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1E Keep On The Borderline

Hussar

Legend
Context it's not supposed to be a normal adventure
It's basically a F you designed to kill power gamers and munchkins. Gary used it on people who came up to him with Uber powerful PC or Monty haul type DMs and players. Your +5 weapons and armor won't help much.

It's not a bad adventure at all, it's designed to kill you and be unfair.

Also with players like Kuntz and Ernest they used slaves and summoned critters as cannon fodder it makes sense.

Modern players won't really get it unless they know the context of why it was designed.
Follow that rather massive thread I linked and you'll see a much better interpretation that I can provide. Basically, no, it's got nothing to do with killing power gamers and munchkins. It's a nonsensical collection of puzzles with no solutions which makes it a very, very poorly designed adventure.

Funnily enough though, the munchkin and power gamers, like Robilar, were the ones to successfully navigate the Tomb. I mean, my high level paladin with his holy avenger and psionics (hey, we were like 13 years old, :D) steam rolled this thing like it wasn't even there.

The fact that you, in the same sentence say it's not a bad adventure that's designed to be unfair pretty much says it all doesn't it? If it's designed to be an unfair challenge, then it's poorly designed. Well, I guess it's a well designed unfair challenge, but you get the point. :D

Like Keep on the Borderlands, it's nostalgia and ubiquity that puts these modules in the "greatest hits" list. It's easy to be number one when there's no competition.
 

Zardnaar

Explorer
Follow that rather massive thread I linked and you'll see a much better interpretation that I can provide. Basically, no, it's got nothing to do with killing power gamers and munchkins. It's a nonsensical collection of puzzles with no solutions which makes it a very, very poorly designed adventure.

Funnily enough though, the munchkin and power gamers, like Robilar, were the ones to successfully navigate the Tomb. I mean, my high level paladin with his holy avenger and psionics (hey, we were like 13 years old, :D) steam rolled this thing like it wasn't even there.

The fact that you, in the same sentence say it's not a bad adventure that's designed to be unfair pretty much says it all doesn't it? If it's designed to be an unfair challenge, then it's poorly designed. Well, I guess it's a well designed unfair challenge, but you get the point. :D

Like Keep on the Borderlands, it's nostalgia and ubiquity that puts these modules in the "greatest hits" list. It's easy to be number one when there's no competition.
Difference is there a better Dungeon hacks than KotBL. ToH is doing what it's designed to do. Not all adventures need to be fair.

Level 13 is also very high in first Ed. You could come across + 3 to + 5 equipment a lot lower level. Holy avenger level 8 maybe frostbrand level 5 or 6.

Pregenerated PC for ToH are level 5 to 9 for the most part.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Funnily enough though, the munchkin and power gamers, like Robilar, were the ones to successfully navigate the Tomb. I mean, my high level paladin with his holy avenger and psionics (hey, we were like 13 years old, :D) steam rolled this thing like it wasn't even there.
So ..... something to think about. If you, when you were 13, had a high level level Paladin with psionics and a holy avenger ....

And you steamrolled ToH like it wasn’t there ....

Maybe that says a lot more about your group and DM than it does about the module.

I mean, if I say that I killed Odin and all the Norse pantheon like a hot knife through butter when I was in middle school ... well, it tends to speak more of the campaign I was in than any broader points. 😁
 

Zardnaar

Explorer
So ..... something to think about. If you, when you were 13, had a high level level Paladin with psionics and a holy avenger ....

And you steamrolled ToH like it wasn’t there ....

Maybe that says a lot more about your group and DM than it does about the module.

I mean, if I say that I killed Odin and all the Norse pantheon like a hot knife through butter when I was in middle school ... well, it tends to speak more of the campaign I was in than any broader points. 😁
Level 13 1E is like level 18+ 5E. A Balor had 8+8 hit dice by comparison.
 
On S1: read the account of the tournament experience in Alarums & Excursions. Besides being a relatively critical review, it shows what play techniques had currency when S1 was written: all the repetoire of classic dungeoneering (spikes, ropes, 10' poles, searching everything, etc).

B2 presumes that for the Caves, which is why I prefer the Keep!
 

Hussar

Legend
So ..... something to think about. If you, when you were 13, had a high level level Paladin with psionics and a holy avenger ....

And you steamrolled ToH like it wasn’t there ....

Maybe that says a lot more about your group and DM than it does about the module.

