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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Classic Adventures Revisited: X2 Castle Amber

X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville)
What can I possibly say about Castle Amber?

This adventure had always been something of a Holy Grail quest for me. I was a huge fan of Tom Moldvay, I had heard this adventure took place in Glantri and it was full of horror elements. As time went on and I still never found a copy I began to hear more; that it was a crazy dungeon full of crazier NPCs. That it is was more of a thinking module and not a hack and slash one and finally, it was heavily influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, whom I always felt was superior to Lovecraft in many respects.

I did finally get a copy from my FLGS, paid a lot for it, and I also got a copy from DriveThruRPG. The module lives up to the hype. It is not a particularly easy module to run and you better spend a lot of time with it. But for me at that time (the mid-90s when I finally got a copy) it became a great addition to my growing Ravenloft collection. It was not officially part of Ravenloft mind you, but so much of it feels the same that it would have been a crime not to bring them together.  

Later I ran it for my family under D&D 5e rules and it quickly became one of their most favorite adventures ever.  I started a trend in my family's games; they love anything done by Tom Moldvay. 

For this review and retrospective, I am considering my original Castle Amber module, the PDF and POD from DriveThruRPG, and the Goodman Games hardcover of the Original and 5e update.

X2 Castle Amber

Castle Amber is an adventure for characters level 3 to 6 for the D&D Expert Set.  It was written by Tom Moldvay, who gave us D&D Basic set half of the B/X D&D line. This adventure shows that.  While the Expert set was more focused on wilderness adventures, this is a romp through a "haunted house."  For many gamers of a certain age this became the template for all sorts of Haunted House dungeons that are still being published today.

Physically the original adventure was a 28 page book with color covers by Erol Otus with the maps of the titular castle in old-school blue on the inside covers.  The art inside is black and white and done primarily by Jim Holloway.  The art has a duel effect here.  Otus was the prime B/X cover artist, so the feel here is 100% his weird fantasy vibe of B/X.  Jim Holloway was also at this time the primary artist for the Horror game Chill.  Come for the weirdness, stay for the horror. 

Averoigne

The adventure is overtly an homage to the tales of Clark Ashton Smith.  The area where it all takes place, Averoigne, is used right out of the works of CAS.  The Amber family would fit right-in in one of his tales and that is the Colossus of Ylourgne, or rather his D&D counterpart, on the cover.  The adventure even includes a reading guide for those that want to read up on the tales of CAS, and I highly recommend doing so.

CAS, and his contemporary H.P. Lovecraft, were no strangers to the D&D world by 1981.  Indeed Molday's pulp sensibilities shine throughout in this adventure as much as they did with X1 The Isle of Dread and B4 The Lost City.  All three adventures have also been updated by Goodman Games for 5e in their hardcover Original Adventures Reincarnated series, making Moldvay their most reprinted designer. Even more than Gygax himself who as of this writing only has 1, soon to be 2.

There is a lot to love about this adventure too.  There are monsters to kill yes, but this is not a kick in the doors and kill the monster sort of deal.  There is a mood and atmosphere here.  In fact this is the prototype for the horror adventures of later date, in particular Ravenloft (which I will discuss).

On one hand, we have a haunted house filled with the not-quite-dead members of the Amber family.  This can be a pulpy nightmare or even a Gothic tale.  The room with the Tarot cards and their abilities gives us a sneak peak of some the things we will see in Ravenloft. On the other we have creatures from beyond that are quite Lovecraftian.  The Neh-Thalggu, or the Brain Collector, is a creepy ass aberration that can give the Mi-Go a run for their money.  

There is travel to other worlds via some strange mists and 16 new monsters. Some of these monsters also appeared in The Isle of Dread, but here they feel a bit different.  Plus what other B/X D&D book can you name that has "Demons" and "Pagans" in it. 

The background of this is rich enough that you want more of it. More on Averoigne and its connection to Glantri, more on the Amber family, and more on the world that this adventure implies.  It is no surprise really that much of this adventure and what it all implies found welcome homes in the BECMI version of Glantri.   

For me though the best connection is the one to Ravenloft. I have to admit the last time I ran this adventure I made the tie-ins to Ravenloft more specific, but I did not have to do much. I have to admit I was rather gleeful inside at the scene where they have to run from the "Grey Mists" to get into the castle.

Classic Modules Today & Revisited

I mentioned the Goodman Games hardcover above, but it really is a gem of a product.  With it, you get the original adventure and a 5e version of the adventure (where was that when I needed it!) as well as some fantastic comments about the adventure itself.  I wish Tom Moldvay had still been alive to give us his thoughts on this.   The 5e version expands on the Castle and those within.  There are a lot more monsters included and there are full NPC stat writeups for members of the Amber family. 

NPCs

Most of all this new version expands Averoigne in ways I would have loved to have had years ago. 

Additionally, there is the Classic Modules Today version published on DMsGuild by Chris Nolen. This one is a straightforward conversion. You need the original adventure but it is a fraction of the cost of the Goodman Games version.  I have both and have used both to great effect.   

Plays Well With Others

Castle Amber is a fantastic adventure and I am a big fan if you can't tell.  What I enjoy the most about it is that by the nature of the adventure itself and how it is written it can easily be added to any world and slotted into any sort of campaign. For me it was a no-brainer for my Come Endless Darkness campaign.  While that campaign is overtly a "Greyhawk" again the nature of it allowed a side trip to Mystara/The Known World. I would later use it as the "front door" to my Ravenloft adventure.  It was something I have wanted to do for so long and it worked so well I want to do it more.  A lot more.  While I gladly mixed and matched Basic, AD&D, 3e and 5e in my games, it is now much easier now that everything I want speaks the same, 5e, language.

Castle Amber & Ravenloft 5e

I have long postulated that not only is Castle Amber a Proto-Ravenloft, but Barovia is from Mystara/The Known World.   These connections are made more explicit with the D&D 5e adventure Curse of Strahd.  With the 5e Curse of Strahd, 5e Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, and Goodman Games 5e Castle Amber this is now a trivial effort.

Ravenloft and Castle Amber

In fact, using the same process from Chapter 2 of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft you could easily make the Averoigne of Castle Amber into a Domain of Dread. 

