Look at me, I'm dancin'!

Look at me, I’m dancin’!

Wow, it’s been a long time since I wrote part 1 of the Tomb of Horrors playthrough and honestly, the whole thing is getting a little blurry in my mind. The fact that I may or may not (read: was definitely) drunk at this stage has nothing to do with it. As before Jon (who was our Dungeon Master) is in blue. So, where were we?

This was a great night.  There were 6 (I think) players, more than at the first session, and word had spread about how nonsense the whole thing was so we could just get into it.  Delightful.

Oh yeah, the magical dancing scimitar wielding skeleton. Now, I have no way of actually knowing whether or not he was actually dancing but when Jono showed off the carefully illustrated Figure 13D, it certainly looks like he’s dancing, doesn’t it? It sure does.

Fuck the dancing giant dual-scimitar wielding skeleton (10HD 32hp AC2 2×2-12dam), you’re forgetting about the lever trap room.  The idiots all went through a portal without properly activating it first and got teleported into a room that was a 10x10x10 cube.  No visible exits, 3 levers on the wall.  This is exactly the kind of nonsense that the Tomb is legendary for.  The levers each can be pushed, pulled, and shifted up, down, left and right.  One combination opens the whole floor to a 100ft drop with a pit filled with spikes and one combination opens a tiny hole in the ceiling to escape through.  The gang managed to expect the floor to give way, so when they fucked it up and opened the trap they survived. They then managed to escape with no one dying.  I was so, so proud.

Before I go on any further I need to point out that there is seriously seems to be no rhyme or reason in the numbering and lettering system behind the illustrations included in the module. Jon will be able to talk about this better  but sometimes there would be a 13D, but no 13 A through C. Oh, and there also will be a figure 9 that is literally impossible to get to before you do Figure 13D. We hypothesized that Gary intentionally fiddled with the numbering system to make it harder for players to cheat. Filthy, dirty, cheating players. Gary hattesssss themmmm. If it’s one thing I got from the Tomb of Horrors it’s that Gary Gygax fucking hates D&D players.

Right on.  Room 13 actually made sense.  1 pic with the 3 chests and then a pic with the effects of each.  But yeah, later rooms randomly skip letters.  Maybe it was an editing fuckup?  This is the kind of thing I think obsessive dungeon masters usually get right.

Back to the dancing skeleton. One of us, I feel like it was Green the something had the spell “Turn Undead”. Now, if I were to tell you that I had a spell called “Turn Undead” what would you think it does? Would you, like me, think that it would allow the caster to become one of the undead. Maybe you’re now a vampire or something? Wrong. After all of us poring through old school D&D books we discovered that this spell allows you to turn the undead around and make them run away. Ignore the fact that you’re in a ten by ten room. You cast that spell against an undead and the fight is over. The undead has turned. Turned and fled. Like a bitch. It was perhaps my inebriation but I honestly could not understand how the “Turn Undead” spell allowed us to win the fight in a single round. Now that I understand it, it still doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t the skeleton just running into the corner of an otherwise sealed room? Shits’ bananas. Anyhow, I think this is where we found a ring, but I could be mistaken.

Greenhill Mossworn was a druid and they certainly do not turn undead.  I think it might have been Bernadette Magillicuddy, Dwarven Cleric.  Either way, Turn Undead refers to TURNing them away, as in to deflect.  Didn’t you study English?  That isn’t an exactly arcane use of the word turn.  And the power Turn Undead is only available to 2 classes, and is pretty badass.  But then again maybe I’ve been Turning Undead for almost 20 years now, so that might influence that.

We make it past the dancing skeleton (who I’m assuming is just running headfirst into the corner of a room) and my next note says “Amazing Magic Snakes.” They must have been pretty damned amazing because I underlined that phrase twice. I assume there were snakes and I assume they were fought. I remember they were probably asps. That sounds right. What I also remember is that this was our first real combat (the fight with the dancing skeleton only lasting a single round) and for the first time in my life I experienced the old school D&D initiative system: Roll a D10 with absolutely no bonuses and whoever rolls higher goes first and that is the order of the round. End of round? Roll another D10. The combat itself is ludicrously oversimplified. There is no benefit to position, tactics or anything of the sort. Everyone just does their attack in turn. The resulting image in my mind is not of brave warriors squaring off against Amazing Magic Snakes, ducking and weaving, dodging and parrying. Instead I see a group of guys forming a loose circle around some snakes, wailing on them while simultaneously being bitten at by them until someone dies. For what must have been the tenth time I asked the magic question:

A lot of people really didn’t like how tactical DnD became with the advent of 3rd edition.  I could have been describing each d20 roll much more, weaving the whole thing into a tapestry, but maybe I’m too used to later editions where you don’t have to so much.  Remember, what we were playing (more or less) was the DnD gamers of my generation grew up on.

