B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Retrospective and Review

Hey, there, Stat Rollers; in this post, we’ll be reviewing the iconic B2: The Keep on the Borderlands written by Gary Gygax and published by TSR, Inc. We’re going to do a review and reminisce about this fantastic module. I’m going to give you my thoughts and opinions and some tips on running this module. I’ve run this particular module well over a dozen times, and while it is a great module to run for first time DMs (it is an introductory module), it has a bunch of tips and tricks for new DMs in it. I will give you some of the information and tricks that I’ve developed over the years for running this module.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Review – B/X D&D

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands History

So B2: The Keep on the Borderlands is probably one of the most iconic, the most popular, the most well-known modules that TSR ever released because of its inclusion in multiple box sets. It supplanted B1: In Search of the Unknown in the later runs of the Holme’s blue boxed set and appeared in the Moldvay pink D&D Basic boxed set for the entire run. So it’s safe to say that if you started playing in the eighties if you began your Dungeons and Dragons career in the eighties, you probably played through or ran this module, even if you didn’t play with the Basic Dungeons & Dragons set.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands is an introductory module for character levels one to three.

Many people played B2: The Keep on the Borderlands with AD&D rules, even though this was a basic module. This module is not written for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons; it is written for basic Dungeons and Dragons. However, many people played it using AD&D rules. The lines blurred back in the early eighties between system, basic, advanced, that sort of thing.

So it is safe to say, if you played in the eighties, based on the fact that it was included in really what would be considered the starter set — the basic set you probably played through and, or ran B2: The Keep on the Borderlands multiple times. I think we all did. I know, I ran it dozens of times, literally dozens of times. But beyond even that, there have also been multiple re-releases of this particular module over the years.

Goodman games released Into the Borderlands, a compilation of B1: In Search of the Unknown and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands

TSR released “Return to the Keep on the Borderlands,” a revisitation of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands for its silver anniversary. So, even if you’re not familiar with the original module or didn’t play through the original module, you may be familiar with it from this particular re-release. And recently, Goodman games released Into the Borderlands, a compilation of B1: In Search of the Unknown and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, which includes both the original versions and the 5e conversions. And finally, if you want to get a copy of the original B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, the DMs Guild sells PDF versions.

This module is the first adventure I ever ran in Dungeons & Dragons. B2: The Keep on Borderlands was my absolute first. And although it’s a special instructional module designed for first-time DMs, It is a mini sandbox, right? And I’m not necessarily sure that first-time DMs should be running a mini-sandbox, at least without more specific instruction or direction.

So as we’re running through and reviewing this, I’m going to give you my tips and tricks for running this module after running it for; I don’t know, well over a dozen times. It’s not a hard module to run, and it’s not a complicated rule set to pick up, but there are a few tips I think I can offer you if you’re running through this the first time or if you’re a bit overwhelmed at running, what is essentially a mini sandbox for the first time.

Feel free to take that advice or not. I love this module, and I want to share it with you. If I can give you a few tips along the way, I’m more than happy to do it. But with that being said, let’s have a look at this iconic module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

Running B2: The Keep on the Borderlands

I can’t imagine there’s anyone who hasn’t played through this, read through this, or run this multiple times. But if you haven’t, there will be spoilers in this review. I don’t know how I can spoil this for anyone. I’m sure that everyone has seen this, but keep in mind, there will be spoilers. With that said, let’s dive in.

If you haven’t run or played B2: The Keep on the Borderlands be warned, this post will contain spoilers!

I remember the first time I opened my pink box set–the Moldvay box set. The Basic Moldvay Dungeons & Dragons, box set. I received it as a grab bag gift in 1982. I opened it, and I read the rule book, the 64-page rule book, two or three times cover to cover on the first day that I opened it. And I was utterly enthralled.

I had never heard of Dungeons & Dragons. I’d never seen a game like this before, and it appealed to me. That rule book, this module changed my life. It started my lifelong love of Dungeons & Dragons. I didn’t understand the game, not yet, but I got a bunch of friends together, and I said, “Hey, we have to play this. Let’s do this.” And that’s what we did. That’s what started my journey into this hobby, into this lifelong love that I have for this particular module.

Dungeon Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands was written by Gary Gygax. It was initially published in 1979, but as I said, there have been multiple re-releases.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands is an introductory module for character levels one to three. TSR knew that this was going to be the first module that you ran as a dungeon master. So there was some information, really kind of a recap of the rules that you would need to run this because although this was included in the box set, TSR also sold it separately, so there were tips, sort of a recap from the ruleset, which you’ll see, as we go a little bit further.