Averoigne is Gothic Horror and Dark Fantasy, with some Cosmic Horror and some Folk Horror.  I could turn up the horror elements a little, but I would not need to do much, to be honest.  Thinking back to my original running of X2 Castle Amber and I6 Ravenloft using the then-new 5e rules I had great fun. If I had tied them closer together then it would have been fantastic. 

Black Rose

Back in the early days of this blog I discussed a game I wanted to run; Black Rose, a combination of Blue Rose and Ravenloft.  Now with the 5e version of Blue Rose out, it would be a lot easier. 


I will have to write my review of the new Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide

This also begs for a good (or Goodman) version of B3 Palace of the Silver Princess for 5e.

Castle Amber is easily one of my favorite adventures and the appeal of it has only grown for me over the years.

Links

The Black Gate ran a fantastic series on Clark Ashton Smith.  I won't link all of them here, just ones that are germane to this discussion, but they are all good.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! X is for Expert.

X is for Expert.

This is not some attempt to grift the Challenge.  The Expert Set adventures were given the code X.
Of course, the most famous of these is X1, The Isle of Dread.

I got this adventure along with my Expert set back in the early 80s.  It is an obvious King Kong homage, but it is a great one.  It is another one of those adventures that people keep coming back to time and time again.
Maybe second only to B2 and B1 in terms of numbers of players, but The Isle of Dread is one of the best Basic-era adventures out there.  In today's frame of mind the adventure is equal parts Pirates of the Caribean, King Kong, and Jurassic Park.  It is a heady cauldron of tropes, ideas and just plain crazy fun.  It was included in the original Expert set and it still had expanded maps and more creatures.  I never understood why the creatures where not just in the main book, but it did make the module special.
What was so nice about X1 over B2 is you had the feel it was more integrated into the Expert rules; it felt like a logical extension.

This is also the first published adventure I ever ran for my son.  Up to this point I had ran ones I had made up for him.  He was young (6 or 7) and adventures like "Cave of the Stinky Goblin" or "Trouble in West Haven" were more appropriate for him.  But X1 had the great big dinosaur on it and he loved dinosaurs.

We had a blast. To me, 20 some odd years later, it felt like a very different adventure.  There is a lot of untapped potential here. Enough for several adventures really.
Later on I bought my son his own copy to run sometime.  It was also the first time that my kids began to recognize Tom Moldvay's name on the covers of adventures.

X2: Castle Amber
Another one of my "holy grail" items. I managed to score a copy when I moved to Chicago.
There is so much to love about this adventure, but I have detailed it all before in these pages.
Again, this is another Tom Moldvay adventure and we all loved it.

The other X modules came out a bit later and were more tied to the newer Frank Mentzer-edited Expert Set, as opposed to the Cook-Marsh-edited set I had owned. (I guess these modules should have really been called "E" for expert then). Of these I only later owned Quagmire.  I got it cheap at a used book store in Carbondale, IL.  I completely gutted the module and only kept the tower and swamp.

X3 Curse of Xanathon
X4 Master of the Desert Nomads
X5 Temple of Death
X6 Quagmire!
X7 The War Rafts of Kron
X8: Drums on Fire Mountain
X9: The Savage Coast
X10 Red Arrow, Black Shield
X11 Saga of the Shadow Lord
X12 Skarda's Mirror

In particular, I would like to get print copies of X4 and X5 for my Second Campaign game.  Saga of the Shadow Lord also sounds like a lot of fun!

This is my problem...too many great games/adventures and so little time.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Castle Amber by Candle Light

Running behind on posting (and reading).  We got slammed by a freak storm in Chicago and we were without power from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning.

Friday we went out in the hope that the power would be back soon.  No such luck.  So we spent the night reading by flashlight and candle light.  I grabbed my old 2e Ravenloft Boxed set to flip through.

Saturday was spent grilling everything in the fridge so we would not have to throw it all out.

Eggs, toast and bacon on the grill. I might never eat inside again.

We then spent the day preparing and playing one of my favorite modules X2 Castle Amber.

And trust me, nothing was quite as fun as playing it all by candle light.



We played it under 5th edition rules.  Unlike Bone Hill, I did not have 5e stats for all the monsters in this adventure.  But fortunately the conversion process was very easy and most I could do one the fly.

Yeah that is my 1st Ed. DMs screen.  I had my kids grab everything and they also got that.

So far 5e is still working very nice for us.
Castle Amber is also a great adventure to play and run.  The kids are having a blast.  They managed to get through the west wing and they even found an intelligent magical sword.  I am not sure what do with that one yet. I hand-waved it for now since I have not found any D&D5 rules about intelligent weapons yet.

My family is loving this adventure so far and I have to admit I was rather gleeful inside at scene where they have to run from the "Grey Mists" to get into the castle.

The nice thing is that even though this feels like a "monster of the week" adventure there is a great tie-in to the overall "Cult of Chaos" plot I have been weaving through all the adventures.  Yeah, yeah I have seen the posts that D&D isn't supposed to be "cinematic" or "storytelling".  Screw that. I do what my family and I enjoy.   My youngest spends his time playing looking for any clues that might help him understand more about the mystery and my oldest wants to read Lovecraft now.

So next time they will finish the central forest and hit the East Wing and then beyond.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Castle Amber, Butterbeer and the Order of the Platinum Dragon

Sunday was a humid, rainy day in Chicagoland.  So what better to do than stay inside and play some D&D!

We decided to finish up Castle Amber taking them straight through all the wilderness encounters.  The boys meet Skylla, though true to her rumored appearance in the D&D cartoon she appears as an old woman. They also have no idea that she is evil.


She did help them a bit on where various towns were.  She wanted out of the Averoigne to get back to Glantri.  There is a small problem now, but I will get to that.

The boys decided that the name of their group is The Order of the Platinum Dragon. We celebrated with some homemade butterbeer.


It was quite good, but we could saved time and had the same amount of calories and fat with we had just drank some melted butter with a couple tablespoons of sugar.

The Order managed to dispatch the Beast of Averoigne and The Colossus of Ylourgne. They were able to con and bribe the Ring of Eibon from the Archbishop.  All in all, a really good session.


The Order summoned the Tomb of Stephen Amber and the mists closed in on them.  Normally that is where the adventure ends and they are back in their own world.  Instead when the mists cleared they discovered they are in Barovia.  Well, they don't know that yet, all they know is they are not home yet.

The Sword of Sylarie was not destroyed as per the module. It is half of what will become the Sun Sword.

