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D&D low level adventures and why I love them

Although many of my players love playing a powerful PC, there is something to be said for the low level RPG adventure. How I came to love the low level adventure probably has roots in my trappings as a child while learning the d&d game. Those basic dnd red books or the keep on the borderlands module, very basic stats with a basic beginning, trying to explain from where your characters hail and then have then die at the hands of the enemy in the first adventure.  Time to roll up some new PCs!

Most of the time though I was a fair DM and would let the players make their own choices which would determine if they lived or died.  In most cases they lived and carried on to become powerful wizards and clerics, warlords and thieves causing social and political change in the world around them.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the social and political intrigue, the complex plots and ever growing campaign, I live for that stuff!  At that point though, the point where the PCs become almost too powerful for their own good I always crave the simpler adventures, the times when the main quest was to find the goblin cave and bring back the leaders head to the village mayor.  There is something to be said about the classic low level adventure that I guess can only be nostalgia and a craving for simpler times.

When we were younger we would always use the TSR campaign settings like Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, and Ravenloft.  But, I preferred to write my own adventures and create my own unique locations for the PCs to explore.  The strange thing about our gaming was that most of the time we couldn’t form a gaming group that would last more than one session.  Thus we would play one on one games, just a player and myself as a DM.  I actually enjoyed those games quite a bit since I was able to focus on character growth with a single PC and let them do whatever they wanted without affecting the rest of the party in any ill mannered way.  We had some killer quests and there are many characters and adventures I will never ever forget.  Those were the days!  Every once in awhile though (like on someone’s birthday) we would get together for a massive AD&D 2nd edition game with about 6-8 players (well, it was massive for us when we were kids, OK!?)  The players would all come with brand new 1st level characters and we would play a “one-off” although back then we had no idea what “one-off” even meant.  Most often we would play “The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar” in the Forgotten Realms.  Man, I must have asked “are you sure you want to do that?” to one of our players a dozen times before he finally died covered in green slime while trying to run through one of the first rooms where the entire ceiling is covered in the stuff.  For some reason I remember that happening on more than one occasion so perhaps he never got the drift that even a shield wasn’t good protection against the stuff!  The players got to know that place well, although we would never make it more than a few hours into the place before the game had to be wrapped up and shut down.  I wonder if any of my old school players would be up for joining me for an old school dungeon romp to complete the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar from beginning to end?  It might take a weekend, but I’ve worked hard enough lately and thus deserve a break!  WHO’S WITH ME!?

What was your first adventure?  Who did you play it with?  What happened?  Did you character live to fight another day or perish at the beak of an owl bear who was hiding in a side passage?  Tell me your tales!

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Retro Role-Playing: The Keep on the Borderlands

The first time I held this module in my hands I was 8 years old. My friend Khidr had been gifted some red basic Dungeons and Dragons books by his Aunt and Uncle. There was the coveted Red Set with the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. They seemed intimidating at the time, but now I think back and laugh at how short they were compared to most RPG rulebooks. We also received what I truly believe got us involved in role-playing games to begin with- a set of polyhedron dice. Completely alien to us, these dice were like little treasures that required diligent safeguarding.  Strange shapes and of all different colors, this was what caused us to pull up chairs to what would become our gaming table and dig through these newfound books.  As soon as I found that there was a “Dungeon Master” who controlled the monsters and wrote the storyline I knew that’s what I wanted to be. I have always loved creation, being a creative creature at heart I get excited about writing songs, building model scenery, creating websites- these things give my life purpose and get my gears turning. I grabbed for the purple book which contained information FOR THE DUNGEON MASTER ONLY!

The Keep on the Borderlands was filled with plain black and white pages with a few poorly drawn pictures and descriptions of the interior of a keep and some nearby caverns. The cardboard exterior of the book came completely off from the bound pages and on the inside had a blue and white map of the keep.

It would provide the players with many adventures whether they realized it or not.  I could reuse different sections of this adventure to spawn ideas for future quests that would throw the Player Characters into dangerous situations and exciting sub-plots.  It would be many years later before I realized how influential those first books were to myself and my gaming group.  Now that I am an adult I decided that I would do a little more research on that old module since I find myself a bit more interested in the history of D&D.

The Keep on the Borderlands (B2) was a Dungeons and Dragons module created by the Father of D&D- Gary Gygax.  The module was first printed in 1979- a strangely reoccurring year in gaming products for me.  In the module, players are based at a keep and investigate a series of caves that are filled with a variety of monsters.  Designed to be used with the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, it was included in the 1979-1982 editions.  It was designed in mind for those new to the game.

This module went out of print in the early 80’s, but has since been reprinted two time, and a sequel was also made.  The Keep on the Borderlands was ranked as the 7th greatest D&D Adventure of all time by Dungeon Magazine in 2004.

In the adventure, the PC’s arrive at the Keep and can make it their base of operations.  Then they may investigate a group of caves in the nearby hills which are teeming with monsters.  The Caves of Chaos are home to multiple species of hostile humanoids.  Plot twists include a treacherous priest at the Keep, hungry lizardmen in a nearby swamp, and an angry hermit in the surrounding wilderness.  This is a typical “dungeon crawl” D&D adventure with a few outdoor treks.

In September of 2010, the module was re-released for D&D 4th Edition by Wizards of the Coast for use in the weekly D&D Encounters sessions. Like the original, this revised module is designed for use with a boxed set oriented towards the beginning player: “Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game”, the starter set for D&D Essentials, also released in September of 2010, which sports the red cover of the 1983 “Basic Rules” revision of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.

Things have finally come full circle.  The Red Classic D&D Basic set is back, as is our beloved Keep on the Borderlands.  Ironically enough, my good friend Khidr who started this D&D journey with me has returned to our gaming group.  So now, Khidr and I continue to explore our medieval  fantasy worlds together, and yes- I am still the Dungeon Master as I once was over two decades ago.

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