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WIR S1 Tomb of Horrors [SPOILERS!! SPOILERS EVERYWHERE!!]‏


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vic20

Fool
I second, third, and fourth this. I've thoroughly enjoyed this thread!

Agreed. Fantastic thread!

I don't believe it's been mentioned yet in this thread (could be wrong), but the Tomb of Horrors figures very prominently in "Ready Player One", an amazing book by Ernest Cline. Wil Wheaton does the audio book narration, which is how I enjoyed it. Ready Player One
 

Jhaelen

First Post
Hey, is the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth going to get a thread like this? Please...?:D
I somehow doubt it, although for me it's one of the very few 'classic' modules I enjoyed playing. In some ways it's the opposite of the Tomb; little thought has been spent on trying to create a dungeon that 'makes sense' as a whole. I guess I liked it because it was similar to the early adventures I'd written myself.

Anyway, my thanks go to Stoat for starting such an interesting and focused thread!
 

Remus Lupin

Adventurer
Agreed. Fantastic thread!

I don't believe it's been mentioned yet in this thread (could be wrong), but the Tomb of Horrors figures very prominently in "Ready Player One", an amazing book by Ernest Cline. Wil Wheaton does the audio book narration, which is how I enjoyed it. Ready Player One

I read this last summer. Great book, lots of fun for those of us who grew up in the 1980s.
 


A

amerigoV

Guest
I just wanted to drop in here and mention that I've thoroughly enjoyed this thread. Everyone's contributions have been great.

Definitely. I am sad it is at its end. This was the only thread holding me here. I play Savage Worlds now, and I tire of the "will she or won't she" talk of this board (5e).

One of my players even said this is exactly how he wants to play D&D. Perhaps it's just been a nice respite from the long combats in 4e. Perhaps it's just nice as a change of pace. Perhaps it's because the module is a bit less deadly in the 4e conversion. Whatever it is, my players are having fun, and really that's all that counts.

Although one can argue its "fairness", etc, it clearly is the best known adventure that is about exploration. I cannot speak for others, but 3e got me too much in the habit of "ok, here is the result of all your random Search/Spot checks....". I know it is bad play on my part, but I am not sure 3e modules did anything to encourage more interactive searching. Its not "I look here", its really about "I do this". That has an excitement for some players -- playing around with something in a dungeon to understand what it does and not get killed in the process. That is an element I try to focus on in my fantasy games - making exploration meaningful. I call for a skill check only if there is a chance of something going wrong, or to provide hints that the player can act on. I think the ToH is a great reminder that Exploration is just as exciting to some players has hacking something to bits are for others (and roleplaying a scene for others).
 


Stoat

Adventurer
Back in June, I started this thread after the comments here: http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/306672-tomb-horrors-example-many-one-kind.html got me thinking about the Tomb of Horrors

As I noted then, this line of posts caught my attention:

The module gives you clues in the form of riddles, and those riddles are, essentially, a "walk through" for the entire module (if you can parse them out carefully). On the other hand, if you fail to notice the first riddle, or if you ignore the clues provided, well, the module can kill you pretty quickly.

I recall one post about a newbie gamer who had never played an rpg before with a first level pc making it to the end, grabbing some loot and fleeing for his life.

Unlike some modules, with traps that have no possible way of being decoded short of painful experience (iirc, Tsocjanth has several of these...there is no clue that one color is good and another bad, that one face on a pedestal is a boon and the other a curse, etc.), ToH presents players with a chance to figure things out.

I'd heard that about the Tomb before, and I really wanted it to be true. I want there to be an adventure that's full of clues and riddles that allow the players to succeed just by figuring things out. But the Tomb of Horrors ain't that module. As far as I can tell, most of the encounters, and almost all of the big set piece deathtraps, are not accompanied by clues, riddles, or hints that clever players can use to bypass them.

IMO, anyone advocating the "walkthrough" theory of the Tomb has to account (at least) for the following:

1. Area 14 can only be accessed via a secret door. Other than the fact that the door is in a dead-end crawlspace, there is no hint or clue of it's existence. According to the text of the module, there are two ways to find this secret door. Roll a 1 on a d6 or use the gem of seeing from Area 11. There's no flavor text or description that clever PC's can use to help them notice the door. They can use a naked die roll or a magic doo-dad. If the PC's fail to find the door, they cannot proceed.

