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.
“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.
Season 3 of Encounters ran from September 22, 2010, to February 2, 2011.
About the Encounter Format. The encounters in “Season of Serpents” follow the same format for each week’s play, which if anything became more codified with this season. In each of the 20 weeks, there’s some opportunity for roleplaying followed by a combat encounter. There’s some nice variety among the combats; for example, in the final weeks, the players are actually involved in a siege of the eponymous Keep! However, variety beyond that is more limited: there’s only one minor skill challenge in the whole adventure.
About the Product Tie-In. “Season of Serpents” tied in with the launch of the D&D Essentials line for 4e. When the season started, the red box Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (2010), Heroes of the Fallen Lands (2010), and the Rules Compendium (2010) were all out. By the time the season ended, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (2010) had also been released.
To support the tie-in, players were encouraged to create Essentials characters, and were granted renown bonuses for doing so. In addition, the pregenerated characters for the scenario are all Essentials builds. “Season of Serpents” was also the first Encounters season to tie into the “Points of Light” setting for 4e.
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.
Expanding the "Points of Light" World. Restwell Keep was originally detailed in Dungeon #176 (March 2010). It appeared as part of “The Chaos Scar,” a very loosely connected sandbox adventure path that ran from Dungeon #171 (October 2009) to Dungeon #197 (December 2011). Although Restwell Keep and the Chaos Scar didn’t appear in the earliest maps of Nentir Vale, later products like the Dungeon Master’s Kit (2010) reveal that it’s to the southwest of the Vale, between the Witchlight Fens and the Ogrefist Hills.
“Season of Serpents” expands on the area, giving more attention to the keep (and what lies below). It also sets some encounters in the nearby Dragontooth Hill, and ultimately takes a short dive into the Chaos Scar itself. Overall, this book is a very nice supplement to the other material available on Restwell Keep and the Scar.
Future History. D&D Encounters includes another homage to “The Keep on the Borderlands” in Season 12’s “Against the Cult of Chaos” (2013), which includes a venture into the Caves of Chaos, the monstrous lairs from the original “Keep on the Borderlands.”
About the Creators. Sims began at Wizards of the Coast in 2005. His previous experience in the Points of Light world included work on P2: “Demon Queen’s Enclave” (2008) and E1: “Death’s Reach” (2009).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.