Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Cursed Fairylands of X2 Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay - More OSR Clark Ashton Smith & Arthurian Commentary

"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?"

My review & overview of Greg Gorgonmilk's latest Clark Ashton Smith book has me thinking about X2 Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay.X2 is Tom Moldvay's love letter to Clark Ashton Smith's work as an adventure & its a deadly adventure at that.

X2: Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville) is a fan favorite  Wiki has a bit of background history;
"Castle Amber is a Dungeons & Dragons adventure module designed by Tom Moldvay. This was the second module designed for use with the Expert D&D set. The module is in part an adaptation of Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories, and set in the fictional medieval French province of that name.Castle Amber is a Dungeons & Dragons adventure module designed by Tom Moldvay. "

Chateau d' Amberville is surrounded by a dangerous & deadly mist making it on par with Ravenloft. These mists are an adventure device I've used many times to get PC's from various dimensions & planes on to the grounds of the Chateau. Because of the deep connection of X2 to Averoigene such PC's may find themselves in way over their heads. Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne cycle is connected with the Arthurian literature;
"Averoigne is a fictional counterpart of a historical province in France, detailed in a series of short stories by the American writer Clark Ashton Smith. Smith may have based Averoigne on the actual province of Auvergne, but its name was probably influenced by the French department of Aveyron, immediately south of Auvergne, due to the similarity in pronunciation."

One of the common threads here is the presence of not one fairy queen of the fallen kingdoms but many. Morgause the half sister of Arthur & mother of one of the Modreds has ties to the fictional region of
Her character is fully developed in Thomas Malory's 1485 compilation of Arthurian legends Le Morte d'Arthur, in which Morgause (Margawse) is one of three daughters born to Gorlois of Tintagel, Duke of Cornwall, and the Lady Igraine. According to Malory, her mother is widowed and then remarried to Uther Pendragon, after which she and her sisters, Elaine and Morgan ("le Fay", later the mother of Ywain), are married off to allies or vassals of their stepfather. Morgause is wed to the Orcadian King Lot and bears him four sons, all of whom go on to serve Arthur as Knights of the Round Table: Gawain, one of his greatest knights; Agravain, a wretched and twisted traitor; Gaheris; and Gareth, a gentle and loving knight.
Years later, her spouse joins the failed rebellions against Arthur that follow in the wake of King Uther's death and the subsequent coronation of his heir. Shortly after her husband's defeat, Morgause visits the young King Arthur in his bedchamber, ignorant of their familial relationship, and they conceive Mordred. Her husband, who has unsuspectingly raised Mordred as his own son, is slain in battle by King Pellinore. Her sons depart their father's court to take service at Camelot, where Gawain and Gaheris avenge Lot's death by killing Pellinore, thereby launching a blood feud between the two families.
Nevertheless, Morgause has an affair with Sir Lamorak, a son of Pellinore and one of Arthur's best knights. Her son Gaheris discovers them in flagrante and swiftly beheads Morgause in bed, but spares her unarmed lover. Gaheris is consequently banished from court of Arthur (though he reappears later in the narrative)."
Some Arthurian literature sources point out the fact that Margawse didn't die when she was beheaded but lived on as an undead Elven queen. There are some who believe that the same debased royal blood flows in the veins of the
the Etienne d'Amberville.Giving the wizards of the Etienne d'Amberville a standing along with other Clark Ashton Smith black  wizards in a tradition similar to the wizards  of the Dying Earth series by Jack Vance.

Woodcut by the Dalziel brothers. An llustration for Edward Moxon's
illustrated edition of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Poems (1857).

These queens that we see from the Arthurian literature are in fact Elven witch cult representatives  directly linked to Dark Albion & the Lion & Dragon Retro clone's version of Elves. The Le Fay family is a royal bloodline that can trace its origins all the way back to the dawn of Europe. A strong familial  narrative has deep ties in Arthurian literature  with the former seat of Elven power in the Welsh Lands;
"The earliest spelling of the name (found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini, written c. 1150) is Morgen, which is likely derived from Old Welsh or Old Breton Morgen, meaning "Sea-born" (from Common Brittonic *Mori-genā, the masculine form of which, *Mori-genos, survived in Middle Welsh as Moryen or Morien; a cognate form in Old Irish is Muirgen, the name of a Christian, shapeshifting female saint who was associated with the sea). The name is not to be confused with the Modern Welsh masculine name Morgan (spelled Morcant in the Old Welsh period).[2][3] As her epithet "le Fay" (invented by Thomas Malory[4] from the earlier French la fée, "the fairy") and some traits indicates, the figure of Morgan appears to have been a remnant of supernatural females from Celtic mythology, and her main name could be connected to the myths of Morgens (or Morgans),[5] which are Welsh and Breton water-spirits. While many later works make her specifically human, she retains her magical powers,[6] and sometimes also her otherworldly if not just divine attributes,[5] in fact still being referred to as either a fairy queen or outright a goddess (dea, déesse, gotinne) by various authors.[7]"

A detail of The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon by Edward Burne-Jones (1898), a painting showing Morgan (with her sisters) in her initial portrayal and role from Vita Merlini.