The iconic cover art for B2: The Keep on the Borderlands is done by Jim Roslof. This was the perfect cover art to introduce someone to the game. It was amazing. As with most modules of the time, the cover does come off, and the cover’s inset is a map — a map of the Caves of Chaos.

The iconic cover art for B2: The Keep on the Borderlands is done by Jim Roslof

There is no table of contents, but you have to understand if you came into the game in 5E and you are used to these massive campaigns books that take people through multiple levels — first through 15th level. Adventures in older school D&D were designed to take players through a couple of levels. For example, B2: The Keep on the Borderlands will take you through levels one to three. So there’s no table of contents because the book itself is so short, it consists of 26 pages, and that’s including the DMs notes, the tips, the tricks, as well as specific maps.

So it doesn’t need a table of contents. It starts with the introduction, which sets the scene. It tells you what this game is about and warns players not to go any further if they’re going to play through this module, and tells the DM their importance in the game, and includes some helpful notes and information or the dungeon master. And here’s a tip! It points out that this module has been designed for six to nine-player characters of the first level. I’m just going to say that I’ve been playing for 30 plus years; at this point, I don’t even want to run nine players, right? I mean, that’s way too many players. And for a first-time, DM six to nine players is going to be massively overwhelming.

I think if you try to run this module with six to nine players as a first time DM, you know, you’re probably going to have a bad time. Don’t run with six to nine players; run with a smaller group. I would say they should get some advice, they should get a rumor, and it even points out in the module that they should have a friendly individual, tell the party to stay near the beginning of the ravine area or enter the lower caves first. Because when we get into the meat of the Caves of Chaos themselves, you’ll see that it’s the opposite of a standard dungeon. Back in the day, the first level was the easiest. As you got deeper and deeper down into the dungeon, monsters, traps, and obstacles would get progressively more challenging. This is the opposite in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. So when they enter the ravine, they’re at the lowest level. Those caves (the Kobold cave and the Goblin cave) are going to be the easy encounters, and as you get higher up in the ravine, so higher elevation, it’s going to get progressively more challenging.

This was the opposite of what everyone who played old school D&D was used to encountering. So it is a good idea if this is the first time that you’re running this module, and this is the first time that your players are playing through this module, let them know that they need to stay near the front of the ravine and they need to remain at lower level caves first. Have the party encounter a mercenary who’s nursing his wounds; perhaps he’s the last one left in his party. He was the only one that survived and got out. Have him give the party some friendly advice, “Hey if I were you, I would stay towards the front of the ravine, and I would stay towards lower elevations because as you go up, those monsters are going to level up.” That’s key; that’s going to be DM tip number one for running this module. Make sure your party knows that when they first enter the ravine area of the Caves of Chaos, they should stay to the front and that they should stay low. It also points out in bold that the group is assumed to have at least one magic-user and one cleric. And I agree. If you have an elf character, you don’t necessarily need a magic user — a separate magic user — because the elf was a fighter mage, but you need a cleric, even though at first level, clerics have no spells. In BX, a first-level cleric has no spells at all. He’s just a fighter who can only use blunt weapons. But once he gets to the second level, you need those healing spells to run through this module.

Then it goes through stat blocks. Remember these old stat blocks? I don’t know about you, but I think the stat blocks today are ridiculous. I miss truncated stat blocks. I miss small stat blocks. And then, it goes through how to use the combat tables. So THAC0 wasn’t that hard. Don’t be afraid of THAC0; try using it. Then, movement in combat, how to be an effective dungeon master, time, dividing treasure, and computing experience. These first four to five pages, this is just a recap of the Basic rules. You could pick this module up and run it; granted, you wouldn’t have all of the tables you need, you wouldn’t have all of the information you need, but it is an excellent refresher of the Basic ruleset and how to run the game. You could almost run the game without the rule book. You could run it straight out of this module.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Background

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands then runs through the background for this particular adventure. The gist of which is this. The keep is on the border of the known world. Everything West of this keep is unknown. It’s true wilderness; it’s chaos. This is the border of the known world. This is the last bastion of civilization, and your party is on their way out to the keep to find fame and fortune and their place in the world as adventurers, to seek out their glory. And that’s DM tip number two. This particular module doesn’t have much of a hook. That’s about the only hook that you’re going to get. The module assumes that your adventurers are here to kill monsters and take their stuff, right? While that’s awesome. It doesn’t have much of a story arc. DM tip number two for you is going to play up the escalating fear. What I mean by that is, you should associate the Caves of Chaos and the surrounding area with some older, more ancient civilizations that have been repopulated lately by the Cult of evil Chaos and their minions.

