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Return to the Keep on the Borderlands

by David Keyser

This adventure celebrates twenty-five years of D&D. And just like the title says, it revisits the adventure B2 Keep on the Borderlands, which was first released twenty years earlier.

Like B2, this is an adventure designed to be dropped into any typical D&D setting, only this time with many of the conventions and assumptions oriented for Greyhawk. It also makes more specific suggestions for placing the Keep in the World of Greyhawk, locating it in the southwesternmost part of the Yeomanry. It gives the keep a history in Greyhawk that dates back about thirty years, and the events when PCs tested their mettle against the Caves of Chaos as described in B2 are assumed to have happened roughly twenty years ago, give or take.

I wouldn't even be including this adventure, except for the inclusion of 2-4 NPCs who have ties to Mystara. There was speculation by Mystara fans at the time that perhaps the adventure was originally written for Mystara and then later changed to Greyhawk. While that is possible, I think the more likely explanation is that author John Rateliff decided to throw in these NPCs as a nod to other classic adventures that were released in the early years along with B2.

Dubricus d'Ambreville is a 1st level mage, six feet tall and thin, with an unruly mop of hair. He has pretty good physical stats as well as a high intelligence, with his one weakness being a low wisdom which manifests when he comes up with brilliant but impractical ideas. He is identified as a scion of a famous family of wizards, and has plans to become the next great mage of his lineage. He arrived at the Keep several months ago and has been hoping to find an adventuring band. He hasn't had any luck so far since he always insisted that he should be the leader, but he has recently reconsidered since that condition has only led to refusal. Now he plans to join a group and try to lead through more subtle means. In the meantime, he has been renting a family home in the Keep and passing the time between working as a scribe and scrivener, drawing up contracts for merchants, and running an informal school for children in the Keep who want to learn how to read and write. He occasionally embarks on impromptu lectures in history during these classes which often prove to be popular. While his family are wealthy nobles, he insisted on coming here to make it on his own merits, so he doesn't have much money.

Third, Warrior Maid of Maruda, is a 2nd level fighter, almost six feet tall, with very pale skin, who wears a bronze mask at all times. She hails from the distant underground city of Cynidicea, where she belongs to an order of warrior-nuns who have been charged with exploring the surface world their people abandoned long ago. She arrived at the Keep a few weeks ago, having crossed the desert beyond the mountains. She does not speak Common and has not taught Cynidicean to anyone, so people assume she is mute or at least simple-minded. People call her Third because of her attempts to communicate through sign language her own rank in her Order. The matriarch is Maruda's Champion and the first rank, the chosen few are called the Hallowed Mask and are the second rank, while the Warrior Maids are the third rank. The Green Man Inn inside the Keep has provided her with room and board since she broke up a fight in the tavern on the night of her arrival, and she has acted as an unofficial bouncer ever since. As a Cynidicean, she suffers a -1 penalty when fighting in broad daylight, but does have infravision and the blind-fighting skill. Note that while this book spells it Maruda, I assume this is a simple error as the original B4 adventure module had the goddess name as Madarua.

Both Dubricus and Third are NPCs designed to be available to a PC party as henchmen and/or allies. Dubricus did not appear previously, he is a newly created member of the d'Ambreville family for this adventure, and presumably of the fourth generation, or later.

The last two NPCs of interest are actually characters created by Len Lakofka for L2 The Assassin's Knot. They are an optional event, arriving at the Keep sometime between the PCs second and third visit back to the Keep after making excursions into the wilderness. Tomas is a 7th level assassin and Holga is a 6th level wizard, and, if you check L2, Tomas is a member of the assasin's guild and Holga is an apprentice of a sorceress allied with the guild. This adventure assumes that the pair, teenagers at the time, escaped the destruction of the guild at the end of L2, and pooled their talents to survive. They have had a very successful partnership over the years as they have continued to engage in contract murder. While they hail from the Lendore Isles, the connection to Mystara, which is somewhat tenuous, is the following sentence.

They are here[the Keep] now because Tomas hopes to realize his ambition to found his own assassin's guild in distant Cathos City. To overcome his rival among the loosely affiliated assassins that have gathered in that town, he needs to pull off some notable coup that will cement his reputation...they have traveled to this distant spot to pull off something sure to impress the most jaded assassin

If you are a Greyhawk-phile, and wondering why Cathos City isn't familiar to you, it is because it was only mentioned in the adventure M(Solo)2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur. As I mentioned before, while that adventure was never officially set in Mystara, being linked to the BECMI ruleset means some people do assume it is set in Mystara as M(Solo)1 was. So this entry sheds light on some kind of assassin's guild forming in Cathos.

As part of this book's release, there were also two tie-in products for Return to the Keep on the Borderlands which are not well-known. The first is a mini-adventure that was included with InQuest Gamer magazine #50 called [IQ3] Warriors of the Gray Queen, written by Jeff Grubb. It is only a few pages with the PCs tracking down the lair of some hostile myconids near the Keep and it doesn't have any special ties to Mystara.

And the Adventurer's Guild module for Return to the Keep on the Borderlands was...

1999 - The Displaced

This short adventure takes place along the road that leads up to the Keep. The PCs are traveling to the Keep when they arrive at the tiny hamlet of Riversford and meet a family who have had to abandon their homestead due to humanoid raiders. The homestead lies in a valley off the road between Riversford and the Keep, it is a six hour hike to reach it.

The PCs will encounter group of bandits in the area who have also been attacked by the humanoid raiders, this can lead to either a parley or a fight. The homestead has been taken over by gnolls who are linked to the gnolls found in RttKotB.

And the one link to Mystara can be found in the list of six pregen characters offered in the back. One of them is Dubricus d'Ambreville, with the same statistics as found in the Return to adventure.