I mean, if I say that I killed Odin and all the Norse pantheon like a hot knife through butter when I was in middle school ... well, it tends to speak more of the campaign I was in than any broader points. 😁
Hehe. Oh, yes, absolutely.

But, my point is, if the module was the answer to munchkins and powergamers, which we absolutely were back then, then it failed rather miserably. Not only did it not stop 13 year old me, but, it failed to stop players like Robliar back in the day. I wasn't trying to imply that I was any sort of a good player back then. Ye gawds, not even a little. :D

However, saying that something is inherently unfair, and relies on the referee being inherently unfair (something AD&D is very much against) in order to succeed at being what it is, then well, it's poorly designed. I shouldn't have to cheeseweasel in order to run the module.
 

Zardnaar

Explorer
Hehe. Oh, yes, absolutely.

But, my point is, if the module was the answer to munchkins and powergamers, which we absolutely were back then, then it failed rather miserably. Not only did it not stop 13 year old me, but, it failed to stop players like Robliar back in the day. I wasn't trying to imply that I was any sort of a good player back then. Ye gawds, not even a little. :D

However, saying that something is inherently unfair, and relies on the referee being inherently unfair (something AD&D is very much against) in order to succeed at being what it is, then well, it's poorly designed. I shouldn't have to cheeseweasel in order to run the module.
It not designed to be fair, it's what makes it different. It also wasn't designed for normal campaign play.

Gary designed it around 1975 because of characters like Robilar and Tenser and how they played.

When I run it I tell the players straight up it's the Tomb of Horrors, last group gave up no big deal.

One of the young uns at the gamestore wants to play ToH it's on his bucket list. Some of them are vaguely familiar with it due to TftYP but I'll see if the will try 1E and run the original.
 

Hussar

Legend
It not designed to be fair, it's what makes it different. It also wasn't designed for normal campaign play.

Gary designed it around 1975 because of characters like Robilar and Tenser and how they played.

When I run it I tell the players straight up it's the Tomb of Horrors, last group gave up no big deal.

One of the young uns at the gamestore wants to play ToH it's on his bucket list. Some of them are vaguely familiar with it due to TftYP but I'll see if the will try 1E and run the original.
Agreed. Being unfair DOES make it different from other modules. Other modules are well designed. :D
 

Hriston

Explorer
What's your take on Keep On The Borderlands?
First, as a point of clarification, it isn't a 1st Edition module, as the thread tag would suggest. It was written for inclusion with the Holmes Basic Set and was later revised for the Moldvay Basic Set, so ostensibly it's for those editions of the game. There's some evidence, however, that Gygax wrote it using d6 hit dice for the monsters, instead of the d8 hit dice that were used in both Basic editions as well as AD&D, suggesting it was written, at least in part, with the original 1974 rules, pre-Greyhawk supplement.

Second, when I ran the adventure about five years ago using the D&D Next playtest conversion of the caves, I felt it needed fleshing out in several areas, some of which, in hindsight, probably wasn't all that necessary. My additions were as follows:

1. I set it in the World of Greyhawk, roughly following the suggestion in RttKotB for setting it in the Yeomanry, although I chose the eastern part of the Yeomanry, or Old Eor, rather than the western part, because I felt the Dreadmarsh area was a good fit for the lands of chaos to the east in the module. Part of this was to use the weather tables from the World of Greyhawk boxed set to generate naturalistic weather for the region. If I ever have the chance to run it again in a different Greyhawk campaign, I'd try placing it near the mountain pass between the Duchy of Tenh and the Hold of Stonefist.

2. I increased the scale of the wilderness map to one-half mile per square versus the original 100 yards to account for 5th edition's faster movement speeds. I felt this put enough distance between the keep and the caves. This had the effect of widening the river on the map to a mile or more across in some places, so I identified it with the Javan, one of the major rivers on the Greyhawk map.

3. I defined areas around the keep, caves, and other encounter areas on the wilderness map in which random encounters with the inhabitants of those areas might occur, and made random tables for which denizens of the caves might be encountered in that area. I also made tables for wandering monster checks in each area of the caves, including patrol groups of the particular cave's inhabitants and groups invading from other caves. All of these were also combined with more generic dungeon and wilderness random encounter tables.

4. I used some playtest-related documents concerning the characterization of some of the major NPCs, and in particular made some effort to draw parallels between the NPCs of the keep and characters from the HBO TV series "Deadwood".​

All in all, I think B2 is a great starting point for a campaign and stands on its own as a setting in its own right which can be expanded out in whichever direction the game-play takes the campaign.
 

