Author Topic: REVIEW: Game02: Keep on the Borderlands (by Ray Dyer)  (Read 1437 times)

Offline Olivier Leroux

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REVIEW: Game02: Keep on the Borderlands (by Ray Dyer)
« on: January 31, 2009, 10:40:28 AM »
Game02: Keep on the Borderlands
Game11: The Lost Tower of Castanamir,
Game34: Horror on the Hill

by Ray Dyer

Reviewed by Ringo

    First of all (I know you guys like to know this), these reviews have a few spoilers in them.

    I've only recently begun playing the Realm games because I was originally discouraged by the difficulty of Keep on the Borderlands. I stuck with the game, however, and raised my first level party to around level four. Here is a collective review of the first three games I played: Keep on the Borderlands, the Lost Tower of Castanamir, and Horror on the Hill, all by Ray Dyer.

    The artwork of the Realm games is generally of rather poor quality. The frames in Keep on the Borderlands and Horror on the Hill are ugly recolors of the default; Lost Tower of Castanimir has an excellent frame, however. Many of the pics in Keep and especially Horror on the Hill are very poor, eight-or-so-color atrocities. Some of the art, however is good; the pics of the gnolls are nice scans, and I love the pic of the humanoids in game00. I hate the "Intermission" pic seen when the party rests. The wall, backdrop, and combat art, though, are typically of good quality.

    All of the Realm games feature excellent ckit and item hacks. From the death text to the "Leave the Realm?"-type strings, and especially the items, the hacks added to my enjoyment of the games. My favorite item was the adder staff I found; it's been so useful against things like ogres.

    Keep is a hack-and-slash adventure, but I still enjoyed it, mainly because of the sense of accomplishment I experienced after defeating the various humanoid tribes. I loved having the citizens of the Keep recognize my accomplishments.

    I recommend to others playing this game that they begin with a party of at least second level, as it was originally frustrating to return to the inn after fighting only a few battles. Despite the constant returning to the Keep, I liked the way resting was handled. There is no resting allowed except in certain areas, mainly the inn, but also several other hidden locations. The battles in the game are generally difficult, especially the final conflict against the humanoid army. That battle required my mage to use the wand of fireballs (she found earlier) several times.

    One thing I that annoyed me was that the party had no ability to have diseases cured, but they had to fight a nest of giant rats. Lethal poison was also a problem in some areas.

    I felt that the dungeons and wilderness areas were designed really well, though I needed to map the outside of the Caverns of Chaos in order to keep track of what I was doing. Also done well was the text. The opening text statements grabbed my attention, and Ray writes very well throughout the game. Those text boxes that didn't require a return press annoyed me, however, when they came at the end of a string of text statements that do. I prefer consistency.

    The Lost Tower of Castanamir was quite a different design than Keep. While in Keep you fight several hundred humanoids, the Lost Tower features far fewer enemies. I considered this a good thing, a change of pace between designs. The game has many strange areas to explore, and the tower itself is quite strange.

    I enjoyed this design a lot, though it became frustrating when I couldn't figure out where to go. The entrance to the second floor was hard enough to find, and getting off that floor took me forever. Actually, I cheated at the end by reading the adventurers' journals on the Realm home page. While playing, I had hoped to be able to get the forty gems to pay off Castanamir's servant; I only managed thirty-three, including my haul from Keep. But I liked how the creature would identify my items, and I found it's knowledge useful in determining my NPC companion's identity.

    The design would have been more fun if I didn't have to keep pressing return each time I changed rooms, or when I approached the servant's fountain. To move across that room would take 10 or so 'enter' presses each time! I would have liked it better if the first three or so text statements were 'do only once.' I appreciated that Castanamir's bookcase events stopped firing once I took the books.

    Horror on the Hill, the third design I played, was much more like Keep. The wildernesses and caves were done even better than in Keep, I thought, and though pictures didn't show the locations of the waterfall or the 'compound in the distance,' the text describes them very well, and the maps made a lot of sense to me.

    The fountain inside the compound interested me, as I've never seen something like that in a design. Though I wish there had been more possible results of drinking the water, the fountain's alterations were exciting. My elf fighter now has a 21 dexterity!

    The game has several other nicely done areas: the eight-door room and the last, gray cavern. Toward the end of the game, the party can traverse a darkened passageway and cross a shaky bridge over lava. Those were two of the best locations I've encountered in dungeons.

    So, as for my ratings of the games, I would give Keep on the Borderlands and Horror on the Hill each a 7.0, and Lost Tower of Catanamir a 6.5. The ratings for all these designs could be a few points higher if the artwork were improved.

Overall Ratings:

Keep on the Borderlands: 7.0
The Lost Tower of Castanamir: 6.5
Horror on the Hill: 7.0

Offline Olivier Leroux

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Re: REVIEW: Game02: Keep on the Borderlands (by Ray Dyer)
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2009, 01:22:18 PM »
Game02: The Keep on the Borderlands
by Ray Dyer

Reviewed by Merric Blackman

The Keep on the Borderlands was the first module I ever tried to DM, many, many years ago. Almost everyone who came into the game when I did will remember this module, as it was shipped with the Basic D&D game. I must say that I've never really liked the module - it never had the same flair and depth that some of Gygax's other modules seemed to have, being basically a "go and kill the monsters" type of module. Specifically, the monsters of the Caves of Chaos, an area some hours travel to the east of the Keep on the Borderlands.

