Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
Looking at I2: Tomb of the Lizard King after having spent quite a bit of time looking at the pre-1982 adventures, I can see a change coming over the AD&D adventure landscape. We’d got a hint of it with U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, but Tomb of the Lizard King is particularly noteworthy. It starts with three event-based encounters where the players meet the king, see him hearing complaints from his merchants, before everything gets disrupted by a servant of the Big Bad attacking the king and his council.
This is new and radical. The big name of the next era of D&D adventures, Tracy Hickman, is about to have his first adventure published, but Mark Acres, who did a lot of RPG design work for Gangbusters and Star Frontiers, was the first to use this event-based technique in a published D&D adventure.
The trade dress for the adventure has also changed, into the form that adventures would keep for the remainder of the AD&D line. Jeff Easley did the cover art for this product, one of his first works for TSR, and Easley would be associated with TSR throughout the rest of the AD&D-era as one of their finest artists; he did the cover art for the reissues of the AD&D rulebooks. Everything points to the times now changing.
Tomb of the Lizard King is also notable as being the first AD&D adventure not set in the World of Greyhawk. Instead, it’s set in the lands of the Count of Eor, a setting only used in this adventure. The Count has a problem: brigands are attacking merchants in the south of his lands and, as the attack on his court proves, his enemy is getting bolder and stronger. The adventure starts in the court of the king, tracks the party south through several encounters where they learn more about their enemy, and eventually has them exploring his underground fortress and tomb.
It also displays some of the worst poetry I’ve seen in an adventure. Even as a teenager, I found it dreadful.
“Sakatha once was the Great Lizard King,
Said to have power stored in a ring.
O’er swamplands and plains lands his dominions they spread;
His very name filled all creatures with dread.”
I wonder what Michael Williams, editor of this adventure, thought of the poetry. In just a few years, he’d become known as the bard of the Dragonlance series, writing many poems and songs for that project. Unfortunately, his editing efforts didn’t extend to making the poetry scan.
Thankfully, the adventure isn’t dependent on the poetry. Instead, it has a very immediate storyline: Stop the Lizard King! There’s a great epic feel to all of this: a once-overthrown evil (by the ancestor of the current Baron) is now rising again. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as it might first appear, as he’s arisen as a vampire (due to a poorly worded wish he used before his death), and that revelation is very likely to take the party by surprise.
This isn’t an adventure for inexperienced players; it contains a number of extremely dangerous encounters. The adventure is designed for 7-9 characters of levels 5-7, although the DM is enjoined to not let any cleric greater than 7th level participate in it, “as this would seriously unbalance the climactic encounter.” More notes make it clear that the module is “extremely hazardous”. With a black dragon, several magical paintings that unleash monsters on the party, and Sakatha himself - a vampiric lizard man with 9th level magic-user abilities along with a trident that can do 5-20 damage (or double that if he rolls well to hit), it’s quite clear that the description is quite accurate.
Atmosphere is effectively built on the journey to the Lizard King’s tomb: a minstrel relates the history of the lizard king, the group is ambushed by minions of the lizard king, and they meet survivors of the brigands. The threat nicely escalates as the adventure progresses, and not everything the party meet can be taken at face value: several survivors have been charmed by Sakatha, and thus act against the party’s best interests.
Once the tomb is reached, the bandits must be defeated before the Lizard King can be reached. This isn’t going be easy, as there are 20 bandits, three leaders, one lieutenant (F7) and a magic-user (7th) to get past - and the bandits are going to try to ambush the party.
The tomb itself includes a level with a lot of illusions (including one of a river and a raft, that actually is a dry, deep ditch filled with acid pools), and finally the lair of the Lizard King himself. This isn’t an adventure with a lot of competing factions; instead, it’s one where the party are pitted against a lot of creatures loyal to the Lizard King.
There’s a lot to like about Tomb of the Lizard King. It pays attention to the NPCs and monster motivations, and it’s a properly challenging adventure that includes some memorable encounters and settings. It’s a great start to the second era of AD&D adventures; it’s a pity that Mark Acres would only write one more official AD&D adventure.
Thanks for the review. I ran this adventure many times in the past. It comes close to ending in a TPK every time, but is always a lot of fun.