Problems with Castle Amber: The Averoigne Quest

The Averoigne section of Castle Amber has always been the module’s best part (which is saying a lot, since the whole module is excellent), and that remains true in the special revamped version from Goodman Games. If your PCs survive the crazy Amber family, and then make it through the dungeon beneath the castle, they are transported to an alternate medieval France, where they need to find four special items to unlock Stephen Amber’s tomb. The quest takes them east to Sylaire, west to Perigon, north to Vyones, and south to Ximes — all whilst evading the arm of the inquisition. Magic use is illegal, after all, and the church takes seriously its mandate to execute heretics, sorcerers, and people who aren’t human (like elves and dwarves). It’s a classic quest in a brilliantly conceived setting, and one of my all-time favorites.

But there’s a very big “but” coming. Nowadays I find that this section needs a lot of work. As it stands, it’s skimpy on details and lazily contrived. The PCs dash around Averoigne and just happen to show up in places where calamities are happening simultaneously, requiring their heroic intervention. The Colossus is about to destroy the town of Vyones; the otherworldly Beast of Averoigne is terrorizing Perigon; etc. In Clark Ashton Smith’s stories, the catastrophes happen centuries apart: the Colossus in the 13th century, the Beast in the 14th, the Sylaire werewolf in the 15th, etc. But in the module every Averoigne tragedy occurs at the same time (whenever that happens to be; the year and century are unclear) for convenience of game plotting. It would be like going to an alternate United States where the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Columbine shootings, and 9/11 all happen at the same time. Imagine: the PCs arrive in Colorado just as the shootings are about to start; then they travel to Oklahoma an hour before the bomb goes off; next they come to New York City as the terrorist planes are leaving Boston. I’ve never been a stickler for realism in D&D (this is a game, after all), but I sure as hell design plots better than this. Players deserve better, and to not have their intelligence insulted.

Even worse is that mysteries unravel in the blink of an eye. The PCs enter the abbey at Perigon on the night they arrive, and right away the possessed abbot just happens to step into a ray of comet light that reveals he is the Beast. Seriously. The players don’t have to lift a finger to solve the mystery; it just solves itself as they step on stage. Other scenarios are a bit banal, like the killing of the evil werewolf to obtain the Sword of Sylaire from the lady Sephora. In the classic Averoigne story, the werewolf is the victim and Sephora secretly the evil one; that makes things a lot more interesting. Thus in my revision below, Sephora is a seductress/rapist, and she has erotic-based spells that inflame lust and turn men into sex slaves.

Most surprising is the missed opportunity with the potion of time travel (one of the four items needed to break the Amber curse). The module provides no real opportunity to use the potion and do any time traveling, and again the contrast with the source material is striking. In Smith’s story “The Holiness of Azédarac”, the main character travels back in time 700 years, to a period before Christianity became the state religion of France. In my revisions of the module, the PCs likewise go back in time — multiple times, in fact, as each of the four magic items must be retrieved from a different time period: the Sword of Sylaire in 1452 AD, the Ring of Eibon in 1369 AD, the Viper-Circled Mirror in 1286 AD, and the final potion of time travel in 1171 AD.

These dates are all very close (if not identical) to the time periods that Smith used in his tales. So instead of landing in Averoigne during an unspecified time when every worst calamity just happens to be striking the land at once, the PCs purposely go back in time to each of these crisis points, when the magic items were last known to be seen. (They obtain these dates on the scroll in Castle Amber that gives clues about the items.) My modified scenarios follow the source material more faithfully than the module does, and the result is that the four-part quest ends up being more fun and complex, and with a variety of outcomes possible.

I also suggest dungeon layouts that can be used for each place, as the Castle Amber module provides nothing and leaves it to the DM. I also allow for various ways the PCs might deal with the crisis when they arrive, rather than railroad them on the predetermined paths of the module.

The starting point for the PCs is the year 1590 AD (I assign that date as the present time), which they reach by passing through the silver-keyed gate in Castle Amber. From 1590, they must take carefully measured doses of time-travel potions to go back to 1452 (for the Sword of Sylaire), and then 1369 (for the Ring of Eibon), and then 1286 (for the Viper-Circled Mirror), and then 1171 (for a final potion of time travel). As in Smith’s tales, the potions can only take you backward in time, not forward; so this will be the necessary order in retrieving the magic items. As soon as they arrive in 1590, this will all be explained to them by the ancient mage Moriamis, who is waiting for them at the crossroads inn (Area 2 on the map above). Though they have no idea who she is, she knows them quite well, for it’s the fifth time (for her) that they have met. It’s only the first time for them, because they are about to start moving back in time; they will rendez-vous with her at the crossroads inn after each time-jump, where she will be waiting to give them the proper doses of time-travel potions to keep them going backwards, after they obtain the magic item they came for.