So up next it is the Order vs. Castle Ravenloft.
Time to grab my copy of Ravenloft and start reading again.  Should not be to bad, I have run this many, many times.

It's going to be a lot of fun!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Averoigne via Ravenloft

Chances are we are going to go see the new Dracula movie tonight.  But tomorrow I would like to get in some gaming.  My home group is nearly done with Castle Amber so given the season (and their levels) I want to segue right into Ravenloft.




For those that have played it you know that Stephen Amber send the party back to their own reality once they free him.  But what if he didn't? What if didn't have the power to do that since freeing him also meant letting go of all his power.  Stephen fades, Château d' Amberville crumbles to dust and the party is left standing in the mists.  Where are they to go?

Easy.

Castle Ravenloft.

I have for years talked about the similarities between Château d' Amberville and Castle Ravenloft and the connections between Mystara and the Demi-Plane of Dread.  It is likely that this is all taking place in the Demi-plane of Dread (Ravenloft) or the Dimension of Nightmares (Mystara) where even the Immortals fear to go.

Why do this?

I was thinking about the Doctor Who Series 2 episodes "Rise of the Cybermen" and "Age of Steel".  The Doctor, Rose and Mickey (who had not traveled with them before except for one episode) get stuck in an alternate universe.  Mickey stays behind.
The pay off on this is when we get to the Series 2 Finale and Mickey is back, and not just back, but since he traveled through "the Void" he and Rose are saved from being killed outright by the Daleks and it was Mickey who passed on his time travel energy (or void energy) to the Genesis Ark.

What's the point of this?  Well the reason they went to the parallel universe were not apparant at the time, but paid off in the finale.  From a story arc they all, including and especially Mickey, needed to go to that parallel universe when they did.

My players are in Ravenloft because they have to be.  They needed to free Stephen Amber and stop the Amber family because that gets them to Castle Ravenloft which in turn gets them the Sunsword and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind.   They are going to need those in the coming darkness.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: Curse of Strahd (D&D 5e)

Quick question. Who played Dracula?

Your answer might depend on a lot of thing from when you first saw Dracula in a movie to your age to what your cultural background is.  I also bet that the choice of actor might also say something about your gaming choices, but I am not getting into that today.
Like Dracula, who keeps coming back from the grave to scare or charm a new generation, Strahd the Vampire and his home in Ravenloft keep coming back for each version of the D&D game.

You can easily buy a Ravenloft product to fit any version of D&D you like.  There have been subtle changes with each round of designers and editors.  To extend the Dracula movie metaphor more, I6 Ravenloft is "Hammer Horror" (Christopher Lee).  2e Ravenloft Domains of Dread (boxed sets and books) were "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (Gary Oldman).  3rd Edition was split between Wizards own Expedition to Castle Ravenloft ("Dracula 2000," Gerard Butler) and the Ravenloft setting from White Wolf/Arthaus (Lestat movies).  4e's board game, Undead books and Shadowfell books were different enough that these are more like the NBC TV series Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
This new book is "Dracula Untold" (Luke Evans).

I have converted Strahd to a couple of different systems myself.  I have been playing in Ravenloft, the castle and the land, since the original module came out in 1983.  I played it when it first came out and it is one of maybe three adventures I have run under every version of D&D I have ever played.  Ravenloft has history both in game and in the real world.  It was my world of choice in the AD&D 2e years and the effect it has had on adventure design can't be overstated.   To call it a sea change is not hyperbole.

So the new 5e Ravenloft has a lot to live up too.

I mentioned here back in the Summer that I was going to run the original I6 Ravenloft adventure for my family at Gen Con 2015.  I spent most of July prepping for that, working out Strahd's 5e stats, converting the major magic items, filling in some details.  None of it was hard work really. Again I *know* this adventure like few others.  The hardest part was balancing out what has become the de rigueur method of handling a D&D 5 encounter with the more plot-driven nature of the Ravenloft adventure.   Having this new Curse of Strahd book then would have helped me out a lot.

The new book is a retelling of the same I6 Ravenloft adventure from 1983. On the down side there is not much about the "Demi-Plane of Dread" as we knew it back in 2e.  This is more 4e Shadowfell.  Including it as part of the Shadowfell actually gives the DM more flexibility to be honest.   So that is good.  I did not notice much from the disappointing 3e Expedition to Castle Ravenloft here. So that is also a plus.

The book itself is hardcover, full color, 256 pages. Suitable for levels 1 to 10 for D&D 5.  The "Castle Ravenloft" adventure itself has been upgraded to level 9.

The first 90 pages or so are some introductions, some background and the updates Castle Ravenloft adventure.   There is an introduction and forward here too. The subtle snark directed at the likes of Twilight in Tracy Hickman's forward can't be missed.  There is a page on how to run a horror-themed game. It's nice, but nothing new and by no means complete.   If you really want to run a horror game find a copy of +Kenneth Hite's "Nightmares of Mine" or Spooky: The Definitive Guide To Horror Gaming.

The book is basically a sandbox, with Castle Ravenloft (the place and the adventure) in the "middle".  It is designed for adventurers from 1st to 10th level.  There are a few really interesting "side treks" including the low level "Death House", the medium level "Argynostholt" and the high level "The Amber Temple".  Death House is available for free from WotC.  So I would grab that first if you are on the fence about this.

Souls vs. Shells
One of the new "features" of this book is the idea that not everyone in Barovia has a soul.  Now if you were playing this as a horror game then this would be a truly frightening concept. The scenarios that are implicit in this are numerous.  Hapless villagers moving through their lives in drudgery, unfeeling save for a pervasive dread.  Or worse yet the same said villagers coming to the PCs begging them to find their lost souls.  Or PCs born in Barovia discovering they are among the "Soulless Shells".   Sadly though as a D&D game I see this only working as an excuse for PCs to murder bystanders.

There are some interesting character options, like the new Haunted One character background.  The iconic magic items like the Sunsword and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind are here too.  As well as the Tome of Strahd.   The Gothic Trinkets are a really nice touch to be honest.
There are some new monsters too.  The is a fantastic full color tear out map of Castle Ravenloft (roughly 32" by 24") on one side and Barovia on the next.

I think in the end I was hoping for more.  Maybe not so much as a repeat of the 2e Ravenloft Domains of Dread campaign world, but something...more.

