[Review] White Dwarf 18: The Halls of Tizun Thane; Bone-Deep S&S

[Adventure]
The Halls of Tizun Thane (1980)

Albie Fiore (White Dwarf Magazine #18)
Lvl 1 – 2

White Dwarf Magazine, Issue 18: Ian Livingstone: Amazon.com: Books



Though D&D has its roots firmly in the Sword & Sorcery genre, modules with an actual S&S theme, as the Great Melan observes, are the exception rather than the rule. Today we discuss such an
exception.

A recommendation by a reader by the nom du guerre of Shuffling Wombat, and assurances of its brilliance. Incredulous I ventured in. 10 pages of staggering, sprawling intricacy, roots firmly embedded in the iron-hard core of AD&D, teeth sunk deep into the flesh of the genre that gave it life. Shadows of Leiber’s “the Lords of Quarmall”, Gene Wolfe’s “The Sword of the Lictor” and Howard’s “Shadows in the Moonlight” predominate in this 65 room BEAST of a module DRENCHED in mystery, atmosphere and sinister orientalism.

What are the makings of a masterpiece. The component atoms of the sublime adventure? How does one differentiate the supreme with the merely excellent? Let us occasionally compare it with Hyqueous Vaults, a module that is excellent in every respect, but not quite brilliant. Let the Aesir compete against the Giants!

The premise of Halls of Tizun Thane is immediately engaging; The warring brothers of the archmage Tizun Thane have finally succeeded in disposing of him, by tricking his Alzabo-like bodyguard creature into killing him and devouring his brain. Their plan backfires as the monster absorbs the skills and memories of its owner and now haunts the palace, thinking it is Tizun Thane! The three now wage a war for control over the decrepit halls. To complicate matters, the sacrifices to his Temple of the Shadow Dancers have stopped, and now they haunt the nearby village at night, slaying all who set foot outside after dark.

This is used as a hook once the players enter the village of Cahli, mere hours removed from the halls, but it also becomes an additional factor to the exploration of the halls as a whole. At nightfall, the terrible, graceful Shadow Dancers come alive and no adventuring party of lvls 1-2 is going to stand against them and live. Finding a way to free the village from their terror is one of the hooks the party is given, something that would be the centerpiece of a lesser adventure is here only one of the cornerstones that prop up this mighty edifice.

The map in Hyqueous Vaults is sublime, maybe one of the best I have ever seen. Nodes connected via major arteries and blockaded behind all manner of obstacles like secret doors, wizard-locked portals or strange traps, with the ultimate treasure locked in some secret, hard to discover vault. Halls of Tizun Thane is no slouch either, a manse of 68 rooms, two floors, holes in the roof and secret passageways galore that allow for a plethora of methods to explore it. But there is an underlying harmony to Halls of Tizun Thane that HV does not quite meet, it is as if the map was designed as a realistic location first, and its cunning design is only an afterthought. The plethora of sliding panels, looking holes in murals and other such trickery suggests old Yellow Menace pulp tales of guests being taken in their sleep.

Encounters in Halls of Tizun Thane are a crescendo of good decisions. Regular favorites like lizardmen, goblins, stirges and the odd ogre euneuch guarding what is left of the harem appear alongside later Fiend Folio entries [1] like the astrally projecting Berbalang, hordes of chimpanzee like Nandies. The random encounter table, rudimentary stats only, encompasses half the lower tiers of the monsterous manual. Monsters have lairs, and treasure is often well hidden, rewarding parties that take prisoners. Two human factions, the two brothers, the custom-class necromancer Sega and the CN cleric Diker Thane each have their band of armed ruffians and designs on Tizun Thane’s treasure, and are both willing to co-operate with any invading adventuring parties, something which might damn well be essential if they are to prevail against Tizun Thane’s bodyguard, a 5 HD monstrosity with lingering spellcasting abilities and magic items.

In this Hyqueous vaults matches in many ways, with its summoned panthers, eel-men, slumbering necromancer and troll merchant. But Halls somehow elevates its set-pieces into an intriguing mystery, starting off by escorting the heroes to the throne room where the skeletal form of Tizun Thane is discovered, and gradually unfolding as they explore the area.

Atmosphere is always combined with interactive set-pieces. The Halls FEEL like the palace of some oriental necromancer. Harems. An Iron Golem doorkeeper that will peacefully prevent interlopers from straying. Enchanted Hookah lotus leaf that allows you to walk around in spirit form. A gallery of mirrors that you can walk through into distant lands if you find the right ring!

In these attributes too HV matches Halls, bringing with it a plethora interesting items, traps and locations, but the crucial difference is the underlying coherence. Hyqueous Vaults, for all its strengths, does not have the same level of thematic resonance of Halls, nor does it have the same gradually unfolding mystery, although its use of one of the enchanted keys is a FINE spur for exploration.

One clear advantage goes to HV, and that is useability. Critical information that is necessary to run the relatively complex Halls of Tizun Thane is sometimes buried in a paragraph, and descriptions of tactics, room contents, inhabitants and treasure are mixed together like a fucking lasagna. That being said, Halls does take pains to group different areas under headers, so it is relatively easy to see what area belongs to what faction. Large groups of NPCs are placed in elegant grids so their stat blocks do not take up an ungodly amount of space.

Do I even cover treasure at this point? Treasure descriptions at this level of ability are always A) interesting B) little nuggets of atmosphere that say something about the inhabitants or nature of the place they are placed in C) placed in such a fashion as to reward careful exploration or play. For an early module, the number of fresh items like Arrows of Berbalang Slaying (that can kill them if fired at their projections) or the rust arrows, which affect targets like a rust monster’s attack, is impressive, and each entry is a seamless extension of the gestalt spirit of old D&D. Another tie.

My goal with this comparison was not to disparage Hyqueous Vaults, an excellent module, but to dig deeper into my own evaluation process, to discover why I rate some modules as masterpieces and others as merely sublime. This will prompt me to bust down Gardens of Ynn to a mere **** soon I feel. Regardless, Halls of Tizun Thane is the real motherfucking deal, and one of the best low level modules I have ever seen. As a starting module, its probably too brutal, but for more experienced players it should prove an absolute thrill ride.

 The UK boys deliver again. I might be tempted to take a look at White Dwarf more often.

Merry Christmas all!

*****

[1] The entries appearing in the UK published Fiend Folio would first appear in the pages of White Dwarf Magazine, and gave birth to such classics as the Slaad, Death Knight and Spawn of Kyuss as well as the more wacky creatures like the Adherer, Berbalang and Carbuncle


6 thoughts on “[Review] White Dwarf 18: The Halls of Tizun Thane; Bone-Deep S&S

  1. Excellent analysis. As you note, Halls of Tizun Thane could be better organised (and the print is small) but is top class in other respects. I like that you need to find innovative solutions/make alliances rather than hack your way through the module.
    As regards my judgement, I find your lack of faith disturbing.
    Seasons Greetings to all.

    Like

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