This module is fun, weird and rather deadly. Castle Amber is an old module heavily based on Clark Ashton Smiths stories on Averoigne and its surroundings. The module spends most the time inside Castle Amber inhabited by a mad or excentric family of nobles and wizards. Later this family became an influential force in the Mystara setting, though mostly in The Principalities of Glantri.
I played the module long ago as a kid, but that is a long time ago, and since I have been exploring old modules mostly from the early eighties playing things like B4 The Lost City and B6 Rahasia, but also B10 Night’s Dark Terror,B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond and lately X1 Isle of Dread and X3 Curse of Xanathon, I also had to play X2 Castle Amber.
So Many Players Required
One of the tricky things with the old modules is, that they often require many players (5-10) in order to have the necessary party strength, but now a days I don’t play with larger than five players and often just four players. In order to reach the necessary amount of levels between the characters, we often end up with the characters being almost to high a level.
So in other words we have a slight problem with the balance. Especially in X2 (6-10 players) og X3 (5-8 players) have this been a problem.
Castle Amber is Deadly and Fun
I gathered a group of players, some whom had experience from their childhood with exploring dungeons and some, who had never tried it. We made characters – oh so quick, how I adore basic D&D – and began the module. The players went about exploring the castle, came to the room with the ghostly dinner party and were tempted to participate – come on, one has to do that, even though the sane, experienced explorer refuses to get involved in any encounter in this module – and during each course the PCs must fail or succeed one or two saves in order to avoid curses and to gain boons (some boons are gained by failing), but it is completely random, when something is poisonous, and when a boon is gained by failing a save, and so we lost three characters in this encounter – save or die-checks multiple times for lv 6 characters is still difficult. This was before the first fight in the module.
The scenario grants a free resurrection at the end of the module, but with half the party killed during the early part of the first session, it is of not much use. Also the characters are magically transported to the castle, so they cannot leave the dungeon and go back to the town to recruit new party members, and yet we needed them. We decided that new adventurers were likewise transported and trapped in the castle, and that they joined the remaining party.
We had several other funny encounters – for instance an encounter with a troll hiding under a bridge, and a weird encounter with a man, who mistakenly had buried his sister alive, and thought her furious pounding, were because she was haunting him.
We only made it through half the first part of the castle, and there plenty of surprises left, but unfortunately my players are busy people and I am not certain, that we will find the time to finish the module, but so be it.
Tom Moldway’s modules
Once one is familiar with Tom Moldway’s modules, you start to notice recurring elements. A room with the floor covered in green slime for instance appears in both B4 and X2, and hollow statues of gods used by priests combined with fireworks to manipulate the ignorant masses appears in both B4 and X1, likewise there is in B4 and X2 an encounter with skeletons and a false/hidden foe – in B4 skeletons guard what looks like a heavily armed mummy, so the PCs tend to avoid confronting them, and in X2 skeletons cover for the presence of a skeleton golem. The encounter is in reverse just as with the slime covered room – in B4 it is a dead-end, in X2 it is a heavily guarded trap. Especially the idea of false religions and manipulative priests have a pulpy feel and is quite interesting. This however seems to a theme, that is not explored any further in D&D (are their other modules with this?), but then again it is strange with false religions in a world with spellcasting clerics.