There will be a Tarokka deck you can buy later.
http://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/rpg-products/tarokka-deck
I think I still have my 2e one around somewhere, but I prefer to use Tarot cards myself.

You can read the table of contents here.
http://tribality.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/01_CoS_TableofContents_4s09.pdf
I got excited when I saw that "Barovian Witch" listed under NPCs and had hoped to see an update to the 2nd Ed "Witches of Hala" but sadly this was not the case.  But it has given me some ideas.

I know. This is Pathfinder, but this is what a witch in Ravenloft could look like.
Ok bottom line time.  Who should buy this and who should avoid it?

Buy this if...
You are a fan of Ravenloft and want to have a complete collection.
You are a fan D&D 5e and want to have a complete collection.
A fan of adventure design and want to see how a 1st ed to 5th ed conversion can be done.
If you are planning to ever run Ravenloft under 5e.
Like the idea of playing in the Barovian sandbox.  This is actually a big one to be honest.

Avoid if...
You are not planning on running the classic Ravenloft adventure.
You are not playing D&D 5e.
Want to do your own conversion of one of the many options out there for taking on Strahd in his castle.

There are no new classes or races.  Not even rules for playing a Vistani.
There are no new spells or rituals either.  This seems like a bigger miss to me.

In the end you have to decide for yourself.  I am certainly not someone that needs tips on playing horror game, nor am I going to run Ravenloft (the adventure) under 5e (already did it) and don't need help converting.  There isn't anything here I could not have done on my or haven;t already done on my own.  But I got it anyway.  Hopefully there will be a sequel for levels 11-20.

Just like Dracula, Strahd can (and will) come back.  There are even details in the book about how it happens.  So maybe a sequel is already in the works?

Now that would be fun!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

BlackStar: The Influence of Clark Ashton Smith

For the past month, I have been reading all the stories of Clark Ashton Smith in roughly chronological order.  In many ways, I like his works more than I do of H.P. Lovecraft's.  I find CAS easier to approach and his protagonists more relatable. '

Recently I just finished Marooned in Andromeda first of what is commonly called "The Captain Volmar Stories". The next one was A Captivity in Serpens and a third, which I have not gotten to yet, The Ocean-World of Alioth.  What struck me was how much they were like Star Trek.  Add in the Lovecraftian like horror of Marooned in Andromeda and you practically have a blue-print for what I want in BlackStar.

Indeed, the Trek connection has not gone unnoticed.  Ronald S. Hilger and Scott Connors the editors of the Night Shade collection in which all three stories appear make not of the similarities between Captains Volmar and Kirk.  Captivity in Serpens presages the Next Generation episode "The Most Toys" with it's crew member in captivity for a personal collection.

While doing some research this morning I came across the beginning of an adventure I had started back in the late 80s / early 90s for the then Next Generation version of FASA's Star Trek RPG.

I mentioned this last month as the adventure "Ghost Ship".  As time went on it was the Enterprise B (lost according to my notes in 2329, the Enterprise C was launched in 2332), but before that, it was the USS Excelsior.  In my document here it predates even that and it was the USS Necromancer.   Astute readers might recall that the NX-3113 USS Necromancer is one of the "Ships of the Line" of the Mystic Class.   The Necromancer seems to be a bit on the nose for this.  Instead given the writings of CAS and the main representative of his work in the OSR world,  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, it seems best to call the ship the NX-3102 USS Sorcerer.

I was thinking that maybe I could use the events of the CAS Capt. Volmar stories to give my Horror Universe a bit more of a backstory. Volmar's ship was called Alcyone.   The Alcyone system is about 445 light years from Earth, so not sure if I could say Volmar is from Alcyone. So I going to say that the Alcyone was his previous command.  His name is Howard Solomon Volmar since he has been compared to Robert E. Howard's creation, Solomon Kane.

There is so much more here too.

Seedling of Mars deals with an alien craft that lands in California in 1947 (the future from CAS' then perspective) that carries a group of scientist to Mars where it's one lifeform is a planet-wide hybrid of plant and animal that is near god like.  While CAS' martian is a benign entity, it does have the look of a Lovecraftian monster.  One could imagine a great Cthulhuoid beast in its place.  The deal that makes with humanity is less for their benefit and more Faustian in return.  Indeed in CAS' tale, the being wipes out much of the Earth's population but it's ok since those are the ones that were not scientifically minded.  The rest of humanity is relocated onto Venus. Still, while this story is more Science-Fantasy it just needs a nudge to push it out of the light and into the dark of Horror.

Clark Ashton Smith in My Games
It is fair to say that CAS has had more influence on my games than Lovecraft has, save for the effect Lovecraft had on CAS himself.
In my regular D&D 5 games (and before that) CAS has had a huge effect on my game universe as detailed here:


For these, I made a special effort to reread or in other cases re-read all the Averoigne stories to get a good feel of Medieval Horror.  It was great.

These days the Atlantis and Hyperborea tales of CAS are well handled by Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.   Actually, I would love to use AS&SH as the system for a Zothique game.  I have already taken ideas from it for BlackStar and plan to have the PCs travel to Yamil Zacra: The Infernal Star.

Depending on how my BlackStar game goes I could conceivably pull another "Where No One Has Gone Before" and send the poor crew of the Protector to Earth, 250-300 Million years in the future.

I could combine this with the "Ghost Ship" idea above. Though that might be too much.
Alternately, I could alter my Starcrash on Hyperborea adventure idea to Starcrash on Zothique.  I kinda like that idea. Shades of "The Time Machine" here too.  It would also give the option of something I wanted to try in some other games.  I have wanted the PCs to run into their future-incarnations; their reincarnated souls as it were in new bodies.  The excuse I would give is that the Earth is so old now that old forms are being reused.

If I wanted to bring in some Atlantis I could just use some of my ideas for Doggerland.

The Black Gate ran a fantastic series on Clark Ashton Smith.  I won't link all of them here, just ones that are germane to this discussion, but they are all good.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: Pathfinder Bestiaries 2 and 3

Continuing my overviews/reviews of the various D&D-related monster books, I am coming up on a few I bought in PDF form only.  I'll talk about that and what these books have to offer that is different from other, similar, books.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2
Pathfinder Bestiary 2 

PDF. 336 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. 285 monsters.

This book is also available in a Letter hardcover version (first published) and a smaller softcover Pocket-Edition (6.4" x 8.3").

