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Cleric walks through misty gateway; never seen again.
April 2, 2013 7:34 PM   Subscribe

The fateful peregrinations of the explorers of the horrific tomb of Acererak
posted by Sebmojo (108 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh this is awesome!
posted by griphus at 7:53 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


You may also be interested in this annotated map of White Plume Mountain, home of fiendish traps, the archmage Keraptis and some terrible, terrible poetry.

The same cartoonist did strips on three adorably bizarre 2nd edition classes, the Barbarian, the Cavalier and the Thief Acrobat.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:53 PM on April 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'd like to suggest Adam Cadre's sorta-IF game Lock and Key.
posted by griphus at 7:55 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gah. I remember we got as far as the false tomb. We knew something was wrong but after naked zombies and levers of doom, we said "Fuck it."
posted by mobunited at 8:04 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's up with Adam Cadre these days? He seems to be falling apart.
posted by Nomyte at 8:07 PM on April 2, 2013


#15
Party plunders false tomb, goes home. Awkward moment with ex-paladin's squire and illusionist's friend from high school. Cleric of pholtus chewed out when bishop of Pholtus uses 'commune' spell and iscovers the deception. Party returns to tomb to finish the job.

LOL!
posted by hot_monster at 8:08 PM on April 2, 2013


Stuff like this makes me wish I'd gotten into D&D when I had the chance. Alas, my dad hated it and I was still playing Dutiful Son, so I never joined my social circle's party.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:08 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some other work from the artist. Including a map of Lovecraft's Dreamlands.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:11 PM on April 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I forget the setup of the Tomb. Was Acererak even up to anything? Or was this just you stomping through his house and getting castle doctrine'd?
posted by kafziel at 8:15 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why "magic-user" rather than "mage"?
posted by Bwithh at 8:19 PM on April 2, 2013


Why "magic-user" rather than "mage"?

Because that was what they were called.
Originally fighters were "fighting men".
posted by charred husk at 8:24 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why "magic-user" rather than "mage"?

Get off my tomb-infested lawn.
posted by justkevin at 8:24 PM on April 2, 2013 [30 favorites]


What's up with Adam Cadre these days? He seems to be falling apart.
posted by Nomyte at 8:07 PM on April 2
[+] [!]

I see what you mean ... Worrying
posted by Bwithh at 8:24 PM on April 2, 2013


Rustic Etruscan: "Stuff like this makes me wish I'd gotten into D&D when I had the chance."

It's never too late. Let me know if you need more help; it's my mission in life to make sure people who want to play RPGs get to.
posted by jiawen at 8:28 PM on April 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Was Acererak even up to anything?
The Tomb of Horrors: Somewhere under a lost and lonely hill of grim and foreboding aspect lies a labyrinthine crypt. It is filled with terrible traps and not a few strange and ferocious monsters to slay the unwary. It is filled with rich treasures both precious and magical, but in addition to the aforementioned guardians, there is said to be a demi-lich who still wards his final haunt. (Be warned that tales told have it that this being possess powers which make him nearly undefeatable!) Accounts relate that it is qquite unlikely that any adventurers will ever find the chamber where the demi-lich Acererak lingers, for passages and rooms of the Tomb are fraught with terrible traps, poison gases, and magical protections. Furthermore, the demi-lich has so well hidden his lair, that even those who avoid the pitfalls will not be likely to locate their true goal. So only large and well-prepared parties of the bravest and strongest should even consider the attempt, and if they do locate the Tomb, they must be prepared to fail. Any expedition must be composed of characters of high level and varied class. They must have magical protections and weapons, and equip themselves with every sort of device possible to insure their survival.
My favorite bit:
6. THE FACE OF THE GREAT GREEN DEVIL: The other form of the path leads right up to an evil-appearing devil face set in mosaic at the corridor's end (SHOW YOUR PLAYERS GRAPHIC #6). The face has a huge O of a mouth; it is dead black. The whole area radiates evil and magic if detected for. The mouth opening is similar to a (fixed) sphere of annihilation, but it is about 3' in diameter - plenty of room for those who wish to leap in and be completely and forever destroyed.
That would be part 9 of the map.

Why, yes, I had Tomb of Horrors right in front of me when I opened this link. Why do you ask?
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:28 PM on April 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


I forget the setup of the Tomb. Was Acererak even up to anything? Or was this just you stomping through his house and getting castle doctrine'd?

Originally you were just breaking and entering because the tomb was there and (presumably) full of treasure. The updated version from 3e worked in a grand evil plot on the astral plane.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:29 PM on April 2, 2013


I forget the setup of the Tomb. Was Acererak even up to anything? Or was this just you stomping through his house and getting castle doctrine'd?

Pretty much the latter. He was a demi-lich, which according to D&D morality is reason enough to kill him and take his stuff. There is a cult of Acererak-worshipping necromancers based near the tomb, but they aren't guarding it. They don't even know where it is.
posted by jedicus at 8:30 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The updated version from 3e worked in a grand evil plot on the astral plane.

Another reason why First Edition kicks ass.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:31 PM on April 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


The players', mostly.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:31 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Looking at the image... there is a fake tomb entrance? With fake doors where you can get permanently trapped by a sliding rock slab to slowly die of dehydration? Before you even enter the dungeon? Is that right? Because that's awesome.
posted by Justinian at 8:34 PM on April 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Demi-liches are at a stage of magical undead evolution where they have only the barest connection to the physical realm: their skulls. Most of the time, they are off roaming other planes of existence doing whatever the evil dead magic-users do, which is most likely to be bad. Still, they need to protect that skull, so a wise demi-lich sets up a variety of low maintenance traps to prevent their skulls from being found and destroyed. You can't just leave it lying about anywhere.

Oh, it's been tried. The lich Dupin, upon his ascension to higher (or perhaps lower) planes, as his last act before his skeleton dissolved, thought to leave his cranial remnants amongst others in a catacomb. You can imagine his somewhat brief surprise as a partially-tamed aurumvorax brought the whole thing down as part of a development plan for the old neighborhood, merrily tunneling through the catacombs. One rotten beam across the old dessicated noggin and that was it for Dupin.

Now, are they really a threat to anyone but intrepid, skull-crushing adventurers who, if not for the assumption of loot, would hardly go about digging up the threadbare coffins in Beggars' Rest, smashing the poor Yoricks within with any one of a bewildering number of polearms? Perhaps not. On the other hand, there do seem to be rather a lot of magical undead (discounting the Death Knights) just sort of happening about the landscape even after the violent clerical purges against the Ebon Liturgy. Not to mention the various psionic threats against which most are helpless, emerging as they do from inscrutable planes. So, smash away, dungeonfriends!
posted by adipocere at 8:34 PM on April 2, 2013 [17 favorites]


In defense of demi-lich, they do tend to buy up foreclosed property around their tombs and rent it to their employees at a loss.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:37 PM on April 2, 2013 [24 favorites]


I never saw the updated version, but the original was basically a series of extraordinarily lethal set pieces. If you actually did make it all the way to the end in any kind of fighting condition, the demilich, who was otherwise just sitting there rotting, would rise up as a disembodied skull and rip the party to shreds. As I recall, once per round he would howl, permanently soul trapping one character inside gems that were set as his teeth, and I don't think you could save or resist the spell. So you lost one character per round, DM's choice.

