Saturday, June 18, 2022

B4: Derivative Works

There have been variois works based upon module B4 "The Lost City" by Tom Moldvay (see the B4 Campaign Sourcebook for comprehensive reviews).

Guide to Cynidicea:

Cover to the Italian version of Geoff Gander's "Guide to Cynidicea" (2005).  Illustration by Christopher Gareth Few.

Geoff Gander’s DM’s Guide to Cynidicea was translated into Italian by the Chimerae Hobby Group as CHE3 “Guida a Cynidicea” (May, 2005).  Graced with several illustrations by Christopher Gareth Few, the 48 page document is downloadable for free.

The Guide includes contributions by Marco Dalmonte, Jeff Daly, Sharon Dornhoff, Geoff Gander, Mischa Gelman, Jamuga Khan, Fabrizio Paoli, Clay Postma, Tomas Sanchez, and Andrew Theisen, and is available in English on the Vaults of Pandius, here.

Return to the Lost City:

"Return to the Lost City" by Mike Mearls was published in Dragon #315 (January, 2004).

Dragon #315 contains a series of articles showcasing classic D&D settings.  Mike Mearls contributed "Return to the Lost City" for Mystara.

Mearls describes the Underground City after a pair of adventurers led the Cynidiceans in a revolt, culminating in the defeat of Zargon.  Unfortunately, Zargon reappeared and regained control of the city, following their departure.

There are some additional details on the Underground City, as well as a description of the hallucinogenic drug ("the Elixir of Fantasy") used by the Cynidiceans.

Masque of Dreams:

"Masque of Dreams" by B. Matthew Conklin III was published in Dungeon #142 (January, 2007).  Cover illustration by James Ryman.

Dungeon #142 contains a 3.5e adventure, designed for character levels 1-5, based on Mearl's article from Dragon #315.

The adventure begins in Ashinana’s Oasis, between the towns of Parsa and Sulba, in the western Alasiyan Desert.  The Lost City is a three to four day journey northeast of the oasis (in the approximate location depicted on the map in the revised D&D Expert rulebook).

Illustrations by Michael M. Kaluta with maps by Robert Lazzaretti (an additional online supplement was also available for download).

Elder Evils:

Zargon was featured in "Elder Evils" (December, 2007) by Robert J. Schwalb.  Illustration by Miguel Coimbra.

"Elder Evils" is a 3.5e supplement, describing high-level, eldritch threats to the PCs campaign world.  Chapter 10 is devoted to Zargon "the Returner".

Full 3.5e stat blocks are provided for Zargon (described as 30' tall, double the height in module B4, with an extra six tentacles for arms, resulting in 18 tentacles).

Original Adventures Reincarnated #4:

Cover to OAR #4 "The Lost City" (2020).  Illustration by Jim Holloway.

A reprinting of the original version of module B4, with introductory retrospectives, as well as a detailed conversion to 5e, by Chris Doyle and Tim Wadzinski.

There's a host of new material, with entire chapters devoted to the Lower Pyramid, the Underground City, the Goblin Caves, and the Lower Catacombs.

The authors drew inspiration from Mearl's article in Dragon #315, such as "the Elixir of Fantasy".  (You can read my review of OAR #4, here).

Saturday, June 11, 2022

B4: Kato Cynidicea

The Underground City of Cynidicea* represents a fascinating setting for adventure, once the step-pyramid in module B4 "The Lost City" has been explored.

*we referred to the underground city as Kato Cynidicea, in our campaign ("Kato" being Greek for "Lower")

Isometric map depicting the Underground City of Cynidicea

A. Underground Lake

B. The Island of Death

The Stonehenge-like group of arches on the island predates the Cynidiceans.  The caves mentioned are perfect lairs for the undead.

C. City Docks

D. Water-Filled Chasm

E. Rock Bridges

F. Mushroom Fields

G. Stock Pens

H. Water Channels

I. Orpheus Park

I appreciate Moldvay's allusion to the underworld, invoking the mythical name of Orpheus

J. Main Streets

K. The Temple of Zargon

L. Stronghold of Gorm

M. Stronghold of Usamigaras

N. Stronghold of Madarua

O. Goblin Cliff Dwellings

Another fantastic dungeon environment, populated by goblinoid creatures and their allies.

P. The Wasteland

Q. The Eye of Zargon

R. Entrance to the Lower Catacombs
I would suggest using "Red Nails" by R. E. Howard as inspiration for developing the lower catacombs.
S. Entrance to the Pyramid

Saturday, June 4, 2022

B4: The Lost City

B4 "The Lost City" by Tom Moldvay was published for use with Moldvay Basic (1981), although enough information was provided to alternately run the adventure using Holmes Basic (1977).

