D&D General Best Version to Experience Tomb of Horrors? (+)

Retreater

Legend
I've never run it, despite 30+ years in the hobby. My nephew, who is really getting into the history of the game, is very curious to try this death trap dungeon. My wife wants to test her problem solving and deal with puzzles.
Yes, I know it's dated and has a bad reputation, but I have family asking for it...
My nephew has only played 5e. My wife dislikes the TSR era games (4e is her favorite edition).
Is the 4e version any good? Does the 5e version capture the essence of the original? Is the original the only way to go? What about the 2e "Return to..." - does that clarify and present it better than the original? What about tracking down the 3.5 edition PDF - would that be the best version?
Thanks for any guidance.
 

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Celebrim

Legend
Use the version you have the highest system mastery in.

Whatever system you use, the module depends on adopting processes of play that emphasis player skill over character skill, and which encourages players to interact with the fiction in concrete ways. At no point in the module can you adjudicate the claim, "I do a search check." You always need to know with what and how, and you the GM will need to decide if the answer to that proposition is "Yes success", "No failure", or "Roll the dice" in a way that is fair and which is exciting. The module won't for the most part tell you. You need to be an expert at that.

The module doesn't for the most part depend on the rules. Mostly the text says, "IF this happens, the players are dead.", and the players aren't going to survive because of hit points but because in three seconds after you said something they come up with some sort of plan. Many sections involve adjudicating the situation in real time or using fractions of rounds. You'll need to be really comfortable with the rules of the edition.

Whatever edition you have, have the 1e version of the text and be familiar with it so you really understand what Gygax was going for.

I would use 1e or 3e edition myself. Remember that the module is not about combat though. A proper translation of the dungeon makes it survivable by characters of any level. The only advantage being higher level gives you is slightly more resources to survive making a mistake. If the translation forces lots of combat on the players, or conversely if the translation doesn't have instant death no save and problems no amount of character skill can solve, then it's not a good translation.
 

aco175

Legend
I'm running into the same problem that @Celebrim is talking about with running Against the Giants. The conversions to 5e of the old modules are not great. They are not changed to account for the way the game is played now as opposed to the 'gotcha' play of old. I had to remind my players that old modules were full of secret doors that make no sense and traps that kill. One of my players had no idea of the 10ft pole and back up weapons and armor to deal with the taking of things from the PCs that happens in old modules. I'm changing a lot of it as we go.

I would still run the module (ToH) in the format that my group knows most about. There is another thread around about running this as well that has some good ideas. Maybe remind them about how old modules were set up and to bring spare PCs.
 


I concur with @Celebrim on using whatever system you find best, because you will have to do a lot of adjudication. The best method of running it is a balance of character and player skill. I think using the original 1E is optimal, but the 5E version can show how to implement some mechanics. I know the 2E version was a great expansion on the idea, but it's another dungeon in a similar vein, not the TOMB OF HORRORS everyone thinks of. I know nothing about the 4E versions, but I've heard it's the party going in after another group cleared out the tomb (making it rather weak sauce).

Since this adventure is designed to be a kill zone, pushing the players to the limit, I recommend you run it as a "coin-op." You create a dozen or so pre-generated characters, and they start with a number of poker chips/quarters. Characters can be purchased for 1 chip, with a random starting player. When you die, you can buy back in for a chip, picking a new character (you can decide for yourself if you want to allow playing the same character again immediately). You can either provide a prize to the player who has the most remaining chips at the end, eliminate players who run out, or have the chips be a pool for everyone. Just make sure you clarify the rules up-front to avoid any confusion or hostility.
 

Rabbitbait

Adventurer
I didn't enjoy the Tomb of Horrors (not a fan of insta-death and trying to trick the players), but I did enjoy Return to the Tomb of Horrors (4e) and Tomb of Annihilation (5e) might just be the best D&D module I have ever run.
 

Redwizard007

Adventurer
I'm running into the same problem that @Celebrim is talking about with running Against the Giants. The conversions to 5e of the old modules are not great. They are not changed to account for the way the game is played now as opposed to the 'gotcha' play of old. I had to remind my players that old modules were full of secret doors that make no sense and traps that kill. One of my players had no idea of the 10ft pole and back up weapons and armor to deal with the taking of things from the PCs that happens in old modules. I'm changing a lot of it as we go.

