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


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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
The entirety of the adventure is a series of gotchas. It was originally designed as a response to Gygax's players boasting that they could beat any dungeon, and Gygax wanted to teach them some humility.
Never really got that. Any character can be beaten by a challenge with higher numbers on it. And the DM can use any monsters, traps, deities, whatever they want. It's literally just a question of writing down a higher number than the other guy.
 


Gygax wanted to teach them some humility.

Or teach them to play Magic Users. It has been a very long time since I looked at the original ToH module, but I seem to recall certain challenges of this so called “Thinking man’s Dungeon”, were solvable only with magic.

The first time I played Tomb of Horrors, before the DM had finished describing the door, (indeed had only just showed us the Devil Headed door illustration), did one of my friends interrupt and exclaim:

“I stick my head through it!”

We all laughed so hard, even the player rolling up a new character.
 



Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Never really got that.

Gygax designed the Tomb of Horrors modules for two related purposes. First, Gygax explains, "There were several very expert players in my campaign, and this was meant as yet another challenge to their skill—and the persistence of their theretofore-invincible characters. Specifically, I had in mind foiling Rob Kuntz's PC, Robilar, and Ernie Gygax's PC, Tenser." Second, so that he was "ready for those fans [players] who boasted of having mighty PCs able to best any challenge offered by the AD&D game."
- Wikipedia, Tomb of Horrors


Those were Gygax's stated purposes. His words. If you didn't get that, you'd kind of have to take that up with him.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Gygax designed the Tomb of Horrors modules for two related purposes. First, Gygax explains, "There were several very expert players in my campaign, and this was meant as yet another challenge to their skill—and the persistence of their theretofore-invincible characters. Specifically, I had in mind foiling Rob Kuntz's PC, Robilar, and Ernie Gygax's PC, Tenser." Second, so that he was "ready for those fans [players] who boasted of having mighty PCs able to best any challenge offered by the AD&D game."
- Wikipedia, Tomb of Horrors


Those were Gygax's stated purposes. His words. If you didn't get that, you'd kind of have to take that up with him.
Sure. I understand he said the words. I just don't "get" them. The DM by definition is all-powerful. Gygax could create any dungeon on a whim. Those words are nonsensical.

"You are attacked by 42 Orcusses riding Tarrasques. What do you do?"
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Sure. I understand he said the words. I just don't "get" them. The DM by definition is all-powerful. Gygax could create any dungeon on a whim. Those words are nonsensical.

"You are attacked by 42 Orcusses riding Tarrasques. What do you do?"
I think he would've regarded that as unfair (unless it's something the players can avoid like the hill giant chief's hall in G1) while the you-touch-it-you-die traps in Tomb of Horrors are perceived as giving the players a chance.
 

JeffB

Legend
I think he would've regarded that as unfair (unless it's something the players can avoid like the hill giant chief's hall in G1) while the you-touch-it-you-die traps in Tomb of Horrors are perceived as giving the players a chance.

Exactly. As Tim Kask has stated many times as well re; how they played/play- There has to be "a way out". A way to avoid or circumvent. If that means the PC's s have to bypass or ignore then that option is there. But forcing the PCs into cannot win situation is not the modus operandi of an impartial "Judge" or "Referee"
 

the Jester

Legend
Never really got that. Any character can be beaten by a challenge with higher numbers on it. And the DM can use any monsters, traps, deities, whatever they want. It's literally just a question of writing down a higher number than the other guy.

Tomb of Horrors is the opposite of "just add higher numbers". It's the most challenging and fairest adventure D&D has ever seen. It is quite possible for a low-level group to work their way through with a cautious and well-thought out approach and suffer no losses.
 

Indeed, higher levels do little to mitigate the threats of the Tomb.

A low-level party could get far if they were smart, until Acererak. There are only a handful of spells that even affect him in his Demilich form. Only two types of magic weapons can hurt him, if I recall correctly, and thieves can lob gemstones of a certain value to do 1 point of damage per hit. Even a higher level party is likely to meet their doom before they could figure out it out.

Tomb of Horrors is the opposite of "just add higher numbers". It's the most challenging and fairest adventure D&D has ever seen. It is quite possible for a low-level group to work their way through with a cautious and well-thought out approach and suffer no losses.
 

MonkeezOnFire

Adventurer
It's the most challenging and fairest adventure D&D has ever seen.
Unlike the Orcus mounted on terrasques scenario the Tomb is technically winnable but there are plenty of people who'd disagree with you that it's fair.

Matt Colville said:
I think it's a mistake to think of the Tomb as anything other than what it was intended. Gary's answer to players who came up to him saying "My character is unkillable. I've already killed the Tarrasque and Tiamat and Orcus and all the gods."

It's mostly a bunch of unsolvable "@#$% yous" each of which is designed to kill your character without a roll.

If you're having the problem Gary had, then it sort of makes sense. Though I suspect there's about a million better ways to deal with that. Otherwise, pass.

Darths and Droids said:
Tomb of Horrors is one of the all-time classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules. It is, in the true sense of the word, infamous for being one of the most devious and impossibly difficult adventures ever written. Not only is it chock full of incredibly deadly monsters and unforgivingly lethal deathtraps, but in many cases the encounters and traps are triggered for no readily apparent reason, and cannot reasonably be avoided even by players exercising extreme caution. Anyone who has ever played this adventure has had characters die horribly in the Tomb.
 

mach1.9pants

Adventurer
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.
Rot grubs.

View attachment 119798

Unless you know the few exact ways to deal with them, your character is going to die.
Ear seeker, no more listening at doors smarty pants!

Edit, actually I am not 100% that those were EGG's
 

the Jester

Legend
Indeed, higher levels do little to mitigate the threats of the Tomb.

A low-level party could get far if they were smart, until Acererak. There are only a handful of spells that even affect him in his Demilich form. Only two types of magic weapons can hurt him, if I recall correctly, and thieves can lob gemstones of a certain value to do 1 point of damage per hit. Even a higher level party is likely to meet their doom before they could figure out it out.

Except you don't need to fight him, at all. Take the treasure and run.
 





Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
The DM operates under the severe constraints of fairness and impartiality. He couldn't just manifest an unbeatable challenge. His pride and reputation wouldn't allow for it.
No challenge is unbeatable, even if infinitely unlikely. It’s just how difficult do you want to make it? Challenging a DM that they can’t make a dungeon to challenge your character is just silly. He looks at your character and makes a dungeon for a character two levels higher.
 

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