Rethinking X2 - Castle Amber

I was looking for a relatively self-contained adventure for a one-shot game I was putting on for a group of folks recently. I was looking for an adventure that would fit in with the old "You suddenly appear in a setting where you weren't earlier..." trope (Hello Guardians of the Flame series). Something that could be self contained, but provide a lot of interesting opportunities for exploration. And it had to lend itself to a bit of salacious content. The adults playing in this one-shot would be looking for that.

I looked at B3 - Palace of the Silver Princess for a bit, but decided that it just didn't have a vibe, even though I could tinker with it and recast it. Then, for some reason, I kept remembering a module I had read about from old blog posts, one with a giant crushing a castle tower. The reviews made it sound like something I might use for this situation. Viola, I found my copy of X2 PDF stashed on my hard drive and went to work reading it through.

This is where I probably get my grognard card yanked... I have read very little on Appendix N of AD&D 1st edition.

You know, the sacred list of the holy texts of pulp fiction and sci-fi that the authors of D&D felt "were of particular inspiration to me." Yea, I didn't read so many of those. A bit of Moorcock, Norton, Saberhagen and definitely Tolkein. But most of my inspiration for learning and playing D&D is from contemporary or really obscure sources.

That means that going into the module X2 - Castle Amber, I had no real knowledge of Clark Ashton Smith and his Averoigne stories. I may have read a story or two of his from an anthology, but nothing that ever stood out in my mind. I approached this module on the basis of what it provided for me alone.

TLDR: My read thru of X2 - The Mansion - left me feeling like everyone sits in their rooms, waiting for something to happen. BORING. I'm surprised for a module with this popularity and source material, that the writers didn't do that. So I juiced it up. I blame for opening my eyes to this sort of thing.

==== NOTE: Spoilers follow. If you haven't played or don't want to know, don't read further. ====

For atmosphere, self-contained, modding possibilities and the inclusion of salaciousness, X2 is a great choice. A family of chaotic, BORED personalities with a name and knowledge/power. So many possibilities!

To fit the on-shot time, I limited the play to the mansion alone. I cut out the dungeon, Averoigne and the Tomb. Mainly for time, because I know that 4 hours is not enough for these players to get through the whole thing. I like having event games where there's a good chance of success - I prefer those games where there is an ending in sight!

If the players make it to Simon in the Sanctum Sanctorium, he's guarding the silver gate with the keyholes. Taking the silver gate allows the players to return to "The Real World." Red Pill, anyone?

So - the mansion. Full of family members of the D'Amberville family. Lots of crazy little touches that lend themselves to being converted to a more salacious or even kinky tone... but as I'm reading through, I get the distinct sense of ... yawn.

The West Wing, for instance:
  • Jean-Louis is running a boxing match, and invites the players to attend. He's sitting on a chest of loot. That's it. Get rewarded for a fight or kill him and his buddies.
  • Rakastas are sitting around in a room full of treasure. They'll attack. Kill them, loot, move on.
  • A Dining Room that SCREAMS to be the focal point of things... but you interact with the dishes and that's it.
  • Arachnae Lair - fight and loot.
  • A Master Bedroom with a lion-man - Richard D'Amberville. Nothing else other than "If he's mad, he roars and attacks." Kill, loot.
  • Wraiths in a bedroom. Kill, loot. 
That's it. The text of the adventure to help set the mood and tone are more worried about making sure the players are given the softest of pillows to make it through unscathed. There's no atmosphere, no suggestions of any factions or disputes or ... nothing. YAWN! ZZzzzzz...

Now, I know I'm stepping a metric-shit-ton of toes here, because I went through the various blogs and found that this module was played a lot by kids my age back in the day. Clearly, there's a lot of love for this module, but as I said, I'm not steeped in CAS lore, so the way the module presents the various D'Amberville members is pretty boring.

So... time for me to jack this up. Make it more interesting and challenging.

Let's rethink the West Wing -
  • Jean Louis sees Richard as a rival. He wants to force Richard out of the West Wing. Richard wants Jean Louis to get off his jock, yo! So Richard with the rakastas is opposed by Jean Louis with the arachnae and magmen. They're at a stalemate - the PCs represent new pawns to be used. So each NPC and their aligned monsters aren't going to auto attack-kill. They're going to negotiate, seduce, bribe or otherwise try to get the players to join their side. While all the players want to do is get the frak outta Dodge and get home.
  • The rakasta are having their version of "furry fun" in the room where they're guarding a silver key. They'll trade it in exchange for a PC who will stay behind when the rest go through the gate, to return and join in the kitty-cat fun. They'll take the PCs to Richard to help seal the deal.
  • That boring linen closet? Now featuring ghostly servants visit to change sheets in the various bedrooms (which gives a 1 to 2 in 6 chance of showing up in any of the bedrooms and possibly revealing the secret doors within).
  • Make those two bedrooms with the ogre and wraiths as wing bedrooms to Richard's master bedroom (so ogre in 9, Richard in 10, wraiths in 11.)
  • Rather than have wraiths just auto-kill, have them seduce and drain via giving the PCs their most carnal desires. It won't look like an attack, until it's too late... Richard sends rude guests to 11 to "relax" so he can kill them off and make them into more ghost servants.
  • Wandering monsters become residents of the wing walking about. Or a pair of floating wizard eyes (like the ones in the boxing match room.)
  • The Dining Room. Focal point of the conflict. Both Jean Louis and Richard invite the PCs to dine with them and take them to the Dining room... where the other shows up and it's a tense stand off. Do the PCs waste time and fight, or do they say "Not my circus, not my monkeys" and head off to the woods? 
For every area - West Wing, Indoor Forest, East Wing and Chapel, I had to do a lot of this. The only time that the module provided some pre-established conflict was between Madeline D'Amberville and her brother, Charles in the chapel. Loved it! 

You get the idea. I was surprised that for such a highly regarded, fondly-remembered module like X2, I had to do a lot of this. And maybe that's the biggest lesson of these modules. A lot of them have wonderful germs and seeds, but it really takes going through them and tweaking them and adding in those touches, factions and conflicts that makes the module and setting come alive. 

Dammit, Bryce @ ... you're rubbing off, man!


  1. FWIW, Michael, the larger Averoigne wilderness setting is what attracted me to the module BITD, rather than the mansion itself (or it's pre-Ravenloft-like misty deus-ex-machina PC entry scenario).

    IIRC (and it has been quite awhile since I read X2) there are no D'Amberville characters explicitly ripped from CAS' stories, although "Genius Loci" does features an Amberville artist. Taking the module and then factionalizing it looks good based on your outline.

    You can read "Genius Loci" @ if you'd like. Other Averoigne stories definitely include more sexual elements, if that would help frame the larger setting/context (and perhaps encourage/allow for the PCs to explore outside of the mansion in later sessions?): "A Rendezvous in Averoigne" is one, you can check the others out via the links @



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