Raids on traders have picked up; folks who are coming to the keep to either trade their goods or as missionaries are being kidnapped and ransomed. There is an escalating sense of fear. There’s an evil growing, and everyone within the keep knows it. Perhaps that’s why your party was sent here. Your party may have come here either on their own; they banded together to come to fight this evil chaos, because they’ve heard rumors of this growing malicious threat out on the Western borderlands, or some local Lord sent them, they were called for by the Castellan in the keep. The point is that you need to reinforce to your players that there’s an escalating threat. There is an active and evil threat within the area, which brings us to the start of the actual adventure, and that’s going to be the players’ arrival at the keep.

The Keep from B2: The Keep on the Borderlands

The keep itself is completely populated and well done. I’ve heard many complaints that the keep’s residents, the folks that live in the keep, are not named, but that’s not a bug. That’s a feature! This module is meant for you to drop into your world. This module was not tied to any specific world when it was first written. The known world (Mystara) didn’t exist at this point, so it wasn’t placed there. It was established in several different worlds after the fact, including Greyhawk, but this module wasn’t placed initially anywhere.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands was meant for you to put into your world, and actually, it was meant to be the seed of your world. In other words, you were supposed to take the information that was included in this particular module, and you were supposed to build upon it. You were supposed to build out your world based on this specific module and based on the information. If you’re referring to the Castellan as the Castellan or the Corporal of the Watch as the Corporal of the Watch, and you’re not giving them a name, well, then shame on you as a DM. It’s not hard to provide NPCs names that match your particular world, and that’s the whole point. The naming system in your world might not be the naming system that somebody else uses. I think that Gary Gygax didn’t want to define the names in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands because once you define something, that’s what it is. There are right and wrong titles. So if Gary Gygax were to name the bailiff Wilhelm Kriegsman within the keep and you were running some different world where that name stuck out like a sore thumb, you felt wrong in renaming that particular bailiff because that bailiff existed as Wilhelm Kreigsman.

The Detailed Map of The Keep Included in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

Before running the B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, I suggest naming the NPCs you think your player characters will meet. Other than that, the keep itself is fleshed out. Yes, there are no real motivations for any of these NPCs, but again, that is by design. It is meant for you to assign a motivation to give a personality because you want it to fit your world. You don’t want it predefined. Define your world; that’s your job as a DM, and if you don’t want to do that, then be a player, don’t be the DM. This brings us to DM tip number three, as you’re naming and defining your NPCs, pay specific attention to the jovial priest, number seven, part B. He’s going to be helpful to the party. He’s going to be very curious about what they’re doing, and he’s undoubtedly going to volunteer to go with them if they want to go to the caves of chaos.

Why? Because he’s evil! He is chaotic!

This is the hook that’s going to draw your players into the Caves of Chaos. The jovial priest is going to be very interested in the player’s actions. Specifically, as they relate to the Caves of Chaos because he is a spy, he’s an agent for the chaotic cult, driving all of the activity in the Caves of Chaos.

This brings us to the second common complaint that I’ve heard about B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, and we’ll touch on this more when we get to the Caves of Chaos portion of the module; I’ve heard that it doesn’t make sense. There’s no point in all of these different monsters living in such close proximity and being together. Well, that’s just bullshit. Right? What I mean is they are the evil minions of the Cult of Chaos. They are an army built up to push Eastward into the known world to spread chaos, destruction, and evil. They are the evil minions. They’re under the command of this Cult of Chaos. So do they hate each other? Is there infighting? Yeah. Without question. Do they kill each other? No, because they’re all under the command of the Cult of Chaos. They’re following orders. They’re soldiers. They may not like each other, but they’ve learned to live together and to work together.

