1E Keep On The Borderline



Full Disclosure: Keep on the Borderlands is probably my all-time favourite module and I think it is near perfect. :)

Most of my complaints are the same as ones I've read online recently although I probably have a new one or two to add. For starters, the fact that neither the keep nor any of the many NPCs that live there have names is pretty off-putting.
Not a bug, a feature. ;) I LOVE that they don't have names. It lets the DM add names that fit into his/her world. The names of NPC's in Farune are different from those in Iron Kingdoms, which are different from those in Kalamar. He/She can also put in specific 'family' names and build a truly believable bunch of people that the Players will remember because the DM will remember. It teaches a begining DM to either get good at coming up with names on the fly (my forte...), or develop his/her own list to choose from.

ParanoydStyle said:
A complaint I haven't heard from others that I'll throw in is that the "Keep On The Borderlands" is actually a medium sized town. See, on my initial skim of the module years ago, I kind of got the impression from the text about the PCs using the Keep as a base of operations that it would be mostly deserted except for the PCs and the PCs could customize the keep as they saw fit but of course once I got into translating it was clear that that was REALLY REALLY not the case. With a bank and a guild hall and an inn and a tavern and multiple shops along with a seriously sizable army of defenders, the "Keep On The Borderlands" is actually a medium-sized or large town by D&D standards. Which actually makes it even weirder that it doesn't have a name.
It has a 'name', which is referred to as Castellan Keep. But mostly it's just referred to as "The Keep" by people living there, or the full name of "The Keep on the Borderlands" by those living outside. Again, this is a GOOD thing! It lets the DM, once again, come up with his own name if he/she wants too.

ParanoydStyle said:
And finally, and this is a complaint I've seen before, it feels like a nonsensical quagmire of anti-logic how literally 8-10 tribes of demi-humans/monstrous humanoids have chosen to live right on top of each other tenement slum style in the Caves of Chaos when they have the entire surrounding wilderness to find lairs in where they're not tripping over each other. Then there's the fact that they are all completely passive: largely, each tribe of humanoids is just there in their caves waiting for the PCs to come in and try to kill them.
Again, this is a GOOD thing! It's not trying to "tell the DM what's going on"...it's showing the DM "hey, there are all these different monsters living here; do something with it, for example, the orcs are squabbling with eachother, the goblins have an 'understanding' with the ogre, and everyone just stays the heck away from the minotaur". This little bit of "friction" between a handful of tribes/creatures SHOULD get the creative juices of the DM flowing! The DM can then decide what and how the Caves are running. This is very much in the style of teaching a new DM what being a DM is about; creating stuff yourself for you and your group.

ParanoydStyle said:
The two semi-warring orc tribes are a baby step in the right direction but the fact that neither the tribes or their leaders have names is sort of a roadblock to the roleplaying possibilities. There's a real lack of enemy variety as while there are at least five or six varieties of monstrous humanoids to fight, there really isn't much difference between fighting orcs and hobgoblins, between hobgoblins and gnolls, between gnolls and orcs, between kobolds and goblins, etcetera.
All this is a veritable smorgasbord for the new DM's hungry brain. Does the DM like funny/comedic stuff? Ok, here's "Bob the Orc...he's the tribes builder" (insert parody of children's Bob the Builder cartoon). Does the DM like 'WoW' orcs? Ok, we have "Chief Tharg Bloodbane". Or maybe the DM has an idea for orcs more like Star Trek Klingons, so we get "Mor'tah of House Ghal". The DM is the one deciding the bit's and bobs that will make this adventure his/hers.

ParanoydStyle said:
And finally, yes, it really does seem to amplify some of the gross and racist underpinnings of early D&D, explicitly stocking these caves with non-combatant females and children, and then encouraging you to go in and make widows and orphans of them which is perfectly okay because they look different than you do.
o_O Whoa...that totally came out of left field. Don't even know how to comment about that, so I won't.

