Inspired by the Weird Fiction of Clark Ashton Smith: Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay

Inspired by the Weird Fiction of Clark Ashton Smith: Castle Amber by Tom Moldvay

Castle Amber
(TSR, 1981). Cover by Erol Otus

Castle Amber (aka Château d’ Amberville) by Tom Moldvay (RIP) is a classic D&D adventure that I first enjoyed as a player at age 10 and later as DM. Published in 1981 by TSR, Castle Amber has a wonderful cover by Erol Otus, and excellent interiors by Otus, Jim Holloway (RIP), Harry Quinn, Jim Rosolf (RIP), and Stephen Sullivan (he did the maps, I’m assuming).

I didn’t appreciate it as a youth, but this module was largely inspired by the weird fiction of Clark Ashton Smith — specifically his Averoigne Cycle of stories, which were set in a fictional counterpart of a province of France. Smith called this part of Southern France “the most witch-ridden in the entire country.” Smith has been a huge inspiration to me in my own RPG work, and I never tire of rereading his poetry and fiction.

[Click the images for castle-sized versions.]

The Castle Amber booklet

In Moldvay’s adventure, the cursed castle of the Amber family is surrounded by a deadly mist, contains strange and haunted inhabitants, and within its walls there lies a portal to Averoigne (of CAS inspiration).

Castle Amber is rich with flavor, tragic history, and weird happenings. This is not your typical fantasy adventure. Members of the Amber family itself lurk around every corner — some insane, some deadly! This module holds up, I feel, and it’s a classic for a reason. Truly, Moldvay shines in this one, expressing his creativity in unique fashion.

Castle Amber map

Have you ever played in or DMed Castle Amber?

Jeffrey P. Talanian’s last article for Black Gate was a review of Lankhmar, City of Adventure by Bruce Nesmith, Doug Niles, and Ken Rolston. He is the creator and publisher of the Hyperborea sword-and-sorcery and weird science-fantasy RPG from North Wind Adventures. He was the co-author, with E. Gary Gygax, of the Castle Zagyg releases, including several Yggsburgh city supplements, Castle Zagyg: The East Mark Gazetteer, and Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works. Read Gabe Gybing’s interview with Jeffrey here, and follow his latest projects on Facebook and at

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Got it as a gift. Never played it but attempted to run it for my friends back in the day. We/they didn’t get far (the holiday break was only so long). For a long time I thought it was inspired by Zelazney’s Amber books until the CAS connection was pointed out to me. I’ll have to reread through it and maybe run it for my current group of players.

Jim Pederson

I ran this back when it came out and it was well received if my memory serves. Our gaming group was well-read in fantasy but I don’t think we’d read any Ashton Smith (yet). Because of the title and the inner workings of family members, we all thought that it was referencing Zelazny’s Amber series. Also, reading it as the GM, I thought it had some of Poe’s house of Usher (remember a family member buried alive). This module really took the concept of “funhouse dungeon” to a new level with a lot of the rooms having a folklore-related theme (specifically remember the wild hunt and billy goats gruff). I’ll have to dig it up and give it another look. Thanks for the article.

Timothy S. Brannan

I love Castle Amber. I have played it and ran it a couple of times and it feels new to me each time.

Aonghus Fallon

I’m guessing the illustration on the right was inspired by The Colossus of Ylourgne – the evil sorcerer/tyrant starts out as a midget but uses his sorcery to turn himself into a giant. And why not?

James McGlothlin

Played it AND DM-ed it, back in the day. The things that stick out to me, for some reason, was the “grab grass” monster and the poison mushrooms at the dinner (served by ghosts? if memory serves). I still own this but haven’t cracked it open in many a year. Thanks for the post. Makes me want to take it out and peruse it again. Wonder how hard it would be to translate this into 5th edition?

Rick Snider

Goodman Games converted it to the 5th Edition added additional content and also included the original X2 in their remake.

Adrian Simmons

My friend tried to run me through this back in 1982– we were like 12 and neither of us knew what we were doing. It was an absolute blast!

Funnily enough, I never actually bought the module. I thought about it, but somehow the setting never really did it for me. Like, I would never run any of my own players through it because it didn’t match with the campaign setting I had put together.

I also find it odd that Moldovy used the Averoigne setting instead of the more S&S settings of CAS’ Hyboria or Zothique.

All this reminds me that I should get on ebay and get Castle Amber.

Lawrence Schick

I must point out that the giant in Erol’s cover painting is a caricature of our old friend Tom Moldvay. (He is greatly missed.)

John ONeill


I had no idea! That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing that!

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