He had quite a number of hit points, and as I recall, only very powerfully magic weapons could even hit him. I think he took, at most, 1 damage from a +4 weapon, and I think maybe half damage from a +5, and full damage from a Holy Avenger wielded by a paladin. I don't remember if the paladin's special protection from evil would save them from the soul trap -- if not, then there'd probably be no more than one or two attacks from the Holy Avenger, because they'd be first on the lunch menu.

I believe the true goal of the module was to kill off a party that had gotten too powerful. Getting through that dungeon in one piece would require preternatural luck, godlike power, cheating, or some combination thereof.
posted by Malor at 8:39 PM on April 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


What's up with Adam Cadre these days? He seems to be falling apart.

I just caught up with his blog posts and, uh, yeah, I can't put my finger on it but ...yeah. Damn. I hope he is okay.
posted by griphus at 8:39 PM on April 2, 2013


Wow, Malor was actually there, dude.
posted by Flashman at 8:45 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


FUCK, I have nothing but frustrated memories of sitting at the fucking entrance to this goddamn module trying to get in the front fucking door. Plus I was about 3 yrs younger than the DM and his best friend and party leader, so it was "Shut up, kid". What a smug bastard I remember him being with this module.

First time I ever wanted to shank a DM.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:56 PM on April 2, 2013


First time I ever wanted to shank a DM.

I believe there is an encounter in X2: Castle Amber where you're allowed to do just that.

Or maybe it was a side dimension in Q1.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:58 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, let me mention how much it tickles me to read a learned dissertation on the subject of the tomb dwelling dead by a person named adipocere.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:03 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tomb of Horrors is basically everything that was awful about D&D. The module is unplayable if you just follow the rules; there's random death around every corner, much of it unfair. So really the whole module is a foil for the sadistic DM getting to screw around with his little brother friends he invited over for the all-nighter with cheap pizza, taunting them with death and redemption. The module is basically a setup for pulling the wings off of flies. Great writing though, fun to read (and map!) if not play.
posted by Nelson at 9:10 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just caught up with his blog posts and, uh, yeah, I can't put my finger on it but ...yeah. Damn. I hope he is okay.

I've been reading adamcadre.ac since my freshman year in college. Oddly enough, when I was graduating I planned to write to him and half-seriously ask him about the secret of his happiness and success. Because, hey, he was a published author, game designer, amateur musician, comic book writer, accomplished chef, armchair intellectual, and all-around Internet bad boy extraordinaire. Having continued to read his blog since then, it's come to my attention that his life has been full of all sorts of messed-up stuff. And I'm getting a distinct impression that he's in denial about a few things about himself.

He's definitely got a lot of interesting things to say and it's always nice when he updates his site. But much of what he writes now seems to be tuned to the frequency of despair and cross-referenced by the longitude and latitude of a heart in agony. And that feels a little funny.
posted by Nomyte at 9:18 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Looking at the image... there is a fake tomb entrance? With fake doors where you can get permanently trapped by a sliding rock slab to slowly die of dehydration? Before you even enter the dungeon? Is that right? Because that's awesome.

Look more closely. There are two fake entrances with lethal traps, one on the left and one on the right. This thing is a festival of sadism.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:30 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Although I am grognardish, the mere fact of the T o' H makes me glad I never played at Gygax's table. Guy really had it in for players.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:52 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tomb of Horrors is basically everything that was awful about D&D. The module is unplayable if you just follow the rules; there's random death around every corner, much of it unfair. So really the whole module is a foil for the sadistic DM getting to screw around with his little brother friends he invited over for the all-nighter with cheap pizza, taunting them with death and redemption. The module is basically a setup for pulling the wings off of flies. Great writing though, fun to read (and map!) if not play.

What you're missing is that the Tomb of Horrors was supposed to be that one time you get to be the DM, and you invite all your DM friends over and kill their beloved characters over and over again. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks did the same thing, but you could single them out.
posted by Sphinx at 9:58 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


It says at the bottom here that Barrier Peaks will be drawn next by the cartoonist
posted by Bwithh at 10:08 PM on April 2, 2013


DEMI-LICH!
posted by Artw at 10:09 PM on April 2, 2013


I've read a bunch of original D&D and 2nd edition supplements, but I've never actually played through a module. (Our public library system had lots of the former and none of the latter.) A lot of the stuff on the map feels supernaturally familiar, especially since I fell out of D&D almost completely after 2nd edition, and the Boris Vallejo-esque art in the later editions makes my skin crawl.

Anyway, we've had an FPP about this artist's tribute to Lovecraft. And that's the feeling this map gives me, the same chill of terror and weird delight I sometimes get from reading Lovecraft's prose. There is something awe-inspiring and alien-feeling about a magical dungeon that will not submit to the party's onslaught. It's like it's not even about the party, like it's been sitting out in the wasteland for thousands of years and will continue sitting there, in a state of magical oblivion, long after the heroes' bones turn to dust. This module is a fucking work of art that makes you think about what a "game" is and what it means to "win." And the bonus is that you can then turn it around and read all about the million ways one can die, if you so desire.
posted by Nomyte at 10:16 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some other work from the artist. Including a map of Lovecraft's Dreamlands.

I like it, but I would love it if it was in the numbered chart style of the Tomb of Horrors map... Someone ought to do that.

Also needs MOAR KITTIES.
posted by Artw at 10:17 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I hasten to plug the newly re-translated Roadside Picnic, a sci-fi novel about what it would feel like to try looting the Tomb of Horrors yourself.
posted by Nomyte at 10:23 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


How in the world am I supposed to read this? I tried to just follow the numbers, but that doesn't seem anywhere near right.
posted by wayland at 10:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


A new translation of Roadside Picnic ... by whom? If I were the translator, I'd be furious.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:29 PM on April 2, 2013


If I were the translator, I'd be furious.

Why? Books get re-translated all the time. The old Bouis translation is out of print. It makes sense for a publisher to commission a new translation, rather than trying to secure the rights to an old one. Compare the similar situation with the English translations of Solaris. (I guess publishers often hype newer translations as better and more accurate, and that may be on occasion, but I would guess that it's more often a matter of what's simpler in practice.)
posted by Nomyte at 10:33 PM on April 2, 2013


No, I mean I didn't see a translator credit on the cover or in the publisher's copy. I'd want credit for my work.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:38 PM on April 2, 2013


Man. I just played through ToH, and a lot of this is familiar, in a funny, gallows-humor kind of way. We did surprisingly well -- presumable because we played it in 3.5, rather than its native 1.0 -- but it was still a TPK by the end. We got cocky and started to look up the cost of some "I got 99 problems, but a lich ain't one" T-shirts on Etsy or Cafe Press, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.

the Boris Vallejo-esque art in the later editions makes my skin crawl.

Yeah? They intentionally moved away from Vallejo/Frazetta-esque art as of 3.0, so this kind of surprises me. Wayne Reynolds did the art in the PHB and Monster Manual, and folks like Jason Chan did a lot of the Forgotten Realms supplements; their stuff doesn't really seem in the Vallejo vein to me.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:43 PM on April 2, 2013


It's by Olena Bormashenko. She's credited in the book. I don't think translators get prominent billing very often.
posted by Nomyte at 10:43 PM on April 2, 2013


It's true. I guess I'm too used to the Pevear-Volokhonslaught.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:47 PM on April 2, 2013


What you're missing is that the Tomb of Horrors was supposed to be that one time you get to be the DM, and you invite all your DM friends over and kill their beloved characters over and over again.