Bottom line is that KotB was designed to encourage the DM to be a DM. To develop his/her own way of doing things. To flex their new creative world-building wings. IMNSHO this module does this in spades! :D I have run multiple campaigns with this module...frequently with the same group. Each time it lasted between a year and two years of play time. And you know what? Each was a totally different experience, because we, as a group, made the story in stead of simply being fed boxed text with pre-determined 'everything' that the Players basically were expected to follow.

Keep on the Borderlands = Amazing adventure module!


Paul L. Ming


We ran it for a few of the new players who've never played ANY D&D before and it got us to level 5 before we started to branch off of it. Worked great, but a lot of dungeon crawling obviously. By the time we were done, we were glad for a nice overland adventure. I think if run properly, it is one of the best and certainly iconic D&D story lines out there. :)


Another one that I've used more than a few times in that way is actually B3 - Palace of the Silver Princess. Most recently for 4th edition - I took the basic idea but turned it into a battle between two of the Archfey - with the assault and occupation of the palace and the kidnapping of the Princess and her consort as "political" maneuvers between them. It worked out really well, even if I did basically have to scrap the lower level nonsense map and replace it with something more sane, the basic framework was solid enough to use it as a basis for the adventure.
I never liked KotB much - the Keep is good except for lack of names, but with a couple hundred soldiers it doesn't make sense as a low level base; it should have cleared out the Caves of Chaos long ago. set it up as on the Borderland of a mid-high level zone, with eg G1 Against the Giants as the threat (at least 2 days' travel away), and it makes a lot more sense. I always found the Caves a bit lame anyway; the endless hordes of humanoids are a bit boring - the 'specials' like the owlbear minotaur & evil priests are ok.

By contrast I like orange cover B3 Palace of the Silver Princess a lot, in fact this is making me think about adapting it to Primeval Thule...!
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I think people are kinda overlooking that it was a module written for beginners (and children) when the hobby was new and even fantasy was fairly new as a popular genre.

Look at the cover of the new Pathfinder, a new & exciting (apparently for some) take on kobolds by making them like bipedal velociraptors in different colors. Well, back when B2 came out, no one knew what a kobold was, period. People might have known what an orc was, but that was a novelty, since they were only found in Tolkien up to that point.

The lack of names and such was because at the time there were really no published campaign worlds, people were expected to make their own, so as generic

And why do they all live in the caves? Well, one of the things was that most humanoids did not like sunlight. So they needed to live in caves.

It's like complaining that Grimm's Fairy Tales aren't A Game of Thrones.


Rotten DM
ok, OK. I confess. I wrote Keep under a pen name by that asbeeep beep gynax change things, and took things out.
Really the caves were PMS 131 that is Public Monster School 131. The school was base on Little House of the Redacted. They were too poor for desks. The lunches were to be catered in so no need for kitchen or food storage. They were going to be taught either by the minister Elly. This was change to Eli The minster then dropped all together. Or taught by ethernet tricorders (yes had some scific stuff in the module) but Gary change the spelling to etheral and wanted the textbooks be dropped by a Spruce Goose. That was toss aside. (really he spilled Irish coffee on some pages and the only thing that was readable was ETHERAL PLANE).
They are other points I could make but I think I made enough.


That's the sort of thing that (as per my post upthread) I've not worked out how to do!

Another possible difference, but may be not - with B2 I've always been able to (re)work it during the actual course of play. Did your treatment of X2 require preparation? It sounds like it did, but maybe not.
It depends on what you mean by "preparation". I tend to overprepare for any game that I run - though that has changed as I've gotten older and have less time :) For the last time I ran X2 I basically scanned through the adventure to pull out the NPCs and noted their personalities and figured out stats that I could reskin as them rather than build full monsters. I also went through and noted which encounters I thought were hitting the right tone and which ones were just dungeon-crawly nonsense that wouldn't work with what I was going for and made a few notes to skip over those things (there were fewer of those than you'd think - even the garden, which I thought I'd have to just throw out and have to replace entirely - was able to be sufficiently creeped up with a few changes). Beyond that I mostly improvised.

B3, OTOH, took significant amounts of preparation to get hammered into a form that I liked. But now I'm actually itching to run it again :) I may have to convert what I have over to 5e to run it for a group that hasn't actually been through it...