Cover to module B4 "The Lost City" (1982) by Tom Moldvay.  Illustration of a priest of Zargon confronting a party of adventurers, by Jim Holloway.

The player characters are part of a desert caravan, although become lost after a terrible sandstorm.  They discover the ruins of an ancient city among the dunes, with a mysterious step-pyramid at its center.*

*the module states "If the continent map in module X1 is used, the Lost City can be anywhere in the Alasiyan Desert."

Design Origins

The module was likely based on a previous adventure, "Tentrumtoon" (ruined city & pyramid dungeon) in the Original Known World campaign, for the Kent State University Gamer's Guild (mentioned in the module's credits).

Moldvay appears to have been inspired by two specific stories by Robert E. Howard, "Xuthal of the Dusk" (published as "The Slithering Shadow" in Weird Tales, vol. 22, no. 3) and "Red Nails" (published in Weird Tales, vol. 28, no. 1).

The Fall of Cynidicea

The module relates how Cynidicea* was once a rich and fertile desert kingdom, although following the death of its last and greatest king, a strange cult arose that worshipped an eldritch, re-awakened monster as a god.

*the cultural underpinnings of Cynidicea appear to be rooted in Ptolemaic Egypt, during which time the Hellenistic ruling class incorporated Egyptian traditions and beliefs

The city ultimately fell to barbarian invaders, with survivors retreating underground.  Over several generations, the Cynidiceans adapted to their new environment, developing infravision.  Each wears a stylized mask, although many are losing touch with reality.

Three factions devoted to the worship of the ancient gods, (Gorm, Usamigaras, and Madarua) seek to defeat the cult of Zargon and re-establish Cynidicea's former glory.

The Step-Pyramid

The module describes the five levels of a step-pyramid in detail, with maps and notes for the DM to develop five underground levels, as desired.

The Underground City

Moldvay may have been inspired by the short story "The Nameless City" by H. P. Lovecraft,* describing the ruins of a prehistoric city, originally constructed by a race of reptilian creatures, now inhabiting a vast underground cavern.

*originally published in the amateur press association journal The Wolverine (November, 1921)

The Underground City of Cynidicea

A section describing further adventures in the underground city is reminiscent of a similar section in module I1 "Dwellers of the Forbidden City".

When I ran module B4 back in high school, we spent a full year of the campaign in the underground city, (I shared my old notes in this thread on Dragonsfoot).

New Monsters

Banshee, Cynidiceans,* Lycanthope (Werefox),** Polymar***

*can be used as a playable race, as discussed in this thread on Dragonsfoot

**perhaps derived from Foxwomen, appearing in Schick and Moldvay's Original Known World, as mentioned here

***a B/X version of the Protein Polymorph, contributed by Moldvay to the Fiend Folio (1981), originally appearing in Schick and Moldvay's Original Known World, as mentioned here


Designer: Tom Moldvay
Development: Tom Moldvay, Jon Pickens
Editing: Harold Johnson, Jon Pickens
Art: Jim Holloway, Harry Quinn, Stephen D. Sullivan
Playtesting: Dave Cook, Helen Cook, Clint Johnson, Steve Kaszar, Bill Wilkerson,* Jeff Wyndham, and The Kent State University Gamer's Guild
Special Thanks: To Jon Pickens for his invaluable assistance

*Bill Wilkerson recently shared a treasure trove of material regarding the Original Known World (see "More OKW documents!" posted on The Piazza; January 20, 2022)

"The Lost City" Campaign Sourcebook (2018).  A collaborative effort by fans of module B4.

B4 Campaign Sourcebook:

In the spirit of the B1 Campaign Sourcebook, I compiled and edited a fan supplement for module B4 "The Lost City" involving several contributors, downloadable here.  (I have an additional 16 pages with maps by Fingolwyn that I still intend to share, which I haven't finished editing).

Saturday, May 28, 2022

OAR #5 "Castle Amber"

OAR #5 "Castle Amber" (Goodman Games, 2020)

This adventure is an homage to the original module X2: Castle Amber, written by beloved game designer Tom Moldvay in 1981 and partially inspired by the writings of acclaimed weird fiction author Clark Ashton Smith.  Herein you will find high-quality scans of the original first edition adventure module, plus commentary by renowned contemporary game designers and writers.  A full fifth edition conversion of the original adventure is included, as well as brand new additional adventure encounters and an expanded Castle Amber.  This is the perfect old-school "funhouse dungeon" given new life for the fifth edition era.  Won't you please come in?