2. Area 17, for similar reasons. It's a secret door that the PC's have to pass. It can only be found using magic, it can only be opened using magic. Getting through Area 17 is mandatory, and it cannot be done by solving riddles or figuring out clues.

3. Area 21. This is one of the few mandatory deathtraps in the Tomb. There is, as far as I can tell, no hint or clue that the PC's can use to figure out the risks it presents. Sure, there are strategies to avoid the dangers of Area 21, and I'd expect many groups to use them. For example, given the number of deadly pit traps in the Tomb, it makes sense for the PC's to fly as much as possible, and flying PC's won't set off Area 21. But casting Fly isn't following a walkthrough.

4. The juggernaut in Area 23. The PC's open a door. They fall asleep. The DM rolls some dice, and if the PC's are unlucky they get squashed. Again, there is no clue for "thinking persons" to use to avoid this hazard.

5. Area 29. How are the PC's supposed to know which end of the Scepter opens the Valves of Mithril?

6. Although not a deathtrap, the FIRST KEY and SECOND KEY are dangerous. Using the wrong one at the wrong time causes damage. How are the PC's supposed to know when to use which key?
 

jmucchiello

Adventurer
There was talk about "fixing" the module. I would this the simple place to start would be to redo the poem (and modify a few of the encounter areas). My ability with poetry is at odds with going first with this idea though. :)

One idea might be to include more than one poem (adding the next poem a good junction point in the adventure) so that the poem is really long and really obvious.
 

terrya

First Post
Yes, we have to give at least a little slack in our critique of things like this. We have to remember that when Gygax wrote this, (and other things of the very early era), he may have had a relatively very large game group for play testing, but even a few dozen players under one DM doesn't give the vast array of ideas that thousands and thousands of players under hundreds and hundreds of DMs give.

Just because the Players in one group don't abuse or break something doesn't mean that others won't try. And a designer, especially in the beginning stage of the game, can be forgiven for not thinking of every possible abuse someone else could think of.

Sure, Gygax's group may not have thought to put effort into something like looting the adamantite and mithril doors from the Tomb; they may have all agreed, (probably passively and unspokenly), that PCs don't deconstruct the dungeons. Heck, I could even imagine Gygax making the excavation work extremely difficult and dangerous just to discourage those who did think of and try it. That was his style, (judging from what I've read of his style). "You didn't have the proper amount of support for the scaffolding around the adamantite door, so it falls, crushing the fighter. No save. He's dead." He admitted in several articles that he made rulings like that to punish tricksy Players. It was his style for keeping control of abuse.

When I critique the Tomb of Horrors, I try not to judge it by how devious Players could twist and undermine things in ways the designer didn't expect. I try to judge it on things the designer intentionally designed and planned.

For instance, the scepter and crown and the wishing gem are things that, yes, could be crazy powerful when taken outside the Tomb by Players/PCs. But I think it's apparent that the designer didn't intend or consider that when making this module. Taking non-treasure things out of the Tomb weren't part of the plan, and so the designer shouldn't be too derided for that oversight.

But, for me, it's the designer's intent within the framework of the Tomb that bothers me. The various arbitrary things stick in my craw.

In one area, detection spells don't work at all. But the Players/PCs have no way of knowing they don't work there. They cast detect X and get no pings. Does that mean there's no X? Or did the spell just not work at all? Then in another area, detection spells work, but they give false positives. Then in another area, detection spells are required as the only method of finding/discovering something.

And then you have situations where you must cast specific spells in ways that don't intuitively/thematically/logically fit the spell. Like using remove curse to unlock a door. Can you fault a Player for not making the mental connection that a lock could be a curse? Or the spells useful against the demi-lich's skull. Disintegrate is useless, but shatter does 20 hp damage? A thief using magical sling stones does nothing, but a thief using very expensive gems found in the demi-lich's treasure pile is effective?

It's these things that Gygax intentionally designed into the Tomb that make the adventure faulty, to me. Requiring the Players/PCs to search everything in one area so they can move forward, but then punishing the Players/PCs for searching in the next area is a fault.

Rewarding blind leaps in one area, but punishing such in another is a fault.

