Castles Forlorn (1993)

Castles Forlorn is a strange and wonderful, if deeply flawed, campaign box set. Within, we find the realm of Forlorn and its Darklord, Tristen ApBlanc. Like everything in this box, Tristen is complicated: he’s a vampyre (that is, a living, not undead, creature with vampire-like abilities) by day and a ghost by night. There’s a long and tragic explanation for ApBlanc’s condition, a gothic riff on Macbeth with plenty of Scottish flavor (also kilts and the undead lake monster you see on the cover there).

But that’s not the interesting bit. In fact, most of the realm of Forlorn feels generic. The castle, Tristenoria, is the true star of the box.

First off, it is huge (hundreds of room across eight floor) and highly detailed, full of menacing encounters, devious traps and other clever obstacles. That is just prologue, though. The castle exists in three separate instances of time concurrently – when it was newly built (before ApBlanc was lord), when it was rent by cataclysm just after the Mists absorbed the castle into Ravenloft and, finally, when it is a desolate ruin ravaged by years of existing within Ravenloft. The devilish bit is that whenever the party is gathered together in one room, there is a chance that the rest of the castle shifts to another time period, resulting in confusion and paradox. If you’re a fan of the headfuck that is the inverted castle in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Castles Forlorn is the closet you’ll come to finding a similar experience codified in tabletop rules.

The main problem is that this is presented more as a sandbox than an on-rails adventure. I usually find that to be a welcome change, but with the complicated nature of the castle, a bit more direction would have been appreciated. To run this would require an experienced DM willing to do quite a bit of heavy lifting. There’s also other, lesser artists trespassing on Stephen Fabian’s turf, which inspires a big old L.

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