Here’s a summary of the five-part adventure. The first part is a prologue, since the quest proper doesn’t start until they get to 1452.

1. The King of France (1590 AD)

The party materializes in Averoigne, near the crossroads inn called the Inn of Jeune Vaillance (the “Inn of Young Bravery”), on a snowy December 25. They have arrived during the final years of the French Wars of Religion (1562-98) as the Protestant Henry IV is doing his damnedest to take his throne. The innkeeper is Honoré Bouchard, a raving Calvinist, but a friendly enough one. He’s a strong supporter of the Huguenots and his king Henry IV. The inn has been a clandestine Protestant establishment since the ultra-conservative Catholic Holy League took over the city of Vyones almost two years ago. Now it is openly Protestant, since last week, when Henry kicked the League out of Averoigne. As the party arrives, there is a raucous Christmas party going on at the inn.

For the past 16 months, the people of Averoigne have been torn between a Protestant heretic claiming the throne, and the inquisitional terrorists of the Catholic League, who are seeking an outside candidate from Spain. Neither option is appealing. The vast majority of Averoignians — indeed most French citizens — want a native French Catholic on the throne, and for the League’s reign of terror to stop.

The party enters the densely-packed Inn of Jeune Vaillance, where Henry IV is staying overnight as a guest, preparing to travel south. He is entertaining other guests, promising that he will lay siege to Paris again, take back the capital, and put an end to the religious wars that have been tearing apart France for decades. When the innkeeper Honoré praises him and says that Henry belongs on his rightful throne, the king laughs and shouts across the room: “I rule with my ass in the saddle and a gun in my fist!” He then pulls out his pistol and shoots a bullet into the ceiling. The patrons cheer and applaud. Even the many Protestant-haters are forgiving on this holiday night, since Henry has just liberated Averoigne from the terrors of the Holy League.

Moriamis walks into the inn and sits down at the PCs’ table. They are meeting her for the first time and have no idea who she is. But she is meeting them for the fifth time, since they are about to travel backwards. She gives them potions of time travel, measured in precise doses to take each of them back to a precise day in 1452 AD, where they must get the Sword of Sylaire.

This first part set in 1590 is a prologue to the quest, but the DM may choose to jazz it up with an assassination attempt on Henry IV, by agents of the Holy League. Or perhaps the League has amassed an army to besiege the inn. After dealing with the League and saving the king’s life (assuming the PCs choose to do that and succeed), the PCs drink their potions and vanish back in time.

2. The Seductress of Sylaire (1452 AD)

They materialize at the same place they left, the crossroads inn, now called the Inn of Grosse Bectance (the “Inn of Large Meals”). It is Midsummer’s Eve, June 24. They meet Moriamis again (for their second time, and her fourth time), and she gives them potions of time travel again, measured just right to take them back to a certain day in 1369 AD, where they must get the Ring of Eibon. Before that, they travel east into the haunted woods to get the Sword of Sylaire.

They come to Sylaire and are hosted by the lady Sephora in her castle that she rules alone. She presents herself as a benign steward of the faerie land of Sylaire. In truth she is a monstrous seductress and rapist, who uses men as sex slaves and kills most of them afterwards. She admits that she owns the Sword of Sylaire, and will give it to the PCs on the condition that they slay “the werewolf of Sylaire”, which she claims is a dangerous beast that has been stalking her domain. It’s a lie; the werewolf of Sylaire is actually not dangerous at all. It’s a man who used to be her lover whom she cursed by turning him into a werewolf. How events unfold depends on the party, but it will probably end on a showdown with Sephora, who will use spells like mass ecstasy or mass lust on the entire group, and from there use other spells like masturbation, lightning bolt, strip, torture, feeblemind, power word castrate, and prismatic spray.

Sephora’s Castle? The module provides no layout for her tower/castle. Use the castle from “Lady of the Mists”, Dungeon Magazine #42. It works well with some tweaking, and provides a solid dungeon area with creative traps and illusions. Sephora might hide the Sword of Sylaire, for instance, in the secret room (Room 15, on the Second Floor) if the PCs refuse to kill her former lover, and if they can’t find that room, they might to have to ascend to the Fifth Floor for a nasty showdown with the lady.

If they obtain the sword and escape Sylaire, they return to the crossroads inn and drink their potions.

3. The Beast of Averoigne (1369 AD)

They materialize again outside the crossroads inn, now called the Inn of Bien-Pensance (the “Inn of the Right-Minded”), on October 28. The innkeeper is a mole for the inquisition, and at the slightest hint of any sorcerous guests (or non-human ones) he will report them by sending a raven to the archbishop of Vyones. They meet Moriamis again (for their third time, and her third time, but from opposite directions), and she gives them potions of time travel again, measured to take them back to a day in 1286 AD, where they must get the Viper-Circled Mirror. Before that, they travel west to the city of Perigon to get the Ring of Eibon.

