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Friday, 16 January 2015

Take the Caves Back!

The reputation of B2 Keep on the Borderlands and its influence on fantasy roleplaying is such that publishers keep returning to it. TSR, Inc. of course published the original as well as including it in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, which is where many gamers encountered it. The publisher would also revisit it with Return to the Keep on the Borderlands for its twenty-fifth anniversary, and the module would serve as the basis for Keep on the Borderlands, part of Wizards of the Coast’s ‘Encounters Program’ for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. Now the latest version of the game, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition has not even been available for a year yet and another publisher is revisiting B2 Keep on the Borderlands, but revisiting it from a wholly new direction.

A year before the events of Module SG9: Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands bold adventurers made their way beyond the edges of civilisation to strike at an outpost of evil from where the forces of chaos planned to invade the civilised lands. They entered the Caves of Chaos again and again to sow discord between an alliance of evil humanoid races and so save the ‘Keep on the Borderlands’. Cleaned out, the caves have become home to dozens of miners and their families with the discovery of a vein of silver. Of course you cannot keep evil down for long because the previous tenants of the Caves of Chaos want their lease back!

Published by Sacrosanct Games as a twenty-three page, 2.2 MB PDF, Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands is designed for a party of between four and six characters of Second to Fourth Level. It is a scenario in which the player characters are evil humanoids out to take back the infamous Caves of Chaos or mercenaries claiming the caves for their employer. Not only are the player characters facing the miners and their families, they also have to contend with rival factions who have also come to reclaim the caves, and perhaps with a counterstrike despatched by the Castellan from the Keep if the player characters prove too successful.

Written for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, the DM will need access to the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Ideally the DM will also need access to a copy of B2 The Keep on the Borderlands as this will provide both the background to the region, the motives and details of the previous occupants of the Caves of Chaos, and actual descriptions of the caves under their previous tenants. This is not to say that Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands could not be run without access to B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, but fundamentally it underpins this new take upon an old classic as what this new take actually is, is a toolkit. Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands is a means to approach the original scenario from a different angle rather than being a full adventure in the classic sense.

So if Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands is a toolkit, what does it provide? First, a quick set of stats to enable the players to create and roleplay Bugbears, Gnolls, Goblins, Hobgoblins, and Kobolds—and Lizardmen if the players prefer not to play evil characters. Second, a simple means to measure occupation of each of the caves, the progress of other factions as they try to reclaim the other caves, and reward player success with bonus reinforcements. Third, a means to stock the various caves/encounters—nearly all of the locations in the Caves of Chaos will need to be stocked and described by the DM who will have to fill in such details in the spaces provided. A map of both the Caves of Chaos and the surrounding area is also provided. 

Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands is underwritten and requires an edit, but then the standards for a $1 adventure are not required to be all that high. This is not to say that the adventure is terribly written, but what it lacks is any sort of background and motivation for the player characters. Who is driving their characters to act? Where are they from? If they are from a tribe, then what tribe? If they are mercenaries, who is their employer? Who are their rivals? Some other interested and rival parties are suggested as possible story lines, but none of them have much to do with evil humanoids. Nor is there any advice on playing ‘evil’ characters, but then perhaps that is outside the scope of the adventure.

There is undoubtedly a good idea at the heart of this scenario, but Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands is underdeveloped and the idea at its heart is not as fully supported as it could have been. Yet for $1, the DM is getting something that he can work with and develop himself, and so as a spur for his creativity, Reclaiming the Caves on the Borderlands is a reasonable purchase.