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Into the Borderlands

Recently, Goodman Games released a hard bound reprint/update of B1: In Search of the Unknown & B2: The Keep on the Borderlands called Into the Borderlands. It includes 2 different versions of the original publications, plus 5E updates of these adventures.

B2 was my first D&D experience back in 1982. The GM used it as the basis for the first 3E campaign I ever played in in 2001. I ran it for my first 4E campaign in 2008. I was really unfamiliar with B1, though. I’d heard about In Search of the Unknown, of course. I’d heard it was just an empty dungeon that DMs needed stock themselves and to pre-teen and teenage me, I didn’t see the point.

So, Into the Borderlands contains a reproduction of the original publication of B1, an updated reprint version, and a stocked 5E update of it. Naturally, you can strip out the 5E encounters to use your own (more in a minute on that). The original B1, indeed, is an unstocked dungeon, but don’t mistake that for just a map with empty rooms. Each room has a description rich with the history of what WAS. Why it’s there, what it was for when built. It gives you a good background to use when deciding how to stock the location. Are bandits looting it now? A team of historians? A tribe of bugbears? Are they just random looters, or related to the original builders?

So, B1 is much more robust than I ever thought it was. It includes suggestions on how to stock the rooms, as well. Goodman also includes 3 stocked versions by their designers before the 5E update. It also mentions that the designers intend the word “dungeon” to refer to ANY of the myriad unground complexes ripe for exploration and not just trap/monster-filled lairs of illogical coincidences or literal dungeons used as jails under castles. It makes me wonder if Monte Cook had this in mind when he expressly called the complex of lairs, caves, and ruins under Ptolus “The Dungeon?”

I’m sure almost everyone who’s been playing since the ’70s/early ’80s has their own memories of Keep on the Borderlands. Either the mad hermit in the wilderness, or the ogres that served as a serious wake-up call for unsuspecting adventurers. The Keep on the Borderlands is a beloved classic adventure. For many people (myself included), it is an integral part of our earliest D&D experiences.

One interesting thing I noticed in B1 is that the original 1979 map & text uses Roman numerals for the rooms, in excess of 40 described locations. The 1981 update keeps the Roman numerals on the map, but uses standard Arabic numbers in the text. That’s not confusing at all. Fortunately, the 5E update uses Arabic numbers on both the map AND the text. The 5E update also fleshes out a few locations mentioned on the map that were not covered in the 1979 or 1981 versions.

Included in this hefty tome are also three version of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Two of the earliest printings (including the one I have several copies of from my Basic sets), and a 5E update. B2 doesn’t seem to have changed all that much between printings, except for that minotaur illustration. The print run of B2 determined which minotaur you saw. If B2 was your first adventure, your first minotaur was either the Erol Otus minotaur chowing down on a chicken/turkey/??? leg or the Willingham armored minotaur. The armored minotaur was my first. Every copy of B2 I have features this guy, except now, for the first version of B2 included in Into the Borderlands.

Back when I first started playing D&D, B2 was the 1st adventure I ever played. We didn’t know what we were doing, so my fighter went through it cave by cave wiping out everything single-handedly. I had several notebook pages of loot. I don’t have any specific memories of running B2 from back in the day. I used it as the basis of my first D&D 4E campaign. It taught me that rooms FULL of monsters are A) hard to use on battlemaps and B) make for REALLY long 4E combats.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have just swapped out the monsters with their 4E counterparts, but 4E was such a shift in playstyle from what I was used to, I had no idea. The adventure itself, though, the Keep, the Caves of Chaos, the sandbox nature of it, but not TOO sandboxy, it holds up.

Into the Borderlands includes two old versions of B2 and a 5E update. Without scouring the text line by line, the only change that stands out to me between the old versions is the aforementioned Minotaur art (and the color of the cover). The 5E update of B2 has much the same content, though the encounters have been adjusted to account for close to a 1/2 dozen edition changes (depending on how you count). The ogre is still there, & the Minotaur, both of whom could be a nasty surprise. Back in the day, the monsters in the Caves of Chaos were there to be killed (and have their stuff taken). I’m sure there were group who weren’t unabashed murderhobos, but I didn’t know those groups. More RP is encouraged these days between the PCs and the “monsters.” There’s no reason everyone in the Caves of Chaos have to be devotees of the cult, no matter which edition you play.