Anyway, we’ll touch on that later. Remember, the key to the keep, the key to running B2: The Keep on the Borderlands; the key to getting your players hooked and getting them involved is to play up that sense of escalating fear. That sense of encroachment, that sense that they’re living life on a razor’s edge and that the bad guys are starting to win, that the bad guys are encroaching on this last bastion of civilization. The traders should be terrified. Two or three of their shipments have gone missing. The jewel merchant staying in the private apartments that the players could run into in the Tavern is terrified. He hasn’t left the keep because he’s afraid to go out on the roads. The folks at the Guildhall should be terrified that their shipments have gone missing, that the trade routes have been cut off, play up that sense of escalating fear. All of the residents of the keep, including the Castelann, are on edge. Everyone feels this sense of encroachment. Everyone feels this sense of fear, and there’s even a handy-dandy rumor table included for you to play up to this fear, which consists of 20 rumors, some true, some false.

Let your players interact, let them get set up at the inn, let them visit the Tavern, and talk to the residents of the keep. Let them feel the fear that the residents of the keep are feeling, and eventually, the players will want to start venturing outside. They’re going to start investigating. They’re going to become hooked into the storyline that you want to tell, which is that this keep, this bastion of civilization, is under massive threat, and they need to go and see what they can do about it. You know, maybe at the behest of the bailiff, possibly at the behest of the Corporal of the watch, perhaps even at the behest of the curate at the chapel or even the Castellan himself. The point is the players need to be hooked in. They need to want to find the Caves of Chaos, but they need an underlying story hook for that, and it is that this keep is under attack, that this keep is ready to fall.

The Wilderness Map Included in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

Once you get them fully hooked in, once they have bought into the story, they will want to start heading outside. There is a wilderness map included, which depicts the areas around the keep, including obviously the Caves of Chaos and the Cave of the Unknown, along with other numbered areas. It’s also interesting to note that this is not a hex map; even though this is a wilderness crawl, this is a square graph map. The Expert set covered hex crawl wilderness adventures. And there’s a note in this module that points out that wilderness adventures are more thoroughly explained in the D&D expert rule book, so this map, although it is what you would think of as a hex crawl — a wilderness type adventure, is not a hex map, which I thought was odd.

The Mad Hermit Included in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

There are also some numbered areas on the map. So unless the players know exactly where the Caves of Chaos are, unless someone has clued them in, specifically the jovial priest who is a double agent for the Cult of Chaos, they’re going to have to wander around and try to find them. So there are some cool sort of mini-adventures, including the Mound of the Lizardmen, a Spider’s Lair, a Raider camp, and finally, the Mad Hermit, which is an entertaining encounter to play through, if you play it up if you roleplay it out with your players. The Mad hermit and his pet mountain lion is kind of amazing.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Caves of Chaos

But ultimately, your players are going to find the Caves of Chaos. This is the meat of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. This is where they’re meant to be. After having wandered around uncovering the numbered encounters that are on the wilderness map as well as various wandering monsters, your players will enter the ravine and cast their eyes on the infamous Caves of Chaos for the first time. The key here is to play up the sense of danger. This is the final culmination of this module, right? This is why they’re here. You want to make sure that you play up the eeriness, the danger, and the fear.

The Detailed Map of The Caves of Chaos Included in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

Again, the key to B2: The Keep on the Borderlands is fear. It’s playing up that sense of fear, that sense of impending doom, that sense of impending danger. Play it up. The trees within the ravine themselves are twisted. They can smell death in the air. There’s a feeling of foreboding as they enter the gorge — really play it up.

There is, of course, boxed text. But again, as I said earlier, I’m not a big fan of boxed text. I like to improvise a little bit and sort of paraphrase the boxed text. Don’t rely solely on the boxed text; moreover, don’t rely on just what your players can see. What are your players smelling? What are your players tasting? What are your players feeling as they’re walking into this ravine? Ensure that they understand that the Caves of Chaos are dangerous, that they are unknown, that they are indeed the culmination of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. If you can get that feeling right, if you can get across to your players the sense of impending danger, you have them hooked. That’s the real key to B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

There are some notes for the DM on the Caves of Chaos, covering the cave area map, the woods surrounding it, the caves and passages. Information on what it’s like underground, the rooms’ interiors, ransoming out prisoners, tribal alliances, and wandering monsters learning from experience and emptied areas. I guess that’s what I was saying. The slam against this module is that it’s completely unrealistic that these monsters would all be in this particular area, close to each other, without fighting amongst themselves. And they do fight amongst themselves. But they also form alliances, and they are there for a greater purpose, right? They are soldiers of this Cult of evil Chaos. They are here to serve their master. Play that aspect up.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands assumes that you’re not going to clear this in one play session. It’s not like your party will go through caves A through K and clear them all in one particular session. So it assumes that your party is going to clear the specific caves one at a time or maybe one or two at best, at a time. So, how do the monsters react when the party leaves? In other words, if the players go into cave A and clear out the Kobold cave completely, or if they go into caves B or C and clear out some of the Orcs, how do the Orcs respond? How do the Orcs band together to face this common threat? What is their response to the party’s encroachment upon their lair?

