Tomb of Horrors – Ready Player One Replay

Tomb of Horrors is one of the most famous modules for Dungeons & Dragons and plays a major role in Ready Player One. Originally created as a tournament module for the Origins game convention, it went on to become a legendarily deadly published adventure for Dungeons & Dragons. Gary Gygax, one of the creators of D&D, created the module to test the mettle of his high-level adventurers. The question isn’t “Will player characters die in this adventure?” It’s “how many PCs will die in this adventure, and when”.


But then, during the course of my research, I discovered an old Dungeons & Dragons supplement called Tomb of Horrors, which had been published in 1978. — Ready Player One p. 66

Game Play

A lich readies a spell to cast at two frightened adventurers on the cover of the Tomb of Horrors module.
Cover art for the original Tomb of Horrors adventure. Credit: Wizards of the Coast.

The module is filled with traps, head fakes, and other methods for messing with players’ expectations. It also has plenty of instant death moments that don’t really fit with the kinder, gentler ethos of many of today’s mainstream games. It’s meant to be lethal and unforgiving, and for people who’ve never encountered it before, that’s often the case.

Aside from its lethality, Tomb is notable for the art booklet included with the adventure. The booklet provided much-needed context for the dungeon; playing without it is far more difficult.


I have multiple versions of Tomb including:

  1. S1 The Tomb of Horrors (AD&D): The original, tournament-style module.
  2. Return to the Tomb of Horrors (D&D 2nd Edition): A boxed set including the original module plus expanded content extends the Tomb to new realms.
  3. Tomb of Horrors (D&D 4th Edition): A hardcover adventure inspired by the original module, but taking it in different directions.
  4. Tales from the Yawning Portal (D&D 5th Edition): This collection of classic adventures features the original Tomb of Horrors updated to the latest ruleset.

I also have but haven’t run, the Tomb of Annihilation adventure book for 5th edition. Acererak, the lich behind the tomb, is the antagonist of the book, but it is not a remake of the original module.

I ran the Tomb three times (for 2nd Edition, 3rd edition, and 5th edition)  – and in truth … it’s a lot more fun in theory than it is in practice. Sure, it’s a legendary dungeon, but at this point, most older players know its tricks and traps.

The 5th Edition version featured in Tales from the Yawning Portal is faithful to the original module, but it’s a little too faithful. Some of the encounters, which probably would have been tough under 1st edition are a little too easy under 5th. And then there’s that overwhelming familiarity, which makes playing the game an exercise in nostalgia. That’s not a bad thing, but it eliminates the sense of dread and doom that suffused the module in the initial, legendary playthroughs.

The Ready Player One Replay is an exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

High Scores

  • My High Score: N/A

Tomb of Horrors Resources

Where to Play


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