"Inspiration for her character likely came from earlier Welsh mythology and literature. Speculation sometimes (beginning with Lucy Allen Paton in 1904[8]) connects Morgan with the Irish shapeshifting and multifaced goddess of strife known as the Morrígan ("great queen").[9] Proponents of this have included Roger Sherman Loomis, who doubted the Muirgen connection.[10][11] She has been more substantially linked with the supernatural mother Modron,[5][12][13] derived from the continental mother goddess figure of Dea Matrona and featured with some frequency in medieval Welsh literature. Modron appears in Welsh Triad 70, in which her children by Urien, Owain and Morfydd, are called the "Three Blessed Womb-Burdens of the Island of Britain,"[14] and a later folktale preserved in the manuscript known as Peniarth 147 records the story behind these conceptions more fully.[15] Arthurian legend's version of Urien is Morgan le Fay's husband in the continental romances, while Owain mab Urien is the historical figure behind their son Ywain."

All of this ties into the undead
curse the wizard-noble Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) & his equally insane relatives. This same fey madness that infects the family Le Fey & was checked by Sir Lancelot du Lac's royal family in France for centuries. The Chateau d' Amberville is in fact another adventure location that's been taken to the chaotic & rolling unreality of Fairyland. The Chateau d' Amberville is a dimensional way station lost to time & space where events are locked beyond conventional reality. The place has become a prison for the inhabitants of the  Chateau.  Its also an adventure location where PC's from other OSR games such as Lion & Dragon can clash swords with adventurers from  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition.

The real issue is the various fallen kingdoms that have been lost to Fairyland over the centuries in Europe. Going back all way to the end of the Second Ice Age there have been kingdoms that have been claimed by Fairyland as trophies, chess pieces, or merely lost to the unreality weirdness of the roiling seas of chaos. Many of the kingdoms described in the Arthurian legends are such places.

Gustave Doré's Plate I. "Yniol Shows Prince Geraint His Ruined Castle"  from
Enid, by Lord Alfred Tennyson. London: Edward Moxon & Co., 1868.

The Chateau d' Amberville may be a gateway to literally hundreds of Fairyland dungeon & adventure locations in some of the most dangerous chaos laden lands the PC's have ventured into. There may be ruins dating back to beyond the Ice Age & hidden dangers going back to the Age of Monsters.
There is also the fact that the family of witches of Le Fay & their relatives have the secrets of time, precognition, & dire magicks of Merlin himself. Secrets that they wrestled from him by his seduction by
the Lady of the Lake. Merlin's prison is of course hidden in the groves where the queens meet & war with each other in the magical forest of Brocéliande.
Rumors hold that there doorways there into the  Chateau d' Amberville.
These secrets were used as part of the far future of Zothique which is another manifestation of the wasteland of Athurian legend.
The wasteland of Zothique is a wasteland scorched by chaos & fury of millions of years of conflict of the Great Old Ones, the gods, & chaos itself. The rulers & kings of Zothique continue its corruption. 

This ties back into Clark Ashton Smith's motifs of entropy & ruination the same themes we see in Arthurian legend;
"The Wasteland is a Celtic motif that ties the barrenness of a land with a curse that must be lifted by a hero. It occurs in Irish mythology and French Grail romances, and hints of it may be found in the Welsh Mabinogion.
An example from Irish literature occurs in the Echtrae Airt meic Cuinn (Echtra, or adventure in the Otherworld, of Art mac Cuinn). Recorded in the 14th century but likely taken from an older oral tradition, Echtrae Airt meic Cuinn is nominally about Art, though the adventures of his father Conn of the Hundred Battles take up the first part of the narrative. Conn is High King of Ireland, but his land turns to waste when he marries the wicked Bé Chuma, an unacceptable action for the king. He searches for a way to restore his country by sailing towards the mystical western lands, and eventually washes up on an island inhabited by the niece of the sea god Manannan and her husband. He attends an otherworldly banquet, and when he returns his wife is banished, presumably lifting the curse.
In the Arthurian Grail material, the Wasteland's condition is usually tied to the impotence of its leader. Often the infirmity is preceded by some form of the Dolorous Stroke, in which the king is injured tragically for his sins but kept alive by the Grail. In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail, the Fisher King has been wounded in a misfortune that is not revealed in the incomplete text, and his land suffers with him. He can be healed only if the hero Perceval asks the appropriate question about whom the Grail serves, but warned against talking too much, Perceval remains silent. In the First Continuation of Chrétien's work, the anonymous author recounts how Gawain partially heals the land, but is not destined to complete the restoration. Over the course of time romances place less emphasis on the Wasteland and more on the king's wound. In the Lancelot-Grail Cycle the link between the devastated land and the wounded king is not absolute, and in the Post-Vulgate Cycle much more emphasis is placed on King Pellehan's injury by Sir Balin than on the devastation this causes to his kingdom.
Scholars of the earlier 20th century devoted much study to the Wasteland motif. In one of the more popular works on the subject, From Ritual to Romance, author Jessie Weston suggested that the origin of the motif lies with an otherwise unattested pagan fertility cult. The book is mostly disregarded today, though T. S. Eliot credited it as the source of the title and the largest single influence on his famous poem The Waste Land."

This same theme we see though out the Troll Lord Games book for Castles & Crusades The Codex Celtarum. The otherworld of fairyland is always present to wash away the edges of reality. Castle Amber is that nexus point that provides the most easy & yet dangerous nexus point into these other lands & dimensions of chaos & misfortune.
Adventurers & heroes who decide to interfere in the affairs of Amber are very likely to suffer the wraith of beings from beyond their ken.

While I mostly agree with Tim Brannan on his recent shout out to this blog. There are several quick points I love to address.
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is the far future of Earth after the events of twilight of the gods of mythology. The witch queens & families of fairyland are very dangerous & see the witches of Hyperborea & Zothique as rivals of the highest order. This is a matter of occult warfare & rivalry. The Winters family is the latest addition to the war.

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