I never liked KotB much - the Keep is good except for lack of names, but with a couple hundred soldiers it doesn't make sense as a low level base; it should have cleared out the Caves of Chaos long ago. set it up as on the Borderland of a mid-high level zone, with eg G1 Against the Giants as the threat (at least 2 days' travel away), and it makes a lot more sense. I always found the Caves a bit lame anyway; the endless hordes of humanoids are a bit boring - the 'specials' like the owlbear minotaur & evil priests are ok.

By contrast I like orange cover B3 Palace of the Silver Princess a lot, in fact this is making me think about adapting it to Primeval Thule...!
Thinning out the number of occupants or combatants in the Keep, which honestly a medieval keep should not have too many retainers anyway, seems like an easy fix though.


All this talk of the Keep's population is making me think I need to go back and look at it again. I don't think it's something I've ever paid much attention to in the past.


Thinning out the number of occupants or combatants in the Keep, which honestly a medieval keep should not have too many retainers anyway, seems like an easy fix though.
I recall reading Harlech Castle had a standing garrison of 30 men.


Slayer of Keraptis
Even setting aside nostalgia, I think it's a great module. Because it does the most important thing: inspire the DM to be creative. No names listed? So what. That means when I look at the picture of the guy being turned upside down and robbed, I came up with some NPCs that fit that group in the tavern that the PCs saw. I give them names, and personalities. It gave character to the scene. What KotB did to a new gamer like myself, was teach me that having the right amount of hints to spark my imagination without spelling out everything for me was the right way to go and the best way to learn a game that was about imagination. It gave you the tools for creation (a blank NPC sheet and graph paper, etc) Of course YMMV, but for a young me, it was the perfect way to learn the game as a DM that has served me extremely well over the past 35+ years. As mentioned upthread, I find it harder to customize modern adventures because it's a ton more work to overwrite all the backstory, NPCs, motivations, etc in modern adventures. Spare the page count by not putting in all that detail (allowing me to quickly get to the important bits) and give me just enough to be an outline--a jumping off point. Let me mold the world and creatures inside it the way I envision and my players like best. Let me adapt the game world and NPCs based on PC actions and interaction because the PCs can be one of the most inspiring parts of the game for me as a DM. I find that flow to be much more natural than predetermined names, personalities, backstories, etc.

If I want to read a book, I'll read a book. I don't like how modern adventures feel like a book with everything already mapped out, and all the DM does is narrate the predetermined story and interactions with a few random/not so random dice rolls.

I've ran B2 hundreds of times. Sometimes it's a typical dungeon crawl. Sometimes the PCs ally with the monsters and attack the keep. Sometimes the PCs defeat the Caves and then use political intrigue to take the keep for themselves. One time the PCs fell into a rift that the cult leader summoned and ended up in a weird Hunger Games scenario (back in 1984, long before HG was a thing). Point is, is that you never know what could happen.
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All this talk of the Keep's population is making me think I need to go back and look at it again. I don't think it's something I've ever paid much attention to in the past.
LOL I am pretty well familiar with the population of the keep. The last time I DM'ed KotB the party was evil, killed/intimidated/recruited/etc. monsters from the caves, and led them to overthrowing the keep at set it up as a base of operations in the area, leaving the minotaur eventually in charge when the moved on.


It's more average imho but DMs probably sexed it up. It was my first adventure the patrarchs (Sherlane?) daughter was kidnapped and she was held by the bugbears.

This was a feature not a bug back then B1 and B3 were the same and you had to add your own encounters as well.

A modern adventure is often better in most ways but they don't teach you much. I'm playing lmop with younger players and yeah they love critical role etc but are not as good at improvising although some of then are very new and the DM has been playing for a year. P. They all have different tastes as well but from the sounds of it they would have liked 2E as space, Vikings and GoT type politics seem to be popular themes.


Thinking further on what I've got from B2 that I couldn't have just made up myself:

For me it's not so much the maps and stats - the sort of game I run, even when running D&D, isn't really dependent on maps of the classic sort; and the last time I used the Keep was for a Burning Wheel game, and so the stats were irrelevant.

