Thursday, April 6, 2017

Surviving the Tomb of Horrors

While looking through my copy of Tales from the Yawning Portal I felt compelled to blog about the Tomb of Horrors. Well here is the bad news, you probably won’t survive! There are some things you need to consider before sitting down to play the Tomb of Horrors. All those old-school vibes you hear us grognards grumble about? They will help you have a positive experience!

For this adventure, you need to think beyond the four corners of your character sheet. Modern D&D does a good job of trying to portray a character’s abilities and life experiences through game mechanics. However, with the Tomb of Horrors, the players cannot just rely on that fail safe.

Instead you must really take in the environment and use your wits to explore it. Ask questions, lots of them. The Tomb will test the mettle and patience of most players, since you cannot hack-n-slash your way through it. The latter is a consideration you must marinate on as a player before attending a session. This is an adventure of restraint and creativity on the part of the players. Suddenly mundane items modern players like to poke fun at, like a 10’ pole, have immense value.

The Tomb of Horrors always makes me think of the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones, using a regular item like bag of sand, switches it for the golden idol. He has arguably made his dexterity save to accomplish this, but alas it does not matter. A whole series of traps are initiated as a result interacting with the idol. This is the sort of experience which can happen in the Tomb of Horrors. Employing the same strategy will not work in every room or passage. You really need to expect the unexpected and prepare for the worst, as it’s around every corner.


Be forewarned, the Tomb of Horrors is like playing a game of dungeon roulette. I would suggest experiencing it as a one-off or “what-if” adventure if you use regular characters. This way if a long standing favorite character is lost, it does not really count in terms of the continuity of your campaign. Even Gary Gygax himself on this EN World posting from 2006 warned against using favorite characters:


So, what does it mean to really survive the Tomb of Horrors? In my opinion, any expedition into the tomb which results in exploration and the characters leaving is a success. We could probably count on two hands the number of players who have legitimately defeated the tomb over the years. I’m sure social media will have some boasting now that Tales from the Yawning Portal has unearthed the Tomb again. A DM wearing kid gloves or heavily home-brewed characters do not count! And quite honestly, if that is what it takes for a group to defeat the tomb, they have entirely missed the point.

The Tomb of Horrors is the final resting place of an incredibly powerful being. It does NOT want anyone or anything robbing its treasures, even in undeath. The tomb can be a deadly meat grinder that to some extent does absolutely rely on your skill as a player. Sure, that style of play may not be for everyone, as it’s a departure from heavy dice rolling to explore the game world. Instead, using your ability to observe, experiment, and think about the environment and the tools available to your character is best. For all you D&D greenhorns out there, trust me, it will make you a better player.

Know you well adventurer, that survival is unlikely, but should you succeed the bards will sing your tale!

Tales from the Yawning Portal excerpt.
 

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