This should be called Die! Die! Die!
, because that's what happens, a lot of dying. Be prepared, the good-guy body count shall be high!
And that was Gary Gygax's intention. Tomb of Horrors
is an adventure centered around survival. Getting through it alive takes skill and a whole lotta luck.
Gygax eschewed the usual D&D style of game with its background story often involving some little village on the edge of the wilderness that is being tormented by baddies. There is almost no background story in Tomb of Horrors
. It's a tomb and inside there are horrors.
And check out them horrors!
Half of this booklet is pictures, and when I was a kid they scared the crapped out of me. They are very demonic. But remember Christian Soldiers, we D&D players were cleansing these satanic-ish places….well, to be honest, we were going in in hopes of finding booty. Killing the ultimate evil was just something we did to get to the loot.
In its early stages, Tomb of Horrors
was one of D&D crowning jewels. It quickly became infamous and every kid had to have a copy. And while most of us look back on it with nostalgia, it is a fondness bereft of sentimentality, because there was no love in this module. It chewed up and spit out characters mercilessly. Gygax even strongly urged the use of expendable, pre-rolled characters instead of risking beloved, hand-raised ones. It's good advice, because not only is this module dangerous, but it is at many times a random danger, and that's part of its problem. Randomized, irrevocable death lies around every other corner. Traps, traps, everywhere traps! The whole frickin' place is trapped! Ceilings collapse on a regular basis. There's spiked pits every few feet it seems. Floors tilt away and drop the characters into fiery chasms. And the problem is that for many of these traps there's no detection. No amount of care can be taken to prevent at least heavy damage, if not death, in many cases. And honestly, there's not a lot of ingenuity going on here. There's a puzzle or two to solve, but mostly it's just "whoops, you've fallen into something pointy."
Great fun, definitely an excellent tournament game, but not really very good for campaign inclusion.