Keep on the Borderlands, Fourth Edition

Courtney Campbell over at Hack & Slash appears to be starting a series comparing the original B/X module, Keep on the Borderlands, by Gary Gygax, to the 2e adventure, Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, by John D. Rateliff.  His thesis appears to be that, even when closely following the source material (which Return does), later adventure writers largely missed the point, and created adventures that were missing the magic of the early “Golden Age” period modules.

Well, if he thinks Return misses the mark, he really wouldn’t like the Encounters adventure, Keep on the Borderlands:  A Season of Serpents.  So in keeping with my work on this blog, I thought I riff off of what Courtney is doing and do my own comparison.

The first post in the series covers the introduction and DM advice sections of each module, so I am going to do the same here.  You should probably read Courtney’s blog post for context, because otherwise some of these comparisons won’t make sense.

In some ways it might not be fair to compare Season of Serpents because it is designed for D&D Encounters, which are serialized, organized play sessions.  Encounters sessions probably have more in common with the old tournament modules, so it might be fairer to compare the 1e and 4e versions of Hommlet, neither of which appear to be designed for organized play.  But the Keep is what is on the table, so the Keep is what we are going to eat tonight.  Maybe we’ll do a comparison of Hommlet or The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan later.

The introduction in Season of Serpents is considerably longer than in either the original version of Keep on the Borderlands (“B2”) or the Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (“Return“).  In contrast to both of them, it deals largely with logistical and organizational issues relating to running an Encounters session.  Here is how it starts:

Welcome to Dungeon & Dragons Encounters, an exciting official D&D program.  This adventure is a mini-campaign season designed to be played in one-encounter sessions once per week at your local Wizards Play Network location.  Each week, players can earn in-game rewards for their characters and Renown Points toward special program-exclusive D&D Encounter Cards that can be used in this and future seasons of D&D Encounters.

It just fills you with wonder, doesn’t it?  Later in the section, when it talk about providing statistical information to the organizers, I get goose bumps.

What passes for DM advice, on the other hand, is considerably shorter – much, much shorter if you account for font size, formatting and the use of whitespace.  It is misleadingly titled “Creating a Character”, because the only advice in this regard is that players are required to create their own or use one of the pre-gens.

What the section really does is advise the DM of the rules for awarding experience, treasure and so-called “Renown Points”.  Renown Points look a bit like simplified tournament scoring, but can be used to earn “Renown Rewards”.  Whatever those are.  There is also advise on what to do if a character dies (the player can choose to start a new character, or resurrect the old one at the beginning of the next session with a brief “death penalty” to rolls), and how to deal with the changing composition of your table if players move in or out.

And when I say “advise” I mean “direct”; this all appears to be mandatory.  Gary’s admonition to “become the Shaper of the Cosmos” is long gone.  Perhaps that is necessary for organized play, but I suspect the magic that is missing from these sections of the adventure will not be found in the background material that comes next.  I guess you will have to wait and see – assuming Courtney follows up and continues the series.






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