Tomb of Horrors Question (Both "Yawning Portal" and Original)

So I ran the Tales from the Yawning Portal 5E version of 'Tomb of Horrors' a while back, and I noticed something... the adventure specifically provides for using astral/ethereal travel to bypass doors/traps/etc, listing random demon encounters that can occur if traveling astrally/ethereally.

But there's no equivalent threats "invoked" by using passwall, teleportation, etc. This struck me as odd - but at first I thought that maybe this was a relic of the adventure being so old. But passwall was a spell in OD&D and 1E, and it's lower level than the astral projection/etherealness spells (then and now).

And I checked in the AD&D Player's Handbook, and even back then you could use dimension door to teleport to known/described locations out of sight ("200 feet northwest", etc.)

So -- what's the point of the astral/ethereal demons, really?


Goblin Queen
So -- what's the point of the astral/ethereal demons, really?
I imagine they're there to maintain the dungeon. You know, dispose of the bodies, reset the traps, etc. There's the trap where the blood of all the victims the tomb has ever claimed pours out and fills the whole room, drowning the PCs if they can't escape or stop it somehow, which means, conservatively, dozens of people would have to have died in the tomb every year for the hundreds of years since it was built. And yet all of the traps are unsprung, and there are very few corpses when the players arrive. How can this be? Demons who do the housekeeping and poof back to the Astral plane when they're done. Attempting to use Astral travel just *happens* to bring the party into conflict with the custodian demons.


Rotten DM
Nothing says you can't use the demons when the sucker cast those spells too. TOH is the only module I say DM should go all out to kill the pcs. No take backs. No second chances.

the Jester

IIRC early editions were explicit that teleportation effects worked via the Astral Plane. Unfortunately, I have neither my 1e DMG nor my 1e MotP here to confirm that.


Passwall was always useful in the Tomb, but you have to KNOW there is something on the other side, otherwise you waste the spell. Additionally teleportation was risky since you had to know you weren't going to appear in solid rock. The layout of the Tomb is such that random exploration in such a fashion is going to burn up spell slots and likely lead to death. They're useful for when stuck, especially teleport which can take you back to the beginning (or last known safe spot), but not great for achieving success. Ethereal travel would allow you to wander around unfettered, learning the layout of the tomb so you could just teleport to the end, which is why the demons.

Paul Farquhar

There is also the design of purpose ToH: to kill PCs. If you just wanted to prevent PCs skipping to the end of the dungeon you would say "it is shielded against astral, ethereal and teleportation". It's common, and the Doomvault is like this. The demons of ToH have an opportunity to ambush and kill off solitary spellcasters trying to scout the dungeon, not prevent them doing so. Likewise, teleporting has a good chance of getting PCs killed, so it's not blocked.
Return to the Tomb of Horrors (from late 2e) goes into a little more detail about the ethereal-dwelling demons: they are part of the Tomb's maintenance crew, who re-set the traps and such after parties of PCs blunder through.

With that in mind you could come up with an entire ecosystem lurking in the border etheric near the tomb: lazy demon overlords who've offloaded their chores onto lesser demons, scheming factions of lesser demons looking to curry favor with the big demons and/or corrupt any ethereally traveling PCs to their own ends, angelic strike teams that occasionally arrive to try to clear out the infestation, etc.