Castle Amber Designer’s Diary: Castle Renovations
by Michael Curtis
One of the great benefits of working on any Original Adventures Reincarnated book is you get to play in the sandboxes other talent designers constructed. This gives you the opportunity to embellish on existing works, adding flourishes and the occasional entirely new area or three to surprise players familiar with the original work. Castle Amber was no exception and, with an already weird castle and eccentric occupants to start from, I had a much freer hand in bringing more to the feast (and not just the ghostly one, either).
I started by taking a look at the existing castle and immediately saw what was missing: there’s a whole lot of people living in the place, but very few beds for them to sleep in. With nowhere else to go but up, I added a second story to both the East and West Wings of the chateau, providing plenty of space for new mundane room, then immediately twisted them into something more at home in Castle Amber. Many of the rooms are the quarters of individual Amber family members, allowing both the DM and the party greater insights into these individuals’ personalities, interests, and—in some cases—plots. Other rooms range from the dangerous, to the beneficial, to the downright zany. So no matter what door the party opens, something interesting should be behind it, waiting for them.
As I was going up, Bob Brinkman started digging down. In the Indoor Forest, the original adventure states that one of the Amber family has a hunting lodge of sorts located beneath a hill. The adventurers, if unlucky, might even see the hunting party emerge from their subterranean lair and ride off to track down prey—most likely the PCs! But what if the hunting party gets defeated or if the PCs figure out a way to get under the hill by their own efforts? Bob managed to build a weird little mini-dungeon to expand on what Castle Amber has to offer adventurers.
Lastly, people familiar with the adventure might recall that it takes a prolonged detour into the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, specifically his Averoigne cycle of stories. TSR originally received permission from the Clark Ashton Smith estate to include material taken directly from Smith’s own work. Nearly forty years later, we didn’t have the luxury of such an agreement (although I very much wished we did, because I could write an entire boxed set campaign setting for Averoigne if someone would let me). I managed to build upon Averoigne despite this, especially enlarging and further detailing the four side adventures that are given only cursory descriptions in the original modules. In other places, I had to employ more traditional, non-intellectual property creatures, characters, and ideas, but I assure you they all feel right at home in Averoigne and you’d half-expect them to appear in one of CAS’ stories anyway.
The converted and expanded Castle Amber gives groups a ton of material to play through, both in the form of Tom Moldvay’s original adventure and my own elaborations upon it. The players could spend several months just exploring through the Castle alone. And, if their adventurers aren’t lucky or smart enough to figure out how to break the Curse of Stephen Amber, the PCs might be stuck exploring it for eternity…