Using the Caves as a competing non-human settlement with the Keep could make a pretty rich campaign. Another change I noticed was the Mad Hermit is now a Druid instead of a Thief, which makes more sense (the druids were an unknown class when B2 was initially published). Together with B1, B2 as republished by Goodman Games is more a mini-campaign setting than merely two classic adventures. Of course, they were all along, but it’s nice to be reminded of it. Maybe in the future, I’ll run a game set there.

Next, I’ll look at Goodman Games’s reprint/update of X1: The Isle of Dread. After that, I’ll have a look at their reprint of the original Metamorphosis Alpha.

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I’m still here

My Tomb of Annihilation game didn’t fade away; we missed a couple of sessions due to illness running around the group. Then, my wife’s sinus infection didn’t get better (my wife plays Baersora). The fevers didn’t subside.

They drew blood. They did MRIs, more blood, CAT scans, more blood, a bone survey, more blood (over 50 vials in all). For four months, a fever of 102°F+ every day. Just before Christmas, we got the dreaded diagnosis: diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (non-Hodgkins). It was confirmed by a biopsy and a PET scan  that lit up her lymph nodes like a Christmas tree.

She got her infusion port implanted (she’s a cyborg now!) and on Dec. 21st my wife endured her first chemotherapy. Merry Christmas. They were still waiting on the results of a FISH test to determine whether or not she had a double-hit or triple-hit lymphoma which would change her one-day every three weeks chemotherapy (using the R-CHOP regimen) to a five-day in-patient every three weeks (EPOCH). Yesterday, the result of that test came back: NEGATIVE.

So, with a MASSIVE load off our shoulders, we prepare for her second out-patient chemotherapy in two days. Due to a variety of factors, the game is on hiatus until she’s past this (or she tells me she feels well enough to continue, which, I suspect, won’t happen until after her chemotherapy is finished.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading Goodman Games’s Into the Borderlands and posting my thoughts about it on Twitter. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll compile them into a blog post for this site and then move on to The Isle of Dread.

Look for my Into the Borderlands post this weekend or early next week.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 10


After a week of travel or so, the group finally made their way across the marshy basin, finally arrived at the Heart of Ubtao. At first glance, there did not appear to be a way to ascend and explore the floating earthmote. A elf woman called down to them from above, inquiring as to their identities and purpose, then invited them up with an arcane doorway. She introduced herself as Valindra Shadowmantle. Sobek’s superior sense immediately identified her as undead and he was able to detect several others behind a closed door, as well. Valindra was interested only in talking, however, and told the group she, at the behest of her master, sought a relic in the jungle called the Soulmonger. Even now, she had minions searching for it, though she suspected it might be someone in the vicinity of Omu. Our heroes confirmed that they were headed for Omu and she seemed pleased as her minions had not yet investigated the lost city.

Sobek relayed to Baersora in Draconic that the woman was, in fact, undead disguised to appear living, and Baersora shared the information with her brother and Nali in Dwarven. At this, Valindra revealed that she spoke both Draconic and Dwarven and suggested they take this opportunity to part way peacefully, unless they intended to attack her. Despite Sobek’s misgivings about leaving undead undestroyed, they decided she was likely very powerful, perhaps a lich, and took advantage of her offer to part ways peacefully. She opened another arcane doorway for them to reach the jungle floor and bid them good fortune in their travels.

A few days after leaving the Heart of Ubtao, they veered of course from Omu to investigate something else they spotted while on top of M’bala. Lodged in the trees, about halfway between the Heart of Ubtao and Omu was a ship. A voice called down to them, asking for help, then shouted a warning as a corrupting ooze, a purple slime, and a mold zombie emerged from the surrounded muck. They fought off the oozes and undead to the gratitude of the marooned crew in the branches above. Their ship had crashed in the tree tops and they were injured, unable to descend and now, without food for four days. Sobek and Herrick worked to get everyone up into the ship where the captain, a cat-man (perhaps a Tabaxi) introduced himself as Captain Ra-Jareez*.

Their ship was a Spelljammer. He explained, in brief, how it flew and that their helmsman caught a tree branch through his face. Sobek shared some of his food with the remaining crew and they discussed how best to get down and back to civilization. Ra-Jareez was not keen on hiking through the jungle for weeks to reach Sasserine and eventually came up with an idea to build a raft out of the wreckage and attach the spelljamming helm to that. Unfortunately, they had no one to pilot the vessel. Ri-Tikki Stargazer perked up and suggested perhaps HE could learn to fly it. Ra-Jareez thought this was an excellent idea and gladly accepted the Kenku’s offer of aid.

