Random Encounters: The Keep on the Borderlands


Over the last decade or so there has been a lot of derision heaped upon Dungeons and Dragons modules. This derision is based upon the idea that the module’s story structure, layout and…

Wait. What’s a “module?”

In the role playing game world a module is a story, it contains the basic plot, the “dungeon” and monsters that the players and their characters may encounter when the Dungeon Master “runs” (or directs?) the game. Another way to look at it is as a script for a play that the actors (playing their characters) can influence the plot and outcomes.

Where the term module comes from as being the word for this is anyone’s guess, after the Third Edition of Dungeons and Dragons the term “adventure” has been used. Only die hard grognards still prefer the term module it seems…

Image by http://imgur.com/user/RafaelChandler

Modern gamers deride modules mostly because they just don’t “get” them or they haven’t had them “ran” in a way that works for their game. Just like anything a module but can be written well or badly or the execution of it by a DM can make or break it, again, just like a script.

If your Game Master sucks it doesn’t matter about the adventure or game system, you’ve got bigger problems.

In 1979 still in early in the days of D&D, B2 The Keep On the Bordlerlands by Gary Gygax was released. KOtB was number 2 in the B for Basic series of modules, preceded by In Search of the Unknown which was of course B1.

Image by heyoscarwilde.tumblr.com

KOtB is the classic dungeon crawl; the players could base themselves out of the well-designed Keep which also had plenty of plot hooks that they could latch onto. Primarily the characters should seek out the nearby, monster and trap infested Caves of Chaos.

The Caves were ingeniously designed, a valley of sorts that was littered with cave openings from the valley floor to the top, the difficulty increased as you explored upwards. Players could encounter a traditional cross-section of D&D monsters as they worked through the caves and could “fall back” to the Keep for resupply, leveling up and continued plot progression or they could just be murder hobos and just clean out the cave (or try to) in one go.

So what about KOtB made it so great?

It captured the imagination of players (that includes DMs) and felt very “lived in.” It felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, as it should but if you took that lonely forest road out of there you might eventually reach civilization.

The module frequently comes up in the Top 10 Best of lists when it comes to D&D modules, personally I really have lost count of the times that I have ran it. I even ran the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons sequel titled, wait for it: Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.


And on top of a sequel it has been revisited during the 4th edition of the game for D&D Encounters and when playtesting 5th Edition the Caves of Chaos portion was used.

Not bad for an almost 40 year old plot and story.

It is the quintessential D&D game. Town – dungeon – environs – monsters – treasure. What also works is that you don’t have to use any of the story elements of the game, it plugs in almost anywhere you want it to. If you want story you can use the hooks that are there, if you want your own plots then it swaps out easily, if you want to kill monsters and take their stuff you can do that too.

The next time you want to immerse yourself into an RPG and “get into character” or get all hippie dippy with your RP check that and roll up a character, maybe min/max the hell out of it and run some version of Keep on the Borderlands and and remember that sometimes it is about getting together with your friends, kill some monsters and taking their stuff.



One thought on “Random Encounters: The Keep on the Borderlands

  1. I have fond memories of TPKs in Keep in the Borderlands. Loved it. Ummm, not sure my players at the time did, though. I’m a different DM now, I’ve grown soft and the rules are all about the players now (just kidding). Haven’t had a TPK for a long while… 😉


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