Adventure Archive: More Tales From the Crypt

August 12, 2017 2 comments

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"

Quick Facts
- 1st Edition, Dungeons & Dragons
- Released for the first Origins in 1975
- Known as the deadliest dungeon, ever

Gary Gygax's TSR Cover
Note the lack of any heroics

The sushi roll/devil duck kept tagging the tomb

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.


Spoilers follow...

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…

  • Illusionist 5/Fighter 4 – Miraculously lived. He scrawled his name all over Acererak’s tomb, and left rejoicing that he’d proven the Twittersphere wrong – twice. The rest of us believe he only survived because we refused to let him tamper with anything else after the alter incident, including picking up the evil gem of doom.
  • Fighter 6 – Alive and well. The myrmidon now has enough loot to build that keep and stock it with as many 10-foot poles as he feels is prudent.
  • Cleric 6 – Alive and well and justifiably proud his ingenious idea beat the dungeon. All praise Saint Cuthbert.
  • Magic User 9/Thief 4 (replacement PC from part 1) – Alive and well and probably floating somewhere over the Vast Swamp. He so enjoyed the levitation column magic, he did not attempt to dispel it for the remainder of the adventure, which oddly was of some assistance in the final encounters.
  • Paladin 6 (me) – Died of old age in the (actual) vault of Acererak at the hands of a 1st edition ghost. Chevalier Dejamort would like it known that he bravely faced off against this foe when the entire rest of the party ran away and sealed him in with the ghost… all alone… so what if he was possessed?
  • Paladin 12 (replacement PC, me) – Died instantly with no chance of a save to Acererak’s trap the soul power. Yes, Gaius Invictus did try to smash the skull. But his action wouldn’t have mattered; Acererak kills the most powerful PC. Period. He was doomed no matter who fiddled with that skull. He would like it known that his soul was eventually freed. Invictus has passed on to his rightful place in the halls of Saint Cuthbert. Sacrifice earns a paladin her wings.
  • The Rainbow Stairs of Doom! (aka The Rainbow Stairs of Nudity)

    Yes, this looks completely safe to touch...

    Our blundering path to victory

    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:

  • Found and safely navigated the entrance three-way (1, 2, 3)
  • Found the Gygaxian riddle, which was moderately helpful (3)
  • Refused the temptation to stick body parts in the Demon's mouth (6)
  • Called it curtains! One PC slimed to death by dreadful drapes (12)
  • Sidestepped the triple-chest flimflam (13)
  • Sacrificed a PC to the evil alter, well nearly (14)
  • Eschewed the lava diving (16)
  • Went cauldron diving though (18)
  • Fell for the trapped trap. Really, Gary?!!! Come On! (20)
  • Conversed with a noncommittal siren (22)
  • Avoided the rolling-pin-of-death (23a)
  • Ignored most of the throne room shenanigans (25a&b, 26, 27, 27a)
  • Proceed totally nude past the Rainbow Stairs (28)
  • Martyred 2 paladins to Acererak (33)
  • 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.

    "The throne that's keyed and key" (really... to the entire frackin' dungeon)

    2 Comments on “Adventure Archive: More Tales From the Crypt

    1. Thank you for not burying the lead: illusionist/fighter = still alive! Ha!

      Also, my colleagues at the table are *very* good players. For example, we lost *all* of our stuff at one point. Buck nekid. But no one fretted or moped. More like we took it as a challenge. We got some mundane replacement gear (all magic gone!) and marched back in. (I’ve seen other players not rise to such situations….)

      Hard mode!!!

      1. It was at the end of this terrible, yet terrific, terror that I found myself wishing we’d enter a tournament together. I think we could give many teams a run for their gold pieces.

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