Monday, November 30, 2009

Tomb of Horrors - the smiley dungeon

This morning as I was eating breakfast, I wasn't reading the morning paper. For some reason I had totally forgot that I have a morning paper for a while, and instead did what a gamer does and read a game book. My four year old stopped her hour long monologue about the adventures of her favourite kiddie show and comic book heroes, and she peeked at the loose cover of the Tomb. She saw the illustration on the inside front cover, and pointed to it and asked me "What kind of happy face is that?"

For those of you who don't have the whole of Tomb of Horrors memorized, that is the picture of the outside of the tomb. It's a mound or hill, and there are stones places on the slope to resemble a skull, with gaping eye sockets and a row of teeth. It looks like a giant smiley. The terrible tomb of the Demi-Lich Acererak!

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I have read about many classic adventures, and some of them I've longed to play. Some, like The Enemy Within, I bought because I wanted to run it myself. Others like Horror on the Orient Express, I've resisted since I've had vague hopes of somebody inviting me to play them, and I don't wanted to spoil the fun. Years go buy and I still haven't gotten many opportunities to play the classics. I don't know if it will become a classic, but I'm very thankful to my friend Chris who took us through Beyond the Mountains of Madness. Finally I got to play one of those talked about campaigns!

Last year I actually started to play ToH, but we only did one session before the launch of 4th ed D&D and our DM suddenly lost interest in favour of the new game. I have long wanted to test my mettle against the Tomb, since it is rightly famous. After that game tanked I resigned myself to the fact that I probably never will get the opportunity, and since I own the module I started to read it for fun and enlightenment instead.

Some parts of the adventure is just plain stupid, and some are kind of clever. Having read everything except the last room, I'm not that impressed. Necromancer Games published one book called Demons & Devils, inspired by the Tomb, and I think it's better. ToH will from now on forever be the Happy Face Dungeon.

Don't Worry, Be Happy.


  1. I am running the ToH at 18th level using 3.5e rules for a group here in central Illinois. It has taken us nearly 4 months to play through. One cohort just died and everybody lost all their gear so far. Hopefully next week we will complete the smiley dungeon. I did tone down the version I have which was for RPGA high level play by Steven Conforti 2006-2007 Living greyhawk. He like swarms, a lot of swarms... I'll have to check out Demons and Devils.

  2. 4 months! Wow.

    Do check out Demons & Devils. It's good.

  3. Pah! Infamous 'killer' dungeon? Have ye never attempted to retrieve a boon companion from the hell-spawned depths beneath the Theocrat's temple-palace of Pan Tang or searched for a way clear of the Ghoul King's chaos-infected forest of Troos?



  4. You really need to run the dungeon, with the rules it was written for, in order to judge the adventure. Yes, there are silly elements -- Gygax loved puns and humor -- but it is extremely lethal. It also punishes player's characters for mistakes player's make. D&D was not a game where a character's skill level could make up for a player's poor choices or observations.

    I like ToH a lot, but I also like the Return that TSR did years later to celebrate the Silver Anniversary.

  5. I wouldn't mind a more detailed review. I have A PDF of what I think is the later re-vamp and plan (one day to run it using T&T).

  6. I might do a more detailed look at it and see where I disagree with Gary on how to make traps work. Frankly, some of the silliness was actually not puns, but traps that were just idiotic.

  7. It's fun slaughtering characters in the Tomb - or more accurately, it's fun watching characters slaughter themselves in the tomb.

    It's a shame that the demi-lich was written up in an official rulebook. Too many people know their secrets now...


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