I would still run the module (ToH) in the format that my group knows most about. There is another thread around about running this as well that has some good ideas. Maybe remind them about how old modules were set up and to bring spare PCs.
I ran into the same issue with the 5e adaptation of Isle of Dread. It was beautifully adapted, but just not a good fit for 5e as written. Rangers, in particular, just nerffed the heck out of the hex crawl. A couple sessions in, I gutted the whole damn thing and reworked it to be more focused (railroady) and up the challenge. These great old adventures were sometimes rules dependent. That isn't a criticism, but it does limit their playability in newer systems.

For ToH, 3.5 would probably work well. It's close enough to 5e that newer players can adapt, but still maintains some of the same limits of older editions.
 


Lidgar

Legend
I’ve run it in every edition except 4e. All work as long as you tweak it (if not doing 1e) for the edition to capture the intent. For 5e, we used 10th level characters…and there were many deaths, as intended. Wouldn’t do higher level characters than that for 5e.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
I've run the Tomb of Horrors 4 times for 4 different groups in AD&D, 3rd edition, Pathfinder, and 5E. Personally, my best experience with gamers no matter the edition was adhering to the "thinking man's (woman's) dungeon" that Gygax originally intended it to be. He wanted to create something no one had experienced in the days of "I kick in the door, kill everything, and loot the room." My recommendations:
  • Run it as close to 1st edition as possible. As noted, 5E makes it a cakewalk. Surviving ToH should be a badge of honor.
  • Get a PDF of the original with its original handouts. That means don't use the 5E crap conversion (its maps are fine), or the 3E really crap version that changes the dungeon dramatically to be one big fight-fest with high-level foes.
    and makes the finale room a "must fight" battle instead of finding a way to cleverly bypass the fight
  • You can still use 5E rules, if you like, but ToH in its best form is an interactive puzzle, not another hack-fest. Imagine the exercise about being astronauts who crashed on the moon, and you're given a list of salvage to help you get to the base miles away. You don't roll a d20 and say "my astronaut already knows what they'll need to survive." In this type of play, you intuit with other gamers about what you need to take and what to do with it. Aim for that style of play for this particular adventure. It'll be a lot more fun.
  • AD&D didn't have skill checks as we know them. Many traps and things that could be traps had to be intuited, interacted with, and solved as a group. It was more immersive if players describe specifically what they're doing to the mural on the wall rather than bypass interactive puzzle solving with a d20 roll. When in doubt, "thinking person's dungeon," not "die rolling" dungeon.
  • As odd as it may sound, a low-level AD&D party could have had just as much success in ToH as a high level one. It was never about your hack skills. It was mostly about your problem-solving skills in a timed setting. The AD&D finale could be completely bypassed in the original if players weren't so keen on believing they have to hack everything that moves. In the original, in theory, players could walk up, loot the treasure, and so long as they left the ghost and skull alone, all was well. But, Gygax knew players would react by "hack first." The 3E version changed this to the ghost being something that could harm players and the skull rising up if any treasure was taken.
  • Use premade characters and sidekicks. That way there's no hard feelings if there's a death and someone can jump into a sidekick role if their primary dies.
  • Don't be afraid to say "you're dead." If everyone survives the adventure, you probably ran the 5E version.
  • Run it like the Tournament design. It was originally timed. You didn't have time to spend 30 minutes farting about ruminating about this funny looking door. Find a reason the party has to move fast, or simply recreate the original challenge and put a real-world timer. This pushes players into recreating the stress of having to act. In Tournament play, gamers all knew their table was up against rival tables, creating an incentive to make a decision, even if it wasn't the best one.
  • You could get through the entire original adventure without a single combat. "Thinking person's dungeon."
  • No spoilers. If someone has read it, read blogs, peeked at the books, don't. It ruins the experience.
  • Insert a few hints about the
    demilich at the end
    through past adventuring groups that failed. Run the finale as a puzzle to be solved, not a bag of hit points to be whittled down (hence original design that could only be damaged by a very particular series of actions or spells).
    The AD&D demilich could only be harmed by a handful of things which the party won't have, and by taking damage from really expensive gems, which without a spoiler the party wouldn't have a clue is an option. Hence, I'd put a few clues in from failed parties, suggestions they left behind or their research. This then actually makes the conundrum real... we have to destroy the wealth to destroy the bad guy?
As for the mega-adventure Return to the Tomb of Horrors, I never ran it but instead played in it briefly (the DM decided part-way through that running adventures was too much work and abandoned the game!) Everything I've ever heard says it's an awesome adventure that gives you something fresh for those who've survived TOH.
 

Clint_L

Hero
It's gotta be AD&D (1e) or OD&D.

We had it and never played it, but when we were doing weekend sleepover games we would read it together late at night after the session was over and just boggle at how impossible it seemed.
 

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