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Kobolds

And then it goes through the encounter areas. The encounter areas are lettered, not numbered, beginning with A, the Kobold lair. And here’s the thing, right? It would be best if you had your party run through these particular encounters, hopefully as close to alphabetical order as you can, meaning they should start with A, B, or C and move their way up.

Basic Dungeons & Dragons Kobold.

If they try to start at a lower letter, they’re not going to have a good time. And so it’s your job as a DM to make sure that your party starts at a lower letter. Make sure that they’re starting with the Kobold, Goblin, or Orc lair. Make sure that they’re not starting immediately with the Minotaur. I can already imagine the comments below, but Bill, that’s railroading! But, no, it’s not railroading. That’s bullshit. That’s just called being a DM, right? Number one, it’s not railroading. It’s a gift. Number two, it’s only railroading if your players feel that they have no other options.

I mean the key to running B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, actually the key to running any module, hell, the key to being a good DM, in general, is if you want the party to go in a particular direction or you want the party to take specific actions, then pique their interest. Right? So if the party is heading towards the Minotaur lair, or they’re heading towards the Owlbear’s Den, you make them catch some movement out of the corner of their eye at the opening to cave A — the Kobold Lair, or perhaps they see something shiny, the glint of sun off of something shiny in front of the Kobold lair. Get them to want to go over and investigate that. Get them to go where you want them to go without railroading them. If you make an option more appealing, the players are going to take it. That’s just called being a DM. That’s not railroading. That’s called being a DM. So put your big boy pants on and DM appropriately. Ensure that they’re going to the lower levels of the caves first instead of the higher elevations where the tougher monsters are. So if you do your job appropriately as a DM, they’re probably going to end up at the Kobold lair first, and there is a two in six chance that as the group enters the cave, eight kobolds are going to come out from hiding in the trees above and attack.

That’s another thing; you don’t have to make it a two in a six chance. Suppose your players are dead set on going to the temple of evil chaos first. In other words, if they’re heading towards cave K, if they want to go to a higher elevation, have those Kobolds come down out of the trees. Don’t even make it a chance. Please don’t make it a two in six chance; make it an absolute that they’re coming out of the trees, draw the party’s attention away and get them to go into a lower cave.

Remember to play the Kobolds as Kobolds; they are not going to make blatant, outright attacks on players. They are certainly going to try to use their cunning. They’re certainly going to try to use trickery, as evidenced by the pit at the beginning of the cave. You know, this is your typical Kobold encounter. It’s also a great introduction to the Caves of Chaos, right? If your party is smaller, so three to four players, make sure that they hit the Kobold cave first, give them a taste of what they can expect in the Caves of Chaos, and then go from there.

The party should be using the keep as a home base. They should be using the keep as a place to go back to heal up and sell whatever they’ve come across. B2: The Keep on the Borderlands is undoubtedly not a module meant to go through in one sitting, this module can take months to clear, and it should, right? Play it up, Have the players truly affect the caves, and don’t forget that there’s political intrigue going on back at the keep. Right? So if the party is successful raiding the Kobold cave at first, you know, the jovial priest back at the keep is undoubtedly going to take note of that and perhaps lay a trap for the players as they come back the second time, or again, volunteer to go with them. You know, play up the political intrigue, which is just as large a part of this module as the actual hack and slash dungeon crawl found in the caves.

Remember the two elements, play it up and make sure that everything the players do at the caves reflects on what they do at the keep and vice versa. If they find out that the jovial priest is a spy for the Cult of Evil Chaos, there’s going to be a consequence for that. Perhaps that means that a new spy is implanted? Maybe they find out that someone else is a spy? Perhaps the Corporal of the Watch is also a spy?

