Thoughts from Keep on the Borderlands

“The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted.”

This is the opening statement of the Keep on the Borderlands adventure. It implies a fairly small “Realm” and that much of the surrounding territory is not controlled by humans. The default assumption of human primacy in many fantasy worlds seems challenged here.

That said… where does that road go? There is an established road through the Borderlands which suggests to me that there is something at the other end. Or, at least, there used to be. There is also mention that the Jewel Merchant staying in the private apartments is “waiting for a caravan” back to civilization. Where did he come from and why would a caravan even come to the Keep? The Keep seems to be populated with a majority of soldiers and there doesn’t appear to be much farming going on… so I’d assume that most of what comes to the Keep is agricultural production from the Realm to keep the soldiers ready to fight.

I could suppose that the Jewel Merchant traveled here to provide a commission to the Castellan, as the Magic-Users and Clerics here are too low level to need much in the way of fancy gems. If that’s the case, why did he bring his whole family – or not just send a messenger? Yes, these are silly questions but I’m hoping to build a larger campaign to stem from this first adventure so the world around the Keep is important.

As I have begun running Keep on the Borderlands using ACKS, here are some assumptions I’m going to work with. The Realm – as introduced in KotB – is a large valley, nestled between two mountain ranges. The Borderlands extend from the end of the valley – one of its larger passes – into unsettled lands beyond (where there are lots of monsters lurking).

The Keep is an important waypoint though, as there is a road running through the hilly regions of the borderlands which leads to another small human kingdom which shares a history with the Realm from a time when that road was better defended and the borderlands not so wild. This gives me that “ancient civilization” to draw from for purposes of history and old ruins left scattered about.

As I was unhappy with the very small size of the original KotB wilderness map (it’s tiny) I have expanded the Borderlands into a much larger region using 6-mile hexes and Hexographer. KoTB.6mile.Player1Because I have expanded the scale of the Borderlands, this also means that any caravans passing through the Borderlands will likely spend several nights on the road, meaning that ‘caravan guard’ and ‘borderlands scout’ are valuable occupations. [This means that as the party levels up and wants to hire henchmen with levels, they can find a decent proportion of fighters and explorers.]

One of the primary things making travel from the Realm to the other Kingdom (and the reverse) most valuable is that the Realm is a mountainous place, on good terms with the Dwarves and capable of producing metals and gemstones. The other Kingdom, as it moves out of the foothills becomes a savannah like place which eventually gives way to the sea. Tribal humans live in the savannah, once enemies of the old civilization of mankind. The Kingdom is more of a city state holding on to past glories and still believes itself an enlightened and advanced place.

In the Realm, the mountains are home to the dwarves, human mining settlements, and back-to-nature mountain tribes who don’t care much for “city folk.” In both the Realm and the Kingdom (hereafter called the City-State) there are Elven Fastnesses in the wooded areas and to the south of the Realm, there is the last great Elven Kingdom, which faces challenges of its own from the deep woods and from the underworld beneath.

All of this is basically my attempt to incorporate the additional classes from the ACKS Player’s Companion as well as to build in room to run some other classic adventures – like possibly Against the Giants or Isle of Dread.

We are currently three sessions into the new game and I’ll post more thoughts on the evolution of the Realm into a full campaign setting – as well as some actual play reports. Stay tuned.

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