I'm playing a campaign like that right now. For weeks coming up to the start of the campaign the DM-for-once-so-take-that would mutter gleefully out of nowhere "You're all going to die horribly in a pit, yes indeed!"

So for the first six weeks of play, EVERY room I walk into, I announce "I search for pits". No pits. Finally I decide he was joking, and stop searching. You know where this is going.

Week seven, I run down a corridor and he announces, "You fall into a pit and die."

It turns out we were meant to do that corridor first, but we took the long way round.
posted by lollusc at 10:54 PM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


The context of Tomb of Horrors is that it's a convention adventure (as were all 1st ed modules) and was not meant for any party in an ongoing campaign.

For an excellent modern reimagining check out Revenge of the Iron Lich for 4e; takes the balls out insanity of 1e and straps it to the slick 4e tactical/gameplay engine. No word of a lie it has save or die word puzzles and lakes of boilng fucking mithril. And although it is ridiculously, gleefully unfair, it's designed round a single set of players takng multiple runs at the dungeon and in that context it works perfectly. My own party beat it on the second run with less than 10 seconds to spare.

Oh, and my favourite part of Tomb of Horrors?

You can get to Acererak and steal all his treasure and he won't do a thing. As long as you don't touch him he stays dormant.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:15 PM on April 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Use various magics to determine the location of the treasure chamber. Get some dwarven miners or summon some Umberhulks. Dig a tunnel to the treasure room from the top of the mound. Do not disturb the demilich.
posted by humanfont at 1:08 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Players? Not touch everything? Heh.
posted by Artw at 1:16 AM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Never got to play this one back in the day. Our usual DM was such a fucking hardass that we'd make it to say level three at best, then get killed by an elf.
posted by bardic at 1:21 AM on April 3, 2013


The part where "molten gold explodes from his orifices" almost had soda explode from a few of my orifices. This was seriously funny. And yes, those Unearthed Arcana classes seemed to make a lot of sense to me back then, but now it all just seems kinda silly.

I was looking at some of the serial comics he did on that site. They are pretty cute.
posted by chemoboy at 1:29 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't see a link here to the actual module itself (or at least the revised version). You can find it here.

You probably don't need to know much about DnD to read it and get the general impression of what Gygax was thinking.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:47 AM on April 3, 2013


The novelization of White Plume Mountain by Paul Kidd is brilliant.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:11 AM on April 3, 2013


It does my heart good to see drawings of those imaginary places. The illustration book that came with the module was pretty great. Climb right into that mouth.

Ready Player One also has an amusing bit with the Tomb of Horrors, if playing Joust in the pillar room sounds like something you might be interested in.
posted by fleacircus at 2:37 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


On 6. THE FACE OF THE GREAT GREEN DEVIL, here's 1d4chan's page on it, which despite its relatives in this case is funny and informative and has an only slightly photoshopped picture of the face itself.

Tomb of Horrors is basically everything that was awful about D&D.

From my DMing of 3E, I disagree entirely. Somewhere along the line the strange and magical world the PCs are supposed to be exploring became entirely too safe for them. If Tomb Of Horrors weren't a series of ludicrous deathtraps would we even be talking about it now? It's not dishonorable to lose a character to a legendary difficult module, and it's not even saddening if you don't tie up too much hope in the character's fate and he kicks the bucket in a particularly memorable fashion, while playing Prince Exemplar the Omnipotent as he wrecks yet another archlich's shit isn't really much fun. Remember: losing is fun.

the mere fact of the T o' H makes me glad I never played at Gygax's table. Guy really had it in for players.

Tomb Of Horror is described as exactly what it is, a gigantic player humbler, by Gygax himself in the introduction. He invented the game, he knew what made it work, and he knew the Tomb wasn't very fair, but he also knew that, sometimes, when the players get cocky, you just have to pull out the stops. Part of what makes the mysterious fascinating is the danger of dealing with it.
posted by JHarris at 3:11 AM on April 3, 2013


Tomb of Horrors was the first module I ever went through, back in 1978 or so. At six years old, I was the youngest player in the group.

We were FIRST LEVEL. To be fair, I think it was the only module my cousin had.

So, first, we spent pretty much all day learning the rules and creating our characters. After hours and hours of puzzling out a game that seemed to have been designed by demented numerologists, I happily took my first level magic user Seve, with one memorized shield spell and a mighty three or so hit points, into the Tomb.

The party did not last very long. Half the group perished after going through the false entrance that was probably the origin of the phrase "Rocks fall, everyone dies". I and a few others made it as far as the first hallway, where we perished in pits.

The players reacted in different ways. Oddly, none of us turned away from role-playing games; somehow this experience addicted us to them. I still play them more than three decades later. But my older brother was somewhat traumatized, I think, because for years thereafter he would not allow a door or a chest to be opened unless his character was in a completely different room, or, if possible, on a completely different plane.

I, on the other hand, was outraged. Which is why the very next day, I started my career as a dungeon designer and dungeon master, taking the rest of the group through a dungeon of my own creation.

It was generally acknowledged to be more fun than the Tomb of Horrors, at least for a first-level party. (Although the room of tap-dancing mosquitoes was thought to be a bit odd. Well, I was six.)
posted by kyrademon at 3:32 AM on April 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Tomb of Horrors is basically everything that was awful about D&D.

It's also kind of of everything that is awesome about D&D.

I mean, here, this is great:
The False Crypt: The steps down to the chamber at the end are filled with webs which can only be removed by magical fire (burning hands, a flaming sword, etc.). Any character trying to break through them will become hopelessly entangled and can not get free unless magically burned free or wished out. At the very foot of the stairway is a silver-inlaid mace which will begin to glow with a bright golden light when it is picked up by any character. Whenever this weapon is swung at the pseudo-lich, it will hit. The pseudo-crypt is filled with rotting and decayed furnishings which were once most costly, and upon a solid gold couch (50,000 g.p. value) a lich-like figure with a crown on its head will be slowly rising (and throwing up its hands in apparent fear if the mace is being carried). A booming voice from the whole of the chamber will demand: «WHO DARES TO DISTURB THE REST OF ACERERAK? IT IS YOUR DEATH WHICH YOU HAVE FOUND.» (After this announcement you should show your players GRAPHIC #18.) The purported lich is actually a magically-prepared zombie with spells upon him which give the following stats: AC -4; move base 12”; H.P.: 32; attacks 1/round as a 6 hit dice monster for 3-10 h.p. damage; and anti-magic charms will absorb 12 levels of spells cast before any will take effect (any spell partially absorbed is spoiled). Between strikes the zombie will gesture magically with its hands as if readying a spell. If it is struck by the golden mace it will make a roaring bellow (magic mouth spell), and the weapon will obviously stagger it (roll dice and shake your head). The 3rd time it is struck by the gold mace the zombie will instantly wither and disappear in a puff of dust, the mace will shatter, and at this moment the room will start to shake and stones will begin to come down from the ceiling. OBVIOUSLY THE PLACE IS BEGINNING TO COLLAPSE, but take your time detailing the rumblings, tremors, grinding noises, falling hunks of celling, and so forth; and if players inquire they can see a jade coffer, the dead monster’s fallen crown, and a fine leather bag (a give-away – it isn’t rotten) within easy reach. All other items are iron, locked, etc. NOW BEGIN COUNTING SLOWLY TO 10, and it is odds on that there will be a stampede up the stairs to get away! A programmed illusion from the pseudo-crypt will give the full effects of a cave-in, and actual dust will billow up the stairs, while bits of stone begin to fall in the east-west tunnel and then the north-south tunnel and stairs reached from the pit. If the party runs out, ask them if they thought it was too hard a dungeon ...