This is the second of the Pathfinder Bestiaries and it was published first in December 2010, just a little over a year after the first Bestiary in October of 2009. My expectation here was to get all the monsters "left over" from Bestiary 1, or at the very least, monsters from various Paizo products published in the last year.  We did get a little of each, but not as much as I expected and instead got a lot of new and even many original monsters. A few that I had not seen in print before. 

There were quite a few monsters here I was a little surprised and happy to see. Among them were the Chupacabra, Dhampir, the Jabberwock (our cover model), Neh-thalggu (more on that one in a bit), and the Wendigo.  I wanted it most for the wendigo, but the others were a nice touch. The big surprise was the Neh-thalggu or the Brain Collector that originally appeared in module X2 Castle Amber. I used this as my base to convert to 5e when I ran Castle Amber and of course, my players never encountered it. 

There are a few other "mythos" monsters here too. Denizen of Leng, Gug, Hound of Tindalos, and Leng spiders. We will see even more in future Bestiaries.

The nice innovations that Pathfinder brought to these monster entries are the nice single page, or most often 2-page spread for every monster. Stat blocks are better organized to find what you need when you need them.

Pathfinder Jabberwock

I can print out a bunch of monsters for an adventure and stick them into my folder with the adventure and notes and not need to cart around a bunch of different books; just the material I need.


Pathfinder Bestiary 3
Pathfinder Bestiary 3 

PDF. 320 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. 268 monsters.

This book is also available in a Letter hardcover version (first published) and a smaller softcover Pocket-Edition (6.4" x 8.3").

This one was released a year after the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 in December of 2011. Like the previous book this one surprised me with the new of new to print creatures it has.

We do get some classics like the Axe beak and Lammasu from the original Monster Manual. The Adherer, Dire Corby, and Huecuva from the Fiend Folio. The Bandersnatch and Jubjub bird to go along with our Jabberwock. And one of my favorites, the Dimetrodon (always have a soft spot for these guys).

We get another new Cat Lord (originally from Monster Manual II).

Cat Lord

So this one certainly feels like an expansion to the first two. One could make a good argument that all three are really part on one whole given the mix of new and classic monsters.

Like the first two this book also has monsters 1 to a page or across 2 pages. Making printing easy (well, not so much on your printer) but allows you to mix and match monsters as you need. Doing a "Lewis Carol" themed adventure? Print out the Jabberwock from Pathfinder Bestiary 2 and the Bandersnatch and Jubjub bird from Pathfinder Bestiary 3 along with whatever else you might need. 

Both books make good use of the OGL and have some previously published OGC here. They also release all but a tiny bit of IP as Open to the OGL for any and all to remix and reuse. 

They are quite a treasure trove of creatures.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Another Great 5e Weekend

It is the the first weekend of Fall (more or less) and that means a lot of yard work for me including cleaning up my wife's garden.  I don't mind. I love getting all the fresh veggies.



But this weekend was also a great 5th Edition D&D weekend.

Began our time picking up a couple copies of the newest Monster Manual.



The new Monster Manual is a damn attractive book.  Like so much of D&D5 it reads like a "greatest hits" of D&D.  Yest there is still plenty of room for more books especially a Fiend Folio.

Tonight the family explored the temple in Castle Amber.  They might more of the crazy Ambers and manged to get one character turned to stone.  Fortunately for the paladin, the sorcerer still had a wand of negation that could undo one magical effect.  So our paladin was back.

But the dice were cold tonight and we stopped after a couple of hours.  Still, more fun to be had at Castle Amber.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Spending some time in Zothique

I am living is a timeless void...err...or I am on Christmas vacation till the new term starts.

This has given me a chance to catch up on my blog reading and of course, I find some good stuff to use.

Zothique by Goulven Quentel

Eric Fabiaschi over at Swords & Stitchery has been posting about Clark Ashton Smith and Zothique for a long time.

Here are some of his most recent posts.


While I originally went into reading these with ideas for my BlackStar game, but instead I am more convinced than ever that an Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea game based in Zothique would be fantastic.


There is the Zothique d20 Guide from George Hager on the Eldritch Dark website.
Converting it to OSR-compatible stats is not difficult, but I'd need to read it over more for proper AS&SH conversion.


Part of my New Year's Resolution includes playing more "Basic Era" D&D and clones, and AS&SH is a part of that.  I figure before I take it and make something new with it I should at least figure out how it's played out of the box.

I do plan on hitting more BlackStar in the new year as well.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Mail Call: HYPERBOREA

Another Old-school mail call this week and this one is quite timely. I finally got my Hyperborea leatherette Players and Referee's Guides.

Hyperborea leatherette Players and Referee's Guides

If you have been here for any amount of time you know of my love for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, now just called HYPERBOREA.

This new set, 3rd Edition, does not disappoint.

HYPERBOREA

As you can see it comes with the HYPERBOREA Player's Manual, the Referee's Guide, the Atlas of Hyperborea, dice, and a matching dice bag.


HYPERBOREA

HYPERBOREA

HYPERBOREA

HYPERBOREA


HYPERBOREA

HYPERBOREA

Now I have all three editions of this game. I don't need all three, but I can't find myself parting with any of them.

AS&SH and to a degree HYPERBOREA was where I started my ideas for the War of the Witch Queens, but I have moved it on to Old-School Essentials now. I would still LOVE to do something with HYPERBOREA, something special really. 

HYPERBOREA is firmly in the AD&D rules camp of the OSR clones, though it does only go to level 12. 

Part of me wants to run the Dark Wizard Games modules from Mark Taormino. There is some overlap in themes to be sure. I just wonder if some of the Eldritch Weirdness of HYPERBOREA would be lost in the Gonzo weirdness found in the Dark Wizard adventures.

HYPERBOREA and Dark Wizard Games

I have talked before about how great these would be for B/X or OSE, but maybe this is where I need to go. 

Another option is this.

D&D Classics

Now, this would work and The Lost City and Castle Amber both have solid Clark Ashton Smith vibes. Into the Borderlands and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks also fit the tone of HYPERBOREA well. Same with Isle of Dread which is very sandboxey.  The Temple of Elemental Evil is the odd one out unless I do a little massaging. 