“What the fuck is THACO and how do I calculate it?”

We covered that last article.  You need an editor.

We may have covered that in the past article, but Jon also covered it repeatedly while we were playing and it didn’t stick then either. Anyhow, it was while fighting these snakes that my current (I believe this was Vaginuvio) died. It was now time for me draw from the random pile once again and I drew what was by Jon’s admission among the best rolled characters he made: The Paladin. I named him “Jesusephus”.

Oh man, that Paladin was ludicrously more powerful than every other character I rolled.  So here’s something fun about DnD 2nd edition.  Stats describing your character like “strength” and “wisdom” range from 3-18, with 10 or 11 being a human average.  Strength (and strength alone) ranges 3-18 but then has an unexplainable 5 additional levels (described from 0-100) before getting to 19.  Why?  Who the fuck knows?  Either way, Jesusephus has an 18/77 strength, which makes him a virtual titan among men.  Like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He also has a flaming sword.  Total badass.

I can’t remember the exact nature of the roll but Jon asked one of us to roll something, which we did. He responded “Incredibly, you find a secret door that leads you into a temple lined with pews with an altar in front”.

I think it’s important to point out that there’s ring shaped slot at the altar. Remember that poem?

You had a 1 in 6 chance of finding that, per character, and if you didn’t find it you were stuck.  Why?  Because Gary is cruel.

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.

I (drunkenly) demanded that we sacrifice a ring we had acquired at the altar! There’s a little ring shaped slot and everything! Do it! You idiots! We won’t have to sacrifice anything else! We won’t need to sacrifice our blood! Only the ring! At this point though, “Tomb Paranoia” has set in hard. Nobody believes me. Gary was in every corner, lurking, waiting to kill us for next to no reason. Gygax is there in every shadow, a smug expression peering out from behind the Dungeon Master’s screen, eager for our next mistake. When I finally convince them to sacrifice the ring, it disappears and we hear a click. Yet still they protest! There has to be something else! Something we’re missing! What about the magical multi coloured portal at the front of the room?

Go on kid… step through the portal.

Better just walk right through that portal I guess! Who better than Bernadette the saucy bar maid? Well, turns out that the doorway is a magical field that if you walk through changes not only your alignment, but also your gender! Because whatever! Fuck you players! Now you’re all girls! Or, if you were the guy who was trying really hard to be a convincing girl, you’re now a boy! Take that! I’ll say it again: Gary Gygax hates D&D players. Take that  newly masculine Bernardo, pious and devout bartender! Of course, Bernardo walked through the doorway again. For his troubles he got 30 points of damage but he was back to being Bernadette. Let’s call that one a draw.

DnD fun fact, there are half a dozen ways to literally come back from the dead.  Changing gender?  There’s only this trap, and the extremely rare Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity.  To be fair, one of those “back from the dead” methods could have you coming back as an owl, or a badger.  But you’re back!

That altar could have wiped the party in a single blast.  This was another time where I was internally beaming with pride for you guys.  You see something incredibly stupidly dangerous looking and just decide not to screw with it and live.  I think, really, that’s the secret of getting through the Tomb.  Don’t screw with dangerous looking things!

To be fair, we came extremely close to screwing with it. I believe it was Subatai who just kept heading back to the altar, insisting that we had to do something more. I think the decision to not mess with the altar had just as much to do with the fact that we couldn’t figure out what to do with it as it was that we thought it would kill us. We eventually uncovered another hidden doorway and a relatively unremarkable hallway. We went down the hallway with the ever vigilant Thief Subatai leading the way, checking every square diligently for traps. At the end of the hallway Jon speaks up.

“The floor begins to slant forward slightly.”

Subatai quickly puts two and two together and runs back the other way. Jon graciously reveals that his instructions from Gary were simple “count to 10 in your head and if the character has not yet retreated the incline is now too steep and the player falls into lava and dies.” Or something to that effect. Remember, Gary Gygax fucking hates you and wants nothing more than to kill your beloved D&D character.

Now imagine a party less clever than you guys with the thief in the front.  The whole party walks in, and then they’re like “Let us all run up and check the end of the hall.”  Then I count in my head to 5, not to 10. Then Gary stands up and gleefully proclaims:  “The floor tilts forward into red-hot lava and you are slain.  There is no recourse.”  The whole party dies, and convention goers stand up with tears in their eyes and their character sheets in their hands.  I would kill to be one such convention goer.   

So now we’re at a dead end. Fuck this. Someone seriously considered walking through the alignment/gender inverter again, “just in case we missed something on the other side”. Pretty sure I yelled at them. We went up and down the hallway a bunch more but absolutely could not find the way forward to the next area.

What were we to do? Find out (hopefully) soon in Part 3 of Delving Into the Tomb of Horrors!

The best parts of the Tomb are yet to come, and the climactic struggle with Acererak!  By best I mean best!

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