An “adventure”… yeah right Gary. That’s like when Pinhead says he’ll provide you ultimate pleasure.

It’s not Monday but who cares?

So, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m going to be engaging in some classic late 70s-80s pop-culture geek fandom. The goal being to play old games, watch old movies and broaden the scope of my geeky historical knowledge. Some of these things I will have watched or played before and some I’ve never even been exposed to. The first historical artifact that I’m going to peruse is the 1978 Dungeons & Dragons module The Tomb of Horrors. There are better sources than this website for the history of this notorious D&D module but to sum it up: Gary Gygax was sick of D&D players not dying in his dungeons, so he made a dungeon to kill off players as quickly as he could.

Originally I planned on simply reading through the module and giving the good readers my perspective, however when Jon heard about this he got giddy with glee, clapping his hands and dancing a jig. Tomb of Horrors is one of the most notoriously unfair and lethal D&D campaigns ever created. Filled with “fuck you, you’re dead now” moments from start to finish. It is the stuff of D&D legend and he had never had the chance to run it for a group of players. He forbid me from reading the module (which I respected) and then ran the tomb for us. For that reason, he’ll be commenting on the narrative. He’ll be writing in blue.

Anecdotal or no, the story is that Gary go so tired of people claiming they had “the best wizard” or the “toughest warrior” that he crafted this thing specifically to murder the characters during tournament play.  That aside, just about every room in the dungeon has handout pictures and corny descriptions included.  I’ve run a dozen or so modules (pre-generated adventures) in my time and this one actually was one of the best.

Since we knew that characters were prone to insta-kills in the tomb, Jon went ahead and whipped up 20 (!) character sheets or something for us to play, using the “roll 4, drop the lowest” stat generation system. Due to the random nature of the characters they ranged in power level from “pretty good” to “useless gnome”. When a character dropped we rolled a die and Jono handed us a new character. In the spirit of role-play we gave the character a name and one line description. My first character was Wizardo. He was the High-Wizard of Wizardton. I was joined by Subatai, Green, Bernedette and Moustache. I forget what made them special. I’m pretty sure Bernadette was a barmaid or something. I was fucking psyched.

I actually made 16, 4 humans, 4 dwarves, 4 elves, 2 halflings, 1 gnome and 1 half-elf.  I really wanted to give the flavor of old-timey DnD characters.  So I included all the classics:  the Human Paladin, the Halfling Rogue, the Gnomish Cleric-Thief etc.  It took the better part of a bottle of gin and seriously about 6 hours of work.  Veterans will remember how toxic the wizard/cleric spell selection process was, so making 7 wizards, and 7 clerics (if you count multiclassing) was rather time consuming.

The party approached the iconic stones shaped into a school that marks the entrance of the Tomb of Horrors and the players got nervous about exactly how unfair this dungeon might be. It seriously took us 20 minutes to even decide on how to enter the place. Of course, we chose the wrong entrance. Moustache tried the door without searching adequately for traps, the ceiling fell on our heads, Wizardo died instantly. I mentioned this was a false entrance, right? Roll the die, get handed a new character. I am now Leighland Bugaboo and I honestly don’t remember which character class I was (spoilers: this guy didn’t last long).

Here is some of the awesome old timey fantasy artwork featured as handouts for the DM to show players. Some useful, some useless.

The party makes its way into the real entrance of the tomb (who knows if there were other false entrances or not) and we enter a majestic hallway covered in fancy murals. For simplicities sake just assume that about every hallway we enter is littered with spike pits. Why? Because every fucking hallway in the Tomb of Horrors is littered with spike pits. We had our thief (Subatai) going square by square on the map trying to disarm the traps the whole way through. Somebody passed a perception check or whatever and we found Acererak’s poem scrawled on the floor, possibly in blood, since he’s spooky like that:

Go back to the tormentor or through the arch,
and the second great hall you’ll discover.
Shun green if you can, but night’s good color
is for those of great valor.
If shades of red stand for blood the wise
will not need sacrifice aught but a loop of
magical metal – you’re well along your march.
Two pits along the way will be found to lead
to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall.
These keys and those are most important of all,
and beware of trembling hands and what will maul.
If you find the false you find the true
and into the columned hall you’ll come,
and there the throne that’s key and keyed.
The iron men of visage grim do more than
meets the viewer’s eye.
You’ve left and left and found my Tomb
and now your soul will die.

The fucked up part is that this is seriously the only guideline you can count on in the tomb. If you can figure out what Gary is trying to allude to in his garbage poetry you actually might have a fighting chance.

This poem was actually rather generous.  If you follow it closely it describes the whole path through the dungeon.  Even if the poetry is awful, doesn’t it just scream 1978 fantasy literature?

At the end of the hallway there was a glowing archway and a terrifying demon face with a mouth just about big enough to crawl through. Leighland mis-interpreted the phrase “go back to the tormentor” and made the bold move of trying to crawl backwards through the demon face’s mouth. Care to guess what happened? He instantly disappeared and ceased to exist. Thanks Gary.

Another victim of the old Sphere of Annihilation in the pitch black hole trick.  I chalk this death (and the next one) to the players learning to respect the dungeon.  I actually anticipated more deaths by this point, but they did pretty good searching that first hallway.

Moustache the Dwarf walked down the hallway and failed to mention that he did so carefully and instead of stopping on a safe square of the map stopped on a square that had a previously discovered (but not disarmed) trap. He fell into the hole, was hit by poisonous darts or arrows or something, failed his saving through against poison (he had to roll 4 or better and rolled a 3 on a D20) and Jon cackled with glee. “You have been slain.”

I really did.  What DM doesn’t want to say “you have been slain”.  Seriously?  If the game had ended right there I would have been happy.

With Moustache dead (I had taken control of Moustache after Leighland died) it was time for my 4th character: Vaginuvio, the sexy songstress. I can only assume I was pretty drunk by this point (not because I named my character Vaginuviom, but because my notes are more or less completely incomprehensible).

We ended up in another hallway with coloured discs lining the walls at various heights. What kind of colours? You know, colours like russet, olive and citrine. I seriously don’t know what happened next but we ended up in a chamber with a multi-armed scimitar wielding giant skeleton. Jon made us roll for initiatives and not for the last time just about every player at the table asked “How the fuck do I calculate THACO?”

To Hit Armor Class 0.  You actually forgot being teleported into the chamber with the three switches, and then you guys spider climbing up the walls.  That was a pretty serious instant-kill trap that honestly was the team’s first real victory.  Nobody even died!

Our first actual battle in the Tomb of Horrors had begun.


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