History of the Borderlands

A loose background for campaign building

Module B2, Keep on the Borderlands, is sparse on details about the REALM, the KEEP, and the BORDERLANDS. But because this is an introductory module, I’ll assume Gygax wanted the DM to draw these details out.

Which works well for The Project on the Borderlands, because any expansion of the area needs some context–enough history for a DM to use as-is for background, but not so many specifics that the DM can’t add his own bits.

Let’s start in the distant past with a tribe of early agrarian humans known today as the “Bordermen.” Much like the Celts of our own world, the Bordermen have a close affinity with Nature, and their worship is based on appeasing the Sun to continue its annual cycle, the seasons, and the good things that come with them like crops and warm weather. The priesthood is druid-like and works to promote planting, growth, and harvest. But there’s also the Winter Cult, which does the “dirty work” required to get through the hard times between the harvest and spring thaw – taking the dead (and sometimes the living), which are sacrificed to the Sun. Someone has to do it.

The Winter Cult has mythic status–they’re not to be named and those who join become unpersons, part of the spirit world (even though they are men – it’s just priests doing PR). The Cult performs the sacrificial rituals needed to keep the seasons going and make sure winter doesn’t last forever. The sacrificed are buried in lavish tombs according to their station in life, replete with valuables, servants, and other luxuries (i.e., treasure).

At some point, the Bordermen were set upon by tribes of humanoids. The Winter Cult responded by ordering more sacrifices in an effort to get their Sun god to intervene. But they forgot that sacrifice was really meant only to perpetuate the seasons, not defeat enemies. Eventually, they went too far (perhaps summoning something bad, like an elemental, or maybe they began to create uncontrolled undead). Regardless, the Bordermen culture ultimately disappeared from the region.

Naturally, remnants of their civilisation are scattered all over the BORDERLANDS:

  • Burial cairns in the wilderness (multi-room dungeons?)
  • All sorts of treasure–ingots, gems, items of precious metal, a few magic items
  • Humanoids, who thrived after the Bordermen left and now fight amongst themselves
  • Scattered bands of neanderthals, degenerate ancestors of the Bordermen (and they definitely keep white apes as pets)
  • A mad hermit–a former member of the Winter Cult, cursed with immortality
  • A Shrine of Chaos, consecrated by the Winter Cult

Assuredly, there are more signs of their ancient culture, ripe for the DM to exploit. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

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Erin Smale

Erin Smale is the author of the Chimera RPG and WelshPiper.com, a sporadic, rambling blog that provides tips and tools for the time-challenged game master. He lives in secret along the New Jersey coast with his ass-kicking wife Kim and astoundingly cute dog Bella.

3 thoughts on “History of the Borderlands

  • August 31, 2014 at 10:47
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    Some of the cave entrances face eastward which means that the sunrise would flood the entrance and possibly illuminate the interior, entrances Map Keys G orI would be great for this, possibly the sun reveals something, or causes something to happen.

    Reply
    • September 11, 2014 at 11:01
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      Wouldn’t the opening to the Evil Shirne have a view of the setting sun? Maybe there would be a ritual they perfom regarding that.

      In my story:

      I had the bandits in the wilderness be followers of the Evil Hero in the Bugbear lair. The bandits assisted the party to rescue the Evil Hero, who promptly turned on them.

      I had the party get into trouble with The Castillian, and were stuck in the woods outside the Keep, so they HAD to turn to the Caves for shelter. They ended up setting up shop in one of the caves and made a truce with their Orc neighbors for a time.

      In the climax of the story, the orcs and goblins and the surviving Evil Priests allied to siege the Keep. The siege was a failure, but they managed to destroy bailiff’s tower.

      The Party also rescued and released the medusa. That was a very tense part of the story. Medusa are like nuclear fire and doing the right thing was the most dangerous decision of all… and it was made by the most evil character in the party.

      Reply
  • September 21, 2015 at 16:51
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    This is fantastic! I feel the keep is a great lead in to the Temple of Elemental Evil after the Caves of Chaos are cleared and the players discover the cultist temple in cave K. You’ve done great work on this site in support of a classic DnD module. I very much appreciate your work. Sincerest regards.

    Reply

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