Keep on the Borderlands question

edited July 2018 in Play Advice
In the Keep on the Borderlands, why don't the soldiers on the keep march on the caves? Instead of just sending tiny squads (the PCs and their henches) there?

My PCs convinced the captain of the watch that this would be a good idea and he got up and went to the bailiff to propose it. Now I'm not really sure what will happen.

A. The bailiff will say "That's stupid, because X" and punish the captain of the watch for being stupid, altering the power structure of the keep.

B. The bailiff will say "Ok, we'll do it", do it, and then the outcome will be Y.

Either of these two will have a lasting consequence on the keep, which is good because the players dumped a lot of drama points (Hillfolk on the borderlands???) on this (they were talking with the captain of the watch in the inn). But A or B? And what is X, or Y?



  • I'm thinking A would be easiest but since I can't think of an X, that might mean it's less likely? Otoh, the Y I'm thinking of, that the soldiers die in the cave leaving the keep underdefended, is sort of an X.
  • Now that we've had a TPK there, they might understand why this is a place where soldiers won't likely go
  • When we played it over the winter before last, the bailiff was unwilling to take the risk due to wider strategic considerations. It wasn't really his problem, the consequences of failure could be disastrous, and he wasn't going to send his men into unscouted, eldritch territory. Plus it was winter, so not the best time for it.

    This was not, of course, the same as not doing anything: the bailiff routinely organized scouting expeditions in an effort to gauge the strength of the enemy, using the relatively-competent PCs as the spear-head. He was attempting to get a sense for what was, to him, largely unknown: what are the local pagans (as he largely construed the situation) capable of, where their strength and reserves are situated, and so on. If the PCs had ever managed to bring him the facts he needed (mainly the idea that the trolls are killable, where they live, and a ball-park figure on their numbers), a general assault on them might have been in order.

    As the trolls (the catch-all term for ugly fairy monsters in our Swedish campaign environment) were also doing strategic thinking, the situation ultimately developed into a sort of raid/counter-raid dynamic where the humans didn't want to commit to decisive action in the caves, and the trolls didn't have the strength to storm the keep's walls. The trolls were generally winning, though, thanks to wider strategic concerns: the king would probably call most of the keep's personnel to join him in Lithuania come summer, leaving a skeleton crew that the trolls could overcome.
  • This is incredibly helpful, thank you Eero! (Am still feeling guilty about the unfinished "saved draft" I have in the starving thread, that I need to update now that I've heard from my playgroup on the matter.)

    In our KotB it's the Karameikos equivalent of April right now. But I'm planning a time gap of a couple of months after this TPK

    Now I know the approximate mindset of the bailiff, I'm gonna snarf it directly from you straight up. He will punish the watch captain mildly, not for stupid idea but for speaking out of rank.
  • edited July 2018
    @Eero_Tuovinen Where do you place the Keep geographically?
  • In our campaign, you mean? It was in the eastern reaches of medieval Västmanland. I wasn't working off the bestest demographic data, but my concept for the region was that the titular "borderland" was about the medieval colonization of eastern Svealand. The keep was probably built too much "forward" in terms of local population numbers, but that's clearly the case in the original scenario as well, and I justified it as a sort of a pro-active approach to taming a wilderness replete with trolls (which, I assume, were not present in real history).
  • So the forces of chaos live around lake Mälaren?
  • edited July 2018
    Ah, yes - I meant western end of Västmanland, of course, rather than east. About a hundred miles from Arboga by my hex map. (It's not marked here, but it'd be about mid-height on the far right left, damn it, about a hex beyond the edge.) It wouldn't be that far anyway if not for the water troll (näcken) and some associated hazards that make water passage difficult in the area. The lack of roads and low population density in the area do mean that the area is pretty isolated in my simulation. (I'll emphasize that I didn't have access to real demographic data for the region in the 14th century when building the sandbox, so much is guess-work and the rest is arbitrary choices for playability.)

