HelgaCon 2009 -- S1 Tomb of Horrors

Now here's something I should get off my chest from HelgaCon a whole year ago. (In the parallel universe that is BJ's blog, he's also been writing about HelgaCons past.)

Back in 2008 I ran a game of AD&D module S1, the Tomb of Horrors. We had a good time, as you can see from the several posts two years ago.

Having gotten about a third the way through the whole complex, we decided to pick it back up again in 2009. This game was, honestly a bit more frustrating. I'm a pretty hard-core DM, and there's lots of places in S1 where the party can get just plain stuck without much action happening. Probably for 2 hours the players were hung up trying to find an exit from the Chapel of Evil (after having initially a TPK, as I recall, at the start there). I think at my prodding, they slept & memorized a legend lore spell, for which I gave a snippet of the riddle at the start of the module. This allowed them to proceed, find the False Crypt and (not being fooled) proceed to the Laboratory area and beyond. Having depleted the part of the riddle they had, they again got stuck, unable to find a key secret door, and finally the time was called, very late at night.

There wasn't enough interest for me to run the last part of S1 again this year, 2010. But, the upshot of this play is an observation that I've not seen in other discussions of module S1...

Give the players that starting riddle in the Tomb of Horrors! In the entrance to the tomb there's a hard-to-find (by the book) but in-plain-sight message from Acererak. In the two sessions we played, my players didn't quite properly discover it, and there were a lot of false starts and (frankly) wasted time. When I gave them a short snippet of it, the whole texture of the game changed. Now they were engaged, they were puzzling through the riddles, they were correctly guessing at traps and finding secret doors, etc., etc. When their part of the riddle ran out, they were again log-jammed. In retrospect, I feel pretty bad about not giving it to them in the first place; but, I simply didn't know, and trusted the adventure text as written.

So my #1 piece of advice if you consider running S1 is: just give the players the damn riddle. I'm sure that for a competitive tournament game, it makes sense to make this really hard (as I've written about previously); but for a home game, it allows for more entertaining play and keeps the players from just plain getting stuck. What I learned by accident is: Having the riddle makes Tomb of Horrors into a completely different adventure.

Side note: Players were again getting about 1/3 the way through the classic adventure per session, the same as we found at this year's HelgaCon. Perhaps with the riddle, they would have made even more progress (S1 is really more linear than sandboxy.)

If you've ever run Tomb of Horrors, did your players have the riddle? What was your experience?

1 comment:

  1. No, we didn't get (or find) the riddle. And, as I recall, we just gave up after a while.
    But "Tomb of Horrors" isn't my favorite kind of adventure.