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Whatever Happened to Acererak?

Fans of Ernest Cline's novel, Ready Player One, know that there's an entire sequence that takes place in a virtual recreation of a classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Gary Gygax, the Tomb of Horrors. Fans of the book will find that D&D's presence has changed in the film. Please note that this discussion contains spoilers for the book, the movie, and the Tomb of Horrors.

[h=3]Cline Likes D&D[/h]Ready Player One author Ernest Cline is a fan of all things geeky, including tabletop role-playing games. And it's not just Dungeons & Dragons:
I played AD&D regularly all through my teenage years. It was an essential part of my youth, and I think it also set me on the path to becoming a writer. I was lucky enough to find a group of friends in my small hometown who were also obsessed with RPGs, and we got together every weekend (and all summer long) to play AD&D, Car Wars, Champions, Role Master, Space Master, or Star Frontiers. Those guys are all still my friends 25 years later, and whenever I get back home to Ohio, we get together and roll some dice.
That fandom expressed itself in the Ready Player One novel, in which players compete to find three keys and unlock the secrets of a 3D virtual online world known as OASIS. The first key is hidden on planet Gygax:
A planet named Gygax in Sector Two seemed like the obvious place to start looking. Halliday had coded the planet himself, and he'd named it after Gary Gygax, one of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons and the author of the original Tomb of Horrors module. According to Gunterpedia (a gunter wiki), the planet Gygax was covered with re-creations of old D&D modules, but Tomb of Horrors was not one of them. There didn't appear to be a re-creation of the tomb on any of the other D&D-themed worlds in the OASIS either. Gunters had turned all of those planets upside down and scoured every square inch of their surfaces. Had a re-creation of the Tomb of Horrors been hidden on one of them, it would have been found and logged long ago. So the tomb had to be hidden somewhere else.
Eventually, the main protagonist, Parzival, discovers the Tomb and meets Acererak, but not quite in his demi-lich form:
All this matched the module description exactly, with one huge difference. The throne was supposed to be empty, but it wasn't. The demi-lich Acererak was sitting on it, glaring down at me silently. A dusty gold crown glinted on his withered head. He appeared exactly as he did on the cover of the original Tomb of Horrors module. But according to its text, Acererak wasn't supposed to be here. He was supposed to be waiting in a burial chamber much deeper in the dungeon.
There's a few things wrong with Cline's portrayal, not the least of which being that although the cover of Tomb of Horrors does indeed show a lich, it's not actually Acererak -- the real Acererak is a skull with gems for eyes and teeth in a pile of dust in the real tomb. The creature portrayed on the cover is in fact a false mummy made up to look like Acererak. The Tomb of Horrors didn't just fool players, it fooled Cline too. That said, Acererak challenges Parzival to a game of Joust, so perhaps authenticity wasn't quite what Cline had in mind.

Acererak has experienced a resurgence recently thanks to his inclusion in Tomb of Annihilation for Fifth Edition. Fans looking forward to seeing Acererak on the big screen will be disappointed, however, as the entire sequence was removed and replaced with a car race.
[h=3]Spielberg Likes D&D[/h]Given Ready Player One's obsessions with 80s movies, filmmaker Steven Spielberg seemed like the perfect director for the film. Spielberg's movie geek cred is legendary: Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Gremlins (1984), Back to the Future (1985), The Goonies (1985), Jurassic Park (1993), and Men in Black (1997). He was also instrumental in bringing D&D to the big screen in E.T. the Extraterrestrial. It was even used to screen the cast:
Casting director Marci Liroff explains how they basically knew all the kids they wanted to cast as Elliott’s friends in the film and also had a good idea of the boy who they wanted for the main role. To see how the children interacted together, they decided to have them play a game, which turned out to be Dungeons & Dragons. The adults stayed outside the room and watched them play together only to see a surprising reaction to their potential Elliott.
The D&D game wasn't just part of the screening; it also featured prominently in the film, creating parallels with the plot:
In ET The Extraterrestrial, Elliot's older brother and his friends have a remarkably realistic session of Dungeons & Dragons. No funny clothing or strange language, just arguments about pizza and whether the Dungeon Master is allowed to bend the rules. They even have all the right sorts of dice. D&D hadn't yet caught the eye of hysterical news pundits back in '82, so they had few negative stereotypes to work with.
This tradition of using D&D as foreshadowing would continue in the Duffer Brothers' Stranger Things. Given his history of including geek-friendly gaming in his films, why didn't Spielberg include a major D&D moment in Ready Player One?
[h=3]Ready Player One (Secretly) Likes D&D[/h]The scene was likely cut to make for more character-building between Art3mis and Parzival. The replacement scene is fast-paced enough to hold the audience's interest while laying some of the ground rules of how the bad guys and our protagonists operate. D&D isn't completely excluded from the film however.

