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.