My point is you want to make sure that whatever actions your players take in the caves, there is a consequence at the keep, and whatever measures your players take at the keep, there’s a consequence at the caves. None of this happens in a vacuum. Everything has consequences across the board for everything, which takes us to B and C.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Orc Lairs

B and C are both Orc lairs. Here’s the thing, those Orc lairs (depending on the party’s strength) could be working together, or they could be warring factions. What I mean is, if the party is significantly strong enough to where you think that the Orcs, the individual Orc lairs, so B and C are not going to be a challenge to them on their own, then certainly make them much more friendly. Perhaps the two Orc chieftains are brothers or cousins or father and son, make them allies. Make sure that what happens in Cave B is noticed and addressed in Cave C. They can work together. However, if your party is weaker, if your party contains newer players, if your party is not of a strength significant enough to handle a combined threat of both B and C, make them at odds with each other.

The two Orc chieftains for caves B and C are both vying for leadership over all of the Orcs. They don’t help each other, and in fact, they might work against each other. Perhaps the players can convince the Orc chieftain in cave B that they’ll help get rid of the Orc chieftain in Cave C. There are all sorts of infighting and politics that you can playoff. It is up to you as the DM to decide how those particular encounters go, and that’s going to be based on your experience and the experience of your players along with the general skill of your players, not just their statistics, but how experienced and skilled are they as players? Are they able to come up with ways to get around specific obstacles? Do they work well together as a team? Do they not? You know, all of these are wildcards, and again, this is not railroading. This is your job as a DM; you need to figure out how best to challenge your party while still being fair. And if that means these two Orc lairs are allied and working together, then do it. If it means that these two Orc lairs are at odds, then do that. That’s something that only you can decide.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Goblin Lair

And that brings us to section D, which is the Goblin lair. Remember to play the goblins as goblins. The goblins are not about direct brute force. They’re not going to call an all-out attack. Right? The goblins are going to rely on stealth. The goblins are going to rely on numbers. The goblins are going to rely on the ogre in cave E. If the goblins feel that they are under threat and they can’t handle a full-on frontal assault of the player characters, they are going to bribe the ogre in cave E to come and help them. Play the goblins as goblins. They’re sneaky. They’re stealthy. They’re not a full-on frontal assault type of monster, and that’s not the way that you should play them.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Hobgoblin Lair

This brings us to cave F, which is the hobgoblin lair. Hobgoblins are very organized. Hobgoblins are very detail-oriented. Hobgoblins are soldiers, and you should play them as such. We’re now starting to get into the part where the players are going to be challenged, and this is why I say don’t send them in against the hobgoblins right off the bat. Let them gain a little bit of experience. Let them build up some experience, let them build up some levels, and then they can go start going after the hobgoblins. Especially since number 34 is the infamous Owl Bear’s Den, right?

The Owl Bear as Depicted in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

So not only are your players going to have to make it through this hoard of hobgoblins, they’re going to be faced with an Owl Bear, and I’m telling you, at first level, they’re not going to survive, and if they do, they’re not going to have a good time. You have to make judgment calls as a DM; it’s not railroading. Again, I think it’s a gift. I believe that it’s only railroading if the players realize what you’re doing. So make something else seem more appealing than the path that they’ve chosen.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Bugbear Lair

And that brings us to cave H, which is the Bugbear lair. And although there aren’t that many bugbears, they more than makeup for it in strength and cunning. These are the shock troops of the army that the Temple of Evil Chaos is building. So play them as such. Again, play them to their abilities, be fair, keep things honest, but play them to their abilities. Challenge your players as much as you can.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Minotaur Maze

Which brings us to cave I, which is a labyrinth, right? The maze of the Minotaur. Okay. This one, I will give you, this is the only encounter within the Caves of Chaos that just doesn’t fit. What I mean is, I don’t think that this belongs; it doesn’t fit into my whole army of the Temple of Evil Chaos. So what I would say is, as I said earlier in the module, if you play this up to be more of an ancient lair that is currently being repopulated, this could be the original cave; this could be the original labyrinth. This is a place within the Caves of Chaos that none of the other goblinoid type creatures visit, because this has been here since the beginning of time, right? This has existed for a thousand years and will exist for a thousand years more.

The Minotaur as Depicted in B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

My point is, even I can’t figure out a way to conveniently work this into the story arc or the plotline. But here’s what I will say, even though it’s not easily worked into the storyline, the story arc, or the plotline, it’s just really cool, right? Sending the players into this Minotaur lair and having them get lost in experiencing the Stirge cave and the fire beetles and the Minotaur itself is just really, really cool. And so I wouldn’t remove this. I would not suggest removing any of it. But in your story arc, you can drop hints that perhaps this was here before. This was the original cave, and all of the other ones came after. You can figure it out, I promise you, you can figure out a way to work it into your story arc, and it’s well worth it. Regardless of how goofy it seems, it is worth it. This is one of the most fun caves to go through in all of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands!

