Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mark of Amber

I’m checking out this strange “Mark of Amber” box I picked up on eBay recently for $5 (that includes shipping and still in the original shrink wrap.) It’s described as a sequel to Moldvay’s X2: Castle Amber module. Other than the french names, I’m really not sure how I could fit this into my Dordogne campaign except as a kind of funhouse diversion, but for the price I couldn’t pass it up.

The maps inside seem decent enough and I might be able to recycle them somehow, but the thing that stands out the most is the inclusion of the “Interactive Audio CD” in the box, with accompanying track summary page, detailing the 69 tracks. Examples…

Track 17: “Young Michel asks a PC to dance”
Track 25: “Michel the giant attacks the PCs for trying to corrupt his little boy.”
Track 64: “Etienne thanks the PCs for their aid and asks them to stay on as his guests for a few days while he prepares their reward.”

Listen to this one -
Track #26: Sound effect: The giant dies.

I’m having a hard time not laughing out loud listening through these tracks. Conceptually, it’s sort of a marriage between a role playing game and a read along/audio book, which just seems condescending. In another sense, I can see how the threat of video game consoles and computer games must have loomed large and where the perceived need for multimedia comes from… but I really have to wonder how successful it was in game play. It seems more suited to a solitaire game (if you attack the giant, turn to page 26, er, play track 26...) Anyhow, this isn’t a review - I obviously haven’t played it and don’t plan on doing so in its current or intended form, but I wonder how common this type of production was back in the nineties. I didn’t play a single game of D&D in that decade and this is a strange novelty for me.


Dan said...

I believe they released three of these audio modules. I have "Night of the Vampire" (picked it up on the cheap at Kay-Bee way back in the day) and "Red Steel." All of them were tied to the Mystara setting (I think as part of a relaunch). I have to confess, I've had the vampire one for years and never even listened to the CD, much less think of running it.

2eDM said...

Night of the Vampire, The Glantri: Kingdom of Magic, Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure, Mark of Amber, and I believe Hail the Heroes all had these audio tracks. The Red Steel Campaign Expansion Setting, and Savage Baronies all had CDs with mood music. I don't think any others existed, but I could be wrong. They were all available at the Kaybee toys just up the street from where I lived in 5th grade, so I had most of the collection. I tried running the games a few times, but it wasn't the easiest thing in the world. They felt very railroaded.

Trey said...

Is that "Giant Dying"? Sounds like "giant falling down stairs while dramatic music plays."

I remember when these things came out, but never day one.

Telecanter said...

I never knew those existed. Fascinating to see how the industry tried interesting things but failed miserably by missing the point.

I mean it might be cool to have recordings of various creature sounds,or ambient environments where the sounds are important clues (faint hum of machinery, what might be tribal drums in the distance) but the idea that you would want all dialogue pre-recorded is just daft.

Thanks for sharing.

ze bulette said...

Thanks for the comments and information - this is a bit gratuitous, but I can't help but share just one more, purely for historical/ educational purposes.

Unknown said...

There was also first quest( kinda like dragonstrike but on cd rather than vcr). And a light in the belfry(ravenloft).

Unknown said...

I know I'm quite late to this discussion, but in case anyone else finds this page and is interested, I'll give you my take on Mark of Amber as someone who has played it.

Our Mark of Amber game went very badly, but it left such an impression on us that even after years, we occasionally talk about trying to modify or adapt Mark of Amber to make it work better. It simultaneously was our worst time playing D&D and our most memorable time playing D&D.

In regards to the CD, it actually doesn't come into play as often as it may seem. Usually when introducing a scene you'll play a track where the players overhear part of an NPCs conversation, and then roleplaying takes over for the rest of the encounter. It works okay, but in the end it basically makes no difference to how the game runs.

However, aside from the dialogue parts of the CD, one particular track now serves as a running joke in our D&D sessions: the maid dropping a glass and screaming when she finds a dead body. This will happen MANY times in Mark of Amber, and you always use the same track, which quickly becomes very hilarious because of how overacted the whole thing is. One of our characters started worrying about the maid's mental health as it seems to be the same poor lady who finds every victim.

Aside from the audio tracks, the adventure was interesting but our DM was not even remotely prepared for his task. The details of the stories, backgrounds and personalities of the huge number of important NPCs in this game is extremely difficult to convey to the players, and we quickly ended up lost regarding the relationships between the NPCs and who we should be trusting, etc.

The other problem with this game is the amount of background activities. Without finding a way to bring more information to the players, its unclear how the players are supposed to know what is going on and what to do about it. Our DM having not been prepared to tackle this sort of challenge, we ended up wandering around the mansion without any clue what we were supposed to be doing.

I believe this module could be great, but it would take a lot of work. Introducing the NPCs slowly over multiple sessions before starting the actual Mark of Amber adventure seems like the correct way to go, and there needs to be either a friendly character willing to dish out some secret information or some other way to let the players know what the heck is happening and what options they have available.

Also, to be clear, there is very little action in this adventure. It is almost entirely roleplaying, politics, and mystery solving. So our fighter-heavy group was not exactly a good fit, while if you were looking for a good reason to play a diviner, this is it.

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