First published in 1981, B2, The Keep on the Borderlands by Gary Gygax as been played by more people than any other roleplaying adventure, providing an introduction to the hobby for hundreds of thousands of gamers. Now, almost twenty years later, the Keep has declined into a sleepy outpost settlement. The trained warriors once stationed here and the experienced adventurers who once flocked to the spot are long gone. But evil once again stirs in the fabled Caves of Chaos. Humanoids, undead, and evil minions of a dark goddess plot to destroy their enemies. Only novice adventurers who have come to try their hand at dungeon delving in this traditional training spot stand in their way. Light your torches, assemble your marching order, draw your weapons, and sharpen your wits. It"s time for a new generation of heroes to take on the challenge. This 64-page book includes: A special "Advice to the DM" section for beginning Dungeon Masters, offering tips and tricks of the trade. Detailed descriptions of the Keep and its inhabitants. Wilderness encounters with a wide range of classic monsters. Room-by-room descriptions of every chamber within the Caves of Chaos.
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Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999), by John D. Rateliff, is a Silver Anniversary adventure for AD&D 2e. It was published in June 1999.
About the Cover. The original Caves of Chaos were all about the humanoids. Here, a quartet of adventurers seem to have picked their hill to die on while facing off against an endless horde of gnolls.
Those desperate adventures are just as iconic as you"d want for an adventure of this pedigree: that"s surely a mace-wielding cleric, a bow-wielding fighter, a spell-wielding magic-user, and a fallen halfling thief.
Origins (I): A Silver Anniversary. 1999 marked the 25th anniversary of the publication of OD&D (1974). Wizards decided to mark the date by revisiting older D&D adventures. The heart of the project was the Silver Anniversary Collector"s Edition Boxed Set (1999), which contained reprints of several classic modules, voted on by D&D"s fans.
However, TSR Brand Manager Ryan Dancey announced that Wizards would do even more: "To celebrate this milestone, we"re doing something very special. Instead of just "reprinting" some old adventures, we"ll be returning to the scene of some of the greatest adventures in the history of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game." He announced three such "returns", all of which would appear in late 1999. The first was Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999).
(As it happens, all three of the Silver Anniversary Return adventures would also see their original modules appear in that Silver Anniversary Collector"s Edition.)
Origins (II): The Return of the Return. There were actually a total of six Return adventures of this sort, each acting as a sequel to a classic D&D adventure, though only three appeared in 1999 with the "Silver Anniversary" branding. There had been one prior entrant to the series, Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), which had appeared as part of the "Tomes" series exactly a year earlier.
Return to the Tomb of Horrors showed one model for these adventures: include the original adventure in largely its original form, then add on a more expansive and far-reaching sequel. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands takes a different tack: it revises and expands the original adventure for a later time period (and for the different publishing requirements of the modern day).
Origins (III): The Return of the Keep. It is no exaggeration to say that the original adventure, B2: "The Keep on the Borderlands" (1979), is the most popular D&D adventure of all time. It appeared in two editions of the D&D Basic Set (1977, 1981) during the time period of D&D"s greatest growth. Estimates suggest that there were a total of 1.5 million copies printed. As such it was a great foundation for a Return, as players were likely to either be familiar with it, or to have heard legendary tales of it from their older brethren.
Origins (IV): The Return to … Greyhawk. There was one problem with returning to the Keep on the Borderlands: it was a generic adventure that had been subsequently shoehorned into Mystara — and the Mystara line had been cancelled back in 1995. Ryan Dancey had an answer for that, saying, "The current strategy is for all materials that would have formerly be considered "generic" to be situated in Greyhawk for D&D." However he said that this was "supposed to be a very light touch treatment" and also admitted that there were a "number of anachronisms in Keep". He said: "If you"re a real Greyhawk fan, there are probably parts of the text that you"ll want to either ignore or replace with material that is more "cannon"".
What a Difference an Edition Makes. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands is laid out exactly like the original, with four sections, covering: GMing advice; the Keep; the wilderness; and the Caves of Chaos. However, it"s 64 pages long, compared to the original"s 32.
