Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
The Desert of Desolation trilogy ends with the Lost Tomb of Martek. In it, our heroes need to find the tomb of the legendary wizard Martek in order to finally defeat the evil efreeti that has been ravaging the land. It's a suitably epic climax to the series, but it doesn't quite come off.
Tracy Hickman had done a good job of incorporating both his previously written adventure Pharaoh and Philip Meyer's Oasis of the Lost Palm into an overall structure; the problems with the structure - primarily that the players might never release the efreeti in Pharaoh - are relatively minor and something that he would find a solution for in his later works. Both adventures had been seeded with mentions of Martek, a wizard who had foreseen the release of the efreeti and had put plans in place to see it defeated; all of the business in Oasis about the bride's handmark and the amulet is Martek's work.
Now all the characters need to do is find Martek's tomb and his Sphere of Power. The keys for the tomb are in their possession already - the three Star Gems, so all they need to do is get there. Between them and the tomb is the Skysea - a place where the sand has fused into glass, so the sky is reflected in the ground. To travel on it (as it becomes devastatingly hot during the day), the group need to acquire a cloudskate or skyship, which skates on a thin blade over the glass. It's one of the best concepts in the series, but unfortunately little more is done with it - only random encounters might threaten the group as they're on the skyship. It's a throwaway detail, really, but greatly evocative.
Hickman shifts gears when the group enter the first portion of the tomb, and we get the first major interaction of the adventure: the degenerate descendants of treasure seekers trapped in a magical garden. I'm not very fond of this section: you have the descendants of paladins and the descendants of thieves. They don't like each other, and I feel it detracts from the serious tone of the rest of the series - I don't mind occasional lighter elements, but this feels forced and wrong.
It doesn't help that the big thing wrong with the adventure is introduced here: three NPCs who try to steal the Star Gems and, if they do, spend the rest of the adventure being chased through the tomb as the group try to catch them.
What's wrong with that? Well, AD&D doesn't handle chases well. Fights against single NPCs are typically boring. And there are significant problems with fighting high-level magic-users, as Trifakas is (a 12th level magic-user!) - one or two failed saves and that's it for the party! Or Trifakas.
This wouldn't be such a problem if the next section of the adventure was good enough to stand on its own, but it isn't. Once within the tomb proper, the group still need to go on a treasure hunt for three crystal minarets. The three demi-planes they need to go to find them are great inventions, but only one of them is good for adventuring: the mobius tower, where everything is "time locked" and can't move (save through a few special instances). It's a good example of where theme and adventure potential come together.
Unfortunately, the Black Abyss, where space, time and magic begin to breakdown in fascinating ways, has no actual threat to it save random encounters and the potential NPCs, and the Crypt of Al-Alisk, despite once again being an interesting place at its core, lacks challenge - really, it comes down to working out a single teleport trap to complete.
And wouldn't it be easier to just wait near the door for the three NPCs to get the minarets, then defeat them and take the spoils?
That, unfortunately, is the bulk of the adventure. The final section - the Citadel of Martek - involves the group finally bringing Martek back to life, him rewarding them, and finally an epilogue that closes the adventure and series in suitable style.
Tracy Hickman displays great invention in this adventure, but rarely is it employed on things that translate to exciting adventuring; setting-wise there's not much to fault, but the entire adventure feels incredibly light on good adventuring material. This is a great shame, as the first two parts of the Desert of Desolation are superlative.
Production-wise, the maps are very good and most of the (uncredited) artwork is also fine - the weakest part is the cover by Holloway. As with the other adventures in the series, it has two nested covers which have most of the maps printed on them.
"The desert is returned to its people; the Efreeti is no more. One final gift I give to you. Those people that cast you into this desert land will no longer remember you. Yu are once again free to travel the face of this world as you want. All to whom you tell this tale will believe it to be but a fable. Only you shall know the truth of what you have seen. There are yet other prophesies to be fulfilled! Farewell, my friends!"