I’ve gotten my players into this module: Castle Amber (Spoilers ahead). It’s a reworking of a module from the very oldest of schools in D&D. Goodman Games has done an excellent modernization of it. Not only that, but it has gone off marvelously with my great group of players.
This adventure is a “funhouse” dungeon, very old-school and dangerous. Lots of “gotchas.” It’s a large mansion filled with well over 100 rooms to explore, and each one has some crazy thing inside. Like a funhouse. It kicks off in proper fashion with the party waking up in a deserted foyer with deadly mists outside the front door.
Once the party gets it together to move into the mansion, they are presented with such obstacles as a boxing ring with a magical automaton, an indoor forest, a dungeon, and an entire world beyond the walls of mansion. The world of Averogne is based on France, and it’s fleshed out in this reissued updated module.
One of the bits that I was most excited about was the feast. A spectral feast awaits the adventurers in the first few rooms, and my players went at it with gusto. Now, you must realize that some of the design inherent in this adventure is based on fear: fear of the unknown, of dangerous traps, of all manner of crazy gotchas.
The introduction, written by someone who played the original module in the 80’s, describes a party so terrified by one rooms’ description, they simply leave it and never come back or even attempt to solve the puzzles inside. “Timid” is the operative word here.
So seeing my group’s cleric of luck, Ron, just charge ahead into everything (including the portal that got them to the castle in the first place) was refreshing, and downright unexpected. The party went for the feast and fell hook line and sinker for all the evil it contained.
The feast is very simple, in terms of adventure D&D faire, but it was super effective. A room of dusty dinnerware suddenly transforms into a ghostly feast with empty chairs and name cards for the players. Anyone who sits is served a 10 course meal, and to my surprise, the entire party sat down. Ron dove into the first course. He immediately received +3 permanent hit points!
Well, that was it, the party was hooked. And the way the feast works, each course offered a boon, or was at the very least delicious. Some courses added immunity to poison, permanently. Others granted a once per week ability to read thoughts. Ron chomped through making and failing saving throws: you have to do both in order to get all the boons. Some courses grant boons to failed saves only, you see.
Ron was just getting boon after boon, and some of the other members of the party were getting them occasionally. They were mostly non-committal: eating some courses, but not others. There was a general aura of distrust among my players, and Miah, Jerry, and Keith weren’t touching ANYTHING. Meanwhile, 9 courses into the feast, Ron was now immune to the effects of starvation, permanently.
On the other side of the virtual table, Jerry was skeptical. Jerry, you see, is the perpetual “bad decision” guy in the party. Every time he has an idea, it blows up in his face. I’m probably way too mean to Jerry as the DM, but 9 times out of 10, it’s not me being mean! It’s the module. Jerry just has the uncanny habit of always picking the one exact bad action the authors of the adventure anticipated.
If there is a trap, Jerry will not only trigger it, but he will trigger it twice if possible. 3 times, even. Or he’ll fail his trap disarming throw. Or he’ll send his mage hand into a hidden nest of slumbering gricks.
Well, today, Jerry was extra careful. He didn’t touch a single course. Not one single course. Not a sip of wine, not a bite of roast beef, no onion soup, no wheat bread, no dessert, not a sausage.
Until the final item on the menu was dispensed. Brandy. And all but three of the 4 players partook, Jerry among them. It was the only thing he consumed.
According to the adventure, anyone who failed a wisdom saving throw upon drinking the brandy (and many had minuses to that because they’d drunk the wine and become inebriated) would vanish into thin air along with the other spectral dinner guests upon completion of the meal, never to return.
And *Poof*, there went Jerry and Ron and the rest. With only Keith’s young lady monk, Miah’s ranger, and Travis’ sorcerer left, I decided to come up with SOMETHING the party could do immediately to get their friends back. I whipped up, out of thin air, the idea that the last member of the Amber family they’d met, Jean-Louis, would know of a ritual to bring them back from the feast, but it’d take a full day.
Jean-Louis is a lover of the martial arts. He was enamored with Keith’s monk from the moment the party entered his boxing room. This is room #3 on the map, a very early encounter. Really, the first in the mansion.
The adventure clearly states that upon entering the room, Jean-Louis welcomes the party and asks if any players are interested in challenging his magical automaton to a bare knuckle boxing match. He is pleased if any members of the party accept his offer, as he’s very bored, cursed to live in this limbo mansion for all eternity. He pays handsomely for anyone who wins, and even pays those who lose against his wax magic boxing bot.
And so Jean-Louis is an NPC waiting for someone to box his champion, and delights in finding a worthy challenger for his creation. In our game, I never got to read his intro speech or even introduce Jean-Louis. When I read his boxing room description and mentioned the boxing ring, Keith’s monk ran across the room and jumped into the ring, no prompting, no questions asked. Jean-Louis hadn’t even opened his mouth yet to say “hi.”
The monk then proceeded to knock out the boxing bot in 2 rounds of combat, because as you know, monks hit like 5 times a round. It was like Jackie Chan taking on Robby the Robot. Jean-Louis was beside himself with delight.
So when the remaining players, including Keith’s monk, returned to Jean-Louis to ask him to perform this DM-improvised “bring everyone back to life” ritual, I was hard pressed to find a reason for him not to help out.
The remaining players acquiesced to his initial description of the day-long revival ritual, and seemed happy. I panicked. This should be more difficult, or at the very least, weirder. The Amber family, you see, are all mad. Keith’s monk was a bit of a prude, her being a monk and all, so in my panic I had Jean-Louis demand everyone in the party participate in the day long ritual naked.
Now, the thing you must understand about Keith is that he is a master role player. A practical elder god. He hit random a few times when generating his character. One of the flaws that came up–and he committed to playing whatever came up before he’d seen it–was that his monk was a hopeless romantic.
She falls madly in love with people, but only on a failed saving throw.
Well, she, rather than being repelled by the nude ritual, failed the saving throw and fell madly in love with Jean-Louis. A very awkward bit followed, where Keith vainly tried to annoy Jean-Louis with too much chatter on boxing and martial combat, thus ending the brief and weird relationship.
Of course, this was the exact wrong thing to do. Jean-Louis is the owner of the boxing ring and ADORES boxing and martial combat. Keith was having a really difficult time graciously role playing a way for me to end this incredibly weird encounter and move the game along, but he’d stepped right in it again, and now his character and Jean-Louis were destined star-crossed lovers. The party was all nearby, too. Naked. It was weird.
The party was sitting around, watching all of this, awkwardly going through a long rest. I envision the now rematerialized player characters coming to at the end of the ritual, looking around and asking “Why’s everyone naked?”
“That was his idea,” they’d say, and point at Jean-Louis. And, thus, my idea to make everyone think this NPC was insane worked, I suppose. The adventure actually anticipates that the party might win the favor of the various members of the Amber family, but I don’t think it anticipated any of the player characters becoming romantically involved with them inside of the first 5 rooms.
Also, this makes it harder to piece meal out info on the mansion, as Jean-Louis is very specifically allowed to answer all questions about the Ambers and their home and lands if the party wins his favor.
I’d say they won his favor.