Wednesday, April 3, 2019

C is for Castellan Keep

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic for this year's #AtoZchallengeRevamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard it's B/X roots]

C is for Castellan Keep, AKA The Keep on the Borderlands.

Before I begin, let me first acknowledge the pointlessness of nit-picky nerd-rage one encounters around the internet and in certain geeky circles. "Aunt May couldn't have lived on such-and-such street; there's a deli and laundromat that's been at that address for 50 years" or "The Flash couldn't run at full speed without causing a firestorm in his wake due to friction build-up" or whatever. "Those two characters would never hook up because of this-that-and-the-other." Whatever.

[man, I am feeling LAZY this morning, otherwise I'd scour the web for some actual, real examples. But y'all have google, right?]

Someone smarter and more famous than me once said something like "Don't let the facts get in the way of telling a good story." And while this philosophy is uber-obnoxious when it comes to, oh, say FOX News or a sitting president, I'm talking about role-playing games at the moment. And while RPG campaigns aren't "stories" per se, they are fictional, imaginary content which is akin to what one finds in a story. As such, me nerd-raging over a handful of problematic, hard-to-reconcile "facts" are the long run...a waste of my time (and that of this blog's readers).

NOW...having gotten that "disclaimer" out of the way, let me ALSO say that while it may not be utterly crucial to having a good time, I still think it's pretty important that DMs and designers strive for some sort of internal consistency when it comes to both rules and setting elements as things that break our players' suspension of disbelief can wreck the immersive of our main reasons (if not THE reason) for playing the game! Not good.

Okay...on to the post.

Gary Gygax wrote module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands as a replacement for B1: In Search of the Unknown (the adventure included in the first printings of the Holmes-penned Basic set). Here is a compilation of quotes (from Gygax and others) explaining the process/reasons. Despite being written for - and included in later printings of - an earlier edition of Basic D&D, B2 was included in every single box of the Tom Moldvay (B/X) Basic set. The adventure is thus ubiquitous to B/X players and many, many B/X campaigns.

It was NOT, however, written specifically for Karameikos. As I wrote back in March, the Known World setting (later renamed "Mystara") was originally the home campaign of Moldvay and Lawrence Schick. It was dusted off, cleaned up, and modified for inclusion as a sample wilderness in the new (1981) Expert set (Dave Cook/Steve Marsh) and for use with module X1: The Isle of Dread (Moldvay). Karameikos, originally a city-state, became an entire region ("The Grand Duchy") in the new publication...but nowhere did it contain the adventure site of B2.

This changed in 1983. Frank Mentzer's Expert set, mostly a reprint of the B/X book, included an additional map of "The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness." While superficially similar to the northern half of the "Continental Map" found in X1 (i.e. "the Known World"), Mentzer's map additional notes the locations of several already-published adventure modules, including the first four B-series modules, and the first five of the X-series. The first three B modules are all nestled within the boundaries of Karameikos, with The Keep being located in the Altan Tepes mountains of the duchy, in the northeastern region marked "Frost Giants" on all small scale maps of Karameikos.

The 1987 GAZ1 elaborates the location further. Now called "Castellan Keep," the fortress is located at the head of Castellan River, one of the main tributaries feeding into the main Highreach (Volaga) River that passes by Specularum on its way to the sea. Alston writes of the Keep:

"This lonely, cold fortress lies in the Altan Tepes mountains, and the only way to reach the fort is by riverboat. The supposed to keep an eye on possible invasions from the north and east, and to watch the activities of the frost giants known to live in these wild lands. If you have adventure B2 (The Keep on the Borderlands), you can set it here; eliminate the large town the adventure mentions for the area, and leave only the cold and stubborn garrison."

So, I read this and my first thought was "what is this large town they're talking about?" I ended up spending more time than I probably should have re-reading my old copy of B2 and could find only this (from the "Start" section of the module):

"You have travelled for many days, leaving the Realm and entering into the wilder area of the Borderlands. Farms and towns have become less frequent and travellers [sic] few. The road has climbed higher as you enter the forested and mountainous country."

That's the only mention of any town at all...unless Allston is referring to the community of the Keep itself? i.e. the expected "home base" for beginning adventurers? Is that what he wants to cut from the location, leaving a handful of men-at-arms with no real reason to stay and fight in a fortress that can only be reached "by riverboat?" Do you know how hard it would be to re-provision such a place, considering we are talking about going UPRIVER into the mountains?

Is this a fracking joke? How long are those first level fighters going to be able to last against even a handful of attacking frost giants? Do people understand each giant is a walking siege engine (frost giants do as much damage as a light catapult!)? Castellan Keep would never have gotten built in the first place!
No, that's ridiculous. Allston was just riffing off Mentzer and Mentzer was just trying to stash adventures on the map, but you're not going to convince me that this was well thought out. A far more intriguing location for the Keep would be 40-50 miles west, replacing the fortress called "The Duke's Road Keep:"

"This fort lies in the mountain pass on the Duke's Road, right at the border between Karameikos and Darokin. Though also mountainous and cold, this is a more cheerful place because of the constant traffic passing through from Selenica to point south. This fort is garrisoned by the Fourth Division, Duke's Road Battalion (nicknamed "The Goblin -Crushers" for their successful military operations carried out against the mountain goblins)."

Can folks see how this might work better? The place is still three or four days walk from the nearest Karameikan town (Penhaligon) and a week or more from Selenica. It's in "goblin territory" giving a good reason to stash the Caves of Chaos nearby, you have a reason for a thriving community, and a reason for the existing warehouses and inns and stables (passing merchant caravans). Plenty of things for low-level adventurers to do (look into bandit activity, act as caravan guards, sniff out a newly formed Chaos cult organizing the humanoids, etc.). Yes, it still has a river (the "Chutcurgal"...must be a goblin word...) so you can retain your swampy lizard-folk marsh and bandit hideouts,  but it's got a road, too.

And best of all, no frost giants.

For other ideas about re-skinning the Keep, I'd direct you to GusL's essay on the adventure module. But I think you can 'port B2 just fine into GAZ1...if you put it in the right location.

Later, gators.

1 comment:

  1. Chutcurgal...? Lets stuff this in a translate app.

    Chut is russian for slight.
    Curga is Romanian for flow.

    So chut curga(l) would be Traladaran for something along the lines of little stream.