The jade coffer is worth 5,000 g.p. and contains 6 healing potions. The crown is begemmed and worth 25,000 g.p. The small sack holds 276 p.p., 29 base 10 g.p. gems, a scroll of 7 magic-user spells (pretend to roll, but they are all 1st and 2nd level), and a map showing a location several hundred miles away which supposedly has a rich treasure (it is a fake, naturally). If this doesn’t make them suspicious enough to take another run through to check things out, put the module away for use when you have a different group (or the same ones) inquiring about one of the key references in the Legend. Note that something so simple as a commune spell will reveal that the demi-lich has not been destroyed. In any event, Acererak will see to the righting of things eventually. The only treasure left in the pseudo-crypt is the gold couch.
Note that before this point in the module there were a few "count out loud and if the party isn't running away fast enough they die" traps training the party to flee. And to top it all off, this is the encounter depicted on the cover of the module itself.
posted by fleacircus at 3:54 AM on April 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I forgot that I had a copy of the 2E Monster Manual in electronic format -- I wasn't going to bother to look this up in my paper copy, which is in a box deep in a closet. But here's the salient bits about demiliches:
If the final resting place of a demilich's remains are entered, the dust which was once its body will rise up and assume a man-like shape. In the case of the oldest demiliches (25%), the shape will advance and threaten, but dissipate without attacking in 3 rounds unless attacked. Younger demiliches (75%) still retain a link to their remains, however, and will form with the powers of a wraith. This dust form cannot be turned. In addition, it can store energy from attacks and use this power to engage its foes. If the dust form is attacked, each point of damage which is delivered to it is converted to an energy point. Since the demilich will fall back and seem to suffer injury from each attack (though none is actually inflicted), its attackers are likely to press on in their attempts to destroy it. Once the demilich has acquired 50 energy points, it will assume a manifestation which looks much like the lich's earlier undead form and has the powers and abilities of a ghost, but which cannot be turned.

If anyone touches the skull it will rise into the air and turn to face the most powerful of the intruders (a spell user will be chosen over a non-spell user). Instantly, it unleashes a howl which acts as a
death ray, affecting all creatures within a 20' radius of the skull. Those who fail to save vs. death are permanently dead.
Oh, I totally forgot about that; that's the howl I remembered. I thought it did that every round, but no, this attack happens once, at the beginning of the fight, and anyone who doesn't save versus death just dies permanently. No resurrection, no takebacks. A wish might, I suppose, restore the character, but it would need to be most carefully worded, or it might restore the lich as well.
On the next round, the demilich will employ another manner of attack. In order to attain the status of a demilich, a lich must have replaced 5-8 (1d4+4) of its teeth with gems. Each of these gems now serves as a powerful magical device which can trap the soul of its adversaries. The physical body of someone hit with the demilich's spell collapses and rots away in a single round. Once it has drained the life essence from the most powerful member of the party, the skull sinks back to the floor. If it continues to be challenged, the demilich can repeat this attack until all of its gems are filled. An amulet of life protection will prevail over the gem, but the character's body will perish regardless.
That's the attack I was remembering. No save, no resist, instant body destruction and soul trapping. You lose one character per round.
In addition to the attacks mentioned above, a demilich can also pronounce a powerful curse on those who disturb it. These can be so mighty as to include: always being hit by one's enemies, never making a saving throw, or the inability to acquire new experience points. Demilich curses can be overcome with a remove curse, but the victim loses one point of charisma permanently when the curse is removed.
Totally forgot about that one. I suppose he could curse your paladin to always miss attacks, so that Holy Avenger is suddenly useless.
The skull of a demilich is Armor Class -6 and has 50 hit points. It can be affected by spells in only a few ways: a forget spell will cause it to sink down without attacking (either by howling or draining a soul), a dispel evil will do 5-8 (1d4+4) points of damage to it, a shatter spell will inflict 3-18 (3d6) points of damage to it, a holy word pronounced against it will deliver 5-30 (5d6) points of damage, and a power word kill spell cast by an ethereal or astral wizard will cause the skull to shatter (destroying it).
Dunno about your mages and priests, but in our parties, we might have a single Dispel Evil, probably no Shatters or Forgets memorized, and I can't imagine a mage trying a Power Word: Kill, which you A) wouldn't expect to work on the undead, and B) definitely wouldn't plane shift before trying. Only way that attack is going to happen is if someone tells the party ahead of time, and demiliches are so rare that they'd probably have to encounter it, get smart and run away, and then come back after adventuring across the world to consult with the mightiest of oracles. Holy Word is pretty darn useful here, but you'd need about four, and the lich would eat the priest after the first or maybe second one.

Ah, here's the weapons bit:
Most weapons will be unable to harm the skull of a demilich, but there are exceptions. A fighter or ranger with a vorpal sword, sword of sharpness, sword +5, or vorpal weapon can inflict normal damage on the skull, as can a paladin with a vorpal or +4 weapon. Further, any character with a +4 or better weapon or a mace of disruption can inflict 1 point of damage to the skull each time he strikes it.
Okay, so my memories were fuzzy. I was right about +4 weapons doing 1 point of damage, but forgot that a Sword of Sharpness (a +3 weapon) would hurt it. (they are very, very rare; Swords of Sharpness cut off a limb on an attack roll of a natural 20, where vorpal weapons cut off heads on 19 or 20, if I remember the rules properly.) Maces of Disruption are normally very potent anti-undead weapons, and being reduced to just 1 damage seems a touch unfair. If I were the designer, I'd probably have made the SoS do 1 damage, and the mace do full. And there's nothing specific about a Holy Avenger at all, though I think they're +4 weapons against undead, so in the hands of a paladin, they would indeed do full damage.

A bit of explanation for non-D&D players: a +5 weapon is something I don't think any of my fighter-type characters ever had, after a decade of playing. I had at least three in the high teens. My mage, somewhere around 30th level, might have had a +5 dagger. A weapon of that caliber will do damage to a major god. If you're a WoW player, that's kind of the equivalent of an orange weapon, something that hardly anyone ever saw, and having a party with more than one of those is pretty darn unlikely. And, of course, the demilich will eat whoever's got that weapon first, maybe second if it doesn't spot it in the first round.
Upon the destruction of the skull, those who have been trapped inside the gems must make a saving throw vs. spell. Those who fail are lost forever, having been consumed by the demilich to power its magical nature. If the character survives, the gem glows with a faint inner light, and true seeing will reveal a tiny figure trapped within. If the throw is made the soul can be freed by simply crushing the gem. A new body must be within 10 yards for the soul to enter or it will be lost. Such a body might be a clone or simulacrum. (See spells of those names.)
So, yeah, clone or simulacrum? On tap? Not bloody likely.

I'm pretty sure the rules in this module were a little different; I think it took 24 hours for this specific demilich to eat a character's soul, but there was no save. If you lost people, and went away to rest and prepare for longer than a day, you'd lose all soul trappees permanently. So you probably had to keep beating on the skull if you wanted to save them, but every round you screwed with the skull, someone else died.
If the fragments of the destroyed skull are not destroyed by immersion in holy water and the casting of a dispel magic the demilich will reform in 1-10 days.
Yeah, I'd totally think to do that. Sure.