So what fills the extra page count? Details.
The original "Keep" actually had some decent details on what it looked like, but there was one thing notably missing: names. You had superintendents, captains, and sergeants, but there was nary a name among them. So the new adventure contains names, but it also expands all the details; looking at any area description anywhere in the two modules reveals how much expectations had changed in twenty years: whereas the original area descriptions were usually singular, short paragraphs, the descriptions in the Return module instead sprawl all over the page, revealing background, motives, activities, and other tidbits.
Despite all of that, this is still the original "Keep": the layouts are the same and the adventure style is the same. It"s just twenty years later both in the real world and the secondary world, and that"s caused shifts in both the contents of the Cave and of the module.
About the Magazine Tie-In. "Warriors of the Gray Queen", a prelude to Return to the Keep on the Borderlands by Jeff Grubb, appeared in InQuest #50 (June 1999).
About the Promo Tie-In. There was also the inevitable Adventurer"s Guild RPGA adventure, "The Displaced", by Ed Stark, which was part of Wave Six (April - June 1999).
About the Media Tie-In. Wizards released a series of seven "Greyhawk Classics" novels in the late "90s and early "00s, most of which linked to the Return adventures. The sixth was Keep on the Borderlands (2001), but it came out two years after this adventure and was more closely linked to the original adventure than to this revision. And, if Return to the Keep on the Borderlands had a "light touch" of Greyhawk, the novel had none at all despite the branding.
Adventure Styles: Dungeon Crawls. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands is an iconic "town and down" adventure, with a home base lying nearby to a dungeon crawl. However, the introduction of wilderness hazards between the twain makes it a little more expansive than most modules in this category.
Expanding D&D. Return to Keep on the Borderlands rather surprisingly suggests that GMs return to an AD&D 1e (1977-1979) rule, where experience points are awarded for gathering gold. The module explains, "this sends the message to the players that there are a multitude of right approaches to take (combat, stealth, negotiation), not a single preferred method of play." It"s a nice philosophy, but most critics thought it instead encouraged murder-hoboing.
Eras of Wherever: Twenty Years Later. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands is explicitly set 20 years after the events of the original "Keep". If you accept it as a Greyhawk adventure, that places the original in CY 571, twenty years before the Greyhawk modern-day of CY 591. If you prefer a Known World setting, where the early adventures are largely assumed to fit around 1000 AC, Return to Keep on the Borderlands is thrust into the future with a date of 1020 AC!
Exploring Greyhawk (or Mystara). As Dancey suggests, the Greyhawk setting information in Return to the Keep on the Borderlands is extremely scant. It suggests that the adventure be placed in the "southwesternmost part of the Yeomanry". However, you won"t find it on and past or present maps, nor do the gods in the adventure match those of Oerth.
Unsurprisingly, there are some hidden Mystaran references in the adventure. Dubricus d"Ambreville comes from one of Mystara"s most famous families; Cynidicea is a fallen city first mentioned back in B4: "The Lost City" (1984); and the immortal Maruda is clearly Madura from that same adventure. The oddest reference is probably to Cathos City from M2: "Maze of the Riddling Minotaur" (1983), which doesn"t have a strong Known World placement.
As was the case with other setting-confused adventures from the late "90s, you could explain away the Mystaran references as being due to peoples travelign from that world, as none of the explicit geography is visited. Similarly, the Greyhawk setting information is so weak as to be nonexistent. So, set this adventure where you would.
Future History. The most explicit return to the Keep on the Borderlands in more recent years was "Caves of Chaos" (2012), a playtest for D&D 5e (2014). However, there was also a thematic return in the D&D 4e era (2008-2012) in "Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents" (2010), the third season of D&D Encounters, which visited the Chaos Scar, also appearing in Dungeon #171 (October 2009) through Dungeon #197 (December 2011).
About the Creators.
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Rateliff worked at TSR and Wizards as an editor throughout the "90s. He also contributed to about a book a year from 1995 onward, with his most expansive work being Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999).
About the Product Historian
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