This module includes a cover folder with maps and a complete description booklet to form a ready-made scenario for DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® Basic Set. It has been specially designed for use by beginning Dungeon Masters so that they may begin play with a minimum of preparations.
Within are many features to aid novice players and Dungeon Masters: legends, history and background information, a list of adventuring characters, tips on how to be an effective Dungeon Master, plus an interesting area for characters to basethemselves in (the Keep) before setting out to explore the Caves of Chaosl
"B2: The Keep on the Borderlands" (1979), by Gary Gygax, was printed by TSR in December 1979. It was probably TSR's twelfth adventure, and the first one to use a full-color cover, rather than the monochrome covers that had been used for the previous 11 adventures.
Basic Sets. Like its predecessor, "B1: In Search of the Unknown," this adventure was created for use with the first edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977), created by J. Eric Holmes. Once it was printed, "Keep on the Borderlands" immediately replaced "In Search of the Unknown" in the Basic boxed set.
However, "Keep" is much better known as the adventure packaged with the second edition Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1981), which was revised and updated by Tom Moldvay. It remained a part of that package throughout its life (1981-1983).
From 1980-1983, Dungeons & Dragons was seeing its most explosive growth, and the Basic Set was the prime entry point to that game. As a result, B2 ended up the most printed D&D module of all time. Much later estimates suggest there might have been 1.5 million copies printed in all, between the two boxed sets and standalone sales.
Introductory Ideas. Like B1, "Keep on the Borderlands" was positioned as an "introductory" module; it provided instructions not just on how to run the campaign contained within, but also on how to run combats and to be an effective GM. However, it varied notably from its predecessor B1 in one area: Where the previous adventure had been a bit of a toolkit - with GMs learning to create dungeons by actually filling in the monsters and treasures - this one was a complete, ready-to-run adventure.
The Caves of Chaos themselves showed off the introductory nature of B2 in another way: They're pretty much a who's who of the humanoids you could meet in Basic D&D, with separate caverns inhabited by kobolds, orcs, goblins, ogres, hobgoblins, bugbears, gnolls, and even a minotaur. Gygax later admitted that the result wasn't "ecologically correct," but that wasn't really the point.
Adventuring Tropes. "Keep" is also of historic note because it detailed not just dungeons to explore, like most adventures of the period, but also a home base for the players to use: the eponymous Keep, which spans about 6 pages in the adventure. PCs can interact with the various inhabitants there and thus have plenty of roleplaying opportunity before they ever strike out into the Caves of Chaos.
This would have been a huge innovation for TSR if Gygax hadn't done the same thing just a a few months earlier in "T1: The Village of Hommlet." As it was, these two modules set "home base + nearby adventure point" as a standard adventure design element (though towns would be more frequently used in the future).
There's also a page of wilderness adventuring. Though pretty scant, it was an innovation for the Basic adventures.
Future History. "The Keep on the Borderlands" has been revisited many times, most notably in Wizards of the Coast's Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999) for AD&D. In more recent years, the setting made a thematic return as the Chaos Scar, which was spotlighted in D&D Encounters Season 3: Keep on the Borderlands - Season of Serpents (2010-2011) and in Dungeon #171 (October 2009) through Dungeon #197 (December 2011), all for 4e. The adventure may still have a future in D&D too, as it was released as Caves of Chaos at D&D Expo 2012 as a playtest for D&D Next.
About the Creators. Gary Gygax wrote "The Keep on the Borderlands" at the end of his period of greatest adventure productivity, from 1977-1979, shortly after creating "T1: The Village of Hommlet." By this time, actually managing TSR was taking up increasing amounts of his time, which kept Gygax from doing more creative work. He hired Jean Wells and Lawrence Schick to form a Design department in 1979. Going forward, this department would be the main source of TSR's adventures, not Gygax.
About the Product Historian
This history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.