    Also, the Caves of Chaos in this campaign are contextualized as a sort of a last toe-hold of the jotun powers in the region. One of the big strategic arcs in the campaign was pretty much about how the PCs kept busting the last troll caves (low-level goblin nests) in Västmanland, and how this impacted the internal politics of the trolldom, who were on the edge about whether to fight for the land or retreat north to where their kin was still strong. Had the PCs succeeded in destroying the Caves, that'd have pretty much stopped trollish activity in Västmanland altogether. My backup plan for that eventuality was to offer the party a chance to follow the troll "threat" up to Dalarna to engage the G series of adventures. Sort of a Gygaxian side-line for the campaign, that.
  • edited July 2018
    That makes a lot more sense unless you want to recast the Swedes as the forces of chaos and the Geats as the conquerors.
  • When I ran this, the PCs did manage to convince the captain, at one point, to lend them some soldiers for a raid on the Caves. They did this through good role-playing and showing the captain some of the spoils they had captured, including a goblin chief's head or something like that...

    Of course, what happened next is that all of the soldiers the PCs brought to the caves (I think I gave them 6 men including a couple of archers) got killed. After that, the Keep was totally unwilling to expend resources to help the PCs.
  • Another time, the PCs convinced the Elf from the Keep to go with them, but he was bitten by a crab spider and died of the venom.

    When I run B2, the soldiers don't march on the Caves because the Castellan had visited the Evil Temple (in K, I think?) and had inadvertently touched the artifact that changes your alignment. My Castellan is Chaotic and is secretly working with the evil Priest (in my campaigns, I swap the good and bad ones!).

    Also, more practically and less complexly, the Keep is under constant siege from the forces of Chaos, and the Keep needs every soldier at the ready inside the Keep.
  • In our campaign, the main problem was that the people of the Keep weren't sure where the caves were. Once the PCs had located them and reported back, an expedition was possible.
  • I missed that opportunity. :) the party bought a map? but i also said noone had ever returned. not sure how the map got made then
  • I missed that opportunity. :) the party bought a map? but i also said noone had ever returned. not sure how the map got made then
    Ha, good point. As long as no one noticed, I guess it's OK. :smile:
  • I had the party discover the caves by following troll tracks from earlier troll raids. They had to do their own exterior mapping, too, which they accomplished by careful observation from a safe distance. I prepared a nice handout for it, too - a cleared exterior map of the cave entrances and the shape of the canyon. A very good initial outcome there, and a good starting point into staging a more aggressive expedition.

    Unfortunately the party suffered of a serious lack of balls at the time - they had a leader who plays a very good game in wargaming terms, but does it in a notably methodical manner, which meant that he did his utmost to keep the party away from the court of the Troll King (as the Caves were contextualized in our campaign). This ultimately ended up very badly for the party, as they were ambushed and killed to a man by a random encounter of gnolls from the Caves on one of their light scouting missions in the area - too much messing about, too little decisive blows against the Caves, and ultimately the incidental friction did them in. Might have had more fortune if they dared to go deeper and more aggressive, actually disrupting the humanoids instead of just aggravating them with pin-pick raids.
  • edited July 2018
    They asked if they could buy a map at the provisioners, and I eagerly said yes, happy to get some silver in the DM's coffers
    But in hindsight not sure what I'll spend it on

    Maybe some pancakes at the stretching goat
  • The players also rolled up some npcs and had them apply for jobs at that inn. They spent drama points on that too… I'm not sure what the long game is there.

    Unfortunately for me the NPC point pool resets every session so even though their first crop of characters died, I think they are placing a foothold for a longterm strategic advantage
  • After 1983, I've mostly only run B2 as a one-shot, so I had zero interest in making it hard to find the Caves.

    "Oh, the caves? Follow this road to the north, and it will take you to a huge box canyon. I hear the caves are there. Cannot miss it."

    If I were running a campaign again, finding the caves would have value, since there's all kinds of intrigue and danger in the wilderness. I'd probably totally redraw the overland map though.
  • edited July 2018
    Don't forget the Mad Hermit as potential guide to the Caves!

