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Monday 20 February 2023

‘B2’ Series: Warriors of the Gray Lady

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 since then, Wizards of the Coast has all but ignored B2 Keep on the Borderlands and the module that preceded it, B1 In Search of the Unknown, barring the publisher’s 2012 Dungeon Module B2 The Caves of Chaos: An Adventure for Character Levels 1-3. This was the playtest scenario for D&D Next, first seen in Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, which was essentially previewing what would go on to become Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition.

Instead, it would be other publishers who would revisit both scenarios in the twenty-first century. So Kenzer & Company first published B1 Quest for the Unknown, a version of B1 In Search of the Unknown for use with HackMaster, Fourth Edition, and would follow it up with not one, but two versions of B2 Keep on the Borderlands. 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 JN1 The Chaotic Caves, a scenario written for the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game. In addition, Faster Monkey Games published its own homage to B1 In Search for the Unknown with The Hidden Serpent, whilst Pacesetter Games & Simulations has published a number of extra encounters and sequels for both scenarios, most notably B1 Legacy of the Unknown and B2.5 Blizzard on the Borderland.

Yet Wizards of the Coast did not ignore its extensive back catalogue. It would release numerous titles in PDF, and even allow Print on Demand reprints, including both B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Further, in 2017, it published Tales from the Yawning Portal, a collection of scenarios that had originally been published for previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons, including Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First EditionDungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, and even D&D Next. These scenarios though, did not include either B1 In Search of the Unknown or B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Which upon first glance seemed a strange omission, but then came the announcement from Goodman Games about Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands

Arguably, Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands would prove to be the ultimate version of the classic module, but authors have continued to revisit the original even since such as with the fanzine version from Swordfish Islands LLC, which so far consists of Beyond the Borderlands Issue #1 and Beyond the Borderlands Issue #2. Yet there remain oft forgotten visits to the famous ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ and the equally infamous, ‘Caves of Chaos’, which are worth examining and shining light upon. So it is with ‘Warriors of the Gray Lady’. Written by Jeff Grubb, ‘Warriors of the Gray Lady’ was published in 1999 as an insert in InQuest Gamer #50 (June, 1999), the monthly magazine for game reviews and news from Wizard Entertainment, which ran between 1995 and 2007 and had a particular focus on collectable card games. Nominally known as ‘IQ3’ and just sixteen pages in length, it was written for use with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition and designed as a prequel to the soon to be released Return to the Keep of the Borderlands. It is for Player Characters of between First and Third Level and takes place before they arrive at the eponymous keep on the borderlands.

‘Warriors of the Gray Lady’ opens with the Player Characters on the road to the frontier and the border castle there, aiming to use it as a base of operations as they explore and potentially clean out the Caves of Chaos that their parents told them about. Their path is blocked by a caravan where a cleric is vociferously complaining that the caravan’s guards failed to stop the theft of an important magical item, the Helm of Perception, he was taking to the keep. The cleric hires the Player Characters to go after the thief. When they accept, the thief’s tracks lead into the forest to the north and then to a clearing when his body, not far from a cave mouth in a low hill. Inside the cave is a classic kingdom of the mushroom men or Myconids, but it is a kingdom in disarray. Some time prior to the Player Characters’ arrival, another party of adventurers entered the cave in search of treasure. They were all killed in the attempt, but as both the last of the adventurers and the king of the Myconids lay dying, the king released the spores to create a new king, but the spores mingled with the dying human warrior and kept her alive—sort of. Now she is the ‘Gray Queen’, twisted by the fungus as much as her thoughts twist the shared thoughts of the Myconid collective mind and drive them all mad!

Although the final confrontation will involve combat, the Player Characters do not have to resort to combat in the earlier encounters in the caves. If they refrain, they will be able to learn what has happened in the caves since the invasion of the previous adventuring party. This is done in a pleasingly entertaining and alien fashion, which involves the Myconids still free of the Gray Queen’s disturbing influence blasting messages spores into the faces of the Player Characters! Although quite lengthy, the description of this is nicely done and the experience should be a weird one for player and characters alike—and actually one the Player Characters are likely to be wary off of if the Myconids have used spores on them earlier in the scenario. ‘Warriors of the Gray Lady’ should last no more than a single session.

Since the events of ‘Warriors of the Gray Lady’ do not take place at the Keep on the Borderlands, what does the scenario add to Return to the Keep on the Borderlands? Well, it sets things up for the Player Characters’ arrival. If they are able to recover the Helm of Perception, they will have made possible allies and contacts at the keep, ones who can supply ready healing. Very likely something they are going to need after a visit or two to the Caves of Chaos! One of the NPCs—the complaining cleric encountered at the caravan—is fully written and could become a recurring figure at the keep for the Player Characters, even though he is likely to be very annoying. The scenario includes some advice for the Dungeon Master which discusses most possible eventualities and outcomes of the scenario, including the Player Characters stealing the Helm of Perception or the annoying cleric getting killed.

Physically, ‘Warriors of the Gray Lady’ is done in full rich colour—something that not even featured in the official releases for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition at the time. Notably, it is illustrated with a range of fully painted pieces, all of them drawn from the covers of previous books for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition, including pieces from the Dragonlance line. One issue perhaps with this is that nearly all of the illustrations showcase Dungeons & Dragons in general rather than the scenario itself. This is confirmed by the pieces of descriptive text accompanying the artwork which are generic in nature and verging on the trite. At least for Dungeons & Dragons, that is!

‘Warriors of the Gray Lady’ is a serviceable scenario which could be run as a prequel to Return to the Keep on the Borderlands. However, it is not vital to that scenario, even though it does help set up the Player Characters and their reputation for when they do arrive at the keep. Similarly, the scenario would be a reasonable side quest or side trek adventure for most campaigns for low Level Player Characters. Overall, ‘Warriors of the Gray Lady’ is an interesting, if minor side note to the history of B2 Keep on the Borderlands.


  1. Thank you for the kind mention. If you're doing a complete write-up of appearances of early B series, you should look at the compilation B1-9 In Search Of Adventure. We mention B1 only in passing (I was informed at the time that there was an issue regarding the rights), but used the Caves of Chaos from B2.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to review and respond to the review. I do plan to review B1-9 In Search Of Adventure at some point, but I would like to review the rest of the 'B' series before I get to it. I think it is worth highlighting the differences having done so, although I did not know that it lacked B1 In Search of the Unknown.

  3. Several years ago, NTRPG con published "B2.5 Caves of the Unknown" by Charley Phipps, Thom Wilson and Mike Badolato. It can be dropped as is into any Keep campaign to fill in the titular caves area.

  4. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Badmike. I will have to see if I can find this this in PDF and review it as part of this series.

  5. Let me know if you need a copy; I don't believe we ever released it on PDF, but I can get you a physical copy. badmike3 at aol dot com