Level wise I think it all might work.  Into the Borderlands covers levels 1-3. Isle of Dread covers 3-7. Barrier Peaks covers 8-12. The Lost City 1-3 (though I argue more like 2-4), Castle Amber 3-6, and Temple of Elemental Evil 1-8 (or more). I can already see how I could do this, to be honest. The trouble is I have run most of these with my kids already.

Still might be fun as an intellectual experiment. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Endless Darkness: The Road So Far

I have been talking online with a lot of people who are doing the same thing I am; running the Classic Modules from 1st Edition using the new D&D 5 rules.  So I thought I would post a summary and talk about where I am going next.

The Background
The characters all belong to a group known as the Order of the Platinum Dragon.  They are mostly made up of the children of the DragonSlayers (my 3.x game).  They began their adventure like so many others....or so they thought.

Here are the adventures in chronological order (links take you to the blog post where I talk about their game).

T1 Village of Hommlet (forgotten by the characters, played as a flashback)
B1 Into the Unknown
B2 Keep on the Borderlands
L1 The Secret of Bone Hill
X2 Castle Amber
I6 Ravenloft
C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness
A1-5 Slave Lords
C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
G123, G4 Against the Giants  (where we are now)

Then we do:
D12, 3 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Vault of the Drow
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits
(Q2) Queen of Lies
CM2 Death's Ride
H4 Throne of Bloodstone

The adventure began in The Inn of the Welcome Wench (T1). Here they discover the main plot of the "Cult of Chaos", but a battle with Lareth the Beautiful and Bargel left their memories wiped and two of their party missing (the Warlock Croulie and the Pyromancer Cynder).  The remaining party delved into the Castle Quasqueton (B1) and it's dungeons where they discover one of the Chaos Stones.  This leads to a vision/memory of a long ago battle.  They travel to the nearby Keep (B2) where they take on some hirelings, Uno, Duo, Tres, Quatro and their leader Cinco ("played" by Danny Treo) to investigate the Caves of Chaos.  Here they discover a temple dedicated to ancient demon god and more on the Cult of Chaos.

They then traveled to the monastery on Bone Hill (L1) and a group of missing wizards. Again there is a rumor of the Cult of Chaos, but also the involvement of several "Hyena Men".
Following the trail of the Hyena Men, the party is sucked up in a mysterious fog, here they find themselves in a strange land (actually the past) and a strange Castle (X2). More knowledge is gained about the Dawn War and for the first time they hear the phrase "Beware the Endless Darkness".  Here they meet up with the "wizard" (actually a warlock) Skylla.  They travel the mists for a while till they come upon the Villiage of Barovia and the terrifying Castle Ravenloft (I6).   They stop Strahd and his plans to blot out the sun, but not before Skylla is taken away by an army of ghosts.

They meet up with another party and tackle the famed Ghost Tower of Inverness (C2).  They recover the Soul Gem and hear the phrase "Beware the Endless Darkness" again.

Leaving the Ghost Tower they hear rumors once again of the Hyena-Men (Gnolls and Gnoles) and a slaving operation. They have long suspected, but now get confirmation that Gnolls are servants of a Demon Lord (keep in mind my players don't have the wealth of history of D&D we all do). They also find out that the slaves are all being transported elsewhere by human agents.  They discover the Cult of Chaos is also behind this operation and the Drow, long forgotten, are also involved.  
The Order manages to destroy the slaver operation and even convince an Earth Dragon and Red Dragon to reawaken the dormant volcano to destroy the island.  Before leaving the island with rescued slaves the Earth Dragon (an actual dragon) tells them to "beware the coming darkness".

Returning the slaves to the Duchy of Urnst they see the Sun go completely black.

The sun is out and there is a council of the greatest mages (ie their characters from the 3.x game) in Greyhawk.  The plan is worked out to relight Moradin's Forge.  It's light and life giving heat will keep everyone alive till the sun can be put right.  In the meantime the world is besieged by monsters and undead.   The Council of Greyhawk scrys for any remaining sun-related magic items.  Even the Sunsword from Ravenloft is out. The party is sent to a jungle (C1) because an artifact is found there that is related to the sun.    The "artifact" is the dying Mystarian Sun God (Immortal) Ixion, whom the characters knew better as "Cinco".  He and his four brothers were all gods of the sun, they were killed by vampire god Camazotz.   Cinco/Ixion gives the character his heart, Camazotz was not able to get it in time, to use to relight Moradin's Forge.

With the world now on life-support, the Council sends groups of adventures all over the world to find out what is going on.  The Order of the Platinum Dragon is sent to investigate raids made by some giants...

They know they are fighting against the clock.  Moradin's Forge is a powerful artifact that the gods used to create life, but once it is lit any one can use it. Undead are swarming all over. New monsters and monstrosities are everywhere and the Priests of the Sun gods are powerless.

Chaos, it seems, is winning.

What happens next is now up to my players and their characters.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ravenloft / Glantri connection

This post might not be all that interesting (I know the WRONG way to start a post) but I have been digging up some old information on an old campaign I ran at the end of the 2nd ed era.




Many, many years ago while I was still deeply involved in the online Ravenloft community I postulated that Barovia, the home of Strahd in Ravenloft, is a domain taken from the Known World of Mystara, and Glantri in particular.
I was very active on the old MYSTARA-L and RAVENLOFT-L listservs.

Here is a post from 2001 where I talk about it.  This might be the first time I even mention it.
http://oracle.wizards.com/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind0108a&L=mystara-l&P=5201

Hold on a sec I have my combined Ravenloft-Mystrara-Greyhawk Time line here.

Now keep in mind that Ravenloft has funky time.  So Ravenloft uses the
Barovian Calendar (BC) and the present day is 751 (according to the books)
or 753 (according to the kargatane).  That would make it 1,346 AC.  On *my*
time line.
This also coincides with 1,370 DR in the Realms (but who cares about that!).

I am correlating my dates based on the "fact" that the two Blackmoors are
the same in Greyhawk and Mystara and were destroyed at the same time,
possibly splitting Mystara and Oerth (and D&D from AD&D!).  Then I use
Azalin from Ravenloft since we know when he entered the mists and when he
was a king on Greyhawk.

Barovia is founded in "an unknown world" in year 1 BC, or 596 AC.  So what
areas were still ripe for conquest or settlement then?
Strahd is born in 299 BC (894 AC)
The "Tergs" invade Barovia 320 BC (915 AC)
Strahd pushes them back 321 BC (916 AC)
Strahd kills his family, Barovia is "cloned" and sucked into the demi plane
351 BC (946 AC).