Preventing certain actions in one area, but requiring them in another area is a fault.

Now, I have to admit, that my calling these things "faults" comes from angle of the premise that all the hype about the Tomb is accurate. The hyped premise that the Tomb is fair and gives clues and is logical. That premise is how I like my "thinking person's" adventures.

But, to be honest, I don't think that Gygax intended the Tomb to be fair and logical. I think he intended it to be a pure madhouse of aggravation with harm and death. I mean, he designs many areas with a spectacle of dungeon dressing and designs and colors, all screaming out to be considered for/as clues. But in the end, nothing there is actually a clue or hint.

It's like being handed a kaleidoscope and mistaking it for, (and trying to use it as), a telescope. Or being handed Rorschach cards and mistaking them for, (and trying to use them as), clue notes.

Presuming that the Tomb is designed, (by Acererak), as a logical and "fair" challenge is the first mistake of the Players/PCs. Trying to use any of the presented information as logical and "fair" clues is the second mistake of the Players/PCs. [Going to and into the Tomb at all is Mistake Zero.]

Tomb of Horrors is to standard D&D what Paranoia is to standard RPGs.

Bullgrit

I think your 100% right whilst also being 100% wrong. You talk about the inconsistancies (forgive awfull spelling) as if there a bad thing, when there exactly what makes it a perfect dungeon. In alot of the games ive played recently you know exactly how a dungeon is going to work before you even go in, theres such a norm that its dull.The fact that one thing could be the golden ticket in one room but get you blown up in another is exactly what people loved about the tomb. It left you sat there not wanting to do anything but suck your thumb and hope you wake up! What your 100% right about is the fact that allot of people misinterupt the tomb as a fair challenge and a true test of skill. It is a test of skill but not in the way many put forward and is certinally not fair which is why i personally love it. I also feel it makes it 100x more realistic, if you were desiging a horror dungeon to save guard your tomb, would it not look somthing like this?
 

Bullgrit

First Post
terrya said:
if you were desiging a horror dungeon to save guard your tomb, would it not look somthing like this?
Actually, no, not at all. There are much better ways for a high-level cleric/magic-user, (like Acererak), to safeguard his tomb. First off, why does he even need to protect his tomb? There's nothing in it he apparently needs, including the skull. Even the treasure is paltry.

The Tomb of Horrors is not a grave protection system, it is a madhouse of sadistic entertainment.

Bullgrit
 

Remus Lupin

Adventurer
Actually, no, not at all. There are much better ways for a high-level cleric/magic-user, (like Acererak), to safeguard his tomb. First off, why does he even need to protect his tomb? There's nothing in it he apparently needs, including the skull. Even the treasure is paltry.

The Tomb of Horrors is not a grave protection system, it is a madhouse of sadistic entertainment.

Bullgrit

This is exactly right, which is why it ultimately doesn't matter if the riddles and clues aren't fair or are misleading, since they are all designed to torment anyone foolish enough to enter the tomb. If it seems arbitrary and capricious, well, that's exactly what you'd expect and evil mad wizard to concoct. Just because it's said that Acererak plays fair doesn't mean he does, as you note.
 

Hussar

Legend
This is exactly right, which is why it ultimately doesn't matter if the riddles and clues aren't fair or are misleading, since they are all designed to torment anyone foolish enough to enter the tomb. If it seems arbitrary and capricious, well, that's exactly what you'd expect and evil mad wizard to concoct. Just because it's said that Acererak plays fair doesn't mean he does, as you note.

See, but that's the heart of what started all of this. No one is saying that ToH is a garbage module. It's not. It's fantastic and lots of fun and all sorts of things.

The issue though is that people hyped (as Bullgrit and others quoted very recently) this module as a "thinking man's module". That the solutions to all or even most of the puzzles in the module were possible to resolve through intelligent play and puzzle solving.

However, that's what's been pretty thoroughly debunked. There are too many encounters where it's basically flipping a coin - you have no real way of going forward based on anything you could do beforehand. No amount of "intelligent play" will allow you to resolve some of the puzzles in this module, such as the secret door in the pit trap. If you fail and don't have the gem, tough, you lose. Go home.

That's what this thread has been all about.
 

