Now in its eleventh year, Saturday, June 16th was Free RPG Day and with it came an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. As well as providing support for Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventure, Goodman Games also provided support for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition with the scenario, Beneath the Keep as part of its Fifth Edition Fantasy line.
Fifth Edition Fantasy: Beneath the Keep is a ‘Level 1 Adventure Module’ meaning that it is designed to be played by First Level characters. The only requirements are that there should be a Cleric in the party and that the party should have access to silvered or magical weapons as some of the monsters are invulnerable to ordinary weapons. The adventure takes place in a keep on the frontier, home to a thriving community, but beyond its walls lies wilderness where agents of evil operate in secret from out of a hidden temple of unspeakable, well, evil. All of these features—the keep, the temple, and so on—are unnamed, making it easy for the Dungeon Master to add it to her campaign. The plot begins with the death of Garan—who is named as is the scenario’s antagonist!—a trader who is found dead in his shop. The keep’s watch has little capacity to really investigate, so enter the player characters, whether they are simply curious, employed by Garan’s family to investigate, or shanghaied by the watch into investigating.
This is a simple set-up which leads to an eight location dungeon. It is fairly linear in nature and contains a mix of quite detailed locations, some of which revolve around investigation rather than combat, but many of the many minor encounters involve traps which is slightly tedious and puts a bit too much of a focus on the Thief in the party. The adventure is quite tough in place, especially if the player characters are unprepared, but plenty of clues have been written into the plot to keep everything moving, in particular maps marking some of the dungeon’s secret doors. This keeps the adventure nicely moving along and prevents it coming to an impasse because the party cannot find a secret door. Beyond the adventure itself, there are links to the antagonist’s allies, but the Dungeon Master will have to develop that herself.
The adventure provides quite a tough opponent—who really deserves to make a comeback as a recurring villain, some fun little monsters, and a little treasure. Perhaps the best thing it provides are rewards for doing things other than killing monsters. Yet it has the potential for providing much, much more in terms of its story.
On one level, Fifth Edition Fantasy: Beneath the Keep is just a simple scenario, easy to run in the one session and easy to drop into a setting of the Dungeon Master’s choice. Yet, the inclusion of an unnamed keep located in the wilderness on the frontier with bandits, not too far from a temple of chaos suggests another use and another setting. Especially in light of the fact that in 2018, Goodman Games also published Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands Hardcover. This volume collected and provided updates of two classic scenarios for Basic Dungeons & Dragons—B1: In Search of the Unknown and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands—and it is the latter scenario which is important to Fifth Edition Fantasy: Beneath the Keep. For in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands there is a Keep, or castle, which stands on the frontier, not far from which can be a locus of evil, the infamous Caves of Chaos. There are bandits operating in the area too, just as there are in Fifth Edition Fantasy: Beneath the Keep, providing a link between its antagonist and her masters in the temple of chaos.
Physically, Fifth Edition Fantasy: Beneath the Keep is nicely presented. The layout is clean and tidy, the map is clear, and it is all very readable. The only issue is the lack of handouts. The Dungeon Master should definitely take the time to drawn some handouts.
Fifth Edition Fantasy: Beneath the Keep is a nice little adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. It has combat, it has action, it has a mystery, and it has a little investigation. The roleplay is another matter, so the Dungeon Master may want to work on that with some extra NPCs. Overall, it should provide a good evening’s worth of dungeoneering. Yet, Fifth Edition Fantasy: Beneath the Keep really comes into its own not as a dungeon, but as a plot and a story to add to B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. If you as a Dungeon Master is looking to run the updated version of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands from Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands Hardcover, then Fifth Edition Fantasy: Beneath the Keep is a must.