In 1986, the market for TSR products was cooling. The company was in a spiritual tailspin after the dismissal of Gary Gygax, and shifting technology was a barbarian at the gate with Nintendo’s release of their NES that propelled Super Mario Brothers to the bestselling video game of all time.
It was also a period when the bread and butter modules of the early 1980s were slipping, either to players having ‘grown up’ into DMs that preferred to run their own homebrews or just market share loss taking its inevitable toll.
That said, TSR was still producing modules in their now venerable ‘letter’ series, and the one I’m taking a look at today is I9: Day of Al’Akbar by Allen Hammack.
Truth be told, it is a very solid module, complete with removable full-color maps and hearty campaign feel for the lands of Arir that have fallen into the hands of ‘infidels’. You get a very nice feel for the crusades aspect of a D&D campaign as well as mixing in some aspects of the Holy Grail quest and giving the players a chance to be saviors of a nation that is threatened by a wasting plague.
As for the art, TSR alum Jeff Easley does the cover, and although the image is beautiful, with three lovely harem ladies stunned by the appearance of a magic cup in their midst, I’m reminded of the artist’s refusal to adhere to applicable reference. This is reflected in these women, all of which could have walked out of a 1980s disco in the Midwest U.S.A.
I mean, we are talking about a Middle-Eastern setting, and this IS a harem, so why in the name of Allah are white women lounging around on pillows? I mean, the rendering is fantastic, as is par for the course from Easley, but I simply can’t get past the content.
As for the interior illustrations, it is all done freelance by artist Mark Nelson. Now I know Mark personally as well, and although this was fairly early in his career, it is nonetheless some of my favorite art from this time period in the company. Mark is a great renderer, and his characters inside the pages take on some outstanding personality, which is all you can ask for a project with this much written detail.
Anyway, on the whole, the Day of Al’Akbar is a great run for characters level 4-8, and I would recommend it not only for game play, but also for some fun art from a troubled time in our genre.
Artistic Rating: 3.5 [out of 5]