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."
So let's talk X2 Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay & Clark Ashton Smith to align this with several key things that have happened in my campaigns over the years especially Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. So let's start dealing with the forty ton elephant in the room that nobody ever talks a bout. The wizard-noble Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) is at the center of the module & his curse has been waffling through this module but what's he got to do with AS&SH? Quite a bit because he's another in a long line of deity level wizards that seem to pervade & parade through Clark Ashton Smith's Weird fiction. But I can already hear the rending of robes of old school players & dungeon masters. Yes, Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) was created by Tom Moldvay. But he was created in the mold of the all powerful sorcerer Maal Dweb of the CAS Xiccarph cycle of stories. You can read Flower-Women, The (1935) & Maze of Maal Dweb, The (1938) to get a scale of the sort of a wizard I'm speaking of. Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) has been made in the mold of the some of the morbid occult families of Edgar Allen Poe. He's very powerful with interests across the planes & we get a pretty good overview of his occult interests from X2. But what's it got to do with Hyperborea & CAS's Zothique?
The wizard-noble Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) is using his magics & psionics to peer deeply into other timelines, alternative worlds, & other prime planes. He's been playing a chess game with these places through agents with other wizards from other planes & dimensions. He +may be a rival or friend depending upon the circumstance of Jack Vance's Turjan. " Turjan is a wizard who lives in the castle of Miir, where he keeps the books which contain the 100 spells which remain in human knowledge. At the beginning of the book, Turjan travels to an otherworldly realm to study under the wizard Pandelume, who can teach Turjan the secret of creating artificial life, as well as spells and sciences which are lost to human knowledge. Turjan's adventures often bring him into conflict with other wizards."
The one thing that the Etienne d'Amberville should be watching out for is his own family. He's far too busy plotting, scheming, & vexing the all powerful sorcerer Maal Dweb or building relations with another demon. Why?! Because the powers of chaos are moving rapidly. He's been to Zothique & seen the ancient destruction of what's coming to the world. He's spoken with Yuckla, "the small and grotesque god of laughter" & dined with The Moon-God. Demons were summoned, rites were held, etc. But he's no closer to finding out 'if' & 'when' the world turns dark & the ground cracks with the sound of invading hordes from beyond the pale of the inner world.
Zothique is the far future world millions of years ahead & all of the stars have come right. But is it the far future of Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) world? Well I think that the Ambers control a relatively mundane (for Smith) province in medieval France called Averoigne. The Ambers have been taking full advantage of the fact that their family mansion sits on one of the largest planar lay line points. X2 takes place in X2’s Old Averoigne on Mystara. Mystara has connections to AS&SH's Hyperborea through several focal points in various Mystaran artifacts.My guess is that during the events of Ragnarok that saw the Hyperboreans superseding humanity for a time. They had so sort of trade with Mystara or its skyships. But this didn't last as the Green Death led to their eventual almost extinction.
The Ambers have been the enemies of both the Le Fey royal witch queens & their sister line the Morgause. All of which blends right into the back end of CAS's Enchantress of Sylaire, (1941). The question is are the witch covens of these two powerful families helping the Hyperboreans? Well I mentioned Dark Albion's Cults of Chaos yesterday & its easy to back port that book's witch & elven cults into both X2 & Hyperborea.
Could the players be hired by Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) to explore some Hyperborean dungeon even as he sees his own inevitable death sometime down the line? I can also see the PC's dealing with the high stakes of some of X2's other adventure elements. The module is a classic;"In an earlier review in issue No. 35 of White Dwarf magazine, reviewer Jim Bambra rated Castle Amber 6 out of 10. Bambra saw the adventure as "an attempt to bring randomness back into D&D." Bambra considered Castle Amber a chaotic adventure and did not recommend it for purchase, noting that it "depends a lot on chance, leaving little room for skill, and at times can be deadly." I totally agree with this assessment! More to come!