    That's a fun encounter to run, as the PCs don't know his true alignment... My PCs first parleyed with him, then decided to capture him for a bounty. That's when his pet mountain lion leapt down from the boughs of a tree and killed the fighter.
  • edited July 2018
    Yeah, that map's funny - I redid that first thing. Couldn't make the strategic grand picture work with the suggested geography that has the Caves at the distance of a 15 minutes hike from the Keep, straight down the road. Fortunately it's a minor issue if you're running a sandbox game anyway, and therefore doing geography routinely.

    I wonder if that map's somehow revised for publication to make the wilderness portion entirely trivial for beginners, or if that's really the amount of game Gygax brought to his wilderness work at that point. The dollhouse-like proportions of the map make it sort of cute - I could see somebody like the Famous Five having a grand old time wandering at shouting distance to the keep, brawing the underbrush and wetlands, discovering the Caves (which the adults hadn't told them about, of course) and being sure of making it back to the keep by dinner-time [grin]. Using 100-yard squares/hexes on what amounts to the equivalent of the Hundred-Acre Wood could make for a picturesque change of pace in handling wilderness environments.
  • edited July 2018
    It's almost 2h hike
  • I love the famous five♥
    Anne is my fave
  • There is a version called "The Little Keep on the Borderlands" that's supposedly really good
  • Five kilometers by the map, seems like. How long that'll take depends on if Anne grows tired on the way and needs to be carried, I suppose.
  • edited July 2018
    Maybe I mathed it wrong. It's 100 yard squares right? In one hour the PCs can walk 3 miles, that's like… 52 squares. Not quite enough to reach the caves
  • Yeah my players had a 2 month old baby with them. The perils of rolling up rando backstories
  • Also in my B2 games, the Keep and the surrounding village that I added had been repeatedly attacked by the forces of Chaos in probing attacks and raids. Most of the village had left or had come inside the walls, living on the streets in a poor state. There are really obvious trails that the goblins and kobolds made between the Keep and the Caves.
  • (That's a good touch!)
  • An alternate suggestion to Sandra's dilemma:

    (I'm trying to reconcile an "impartial referee" approach with playability for something which can set a gameable precedent for future situations.)

    Consider the situation, and the proposed course of action, and set up a list of "pro's and cons" (arguments "for" and "against"). Try to be thorough; so, if your bias is one direction, rack your brains for some arguments for the "other side".

    Next consider what people in the Keep might be particularly interested or invested in some of those arguments. Create NPCs, if necessary, and logical reasons for them to be invested in those arguments. Perhaps the local Chaplain has a mistress and child he fears for (both in terms of safety and in terms of secrecy), and therefore he will argue against leaving the Keep; make it more or less personal or logistical as fits the tone of your game.

    Now you have, at least in theory:

    * A fairly balanced view of the topic, despite your personal biases.
    * At least two NPCs with opposing interests.
    * A variety of interests which could, if pressed, split the Keep into factions. (And if only some of the people can be convinced, that could either endanger the expedition, or even create real conflict inside the Keep itself - or conflict between the PCs and the leadership! All interesting, gameable situations.)
    * A set of people for the PCs to interact with, like a large puzzle or a nuanced battlefield (e.g. if they can figure out that the archers will do whatever the Chaplain says, they just need some way to sway the Chaplain in order to get them to come over to their side).

    I can imagine versions of this from the ludicrously complex to a fairly simple variation with just two important NPCs who prioritize different things for the Keep.
  • This is great, Paul!
    My bias is strongly in favor of the soldiers notmarching on the caves and I should do well to counter that bias. There is a perfect NPC in favor of marching now — the captain of the watch, that the players swayed with their spamming of drama tokens. Hillfolk on the borderlands
  • Glad to hear that's useful to you! I was thinking of your Drama Tokens rules when I typed it - it's nice when those moving game pieces operate "on the same field" of action. :)
  • apparently
    the priests in 7b are more than happy to come along

  • Little Keep on the Borderlands is great. It ramps up all the social tension in the Keep. The place is rather dysfunctional so they can barely hang on against the Chaos from the mountain.
  • But it's hard to find right? since they lost their license
  • @2097 Yeah it can be. I still have my hard copy which I keep hidden. I can't remember if the pdf is still for sale.
Sign In or Register to comment.