One of the more intriguing treasures I brought home from the Paris Fashion Week of Games last week was the compact new edition of Gary Gygax’s famous player-killer Tomb of Horrors.
Now, if you don’t play role playing games yet still find the name Tomb of Horrors oddly familiar, it’s probably because it’s a touchstone of considerable significance in geek culture and you’ve come across one of the many modern references to it. Most recently, for example, it featured in Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel Ready Player One, which is set in a virtual reality world created by a fan of Tomb of Horrors. Or maybe your older brother’s beloved 10th-level paladin was killed by an unspeakable thing 20 minutes after he set foot inside the Tomb, and he’s been suffering from PTSD ever since, muttering the name Acererak and shuddering uncontrollably.
The original Tomb of Horrors was released in 1978; it’s one of the best-selling Dungeons and Dragons adventure modules of all time. I’m not sure why, to be completely honest. You don’t have fun playing Tomb of Horrors, exactly. And it has certainly killed far, far more player characters than it has rewarded. You know the phrase “Bad things happen to good people?” It was first spoken by the few, shell-shocked survivors of Tomb of Horrors.
Despite — or perhaps because of — its killer rep, the module is still highly regarded today, and has been remade and expanded several times, most recently as a 4th Edition hardcover by Ari Marmell and Scott Fitzgerald Gray in July 2010. This isn’t that version. This is a bare-bones conversion of the original adventure for 4th Edition rules, written by Scott Fitzgerald Gray and mailed out to members of the RPGA as part of the DM Rewards program. Instead of the separate art booklet — one of the most famous features of the original release, which allowed players to gawk in wonder at detailed renderings of the horrific things that had just killed them — this edition incorporates most of the original art into the body of the module. The cover is also recycled from the 2002 Greyhawk novel of the same name by Keith Francis Strohm (which we last discussed in “The Seven Greyhawk Classics of the Ancient World,” here).
For all that, it’s still fun to sit down and re-read Gygax’s original sadistic masterpiece again. The layout is clean and attractive, and the map of Acererak’s tomb has been given new life as a detailed color fold-out. Since it was never offered to retailers it’s a little tricky to find, however, and prices vary widely. As it was originally offered for free, some folks re-sell it at a reasonable price; but the average asking price I found on eBay was just over $50. I paid $7 for a shrinkwraped copy at auction.
Tomb of Horrors, by Gary Gygax and Scott Fitzgerald Gray, was published by Wizards of the Coast in 2010. It is a 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure for five 9th-level characters. It is 36 pages in softcover, with a loose cardstock cover and a fold-out color map. It has no price.