D&D 1E What are examples of "gotchya" encounters from Gary Gygax?

I got into a discussion and while I could mention the monsters that were distinctly designed to make adventurers miserable, I couldn't remember the actual encounters that if you didn't follow classic dungeon hack strategy you were screwed.

Any come to mind?

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Limit Break Dancing
Well there's this classic from the Tomb of Horrors:



There was an illusionary wall in a very old RPGA tournament mod. Parties figured this out pretty quickly.

The winning team was the one who used a 10' pole to realize that there was a spiked pit behind it and therefore didn't die. Fastest end to a tournament adventure ever...


Rob Of The North
I got into a discussion and while I could mention the monsters that were distinctly designed to make adventurers miserable, I couldn't remember the actual encounters that if you didn't follow classic dungeon hack strategy you were screwed.

Any come to mind?

The rust monster, as originally designed, was probably the worst for players.

I'm not sure about 'classic dungeon hack strategy' though. Gary was more about trick and traps than 'hacking'. When you did go up against his monsters they were smart and coordinated - his modules had monsters working in a coordinated fashion.


Early D&D was very much challenged based, rather than adventure story based. DMs would throw challenges at players and players would try to overcome them through various means: combat, stealth, figuring out riddles and traps, etc. I mean, the most famous dungeon was literally separated by levels of difficultly lol.

so in that regard, a ton of things were gotcha. ToH was specifically designed to take all those players who bragged about defeating modules down a notch.


Well there's this classic from the Tomb of Horrors:

Don't you mean all of S1, really?

I took an entire party out with that one. The first player thought it was a portal and didn't want to transport his head, so he dove in. When he didn't return, one by one everyone else did the same thing. End of story.

I scored a TPK with the Great Green Devil Face too. The entire party after poking around the entrance hall, decided the best way to continue through the dungeon was for them all to crawl into the hole. I'm proud of myself for managing a straight face while they were discussing said course of action.


Golems with their immunities up to +3/adamantine and only affected by lightning but only to slow them down for the iron golem were an absolute showstopper back in 2e.
Also all level drainers, if you did not houserule level drain to be temporary somehow. (Enemy) clerics in 2e were also absolutely dangerous as soon as they could cast 5th or 6th level spells, think slay living or harm.

Technically, this is Rob Kuntz, The Terrible Iron Golem, from WG5, killed many a group.

This is the terrible iron golem (AC 3, MV 6", HD 15, hp 85, #AT- see below, D-see below, SA poison sword, flaming breath, whip petrifies, SD automatic levitation at 2 "/turn as desired, MR immune to all physical and magical attacks except from the "statue weapons" detailed above). The golem will animate as described in Key #19 above.

The golem stands a full 8 ft. tall. Its head is that of a regular iron golem, except that its maw is wider and a small flicker of flame may be seen therein.

This monstrosity is exceptionally powerful and terrible indeed. It may perform up to three attack functions per melee round; roll ld6 and apply the results from the table below:
1-2 Attacks with sword only
3-4 Attacks with sword and whip
5-6 Attacks with sword, whip, and flaming

Sword: This 5’ longsword is wrought from crystal-encased iron. A greenish, viscous fluid appears to be on its surface. This substance is poison. When the golem scores a hit, its victim takes 2-24 points of immediate damage and must make a saving throw vs. poison or die.

Whip of Feathers: This 6ft longwhip is fashioned from many cockatrice feathers.
Upon each successful hit, the victim must make a saving throw vs. petrifaction or be turned to stone. The whip is actually non- magical, but a rare technique of preserving cockatrice feathers has been employed here, thus making it usable as a weapon.

Flaming Breath : A fiery sheet of flame, 12 ft. long and 2 ft. wide at its base, shoots forth from the golem's mouth. It may hit several grouped opponents at once,

If the golem is involved in one-on-one melee, its breath is capable of hitting one person only.
The golem is extremely accurate with this breath, requiring no "to hit" roll, nor may the targeted victim make any saving throw (although protections against magical fire do apply). The damage inflicted is 5-30 points per breath.
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Doug McCrae

It's clear from the 1e DMG that Gary Gygax didn't want a cautious play style.

Page 9:

Material included was written with an eye towards playability and expedition. The fun of the game is action and drama. The challenge of problem solving is secondary.​

Page 97:

Assume that your players are continually wasting time (thus making the so-called adventure drag out into a boring session of dice rolling and delay) if they are checking endlessly for traps and listening at every door. If this persists, despite the obvious displeasure you express, the requirement that helmets be doffed and mail coifs removed to listen at a door, and then be carefully replaced, the warnings about ear seekers, and frequent checking for wandering monsters (q.v.), then you will have to take more direct part in things. Mocking their over-cautious behavior as near cowardice, rolling huge handfuls of dice and then telling them the results are negative, and statements to the effect that: “You detect nothing, and nothing has detected YOU so far —“, might suffice. If the problem should continue, then rooms full with silent monsters will turn the tide, but that is the stuff of later adventures.​

And yet most of the rest of the text encourages just such a style.

Doug McCrae

I couldn't remember the actual encounters that if you didn't follow classic dungeon hack strategy you were screwed.

Any come to mind?
All the monsters that look like beautiful women and then try to kill you, such as the medusa and succubus. The wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, from Monster Manual 2, is in a similar vein.

Other monsters that encourage extreme paranoia include the lurker above, trapper, piercer, mimic, gelatinous cube, and doppleganger.

Monsters that discourage "classic dungeon hack strategy" include the ear seeker, gas spore (explodes when you hit it), and black pudding (divides into two when struck).
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On a serious note. I recall a Paladin getting half his +5 Holy Avenger lopped off in the Green Devil Face. DM ruled the Holy Spirit that resided in the sword and gave it it's powers had been obliterated.

Brave. Righteous. But boy was that a stupid move.

I know some people hate the module with a passion, but we had so much fun with it. We didn't take it too seriously and mostly used the pre-gens. It's like watching The Descent. It's a trainwreck. You knew where it was going from the get go. People were gonna die in horrible ways. Nobody I knew ever "snuck it in" (S1) on their group. We prepped the players and ran it like the tournament adventure it was.

Good times :)

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