Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents (4e) – Sean’s Pick, 032218

The Fourth Edition gets a lot of bad press (and, frankly, it’s not all undeserved), but as we roll on through Tales of the Five Editions Week, it’s important to acknowledge the edition that (a) lots of people still love and (b) brought many new gamers to the table. The attempt at appealing to the computer gaming crowd met with mixed results, but there’s a lot of noteworthy innovation to give a positive nod towards.

As anyone who’s followed me over the years knows, I will always have a special place in my heart for the Keep on the Borderlands. The very first module to bear that name came in my first D&D boxed set. Upon its foundations, Shaintar was built.

At Restwell Keep, you’ve heard that fortune and glory await those bold enough to brave the dangers of the Chaos Scar, a valley carved ages ago by a fallen star. The same tales warn that this Chaos Scar draws wickedness to it. Perhaps you can help stem this tide… and gain some treasure along the way.

(Excerpts from the Product History)

“Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents,” by Chris Sims, is the adventure series for Season 3 of D&D Encounters. It was released for play in Fall and Winter 2010.

Continuing the Encounters. “Season of Serpents” generally follows the model of the previous season’s adventure, “Dark Sun: Fury of the Wastewalker” (2010). It presents a multi-week adventure as a set of individual encounters, each of which is meant to be run as a single session lasting 1.5 to 2 hours. Again, the adventure is broken up into chapters, each of which contains multiple encounters; at the end of each chapter, characters are given the opportunity to rest.

“Season of Serpents” is the longest Encounters season ever, with five chapters of four encounters each, resulting in 20 total sessions of play. Considerable effort is expended to differentiate the chapters and the overall play experience; thus, PCs adventure in broadly different areas during each chapter of play. Nonetheless, many GMs found the adventure too long—mainly because it made it hard to bring in new players late in the season, something that matters more in an organized play environment.

Each chapter of “Season of Serpents” was released to DMs as an individual booklet, which was the same format used for “Fury of the Wastewalker,” the only Encounters season divided up in this way.

About the Homage. Though the first two Encounters seasons returned to the classic settings of Undermountain and Dark Sun, they weren’t exactly homages: Rather, they were totally new stories told in the old settings. That changed with “Season of Serpents,” which is obviously an homage to B2: “The Keep on the Borderlands”(1980). It’s probably no accident that this Encounters season went hand-in-hand with the introductory red box for D&D Essentials—just as the original “Keep” was packaged with D&D’s first red box (1981).

(OK, technically the 1981 edition is now widely called the “magenta box,” to differentiate it from the 1983 edition, but you get the idea.)

That said, “Season of Serpents” is not a return to the actual setting of the original “Keep on the Borderlands”; it’s more of a thematic homage. You get the story of a civilized keep and nearby monstrous lands: Here, the stronghold is the dwarven-built Restwell Keep, while the monstrous lairs are in the Chaos Scar, a location that also received considerable attention in the online Dungeon magazine.

Sean Patrick Fannon
Writer & Game Designer: Shaintar, Star Wars, Savage Rifts, Freedom Squadron, and much more!
Please check out my Patreon and get involved directly with my next projects!

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