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TheAuldGrump

[Game Mastering] Keep on the Borderlands & Beyond

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I was just wondering, how many people started their GMing with the classic Keep on the Borderands, and how many expanded upon it?

 

I was already a GM before it appeared - but it has always seemed that it established the basic format for sandbox style campaigns.

 

A starting location to act as the PCs base of operations, encounter areas in the wilderness itself, and, of course, the Caves of Chaos as the quintessential dungeon crawl.

 

While it has no hexes, it is pretty much the start for most people that get into hex crawling campaigns.

 

When running and expanding (five completely different Beyond the Borderlands campaigns, at most recent count) my start is adding something going on in the Keep itself (I cannot claim credit - the first time I dealt with the Keep on the Borderlands I was a player - and it turned out that the Banker was up to no good). Somebody is doing something that the PCs will need to get involved with. (The first of my own plots - Raids from the orcs in the Caves of Chaos being coordinated with bad guys in the Keep itself - with the goal of eventually subverting the security of the Keep itself, leading to its fall if the PCs do not save the day.)

 

Then expanding to the North - for some reason I always assumed that the Keep is on a northern border, running East-West. (I honestly don't think I have ever run it as part of its native Greyhawk setting.)

 

For my own most recent BtB campaign I added a battle of manipulation between infernal courts.

 

For Sam's BtB I had a campaign into the environs and ruins of a duergar/fire giant empire - that the Forces of Chaos overthrew about five hundred years before the campaign begins.

 

What have other people done with this old warhorse?

 

Megan is starting work on a hex crawl style game, and I want to give her plenty of ideas to borrow steal. ::D:

 

The Auld Grump

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In my early GMing, there were no published adventures (that I ever saw, anyway). The first published site/adventure that I saw was the City State of the Invincible Overlord (and later the accompanying Wilderlands of High Fantasy), which I used quite a bit at the time. Amazing thing for its era.

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I started with the 1981 boxed set that had KotB in it. I don't think we got very far with it as we preferred to make up our own dungeons using the DMs Guide I bought with my birthday money.  And I think that was the last time I paid for anything related to the game. It was just so much more fun to make it up myself.  I looked at modules in bookstores, but they cost money, you know.  Something I was rather short of at that age. 

 

We briefly ran it here on the forum as a play by post.  I subbed as GM for a bit near the end. Turned the keep into a hideout for bandits. Or maybe it was already, don't remember. 

 

 

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Good old Keep on the Borderlands.

 

I've ran it a few times over the years but this one time ... I recall adding a little rumour to the keep about a very chaotic knight who was mortally wounded and retired to sit upon his throne with his four servants. There he intended to use blood rubies to drain their life force in an attempt to keep him alive. This was, of course, lending some backstory to location 52.

 

As they adventured in the area my players shared the story around the campfire a few times. Therefore when they reached area 52 I added a non animated skeleton to the throne. Instead of simply assuming the four skeletons on the floor would get up and attack my players assumed that this was the chaotic knight they'd heard so much about and that the four cheap garnets in the throne were actually the blood rubies of legend. It added a beautiful touch to an otherwise fairly bland encounter.

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I bought my first D&D boxed set on my 13th birthday way back in 1983, and Keep on the Borderlands was included.  I have run it a couple of dozen times since then, and have been giving it a lot of action lately.  Of course, it was the playtest module for D&D Next, and I ran it with a couple of different groups.  When my oldest daughter turned 13, I started a game for her junior high friends, and sent them in to get their feet wet and learn how to use their characters.  This year, I started the same process with my second daughter, now that she is in junior high.  Now that my oldest daughter is in high school, she is running her own game, and when she asked what I thought she should run for a new group, I recommended Keep on the Borderlands.  I work at a university, and employ student workers.  When they start up campaigns, and come to me for advice, my advice usually revolves around getting a pdf of Keep on the Borderlands, and everybody learning the ropes together.  It is a staple of my table.  I make most of my own campaign content, and have since college, but, whenever I feel nostalgic, or, I want to introduce new players to the concepts, mechanics, or just the basic rules of dungeoneering ( don't split the party, look for secret doors everywhere, prisoners are not always what they seem...) I reach for KotB.

 

I think one of the things that makes KotB so useful is that while it is very generic, it offers such a wellspring of opportunities that every group is able to put their own stamp on it.  Murder Hobos, Negotiators, Character Actors, Beer and Pretzel Jokers, Bean Counters, everybody can find a place to shine in the Caves of Chaos.  Maybe they do a sweep and clear on the whole complex.  Maybe they rescue prisoners and spend a lot of time interacting with them.  Maybe they hire out a tribe, or get hired out by a tribe to fight against another tribe.  Maybe the cult is the real villain.  Maybe each tribe has a different warlord or chief who is a distinct character and requires different tactics or efforts to defeat.

 

Also, KotB is a great place to work into any number of plots.  When I am keeping things simple, a drunken scout sells the players a map to the Caves, and the Watch Captain pays a bounty on monster scalps.  Or, a merchant has lost his wares to raiders and wants his stuff back.  I have used the borderlands as a frontier-type atmosphere, and made the characters protectors of the local colonists, ala Last of the Mohicans.  One Halloween, the zombie plague broke out at the Keep, and the cause, as well as the only cure was held by the death cult in Cave K.  Another time, an evil wizard gained a mighty relic, and decided to build his tower nearby.  He recruited the tribes one by one and they began to organize under his banner.  The characters had to go in and weaken his forces before storming his stronghold.  Another time, a magical blade was being sent across the border as a symbol of a new treaty, and the impending nuptials of the neighboring kingdoms prince and princess.  When the couriers were ambushed and the blade spirited away, the characters had to recover the sword, only to discover that the death cult was the tool of an evil baron who plotted to keep the kingdoms at war, and coveted the princess for himself.

 

I love Keep on the Borderlands.  It is one of my Top 5 Classic Modules, maybe even as high as #3.  If you've run it before, revisit it.  If you've never run it, or never played it, get a copy and give it a whirl.  It is a lot of fun packed into a two page blue-and-white map.

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17 hours ago, Doug Sundseth said:

In my early GMing, there were no published adventures (that I ever saw, anyway). The first published site/adventure that I saw was the City State of the Invincible Overlord (and later the accompanying Wilderlands of High Fantasy), which I used quite a bit at the time. Amazing thing for its era.

One of the things I lost, long years ago, was the Judges Guild Journal magazine that City State made its first appearance in - and not just amazing for its era, even now there are few city settings that come close. (One of which is the Necromancer Games version of City State - which was as awesome as the original.)

 

And, yeah - for hex crawling... still Wilderlands cannot be beat*. ::):  (Gary Gygax gave Judges Guild the license to do adventures - for free - because he was utterly convinced that no one would pay money to buy premade adventures and settings, when they could make their own.... He was wrong.)

 

The Auld Grump

 

* Though I have high, high hopes for The Lost Lands from Frog God (in for the hardcover on the Kickstarter). Which actually has a hex crawling campaign titled Hex Crawl Chronicles... ::P:

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Nope. Might have a copy, but I'm fairly certain I've never run Keep on the Borderlands, or been run through it.

I didn't seriously start gaming, or running games, until Eberron came out, and ... well, never looked back. 

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I checked the publication history.  It went out of print in the early 80's, though it was partially included in the'85 supermodule B1-9.  After that it wasn't reprinted until '99 for the collectors set, 2010 for 4E, and then 2012 for the 5E playtest.  So by the time I learned to read it was already out of print and wasn't back in print until after I started playing in the '90s.

 

So the only time I've GMed it was when I talked my group out of playing pathfinder and trying the 5E playtests.  They really did not like the 5E playtest so that lasted all of one session.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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I did, and converting it to 5E I probably made too many mistakes, didn't really know how to do levels within the concept of the sandbox or really figure what the level cap should have been. It was a mess but most of the players had fun (two were wangrods) and three years later the campaign is coming to a close as the head priest of the caves is now ascending to godhood and the heroes try to stop him.

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22 hours ago, TheAuldGrump said:

One of the things I lost, long years ago, was the Judges Guild Journal magazine that City State made its first appearance in - and not just amazing for its era, even now there are few city settings that come close. (One of which is the Necromancer Games version of City State - which was as awesome as the original.)

 

And, yeah - for hex crawling... still Wilderlands cannot be beat*. ::):  (Gary Gygax gave Judges Guild the license to do adventures - for free - because he was utterly convinced that no one would pay money to buy premade adventures and settings, when they could make their own.... He was wrong.)

 

The Auld Grump

 

* Though I have high, high hopes for The Lost Lands from Frog God (in for the hardcover on the Kickstarter). Which actually has a hex crawling campaign titled Hex Crawl Chronicles... ::P:

Heh, I had forgotten about The Blight - which is at least tied with City State for best city supplement. It is awesome. ::): (Nasty, cramped, filthy, polluted city, with twisting streets and alleys... yeah, there might be a few similarities.)

 

It is also worth noting that in Ustalav for the Pathfinder setting, there is a borderlands, with a keep, and nearby Caves of Chaos....

 

The Auld Grump

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I started playing in '78 with the Holmes basic set; my edition came with B1, "In Search Of The Unknown," a beautifully thought out dungeon crawl where you had to plug in monsters and/or treasure in the various rooms. I'd have happily murdered someone for a copy of B2, "The Keep On The Borderlands" in the early days; I made it up as I went along until the players were crazy enough to tackle the Giant modules, which were pretty new at the time.

The second campaign I ran, we started with KOTB, and we cleaned that bad boy OUT. By the time we finished with it, there were large sections of FOREST gone, and the castellan quit bothering to patrol the roads any more. By the time the players were sixth level, they'd hatched a plot to hire their OWN bandit gangs to terrorize the countryside in order to keep getting subsidized by the Castellan AND profit from the trade route.

I was very glad that plan didn't go anywhere.

 

I recently bought the hardback reissue. Thing of beauty. 

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I've never run it. I came pretty late into D&D and AD&D. By the time I got hooked 2e was in the last days, and 3e was looming. We played a slight bit of 3e, but I never really cared for the flavor of it. We never really had much published material, because we were always broke :). What we did have was an amalgamation of editions (again, broke). But we made it work, and we had a lot of fun. We played primarily in Krynn until Wizards killed that off. Then I created my own homebrew.

 

I recently discovered that my nieces and BIL are all very into Dungeons and Dragons, so I'm thinking of trying to start up a game with them over the next Holiday. I would love to run keep for them using LL rules. 

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21 hours ago, Dr.Bedlam said:

 

I recently bought the hardback reissue. Thing of beauty.  

The reprints and essays are nice.

 

The conversions, though? Garbage.

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Içve never run KOTB.  Içm pretty sure that I have played a kittle bit of it, but I have no memory or doing so.  It was one of the first adventures that the guy who intoduced me to DnD ran, bit after one or two sessions, we went straight to homebrew stuff and never looked back.

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Mum's copy is from a box version she bought before I was born.

 

I THINK she kind of pretended to run it for me when I was seven. :wub:

 

It was my step up from Hero Quest.

Edited by PaganMegan
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