After saying farewell to Ri-Tiki Stargazer, they proceeded uneventfully for another week or so, losing track of time as the days ran into one another until at long last, they approached the Lost City of Omu.

* The Wreck of the Star Goddess was originally a Halruaan sky ship. However, since I set Tomb of Annihilation in the World of Greyhawk instead of the Forgotten Realms, that really didn’t work for me. Personally, I think it should’ve been a crashed Spelljammer all along, so I just changed it. How did Ra-Jareez get another ship of his own and part ways with Captain Straxius and Sea of Stars, and how did he crash it in the Amedio Jungle? Well, that’s a story for another time. If you didn’t keep up with my Spelljammer game here, Ra-Jareez is not a Tabaxi, but is, in fact, a Nkosi from Midgard. He’s still an unlucky scoundrel, however.

Switching jungle travel to narrative mode was something I should have done several sessions ago, particularly when it became clear that the Gloomwalker Ranger Sobek’s class/racial abilities made overland travel in the jungle trivial (they cannot become lost and he automatically finds food and clean water). Moving, cat death, Gen Con, and new cat** provided enough of a distraction that I didn’t think of it until just last week. Things should progress much more meaningfully now. Plus, next session, they’ll be in Omu. Won’t that be exciting? (No spoilers if you’ve played/read it!)

** Yes, new cat. We adopted a kitten three weeks ago. He was born on May 4th (Star Wars Day!) so we renamed him Bendu. Our little Bendu bears little resemblance to the Tom Baker-voiced character in Star Wars Rebels, however. He spends our game nights going from person to person, wanting snuggles.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 9

The hiatus lasted longer than we intended due to player absences, but at long last, we have returned to the Tomb of Annihilation! When we last left our heroes, they had just discovered a secret passage leading out of a large chamber full of cat imagery (cat statues, cat murals, etc. etc.). Down they go…

The cramped passageway lead into a hallway containing multiple doors, after find a false door hiding a trap, they tried the double doors at the center. Beyond those lay a city in miniature, with rivers of molten silver. Despite the liquid metal flowing through the room, the air was chilled. Herrick stepped in and was immediately engulfed in flame, the victim of a trap. After tending to Herrick’s wounds, the group figured out the best way to explore the room and took the opportunity to claim some loot and recover from their trials so far.

After that, they tried the last door in the hallway and stumbled into a trap that teleported them back into the deep passages they already explored, they spent an hour or so retracing their steps to the cat room, where they chose a different door. This led them to a collapsing room with a great number of agitated baboons and a hole in the ceiling leading outside. Sobek calmed the primates and with the aid of Herrick’s slippers of spider climbing, they escaped the hidden shrine, choosing the jungle above over further exploration of the buried temple.

Unfortunately, the partially devoured carcass of their triceratops rotted as evidence of an undead hoard having passed over them while they were in the shrine. They gathered what supplies they could and proceeded into the jungle on foot.

So, I skipped an encounter with a doppelganger that would have totally killed Herrick (he was down to 1 HP after the fire trap). Mostly, because I did not want to adjudicate a combat by notes or by having everyone else leave the room (the layout of the upstairs where the game room is makes that impractical). Plus, I didn’t want to introduce an element of one of the PCs being replaced by a shapeshifter at this point.

They were specifically supposed to be unable to exit the underground complex via that room with the collapsed ceiling and baboons, but when they have the tools to make it work and there’s no non-arbitrary reason to allow it, then you have to go with it. Frankly, I don’t even mind, despite all the really interested stuff being skipped, because they earned the gear that they used to get out and it was a good use of their abilities (abilities most PCs did NOT have when that particular adventure was written).

It’s pretty clear at this point that no one (even me) is interested in sandbox jungle exploration, particular with the time limit imposed by the adventure (I’ve spoken about this problem at length in previous posts), so I think I’m going to switch the weeks of jungle hiking to narrative mode.

Hopefully, we’ll get back on track now and be able to have many consecutive sessions of adventures.

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RPG-a-Day 2018 – Week Five: SHARE… why you take part in RPG-a-Day.