So the world that Barovia is from, never knows it is gone since an exact
copy with out people is left behind.  Well, some of Strahd's family remains.

800 AC to 1000 AC is a fairly well documented period of time.

Castle Amber (X2) has some amazing "Ravenloft like" elements.  After all,
Old Averoigne *IS* from Gothic Earth! ;)
As does the Glantri Gazetteer.
Other modules from Mystara also have a very heavy Ravenloft feel to them,
more so than other worlds ("Death's Ride" anyone?)

There is an adventure where the character go to the Prime Material Barovia
around 740 BC (or 1,335 AC). Barovia of this time and place is rules by a
"King Strahd".

If I go with my "Holy Lands of Glantri"  future Time line, 1,335 is a blank
period of time for me. A time between the "true" kings in which a regent sat
on the throne.  It was an attempt by the mage guild to bring back the rule
of the Princes.  They had assassinated the true king and his heirs, but one
escaped not to be "discovered" again till 1,496 AC.

SO, given my time line, I'd say Barovia is/was a principality of Glantri.
Granted this is not conclusive evidence, but it fills the holes I have.

What else do we have?

Warlock.
--
Web Warlock,
Author, the Netbooks of Witches and Warlocks
The Other Side: http://www.rpghost.com/WebWarlock
The DnD Community Council: http://www.dndcommunitycouncil.org/~nbownw
Yeah I was still going by "Web Warlock" online all the time is a vain attempt to keep my academic persona (Timothy S. Brannan) seperate from my gamer geek one.  Finally I said screw it and embraced my inner and outer geek.

There is more here and elsewhere.  With James Mishler online now I should ask him what his theories were.

Here is something I posted years ago that I can't find the original of online anymore.  Though it was quoted at Dragonsfoot.  I have the original Word doc here at home still.
Barovia is from Mystara
While Ravenloft may be my favorite game world, it is not my first. No that (dubious) honor belongs to Mystara. So here is how I have used my two worlds together. We really don't know what world Strahd's homeland came from. Other lands are clearly defined as being from Oerth (Greyhawk), Toril (Forgotten Realms), Athas (Dark Sun) or Krynn (Dragonlance). That leaves both Barovia and Mystara obvious by their absence. So. I speculate that Barovia is a darker version of one the Principalities of Glantri. Of course this long before the Princes ruled. We know that from the adventure "Roots of Evil" that the original Barovia still remains on it's home world. Well Glantri has a principality called Boldavia that is surprisingly like Barovia. It is possible that they were nieghbors, but when Strahd and his Barovia was pulled into the mists, the lord of Boldavia took over the unprotected Barovia.

There are plenty of other clues of a Ravenloft-Mystara link.

The classic module, X2 Castle Amber, takes place in Glantri and the module reads like a proto-Ravenloft setting complete with mists and lands being pulled into demi-planes. X2 was based on the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, one of Lovecraft's inner circle, and both writers have contributed a lot to what makes up D&D and Ravenloft today.

Glantri has a very European feel to it. It is higher tech and higher magic than most of the other lands on Mystara and there is definantly a darker edge to it. Since Ravenloft also uses psuedo-European cultures, the ties fit rather nicely.

Demi-Plane or World
Ravenloft is a demi-plane. Or so they tell us. But this has never been a satifactory world for me. In my mind this only emphasizes the "weekend in Hell" feel of the world. So. With the latest edition of the Ravenloft rules, I have decided that Ravenloft is in fact it's own world. Granted it is a haunted world, but not much different than the "World of Darkness" of White Wolf. This has certain advantages for me. Worlds are easier to deal with. I can have a place that can seem real to it inhabitants and give me a reason to have native players. Plus if I want, I can use my Call of Cyhulhu, White Wolf, or Witchcraft RPG stuff to modernize the world, or give it a future. This is what I liked best about Gothic Earth. With 3E Ravenloft I could do a Gothic Mystara or a Gothic Oerth.

Personally I rather move the lot to Earth. But that is a topic for another time.

Plus this helps bring other ideas from the Ravenloft-list into line for me. Ravenloft has a mostly human population, but there are monsters. So a world can support a larger ecosystem. Monsters can run about. Another idea is move the mind flayers, Illithids, to the moon. This give them a more alien feel and ties in very nicely with Lovecraft. Plus I have the new d20 Call of Cthulhu book sitting on my self next to my Ravenloft one. So I am sure I can get something from their unholy union.

Another idea to flesh out this "world" is to use some of the new d20 products out there. Sword and Sorcery studios has some great books, like the Creature Collections and Relics and Rituals. The Scarred Lands of those books has the dark and gritty feel I like to inject into my games. I also have a few good official Wizards of the Coast products that also make a nice addition. Monsters of Faerun is a good example.

The Dark Powers
Who or what are the dark powers and what do they wnat? That is question that has been bugging players and DM of Ravenloft for a long time. We have had some clues. They could be evil outsiders, or gods. Or they could be Good and Ravenloft is a prison. Or maybe they started out as good and became evil. Who knows. The truth be told. I don't deal with them much in my games. While I dislike the idea of Ravenloft being a giant roach motel of evil, I also like to keep the players and the Dark Lords in check.

Plus there are the Dark Lords. Very powerful, not very mobile. I like to use a bit more flexibility with my Dark Lords and Powers. Granted this has not always worked out as well as I would have liked. But I'll keep experimenting. Normally I like to take a page out of the Masque of Red Death and not have Dark Lords at all. Or rather, they are there, but they are significantly weaker when they leave their area of control.

No Dragons?
How is it there are no dragons in Ravenloft, a Dungeons and Dragons game? Well I have added them. Yes they are evil and there is even a Dragon dark lord. The realm is Draconis, and it is also from Mystara. It is currently an island. It too has it's roots in Glantri. You can download it from PlanetADnD.com. Draconis.

If I continue the world metaphor then there are plenty of places for Dragon Dark Lords and Dragons. While Draconis is based on Glantri, it has it roots in the mystical "Dragon Isle" of so many fantasy stories, including the tales of Michael Moorcock's Elric.

BTW I still have Draconis laying around here somewhere.  I reused large portions of it for my Dragon Ilse in my kids 3.x game.

