The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

All You Need to Know About B2

The Keep on the Borderlands (often refered to as The Caves of Chaos) is a module I played but never ran when Basic Dungeons and Dragons was THE game for me. Although I have had it as part of the collection “In Search of Adventure” for 20 years, I only obtained a stand alone copy in 2009.

The most famous module cover ever.

The Keep on the Borderlands (B2) is a Dungeons & Dragons module by Gary Gygax, first printed in December 1979. In it, players are based at a keep and investigate a nearby series of caves that are filled with a variety of monsters. Designed to be used with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, it was included in the 1979-1982 editions of the Basic Set. It was designed for people new to Dungeons & Dragons.

Keep went out of print in the early 1980s, but has reprinted two times, and a sequel was also made. A novelized version of the adventure was published in 1999. The module received generally positive reviews, and was ranked the 7th greatest Dungeons & Dragons adventure of all time by Dungeon magazine in 2004.

Player characters are expected to arrive at the eponymous Keep and base themselves there before investigating the nearby Caves of Chaos, a series of closely-placed caverns teeming with multiple species of vicious humanoids. Plot twists include a treacherous priest within the Keep, hungry lizardmen in a nearby swamp, and a mad hermit in the wilderness. It typifies the dungeon crawls associated with beginning D&D players, while permitting some limited outdoor adventures.

When The Grand Duchy of Karameikos edition of the Gazetteer series was published, the Keep was given a specific location in the Known World of Mystara, in the Atlan Tepe Mountain region in northern Karameikos.

The keep from the back cover of B2.

So how does the best selling module of all time hold up 30 years after its release? Very well.

What makes B2 great, perhaps the greatest is that it isn’t one huge dungeon, but rather a handful of modest dungeons all at the same location. By breaking it up this way gives the players more choice and makes the task of clearing it out less daunting.

Also the many exits removes the all too common problem with dungeons of a single exit making no sense when there are competing inhabitants you all might need to use that exit.

The competing group are also vital to the fure fun of the caves. By having the different groups at odds leads to moments that leave the players scratching their heads and allow for multiple boss battles over the course of the adventure.

While it may well be the greatest old school game of all time, it is not without its flaws. Here are some things I wish it had done differently.

  1. Better explination of how all these competing groups came to lie so close to each other.
  2. Trade some to the pages spent on the keep for more boxed text in the caves.
  3. More clarity in the map; it took me years to properly understand it.

But these are really minor items, nit picks even. B2 is the module to get if you want to run an old school game.

See my other B-Series reviews.


October 11, 2010 Posted by | B-Series, Dungeons and Dragons, Review, RPGs | , , , | 1 Comment

All You Need To Know About B1

The module B1 has a special place in my heart; I received it along with the Basic Set for my 11th birthday. Because I have so many wonderful memories of it, I feel great pain in telling you that B1 isn’t worth the paper its printed on.

B1 was originally promoted as a special introductory module; early editions of the Basic Set shipped with B1 before B2 (The Keep on the Borderlands) became the standard. But not only is B1 not a good module, it is an atrocious introduction.

B1 had the stock-your-own “feature”, which is another way of saying it isn’t really a module at all. B1 is basically a map and some rough notes – no monsters, no boxed text and definitely no useful hints for a beginning DM (there are a couple of pages with advice for DMs, but the topics covered aren’t even on the radar for most novice DMs).

Worst of all, it doesn’t even succeed at being an annotated map. The map is absolutely chaotic and seems completely impractical and unbelievable as a “home and stronghold” for a pair of adventurers.

The entire main floor is basically one huge attempt to screw over the party’s mapper. Every trick you can imagine to mess up a mapper are in here: one way doors, curvy hallways, identical rooms, teleportation traps, magical disorientation, spiral hallways, door mazes . . . did I mention this complex was built to be someone’s home?

I am sure someone will argue that all the absurdity on the main floor was Rogahn and Zelligar’s (the characters from the background information who originally built the complex) way of keeping unwanted guests out. But how can you seriously believe these two wanted to keep people out of their house when they didn’t put a door on the place? Why have all these traps and tricks buried deep in the complex while the entrance hallway has nothing other than alcoves that laugh at people?

So if your players are insane, the most determined group in the world or (as was the case for my group many years ago) if you don’t have any other adventures to play, then maybe, at some point, they’ll see the lower level. The notes state that the lower level was unfinished; I am not sure if this was an in game statement or the author’s own dilemma. The lower level consists of rough caverns which are so simple, they might have been drawn in a matter of minutes.

So to sum up, the upper level map is a meta game mind f–k, the lower level is simple beyond belief, the module has no monsters, no boxed text, a misplaced backstory, and the DM’s introduction sections are of limited usefulness.

If you are a collector or have a sentimental attachment to this module, then it can be worthwhile to own, but if you are looking for some old school action get any other B series module module before this one. Conversely if you want to learn to DM using the Basic game, get the red box set and run the intro adventure in the Dungeons Masters Guide.

See my other B-Series reviews.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | B-Series, Dungeons and Dragons, Review, RPGs | , , | 1 Comment