Module X2: "Castle Amber" holds a special place in my heart.  Running this adventure represented a seminal phase in my brother's campaign, back in high school.  It was challenging and mysterious, and the section based on Smith's Averoigne tales was like nothing we'd imagined (I remember the Colossus of Ylourgne struck the party halfling with its tree-club, doing 10d8 points of damage, and bringing the poor blighter down to 1 hp).  A couple of years later, I couldn't resist also transporting my AD&D 1e group into Averoigne.


Original writer: Tom Moldvay
5E conversion design and writing: Michael Curtis
5E edition editing and additional support: Tim Wadzinski
Additional writing: Bob Brinkman, Doug Kovacs, James Maliszewski
Special thanks: Emmanuel Bouteille, Christopher Dorchies
5E edition playtesters: Charles D'Arcangelis, Thomas Doran, David Key, Kal-El Key, Dan Love
Cover design: Lester B. Portly
Cover art: Erol Otus (front), Jim Roslof (back)
Interior layout: Matt Hildebrand
Interior art direction: Michael Curtis and Matt Hildebrand
Interior art: Chris Arneson, Fred Dailey, Tom Galambos, Doug Kovacs, Cliff Kurowski, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Jesse Mohn, Peter Mullen, Russ Nicholson, Stefan Poag, Chad Sergesketter
Cartography: Stefan Poag
Scans and restoration: Steve Crompton
Publisher: Joseph Goodman


A 268 page, high-quality, hardcover publication, with a gorgeous painting by Doug Kovacs as the front endpapers.  It contains a reprinting of the original module, together with a number of essays and retrospectives.  It also contains a 5E conversion of the adventure, is lavishly illustrated, and includes plenty of expanded material, new maps, and six appendices.


"Author's Introduction" by Michael Curtis
"Appendix N Archaeology: Clark Ashton Smith" by Michael Curtis
"Castlemania" by Michael Curtis
"Sources of Castle Amber" by James Maliszewski
"Memories Encased in Amber" by James Maliszewski
"Editor's Diary" by Tim Wadzinsky
"Painting the Works of Clark Ashton Smith" by Doug Kovacs

It would have been nice to include an essay on Clark Ashton Smith by an actual Smithian scholar, like Ronald S. Hilger or Edward Stasheff.  One of the two essays by Maliszewski is based on his previous retrospective, posted on Grognardia.  The short piece by Doug Kovacs is a nice addition.

Module X2: Castle Amber - Original Publication

The scan of the original module is from the second printing, which differs minimally from the first printing.  The map of the castle is reproduced within a gatefold at the beginning of the scan, featuring a new, full-page black and white illustration by Stefan Poag.

Others have commented on the awkwardness of the placement of the gatefold (it would have made greater sense to include at the end of the scan, possibly on page 53 where the back cover of the original module is reproduced, or even as the back endpapers). 

Since the illustration by Poag is a new one, it could have been included, along with his other pieces, in the 5E section.

5E Conversion:

Chapter 3 includes notes for the DM, such as advice for designing appropriate encounters as well as a description of the Amber family; the start to the adventure; and information on the castle, such as general features and wandering monsters.  (There's an author's note on the matter of scale, which makes an argument for 5' per square as opposed to 10' per square.)

There are separate chapters for the west wing, the indoor forest, the chapel, the east wing, and the dungeon.  Second floors have been added to the west wing (33 additional rooms) and east wing (22 additional rooms).  An extra section to the indoor forest is included in appendix D.  (Neither the indoor forest nor the dungeon* were expanded.)

*there is a missed opportunity involving the "entrance to the Land of the Ghouls", an area for which the DM was encouraged to create an underground labyrinth and ghoul kingdom to supplement the original adventure, something I tried my hand at, back in the day

The number of encounter areas in the castle is approximately doubled.*  Many of these showcase a variety of new monsters (my favourites include the clockwork guards, sheet phantom, and stained-glass golem) or are bedrooms for the various members of the Amber family.  (I particularly like room 100. the Observatory).

*Curtis referenced "Mark of Amber" in his introduction, which expands the reconstructed "Chateau Sylaire" by adding second floors (and even attic spaces), although the layouts are completely different

There's again a problem with a gatefold map being located at the beginning of the section describing the west wing, necessitating a lot of flipping back and forth to refer to the map when using chapters 4-7.  As with the gatefold included as part of the original module, this one is graced by a nice illustration by Poag, which could have been reproduced on a single page.

