Monday 26 June 2023

[REVIEW] Tomb of the Twice-Crowned King

Twice the Heads,
Twice the Fun!
Tomb of the Twice-Crowned King (2023)

by Hawk


Levels 8–10

Hello, and welcome to part THREE of **THE RECONQUISTA**, wherein entries of the scandalous No Artpunk Contest II (banned on Reddit but the top seller in the artpunk category on are subjected to RIGHTEOUS JUDGEMENT. As previously, the contest focuses on excellence in old-school gaming: creativity, craft, and table utility. It also returns to the original old school movement in that it assumes good practices can be learned, practiced and mastered; and there are, in fact, good and bad ways of playing. Like last year, these reviews will assume the participants have achieved a basic level competence, and are striving to go forward from that point. One adventure, No Art Punks by Peter Mullen, shall be excluded since Peter is contributing cover and interior art for my various publications. With that said and solemnly declared, Deus Vult! Let Destiny prevail!

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Tomb of the Twice-Crowned King takes you into the resting place of a murderous warlord who put his own servants and family to death to guard him in his unlife, which is definitely the thing to do if you live on a metal album cover. The scenario looks deceptively small at a first glance, but it turns out to be a lot larger than it seems. The scenario’s main value lies in how it is built into a carefully honed killing field where interlocking encounters present a deadly gauntlet over 31 keyed areas. A spirit of good competitive fun permeates the work – this is high-skill, high-stakes funhouse AD&D from an author who has mastered this particular game style, and developed the skills to present it effectively in written form.

The level range is getting respectable: this is clearly an adventure designed for capable parties with commensurate resources and solid player experience. Not every encounter has a clear solution, but the module trusts your players to use their capabilities to circumvent them on their own terms.  The module excels particularly at the baited trap encounter. The entrance is guarded by two bronze statues wielding massive hammers, which prove stubbornly inanimate right until the moment when all hell is let loose in the tomb, upon which they begin demolishing the bridge leading to the entrance, and set up a guard for escaping PCs. 10 mummies in another room do not react for 4 rounds, just enough to put the players’ mind at ease before springing into action. The titular crowns are out in the open in the tomb’s main hall, just within reach... you know you want to grab it, just to see what happens if you do. This is a nasty mousetrap of a module, where getting in is a lot easier than getting out. It is also a piggy bank of the really good stuff that makes it very tempting.

The skilful design extends to combat setups – both standard and souped-up monsters (e.g. a vampire with a nine lives stealer sword) are used to great effect. While tombs are mostly static locations, this one does a reasonably good job keeping things lively by presenting effective defences and throwing curveballs at the players (such as one group of hill giant skeletons trying to push PCs into a pit filled with ghasts under the cover of continual darkness, and another bunch throwing giant-sized pots of flaming oil from ledges above a rope bridge). Some of the higher-end guardians hunt intruders effectively until they can strike for maximum effect. These tactical setups and defensive schemes make for effective and deadly combinations – but at this level, you should have enough resources to crack them. Traps are likewise clever, like a statue with gemstone eyes that shoots disintegrating beams, and whose eyes explode if removed; or a room of stepping stones leading through a pit of slime that turns its victims into ghasts or wights – with some stepping stones rigged to just give way and sink if stepped on. These are killer encounters, but they are also killer encounters of the “I should have known!” variety. After a while, good play gives you an instinct for these things – a tingling sense in the back of your head. Tomb of the Twice-Crowned King rewards the use of this sense.

Finally, it is the small things that spice it up further. Minor descriptive detail is used to add a little extra even to the basics – random wights approach “screeching and screaming madly (no surprise)”, while ghasts “whisper words of death as they prowl”. A room of sarcophagi has a bunch of fun “sarcophagus contents” results like “Male and female skeletons embracing”, “Putrid tomb air is released: save vs. poison or contract random disease”, or “Mass of maggots eating corpse, underneath is M-U scroll”. This is decent extra mileage for what are mostly one- or two-line additions.

The presentation is rock solid. Everything is there on six pages, except one of those pages is dedicated to Hawk’s expressive rendition of the Twice-Crowned King, and ¾ of another is occupied by the map, so all that text occupies 4.25 pages of real estate. No space or word is wasted, but you do not feel short-charged in the end. It is all there and all effectively conveyed, from strategically placed stat boxes to room entries which are as long as they need to be, and not a line longer. While dense with text, this is, in fact, an example of what good layout should aspire to – a compact, play-friendly, effective presentation that puts all you need at your fingertips, but gets out of the way once that is accomplished. It is simple, elegant, and polished to perfection.

Tomb of the Twice-Crowned King rises high above the average, competent tomb-robbing scenario with its tight design and touches of individuality: it is a great example of doing great things with vanilla AD&D. It has charisma, an infectious sense of wild fun, and a strong understanding of what makes high-level, module-oriented play tick. Like a finely honed blade of the purest Japanese steel, it cuts through tanks and bad players alike, and brings a smile to your face when you hold it in your hands. High energy.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: ***** / *****


  1. Hawk is one of the captains of excellent adventure writing in our era.

  2. This one was excellent, and would have been a worthy challenger to the top 4 had it not tragically arrived in my spam-folder. I was very pleased to include it in the collection, for as you say, it is excellent.