Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: The Tomb of Horrors

Caution: Spoilers (both of the novel and the module on which it is based)

Today we come to the last of the "Greyhawk Classics" novels, Keith Francis Strohm's The Tomb of Horrors, published in 2002. This is Mr. Strohm's first entry to the Greyhawk novel series, but it seems pretty obvious he's no newcomer to the setting itself.

The novel follows one Kaerion, a former paladin of Heironeous who fell from grace a decade ago when he was captured by the forces of Iuz in Dorakaa. Since then he hasn't been able to shed his holy sword, Galadorn, and has sunk into drink and despair at his shame. Gerwyth is his erstwhile elven companion.

The novel also follows one Durgoth, a priest of Tharizdun who has allied himself with the Scarlet Brotherhood in order to secure the release of his imprisoned deity. We get to see a lot of the bad guys on their own in this novel, which is something I always like, but not enough that every twist and turn of their scheme is revealed to the reader. The villains were very well handled, and I like the rivalries, jealousies, and different agendas of some of the characters.

Kaerion and Gerwyth are enlisted as guides by a group of Nyrondese nobles seeking to pillage the tomb of the long-dead wizard Acererak in order to use the loot to help bolster Nyrond's rebuilding after the recent wars (the novel is undated, but seems to take place in or around CY 591). Durgoth, on the other hand, has discovered, through some pretty vile but fascinating means, that a key to releasing Tharizdun can be found within the tomb. So Durgoth and his followers (agents from the Scarlet Brotherhood, the thieve's guild of Rel Mord, and a flesh golem) trail the Nyrondese party through the Rieuwood and the Vast Swamp, waiting until the good guys wear themselves out defeating all the tomb's traps and guardians before coming in to finish them off.

During the journey, Kaerion falls in love with one of the Nyrondese nobles, a half-elven bard named Majandra, and that's a relationship that is handled quite skillfully. Needless to say, the plan doesn't quite go as expected for Durgoth and company, and Kaerion regains his paladinhood just in time to bring the evil cleric low, defeat the demi-lich, and save (most) of his companions. The defeat of Acererak himself is almost perfunctory, but I didn't find it at all bothersome, as it was obvious that it was Durgoth, rather than the demi-lich, who was the real protagonist of the novel.

I found the writing and characterization of this novel to be very well-done, and the pacing was excellent. This is another fine example of using a location-based adventure for purposes that go far beyond the original module; in this case, setting up the cross-purposes of the cleric of Tharizdun with the more mundane loot-the-tomb mission of the Nyrondese. There is some good detail about Rel Mord, the Rieuwood, and the Great Swamp that can be used in an RPG game, and even some new geographical details added in the map in the front. All in all, I enjoyed this novel tremendously, and only wish that Mr. Strohm had been tasked with bringing some of the other classic Greyhawk modules to life.

I rate it five wizards out of five.