Chapter 9 covers Averoigne, and includes an updated map of the province, in addition to a hex map of Sylaire and nicely rendered maps of the capital Vyones and city of Perigon.  Each of the four main quests are expanded, and 11 additional areas are described (some of which draw inspiration from other stories about Averoigne by Smith).

The final chapter details the tomb of Stephen Amber.  An updated isometric map is included.


Appendix A: New Monsters
Includes 55 entries, with 5E stats for many classic B/X creatures, several entirely new monsters, and notable NPCs.

Appendix B: The Amber Family
A brief overview of the curse of Stephen Amber, together with 5E stats and brief descriptions of 19 members of the Amber family (both original and new).

Appendix C: New Magic Items
Includes 14 new magic items.

Appendix D: The Hunting Lodge
Describes a small dungeon located under the hill in the Indoor Forest.

Appendix E: Handouts
3 handouts for the players.

Appendix F: Maps
Reproduces the maps presented earlier in the adventure, for ease of reference.


OAR #5 "Castle Amber" contains the original module X2 along with a conversion to 5E.  Two major areas of expansion include the second floors to the west and east wings, totaling dozens of new rooms and encounters.  The section on Averoigne is also expanded with additional encounters, which fleshes out the adventure quite nicely.  There are a huge number of new illustrations, which increases the value of the product considerably, in my opinion.

Curtis was inspired by "Mark of Amber" (1995) by Aaron Allston, Jeff Grubb, and John D. Rateliff, but chose to expand the original module in a different vein, placing his own stamp upon it.  Since we already had an expanded mansion, I would have much preferred a section on the undeveloped "Land of the Ghouls" accessed through the dungeon, but this might have seemed too unrelated or generic.  (Somebody, please make a "Land of the Ghouls" adventure...)

I did notice a fair number of typos.  That, and the peculiar design choice regarding the inconvenient placement of two gatefold maps (likely by someone who doesn't run games out of modules themselves) makes me feel the project was somewhat rushed.  Nevertheless, there's enough new material in the Averoigne section alone for me to regard the purchase as worthwhile (such as the maps of Vyones and Perigon) - but perhaps I'm just easy to please.


from Goodman Games:
Announcing Castle Amber As 5th Volume In Our OAR Line! posted by jmcdevitt on Mar 10, 2020
Castle Amber Now Available! posted by pandabrett on Oct 28, 2020
Where to Start With Clark Ashton Smith posted by pandabrett on Nov 3, 2020
Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne posted by pandabrett on Nov 6, 2020
Words Weird and Wonderful: Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne posted by billward on Dec 11, 2020
Appendix N Archaeology: Clark Ashton Smith posted by billward on Dec 27, 2021
The Self-Made Mind: The Art of Clark Ashton Smith posted by billward on Dec 28, 2021

Original Adventures Reincarnated #5: Castle Amber

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Mark of Amber

The ultimate fate of Etienne d'Ambreville is decided in "Mark of Amber" (1995) by Aaron Allston, Jeff Grubb, and John D. Rateliff, an audio CD tie-in adventure to the "Glantri: Kingdom of Magic" boxed set, released as part of the AD&D 2e Mystara line.

Cover to "Mark of Amber" (1995) adventure, by Aaron Allston, Jeff Grubb, and John D. Rateliff.  Illustration by Den Beauvais, from a concept by Jennell Jaquays.

"Mark of Amber" involves a return to Chateau d'Ambreville, and is a sequel to "The Immortals' Fury" campaign arc in the "Wrath of the Immortals" (1992) boxed set, rather than to module X2 "Castle Amber", itself.

Nevertheless, the adventure fills in plenty of details regarding the early history of the Amber family, dating back to when they fled Old Averoigne, as well as events following the conclusion of module X2:

For a time, Etienne traveled incognito, learning about the changes to Glantri and the world at large during the years he had lain entranced in his coffin.  It is thought that during this time he also visited many other worlds, and learned there spells not otherwise known on Mystara.  He visited Old Averoigne to see what had happened there since the d'Ambrevilles left.  Little had changed; a new generation of rulers still hunted magic-users and burned them as witches.  If anything, the nation was in worse shape than ever.

But he discovered that an old friend of his, one who had not come to Mystara, was still alive.  Genevieve de Sephora, now posing as her own great-granddaughter, still ruled the territory of Sylaire from her great tower.  She was delighted to see Etienne and weary of the worsening situation in Averoigne.  She made him an offer.  She'd help him transport her entire tower to Mystara for him to live in and help him rebuild his life.  He agreed.