They come to Perigon on November 1, where citizens look terrorized. For about a month a demonic reptilian beast has been stalking prey by night, killing both people and mammals, both within the city and outside it. The PCs investigate, and the clues lead then to a white magician named Luc le Chaudronnier, one of the very rare mages given dispensation by the church to use magic for the common good. The Beast attacked him and left him wounded and near death. Le Chaudronnier tells the PCs that he saw the Beast emerging from the abbey at sundown, and so that may be where the creature is hiding during daytime. The PCs investigate the abbey, meet the abbot, and begin to take on an intense investigation of the place and all the monks. It turns out the Beast is a demon that is possessing the abbot, who undergoes a transformation into the reptilian creature at sunset, and can never remember anything about being transformed when morning comes. He has no idea he is possessed or that he has killed so many people. Depending on what they do, they may end up killing the Beast (which kills the abbot, but not the demon who simply returns to its real body), exorcising the abbot (which liberates him and banishes the demon from ever possessing him again), banishing the demon (which liberates the abbot temporarily), banishing the demon permanently (if they can find the Ring of Eibon before confronting the Beast, as the ring has that mighty power), or finding where the demon’s real body is resting and destroying it (so that it takes years to respawn itself in the Abyss). There are many possibilities, depending on how shrewd and creative the PCs are.

The Abbey? The module provides no layout for the abbey (in no small part because the adventure is over almost as soon as the PCs walk into it, as the mystery absurdly solves itself before their eyes!). Use the abbey from Master of the Desert Nomads (module X4). The basic layout of the compound works perfectly, though of course it’s real Christian monks who live here, not undead. The demon’s catatonic body can be resting in the catacomb crypts beneath the abbey (at location 1c), as its incorporeal form is possessing the abbot. You can have some fun, by having a handful of renegade monks under the deputy abbot worshiping the demon in a part of the temple area (K8) that’s been converted into a secret shrine protected with illusions.

The next day is All Souls Day (November 2), and the bells toll for a special mass, celebrating Perigon’s liberation. If the PCs have obtained the Ring of Eibon, they return to the crossroads inn and drink their potions.

4. The Colossus of Ylourgne (1286 AD)

They materialize yet again at the crossroads inn, now called the Inn of Haute Esperance (the “Inn of High Hopes”), on April 18, three days before Easter. They meet Moriamis again (for their fourth time, and her second time), and she gives them potions of time travel that will take them back to a particular day in 1171 AD, where they must obtain two potions of time travel from an evil bishop (one for themselves, and one for Moriamis, so that she can analyze it and learn the recipe). Before that, they travel north to the capital of Vyones to get the Viper-Circled Mirror.

They arrive at the capital on April 21, Easter Day, to a scene of utter chaos. Masses of refugees are packed into the city, carrying all their worldly possessions, seeking safety behind the 60-foot high walls. The PCs learn that a hideous giant 80-feet tall is stalking the lands around the Vyones, laying waste to whatever lies in its path. It smashes farmhouses flat with a club made from a huge tree, and it hurls livestock and people to their dooms. This Colossus does not appear to be a living creature, but a scourge of necromancy, created by a black magician to wreak vengeance on the people of Vyones who once banished him from the city. The magician has been waiting for this Easter Day to destroy Vyones, in order to blaspheme Jesus Christ as offensively as possible. He built the Colossus from dozens of corpses that he stole from local graveyards, and he’s quite proud of his grotesque parody of the “resurrection of the dead”. The PCs either volunteer to destroy the Colossus, or they are forced into doing so by the city officials if they try to steal the Viper-Circled Mirror. Either way, they are given the mirror if they succeed in saving the city.

Dungeon Layouts? Unlike the other three parts, this one doesn’t require a dungeon. The map of Vyones is all you need.

If the PCs do get the mirror, they return to the crossroads in and drink their potions.

5. The Bishop of Ximes (1171 AD)

They materialize for their final time at the crossroads inn, now called the Inn of Bonne Jouissance (the “Inn of Good Pleasures”), on January 3. They meet Moriamis for their fifth time, but her first. She has no idea who they are or the things they have already done together in the future. They must persuade her to work with them to defeat Bishop Azedarac of Ximes, and then steal his potions of time travel, so that she can learn the recipe, and create potions for their past selves in the future. Azedarac invented the time travel magic, and this is why the quest “starts” with him (even though the PCs are ending at the start).

