Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 29 September 2019

B2 Series: B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos

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. Yet until the advent of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and then Goodman Games with Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands, which covered both B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands, it would be other publishers who would revisit B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Kenzer & Company visited it not once, but twice. First with B2 Little Keep on the Borderlands: An Introductory Module for Characters Level 1–4 in 2002, and then again in 2009 with Frandor’s Keep: An immersive setting for adventure. Another publisher to revisit B2 Keep on the Borderlands was Chris Gonnerman, with the scenario, JN1 The Chaotic Caves, written for the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

Much B1 In Search of the Unknown, few publishers have explored what happened next after B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The exception is Pacesetter Games & Simulations. For B1 In Search of the Unknown, it has published two sequels, first B0.5 Secrets of the Unknown and then B1 Legacy of the Unknown. Similarly, it has also published a pair of sequels to B2 Keep on the BorderlandsB2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos and B2.5 Blizzard on the Borderland.

One of the elements in B2 Keep on the Borderlands that has vexed and intrigued Dungeon Masters and players alike over the decades is the boulder-filled passenger to be found leading off the Shrine of Evil Chaos. Where did it go? What was at the end of it? The option given in the B2 Keep on the Borderlands is that might eventually lead to the Caverns of the Unknown, that is, B1 In Search of the Unknown. Pacesetter Games & Simulations provides a solution of its own with B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos. Published in 2015 and designed for four to eight characters of Fourth to Sixth Level using both Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and OSRIC, short for Old School Reference and Index Compilation, B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos is set in the publisher’s Misty Isles campaign setting and specifically on the Isle of the Star Witch. That said, a Dungeon Master can easily add it to the campaign of her choice, plus there are potential links to a classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons scenarios as well.

Having cleared the barricaded tunnel, the player characters discover a black, marble obelisk rests in the middle of the passage. It is marked with a single rune—the sign of the dread arch-mage Hilgdred, a renowned storm wizard—warning them not to proceed further. Of course, this will not impede the player characters and after three days they will reach the end of the tunnel where they will find an enormous cavern all but filled by a cold lake. By this time, the player characters will be far underground, in the ‘Deep’ as B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos terms it and from a second pillar, have discovered from a second pillar that the ice prison of Harkafael lies beyond. It comes with an obligatory and deadly warning to anyone wanting to free him.

The banks around the lake are inhabited and there are some interesting features. The main inhabitants include an outpost from the Lake Legion tribe of Hobgoblins and an Ogre shrine to their god. The outpost for the most part is a run-of-the-mill den of Demi-Humans, but the shrine is a nasty encounter with devout Ogres and their divine magics. This is a nice little twist to the reputation of Ogres as being more brawn than brain. Where B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos gets slightly more interesting is simply another tunnel. Now although the player characters will not know it, this leads into the underground territory of the Drow and there is a chance that the player characters might meet them should they meddle unnecessarily—which is likely to happen given that they are player characters.

The focus of B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos is not so much the ice prison of the Frost Giant, Harkafel, as getting into it. This is not immediately obvious, or indeed obvious at all. This is in part because the means to get into the prison is actually in the lake, but the structures in the lake are similarly not obvious. So this may lead to a frustrating experience for the players as their characters are not able to locate the means or clues that they need. There is a solution though in the form of a wizard’s telescope which everything viewed through quite close. The Dungeon Master may want to add that if looked at through the telescope, that the contents of the lake are visible. 

Yet for their efforts, exploring the lake will not yield very much in terms of reward or necessarily game play. B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos is just not that exciting an expansion to B2 Keep on the Borderlands, but surprisingly, it is an interesting one, and that is because of two denizens that the player characters might encounter. One is the Frost Giant, Harkafel, the other are the Drow. Now it is possible to run B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos as a possible prequel to Pacesetter Games & Simulations’ G3 A Cold Day in Hell, but the inclusion of Frost Giants and Drow suggests links to TSR, Inc.’s classic G1–3 Against the Giants or even JN3 Saga of the Giants for the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game. Were the Dungeon Master to run B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos prior to either of those, then the player characters may well find themselves with an interesting ally when it comes to playing them.

Physically, B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos is reasonably well written and laid out. The artwork all feels a bit familiar, and some of it is not all that good, and the cartography is pedestrian at best. The cover is fantastically striking though.

As a direct sequel to B2 Keep on the Borderlands, the truth is that B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos is not that interesting or exciting. Part of the issue is that it does not necessarily link back to B2 Keep on the Borderlands and it does not answer why there is a long tunnel leading from the Shrine of Evil Chaos to the lake cavern or why the tunnel was collapsed. Part of the issue is that there is no hook beyond curiosity to explore the area. As an interlude, B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos has potential to link to other scenarios, but as a sequel, it underwhelms.

No comments:

Post a Comment