So, if you bring enough people to survive up to 8 soul traps, and could still swing a +5 weapon of some kind, this version of demilich would be fairly helpless. Later editions of D&D gave it a horribly powerful touch attack as well, which caused permanent paralysis, no save, and did an assload of damage.

Basically, they were party wreckers. They were designed to turn your high level, mega-awesome party into goo. And note that, in Tomb of Horrors, you don't run into this monster until last, after the rest of the dungeon has been chewing away at your party. For about 99% of adventuring groups, even if they'd started with this thing, they'd have been toast, because players simply cannot, cannot keep their hands to themselves.

Someone would prod the skull. It always happens.
posted by Malor at 4:36 AM on April 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Should have hired a sage after hitting Name level . . .
posted by mobunited at 4:59 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I grew up on 2nd Edition and never played the Tomb. My groups particular white whale was The Ruins of Undermountain a ginormous boxed set of a dungeon set in our preferred Forgotten Realms. After losing a few parties to its depths, my friend Craig and I managed to get a copy of the DM's book and map and wrote down the directions to that damn treasure horde that Mike was always using to lure us to have another go at.

We made sure our characters were dual or multiclassed with thieves as at the time they got experience points for gold obtained. Our group never paid attention to the whole 'you can't go up more than 1 level a session' thing, so we knew if we found the treasure, we'd be rolling in it. So our party of four set out - Yeeblodod the Hornhead Saurial Wizard/Thief/Fighter ("Uhh, he likes picking locks?" said Craig when asked why a nine foot tall triceratops with an average Dex would bother with thieving), Jaxon the Human Fighter (sorry, Jay, but you couldn't keep a secret to save your life), Mike's paladin Roxie, and my Cleric of Mask/Thief, Timet.

Craig and I had a series of gestures we would use to the pick the direction we would go and an extra map hidden away in the Calvin and Hobbes book in the bathroom that we'd check up on periodically. Because we had died in that damn dungeon so many times before, Mike didn't think much about us picking directions with a sense of purpose. So we faff around for a bit and then just happen to stumble upon that giant horde. We're all excited, of course, Craig and I moreso when we point out the XP we're about to get. Mike tried to enforce the level gain rule at that point, but Craig pointed out that if we were following the letter of the rules, then his paladin Roxie would have to give away most of her treasure and not buy a rockin castle like Mike wanted, so he backed off.

The rest of the afternoon was spent pouring over that magical items catalog and the castle building guide. I guess Mike could have thrown more problems at us (thieves, actual logistics of getting that much treasure out of a dungeon, etc), but he was eager to build his damn castle. Besides, Timet was like a 20/20 cleric/thief (maybe more? We didn't have the 20+ level books on hand) and Yeeblodod was like a 18/16/20 Fighter/Wizard/Thief so we would have pasted pretty much anything we saw.

In the end, Yeeblodod built a huge tower outside of Waterdeep, Timet scammed his way into being at least three of the masked Lords of Waterdeep, Roxie got her castle, and Jaxon got a giant mercenary army that he used to take Roxie's castle from her ("Look, you spent all your cash on the castle but didn't leave any staff it. So, uh, yoink!"). Roxie tried to raise funds to take her castle back, but by then Jaxon had agreed to a deal with Yeeblodod that the wizard could experiment on his soldiers, so they were all super buff. She tried to join the Harpers but Timet had already taken those dudes over, so she tried to hire an assassin to kill Jaxon and promptly fell from grace.

Mike stormed out when I offered to let Roxie have a job in that tavern above Undermountain, which Timet owned by then. In future games, we couldn't resist throwing in mentions of that sad wench that worked at the Inn who was always muttering that she could have been a contender.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:04 AM on April 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Cleric walks through misty gateway; never seen again.

Obviously she discovered the secret Chocolate Room that Acererak is rumored to have constructed inside his tomb.

If you found the chocolate room, would you return to the party?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:20 AM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well now I just want to play D&D (or something akin to D&D but better-designed; last time I did dungeon diving was just goofy playing with Donjon).
posted by curious nu at 6:58 AM on April 3, 2013


So, out of curiosity, has anyone ever played the original Tomb of Horrors and thought, "Well, that was fun!" I mean played as a character, not GMed.

I glanced at it today, after reading this thread, and what immediately struck me about it was that it's so ... tedious. Things like, repeat the same action three times, even though nothing happened the first two times, and you will receive a reward! An invisible reward. Which cannot be seen using see invisible. Then find a whole series of hard to find secret doors.

The intro implies that it's supposed to foster creative problem solving rather than hack and slash monster killing, and I can see how some of the traps can certainly do that - for example, the cool idea in the FPP of turning the block of stone to flesh and then having insects devour it. But most of the things in the dungeon actually discourage creative problem solving, replacing it instead with either "you touched the wrong thing and oops you die" or "guess the single random thing Gary Gygax had in mind as the only possible solution here" -- there are tons of things which are, "Only two completely nonintuitive spells will work here, period ... don't have them or you guessed wrong? Then you die."

I know that this is partly because it was originally designed for tournament play (the idea was to see how far you could get more than to "win"), partly as a change-up from the (equally tedious) find-a-monster-kill-it find-a-monster-kill-it brand of adventuring, partly as Gygax's annoyed reaction to the flood of nine-billionth level characters that infested the early days of D&D, and partly because it simply comes from the brand of role-playing philosophy where permanent character death is just a Thing That Happens rather than a Big Huge Deal, but ...

Seriously, does anyone ever have a good time playing this?
posted by kyrademon at 6:59 AM on April 3, 2013


Seriously, does anyone ever have a good time playing this?

"Cruel, but most entertaining for the DM."
—Gygax
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:14 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pffft, Acererak. In my opinion, the best villains aren't the undead demi-liches, they're the elves who charm you for most of the campaign into believing that they're the good guys, until one day you're at level 17 telling them "Hey, I don't really feel comfortable with how we burned down that building which turned out to have goblin children inside" and they say something vaguely chilling like "It's adorable that you're worried about it, but let's be real here - everyone know that goblins don't have souls. And besides, you didn't have any ethical qualms spending all the money you got from the goblin chief's treasure stash, did you? Come on, stop playing silly buggers and let's have another drink." In my opinion, that's what makes a truly great villain.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:18 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


As others may have pointed out, Tomb of Horrors was just reprinted in Dungeons of Dread, a collection of vintage D&D adventures. To those wondering what Acererak was doing in that trap-filled tomb of his, or what the point of such an over-the-top deathtrap dungeon would be, Lawrence Schick's introduction to Dungeons of Dread is informative:
"The dungeon of the demi-lich Acererak was, for Gary [Gygax], a kind of thought experiment: If an undead sorcerer really wanted to keep his tomb from being plundered by greedy adventurers, how would he do it? The answer, of course, was to defend the crypt with tricks and traps designed not to challenge the intruders but to kill them dead. And furthermore, to do it in ways so horrific that all but the most determined party would give up and leave well enough alone."
If you read or play through a lot of D&D dungeons, you will start to notice that many of the supposedly deadly obstacles and traps that fill them aren't actually as deadly as they could be. That is, of course, because D&D has to be a playable game where you have a chance of succeeding. However, one can see the appeal in the occasional more "realistic" dungeon, designed not to harass or confound the players, but simply destroy them.
posted by Byzantine at 7:32 AM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


> "If you read or play through a lot of D&D dungeons, you will start to notice that many of the supposedly deadly obstacles and traps that fill them aren't actually as deadly as they could be."