Zardnaar

Explorer
B2 is so easy to sex up a bit. Add basic plot, name the NPCs and how they relate to each other. We have never played the module as written.

You were kind of encouraged to do that.
 

Hriston

Explorer
The two times I've used B2, the Keep itself has always been a bigger focus of play than the Caves. And in my BW game, when I ended up using the evil temple in my game it was not in the Caves near the Keep, but rather in the catacombs beneath the town of Hardby.

Here're the play reports.
It's kind of odd this thread now appears in the Pathfinder & Starfinder forum.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Hehe. Oh, yes, absolutely.

But, my point is, if the module was the answer to munchkins and powergamers, which we absolutely were back then, then it failed rather miserably. Not only did it not stop 13 year old me, but, it failed to stop players like Robliar back in the day. I wasn't trying to imply that I was any sort of a good player back then. Ye gawds, not even a little. :D

However, saying that something is inherently unfair, and relies on the referee being inherently unfair (something AD&D is very much against) in order to succeed at being what it is, then well, it's poorly designed. I shouldn't have to cheeseweasel in order to run the module.
I might not have been perfectly clear; munchkins and powergamers exist at all ages, but IME and based on my recollection, people who play in middle school (especially, but not necessarily, with a middle school friend as a DM) tended to have campaigns that would result in high-level paladins with psionics and holy avengers.

It wasn't optimization or powergaming that was happening; it was .... well, not necessarily "Monty Haul," but more like, "DM not wanting to alienate his* friends and thus having a certain type of campaign."

Now, I don't know that this is the case; for all I know, maybe you and your middle school friends were being DM'd by an adult who loved TPKs and you got your high-level paladin with psionics and a holy avenger the old fashioned way ... YOU EARNED IT! ;) But, again, there tended to be some less-than-neutral, less-than-experienced DMing that would occur sometimes, because, hey, playing AWESOME is more fun than struggling against death, especially in middle school.

Which leads to the whole "steamroll" TOH thing. It wasn't that it was designed to be unfair, necessarily; instead, it was designed because Gygax was tired of PCs who thought they could combat their way through everything. This was an adventure that was designed to kill the unwary, with some traps that specifically were designed to go against normal preconceptions. It was a major switch in the normal adventure. In fact, it should work against "munchkins" and "powergamers" because there really isn't much to munchkin or powergame. I mean- your holy avenger isn't as useful as a 10' pole in TOH.

On the other hand, I do find it believable that some parties, especially with an inexperienced or beneficent DM, got through it easily. All it takes are a few, "Are you really sure," type prompts and the module can lose a lot of its bite. Not to mention the bragging rights afterwards, "Oh yeah, we totally got through that!"

PS- On the whole Robilar thing, a) it was a test version, b) he knew what was up (and so did everything extra carefully), c) took a veritable army of cannon fodder with him that he kept sending ahead of him (they all died**), and d) when he made it to the end, he scooped up a little loot and hightailed it out of there. :)





*I'm using the male pronoun because it's a fair assumption given the time, unfortunately.

**That's something else that is missing from our current game.
 
It's not a bad adventure at all, it's designed to kill you and be unfair.
So I will strongly contest this claim. The reason that "Tomb of Horrors" has never been bested by its imitators is precisely this misunderstanding regarding "Tomb of Horrors". Every imitator of the module has failed because they tried to design an adventure that killed you and was unfair. The gaming product most associated with this mindset is the "Grimtooth" series, and in particular comparing the "Grimtooth" version of a lethal death dealing dungeon - the "Dungeon of Doom" - to "Tomb of Horrors" is extremely productive, because it shows how on the balance "Tomb of Horrors" is frighteningly fair.

If you think ToH succeeds because it's unfair, you don't get it.

I put it to you that is trivial to create a dungeon that is unfair and kills you, and products like "Grimtooth" just go to show how feeble the imagination of people who want to kill players in an unfair way typically is. It's not hard to create completely undetectable and unavoidable trap triggers that then trigger completely unavoidable and utterly lethal effects. I'll be happy to provide any number of examples to anyone that doesn't see how obvious that is.

