Tomb of Horrors, Part 2
Acererak is dead. His tomb vandalized and plundered. We defeated this ultimate dungeon deathtrap using the same method as the first-place team at Origins 1 where the Tomb of Horrors premiered in 1975. Our cleric suggested a way to use the dungeon against itself. Yes, that’s correct. One way to beat it is to do something Gary Gygax did not intend, but which he agreed (and applauded) was a valid approach. We guessed this tactic; none of us had played it before (or at least not in thirty years).
Our victory, however, was not without some pain and frustration. If you’ve not played this terrifying treasure of old, do not read much past the line below. A few spoilers follow. And you absolutely should challenge yourself someday and play Tomb of Horrors, no matter which edition. I do own the 5th edition Tales from the Yawning Portal; and, I’ve read enough to know that the same ridiculous shenanigans occur therein as well, albeit, as one of our players said, “It’s like comparing the 1950’s no-seatbelt, no-airbag car to the modern vehicle; a few safety features have been added.”
"Please do play with friends… kind, cooperative, ingenious friends… and, of course, a truly diabolical GM"
- 1st Edition, Dungeons & Dragons
- Released for the first Origins in 1975
- Known as the deadliest dungeon, ever
Honestly, Tomb of Horrors is painful to play, but in the end, it will give you perspective on the evolution of D&D and a connection to the origins of this nerd culture (of which I am a proud member). A word of advice though, please do play with friends… kind, cooperative, ingenious friends… and, of course, a truly diabolical GM, like Gary Gygax was. Point in fact, the actual 1st edition module is filled with hilariously ruthless Gygaxian prose, like, “If the party runs out, ask them if they thought it was too hard a dungeon… 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…” So, gird your loins and buckle-up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Back to the tale of my Tomb. What happened to the PCs? Did we yell at each other? Throw our hands up in frustration? Although there was a great deal of tension around the table, our GM did give us kudos. We had attempted the adventure with the 5 lowest level pre-gens AND we beat Acererak with 3 out of the 5 original lowbies still in the party. Yes, you read that correctly, against all odds, the illusionist 5/fighter 4 (i.e. level 7 by 1st edition math) survived…
Now, as to the larger question, how did we get to Acererak, truly it was providence, paranoia, and patience. Beyond that we are an experienced team of players. We wandered around a great deal, but in the end we managed to avoid many of the more deadly traps. Here’s what we did:
So, we survived to tell the tale from this crypt. A parting piece of advice I'll share, courtesy of the master himself, which seems rather appropriate. "Do what you can, do it as well and efficiently as you can," Gygax wrote in his book Role-Playing Mastery,"and never lose sight of the most important RPG goal of all - enjoyment and fulfillment for you, and the continued survival and development of your precious player character." If the latter is truly what you desire, leave her behind in the tavern and never let her hear tales of the fortune and adventure to be had seeking the last resting place of Acererak. As I heard it, Gygax designed this dungeon to punish player hubris.
Until the next adventure... Keep calm and carry a 10-foot pole.