Well ... in part that's because it's no fun for the players if they die every fifteen seconds, but the sword of "realism" does cut both ways. A dungeon like "Tomb of Horrors" is only "realistic" if:

1) It is taken as a given that the person who built it had an effectively infinite amount of power, money, and time.

2) It is a place specifically designed as an inaccessible deathtrap with no good way in or out. Many dungeons are just caves where various critters have moved in to live, or have trapped treasure hoards but a way in and out so that the person who owns the treasure can occasionally get at it to spend it, or even just a place where someone actually lives. I've had far more realism problems from the, "Wait ... the tyrant put a nondisarmable deathtrap on his BEDROOM DOOR?" conundrum.

I'll admit there are things that have bugged me from the other, "this is too easy", direction. For example, I hate it when characters go into a castle, kill a few guards, then go back out to sleep for a night, and expect everyone to still just be waiting unaware in their rooms the next day. Or when a monster fails to hear a pitched battle -- complete with explosions -- through a thin door because "it's not their room, it's not their problem".

But from someone who has a character trying to build a dungeon in her townhouse right now, they are freakin' expensive, and I don't have a Sphere of Annihilation hanging around to use as an offhand thing-lying-around-in-case-anyone-bothers-to-poke-it.

All that being said, I do appreciate that Acererak apparently DID have an effectively infinite amount of power, money, and time, and he DID just want to build a deathtrap to guard his corpse and hoard with no easy way in or out, because what did he care? He was dead. So, yeah, even though I disagree that less dangerous dungeons are necessarily not realistic, Tomb of Horrors certainly is reasonably realistic.

But that still doesn't mean it's, you know, fun.
posted by kyrademon at 8:04 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


http://www.dndclassics.com/

Does not have any in the "S" series though.. not sure why since they have almost every other module.
posted by rjc3000 at 8:16 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


All that being said, I do appreciate that Acererak apparently DID have an effectively infinite amount of power, money, and time, and he DID just want to build a deathtrap to guard his corpse and hoard with no easy way in or out, because what did he care? He was dead. So, yeah, even though I disagree that less dangerous dungeons are necessarily not realistic, Tomb of Horrors certainly is reasonably realistic.

And what does a lich, particularly a demi-lich, need with piles of treasure? Treat adventurers like they were ants - if you don't want them coming around, make sure there's nothing there that they want.

Yeeblodod's plan was to just hollow out a 10'x10' room miles beneath the surface in solid bedrock. Ward the place from location finding and teleport spells and be done with it. His giant demi-lich triceratops skull could just sit there for eternity. Timet promised to check in on it every few thousand years, but since he'd end up being a deva/angel/avatar of Mask, who knows when his schedule would permit.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:24 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, designing a dungeon to live in, in game, presents some real problems.

1) I want to fill it with a variety of monsters to keep it interesting, at least one per floor, with me and my charmed succubus "girlfriend" in the final room. But intelligent monsters would have to be paid or something, which is expensive and builds little loyalty, or charmed, but keeping the succubus charmed is sucking up enough of my spell slots already, and semi-smart monsters need to be fed and have their litter changed and will get bored and try to escape and attack you and stuff. So I decided on dumb monsters, but no undead because they're icky. So I'm trying to get a plant, an ooze, and a golem. I managed to track down, immobilize, and transport a giant venus flytrap, although it nearly ate me in the process, and I have that installed in a top-floor room with a barred skylight. Probably it'll be fine if I throw a pig in there every now and then. I'm on the trail of a black pudding right now for a stone room in the basement. The golem I'm saving up for - those things cost a LOT, and this is all above and beyond equipping my character as it is.

2) Don't even TALK to me about how much traps cost. Criminy. Guards & Wards all the way.

3) So the succubus and I live in the sub-basement. We can both teleport, so we can easily bypass the "maze" we've created in most of the rest of the townhouse (we have a "safe" guest area on the first floor in case we have friends or relatives that want to stay over and not be attacked or something). But wait, that means other people could scry us and teleport in, right? So we lined the sub-basement with lead behind a nice fronting layer of prettier stone. Of course, we need a bathroom down there, but we didn't want to connect it to the sewer system, because we didn't want adventurers crawling out of the toilet, so we had to install a cistern system. There's also a small kitchen, because ordering in obviously isn't really feasible.

4) Speaking of that doorbell, I only have a limited number of teleports, and I don't want to waste them on magazine salesmen, and of course, since I live in a lead-lined room, I can't scry OUT. So I put a sign by the doorbell saying "Ring once if you are a personal friend, twice if you are here on business, and three times if you are here to rob and murder us." But after several of my idiot co-adventurers rang once and then twice (because they were friends but here on business), causing false alarms, I added a note saying "PICK ONE". (I *just* obtained prying eyes as a spell just so it will let me see who is at the damn door without using up a teleport.)

So, to sum up, Acererak can BITE ME with his zillion gold piece dungeon and his teleporters sprinkled around like friggin' confetti and his fire-filled pits dang ancient being with limitless resources grumble grumble ...
posted by kyrademon at 8:43 AM on April 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Kyrademon, I will definitely concede that the Tomb of Horrors and its ilk are far from realistic. I should have said "slightly more convincing, given D&D's tropes and assumptions" rather than "realistic."

Also, your dungeon project sounds hilariously awesome. Now I'm feeling a bit of sympathy for every mad wizard who labored to put together a respectable dungeon without breaking their budget.... but don't forget, your dungeon will also need some kind of poorly-rhymed riddle to confound adventurers. (But it has to be something a 14-year-old D&D player can solve!)
posted by Byzantine at 8:53 AM on April 3, 2013


The Birchbark Heroes vs The Tomb of Horrors. (The map is rotated from the one in the post, so the entrance is at the top. Click on the various ovals starting with the one on the top left.)
posted by fings at 8:55 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Almost twenty years ago I worked for a small company called Dungeonworks. It was a company that created 3d injection molded plastic walls and metal boards for laying out dungeons. For a display at GenCon (94/95?) we built a scale model of the Tomb of Horrors (it was 6'x8' or so) and the owner of the company took it to the show. Because of hormones and a girlfriend, it was to my eternal regret that I missed attending that year. In the middle of running a group of players through ToH at GenCon, my boss was approached by Gary Gygax, who expressed his respect for the display. And as a secret aside to the DM, explained how to destroy Acererak, no muss, no fuss. MeMail me if you want the spoiler.
posted by bastionofsanity at 9:19 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was this the trick with the crown? Because that was hysterical.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:22 AM on April 3, 2013


After hours and hours of puzzling out a game that seemed to have been designed by demented numerologists,

A demented actuary, technically.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:08 AM on April 3, 2013


Did someone above mention there was a Tomb novel? (I'm at work and I'm totally gonna space on re-reading later.)
posted by griphus at 11:33 AM on April 3, 2013


And as a secret aside to the DM, explained how to destroy Acererak, no muss, no fuss.

GM: [pretends to roll dice] Oh, while that was indeed a very clever combination of things to do, Acererak made his save, oh, and also you woke him up and he's coming for you. In fact [pretends to roll dice]... he's teleported right next to you!
posted by Pyry at 12:16 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If there's a death effect in Tomb of Horrors that allows a save, you're doing it wrong.

