Castle Caldwell and Beyond
Castle Caldwell and Beyond Capsule Review by James Landry on 15/04/01
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 3 (Average)
A set of five mini-adventures with some strange humor. It feels sometimes like the real joke is on the buyer.
Product: Castle Caldwell and Beyond
Author: Harry Nuckols
Line: Basic D&D
Page count: 32
Year published: 1985
Capsule Review by James Landry on 15/04/01
Genre tags: Fantasy
This is one in a series of reviews covering most of the Basic D&D sets and modules. I was digging through my old D&D materials before selling them, and decided to write reviews of them for people to know what is worthwhile and what should be avoided.
These reviews will contain spoilers, so avoid at your own risk. Of course, since these modules have been out for 17 years or so, maybe it is a little late for spoiler warnings.
Castle Caldwell and Beyond
This module is a collection of five smaller modules, each one designed to be played in three or four hours. The first two are connected and the last three are not. I will focus on each one in turn, after discussing their common elements.
The adventures were written by Harry Nuckols in 1985. (Humorously, I never picked up on this pseudonym when I ran the module.) It features a fairly lame cover print by Clyde Caldwell of a lizard man holding an unconscious woman. It shows almost as much skin as the most recent April issue of Dragon. The interior art is by Doug Watson and is workmanlike. The maps are very primitive by today's standards and are huge, each one taking up a complete page by itself. The whole thing is 32 pages.
The Clearing of Castle Caldwell
This four page adventure begins with the players being hired by a rich but naive merchant. He has recently bought a castle, sight unseen, but needs it cleared of monsters before he can move in.
The inhabitants of the castle just happen to be using it and are not allied. The various denizens are goblins, human traders, human bandits, kobolds, an acolyte, stirges, wolves, and various other semi-intelligent animals. Refreshingly, the intelligent ones will gather their loot and scamper if the PCs allow them.
This module works surprisingly well if you play the denizens intelligently. There is plenty of room for interaction and a funny sort of strained interaction as the PC "landlords" boot out the "squatters". The different groups are only mildly implausible. When I ran this, my players were scared to death by the giant shrew but managed to avoid most of the combat with the various intelligent denizens. They spent a lot of time talking to the statue and dreamed up many ways to get through the wizard locked door, none of which worked.
It works pretty well for what it is, though there is one glaring problem. None of the inhabitants of the castle have names. Obviously Mr. Nuckols spent far too much time reading B2 before he wrote this adventure.
Dungeons of Terror
This adventure is set beneath Castle Caldwell. The wizard locked room leads to corridors beneath the castle, and Caldwell the merchant again hires the PCs to clean out the area for him. Unfortunately for the PCs, when they enter the dungeon, the trap door above slams shut and disappears magically, so they must find another way to exit the dungeon.
Conveniently, there is a secret exit that the PCs can find with an amusing magical riddle. Once again, the intelligent inhabitants of this level do not work together, and they all know about the secret exit.
The first encounter was a doppleganger, but the party I DMed was completely paranoid and wouldn't split up. Eventually I had the doppleganger turn on them in a fight, but they managed to destroy it anyway. Another encounter features insane magicians. You can tell these magicians are insane, because they get into melee combat with their daggers before they cast their spells. The real encounter that didn't make sense was the gelatinous cube shut in a room. That should definitely be left out. The thouls were a great challenge and half the party was paralyzed after that battle.
The teleporting chamber and the coffin room worked fairly well. Two characters were teleported and had to fight the wight alone, but managed to vanquish it anyway, through their good dice rolls.
Overall, this one is ok, though the placement of creatures is a little more random than above and consequently makes less sense. I would recommend consolidating the monsters somewhat, but this adventure is still very runnable. Of course, again none of the creatures have names, which was less of a problem in this level.
The Abduction of Princess Sylvia
This is a fairly standard rescue the princess from the evil wizard scenario. Oliver of Hom has captured Princess Sylvia right before her marriage to Prince Frederick of the neighboring kingdom. The adbuction was witnessed by a peasant boy Gerard and he can lead the PCs to the dungeon.
The PCs enter the dungeon, defeat the nefarious illusions of Oliver and rescue the princess. Ho hum. The only interesting elements are a traitorous goblin cook and an actual training room for Oliver's goons so that they can improve their fighting skills.
This one is fairly unremarkable, and once again, only Oliver, Sylvia, and a goblin guard Thorn have names.
The Great Escape
This short adventure begins with the PCs captured by an enemy army. Their weapons and spellbooks are taken away and they are marched to an enemy outpost. They must break out of their cell and escape the fort.
This premise worked well for the group I ran through it. The PCs are desperate for weapons and a way out of the prison, and the module takes care to mention any possible weapons or makeshift weapons in each room. With the new unarmed combat rules in 3e, it would be even easier to run this one.
After jumping their dimwitted gnoll jailer, the players must make it to the door and escape. Rereshingly, the fort contains dressing rooms, exercise rooms, and baths. Unfortunately, there are no privies, so it fails the reality check. When I ran this, the characters found the armory fairly quickly and then ran right out the common room. They managed to get away farily easily.
Overall, the adventure has a good premise but mostly fails in its execution. There isn't much discussion of player choices, so the DM has to be prepare herself to counter the moves of the players. And again, there are no names for any of the inhabitants of the fort. This is one is merely average.
The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent
This adventure starts at the Church of the Holy Sanctuary. Three hundred years ago, a being called Namyats (strangely this is my satan) appeared and healed a woman with a golden bell, which he left with her. Recently the bell was taken and suspicion has fallen on Elwyn the Ardent. A direct quote is useful here: "Elwyn was very dedicated to the Church, and had been well rewarded by the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Church. But that, apparently, was not enough. There were rumors that Elwyn had begun practicing with edged weapons and researching the spells of the magic-users, trying to learn the abilities of other classes. This was a serious charge, indeed. But before anyone could prove the charges, Elwyn vanished without a trace."
Anyway, this adventure clearly would have to be modified to be used in third edition. The next part of the adventure involves the PCs investigating a mysterious fortress linked in rumors to Elwyn.
The big secret in this adventure is that Elwyn is a woman, but the background has been written so that PCs may assume she is male. Throughout the adventure, the PCs hear a woman's voice, but they may not connect her to Elwyn.
That's really the only insightful thing about this adventure. The fortress has a spiral design, and the PCs move from room to room, defeating monsters (including a chained, sleeping dragon) until they get to the bell. After they have the bell and try to leave, Elwyn appears to fight them. Unfortunately, all that sword practice and arcane magic learning hasn't paid off. She is a fairly humdrum sixth level cleric.
This isn't a very useful or interesting adventure aside from the little twist.
Looking back on this module, I suppose there was a lot of humor buried in this module that I never picked up on when I bought it originally. The author's name, many of the riddles, and Elwyn's bombastic backstory and stupid speeches. Now that I think back on it, I guess the joke was on me and others who bought this module. The adventures by and large weren't very good, and I can't help but feel some of the humor is the designer laughing at those who bought the module.
I can't really recommend the module, since only the first two are that useful, and even they are unspectacular. I'd be interested in figuring out who really wrote the module - was it a woman?