Trapped in the mysterious Castle Amber, you find yourselves cut off form the world you know. The castle is fraught with peril. Members of the strange Amber family, some insane, some merely deadly, lurk around every corner. Somewhere in the castle is the key to your escape, but can you survive long enough to find it?
This module contains referee notes, background information, maps, and exploration keys intended for use with the D&D Expert rules. Be sure to look for other D&D modules!
For characters level 3-6.
X2: "Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville)" (1981), by Tom Moldvay, is the second Expert level Basic D&D adventure. It was published in 1981.
Sources. This adventure leads off with the players encountering the fog-shrouded Castle Amber. Some suggest that the Castle and its denizens, and in particular room #25, were influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839). The connection with room #25 is especially clear, since it includes a sister named Madeline calling out from her grave, just like the short story.
Though the adventure focuses largely on the eponymous Castle Amber, which was created for this supplement, it also has connections to the Province of Averoigne - a fictional area in Medieval France that was created by "weird fiction" author Clark Ashton Smith for a series of short stories, most of them published in Weird Tales magazine (1930-41).
The Averoigne material lies in the latter part of the module, which includes a nice hex map of the province and some minimal background material. The PCs even get to quest across Averoigne searching for several items, including the Ring of Eibon - an artifact that would be just as appropriate for a Call of Cthulhu game. "Castle Amber" is thus probably the first published D&D adventure with Lovecraftian influences, almost two decades before Green Ronin's Freeport (2000). Of course, Lovecraftian deities had already appeared in The Dragon #12 (February 1978) and Deities & Demigods (1980).
Pulp Stylings. Because of the connections to Smith's fiction, James Maliszewski identifies "Castle Amber" as the second book in Tom Moldvay's Pulp Fantasy Trilogy, the other two being X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981) and B4: "The Lost City" (1982). Pulp adventure was a common module style at TSR in this era, with interest in the topic being shared by Tom Moldvay and David "Zeb" Cook.
Literary Licenses. "Castle Amber" was published with the approval of Clark Ashton Smith's estate, and thus was one of the earlier RPG products officially based on a literary property. TSR had previously published an official Lankhmar (1976) board game and had unofficially adapted literary characters in The Dragon's "Giants in the Earth" column, starting with issue #26 (June 1979). However, "Castle Amber" was their first major roleplaying adaptation. Licenses of this sort would become much more common when the Blumes ran TSR (1982-85) and began producing products based on Conan, Tarzan, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, and other properties.
In the wider roleplaying field, "Castle Amber" was preceded by Heritage Model's Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier (1977) and SPI's Dallas: The Television Role-Playing Game (1980). However, it was only in 1981, the same year "Castle Amber" was published, that literary licenses really exploded in the roleplaying field; it was competitor Chaosium who initially took the lead in the category with three different licensed properties: Call of Cthulhu (1981), Stormbringer (1981), and Thieves' World (1981).
A Roleplaying Bohnanza? One of the most interesting elements of "Castle Amber"'s adventure design is that it contains the Amber family, a set of wacky and weird NPCs that the players can encounter and interact with - but not necessarily kill. This puts it in the rarified realm of a few early adventures like T1: "The Village of Hommlet" (1979), which went well beyond the hack-and-slash of the early "roleplaying" field.
Not Much Wilderness. The new ideas of wilderness exploration introduced by the D&D Expert Set (1981) are poorly reflected here. Most of the adventure takes place in the spooky Castle Amber. Though there is a big hex map of Averoigne and a d8 wilderness encounter table, both are brief and sparse - more of an outline of a wilderness adventure than anything else.
Not Expanding the Known World Either. Similarly, if the Known World was supposed to be an important new focus for the Basic D&D game following the release of the Expert Set, "Castle Amber" doesn't seem to have gotten the message. According to the backstory, the Castle briefly appeared in the Known World country of Glantri before returning to Averoigne, and players make the same passage - but it's an extremely weak connection.
Yet despite being only nominally associated with the geography of the Known World, "Castle Amber" is packed full of Known World monsters. It reuses the aranea and the rakasta from "Isle of Dread" and introduces the the lupin and the neh-thalggu brain collectors. The creation of the lupin is surely this module's biggest contribution to the Known World, since that race of wolf-like humanoids reappeared in X9: "The Savage Coast" (1985) and many later books.
Not a Typical Expert Adventure. If you put together the lack of wilderness and the distance from the Known World, it's obvious that "Castle Amber" isn't a typical Expert D&D adventure. Most likely, the Basic D&D designers hadn't entirely decided on the format of Expert D&D adventures yet; the next Expert release, X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1983), would also be quite weak in its wilderness adventuring.
Mind you, the fact that "Castle Amber" is a bit unusual hasn't stopped it from being one of the more notable and appreciated Expert D&D releases.
Future History. When TSR was AD&D-ifying Mystara, they published Mark of Amber (1995), a boxed adventure that's a sequel to "Castle Amber" set 30 years later. Even more recently, the lupin were revamped for 3.5e in "Winning Races: Lupins" in Dragon #325 (December 2004) - which also traces the evolution of the race over time.
About the Creators. "Castle Amber" was written by TSR employee Tom Moldvay following his work on the D&D Basic Set (1981) and X1: "The Isle of Dread." All three releases were published in the busy year of 1981. Ironically, Moldvay wouldn't publish an adventure for his own Basic game until the next year, when he wrote B4: "The Lost City."
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.