Tomb of Horrors by contrast isn't even particularly merciless and bloody-minded. It eases the players into the lethality of the dungeon in a way that a party of the suggested level should be able to deal with by way of large amounts of hit points and available spells like slow poison, neutralize poison, cure disease, and even raise dead. Once the party is made aware of the seriousness of the situation and how this is not a normal dungeon, only then does it start escalating. Acererak by and large plays fair. None of the traps use any sort of reverse logic. None of the clues are false clues. Sacrifices, such as of a magic ring or of gems, are fairly rewarded. Generally speaking, Acererak doesn't signal one thing in one encounter, and the go a different way in another. If doing something is a bad idea, it remains a bad idea all throughout the dungeon.

Honestly, Ravenloft is a much less fair dungeon than Tomb of Horrors. Strahd is a level X monster and the PC's are level 6. In 1e AD&D, a level VIII monster is considered a lethal encounter for level 6 characters. The PC's shouldn't even be facing a level X monster for two more levels, and on top of that Strahd has lair/domain abilities, perfect knowledge of the PC's actions, and the ability to both recover from any setback and the ability to permanently maim his opponents in a way that they are completely unable to recover from. Strahd is a proactive villain that puts the party under immense time pressure. Acererak by contrast is completely passive. The party can take as long as it likes to work their way through or around the problems that they face. So long as they just don't boldly stride forward confident in their ability to overcome problems, an intelligently played party should be fine. There is rarely anything that a 10th level party shouldn't be able to recover from as long as they just didn't charge blindly forward as a whole party with no safeguards. Where as Strahd can kill you even if you play intelligently, just by the DM rolling well.

And that comes down to what is really going on. In D&D, players are used to everything being weighted in their favor. They are used to getting a saving throw to avoid any consequences of mistakes that they make. They are used to having ablative hit points which protect them from any damage sources that are out there. In short, they are used to playing a game that is markedly unfair, and so when they play a game that is fair, it comes as a shock to them.

When you talk about something being unfair, the infamous devil head isn't something you should be talking about. It's completely fair. Examples of unfairness are much easier to talk about in for example Return to the Tomb of Horrors, which has several encounters where if the DM rolls high, the PC is simply dead, because something reaches out, grabs them and kills them, not because of a choice the player made, but because there is something proactive in the environment (such as a demon) that has in effect a "die no save" attack. An attack that is "die no save" is very different than the player makes a choice and the outcome is death without a save. In one the player is a passive agent and has no reasonable chance to avoid the problem - only luck will save him. In the other, the player is the active party, the trap that kills them is passive, and only if they interact with it without first trying to obtain some sense of what will happen are they killed. The devil mouth has never reached out and grabbed anyone. It is entirely, brutally, fair.
 
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But, my point is, if the module was the answer to munchkins and powergamers, which we absolutely were back then, then it failed rather miserably. Not only did it not stop 13 year old me, but, it failed to stop players like Robliar back in the day.
The module is really only super lethal below about 13th level. That's because it is so passive. As the party gets routine access to higher and higher level magic, such as True Seeing and Find the Path, mundane passive dungeons become increasingly trivial, simply because the player just has all the answers to all the problems the module is asking. With high level magic and potent enough weapons, you can steam roll Tomb of Horrors.

That's not what makes Tomb of Horrors so unique. You can say that of pretty much any module.

What's really unique about Tomb of Horrors is that normally, a module that is quite challenging to 9th and 10th level characters is impossibly lethal and wholly unfair to 1st or 3rd level characters. But because Tomb of Horrors is fair, it never really does much to challenge the characters. All the challenge is aimed at the players. Most modules have at least a couple of encounters that amount to damage races where the characters have to kill something before it kills them, and its mostly a matter of rolling well whether the party advances successfully with relatively little input from the players. Most modules you die because you roll a '1' or essentially flip a coin 5 times and get tails each time. We've come to think of that as 'fair', but it's less fair than what Tomb of Horrors does. Tomb of Horrors is a module that is challenging to 10th level characters, that can very conceivably be survived and won by 1st or 3rd level characters with almost no equipment.
 

Hussar

Legend
Needless to say [MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION] I disagree with pretty much everything you just said.

ToH is unfair because the puzzles are largely nonsensical and have no rational solution.
 

billd91

Earl of Cornbread
Back on The Keep on the Borderlands - never been that big a fan. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, the 25th anniversary treatment, is a better introductory adventure on a number of levels and updates the Caves of Chaos really well. We had a great time playing it (using 3e rules) because most of us remembered our B2 experiences yet were able explore the new changes at the same time.
 

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