Friday, March 31, 2017

Delving into the Tomb of Horrors: An Empty Throne

Screw this, I'm out - most players by now
Welcome back to Delving into the Tomb of Horrors. Today I'll be analyzing chapter 6, "Tomb of Acererak Level", and covering areas 25-29.

Tomb of Horrors: Tomb of Acererak Level

25. Throne Room

This entire article will actually just cover the traps in this single area. Areas 26-29 are rooms adjacent to the Throne Room, so it makes sense to look at all of them as a whole.

These combined rooms form the largest single "area" in the dungeon. As we'll see, this is essentially another test of all of the lessons the dungeon has taught the players. However, at this point there's no holding back. With plenty of instant death traps, unfair combats, and traps with little to no setup, here is where Gary really flexes his player-killing prowess. But it isn't just random death traps, as we shall see.
Keeping it spooky in 1975
But enough exposition, let's dig into this room. It's important to note that the door to the room has closed with no way to reopen it.

First, we have the pillars and devil faces. As I said about a month ago, these devil faces are not spheres of annihilation, but rather teleporters. If the players were told (perhaps, by more modern modules) that these faces contain spheres of annihilation, they will definitely do everything in their power to stop their companions from entering the mouths.

Of course, knowing that they are teleporters is also good for frightening the players. Either way, this trap is easily prevented by two spells the PCs should have ingrained into their fingers by now: detect magic and dispel magic. But the important thing to notice here is that the levitation effect and the breeze have no save. This gives the idea that anyone touching the pillars will be helpless unless they happen to have those spells readied.

Next we have the gem, which is another test of your player's experience in the dungeon. Wish-granting magic in a lich's tomb that regularly resets itself? This is a hard one to defend as a good trap, even if it very much lines up with the tone and theming of the dungeon.

The gem is a cool idea and all, but for this area it feels very on-the-nose. But, it was placed here for a reason, as you will see in just a moment.
Totally trustworthy
The last scene in this area is the throne itself, which is really more of a puzzle than a trap. I don't think that any competent player would wander into an evil throne room and put the crown on, but the solution to open the secret passage here is so esoteric that players might be frustrated into trying such a maneuver.

We already saw something like this in the Hall of Spheres. This is a little more devious, however. There's no way forward here unless the players mess around with the throne and scepter, and unlike the previous area, the poem found at the start of the dungeon gives no hints on how to solve the puzzle.

This brings me back to the gem. This area is one of desperation, and I imagine after a while at least one player would be willing to risk the obvious wish-granting magic the gem offers. This could cause some heated debate at the table.

Overall, everything in this area has been leading toward desperation and hopelessness. And this theme only continues.

26. Electric Blue
Guess who's back...
A small area, but finding nothing behind an obviously magical door reinforces the theme of hopelessness. I could imagine my players searching this closet three or four times over.

27. Swords and Shields

This room is another unique challenge that fits in with the theming of the area. As we will see in the next section, the swords and shields are here to prevent someone from exiting the Chamber of Hopelessness. However, they are powerful foes in their own right.
Possibly the only dragon in this dungeon
The mechanics here aren't individually important, but the point of it is: if a single PC enters this chamber, they are in for a deadly fight, and the odds only get worse as more and more enter. This room is not meant to be crossed. Even the spells to destroy the weapons are mostly high-level, meaning there's no chance that all of them could be affected at this point in the tomb.

This, combined with the fact that PCs wouldn't know that this area and area 28 are connected, will probably lead to them ignoring this room. At least, until they have exhausted the possibilities in the throne room.

28. Chamber of Hopelessness

Here is the ultimate example of the theme of this area. This chamber is meant to be the final resting place of any PC who ends up in the blue devil's mouth. The epithet is telling:
You who dared to violate my tomb now pay the price. Stay here and die slowly of starvation, or open and enter the door to the south, where certain quick death awaits. Whichever you choose, know that I, Acererak the Eternal, watch and scoff at your puny effort and enjoy your death throes.
Nothing but us bones here!

On top of that, Gary is kind enough to throw a potion of diminution in there, which according to AD&D rules won't get you small enough to escape through the snake holes.

I think this is the best example of theming in the whole dungeon, because at this point Acererak has created this entire area to focus on desperation and hopelessness. So, why bother simply killing PCs when you can trap them in a room to starve to death? Or for that matter, when you can pervert their wishes, or turn them into foul-smelling powder. The point is this: every part of your dungeon's traps and encounters can fit with your theme.

29. Mummy Chamber

This door appears similar to the Electric Blue door before, but contains a mummy. This creature is a strong foe, but not unbeatable. The worst part about it is its fire resistance (when mummies are normally vulnerable to fire) and the haste spell cast upon it.

This is a weaker expression of the theme of this area, but it is essentially another dead end. The players get no hints about how to escape this area.
Go cry to your mummy!
Overall, this area is a good example of how every single part of a dungeon can flow along with them theme of the dungeon. But if your theme is something like "Dragons" or "Magic Traps" you will quickly create a dungeon that doesn't offer much variety to your players.

Better themes fit with adventuring tropes and are esoteric enough to be applied in many ways. This area's theme was hopelessness. The players were forced to consider bad options to try to escape. And many of those options ended up leading to even worse problems.

But what about a dungeon with the theme of "Bravery"? What about "Deception", "Sacrifice", or "Glory"?
Here's a relevant picture to make up for that last caption. I'm sorry.
These themes could create whole campaigns, since there are so many ways a DM could create tests of those ideas, traps based on them, or challenges that require them.

And in the end, theming also helps set the tone of your game. There's a reason the "deadliest dungeon" in D&D chose hopelessness for a theme.

Thanks for reading!

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