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Gnoll Lair

Then that brings us to cave J, which is the Gnoll lair. This is the last cave before the Temple of Evil Chaos. Make no mistake, Gnolls are badass, right, and they’re pretty vicious. This is a goblinoid army. This is a monster army that is being built up by the temple of evil chaos. So these are trained soldiers. These aren’t just random monsters out in the wild. These are trained soldiers. They have tactics. They utilize tactics. They’re going to defend their lair with their lives. Have the Gnolls use everything that they’ve learned and everything within their ability to give your party a challenge, right? Your job is to challenge your players, not necessarily to kill your players, but it is definitely to challenge your players. You don’t want them to feel like anything has been handed to them.

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Shrine of Evil Chaos

That finally brings us to cave K, which is the Shrine of Evil Chaos. You want to treat this like the keep where specific individuals aren’t named. You want to make sure that the priests and acolytes within the Shrine of Evil Chaos are named. You want to give them motivations; you want to provide them with personality? You want them acting for a specific reason. You don’t just want it to be some series of random encounters. Make it real. If the party has found out that the jovial priest was a spy and escaped and survived, make him appear here. Make other folks at the keep that the party has met appear here. In other words, make sure that some NPCs the party has interacted with, either for good or for ill, make them appear here as members of the Cult of Evil Chaos. Give them a purpose and a reason for being within the Shrine of Evil Chaos. It’ll hook your party in even more. It makes for a much more satisfying ending, as opposed to just fighting nameless, faceless beasts. And here’s the other thing, make sure that you’re dropping those hints throughout the entire adventure. So, in other words, the party should never end up at the Shrine of Evil Chaos and be facing nameless, faceless NPCs. The party should end up at the Shrine of Evil Chaos, and the hooks and the hints should have already been dropped. Your party should have been guessing that some of the folks that they’ve met at the keep are, in fact, evil and that perhaps they are a part of the machinations. Drop those hints early, drop those hooks early and see where your players take it. Right? Here’s another DM tip. As your players are sitting around discussing who they think is a member of the cult, who they believe is involved, write that down, mark that down, take a note of that and fulfill that promise, right?

Remember, your players are a source of some of the most fantastic ideas for big, bad evil guys and plot twists. Listen to them and make them right once in a while. If your players are sitting around and discussing the campaign, and they’re like, man, “I bet the Castellan is involved. I bet the Castellan is a double agent.” Make the Castellan a double agent. It makes for a much more satisfying ending. It makes for a much more satisfying story. It’s a beautiful twist, and the players feel that sense of aha! I was right. I knew it. That’s just kind of an excellent ending for everyone, right?

And so then there are the credits, and there’s some information that’s included at the end, including some NPCs and some tables that you can roll up to give personality to your non-player characters. I would suggest using these. You can use them for just creating NPCs in general, not even for B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Again, use those NPCs, tie them into the Cult of Evil Chaos, tie them into the ending, make sure you drop the hooks early, and you’re golden!

There’s also some useful information about designing floor plans, a glossary, and a map for the Guildhouse. Here’s what I would say, if they were going to include a map of any building, I would have rather seen a map of the Tavern or the Inn. I would say that you want a detailed floor plan of the Tavern and the Inn because it will be where the players are visiting most often. They do include some graph paper at the end for you to draw your own floor plan, and I suggest you do.

And that is Dungeon module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. I hope you got some value out of this. I hope you got some tips and some tricks on running this particular module. This is actually one of my favorite modules to run. So here’s the thing, again, yes, it has a lot to do with nostalgia. It has a lot to do with this being the first module that I ever played through. It’s also the first module that I ever DMed, but it is an excellent module. It’s a terrific mini sandbox to get you started and to let you know precisely what a sandbox campaign is. It gives you a lot of useful information. It has enough variety within it, specifically amongst monsters. And again, don’t fall for the bullshit about, “Oh, well, there is no reason that all of these different types of monsters and goblinoids would all be together and not attack each other and kill each other.” That’s bullshit. They’re there for a purpose. They’re there for a reason. Remember that reason. Whatever that reason is, make up a reason, right? You are a DM. Make up that reason, and it’s a great module. Remember, play up the fear, play up the sense of encroachment. Play up the sense of impending danger, and you’re going to hook your characters. Drop the hints, drop the hooks early on, that the Temple of Evil Chaos is behind everything. And that no one can be trusted either in the keep or outside of the keep. Drop those hooks, listen to your players, listen to what they think is happening, and play into that. It makes for a super satisfying ending.