I'll have to see what else I have laying around.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reviewing the Classics, B/X Edition

I love the Basic D&D game and the B/X version in particular.  I love it's simplicity and its ability to be adaptable to just about anything I want it to do.  So I was thrilled to death that the B/X pdfs starting showing up on DriveThruRPG, even if I knew that also meant that there was little chance of them getting reprinted.
B/X was also one of the first systems I own every product.  There are still some AD&D items I don't own and even some later editions, but B/X was and still is one of my favorites.

I have picking up all the B/X material I can on DnDClassics.com.

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
If you are like me then this is it. THIS is what D&D was. Sure I had read a friends Holmes/Blue-book Basic set and I knew of AD&D through the Monster Manual. But this is the D&D book that started it all for me. This is the one that set fire to my imagination.
This is a complete set of rules. Character creation through to 3rd level. Monsters, treasures, dungeons. Everything that ever was or will be D&D had it's start right here (more or less). Honestly this book is not worth 5 stars here. It is worth 6 out of 5.
I almost would say that if I could only play one version of D&D ever, then this might be the one. It lacks the complexity of AD&D or 3e, but anymore I see this as a feature.
64 pages plus cover. Marbleized dice and crayon not included.

D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
This was the 1981 followup to the D&D Basic set. Designed for the Moldvay Basic there was even a little bit about what to do if you had the Holmes Basic.
This expanded the game to level 14 and for most of us it was all we needed for a very long time.
I loved the introduction of all the new undead like Vampires and Spectres (was a big horror fan even then) and that little map of the Known World. I starred at that map for hours, learning lands and names of places far off and never were.
Plus all the new spells! The options of spells for my cleric and magic-users were beyond my 11-year old brain's reckoning at the time.
At 5 bucks this is a criminal steal. I wore my old copy of my expert book out, now I have a PDF to go back too anytime I like. Combine it with the Basic book and some adventures and you are set. Everything you need to play D&D just like the good old days. No skills, no feats, no attacks of opportunity, but plenty of flexibility and action.
I love newer games, but this is the one. The one that keeps me coming back. Back to the Keep, back to Glantri and back to D&D.

B1 In Search of the Unknown (Basic)
This is my "go to" adventure anytime I want to start up a new group or game.  It's a ritual for me, roll up characters and run them through the halls of the lost Castle of Quasqueton. I still have my copy that I bought all those years ago and it was also one of the first PDFs I purchased from WotC. I never really expanded on Roghan the Fearless or Zelligar the Unknown save that they were long dead and their Castle was now overrun with monsters.
It is one of those adventures I can run with zero prep time and each time I learn something new or remember something I forgot.
This module is simple, easy to use and can adapted to any campaign world and even any game.
It is a perfect module for the Basic game.

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (Basic)
I once read that more people have played through the Keep on the Borderlands more than any other adventure. Of that I am sure. I have run scores of new players through it myself including a new generation of gamers.
The module hardly needs an introduction and it really is almost immune to review. Who cares that the Caves of Chaos look like some sort of Monster Condo where all these different creatures live together until those meddling humans show up from the Keep.
Going to the Caves is rite of passage. It is the hallmark of a real honest to Pelor adventurer.
If you don't have it you can't really call yourself a D&D player.
Just remember, "Bree-Yark" means "I surrender" in goblin. Yell it out really loud.

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (Basic)
Another classic. B3 has had a storied history, but the module we all actually played has a special place in many gamer's hearts.
For starters it is a Basic module, and lot of material in it is aimed at new DMs working on their craft. While the programmed text of rooms 1 to 6 might look quaint by today's standards, there is a lot of good things here.
For starters the basic premise of the module is a fun one. An Evil artifact, an innocent princess, a dashing rogue on a white dragon. Lots of the cliches of fantasy gaming, but all are played earnestly and not a hint of irony is here.
The module itself is not without issues as mentioned elsewhere. The map of the castle is enough to drive a sane mapper crazy and some of the NPCs (like the green elf "Protectors") are annoying. But all that fades when you discover the Eye of Arik and destroy it.
I recently re-ran this one for my kids using the D&D 3.5 edition rules. Worked great.
If you are new to the Basic D&D game (B/X flavor) then this is a great adventure to get.

B4 The Lost City (Basic)
Another great Moldvay module. This one is so strange, but so much fun.  I remember playing this one in 8th grade and honestly I had a blast.  It wasn't though till many years later while running it for my own kids did I see it's Pulp fiction roots.   Plenty of great influences can be seen in this from Robert E. Howard to Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith.
To me this one was always on the edge of that B/X divide. Sure it was a B series module, but it could have easily been one of the X series.
Unlike some adventures I played or ran in the 80s I went back to this one appreciated it more now then I did then.

X1 The Isle of Dread (Basic)
Maybe second only to B2 and B1 in terms of numbers of players, but The Ilse of Dread lasts as one of the best Basic-era adventures out there.  In today's frame of mind the adventure is equal parts Pirates of the Caribean, King Kong and Jurassic Park.  It is a heady cauldron of tropes, ideas and just plain crazy fun.  It was included in the original Expert set and it still had expanded maps and more creatures.  I never understood why the creatures where not just in the main book, but it did make the module special.
What was so nice about X1 over B2 is you had the feel it was more integrated into the Expert rules; it felt like a logical extension.
I ran it again recently with 20+ years between the last time I had ran it and it felt like a very different adventure.  There is a lot of untapped potential here. Enough for several adventures.

X2 Castle Amber (Basic)
This adventure had always been something of a Holy Grail for me.  I was a huge fan of Tom Moldvay, I  had heard this adventure took place in Glantri and it was full of horror elements.  As time went on and I still never found a copy I began to hear more; that it was a crazy dungeon full of crazier NPCs. That it is was more of a thinking module and not a hack and slash one and finally it was heavily influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, whom I always felt was superior to Lovecraft in many respects.
I did finally get a copy, paid a lot for it and I also got a copy here.
The module lives up to the hype.  It is not a particularly easy module to run and you better spend a lot of time with it.  But for me at that time (the mid 90s when I finally got a copy) it became a great addition to my growing Ravenloft collection.  It was not officially part of Ravenloft mind you, but so much of it feels the same that is would have been a crime not to bring them together.
This is one of the last of the truly classic modules.

Though not official there have been some great B/X related products.