Set in the Known World of Mystara with the majority of the other BECMI rulebooks and adventures, the Keep was intended to provide a "home base" for beginning adventurers and provide them with numerous adventure hooks to take. The majority of the hooks involve the Caves of Chaos located not far from the Keep. Unlike many of the other popular modules, Keep on the Borderlands did not have a strong central storyline or theme: it relied instead on providing a Wide-Open Sandbox feel, allowing the characters to wander in the wilderness or find trouble in the Keep itself if the multitude of options in the Caves were not enough to keep them entertained.
Keep has been critically acclaimed in its time, named by players as one of their favorite modules and named by Dungeon Magazine as the 7th best D&D adventure of all time in a 2004 issue.
A novel was released in 1999 along with other classic adventures. A sequel, Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, was released 20 years later for 2nd Edition D&D, given the name Kendall Keep, and controversially relocated to Greyhawk. Return took place two decades after the original. A version for Hack Master, entitled Little Keep on the Borderlands was released in 2005, and served as a "parody" of the original.
The name was reused in 2010 as part of the D&D Encounters program, this time giving the Keep the proper name of Restwell Keep and locating it in the Nentir Vale.
The Circle of Eight modding community have written a complete version of the module that can be played using their modded version of the Temple of Elemental Evil video game.
Tropes in the Original Module
- Alliterative Name: The Caves of Chaos in where the majority of the adventuring takes place.
- Always Chaotic Evil: One of the earliest arguments about this broke out over this module due to the presence of children (see What Measure Is a Mook?).
- Child Soldier: The various humanoids have children among their families in the Caverns of Chaos. They are, however, established in the module as being complete noncombattants, along with a larger number of the females in the caves.
- Enemy Civil War: In the region of the Caves of Chaos, an alliance of goblins & hobgoblins fight against the orcs of the region and their gnoll allies (occasionally). The kobolds in the region are a third party that hopes that the previous four forget about them completely in their warfare. The bugbears in the region are completely neutral (or rather, completely chaotic): they attack anyone they see. The lone ogre fights as a mercenary for whichever force bribes him the most.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep" : None of the important figures of the eponymous keep were given a name (thus enabling the DM to name them according to his campaign mood). They were just named according to their function: the Castellan, the Vicar, the Priest, etc.
- The Hermit: The Mad Hermit that lives in an area of the forest around the Keep. He attacks the party not only by himself, but with his "pet" mountain lion.
- Invited as Dinner: The entrance to the Hobgoblins' lair, which has a sign letting passerbys know they'd love to have them for dinner. Likewise the bugbear cave, which has a sign inviting passersby to enter and receive food and a place to sleep. If anyone does so the bugbears will attack them by surprise.
- The Mole: The jovial Priest, who will cheerfully agree to go along with the PC party on their adventures and just as cheerfully betray them to their Chaotic enemies at the worst possible time.
- Updated Re-release: Apart from the Hackmaster "parody" version and the D&D Encounters adventure, a 5th Edition conversion/expansion was released by Goodman Games.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: One of the earliest examples of such. There are children among the various monsters who are also combatants. Gaming groups and flame wars have been fought over whether or not to slaughter them.
- Van Helsing Hate Crimes: Is it right or wrong to slaughter all of the humanoids inside?