Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The d' Amberville Gambit - Campaign Session Commentary Report 1b - Now With More Jame M. Ward

So my Castles & Crusades rpg campaign has been humming along with me updating various adventure elements thanks in part to the Castles & Crusades rpg community on Facebook. I was able to get my local print shop to do an incredible bang up job on my recent purchases from Drivethrurpg.

So I've been incorporating huge swaths of past campaigns & that brings me to one of my most troublesome adventurer patrons & sometimes wizard foe  Stephen d' Amberville. Now d' Amberville first appeared in  X2: "Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville)" (1981), by Tom Moldvay. For the last twenty or so years he's appeared in the background of various campaigns as a high level wizard of near cosmic power. But for some time now I've been toying with the idea of him being completely converted into a Dark Lord ala Ravenloft.  But it feels like Ravenloft is way too well known at this point among players. Others have whispered 'The Haunted Highlands' but that setting deserves its own adventures really. But then a friend recommended James Ward's Tainted Lands . So it was on sale & so I thought why not I'm having it!

Since it came out I've been debating getting 'The Tainted Lands' since  2010 & it was Nicholas B's review that really sealed the deal; "Well, I just wrote a lengthy review that was devoured by rpgnow requiring me to sign in a second time (timed out I guess) and I lack the energy to rewrite this, so I'll just do a summary:

Style/Presentation: there are 5 books included but they are not indexed. The artwork is good, although the new artist's style took a bit of adjusting to get used to. As with all Troll Lords products it could have used a bit more editing. There is confusion on the extra prime rules introduced in the book.
Stand-Alone Usefulness: The book includes a C&C quickstart rules set but the game is clearly written for use with the main books, and so this is of limited usefulness. It works great as a specific campaign setting for C&C, but it is very high powered, and using much of this material in standard C&C games requires careful consideration.
Usefulness as a Horror Setting: This game is clearly inspired by Ravenloft, but it is much closer thematically to the movie Van Helsing or Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. I would also suggest this was a great resource for a Castlevania style game. Characters in this game are tough, very tough. They face slavering hordes of monsters that are just as tough, however; it's a strange mix that felt like a "fantasy heavy metal" take on horror to me.
Contents: Four new classes, a ton of new magic items, gear and spells, a detailed overview of the demiplane and a scenario for 4th level characters that will put them through the wringer of a haunted former keep turned inn turned bastion of EVIL. There is also a PDF with class-based character records and a quickstart rulebook that is more useful as a hand-out to players new to the whole RPG thing than to running the boxed set as is.
Overall: James Ward knows how to write a fun old-school sourcebook. It's not for people who find and crave balance, nor is it for people who learned everything they ever knew about role playing games within the last six years; if you were gaming in the 80's you will grokk what this set is about and appreciate what it's trying to accomplish. It;s very accessible and full of weird over-the-top ideas. Well worth the attention of old school and C&C fans alike. I could also see this being converted to a more modern game like Pathfinder with minor work involved. Fans of WoD games need not apply, this is a brand of heavy metal dark fantasy that has little to do with the precepts of the White Wolf brand names; likewise if you come to this expecting a Ravenloft supplement with the serial numbers filed off you will only be partially correct; the Tainted Lands is closer to James Ward's homebrew Ravenloft, I suspect, than anything else, and the higher overall power level of this game means it will most definitely play out like some sort of dark heroic fantasy than gothic horror.

You can't tell but this part is bursting with undead.
Style: 4/5 -- good art, good layout, needs some errata and editing Rules: 3/5 -- useful for its internal setting, harder to adapt a lot of it to a standard C&C game Readability: 5/5 -- James Ward's relaxed and casual style of writing is a pleasure to read and made this more engaging than many existing C&C modules Overall: 4/5 -- I'm using this for a Tainted Lands campaign "as is", the wacky concepts within make for a singularly unique over-the-top splatterfest campaign; if you like old-school and this sounds intriguing, grab it!"

Heavy Metal Old School Splatterfest sounds about right in my wheel house. And I've been debating about what do about the plane of water seas around my dimensionally travelling Tegel Manor. Matt Finch of Frog God Games happened to put me on the indegogo of 
Island of Sorrow is an adventure for characters levels 3-5 that takes them on a journey across the sea to rescue the lost scion of a wealthy merchant family. Yeah this sound right up my alley for adding it near X1 The Isle of Dread. Seriously this a perfect fit for it.

So over the next couple of days I'm working my coins into getting on board with this funding effort but its gonna be tight. Last night I remembered that  Timothy S. Brannan over at Otherside blog  had covered Tainted Lands in his  Class Struggles: Castles & Crusades Classes.
Here he speaks about modifying the Tainted Lands classes;
Moving on to more C&C specific "worlds" we can first turn to the Tainted Lands. Now to be fair, I was pretty hard on this product when it came out.  I still find faults with it, but I am softening my approach some more.  I just ignore the "Psychic" and "Supernatural" attributes. The nice thing about this setting is it is easily back-adaptable to ad some darkness to your games.  The Tainted Lands also gives us four new classes.  The Witch Hunter (which I have converted to Wisdom), The Metals Master (which I honestly don't use), The Portal Keeper (I use Intelligence instead) and the Vampire (Strength).  Of these, I use the Witch Hunter the most.

The Haunted Highlands are next and have some classes that fit into the same horror or darkness tinged mode.  This includes the Players Guide, the Castle Keeper's Guide and the Black Libram of Naratus.  Now these books hit me right in my home.  Dark, scary, Celtic themed play?  Sign me up!  I will work on getting a full review out for the Haunted Highlands soon.  Case on point, the classes are a revised Assassin, a revised Monk, the Conjurer (Charisma based), the Necromancer (an Inteligence sub-class of the Wizard and which is also detailed at length in the Black Libram of Naratus), and the Witch (Wisdom based)! I could go on and on about the witch here, but it is a very approapriate adaptation of the concept for this setting.  Again. There is so much here to go through that I will have to devote a blog post or two about it.  But I would easily play one of these witches or necromancers."

This sounds very close to some of the Hammer horror Gothic/Gonzo feel that I was looking to inject into my Franco Prussian War Steampunk campaign using Mike Stewart's Victorious rpg as the spine system.  Across the demi planes the Cha'alt warlords & the Slavers are pushing their own agenda. There's lots of weirdness as wizards, dead gods, & others play three tiered planar chess with various realities. The Cha'alt crew wants to bring the whole chess board down or do they?! 

Stephen d' Amberville has been moving various agents into place at key critical junctures. A few of my players in Frog God Games  Encephalon Gorgers on the Moon have encountered the cat's paws of d' Amberville in the form of rival adventuring parties. A great adventure with a dangerous under plot to it.

For these modules I'm looking more at a Bruce Campbell Vs The Army of Darkness meets Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust hence my grabbing James Ward's Tainted Lands.

X2: "Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville)" awaits on its own to spring upon the PC's like some insane wild beast & bring them into its fetid grasp.
Meanwhile an old friend in the form of the lich the  Duke D' Lamont is keeping an eye on the PC's. He's sent the occasional assassin after the party of adventurers after they've broken into his tax collection coffers & caravans over the years. He's got a rivalry going with 
d' Amberville and often seems to squeeze them between these two bastard NPC's. 

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