What it is is the situation: a bastion of order/civilisation that is on the verge of falling; with it's own internal threats, some purely internal (eg the rivalry between the castellan and ), others linked to the external (the evil priest).

It's fairly easy to run a PCs-rob-the-naive-townsfolk or PCs-get-the-better-of-an-irritating-functionary scenario - but the Keep adds something to that, because in doing these things the PCs are pushing the keep closer to that verge. In other words, it's hard to act in the Keep without, through actions if not sentiment, taking a side in the struggle. Which is what makes for good play!

When I used it in my BW game, the PCs accused the evil priest of heretical sorcery, and their was a duel between his champion (another NPC I'd introduced into the situation) and one of the accusing PCs, with the Castellan overseeing but providence as the judge (for, as the Castellan put it borrowing a line from the film Excalibur, "By the law of God no knight who is true can win against one who is false"). The PC lost, and so the PCs - not prepared to challenge the authority of the Castellan - had to acknowledge the evil priest's innocence.

Maybe I would have come up with an equally compelling situation on my own, but I'm not complaining about having it handed to me!


DMs who say KotB sucks because it doesn't have everything fleshed out are sucky DMs.
Well, first of all, most of us here saying that it sucks have much more complex reasons than "because it doesn't have everything fleshed out". For one thing, that's a nonsense complaint - no adventure or rules set has everything fleshed out - not even the longest, most linear, most detailed adventure path has everything remotely fleshed out. Every adventure requires preparation work because no adventure is remotely complete. Every adventure requires adaptation, both to suit the tastes of the GM and to suit the tastes of the players. It's just normal for an adventure to require fleshing out.

Secondly, do you really have any thing to add to this conversation other than to insult people?

And thirdly, sans doing something like 'Critical Role, it's impossible for me to demonstrate my skill as a DM over the internet. But what I can do is demonstrate my skill at fleshing things out and content creation, which I consider one of the key skills that would demonstrate quality in a DM, precisely because everything needs to be fleshed out.

For example:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?509229-What-do-the-PCs-find-in-a-City-of-the-Jann (read a bit into the thread after I figure out what the OP is after/needs)

And that's just a sample. So yeah, fleshing out stuff is something I can do.

The thing about something like 'Demonweb Pits' or 'Temple of Elemental Evil', is that even though those are terrible modules, they are terrific ideas for modules. They have good solid bones, even if the fleshing out that the writer actually did is at best uninspired and at worst pedestrian. The thing about B2 is that it's not even particular good idea for a module. The flesh in some parts is actually pretty decent. Gygax writes tons of interesting details into individual encounters of the module. But the underlying structure and idea of the module isn't that great. So what you actually find in people that are using the module is that they are taking just the skin of the module, and rebuilding pretty much everything else. I mean, even among the modules defenders, a lot of what they seem to be using the most is simply the 4 pages of the module that sketch out the "Keep" environment, and just stock piling the keep with what they need. Or you'll hear of people who build a vast sandbox around the module, detailing empires and villages and so forth filled with other opportunities for adventure, and creating back and fore story that B2 doesn't have anywhere, and then they have a great campaign which involves a ton of other stuff that has very little to do with B2, and more to do with the fact that their characters were also playing a bunch of custom content and modules like "B1: In Search of the Unknown", "L1: The Secret of Bone Hill", "L2: The Assassin's Knot" at the same time and often instead of playing B2. So yes, when you do that and you do it well, you'll likely have a fun time. But using that as evidence that B2 is a great module is a lot like using the evidence that I was able to give a sketch for fleshing out Q1 as evidence that Q1 is a great module, or that groups played GDQ with a skilled DM and enjoyed it.

But I can hardly think of a module less worthy of investing all that time fleshing it out than B2.


To address one common concern: When I ran it for 4E, I highlighted how unusual it was to have so many different monsters in close proximity, and then added a hidden shrine to a God of Tyranny beneath the center of it - the shrine was drawing all of these various races to it.

But, generally speaking, as one of the first adventures, ever, it doesn't hold up by modern standards, but was great for the time.