Beyond the Borderlands
Author: Alex Damaceno (@gnarledmonster)
Publisher: Alex Damaceno
Distributed by: Swordfish Islands
Page Count: 20
Available Formats: PDF & Print
Print/PDF Combo – $15
Welcome to the Wicked Palovalley. Here stands Stronglaw Keep, located at the mouth of the valley, protecting the entrance to the Western Kingdoms. The keep stands atop a rocky outcropping, which provides it a commanding view. Garrisoned by highly capable men-at-arms who are well equipped, beholden to no lord, but economically dependent on bored nobility looking for adventure, fame, and additional fortune in the wildlands. Does this sound even a little familiar? For some, this Keep will not sound familiar, but to others, it will resonate and harken back to the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. Beyond the Borderlands is Alex Damaceno’s homage to the original B2 Keep on the Borderlands.
As an homage to Keep on the Borderlands, Beyond the Borderlands is Damaceno’s homebrew version of this classic he envisioned for his players. As outlined in the opening “Editorial,” originally envisioned as a single zine containing the entire campaign, that idea was rejected when Damaceno, “after realising how long it would take me to create it as I wanted, I decided to release the planned content in three issues.”
The artwork is beautiful and captures Damaceno’s unique style. The artwork is limited to The Stronglaw Keep, overland map, and six region sub-maps. Each illustration is vividly presented using a slightly garish color scheme. They are beautifully well-drawn and give readers a visual lay of the land. The zine’s layout is neat and tidy, with a few callout boxes containing d6 random tables boxed in pale yellow.
As part one of a three-part series (#2 and #3 are unpublished at the time of this review), this Issue exclusively covers the overland mapped areas. The map is subdivided into six color-coded regions and uses a 6-by-6 numeric grid system to identify hexes and locations (i.e., Stronglaw Keep is at coordinates 1,3).
It is assumed, like its big brother, parties will form or arrive at the Stronglaw Keep (1,3) to begin their adventures in the region. The Keep is presented as a streamlined outline, location by location, giving Gamemasters essential descriptions and information. The “Loot and Stuff” section provides information on each of the Keep’s locations regarding loot and other assets.
Adventuring parties leaving the Keep will undertake a traditional hex crawl, exploring and mapping as they go. Beyond the Borderlands, like its big brother, includes guidance on time, travel, getting lost, a random weather table, random encounter odds, and a monster reaction table. Exploring the regions involves traveling hex by hex in search of adventure.
The larger region is divided into six sub-regions: Keep’s Domains, Hunting Groves, Dusky Woods, Sludgy Bogs, Rockfall Range, and Scarlet Forest. Each of the six sub-regions has exciting locations to explore. Each is colored differently on the overland map, as seen above, and each sub-region is presented as a two-page spread. Page one contains a full-color hex map of the sub-region containing grid coordinates and both a region encounters and rumors tables. The second page provides hex by hex descriptions. Each entry begins with a description to be read aloud or paraphrased. Followed by other pertinent details and encounter information. Each sub-region has an overarching theme, and location sites within conform to that theme.
What do I dislike about Beyond the Borderlands? On my first read-through, I initially believed Beyond the Borderlands to be a system-neutral product. It made no mention of being published for a specific roleplaying game, nor containing any creature stats. Both of which are the hallmarks of a system-neutral product. It wasn’t until I had read it entirely that I came across, on the last page, Issue Three would be a Bestiary; to me, this no longer implies system-neutral.
Beyond the Borderlands is the first in a three-part series. As-is, it is only minimally usable until the other two issues are published. Issue One covers all things overland, but at entry points to the underground, there is no information within for these areas—that information will be in Issue Two. Issue Three will contain the Bestiary for all monsters and NPC in the module. So, until all three parts are published or collated into a single book (mentioned on page 20), it’s not much use.
What do I like about Beyond the Borderlands? I love its uniqueness. It’s one person’s vision of what Keep on the Borderlands could be. That vision in the hands of someone who is artistically gifted with a fun and whimsical art style results in what we have here. Issue One gives readers a look into Alex Damaceno’s vision. And through it, we get a sense of where Issues Two and Three will take us.
If you’re a fan of Keep on the Borderlands or of zines, Beyond the Borderlands is worth the read. While I would have liked to have seen all three parts released at once, or at least in rapid succession, I can appreciate his reasons. It’s a fun read, and the illustrated maps are cool, but until Issue Two is published, it’ll just sit there, unused. Once Issue Two is published, I look forward to running it. Unless a specific rules system is later mentioned, I will use Old School Essentials as it has become my “go-to” old school system.
If you’ve read, run, or played Alex Damaceno Beyond the Borderlands, comment below and tell us your thoughts.
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