Remus Lupin

Adventurer
See, but that's the heart of what started all of this. No one is saying that ToH is a garbage module. It's not. It's fantastic and lots of fun and all sorts of things.

The issue though is that people hyped (as Bullgrit and others quoted very recently) this module as a "thinking man's module". That the solutions to all or even most of the puzzles in the module were possible to resolve through intelligent play and puzzle solving.

However, that's what's been pretty thoroughly debunked. There are too many encounters where it's basically flipping a coin - you have no real way of going forward based on anything you could do beforehand. No amount of "intelligent play" will allow you to resolve some of the puzzles in this module, such as the secret door in the pit trap. If you fail and don't have the gem, tough, you lose. Go home.

That's what this thread has been all about.

I agree entirely. And I think it's Gygax's introduction to the module that really set that reputation up, since if I recall he says as much himself. And truthfully, in his own head, maybe he really thought it was fair. But the fact that it really isn't is only a problem from a metagame perspective.

Since I have no problem with the characters (as opposed to the players), being tricked into believing that Acererak plays fair, only to find out that he absolutely does not. The characters (as opposed to the players), can be duped into believing that their intelligence and skill will aid them where others have failed, and they'll be wrong.

And as long as you look at it from that perspective it can be a lot of sado-masochistic fun to play!
 

A

amerigoV

Guest
There are too many encounters where it's basically flipping a coin - you have no real way of going forward based on anything you could do beforehand. No amount of "intelligent play" will allow you to resolve some of the puzzles in this module, such as the secret door in the pit trap. If you fail and don't have the gem, tough, you lose. Go home.

Hmmm, one can debate that. While not everyone did this, many groups then had hirelings, retainers, and other hangers-on (a posse!). Making someone else "touch the skull" sounds like "intelligent play" to me! That makes the "coin-flips" less frequent.

(just being a contrairian here - trying to keep the Great Thread going for as long as possible).
 

Bullgrit

First Post
amerigoV said:
Hmmm, one can debate that. While not everyone did this, many groups then had hirelings, retainers, and other hangers-on (a posse!). Making someone else "touch the skull" sounds like "intelligent play" to me! That makes the "coin-flips" less frequent.
When the hireling or retainer touches the skull, it rises and drains the soul of the 14th-level magic-user, (no save), who ordered the action, from back at the doorway.

Was that "intelligent play"? The NPC flunky may be sighing in relief, but the Player of the m-u is probably not too happy.

Bullgrit
 

jonesy

A Wicked Kendragon
When the hireling or retainer touches the skull, it rises and drains the soul of the 14th-level magic-user, (no save), who ordered the action, from back at the doorway.
Yeah, you'd need an NPC 'flunky' who was a mage, and higher level than the PC's to trump Acereraks hierarchy of soul sucking.

Edit:

It's actually enough just to have the higher level NPC mage in your party, since it's irrelevant who touches the skull. So, if you were an evil party you could just bring a caged cart full of bound and gagged high level mages with you. :D
 
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Gentlegamer

First Post
There's at least two examples of intelligent play in handling the last encounter.

Robilar (Rob Kuntz) fled after scooping up as much treasure as possible rather than fight the demi-lich (not sure if he touched it or not, I would guess not).

The tournament winning group that used the scepter and crown solution.
 

FoxWander

First Post
There's at least two examples of intelligent play in handling the last encounter.

Robilar (Rob Kuntz) fled after scooping up as much treasure as possible rather than fight the demi-lich (not sure if he touched it or not, I would guess not).

The tournament winning group that used the scepter and crown solution.

I'm sure we can do better than those two. I say we list the best and easiest ways to "defeat" Acererack without resorting to the random list of spells he's vulnerable to. Here's a few off the top of my head...

1) Scoop him into a Bag of Holding (mix-and-match with a Portable Hole as desired).

2) Scoop him into a Bag of Devouring

3) Put a large iron pot over him and Sovereign Glue in place.

4) Get a custom helmet with a solid metal visor. Attached a rod to the back (or a loop to the top- any way you can carry it while guaranteeing it's always facing away from you). Apply Sovereign Glue to the inside and capture the skull from behind like a big metal butterfly net. Now you've got a Demi-Lich-powered Death Ray! (tm) Shake > point at foe > raise visor.

Your turn...
 

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