I survived the Tomb of Horrors! (Though I didn’t finish, neither did it finish me) Part 1

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With the upcoming limited edition re-release of the original core AD&D books (check with your LFGS for April – part of the proceeds goes towards the Gygax Memorial Fund), one of our local DMs, Clyde, decided he wanted to revive some old memories and run a bunch of us through the original Tomb of Horrors module.  A recent return to the fold of gaming, Clyde was a gaming child of the 1980’s as I was, but had last played in the AD&D days. Rejoining the D&D world through the Encounters program I was DMing last August, he has since jumped in with both feet, two-fistedly DMing or playing in upwards of six games a week, both 4E Encounters, Lair Assault (he’s become our main DM for that), Gamma World and Pathfinder.  Though he had a full group of 6 players sign up for this weekend’s run through almost immediately, he consented to run a test last week at the local gaming con, KitCon, after I ran the Lair Assault Talon of Umberlee for him to play for a change.

I say original module as, though he was using the green covered reprint from the early 1980’s, this one still has the original riddle-laden mosaic text and features that have been revised a few times.  First in the disappointingly laid out Realms of Horror back in the day.  I had been a fan of the ‘super-module‘ approach in the later 1980’s.  The Combined T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil, A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords, and whatever the heck number Queen of Spiders had… were my preferred format at the time.  Large, level spanning compilation of older adventures together with (minimal) binding text and encounters to link the pieces together.  That was what I had thought Realms of Horror was going to be.

The original Special modules were among the most atmospheric and unusual of the early AD&D modules.  I was disappointed to discover what appeared to be a slapped together abridgement of the originals without even a little of the bridging work done in the aforementioned super-modules.  What I didn’t realize until recently is that in addition to removing tons of detail from the later adventures, Realms of Horror must have partially reworked the Tomb of Horrors.  I had thought Tomb was relatively untouched, but I found the module the day before the con, and took a look at the mosaic riddle, to see if it would jog any memories.  It did, specifically that the mosaic text was phrased differently when my cousins had run me through the adventure in 1981 or so.  Rather than  go any further to note discrepancies, I simply brought Realms of Horror with me to the con, and showed it to Clyde so he could compare them.

One thing he noted right away is that, like many of the mid-80’s adventures onwards, that version of the Tomb had been revised to include boxed text indicating a description to be read aloud to the players.  If you’re familiar with the older adventure modules, you’ll remember this was a huge step forward as the DM didn’t have to scour paragraphs of text to synthesize what was actually visible upon entering a room – it was gathered together for you.  As such Clyde thought he might want to use that copy of the Tomb to run from, to save him some grief (and since the tricks and turns are legion in that legendary trap hotel, a DM really has to be on the ball or he is likely to either miss something, or give something away before it springs the latest trap!).  After running the entry halls, however, he decided to go back to his old copy, as there were changes here and there, such as the outcomes of the veiled archways in the halls that he hadn’t prepared for, and did not feel like tackling in an ad hoc manner during play.  He did borrow the adventure compilation to review before this weekend’s run.  Hopefully with that extra time he was able to better prepare so that the boxed text was of some use to him.

All that goes to show he was aware that some players would have fore knowledge of the Tomb and it’s traps.  The unspoken agreement he had with those players is that, while he wouldn’t change things from the classic presentation, neither would we gratuitously use that out-of-character knowledge to take actions our characters wouldn’t have any reason to do, other than to avoid traps they would otherwise have no way of anticipating.  Which is not to say he didn’t take a few steps to make things… uncertain for us, regardless of what we remembered from the old days.

We lost one player from the earlier Lair Assault, but that still left us with 3 players.  Low for a Tomb attempt, so with DM approval, we all agreed to handle two characters apiece.  One of the nice things about this run was that Clyde provided us with pre-gens taken from the old tournament characters provided with the Tomb module.  He said he took the best of the lot, leaving us with a choice between a magic-user, two clerics, a paladin, a fighter-illusionist, a bard, and a thief.  I took the thief and the bard (also a thief, as per the original AD&D bard), since I knew the place was chock full of traps, magical and otherwise (and poison, lots of poison) whether I could remember the specifics or not.  Jana took the m-u and the gnome fighter-illusionist (most of the pre-gens were human, the gnome and a half-elf being the notable exceptions), and Jim took his choice of the two clerics, and the paladin.  One of the bad things about the run was unfortunately the time it took for us to prepare the characters.

To give us some control over the pre-gens, Clyde has us roll for our hit points (easy) at our level (which varied from 12-15 or so), as well as select our spells (hard).  He provided a list of spells in the m-u’s spell book, and handed each of us a copy of the AD&D Player’s Handbook and had us select our spells.  For me, as a bard, it was easy.  I only had a few (since a bard only gets spells once he’s actually a bard, which is after several levels of fighter and thief), but the others had an extensive list to work from, and took some time, especially since they were out of practice with the AD&D spells and how they worked.

I later suggested to Clyde that when he ran this again for his full group, most of whom had never played AD&D, that he at least offer the option of taking a pre-selected list of spells for the characters.  Clyde also allowed us to spend 5000 gp apiece to buy spell scrolls and potions per standard DMG prices to round out the magic items already provided on the pre-gens.  That took a little thought, but next to nothing compared to the spell selection.  Lots of cure spells, healing and extra-healing potions taken here.  As well as a few gaseous form potions – the ‘screw you guys, I’m going home’ option, which we thankfully never had to use.

My Lair Assault game ended around 4:30 pm, followed by a brief break for food, etc.  However, between selecting characters, and then their spells, we didn’t get started on exploring the Tomb itself until around 6:30 pm.  Given that our DM had to leave around 8:30 pm, we had to be quick about it.  I’m actually surprised how by far we got.  But not as surprised as I am by how long this has gotten, since I haven’t even started talking about play yet.  To keep this from getting any longer, I think I will start with those details in Part 2, and for now leave you to your regularly scheduled web surfing.

Of course, from the title of this you can surmise that, regardless of how it went, at least one of my character’s survived, but hopefully you will come back for Part 2, and discover which one enlisted a new friend to help the survivors get out alive, and with their loot!

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