Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Return to The Keep on the Borderlands...

OK, I'm surprised it took this long, but this time around, I'm writing a love letter to my favorite packaged scenario; the fabulous and always useful Keep on the Borderlands!  If you're any kind of seasoned grognard, or even just a fan of classic D&D, what's not to love about this marvelous bit of gaming history?

Now, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that there's some nostalgia happening here.  Keep on the Borderlands was the module that shipped with my Holmes Basic Set in Christmas, 1980.

Hell yeah, there's nostalgia!  Nostalgia means that some things actually meant something to me and left their mark.  So sue me for having a happy childhood, but it's really more than that.   

I suppose I could have gotten In Search of the Unknown or the various geomorphs, but I got the Seventh Printing (1979) with both the Keep and those cardboard chits.  And I used those chits, all sorted into Styrofoam cups labelled d4, d6, etc.  I had also gotten Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials that Christmas, and my very first dungeon sported mounted laser guns!

And while the basic rulebook (and its implied world) was pretty clearly the main event by a long shot, Keep on the Borderlands sweetened the pot and provided something vitally important to new hobbyists just getting started.  So, in no real order:

(1) A complete SETTING: The Keep (fully mapped, fully stocked, and fully inhabited) with well-developed NPCs.

(2) The surrounding LANDS, including the fens, hints at a larger lizard-man settlement, and some great local characters (Mad Hermit, we're talking about you here)...

(3) And finally, the sprawling CAVES OF CHAOS, also stocked in generous detail and suggesting a deeper campaign arc to be imagined by the DM once they got their feet wet and gained skill.

In short, the Keep provided not only a ready-to-play scenario with literally all the trimmings, but likewise, a very instructive example of HOW to develop a campaign and what things to consider when doing so.  A fully playable how-to... 

Basically, everything from non-player motivations to the local economy, trade relations, terrain, and the creation of challenging dungeons made difficult by giving monsters both the smarts and organization they would logically have in a settlement and treating the dungeon as both a community AND a true ecosystem!

Plus, I have lots of memories running it.  My family, rather indulgently, played with me, and I can't express how life-changing gameplay is with your mother's Great Flirt, a female magic-user, alongside your brother's Dildo the Cleric (no, his ambitious character illustration doesn't bear repeating here).  This very fine module clocked in at 28 pages, a decent chunk of the rulebook, and for me, it shall remain the SECOND HALF of Holmes Basic D&D...     


  1. A fun read. I have not played KotB, but I will put forth the effort to get a copy and try it out.

  2. Like you, this played a major part in my gaming history. Although I think that my Holmes box came w/ In Search of the Unknown, I also somehow got hold of KotB. And that was my go to in my early years.

    In fact, when I got my daughters involved in the game over a decade ago, I broke old faithful out and introduced them to Bree Yark! and what it meant. What a fantastic experience that was! It was like reliving my childhood again. But this time around through a girl's eyes. Instead of killing everything on site, they were all about sneaking and negotiation. Gary would have been proud.

    Ah the memories.