X2: Castle Amber (1981)

I was fascinated by Dungeon Module X2: Castle Amber (Chateau d’Amberville) when I was kid, probably because I never owned it. The cover was featured in the ad on the back of the Mentzer Expert Set box and something about the French subtitle and the scale of the Erol Otus illustration that got my kid brain cooking.

Castle Amber (not to be confused with Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber) is by Tom Moldvay and was designed for his version of the Expert Set in 1981 (which makes it feel slightly out of sync for the Mentzer rules revision). While starting off in Basic D&D’s Known World, it quickly uses a plot device to move the action to the world of Averoigne, which was the fictional French setting of a number of medieval horror stories by weird fiction master Clark Ashton Smith. The module draws on several of those stories for inspiration, including “The Colossus of Ylourgne,” which is the giant fellow with the receding hairline on the cover (said colossus also inspired the excellent Hellboy story, “Almost Colossus,” that introduced Roger the homunculus). There’s a good deal of Edgar Allan Poe (a la “Fall of the House of Usher”) and Lovecraft (brain collectors!), too.

The world-switching plot device is important in the scope of TSR’s history. When the characters encounter Castle Amber, it is surrounded by a strange mist. That mist is a curse, laid by Stephen Amber upon the family members who murdered him. Kind of sounds a bit like what would eventually grow into the core conceit of Ravenloft, no?

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