OSR Tomb of Horrors [OSE] Post-Mortem (Spoilers)


As is my tradition, each time a game ends, I try to learn from it. This will be about a weekend-long venture into the classic tournament module “The Tomb of Horrors” using the Old School Essentials rules.

About the Group and Selection of the Game
The group of players includes a good friend I’ve been gaming with for 25 years, my wife, and my 19-year-old nephew (who has been playing D&D for about 6 months.)

It was my nephew’s recommendation to do the Tomb. He was looking through my copy of “Art & Arcana” and wanted to try the legendary death trap dungeon just to “see how bad it could be.” My wife wanted to try the 4e version (her preferred system) or at the very least the “Yawning Portal” 5e conversion. But in the end, we decided to do it as close to the original experience as possible.

I printed out the illustration book from the PDF. I converted the tournament pre-generated characters to OSE (since I knew we’d have copies of those books handy). In the end we had 2 clerics, a thief, a paladin, a ranger, and a magic-user – two characters per player. They were high level (between 9-14) and outfitted with the recommended magical equipment. Also, I handwaved that they were seasoned adventurers with plenty of gold and allowed them to have access to mundane adventuring supplies.

I converted all AC to the ascending method and swapped out attack matrices for to-hit bonuses, which worked out very well for everyone. As a departure for the way my wife and nephew were used to playing, we did theatre of the mind.

Good Luck, DM Mistakes, and Player Experience
The group took their time, being under no rush. Tapping the floor, not springing obvious traps, casting Danger Sense and other spells. They ended up essentially making a beeline to the demi-lich’s crypt.

One thing that helped the party more than it should was the Gem of Seeing they recovered from the gargoyle’s statue. I had forgotten about it having limited uses, so they ended up getting about 10 more uses than they should have, allowing them to spot Secret Doors more easily.

The more experienced player (who has never played Tomb of Horrors before) saw most of the traps a mile away. He was able to help unravel the clues to keep the party on the right track. I think the experience of playing D&D for decades (as contrasted to the 1st generation players who had 4 years of experience tops when playing the published adventure in 1978) helped make the dungeon not as dangerous.

High Levels Really Mattered

Some in the party had things like +3 plate mail and +3 shields, giving them around a 24 AC. They just didn’t get hit. For saving throws, they were succeeding on 3+. The thief’s skills were in the 80s or higher. It was hard to challenge them unless they did something reckless, which they didn’t do.


Of course, they didn’t have the tools needed to beat the lich. In their attempt to start a fight with it, the party did lose the magic-user (the only death) to the skull’s soul trap. They were disappointed until I reminded them that they got the dungeon’s loot and that they didn’t need to kill the lich.

What Did We Learn?

My wife didn’t hate it. If you can play very high levels, old school play is fun, she admitted. My nephew had a good time, and in a lot of ways preferred the simple ways. All of them were amazed that they beat Tomb of Horrors and bragged about it all weekend.

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The two big potential TPK death things from the 1e ToH seem to be the sphere of annihilation trap and fighting the demilich. Sounds like they avoided both.


Sorry. It's "Detect Danger." It's a 1st level Druid spell from Advanced Fantasy.

I hadn't noticed that one, it seems a lot more versatile and applicable to the Tomb of Horrors than the 1e druid spell detect snares and pits!

Detect Danger
Duration: 6 turns (outdoors), otherwise 3 turns
Range: 5’ per level
The caster can concentrate to detect dangers within range.
▶ Areas: Scanning a 10’ × 10’ area takes one turn.
▶ Creatures: Scanning a creature takes one round.
▶ Objects: Scanning a small object (e.g. a chest, weapon, etc.) takes one round. Larger objects take longer.
After scanning: The caster knows whether the area, creature, or object poses a danger to their person. This knowledge distinguishes between immediate dangers and potential dangers.

Detect Snares & Pits (Divination)
Level: 1 Components: V, S, M
Range: 0 Casting Time: 3 segments
Duration: 4 rounds/level Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: 1” path, 4” long
Explanation/Description: Upon casting this spell, the druid is able to detect snares & pits along the 1” wide by 4” long area of effect path and thus avoid such deadfalls. Note that in the underground only simple pits, not all forms of traps, would be detected by means of this spell. Outdoors, the spell detects all forms of traps — deadfalls, missile trips, snares, etc. The spell lasts 4 melee rounds for each level of experience of the druid casting it, i.e. 4 rounds at the 1st level, 8 at the 2nd, 12 (1 turn plus 2 rounds) at the 3rd, etc.

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