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.


Credits/contributors:

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


Overview:

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.


Introduction:

"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.


Appendices:

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.


Summary:

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.


links:

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

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