Friday, 14 November 2014

Ooh-La-la! Chateau d’Amberville, and the Can-Can Cannons.

You either love it or you hate it.

I love it. Well I did. When I was fourteen. I’ll have to run it again to see how I feel about it now, but back then, we played it a lot.It was like you had just eaten a pizza with an extra order of magic mushrooms on top, and were tripping the light fantastic. It was just... weird. Weird in a good way too, not like ‘Curse of Xanathon’ weird, or Castle Greyhawk weird. Chateau d’Amberville kicked ass.

Gaming supplies in South Africa in the early eighties were nigh impossible to find. You had to get what you were given. That’s why you won’t find any of the original Little Brown Books here, or most of the goods that followed. No Gamma World, or Metamorphosis Alpha either. Things changed when the Red Box was released, that you could find, and then they slowly brought in the AD&D stuff, or it might have been the other way around, who knows. One caveat to all of this was that it could be found in Johannesburg, but if you lived in the bundu (hinterlands) like I did, you had to either make the trek north, or rely on hand-me-downs. I relied on the latter.

That's just so, Metal.
I had a cousin who played D&D, and he was swapping it out for AD&D. He would put together these, well, ‘Bundles of Holding’, I suppose, full of rules, and modules, and dice etc. We didn’t have miniatures, but we did have the Prince August moulds, and we would go to the local Fishing shop to buy lead weights that we would then melt down for our figurines. (nothing like a bunch of teenagers handling molten lead in your parent’s kitchen. Fun times!)
Anyway, it was a perfect storm of coolness. It was summer holidays. I had some friends staying over, and the bundle arrived on a Thursday afternoon. There was some awesome stuff if I remember correctly, but the one that jumped out was Castle Amber, not only because it had a reputation for being strange but because it had a colossus that was 100 Hit Dice...surely you jest we said, surely you mean 100 Hit points...Nay! It has three hundred and fifty Hit Points to be precise!
We had never faced anything remotely that big before. We were young, just starting out in Expert level, and this was some serious stuff. Somehow, that became the focus for us, how we were going to take this dude down.

We started on the Friday afternoon, and played right through the night, finishing up sometime Saturday morning after day break. Don’t ask me the specifics, because I can’t tell, I remember snippets here and there: The Tomb of Stephen Amber, a squirrel that turned things to gold, the Wild Hunt, trolls under a bridge, a phantom banquet, werewolves, and lastly, the colossus. By the time we finally encountered this behemoth, we had built him up so much in our mind, that we had strategised ourselves silly planning to kill it. 
But our DM was a canny soul, one who allowed gunpowder in the Averoigne section of the adventure, and so, we hired some local gunners and bombardiers to help us. It was like a scene out of the charge of the light brigade, “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them volley'd and thunder'd; Storm'd at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell..” 

We had them all lined up, and as he advanced, we just blew him to pieces. He did breach our lines though, swiping cannons all over the place, but in the end he went down hard. We tried to sneak a cannon back in with us but the DM put the kibosh on that straight away. I am sure there were other great bits to this game, but that’s the part I remember the best.

That was the summer that I played, the Isle of Dread, Drums on Fire Mountain, Quagmire, Master of the Desert Nomads, and the creepy, Temple of Death. It was a summer to remember, that's for sure, and that is why I have a soft spot for Castle Amber, there are great memories attached to it. That's pretty how much how I define a great module, the fun times we had playing it. Not because it was unique, or broke the mould, or not too railroady, or, or, or however many, other, reasons we apply to our highly personal grading system. To me it's the fun factor, and it always will be.

I'm sure we all have modules that we remember fondly, ones that others probably don't rate that highly, or you never see in, 'best of' lists. I'd like to know what they are.


  1. X2 was my second adult led module, my first being B4: The Lost City and followed by my third I3: Pharoah.

    Nice memories, thanks for sharing.

  2. Lost City is great, so is Pharaoh. I also used to get some serious mileage out of Tomb of the Lizard King.

  3. X2 is the Basic/Expert D&D equivalent of Tomb of Horrors... with a funny hat on. It will kill your characters if the DM plays it straight, but you'll die laughing.

  4. You are right indeed, Chris. It has chewed up more than a few players in its day.

  5. Great read, thanks for sharing your memories. It's been decades since I experienced X2, first as a player and later as a DM. But it sticks out in my memory as being both weird and dangerous.

    1. Weird and dangerous indeed...can't complain about that! I am thinking about wheeling it out of retirement soon.