RPO Replay: Tomb of Horrors

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

Quote

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
Cover art for the original Tomb of Horrors adventure. Credit: Wizards of the Coast.

Originally created as a tournament module for the Origins game convention, Tomb of Horrors went on to become a legendarily deadly published module for Dungeons & Dragons. Gary Gygax, one of the creators of D&D, created the module to test the mettle of high-level adventurers.

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, “failure is interesting” ethos of many of today’s main steam 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, the original module was 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.

Impressions

I’ve run Tome of Horrors three times – for 2nd Edition, 3rd edition and 5th edition. I have multiple versions of the 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 of Horrors, is the antagonist of the book, but it is not a remake of the original module.

I ran Tomb of Horrors twice – once for 2nd edition and again for 5th edition conversion – 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 necessarily a bad thing, but it does eliminate the sense of dread and doom that suffused the module in the initial, legendary playthroughs.

High Scores

  • My High Score: N/A

Resources

Where to Play

Commentary

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