild title, 'Caverns of Thracia' and was coming out with the equally remarkable 'Dark Tower'. Moreover, Laura Hickman had already written Rahasia, and her husband Tracy had written 'Pharoah'. So by 1979, lots of people - including Gary Gygax - had written much more sophisticated adventures than B2 which also were better templates or 'how to guides' to a novice DM than 'Keep on the Borderlands'.

As far as I can tell from here, what's got you confused is that you think you are having an argument over 'sandboxes' versus 'adventure paths' or over 'story' versus 'setting' or some such thing, and I'm at least not having any such sort of conversation. I could care less on the question of sandboxes or adventure paths. I don't hold one higher than the other. I care about quality of conception, execution, and presentation. It's 2017, we ought to be well past such stupid arguments as whether a PnP RPG is properly a story and how one is created. Among the Dungeon Master's many hats is 'story teller', and it's only a question of how to do that while still giving the players the amount of agency that satisfies them and increases their enjoyment.

So, to the point, Keep on the Borderlands doesn't actually teach a DM how to do the DM stuff you say it does. There are things, previously mentioned, that are cool that the text does teach (evocative fantasy setting, interactive rooms with secrets to find, etc.) but what it does not in fact teach is the very thing you claim makes it great - how to invent and expand on a setting. That it needs to be expanded on is unquestioned, but in point of fact it only demands that it be expanded on without really giving good guidance on how to do so. In fact, quite often if you take the text seriously it actually gives either no advice or terrible advice on dealing with the sort of problems that will inevitably arise in the play of the adventure, to the extent that it will even quell the very invention you claim it encourages.

For example, one problem that will inevitably arise with a novice DM and a novice party running B2 is the party will wander off the edge of the map. You might suppose from your words that the module then encourages the DM to simply continue inventing, drawing new caverns, new villages, new lairs, and towers and populating them with challenges and treasure. But it doesn't. What it mostly encourages the DM to do is "get the players back on track" by employing invisible forcefields, talking animals that tell the players that they are going the wrong way, and devices of that sort. Isn't that the very thing you are claiming is a bad way to teach DM'ing?

The problem here is that before we can even talk about this successfully, I have to rudely stomp on the hubris underlying your whole argument, which is that I don't get it and you and I have different ways of DM'ing. How the heck do you know how I DM? Look "Keep on the Borderlands" doesn't just suck from a "logical story progression" perspective, but also from a "how to build a setting to explore" perspective. Certainly you can build a great setting that also happens to have the Caves of Chaos and a the Keep on the Borderlands in it, but the module doesn't in fact tell you how to do this. It just sort of assumes that you can, asks you to do so, but provides little or no internal help as to how to get there and in fact - if you just have the text as a guide - repeatedly leads you down the wrong path.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!

Sure, but there is a big problem with that line of reasoning. If that is what makes B2 a great module, then surely B1: In Search of Adventure is even better, as certainly it does even more to encourage the fledgling DM to stretch their wings and make up their own unique world. Page 2 does not address the fundamental problem that a novice DM has at this point in his career. That problem is that he does not yet know how to make stuff up. Encountering an exhortation to make stuff up is therefore useless, as the novice DM must immediately ask, "How?", and the text does not give a good answer. The only actual tutorial the DM has on what to make up at this point is the text of the module itself, which suggests, "Make up more stuff like this." Therefore, it is very much in the interest of the game and the budding DM's education, that the module present something that is actually really well done, so as to provide a template for all that future imagination. But B2 doesn't do that. It instead presents something fairly unimaginative, incoherent, repetitive, and one dimensional.

I still think I generally get what you are saying...it's just that we disagree on it.
If you are saying "The module doesn't help the fledgeling DM design new wilderness areas because there is no talk of it, nor is there a table or two, nor is there any guidelines on what creatures should/could be in what terrain"...which I think you are...then I AGREE WITH YOU. :) However...in my experience and in my view, having a rough drawn wilderness map with 4 "encounter areas" and a lot of empty space is just BETTER at teaching someone how to "make stuff up" in regards to being a DM. When a newbie DM is asked to do so, and immediately asks him/her self "How?", they will likely do what I did. Look at the rule book, look at the module, extrapolate from there, play the game. As the game progresses the DM will encounter situations that simply are not covered anywhere (rules or module). The DM then takes what little knowledge they have and adjudicates the situation. Rinse, repeat. After a year or so the DM should have enough confidence and capability to run a game completely "on the fly". The DM will run his/her game with his/her particular style. I ran the game different than my friend Chris, and we both ran the game different than my father did. All three of us, however, had learned 'how to DM'.

