Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999)

This is Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999), one a several returns to D&D’s classic locations published from 1998 to 2001 and one of three bearing Silver Anniversary trade dress. This one is kind of a yawn for me.

Unlike the previous returns, this doesn’t include the original dungeon material. Rather, it presents the original keep, and the Caves of Chaos, reimagined 20 years after the events of the first adventure (Barkeep on the Borderlands does a way more interesting job of this). So things have changed, updated, upgraded and so on. This is great in concept, but in execution, the caves feel…samey. There are still lots of evil humanoids living there (the gnolls got evicted and are squatting in the countryside. There is still an evil temple spewing out undead. There is a medusa in addition to a new minotaur and a new owl bear. So yea, not different enough for my taste. There is one new adventure site I love tho, the “shy tower,” a ruined tower that isn’t always there and from which not all investigators return. I won’t spoil the twist but it’s a good one, a solid gold needle hidden among the musty hay.

Oh, but we do need to talk about this Fred Fields cover. For starters, that’s maybe the first Black dude to be on a cover of a D&D product, which is cool. I kind of love his expression, a sort of combo of “did I really just brain that gnoll” with “what the heck am I even doing here?” that I think really captures the level one character experience. As does the halfling who is rolling around on the ground with an arrow stuck in him. Goth lady and the ranger both seem much more cool and collected. I find Fields’ gnolls unsettling for reasons I can not quite put into words. I don’t love how they look essentially like dudes in hyena masks, or the fact that they look…shiny, for some reason. I think its the spots, though, that puts it over the edge for me. Do not like.

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