(The trick in question involves taking one of the no-save-no-escape-you're-just-dead traps Acererak installed in the tomb and using it on his skull in a not-all-that-obscure fashion. Personally, I'd like to find a way to carry him to that damned Sphere of Annihilation without waking him up, and then just kick him in.)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:21 PM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


GM: Make an athletics check. [pretend to care about what was rolled]. No, that is not nearly high enough. Well, while trying to get the skull in the burlap bag, you accidentally touch it! The skull begins to levitate and lets out an unearthly howl! Everyone make saves vs. death.
posted by Pyry at 12:27 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seriously, does anyone ever have a good time playing this?

Sure. My group and I had a great time playing it less than a month ago. The trick, for us, was not using campaign characters we actually care about. Basically, if you've been creating back-story full of pathos for your 9th level Fighter, well, take Humongous's advice and "Just walk away."

But if you have a bunch of temporary characters with plenty of hirelings and you run the module as a one-shot, it has all the fun of a great horror movie. When our thief was almost killed trying to disarm the trap on the front door, twice, we laughed. When one character got lost and died in the same pit trap that had killed another character earlier, we howled. When a character was instantly killed by a tapestry of green slime to the face, we were practically crying.

Personally, I'd like to find a way to carry him to that damned Sphere of Annihilation without waking him up, and then just kick him in.

That was my plan, too. Even if he wakes up, he's still a skull -- if you can withstand his death attacks and keep a grip on him for ... two, maybe three rounds? -- you can go about 60' back out of his final lair, intentionally fail the trap that spits you out of the green demon's mouth, and then immediately turn around and shove him into the sphere of annihilation. Maybe.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:36 PM on April 3, 2013


What we've run up against here now is the fight between the two competing schools of dungeon design, that was (to my knowledge) part of the split between 1st edition and 2nd edition AD&D, dungeon as magical obstacle course against dungeon as logically consistent environment.

Here are the poles of the argument, neither on its own is wholly satisfactory but are given to present some idea of the ranges of possibility:

The early design archetype is that the dungeon is an eldritch place, and some of the rules of logic that apply on the surface may not work there. It was created by ancient forces using magic lost to us, that sustains its occupants, may selectively reset traps, may explain why magic items are buried everywhere, etc. Basically the dungeon is a kind of wonderland, but of course wonderlands can be dangerous. Rooms of living furniture! Portals to Barsoom*! +5 magic items hiding unnoticed hidden in the walls of a room containing orcs wielding rusty daggers! These are easier to design, more open to cool and ridiculous occurrences, and are more mysterious, but in the end feel kind of arbitrary.

(*Actually existed in Gygax's personal Castle Greyhawk.)

The later concept is that dungeons should be internally consistent. They were built for some purpose, by beings with limited resources, and that purpose echoes through the very walls and pillars of the place, everything there for some reason. The evil wizard doesn't want to spend all his time in his lair, he should have some way of getting out past his traps without risking setting them off or consuming daily spells. (You know how you might occasionally forget your PIN number? Wizards have that problem too, except they might die if they forget their command words.) Creatures should have some way of surviving on their own (which cuts down on the kinds of creatures that can be included), should have reasons for doing what they do (sometimes they're inhuman with alien motivations, sometimes are charmed, sometimes they're using it as a base of operations, are part of the evil wizard's troops or are "temping" for him, etc), the traps should have a mechanical underpinning or at least a magical mechanism with some underlying basis. Special locations have a history that might be divined and explains their magic. These dungeons are more satisfying to explore, since every one of these underlying explanations for the way the dungeons are as it is is potentially a lever a set of clever players can use to pry it apart, maybe without fighting. Find the wizard's secret route; deprive the monsters of their food source and wait them out; break the guards' charm spell; offer the minions a better deal than the wizard; and so on. They are harder to construct though, and taken to its ultimate conclusion can rob the game of a lot of its sense of wonder.
posted by JHarris at 1:30 PM on April 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


> "But if you have a bunch of temporary characters with plenty of hirelings and you run the module as a one-shot, it has all the fun of a great horror movie."

Ah, that makes sense. Also fits in with the fact that it was originally a tournament play, "here's-your-character-sheet-game's-over-there" style dungeon.
posted by kyrademon at 1:34 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I'm reading up on the 3.5-edition version of the demilich, and it seems like kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, soul stealing allows a saving throw now (if you pass, you only lose four levels!) and you don't have to roll to see if it ate you after killing the thing. On the other hand, it can restore its HP to full in battle with a Harm spell, which it can cast a literally infinite number of times per day.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:52 PM on April 3, 2013


> "What we've run up against here now is the fight between the two competing schools of dungeon design, that was (to my knowledge) part of the split between 1st edition and 2nd edition AD&D ..."

Hmm, I'm not sure I'd place the split as coming that late. 1st ed AD&D had plenty of "who cares if it makes perfect sense, it's a dungeon" modules -- White Plume Mountain, which has also been brought up here, is another good example of a classic "Er, what do they eat, exactly?" style module, and I had plenty of fun in White Plume Mountain back in the day.

But 1st ed also had plenty of attempts to create plots, politics, and "dungeon ecosystems" which had a feel of reality and consistency to them. The classic Giants/Drow/Lolth mega-campaign leaps to mind, and I remember the "X" series playing around with a lot of different formats like mystery investigation, literary reference, etc.

The way games have evolved have tended more towards the second one, though, as the years have passed, I will admit. I play the Pathfinder 3.5 variant these days, and it's a much better designed game than 1st ed in many ways. The world operates under relatively consistent rules, both for you and everyone else.

But after reading this thread, I did start feeling a certain sense of nostalgia for the wilder and woolier rules that were around in my youth, when spells were ill defined, there wasn't a rule for every situation, and if you wanted to talk the bugbear into joining your party rather than attacking you, you just had to do it somehow, there wasn't any roll you could make. The rules were as confusing and contradictory as a religious text, and no one knew them all. Maybe you *could* light the ship on fire with your lightning bolt. Maybe you *could* summon a whale right over the bad guy's head. Maybe you *could* make that 20 foot long jump onto the giant spider's back and start riding it where it couldn't bite you. If you were clever and creative and no one understood the rules any better than you did, the possibilities were limitless.

But that meant the world could also be arbitrary and cruel, with everyone random NPC joining in the bar fight turning out to be a 15th level powerhouse. Or it could be stupefyingly easy and pointless, with a roll of the dice suddenly granting you a thousand wishes. It all depended entirely on the whim and style of the GM, and that could be hard to take.

I guess, in the end, more people wanted consistency than arbitrary mystery. Despite my nostalgia, I'm probably among them.

I suppose if I want things wild and wooly again, I can always get together a Nobilis game.
posted by kyrademon at 2:03 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will admit that the dividing line isn't a solid thing. I think the old style captures a certain essence that is lost with more recent adventures, but having a basis in realism also helps the game a lot. And having unexpected things pop up, like the 15th level bar patron, helps to keep the players honest ("we're 7th level, we could kill the whole town single-handed if we wanted so let's mess this place up"), and to project the illusion of a world that's a lot larger than their experiences.

The biggest thing that's turned me off of recent edition gaming is the emphasis on the battle mat, and clomping figures around spaces like a tactical wargame, which is interesting for what it is but takes so much game time to set up and execute that it unavoidably becomes the focus of play. In a real sense, whatever it is you spend more than half of your time doing an adventure is the game.
posted by JHarris at 2:13 PM on April 3, 2013


If anyone here is interested in the early days (like, before AD&D) of Dungeons & Dragons, Playing at the World is a fantastic read. It's not directly about Tomb of Horrors-era D&D but you can see the origins of it.
posted by dfan at 2:14 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did someone above mention there was a Tomb novel? (I'm at work and I'm totally gonna space on re-reading later.)