It’s pretty simple, really. I don’t blog as much as I should, especially for an author trying to expand his platform. RPG-a-Day gives me decent writing prompts that usually don’t leave me scratching my head and thinking WTF?

Most blogging prompts delve into topics I’m either not comfortable blogging about (i.e. provide pictures of celebrity crushes — I’m 44 and married, believe it or not, I don’t think about celebrity crushes that much and even when I was single, I didn’t), or I don’t feel are relevant to the topic of my blog (i.e. List three things in your purse). I suppose I could spend a month making fun of a particular set of blogging prompts, but at times, that seems arbitrary and cruel. If I could come up with a month worth of blogging topics to make my own prompt list for fantasy/sci-fi authors, then I wouldn’t need a list of prompts to begin with.

Categories: Random Thoughts

RPG-a-Day 2018 – Week Five: SHARE… something you learned about playing your character


I usually GM for my group, but over the last several years of playing, I have learned a valuable lesson: don’t play talky, charismatic characters. I’m not a good improvisor and I feel neither comfortable nor convincing playing a smooth-talking character. Sauve, slick-talk coming from me sounds about as natural as an oral bowel movement.

From now on, I’m sticking to techs, pilots, and fighters (whether they fight with swords, magic, fists, or guns). No smooth-talking con men, slick politicians, or diplomatic leaders.

I mean, have you heard about the plight of the Duros people?

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RPG-a-Day – Week Five: SHARE… a friendship you have because of RPGs


I could handle this like a Follow Friday on Twitter and just list the social media handles of my friends I met because of RPGs, but that would be a gargantuan list. Since I’ve been playing RPGs since I was eight years old, they’ve been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember and the vast majority of my friendships can be attributed to RPGs. It would be easier for me to list friends I have that I met because of some other reason. Chief among this non-RPG attributed friendship would be the one I share with my wife. But, she plays RPGs now, too, so there’s hardly a corner of my social life that isn’t touched by RPGs in some way.

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RPG-a-Day 2018 – Week Five: SHARE… whose inspiring gaming excellence you’re grateful for


My answer for this ties in with yesterday’s post. Ironically… paradoxically… strangely? I’m thankful for Critical Role, Wil Wheaton, and others like them who serve as such great ambassadors of the hobby. I may not listen to, watch, or even like actual plays and livestreams of games, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize how important they are to helping millions of people understand this hobby I’ve enjoyed most of my life.

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RPG-a-Day 2018 – Week Five: SHARE… a great stream/actual play


I don’t feel comfortable making recommendations about this, because I don’t watching RPG livestreams or actual plays. Why? Because I don’t particularly like them.

Now, that doesn’t mean they’re not good; it just means they’re not for me. I, personally, don’t find it particularly enjoyable to watch other people play a game. I enjoyed Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop series. I thought it did a good job explaining how the featured board games worked. Critical Role is hugely popular and has made RPG fans of people who don’t actual play the games themselves. They’ve done a great job of bringing awareness of the hobby mainstream. Obviously, a lot of people enjoy watching livestreams or RPG actual plays and/or find something of value in them.

I suppose they could be good at figuring out how a system works, but I think you’d have to either watch a lot of them or you’d have to scour the feeds to find one that actually sets out to explain the system. Maybe that’s easier than I think; I’ve never looked because thus far, it’s not something I’ve needed to do. Perhaps the next time I decide to run a game that I’m not all that familiar with, I’ll look up some actual plays/livestreams of the system and see if I can answer that question for myself.

I still don’t think I’m going to enjoy watching other people play a game as much as many other people do, though. It’s just not my jam.

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RPG-a-Day 2018 – Your gaming ambition for the next year.


Well, that’s pretty easy. Over the next year, I would like to finish our Tomb of Annihilation game and start a new campaign using a system we have not played that extensively. Of course, what that will be will be determined by everyone’s mood, but if, for example, everyone is jonesing for a Star Wars game, I would use WEG D6 system instead of FFG narrative dice system (even though I’ve run multiple Star Wars d6 campaigns, but they were all in the 1990s).

If I had to choose right now, I might go for something like Hollow Earth Expedition, Pulp Cthulhu, Tales from the Loop, or Predation, but by the time we wrap up Tomb of Annihilation, a couple of us will have Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, and who knows what else? I’m certain that there will be a multiple session hiatus wherein we will play Blades in the Dark.

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