They arrive in Ximes on Epiphany (the Twelfth Day of Christmas), and find Azedarac at the cathedral square healing people of disease. The city has been suffering from a plague for three and a half months. The bishop is a controversial figure, believed by many to be a miracle-working saint, by others to be a Satanist who delves in black magic. In fact he serves the Cthulhu entity Yog-Sothoth. His bodyguard is a Hospitaller Knight, a crusader (paladin) who fought in the wars against Egypt (1163-69), and he assists the bishop in his healing miracles. He too is suspect, and rightly so, for he is actually an anti-paladin, born of an incubus (male demon) and a female human. The bishop and his knight are the ones responsible for the plague, and they enjoy playing saviors while most of the citizens suffer and die. The PCs can stop the plague by killing the Hospitaller and destroying his artifact that causes the plague, hidden in the lowest level of the bishop’s castle. The potions of time travel are kept on a high level of the castle, in the bishop’s studio. They can infiltrate the castle in a number of ways, and how things play out depends largely on whether the PCs find the secret way of teleporting inside the castle, or if they have to go to the castle and find some way over the moat and break in.

Ximes? The Bishop’s Castle? There is no map of Ximes in the revamped module, but that’s not a big problem. What’s really needed is a layout for the bishop’s castle, and perfect for this is Ulmade Castle from “The Forgotten Man”, Dungeon Magazine #75. With minimal tweaking, this fortress is ideally suited for an evil bishop of the 12th century. There is a torture tower, a chapel, libraries and a lab, and the bottom levels are the domain of the anti-paladin, who creates undead and wields an evil staff that casts plague over the region of Ximes.

If the PCs obtain the potions, they give one (along with Azedarac’s recipe) to Moriamis to ensure that she will keep making more potions to give to their past selves in her future. The other they take for themselves, and they can finally do as the Castle Amber scroll advises: they hang the Ring of Eibon on the snake’s tail of the Viper-Circled Mirror; they anoint the Sword of Sylaire with the potion; they shatter the mirror with the sword; and they vanish from Averoigne, appearing before Prince Stephen’s tomb.

6 thoughts on “Problems with Castle Amber: The Averoigne Quest

  1. This is quite a great rewrite of the Averoigne part of the module! I will surely use it in my game, as soon as the PCs get to Averoigne (which will take quite some time, as they still need the third key).
    One question: When would you think the d´Ambrevilles departed from Averoigne? They seem to me as a late-medieval or even early renaissance people, less of high middle ages. So, with your chronology, earliest might be the colossus era (which might lead to a witch-hunt), and the latest probably the Sylaire era.
    Another question: does anybody remember the family? Or did the gate conveniently eradicate the memory of them as well?

  2. In my revision, the Ambers fled Averoigne to Glantri in 1452 AD, which means the Sylaire part of the module takes place the exact year they left (though that doesn’t have any bearing on the plot). The disappearance of the castle (from Stephen’s curse) happened 138 years after their arrival, which is how I derive 1590 AD as the present time, assuming the years go by at the same rate in the alternate worlds. I agree with you, the Ambers feel like part of the late middle ages, and I wanted to make their departure at the tail end of that, around the middle of the 15th century.

    Another point: The castle has been suspended in time, which means no time has passed at all except on the inside of it. The trapped Amber family haven’t needed to eat or drink, and haven’t aged, in a long time (as they’ve experienced it) and have become incredibly bored. I made the “castle-curse time” 83 years, though that figure has no bearing on time outside the castle. In the worlds outside the castle (Mystara and Averoigne), it’s still been 138 years since the departure from Averoigne (not 221).

    I assume that some people do remember the legacy of the Amber family in Averoigne, but it doesn’t bear much on the adventure.

  3. That is a very well developed line of reasoning there, thanks a lot for sharing. I think I will need to redo the dates on the family tree, as I used the ones given in Mark of Amber, but your ideas hold up much better.

    I do seem to recall in some later product that Sephora (I think) was a former lover of Stephen Amber, so that might be interesting if the subject of the Amber family comes up. Perhaps the disappearance of the amber family has something to do with her evil disposition.
    Several of the Averoigne NPCs do appear in Glantri, so some connection might be interesting. IIRC, Sephora, Malachie and Moriamis were there.

  4. I totally agree with you, and this problem could be found virtually in every other old school D&D adventures, especially the oldest ones. In my opinion it’s because of the age in which they were conceived and written: laye 70’s / early 80’s, an era in which fantasy (with a lil boost of hallucinating drugs) prevailed upon reality in every aspect, so it’s no wonder to find 20 different types of monsters, one in each room of a dungeon, and all fighting against the PCs and not between them, just to mention one aspect.

    I am adapting X2 module for 5e ruleset and I am totally reimagining the d’Ambreville family members, they relationships between each others, their love/hate, their psychology and their motivations behind their actions, in order to make it more logically consisting.

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