Barkeep on the Borderlands (2023)

Barkeep on the Borderlands (2023) is just fantastic through and through. It’s a system neutral bar crawl through a classic D&D setting transformed by time and capitalism, basically. F. W. Smith recommends Errant or Cairn for the system, but just about anything would work, certainly any D&D derivative. There are some bespoke rules, though: a timekeeping system, a methodology for the bar crawl and mechanics to track alcohol consumption and drunkeness.

So, if you haven’t quite gotten it yet, Barkeep substitutes hexes and dungeons for literal bars. The monarch is ill, you’re searching for clues as to how and why by taking in the nightlife. The really charming part is that this town is the keep from B2: Keep on the Borderlands and that the ongoing festival, the Raves of Chaos, celebrates the heroes who, two centuries ago, cleaned the caves out. That act, and the way the Keep developed in its wake, is very much a presence in the adventure.

Also charming are the bars. There is quite a variety (the zine is technically an anthology, with many bars designed by a different creator, many of whom will be familiar to longtime readers of this feed). Regardless of the writer, each has its own vibe (often sending up some sort of pop cultural reference — there is a lot of potential for humor here) and character. My faaaaaaavorite is maybe Our Lady of the Sacred Speakeasy, which has a familiar-looking temple in the basement.

Barkeep on the Borderland is an instant classic for me. It looks good, it reads good, it effortlessly takes a D&Dish game in completely unexpected directions. It feels new and fun and welcoming, and I’m keen to see more from Prismatic Wasteland.

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