Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (thing)
Remember Keep on the Borderlands, that module with the crazy dungeon and the keep full of people who did not have names? Well, forget that moldy old tome. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (RTKB) is here. Reflecting the developments in RPG design over the past twenty years, RTKB is a wonderful package for DMs of all experience levels. Newbies and veterans alike will find plenty of adventure and roleplaying possibilities in the updated Keep. Where the original was simply adventure, the updated Keep is a 64 page campaign just waiting for your players to dive on in.
Unlike the original Keep, RTKB provides a wealth of fleshed-out characters for the DM. RTKB takes the original Keep twenty years into the future. The Caves of Chaos are still the home of creatures fierce and evil, yet a new menace has arrived to threaten both the Caves and the Keep. I don't want to reveal too much, but suffice to say that players who speak first, draw swords second will find this a much easier adventure than those who blindly slaughter everything they encounter. Many of the "monsters" in the Caves make willing allies if approached correctly. This is a refreshing approach to dungeon design, and lends itself to some great roleplaying opportunities, especially for those who think they've outgrown AD&D.
The Keep itself is stocked with a nice assortment of potential allies and foes. What I like best about this product is that John Rateliff does a very good job of making the Keep into a living, breathing community. There is a sense of time in the scenario. Villains appear to replace vanquished foes, new threats appear to menace the Keep, while foes become friends and friends become foes. The NPCs have their own agendas and goals that can change as the characters make a name for themselves. My personal favorite is Sir Robin the bard, one tale teller that the characters might not want to have writing songs about them.
One of the neat things about RTKB is the references to other classic modules. In Search of the Unknown and The Lost City both get passing references. Not only does this bring a smile to an old timer, but it provides some rather neat adventure hooks for newbies and oldsters alike.
One warning for Greyhawk fans: despite the label on the back cover, this really isn't a Greyhawk product. Outside of a few diety names, there is nothing here that anchors this module to that world.
Return to the Keep on the Borderlands deserves to join the original as a classic D&D product. To be honest, I was somewhat skeptical about updating classic modules for the 90s. In John Rateliff's capable hands, the Keep comes alive as the original never did. The key to this product is the sense of life. The Keep is not a static environment but a dynamic setting. Too many "town and local dungeon" scenarios come off as collections of names grafted to a map. This product serves as a great example of what is possible with this type of adventure. If fantasy is your game, check out RTKB. Your players will thank you for it.