Dungeons & Dragons B2: Keep on the Borderlands
For many role-players, especially those older ones, Keep on the Borderlands (by Gary Gygax himself!) was one of their first adventures, either as a DM or as a player (mainly because it was included in one of the Basic Sets for a few years and has been reprinted a few times since its first printing). Like many in the B series of modules, it is not only an adventure but serves as a helpful guide for new Dungeon Masters, contains charts and tables of frequent information (equipment, spells) to help avoid having to go back and forth to the rule book (and not having to slow down the game for it), and a load of NPC's scattered throughout it. Many role-players do hold a special spot in their heart for this module and many claim it was their gateway into the world of Dungeons & Dragons and role-playing in general.
The first part of the book is full of helpful hints and tricks for beginning DM's and covers some basics the DM will need for this module from the DM's guide (like time keeping, experience, treasure and more). For those that were unsure of how to run a game, this was a gentle hand from the master himself on how do things in the beginning. After a couple pages of this, a quick background is given and then the Keep is described.
The Keep itself is pretty generic - just a simple Keep with a small town surrounded by walls set on a trading road in the wilderness. There are some clerics, merchants, traders, and some minor nobles around (and stat'ed out). The Keep makes for a good base as the PC's instigate the wilderness around the keep and head into the meat of the adventure. They are able to pick up rumors, hire additional manpower, purchase supplies and even find a few twists. Though the basic set deals primarily with dungeons (with the Expert set getting into wilderness adventure), there is enough information for a novice DM to run some wilderness encounters (and a few are given as the PC's search for the caves).
The bulk of the adventure deals with the "Caves of Chaos" though (the dungeon crawl part). Within the cave system (as it is a big hill with some different caves/dungeons, some that connect,some that don't) are some standard monsters for beginning players - kobolds, orcs, goblin, hobgoblins. What is nice is the module does give advice on how to run the creatures as they are not always "static", waiting for the PC's to show up in that room. Some of the PC's actions will determine where they are located in the future (they can hear and investigate noises as well, along with having spies). On top of that, there are political factions within the systems - one group hates another and may be convinced to help the PC's wipe them out. While the PC's can clear out caves, the module does state that after a couple months, more monsters will probably move back in, as the caves are a handy place for humanoids to hide out in.
There is also a Chaos Cult (sounds like Warhammer Fantasty RPG!) located within the Caves with some undead and higher level NPCs to challenge the PC's (and to remind them that sometimes the best bet is to investigate the treasure before taking it!). To make sure the PC's are on their toes and to challenge them as they move up a few levels, there are some caves with gnolls, a maze with a minotaur and an owlbear (which, according to stories, was the end of many a PC)! There is decent treasure to keep the PC's coming back for more. On top of the "Caves of Chaos", there is also the "Caves of the Unknown" shown on the overland map. It is only given location on the wilderness map, with the idea that the DM will take it and design his own dungeon for it (using what he learned in running the Caves of Chaos).
While pretty light on the plot (like many of the early modules), Keep on the Borderlands offers a lot of good dungeon crawling for novice or experienced players and DM's. The whole design of many of the early adventures was for the DM to come up with his own plot and campaign setting and use the module as a location within it. Even those with some experience in the game will get a kick out of it for a short while. Creative DM's though can easily weave in some plot threads as there are a few hints to them within the module (especially with the evil Chaos cult). The module is full of helpful advice. Another nice point is the Keep is pretty generic, allowing DM's to place it easily into any campaign world (it would officially be placed in the Grandy Duchy of Karameikos in the D&D Known World/Mystara and later on within the Greyhawk setting with the publication of "Return to the Keep on the Borderlands").
The end of the module is filled with more information on designing dungeons, NPCs, tips for players, a blank piece of graph paper, a glossary, and a NPC list a DM can fill out and use.
As mentioned, The Keep on the Borderlands has been reprinted numerous times. It was first released in in 1980 and was included in the Basic Set for 3 years. For the 10th Anniversary set, it was included (among many other things). Parts of it were included in the Supermodule B1-9 In Search of Adventure and was included in the Silver Anniversary Edition. TSR also produced a "Return to the Keep on the Borderlands" in their anniversary line set 25 years after the original and put out a novel at the same time (both which would place it in the Greyhawk setting). Hackmaster 4th Edition, which was licensed and based off of AD&D 1st edition published "Little Keep on the Borderlands". In 4th Edition, Keep on the Borderlands was used for Wizards of the Coast's "Encounters" series. And finally, back in the spring of 2012, Wizards released it again as part of their D&D Next playtest.
In my campaign, as of this writing, my players are just finishing up this module. Being very basic and light on plot worked out for me as I was able to modify it quite a bit, add a few more monsters into the mix and fit it into my own campaign (that is currently set in Mystara). My players have been enjoying it and displaying some well thought-out tactics (using fire to clear out rooms, hiring people to assist them,etc).
The artwork is pretty standard by TSR standards from the late-70's early 80's by David Laforce, Erol Otus, and Jim Roslof. The cover is a pink/magenta border with a group of adventures combating orcs or hobgoblins outside. The back cover shows a nice backdrop of the Keep itself. Excluding maps, there are only 5-6 other pictures in the interior of the module. The maps are well done with one of the Keep, the Inn, a wilderness map, and the Caves of Chaos all detailed.
One of the few complaints (besides not true plot) is that all the monster statistics lack experience point values which makes the job of the DM a bit more difficult as he now has to go back and look them up. Most of the coins are also listed in dice values, requiring the DM to roll (in my set-up, I did all the rolling ahead of time). Future modules would do away with most of that. On top of that, the items in the Chaos Cult's area can ruin a PC easily (they will instantly turn them evil).
Overall, Keep on the Borderlands is a nice little introductory dungeon crawl that many have fond memories of. It is easy to find on the secondary market and isn't going to cost an arm and a leg to purchase (probably under $10). It's sequel modules, though, will probably cost more. This is almost a standard in most collections that role-players have. The maps are well done & the artwork holds up even to this day.