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.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

La Nouvelle Averoigne

The Amber family (d'Ambrevilles) were revisited in GAZ 3 "The Principalities of Glantri" (1987) by Bruce Heard.

The d'Ambrevilles came from a parallel world similar to medieval France, where sorcery was forbidden and mages burned at the stake.  The d'Ambrevilles left through a magical gate and settled in Glantri.*

During the darker years of Glantrian history, the d'Ambrevilles and their estate disappeared without a trace,** only to reappear years later,*** as if nothing had happened.  In the meantime, several of his family members betrayed Etienne in hopes of becoming the head of the household.  Fortunately, a band of adventurers intervened (see module X2) and saved Etienne from oblivion.  Etienne's relatives died; in his great generosity, Etienne wished his relatives back to life.  He wisely forced upon them a powerful magical oath to ensure they would not act against him again.  These eccentric relatives never again betrayed him, not knowing what kind of horrible fate the oath would bring upon them.  The whimsical d'Ambrevilles now spend a great deal of their time embarrassing other nobles.

In the years following their return to Glantri, the d'Ambrevilles managed to assist the passage of other spell-casters from their world to this.  These people are now nobles faithful to Sylaire; they, with many of their servants and retainers, now form a fair portion of New Averoigne's population.  Most speak both Common Glantrian and French.  They were quick to call their new domain "La Nouvelle Averoigne," and rule it the more to resemble their homeland.  Alas, they brought with them the curse of lycanthropy, spreading it through New Averoigne's hills.

from GAZ 3 "The Principalities of Glantri"

*728 AC, **896 AC, and ***979 AC according to PC4 "Night Howlers" (1992) by Ann Dupuis, a guide to running lycanthropes as playable creatures

GAZ 3 also contains bios and updated stats for Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Ambreville) and members of his extended family.

An overview of the Principality of New Averoigne (la Nouvelle Averoigne) in western Glantri is provided (further detailed in PC4 "Night Howlers"):

Central portion of New Averoigne (La Nouvelle Averoigne) in the Principalities of Glantri, from the replica map by Thorfinn Tait, posted at the Atlas of Mystara.

New Averoigne is famous for its excellent wines and sparkling beverages sold all over the nation.  Its specialty is all food-related businesses.  Local chefs boast they can cook anything, from normal ingredients to monster meats.  Many fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products are available in this pleasant region.  The inhabitants are an easy-going people and the area boasts many famous entertainers and actors.

Weavers produce many clothes in various styles.  New Averoigne is probably the largest producer of furs, especially different types of wolf.  These fur coats can reach high gold value at the capital, because of their workmanship, and because they are a mark of class among the nobles.  Belladonna is also a local production.*

from GAZ 3 "The Principalities of Glantri"

*belladonna was included in the equipment list in OD&D vol. 1 "Men & Magic" (see this thread** on Dragonsfoot for ideas on how to use it)

**alternate rules (4-24 points of damage on the third melee round after consumption of entire bunch) in this thread

Sunday, May 8, 2022


Module X2 "Castle Amber (Château d'Ambreville)" came with a bibliography of the eleven Averoigne stories by Clark Ashton Smith:

The Enchantress of Sylaire in "The Abominations of Yondo"
The Colossus of Ylourgne, The Distinterment of Venus, and The Satyr in "Genius Loci and Other Tales"
The Beast of Averoigne and The Holiness of Azedarac in "Lost Worlds"
The Mandrakes in "Other Dimensions"
The End of the Story and A Rendezvous in Averoigne in "Out of Space & Time"
The Maker of Gargoyles and Mother of Toads in "Tales of Science and Sorcery"

Try as I might, I could locate none of these collections when I first ran "Castle Amber" in the mid-1980s, neither in libraries nor in second-hand bookstores.  Then, one day, I saw "A Rendezvous in Averoigne" in Bakka bookstore in Toronto.

Cover to "A Rendezvous in Averoigne" (1988) published by Arkham House, with jacket and interior illustrations by Jeffrey K Potter.

This collection included four of the Averoigne stories "The Holiness of Azédarac", "The Colossus of Ylourgne", "The End of the Story", and "A Rendezvous in Averoigne" along with tales of Atlantis, Hyperborea, Lost Worlds, and Zothique.  I was hooked.

Map of Averoigne, by Ron Hilger (source: The Eldritch Dark)

Smith's Averoigne was based upon the French region of Auvergne, as discussed in "The History of Averoigne?" by Glenn Rahman (originally published in Crypt of Cthulhu #26).  Enterprising DMs therefore have no shortage of material to flesh out a campaign.

"The Averoigne Chronicles" (2021) edited by Ronald S. Hilger, trade paperback version of the definitive collection of Smith's Averoigne material.

Smith's Averoigne stories are now easier to access.*  Options include The Eldritch Dark, "The Averoigne Archives" (2019; see this review), "The Averoigne Chronicles" (2021), or even digitized issues of the original pulp magazines, at

*a faux Ballantine version is unauthorized

(For capsule reviews on each of the eleven stories, check out this post on "Black Gate: Adventures in Fantasy Literature".  For in-depth discussion, see the Averoigne episodes on "The Double Shadow: A Clark Ashton Smith podcast".)

