We Watched An Owl Bear Eat Him: Reviewing Goodman Games’ ‘The Keep On The Borderlands’
Welcome to the table,
I have spent the majority of the last twenty-plus years running games. I prefer being The Storyteller because game design and world-building are passions of mine. It has always been a little easier for me to craft a world for my friends to play in, and most of the time my friends have felt way more comfortable playing as player characters. So it typically falls to me to be on the stats side of the screen.
However, that does not mean I have not gone on my fair share of adventures. One of the earliest was adventuring to The Keep on the Borderlands. At the ripe old age of 12, I recall many things in my adventure. There was a weird wizard living in the woods whose pet puma almost ended me. The Caves of Chaos were full of all sorts of lizardmen and strange spiders. And the NPC Jonathan The Bold, who was serving as our guide, got demolished by a large pissed-off Owl Bear as we, a party of well-armed and skilled adventures just watched… then walked away.
In our defense, Jonathan The Bold was a Cavalier who was very pushy and kept telling us that a large chunk of the gold we were finding was to go towards his lord’s coffers for use in some such noble cause. Young teens being told that our hard-earned make-believe gold was going to go to some royal house we did not know or care about did not go over well.
So as the Owl Bear lumbered out of its lair, half-eaten gnoll in its beak, old Jonathan The Bold raised his sword high and charged at it, and we just stood there. When the Storyteller asked us what we were going to do we were all quiet and I remember one of the other players at the table saying under his breath “We watch.”
It was such a good idea to a wide-eyed child who had never considered just… doing nothing. The Owl Bear would eat old Jonathan The Bold and, if the dark gods above and below willing, be full as it had clearly already eaten a gnoll, and Jonathan The Bold was a taller fellow with some meat on him.
So I spoke up and echoed the other player’s sentiment “We watch.”
Quickly a party of five nodding in agreement looked to the Storyteller who seemed confused, but also a bit amused by the situation and listened as he described in great detail as Jonathan The Bold was eaten by The Owl Bear. We looked at The Owl Bear, it looked at us… turned around a few times and flopped down on the dirt in front of its den.
We forged ahead happily without the guidance of Jonathan The Bold and had a pretty great rest of the afternoon until we were utterly destroyed by a minotaur and his bugbear minions. Apparently, Mr. The Bold had some magical stone with an enchantment that would allow for an easier passage through the labyrinth that the Minotaur called home. So, in losing him as our guide, we were wandering rudderless in the dungeon, easy prey for the forces of evil that hunted us.
It was a stand-out moment for me as a kid though. Not the death at the hand of the Minotaurs but the seed that was planted that in D&D (and other TTRPGs) you could deviate from what was expected of you. It really was a wild sandbox full of limitless possibilities and that was part of the wonder of the game.
Knowing that about me, I was rolling along in a local gaming shop a few months back and saw the Goodman Games Into The Borderlands. Vol. 1 of their Original Adventures Reincarnated. I reached for it with trembling fingers to see what exactly it was.
I was delighted to find out that the fine folks at Goodman Games had not only re-published In Search of The Unknown and The Keep on The Borderlands modules in their original form including all the maps and game art, but that they had also dedicated the second half of the book to an updated 5e version of the modules with new art, expanded encounters, maps, updated gear, and to my absolute delight the Owlbear’s Den.
I sat there debating if I needed it, as I mostly run home-brew content for my tables. The tug of nostalgia was strong and as I looked at the page with an adventure partying poking a pole into the water the passage under the Owlbear’s Den caught my eye…
“If cornered in its lair, it fights to the death, but if the characters flee it does not pursue.”
I laughed out loud as my mind wandered back all those years to the moment a little kid me and his party left that Owl Bear alone, and it did not pursue us as we walked away.
I bought the book, of course. How could I have resisted?
In my opinion, this book is a great addition to anyone’s 5e library. The Additional Encounters in The Borderlands section alone is great seeding for adventure. I am also a fan of the New Monsters, like the Al-Mi’Raj and the Cryatid Column.
If you are looking for a fun break from your normal campaigns or a good jumping-off point for a new one, Into The Borderlands is a great place to start.
Until Next time, may your Bold Jonathans always be eaten.