No, there's one for White Plume Mountain, and then the characters do Descent into the Depths of the Earth, and Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

The books are quite good and stand on their own merits - they're sort of a romp, but with tight writing.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:44 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm imagining something like Drachenfels... Actually, just read that and pretend its not Warhammer.
posted by Artw at 3:02 PM on April 3, 2013


I resent each and every last one of you who even got in the front fucking door.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:29 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I guess, in the end, more people wanted consistency than arbitrary mystery.

I think consistency is easier to create and publish content for. Also I think people think too much about the worse case game here: the worse case gonzo type game is arbitrary and often unfair, whereas the worst case consistent game is merely deathly dull.

Like a freshman essay, the answer is always finding the right proportion. The Tomb of Horrors is a special case and perhaps something like it could exist in your campaign world. From what I understand, even Gygax's main dungeon started out very 'naturalist' at the top levels, but got crazier as you go down and the dungeon shifts from ruins overrun by various monsters to the playgrounds of a mad wizard, imprisoned gods, etc. It's totally possible to have both.
posted by fleacircus at 3:35 PM on April 3, 2013


Here is the official Tomb of Horrors novel. It's by the Vice President of the Pokemon products division at Wizards of the Coast
posted by Bwithh at 4:12 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hilariously I was out at the pub last night with my mate Jay, who is back from London for a couple of weeks, and a few of my IRL gaming buddies.

We didn't think he'd have time to have a session, but it turns out he does!

I knew exactly what to say: "Three words. Tomb. Of. Horrors".

I may or may not have hissed out the word 'bitches' after that.

So I'm running the module, this Sunday.

EVIL SERENDIPITY.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:18 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oooh. We demand a game report Sebmojo! (Do I have the authority to demand on all our behalves? Opt out if you don't.)

I guess, in the end, more people wanted consistency than arbitrary mystery.

It's not just that. To do arbitrary mystery well requires a fairly high order of imagination. And there's almost always something there to ground it in reality. Gygax sometimes used puns for this, such as in his (in)famous "Living Room" of deadly furniture.

A great resource for that kind of thing, which I've posted before and also linked to previously on occasion, is the always-amazing Dungeon Dozen, which is nearly all you need to create an awesome dungeon crawl by itself.
posted by JHarris at 4:26 PM on April 3, 2013


(Well, maybe not just by itself, but it's terrifically inspiring for this kind of thing. I always get alternating laughs and thoughtful looks reading it.)
posted by JHarris at 4:28 PM on April 3, 2013


It's by the Vice President of the Pokemon products division at Wizards of the Coast

Vice President? Pass.

(Thank you.)
posted by griphus at 4:34 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If anyone here is interested in the early days (like, before AD&D) of Dungeons & Dragons, Playing at the World is a fantastic read. It's not directly about Tomb of Horrors-era D&D but you can see the origins of it.

Featuring some poor illustrations by me!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:35 PM on April 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'll absolutely report back. It's only one session, so I doubt they'll get to the end, but it should be fun murdering them all.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Malor: "So, yeah, clone or simulacrum? On tap? Not bloody likely."

IIRC soul jar is essentially permanent; there isn't any rush to get a new body.

curious nu: "Well now I just want to play D&D (or something akin to D&D but better-designed; last time I did dungeon diving was just goofy playing with Donjon)."

My long time gaming group (like 25 years with the same guys more or less) has been playing 13th Age and we love it. Very AD&D feel without all the head bangers. And it's tough to be a min maxing munchin.

kyrademon: "does anyone ever have a good time playing this?"

I love playing this sort of dungeon on occasion. Also I love playing Paranoia.

kyrademon: " A dungeon like "Tomb of Horrors" is only "realistic" if:

1) It is taken as a given that the person who built it had an effectively infinite amount of power, money, and time.
"

This pretty well describes anyone who could become a 1st edition lich.

JHarris: "The biggest thing that's turned me off of recent edition gaming is the emphasis on the battle mat, and clomping figures around spaces like a tactical wargame, which is interesting for what it is but takes so much game time to set up and execute that it unavoidably becomes the focus of play. In a real sense, whatever it is you spend more than half of your time doing an adventure is the game."

Again I can't recommend 13th Age enough. It's gridless and the way it handles minions/mooks is brilliant.
posted by Mitheral at 5:09 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Zero Charisma.

Because your GM is an abusive, powertripping jerk.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:48 PM on April 3, 2013


1) It is taken as a given that the person who built it had an effectively infinite amount of power, money, and time."

This pretty well describes anyone who could become a 1st edition lich.


Lich is all MINECRAFT 4 (UN)LIFE.
posted by Artw at 5:51 PM on April 3, 2013


Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey: "Because your GM is an abusive, powertripping jerk."

Blech. That looks like Mazes & Monsters-level stereotyping and nerd-phobia. I'd rather watch something that portrays RPGs in a more nuanced, or just better, light, like THAC0: The Movie or The Gamers.
posted by jiawen at 8:12 PM on April 3, 2013


I DM'd Tomb of Horrors back with my first D&D group. I have to admit I did a terrible job. I was generally a softie of a DM, and we were going to move in a few months, so I pretty much was going full Monty Haul at the time. Anyway, I don't think my brother would have forgiven me if I had killed off his beloved Elven Fighter/Magic-User/Thief with some arbitary trap without even a saving throw. Going down wielding Stormbringer against an army of demons might have been acceptable. So the party survived the tomb even though they shouldn't have ("So....You really want to touch that? Are you absolutely sure?") but it still managed to scare the crap out of them.

It's occured to me that it might be fun to base a campaign out of sending a series of prerolled parties into the Tomb. Say it's a tradition that the king sends a group of adventurers to the Tomb every few decades, when the stars are auspicious. You could incorporate some sort of scrying so you wouldn't have to fight about player knowledge vs character knowledge. Some party members could even be the children or relatives of previous adventurers: "My father died in the Tomb, and his father before him. Now it's my turn."
posted by gamera at 10:30 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, hypothetically, if you had the Hand of Vecna, what would happen if you poked Acererak's skull with the hand? Would he awaken to the touch of another Lich? Maybe they were once buddies who campaigned together once upon a time. Maybe Acererak would buy you an ale and tell you stories. He must have great stories.
posted by homunculus at 12:20 AM on April 4, 2013


I was generally a softie of a DM

This is my own biggest problem as a DM too. I love Paranoia but I'm too soft-hearted to really do it well. I think I could be more bloodthirsty as a Call of Cthulhu keeper too.
posted by JHarris at 2:31 AM on April 4, 2013


My favourite absurdly deadly system is actually Chaosium's Stormbringer. Playing it as written you only get to choose your character name, everything else is random. A sword stroke will lop off a limb 1 time in 4. Magicians have around a 1 in 3 chance to die going up a level.

We played a one shot and, including rerolls, had eight player deaths in a single evening.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:41 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This post is great stuff. The game I'm running is not really focused on combat and rules, so I don't think I'll be using a dungeon like this. However, it might be good as a sort of side game sometime.
posted by rebent at 4:32 PM on April 4, 2013


New walkthrough map by the same artist: Barrier Peaks
posted by Bwithh at 1:04 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Ranger decides to catch cute Bunnyoid on stump."
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on April 23, 2013


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