Frandor’s Keep

By David S. Kenzer, Steve Johansson, Jolly R. Blackburn, Mark Plemmons, Benjamin Sharef
Kenzer & Co
Hackmaster BASIC
Levels 1-5

Holding its lonely vigil high in the rocky hinterlands, on the furthest reaches of civilization, sits the military outpost known as Frandor’s Keep. Perhaps you come to the Keep as soldier, merchant, bounty hunter or wanderer, or merely to seek payment for a debt owed (continuing the adventure begun in White Palette, Ivory Horns). No matter, for you are here now, in a wilderness teeming with strange creatures and fraught with danger — the perfect forge for you to hammer your career upon.

This 160 page book is about half starting settlement/regions and about half adventures. Another Keep on the Borderlands, it expands the keep and town and mini-adventures in them/around them, as well as providing several larger Things To Do in the area. The town/keep/region is interesting, the background boring, the mini-adventures nicely done, and the main adventures suck.

The first chunk of this book, about half, describes the regional around the Keep, the town outside and Keep proper. IE: the starting base. The next chunk, about a chapter, outlines (at about a page each) some of the hooks mentioned in the region/town/keep as little mini-adventures/things to follow up on. The final large chunk of the book, again about half, describes some the adventuring locales in the region. The first two sections, though chapter eight (of eleven+appendix) are really quite interesting. It’s focused like a laser on being a starting location. The regiona, town, keep, NPC’s and little side-quests are all well done and relate to interactivity with the players.

SKipping past the background information gets us to the regional information. It is from that point on that the quality level stays high, until the main adventures are reached. It’s all pretty fucking focused. There’s a gembuyer in town. Turns out she’s just an apprentice to the main gembuyer in the keep and she only handles the small stuff. Oh, and she gets a payoff form the thieves to let them know who’s carrying. We’re looking at three focuses, all on the players. You can sell her stuff. She can introduce you in to the keep. And finally she provides a pretext for the thieves to hit the party and some follow up as the party tracks back to her. Focused. On. Play.

To be sure, it gets caught up in its own bullshit a little too much. Background, past lives story, etc, all go on a little too long for each entry. A little bit of the past is enough for the party asking around, we don’t need more unless it impacts play.

It’s hyperlinked and indexed well, providing references to find more information. It FEELS like a living and breathing place, with people having interactions at more than one locale, and being connected to others in different locations. There’s even tips in how to mix in some mundane shit to make it seem even MORE alive, like soldier patrols, woodcutters, and the like on the roads/wilderness. And, there’s an NPC reference chart! Hooray! It needs some personality on it, but it tries. And wandering encounters are doing things! And there are a FUCK ton of rumors, indexed, with context in different situations, all in voice. My Hero!

The last good chapter has a list of minor little adventures and subplots that were mentioned in the main town/region/keep text. Collected in one place, some expanded upon to a page or so outline, describing what’s going on, whos involved, etc, it’s a good way to handle those little side-quest thingies that come up in any large place.

There’s a lot here to steal. It’s a good read, and provides the sort of rich environment, the interconnectedness, that you need in a good town. I also mourn for the person trying to use this. It DOES go on too long with bullshit backstory. This is the sort of place you have to read a dozen times until you KNOW it, as if you created the content yourself. It’s rewarding as all fuck, but shows its age (2009.) It’s remarkable for it DOES provide, as a play aid from 2009, but this is not going to be an easy to use town. I’d love to see it republished using a more focused approach to play at the table.

And then the adventures start. The main adventures. Ug. Long LONG read-aloud text, long rambling room descriptions. Writing that tends to the boring side of the spectrum. Again, the interconnected nature of the things in the adventures are nice, and there’s a certain relatability to things, even a goblin lair, that is a nice realism, but jesus fuck, wading through that text is NOT worth it. A column to almost a page per room is NOT worth it. The challenge is to provide a rich environment while still remaining easy to use ta the table. This doesn’t meet that criteria.

You know, this reminds me, in a way, of the material in the big Rappen book that dealt with the environs outside the dungeon. There was a lot, and some of it quite rich.

Someone asked so I reviewed this. It places me in an interesting position. I don’t review regional/sourcebook type stuff. It’s all fluff and how much fluff appeals to you is a matter of personal taste. A starting base, though, is something else. I was genuinely excited as I read the town/base portions of this and day dreamt of how to incorporate it in to some of the games I am running. Likewise the ad-hoc and small adventures … while lamenting the quality of the main adventures. The first section is a fun read, in the way I imagine some people only read those Adventure Path things. But, its gotta be usable. And it ain’t.

This is $15 at DriveThru. The only preview is one of those “quick” ones, that don’t show you anything but an eagles eye view of the layout. IE: worthless.

This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Frandor’s Keep

    • Gus L. says:

      Hi Bryce… if this is really you.

      Question on the review though – do you have any guidelines between “too much backstory” and “too little backstory”? Is there a magic middle ground for NPC information?

  1. Shuffling Wombat says:

    Good review. It is a useful resource until you hit the longeurs of the substantial (padded?) adventures.
    As long as backstory is likely to impact/emerge during play, and it enhances the adventure, I’m happy.

  2. Gnarley Bones says:

    The Keep on the Borderlands must be D&D’s Dracula. Everyone remakes a new version, endless varieties of the same theme and always essentially treading the same ground. A goblin lair nearby you say? 😉

    The reason it keeps getting remade isn’t just that it’s become iconic (I suspect it was the first “gateway” experience for most players in the early 80s D&D explosion), but that it was good. It has guilds, factions, it’s both straight-forward for new DMs and players, yet it has depth and room for endless expansion. While I appreciate the effort, I would probably appreciate even more expansion for B2.

    • Yora says:

      At least a common consensus had emerged that Tomb of Horror is a terrible dungeon for all but the most niche circumstances. I still remember it as that platonic ideal of a dungeon that everyone was striving for, not too long ago.

      Keep on the Borderland is a much better pick for that position.

    • m says:

      When you say you would like to see more expansion for B2, what exactly to do you mean? A sequel? Remake? Some kind of addendum, like Goodman Gamesdud with their special addition?

    • krebizfan says:

      A lot of the Keep on the Borderlands inspired products do offer expansion but it is all the wrong type of expansion. Lots of information about secrets of the powerful within the new Keep, people the PCs are unlikely to interact with until many levels are gained. The adventure portion is even shorter than B2 so the PCs will leave the Keep region and all the inventive backstory gets ignored.

      • Mark Sable says:

        What would the right kind of expansion be? Not a rhetorical or sarcastic question.

        • krebizfan says:

          Extra adventure areas. A write up of a linked region like B2’s Cave of the Unknown might be appreciated. How about adventuring to where the baddies come from to stop them from setting up a outpost near the Keep? How about alternate campaigns like hitching on with a caravan passing through the Keep to move the PCs further afield? How about detailing the nightmare scenario of the baddies launching an all out assault on the Keep? For NPCs with personality, focus on the ones that the PCs will interact with like the tavern staff.

          Basically anything likely to be used in play by low level characters instead of devoting pages to the soap opera machinations of the nobility 50 years ago. A few of the Keep inspired modules I have read had a couple of sessions of material for beginning characters but a lot of material that would only be relevant if the PCs return after gaining another 10 levels.

  3. Edmund Gloucester says:

    We need an inquiry.

    Why are Lynch’s reviews so short?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *