My son is playing trumpet in the band for his school play, Beauty and the Beast, which is based on the Disney movie. I went to go watch it Wednesday night and was struck that it wouldn’t make for that bad of a backdrop for an adventure. It would be in the same tradition as some of the old fun house modules like Dungeonland or Beyond the Crystal Cave – but even like modules like Castle Amber and Ravenloft.
That is one of the things that I don’t get – there are folks in the OSR that will decry Ravenloft in one breath as the beginning of the end of TSR module design because there is a plot that isn’t player-centric and “railroady” and then hold upCastle Amber up as this paragon of classic fun house module design.
It sort of has me wondering if they’ve read either of them recently.
In Ravenloft there is the quaint conceit of the “Gypsy Fortune Reading” that determines a selection of things within the module, it is based on the story Dracula, an incredibly basic victory condition (kill the Strahd), a series of serious and humorous encounters in the town and castle, a clear back story to the events of the module, and the inability to leave the environs because of magical choking fog.
While in Castle Amber the module is based on the works of Clark Ashton Smith, the party has a very specific and convoluted victory condition, the same sort of mixture when it comes to serious and comical encounters, a very clear back story to the module, …and the inability to leave the environs at all because of magical choking fog.
In Ravenloft there are a mixture of deadly and not-so-deadly encounters, and the main villain is anything but a pushover. There are very few, if any, “snap, you’re dead” traps or encounters and the rewards in treasure and magic are basically reasonable when it comes to the risks involved. There are, however, no freebies – characters that are dead, are dead and they are pretty much stuck in Barovia until they succeed or die.
In Castle Amber there are plenty of deadly encounters, especially of the simple “you are just screwed variety”. The rewards in magic and treasure are relatively high as compared to Ravenloft, and the characters get magical healing, spell recovery, and level advancement in between sessions – plus there are opportunities for significant permanent character bonuses/gains and up to four characters will be resurrected at the end of the module if the characters succeed.
This is what I find so annoying by some of the talk that comes out of the OSR – many of the complaints don’t really seem to be reasonable when examined with even a bit of critical analysis. It’s more like they are simply looking for easy reasons to justify a dislike of TSR at a certain point in its history. Now, the OSR complaints about things like Dragonlance and how it sidelines the players is pretty reasonable (though you might be able to make similar, though not nearly so strong, arguments about the Desert of Desolation trilogy) – but again, this seems like a generalized hate “Hickman-hate” rather than a reasonable critique of his pre-Dragonlance modules while the status given to Castle Amber seems comparatively like a Moldvay-bromance based on his role with the revision of D&D.