The main character, Wade Watts, wears a D&D Ampersand shirt; another character has a D20 sticker on his VR gear; there's some dungeon maps on the floor of Halliday's room; and the getaway van has the Tomb of Horrors devil face on its back door. But perhaps the most prominent display of D&D-isms is the Orb of Osuvox, the magical bomb that holds a 20-sided die at its center.

The Orb, like Acererak himself, is something of a missed opportunity: nobody ever rolls it -- it surely would have exploded on a natural 1!
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Michael Tresca



"D&D is completely excluded from the film however."

I think you meant to say "isn't" instead of "is".

Nice article.


Acererak is hiding in that demiplane where his phylactery is stashed, cursing the adventuring party that got into the Tomb of Horrors just before your group showed up.


I really enjoyed the novel. Haven’t seen the movie yet. The difference between showing a game of D&D in progress in ET and a few Easter eggs only existing D&D fans will get is a pretty big difference. One that won’t bring new players to our hobby.


Let's be honest -- if you're going to see Ready Player One, you probably already know about D&D.


I did not know the story of them using D&D to screen actors for E.T. Very interesting.

I get why they made the switch in Ready Player One. While I think they could’ve made it work within the same context (instead of a race, you could’ve had people running through the traps of the tomb en masse, but then you would’ve needed an additional scene to introduce the vehicles anyway.

There certainly were plenty of D&D references staring you in the face to make up for it, that’s for sure.

As for the title of the thread, all I can hear is (with apologies to Tim Curry):

Whatever happened to Acererak
That skeletal satin draped frame
As it clung to his thigh
How I started to cry...


The nods to D&D notwithstanding, the lack of any meaty D&D tributes was a disappointment to me. Yeah, there's a shirt in the movie. Yes, the name Gygax pops up. Yes, there's a Orb.... But that's it.

I still enjoyed the movie more than I expected and I like the ending to it a bit more than the book's ending, but I was still disappointed. What bugs me most is that Cline had a hand in writing the script for it.

Ronald Cruz

First Post
"Let's be honest -- if you're going to see Ready Player One, you probably already know about D&D. --Pauper"
I wouldn't be so sure. Many people are just watching the next Steven Spielberg movie, or "that VR movie." Maybe they've heard D&D mentioned, but they don't see the APPEAL of playing D&D. Which is unfortunate -- it would seem that D&D provides that opportunity to experience an exciting adventure only limited by your imagination, which doesn't need technology. It surely caters to the same appeal of VR. Seems like a missed opportunity to popularize D&D more.

"The adults stayed outside the room and watched them play together only to see a surprising reaction to their potential Elliott."
What was that reaction?


There's one more reference to D&D that I haven't heard anyone mention yet. The spell to deactivate the orb must be recited within 10 feet of the orb. Has to be a reference to old school grid sizing, or perhaps some element of a classic adventure? Also, it leads me to wonder where the words in the spell come from. Does anyone here know? Seems safe to say it's lifted from somewhere, as almost everything else in the movie is. I'm not savvy enough in D&D lore to know if it's D&D-related or not.

EDIT: Just found out the incantation is from the movie Excalibur from 1981, so not D&D-related.
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Community Supporter
"The adults stayed outside the room and watched them play together only to see a surprising reaction to their potential Elliott."
What was that reaction?
They basically used the D&D session to see how the child actors would gel as a group, and the actor playing Elliott was bossy. The players didn't like them, and that came across in the game.

It was essentially a job interview!


Just saw Ready Player One last night; I originally had no interest, but had an opportunity to go, and am very glad I did. That movie was sheer entertainment joy, and a love letter to my teenage years. I was very pleasantly surprised. Very few films outside of Wreck-It Ralph and the LEGO Movie would have had that many IPs jammed to bursting within its confines. :)


Well, that was fun
Staff member
I really enjoyed it. I liked the book a lot too (I know opinion is divided on that!)

I'm not very familiar with video game culture, so a lot of those references were lost on me, but I loved all the 80s TV, movie, and music references.

Never seen The Iron Giant though.

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