As an old school gamer, I’m a huge fan of the Original Adventures Reincarnated line by Goodman Games. I’ve reviewed the first four releases on this page before. But in case you’re unfamiliar it, the “OAR” project is an ongoing attempt to both preserve and modernize a number of classic D&D adventure modules. These releases typically include a reprint of the original adventure and then pairs it with a modern 5E conversion. Often times, these releases also contain expanded information and/or completely new chapters to the original adventure. To top it all off, Goodman Games partners with WotC for this project, so these releases come with the blessing of D&D‘s official owner.
For the fifth entry in this series, we go all the way back to the Expert D&D set from 1981 for a re-release of the legendary Castle Amber module. This module was the second Expert Set release, following The Isle of Dread. These two adventures, combined with The Lost City are often considered the holy trilogy of old-school pulp fantasy modules. And now, we finally have all three for Fifth Edition.
Castle Amber is an interesting module in that it takes place partially in a world that was previously established in literature, the world of Averoigne. Averoigne is the setting of a number of stories by the author Clark Ashton Smith. Prior to this adventure, there was no official connection between Smith and D&D, other than his books being included by Gygax in the now infamous Appendix N.
The adventure begins in the world of Mystara (the default setting for the original D&D). It begins with a rather lengthy introduction that see’s the party setting up camp for the night. However, when morning comes, all hell breaks loose. The party finds themselves not in the wilderness where they bedded down for the evening, but instead in the foyer of a mysterious castle. From outside of the front door, they can see that the castle is surrounded by a mysterious mist. Any attempts to enter the mist and leave the castle results in that party member inhaling poisonous gas and taking damage. With no other choice, the party is forced to explore the castle and meet it’s inhabitants, the unusual Amber family. Over the course of this adventure, the party ultimately finds themselves transported to another world (Averoigne), where they must confront an unusual evil in order to return home.
As usual, Goodman Games preserves every detail of the original adventure with exquisite care. And as expected, they’ve added a quite a bit as well. For example, the castle now has a few new floors on the east and west wing. There’s also a few new surprises tucked away inside the castle itself. In my opinion, these additions fit in perfectly with the theme of the original publication. Castle Amber has always had a reputation for being a pretty strange romp. For starters, it’s a prime example of what’s known as a “funhouse dungeon”. It’s like one big theme park filled with all sorts of random monsters, traps, and encounters. These days, with game design being what it is, adventures tend to make a bit more sense than Castle Amber does. For example, if there’s a room filled with wererats, there had better be a good reason for those wererats to be there. Back in the old school days, that wasn’t as much of a concern. This type of design may be a problem for some people, but personally, I love it.
The quality of the book is top notch. The binding is nice and tight, the foldout maps don’t hang out the side of the pages, and of course, there’s a ribbon bookmark present. (Always a great touch). Also, the inner-cover artwork is simply stunning. I absolutely LOVE the artwork included in this book.
I can admit that there’s a lot of strange ingredients in this dish. And it’s probably not going to fit in to an existing campaign without a lot of work by the DM. But, it would make for a very fun couple of sessions if you wanted to show a bunch of modern players what the game used to be like.
I’m pleased to say this is another top quality release from Goodman Games. I love this series and I hope it continues for some time. There’s so many wonderful classic D&D adventures that today’s players would never get to experience any other way.
Castle Amber is available on Amazon and most retail bookstores where D&D material is sold.
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