As I said...I do think I get where you are coming from. I just disagree with your assessment of what is the best way to teach someone how to DM. My preference is very much a 'toss him into the deep end'. Yours seems to be a more step-by-step progression of examples. And, I just think the whole 'toss him into the deep end' approach just works FAR better for teaching someone how to DM.

Look, you are wrong in every particular. B2 wasn't written in 1975, but in 1979. By the time 1979 rolled around, not only had lots of people done things with grander conception and better execution than B2, but so had Gary Gygax. Gary had already written S1 Tomb of Horrors (1975!!), S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (1976), S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojanth (1976), T1 Village of Homlett, and most critically the entire GDQ adventure path. So yes, adventure paths were already a thing, if in a primitive form, at least out there. But Gygax himself though he'd already produced several real master pieces and better work than B2 (some of it not yet published) had been surpassed as a writer of modules. Paul Jaquays by this point had written under the Judge's Guild title, 'Caverns of Thracia' and was coming out with the equally remarkable 'Dark Tower'. Moreover, Laura Hickman had already written Rahasia, and her husband Tracy had written 'Pharoah'. So by 1979, lots of people - including Gary Gygax - had written much more sophisticated adventures than B2 which also were better templates or 'how to guides' to a novice DM than 'Keep on the Borderlands'.

OK, thanks for the reminder. :) I wasn't thinking of the module in regards to all that had/was out. My bad. However, with the Moldvay box set, it came with B2 (iirc, after the first printing? not sure on that...it was a while ago after all! :) ). And, if someone was going to learn DM'ing with B2 or with Rahasia...imho, B2 is the better choice due in large part to its distinct lack of "specific story". Again...I think we just disagree with what is a better teaching method for new DM's.

So, to the point, Keep on the Borderlands doesn't actually teach a DM how to do the DM stuff you say it does.

And I say that yes, it does. It does NOT "hold your hand" and explain every thing. I contend that is a good thing! It "teaches" a DM to think about stuff in a more broader "campaign as a whole" way than a "logical story progression for this single adventure" way.

But, as I said many times before...I think we just disagree on what is a 'good' way to teach someone how to DM.

There are things, previously mentioned, that are cool that the text does teach (evocative fantasy setting, interactive rooms with secrets to find, etc.) but what it does not in fact teach is the very thing you claim makes it great - how to invent and expand on a setting. That it needs to be expanded on is unquestioned, but in point of fact it only demands that it be expanded on without really giving good guidance on how to do so. In fact, quite often if you take the text seriously it actually gives either no advice or terrible advice on dealing with the sort of problems that will inevitably arise in the play of the adventure, to the extent that it will even quell the very invention you claim it encourages.

I would say 'just read my last sentence above again'. It does teach how to invent and expand on a setting, but it does so in a way you disagree with. It presents a small little micro-cosm of civilization and wilderness. This is an example. This example is intended to be used by a new DM to do that inventing and expanding. As the DM does that inventing and expanding, he/she will run into things that have them scratching their heads.To me, this is a good thing. It is not a failing, it is a strength. It forces a DM to make decisions based on their own understanding up to that point. All of these decisions...for good or bad...is the very meat of "how to DM".

I do agree that some of the advice isn't very good (the whole "give the PC's potions of healing...a gift from a family member" thing just does NOT work out in the long run!). But the majority of the advice and module is good...from my POV at any rate.

For example, one problem that will inevitably arise with a novice DM and a novice party running B2 is the party will wander off the edge of the map. You might suppose from your words that the module then encourages the DM to simply continue inventing, drawing new caverns, new villages, new lairs, and towers and populating them with challenges and treasure. But it doesn't. What it mostly encourages the DM to do is "get the players back on track" by employing invisible forcefields, talking animals that tell the players that they are going the wrong way, and devices of that sort. Isn't that the very thing you are claiming is a bad way to teach DM'ing?

The part you are referring to is on page 12, "Adventures Outside the Keep". The beginning of that section sets the scope; "Naturally, they will be trying to find the Caves of Chaos, but this will take some travelling...". If the goal of the players (and the DM) for that session is to find the Caves of Chaos, then sure...go for it. What I learned from this was simple: It's a game, so if everyone wants to delve into the dungeons, and they start to wander off the map...just tell them so. "Guys, you're going off the map if you keep heading east". That is the best and most effective way of "not wasting time" when everyone wants to find the caves and go into them. Of course, it's also appropriate for the DM to just hand wave the wondering and say "After four days of travel and searching, you find the caves...here...[marks on map]".