So, how does Ray Dyer manage to convert the module? Reasonably well. Similar to his conversion of that other Gygax module, the Temple of Elemental Evil, Ray spends a fair amount of effort on making your base of operations, the Keep, as interesting as possible with a few different shops you can sell items from the Caves of Chaos to, rumours that change as the party gets further into the adventure, and a host of NPCs in the Inn - some helpful, some baneful - that occasionally hire you or hinder you in the field.

The most annoying feature of the game is the long path through the wilderness to get to the Caves of Chaos, and that forest is absolutely chock-full of random encounters. Way too many random encounters. The good news is that you can eliminate many of the encounters by finding and destroying the lairs of the creatures in question, the problem with that is actually finding and destroying the lairs, after you've been attacked ten times on your way there. This is not a simple process, and though my party (who had already gained about 1700 xp through adventuring through The Veiled Society first) were not overly troubled by the monsters, they were extremely time consuming to fight, and took away from the main focus of the adventure: the Caves of Chaos.

The Caves are fairly well implemented. Unfortunately almost all encounters in the caves are "You see a monster. It attacks!". There are numerous treasures about the place, and the multi-tiered system of caves in the cliff-face is well done. To get through the mazelike caverns I paid a lot of attention to the map from my original - and tattered - copy of the module. (I have a second copy I bought last year with three editions of the Basic set, but I've lent that to a friend at the moment). Those without such an aid may be able to make your way around without mapping, but you are probably advised to find your graph paper and use it!

There are a few wilderness encounters not in the original module, and I really question the power-level of some of them. My party was attacked by griffons whilst returning from the caves at one point, and were completely slaughtered. A couple of reloads were required to get past that encounter! There are also some giants out there, but my wizards held the day with some stinking cloud spells and some failed saving throws - the good news is that you don't encounter the giants unless you go looking for them. They had some nice treasure, though. My party earned about 20,000 xp in this module, enough to get most of them up to 5th level or so. The module took me a couple of days to complete, somewhere above 5 hours of actual playing time, so there's quite a lot to get through.

The music is pretty good, some pieces being exceptional. The art is a mixed bag: most of it is good, there are a few absolutely horrible recolourations, and there are a few pictures which are absolutely fantastic! The picture of the actual Keep is one of the best.

This module is likely to appeal to anyone wanting a return to an early - and classic - D&D module. It's all about breasting the monsters in their lair, and saving humanity from the dire fate of being eaten! It is generally bug-free, and I give it 7.5 out of 10 - a worthy effort, but the similarity of encounters did wear on me after a while.

My party:
Gillian: female human Pal1 -> Pal5
Brunak: male human Ftr1 -> Ftr5
Jarre: male human Clr2 -> Clr5
Tyrian: male human Thf1 -> Thf6
Meliander: male human Wiz1 -> Wiz5
Caitlin: female human Wiz1 -> Wiz5

Offline Milos Gulan

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Re: REVIEW: Game02: Keep on the Borderlands (by Ray Dyer)
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2017, 01:11:27 AM »
This is one epic adventure, or at least I had that impression after playing. It is very good adventure to start with although Veiled Society is good one to level up Your characters to Level 2 and face the challenges of the keep better prepared. They are not too hard but it will give You far more confidence moving trough woods full of challenges that are a bit repetitive and thing that You can't rest anywhere except in the keep and as I think one more place (that later in the game is not available) makes it even harder.

This was my first adventure that I have started playing FRUA with. Now funny thing is that I have played it without hacks but it was still great and I went to the other side doing things that is not main adventure like killing giants and dragons if I remember good, and also I played without Area-on help (Available area map) so it was really hard to navigate trough mazes in the wood. After some time I moved to another adventures and learned how to play FRUA better and decided to give it another try.

Now after Veiled Society which was good, mostly mystery adventure I am back in the Keep on the Borderlands with group of adventurers level 2 mostly but no one leveled up yet and there are 2 fighters (2m), cleric (f), 2 wizards (m,f) and thief (f), all humans...

There is really a lot of small encounters and adventure has lots of combat which was interesting, and after few days of intense playing I finaly managed to finish it. I was amazed how well it was made and really everything was good and well placed trough it. Events are happening as You progress trough adventure and after killing humanoid clans random encounters trough woods decline giving space to other more important events and bigger battles.

After finishing of adventure and defeating all there is in Caves of Chaos You are presented with very well done map of the known realms and You can explore other towns with notes about other adventures You can play. This was for me one of the best parts as You can plan progress of Your future adventures.

To summ it up this is really great work, I mean total and great role playing experience with very good and detailed graphics and music that is very motivating after playing and I wish I could do things like this, hoping that I will learn to mod with FRUA. For now I wish I could play things like this in DC hoping that one day it will be converted to it. But till then I better try to mod and learn what I can with FRUA and try doing what can be done with DC. And now off to play more of The Realm Fantastic Adventures with my group of almost Lv5 adventurers, and that is probably Horror on the Hill as suggested in this module.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2017, 02:22:48 AM by Milos Gulan »