the Electrum Age, between 1981 and 1985, during which the game, the culture that surrounded it, and the company that produced all underwent some pretty radical changes. Released right smack in the middle of this putative Electrum Age was 1983's Horror on the Hill, written by Douglas Niles. The module is intended to be an introductory adventure à la Keep on the Borderlands, but it differs enough from its illustrious predecessor that I think it worth discussing in its own right.
The basic set-up of Horror on the Hill is familiar enough: a party of low-level adventurers comes to Guido's Fort, a lonely bastion of civilization not far from the eponymous Hill, in which dwell numerous monsters and, it is said, an evil witch. That's remarkably similar to the situation presented in Keep on the Borderlands, so much so that I used to be baffled as to why TSR bothered to publish this module at all. What did it offer that Gygax had not already provided in module B2?
I have no way of knowing what the good folks at TSR had in mind when they published this, but, as an outsider, a couple of things stand out about Horror on the Hill. First and foremost, it's new. That may not seem like much, but it is. I often here old schoolers complain when an OSR publisher releases "yet another version of Keep on the Borderlands." I've come to realize that such complaints miss an important point, namely, that there are always new campaigns starting and many of those campaigns will include people who've played B2 numerous times. After a while, referees need something different, even if only slightly, with which to kick things off. That's why I can no longer find fault in an introductory module simply because it follows the basic outline of Keep on the Borderlands and then goes its own way.
The second reason TSR likely released this module was to experiment with its new presentation. Horror on the Hill has slightly updated trade dress (new D&D and TSR logos, for example), more art, and uses a lot of boxed text to aid the novice referee. None of these elements is, in itself, without precedent; you can find other modules that also possess them to varying degrees. But, as a transitional module, they're notable as signposts for what TSR had in store for the D&D game line. Speaking for myself, I really like both the cover art (by the late Jim Roslof) and the interior art by Jim Holloway, both of which evince a strain of fantastic realism that I find much more congenial nowadays than that of other artists of the same period.
The final thing I'd say about Horror on the Hill is that it's a lot more cohesive than Keep on the Borderlands. That is, there are fewer types of monsters in the Hill and their relationships are elaborated upon much more than what we see in the Caves of Chaos. (Paradoxically, Guido's Fort is not given any detail at all -- not even a map -- unlike the Keep from B2). While this gives the Hill a stronger sense of "realism," perhaps even Gygaxian Naturalism, it also makes the place a lot less varied and thus less interesting to players, a great many of whom grow tired if they fight the same creatures over and over again for too long. On the other hand, the Hill does have a rather nifty "end boss" (I feel dirty typing those words) that compares more than favorably with the minotaur in B2.
I judge Horror on the Hill more favorably now than I did back in 1983, when I saw it as little more than a knock-off of Keep on the Borderlands. I think it is that, but I also think it's more than that. Whether its unique qualities are unique enough to appeal to any given referee or player is something only they can answer.