In this regard, again, I agree with you that it could have been better handled. It still works just fine though, even if you use the examples given "A talking magpie says: Caves of the Beast, head to the East, eerRRAAWKKK". Some DM's will keep using this and it will become normal for their group. Other DM's won't like it and will find other methods.

The problem here is that before we can even talk about this successfully, I have to rudely stomp on the hubris underlying your whole argument, which is that I don't get it and you and I have different ways of DM'ing. How the heck do you know how I DM? Look "Keep on the Borderlands" doesn't just suck from a "logical story progression" perspective, but also from a "how to build a setting to explore" perspective. Certainly you can build a great setting that also happens to have the Caves of Chaos and a the Keep on the Borderlands in it, but the module doesn't in fact tell you how to do this. It just sort of assumes that you can, asks you to do so, but provides little or no internal help as to how to get there and in fact - if you just have the text as a guide - repeatedly leads you down the wrong path.

I don't think we are going to be able to talk about this successfully either. :( I don't know how you DM. I'm telling you how I DM and how I learned to DM and that I think learning how to DM the way I learned to DM is a good, solid, and superior way to learn the craft. As I've been trying to say...NO,
B2 does not, in fact, tell you how to do X, Y and Z
! But you claiming that because it doesn't explain how to do X, Y and Z that it is somehow "bad" at teaching someone how to DM just doesn't make sense to me.

Teaching me how to disarm a grenade? YES! I most definitely want a "Do X, then do Y, then do Z". Teaching me how to paint a bowl of fruit? NO! I most definitely DO NOT want a "Do X, then do Y, then do Z". ... ... Obviously I see the whole "teaching" and "learning" of how to be a good and effective Dungeon Master as more of an Art than of a Science.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Celebrim

Legend
"But you claiming that because it doesn't explain how to do X, Y and Z that it is somehow "bad" at teaching someone how to DM just doesn't make sense to me."

It seems your argument comes down to that B2 is great at teaching new players because it doesn't teach new players. That is not a falsifiable position. It's not only wrong, it's not even wrong. If tossing someone in the deep end is the correct approach, don't give them a module at all.
 

David Howery

Adventurer
I wouldn't think that B2 would be a good intro for new DMs; they could use something more organized/structured to start with, avoid a lot of the 'make it up as you go' thing. However, the module is fine for new player characters, people new to RPGs. Again though, the DM will have to add a lot of stuff/rework some of it to make it more palatable... one more reason it's not good for new DMs...
 

pemerton

Legend
So, I'm running a 1e version of Keep on the Borderlands. I'm struggling with how to make the caves interesting.
It's a module that splits the critics!

Gygax had great ideas but his execution sucked, probably because he was incapable of working with others - such as editors - in a collaborative fashion and because he was always rushing before a deadline.
For another take that agrees with Scrivener of Doom, here's Mike Mearls's review of B2 on rpg.net. Here's an extract that conveys the general flavour:

The Keep on the Borderlands (KotB) literally serves as exhibit A in the great case against Dungeons and Dragons. Rife with crimes against logic, coherence and good roleplaying, a reviewer can only look at this product the same way that a traffic cop looks at a ten car pile-up: with an eye on how this happened and who's to blame.​

But obviously some critics are big fans:

The old modules often play better than they read. Try running it. In fact try running it off the page with almost no prep (maybe an hour to read the introduction and skim the rest). Identify yourself as the game's referee, not the author of tonight's play experience (or even the emcee). Your job is to adjudicate the game fairly and consistently, not to make sure everyone has fun. It's the players' responsibility to have their characters survive and thrive. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
For a more elaborate take on this approach to running the Keep, read Luke Crane's report of running the module. This extract gives the overall thrust of his comments:

I think this module's design is genius. It evokes exactly what this era of D&D is about: exploration and puzzle-solving. The puzzles are geographical, social, magical and physical in nature—on a variety of scales, from tiny objects, to map-wide. Exploration serves to reveal information that serves in solving the puzzles. The design is simple in execution, but surprisingly subtle. One solution opens one possibility and closes the others. When we played, it was easy to make the Caves feel alive. It feels as if Gygax designed this module and then Moldvay reedited D&D to evoke the experience of playing Keep on the Borderlands.​

Personally I've never done very much with the Caves, but have had fun with the Keep. Here's a post I made about that a couple of years ago.
 

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