Together, they moved the great tower through a gate back to Nouvelle Averoigne.  They cleared away the rubble of le Chateau d'Ambreville, erected the tower in its place, and then rebuilt the castle around the tower. naming the new building Chateau Sylaire.

from "Etienne's Wanderings" in "Mark of Amber" (1995)

We therefore learn that Chateau Sylaire was erected upon the ruins of the old Chateau d'Ambreville (something not mentioned in GAZ 3 "The Principalities of Glantri")

Additional events following the "Wrath of the Immortals" are described in AC1010-12: Poor Wizard's Almanac I-III and Book of Facts (1992-4) by Aaron Allston and Ann Dupuis.

Design Origins:

On his now-defunct website, Allston revealed that Mark of Amber "was originally written for the D&D; game rather than the AD&D; game and was titled Return to Castle Ambreville."

In his product history for the adventure, Shannon Appelcline states that:

Allston was quite happy with the result, saying that "it had a plot whose outcome was determined by player-character interaction but still functioned as a plot, [and] it had a lot of material on handling crises resulting from PCs leading the events off into unexpected directions". 

Shannon Appelcline

Allston likely wrote "Mark of Amber" shortly after "Wrath of the Immortals", although publication of the adventure was delayed:

Jeff Grubb was brought in to revamp Allston's original manuscript.  He needed to convert it to AD&D, link it to the Glantri boxed set, and also support the Audio CD system.  Grubb's work went smooth, but Allston wasn't thrilled by the mandated reliance on the Audio CD, which he felt was "harmful to [the adventure's] usefulness".

Shannon Appelcline

A minor correction to Appelcline's product summary is that the Nucleus of Spheres was altered to drain from the Sphere of Entropy rather than the Sphere of Energy at the conclusion of "Wrath of the Immortals".


"Mark of Amber" was edited by John D. Rateliff, and features multiple new interior illustrations by Jim Holloway (in addition to a few recycled pieces), both in color as well as black and white.

Illustration by Jim Holloway, from "Mark of Amber"

Holloway was one of the illustrators for module X2 "Castle Amber" and so his contributions to "Mark of Amber" are fitting and aesthetically quite pleasing.

Cartography was by Michael Scott, and calligraphy by Elise Boucher.  Decorative page borders were by Randy Asplund-Faith and illuminated letters by Robin Wood.

Playtesting and helpful commentary was credited to Andrew Morris, Margarita De La Garza, Max De La Garza, Sam Johnson, Beth Miller Loubet, Raini Madden, Dee R. Starns, Andrew Trent, and Andria Hayday.

Chateau Sylaire:

The first part of the adventure describes the castle grounds and rooms within Chateau Sylaire.

The chateau was reconstructed larger that before, with a second floor to each of the wings, in addition to attic spaces.

The central part of the mansion was built around the reconstructed tower of Sylaire.

In Search of Etienne:

The second part of the adventure details a timeline of events, interspersed with dream sequences in which the actions of the PCs can influence the outcome.

D'Ambrevilles and Others:

An appendix includes detailed biographies and game statistics for four generations of d'Ambrevilles, as well as retainers, employees, servants, and others.

d'Ambreville family tree, calligraphy by Elise Boucher

Many of the entries feature thumbnail illustrations by Holloway, which are a nice touch.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Etienne d'Ambreville

Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Ambreville) is one of the ten Princes of Glantri and a major non-player character in GAZ 3 "The Principalities of Glantri" (1987) by Bruce Heard.

Prince Etienne d'Ambreville, as depicted in GAZ 3 "The Principalities of Glantri".  Portrait by Stephen Fabian.

"Le Prince-Magicien" is the ruler of New Averoigne, Grand Master of the School and Viscount of Sylaire... 
It is next to impossible to meet him in person; however, he may show up at embarrassing moments when an important character is plotting against him.

from GAZ 3 "The Principalities of Glantri"

Etienne is a major character in "The Immortals' Fury" campaign arc, a series of adventures detailed in the "Wrath of the Immortals" (1992) boxed set, by Aaron Allston.

Cover to "Book Two: The Immortals' Fury" from the "Wrath of the Immortals" boxed set.  Cover illustration by Jeff Easley* 
*originally used for the cover of the Forgotten Realms novel "Darkwell" (1989) by Douglas Niles

Etienne's fate in "The Immortals' Fury" is left unresolved, although revisited in "Mark of Amber" (1995) by Aaron Allston, Jeff Grubb, and John D. Rateliff.