So please, if you like the review, give me a like; share this with your group; share this with your friends; share this with anybody who just really wants to reminisce about BX D&D from the eighties or just D&D in general.

Long live B/X! Long live the OSR! And as always, “May the dice roll ever in your favor.”

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9 thoughts on “B2: The Keep on the Borderlands Retrospective and Review

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  1. Hi Bill. Great job here. B2 is my all time favorite module and I couldn’t agree with you more about all that you said here. The Caves of Chaos are a great place to go adventuring, with the KEEP as a great base to go back to, when the party needs to rest &/or buy more supplies, etc. Gary provided a setting for you to create a world for the players to go adventuring in. Everything is designed for you to build it the way you want to. I’m hoping to one day DM this again, as you are now on yt. If you haven’t read my article yet that I shared with you, I hope you do and let me know what you think of it. It’s all about my experience of playing D&D in my freshman year in college in 1980 for the first time, when I knew literally nothing about this game, and this was the module the DM used and when I went to bed that night, I was already in love with the game and all I wanted to do after that was PLAY D&D. : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for checking out the blog post, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and that you’re enjoying the game! I have read your post, it’s fantastic! I actually have a fairly similar experience in terms of introduction, and immediately falling in love with the game!


      1. Oh man, I’m so glad you loved what I wrote. I was hoping you would. Now I have to finish watching what happened yesterday. Their armor classes are saving them, let alone that Ogre missing. Their die rolls were pretty amazing too yesterday and yet another character died, sadly. Poor Paula.
        I don’t know if I mentioned this guy before, but have you seen the yt channel called Dungeon Craft? He has a most interesting video about getting rid of initiative. After watching, I now want to play again and try his system. It looks really good. If you see it, let me know what you think.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Let me TRY to justify the Minotaur Cave. So when the Shrine of Evil Chaos recruited all the monsters in the caves, the Minotaur was already here, so they approached him with their evil magic and communicated with him and asked him if he’d serve them in exchange for treasure, but that serving them meant he had to leave all the other monsters alone, so the Minotaur said “I’ll tell you what. If they stay out of my cave, they live. If they come in, they die. If I see them when I’m out hunting, they die. If they run away, they live. If you say one more word to me and don’t leave immediately, you die.”

    Hey, I gave it my best shot 😛


  3. Hi again Bill. I wanted to share with you my revised version of B2. After watching your review and then seeing you on Master the Game, and then reading your review here, I decided to go back to the work I had done years ago and finish it, just for fun. About a decade ago I rewrote B2, but never finished it. It took a lot of work, both then and now, but I finally finished it. Hopefully I’ll get to start up a campaign again sometime and play it.
    I know you’re busy, but if this interests you, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  4. When the chaos priest arrives at the caves with his followers, he encounters the minotaur and declares it an unholy harbinger of his evil Chaos god. The minotaur either plays along in the hope of getting tasty “sacrifices”, or actually IS a harbinger of Chaos. So now there is a double-main boss scenario, and in the end the minotaur might turn on the high priest and become even more powerful, or act as the general or field captain for the army of evil humanoids.


  5. An entertaining and Sage read. Great. I’ve been sandboxing this into my home brew campaign that I host at the library for over 2 years!. In all too brief 2 hr /week sessions both in person and remote. They are finally back at the keep (back home for our protagonist tank ranger Vyth , castellans, Lizardkin adopted, orphan) after triumphantly dealing with ne clearing out the caves of chaos to deal with the duplicitous Castellan and his Vampire Lord Brother with their respective minions and armies on the lookout for the evil Friar Duncan , though his giant mute knight escorts will trouble the world no more. And sleep will not come when Lord Garlons vampire spawn Charlene and Marlene come crawling through windows. They’ve forestalled the bbeg meat er meet to face and warn or deal with father figure Lord Aeron,..they were received as welcome returning heroes, though all a bit suss, to then accept the mission of Guildmaster Lord Hardcourt to investigate what force has been harassing guild activity in and around the Keep..only this late evening to discover the massacre at the guild house…let’s hope that evil cult with dragon iconography they largely destroyed in the caves haven’t sent anymore of those strange draconic soldiers to commit this latest atrocity there seems to be an awful lot of blood about the place


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