Friday, July 28, 2017


So, a few days ago I came across something I'd been looking for since I noticed a few months ago that it'd been misplaced: my copy of an unpublished GREYHAWK novel, A THIEF IN THE TOMB OF HORRORS, by Simon Hawke (1996). Back in the day at TSR, I was asked to make a reader's report on this, since I was editing Bruce Cordell's RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORROR at the time, to point out any disconnect between the two.* Hawke has gone on to publish many more books, and eventually TSR published an entirely different book on Acererak's Tomb by Keith Strohm (THE TOMB OF HORRORS, in 2002) as part of its short-lived GREYHAWK line. I can't share the novel itself, but I thought some might be interested in my reader's report.

Notes on A Thief in the Tomb of Horror

   Hawke seems shaky on game mechanics -- thus he has the clerics of Atanis casting fireballs after the escaping thief (p. 50) and wavers back and forth over whether Acererak was a wizard or cleric (most of the time referring to him as a "warlord cleric" -- cf. p. 139 but having him cast clearly wizardly spells). Dariene's "leap" spell is clearly dimension door; why give it a different name? He also treats the Drow as patriarchal -- Dariene's father is their "chieftain" (p. 282 and elsewhere) -- whereas from their first appearance they've been described as matriarchal, an amazonian culture if ever there was one.
   His treatment of the tomb was pretty close to the original for the first eighty pages or so, after which it begins to diverge. The last 150 pages or so bear no relation to Gygax's original at all. Among Hawke's additions are multiple levels, multiple tombs (in different but overlapping dimensions), teleportals that suck whole passageways clean, planar portals to various etherial planes (all unpleasant), vast caverns, and a Scrooge-McDuck-style hoard as the final treasure. The monsters are new too: the stalkers (a key element throughout the adventure), the killer tribbles, vampire fairies, six-tongue, and Rodents of Unusual Size. Finally, his treatment of Acererak as a hooded, robed figure who stalks around the tomb zapping people instead of a static demilich is utterly unlike the original characterization.
   All in all, I liked it best when it was good and claustrophobic (roughly the first third), before the thief picked up companions and it turned into a standard dungeoncrawl with all the usual cliches, right down to the wicked woman getting hers in the end (cf. Into the Void, Test of the Twins, Feathered Dragon, etc.). Still, there were good touches -- Dariene's point of view is consistent throughout, and it's refreshing to have an evil character who doesn't rant all the time. I also like the engineer's point of view (p. 119), and the whole treatment of the mosaic passage with its distractions (until the portal opened). I'd have loved to see a character die by literally drowning in treasure in the final cavern (p. 279), sucked down in a pile of shifting gold coins like quicksand. And if Roland were going to be given companions, it'd be more fun to start with ten characters and whittle them down bit by bit, like Ten Little Indians, until there was only him left. Too late for that approach, though.
   All in all, strikingly different from Bruce's treatment in the sequel to the adventure. Maybe should cover the discrepancy, both to the classic adventure and to the concurrent sequel, by changing the epilogue somewhat to reflect that this is the sort of story Roland told after he'd escaped, rather than what actually happened inside? Unless that'd undercut the book too much.
   By the way, real collectors never polish coins (p. 304), since that destroys their value. But the idea works very well in the narrative, so shouldn't change it.

--John R.

In the end, Hawke's book was never published (probably because of TSR's collapse rather than its shortcoming). I used the 'ten little indians' idea in my art order for RETURN TO THE TOMB, though I don't know it anyone noticed: the adventure art starts with a party of ten adventures, whom we see getting killed one by one as the adventure progresses. 

One final note: while preparing this post I was bemused to discover that there's an entry for this book up on amazon, complete with prototype cover art: 

From this I learn that the book was projected to be a hardcover (!) of 352 pages, with a release date of April 1997. Little did they know.

--John R.
current reading: THE FOOD OF THE GODS by H. G. Wells (Kindle)

*my work on that excellent project being cut short when I was laid off during TSR's meltdown at the end of 1996. Steve Winter took over the project, I think after the buy-out and move to Renton, but it may have been during the long months between when TSR ceased releasing any new product but the were kept together as a unit and when they were bought out and shipped west.


grodog said...

Great information, thanks for sharing it, John!


Paul W said...

The novel doesn't seem a great loss, unfortunately. I will never understand the thinking that allowed authors to write for a shared universe setting like Greyhawk yet never demanded that authors follow the rules for AD&D when writing these books. HUGE pet peeve of mine.

I'd love to see more of the reading reports, if you have them and wouldn't mind sharing, especially Into the Void, since I really enjoy Spelljammer, and liked that novel.