"The Averoigne Legacy" (2019) edited by Edward Stasheff.  Cover design by Jervy Bonifacio chosen from among 71 entries.

Averoigne continues to inspire, with "The Averoigne Legacy" collection of tribute tales, and music including the concept album "The Beast of Averoigne" by Haunted Abbey Mythos, and "The Bard of Averoigne" by composer Peter Scartabello.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

X2: Castle Amber (Château d'Ambreville)

X2 "Castle Amber (Château d'Ambreville)" by Tom Moldvay was the second module published for use with the D&D Expert Set.  As in X1 "The Isle of Dread" and B4 "The Lost City" there is a heavy emphasis on pulp fiction/weird fantasy tropes.

Cover to module X2 "Castle Amber (Château d'Ambreville)" (1981) by Tom Moldvay.  Illustration of the Colossus of Ylourgne* by Erol Otus.
*the face of the Colossus turned out to be an unintentional caricature of Moldvay, according to this interview with Otus, on Talking TSR).

The player characters are on a journey to Glantri City, although become lost after taking the wrong fork in a river.  They awake the next morning in the foyer of the mansion of the legendary Amber family.

The Amber Family:

The Amber family came from another world, similar to medieval France in our world, and settled in the Principalities of Glantri.

For a century or so, the Ambers were one of the major powers in Glantri.  In particular, the seventh and last Prince, Prince Stephen Amber, was one of the most powerful magic-users in the history of Glantri.  Suddenly, however, the entire Amber family and their mansion, Castle Amber, disappeared.  They were never seen again and no one knows for sure what happened to them.  In time, the Ambers became legends, the subjects of tales to frighten misbehaving children.

Castle Amber (1981)

Members of the Amber family are clearly modeled after the Amber royal family from Roger Zelazny's "The Chronicles of Amber", although credit for the inspiration is not explicitly given.

The Gray Mist:

The mansion is surrounded by a deadly gray mist, similar to the Mists of Ravenloft from module I6 "Ravenloft" (1983) by Tracy and Laura Hickman, published two years later.

A deadly gray mist surrounds Castle Amber.  (Is that someone in the window?)

Castle Amber:

Castle Amber also seems to owe at least a partial debt to "Tegel Manor" (1977) by Bob Bledsaw.

The mansion is divided into five major sections.

The West Wing

Notable rooms include the Grand Salon (featuring a boxing match), the Dining Room, and the Master Bedroom.

The Indoor Forest

A huge octagon-shaped building with seven glass domes permitting sunlight into a large arboretum.

Notable encounters include the Maiden and the Unicorn, the Wild Hunt, and the Blood-Stained Arch.

Madeline Amber attacks her brother Charles.  Illustration by Jim Holloway.

The Chapel

One of the main encounters draws inspiration from "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe.

The East Wing

Notable rooms include the Throne Room, the Ballroom, the Card Room,* and the Green Room (featuring an incarnation of the Green Man),

*possibly based on/inspired by an article by Kevin Hendryx "Deck of Fate" in The Dragon #26; see also "The Tarot of Many Things" in Dragon #77; the magical effect of one of the cards is the "strength" spell, from the Holmes Basic rulebook

The Dungeon

Notable encounters include the Magical Letter Square, the Brain Collector, the Alchemistry Laboratory, and the Entrance to the Land of the Ghouls.*

*it is suggested that the DM create an underground labyrinth and ghoul kingdom to supplement the adventure, something I did when I first ran the module, back in 1985


Hex map for the province of Averoigne, from module X2 "Castle Amber".  (The party appears at "X").

The player characters pass through the Gate of the Silver Keys into the province of Averoigne,* a wilderness based upon the stories of Clark Ashton Smith.

*pronunciation is given as "" on pg. 27, although "Av-er-RON" is technically more accurate

The party must locate four special magic items in Averoigne:
1) The Enchanted Sword of Sylaire
2) The Viper-Circled Mirror
3) The Ring of Eibon
4) A potion of time travel 

These items are linked to four scenarios based upon short stories by Clark Ashton Smith:
The Enchantress of Sylaire
The Colossus of Ylourne
The Beast of Averoigne
The Holiness of Azedarac

I so thoroughly enjoyed this part of the module the first time I ran it, that I incorporated all four scenarios into an AD&D campaign I was running for my friends, a couple of years later.

Illustration by Harry Quinn.

The Tomb of Stephen Amber:

Once the four special magic items are collected, it is possible to summon the tomb of Stephen Amber, and break his curse.

New Monsters:

Amber Lotus Flowers, Amoeba (Giant), Aranea, Brain Collector, Death Demon,** Golem (Mud), Grab Grass, Gremlin,* Killer Trees,** Lupin, Magen (Hypnos, Demos, Caldron, Galvan), Pagan, Phantoms, Rakasta, Slime Worm, Sun Brother,*** Vampire Roses

*White Dwarf #5 (Feb/March 1978) describes a version of the Gremlin that is clearly a precursor to the one introduced by Moldvay in X2 (1981)

**Killer Trees and Death Demons had their origin in Schick and Moldvay's "Original Known World" campaign (see this post)

***Sun Brothers (Sollux) originally appeared as "Saraphs" (for AD&D) in an article by Moldvay "Demons, Devils and Spirits" in Dragon #42, and subsequently in module DA4