Friday, March 3, 2017

Delving into the Tomb of Horrors: The Hall of Spheres

Welcome to dying
Welcome back to Delving into the Tomb of Horrors. Today I'll be analyzing chapter 4, "Entrance Level", and covering areas 8-13.

Tomb of Horrors: Tomb Entrance Level Area

8. Gargoyle Lair

Holy smokes! We start off with an honest-to-goodness combat. After all the raps of the previous section, a four-armed Gargoyle is a welcome change.
Ooh, I'm big and scary! Oh noooo!

In fact, I'd go as far to say that this room is a reward to players who figured out the entrances. Here's my rationale:
  1. Straightforward combat in a non-trapped room
  2. Again, evil and magic radiate from the door
  3. The players can "get one free attack each with missiles or magic"
  4. 10 huge 100GP gems on the neck
  5. Another hint: this one calls out the color gold and mentions an archway
We'll see how the colors from these hints play into the dungeon in the actual Hall of Spheres, area 10. But the important takeaway is that this area  is a waypoint, and fairly early in the dungeon.

9. Complex Secrets

This area is a series of rooms with a low-level trap in a few of them. Here, the players learn a few other lessons that will help them later on in the dungeon.

First, secret doors, everywhere. If the players weren't clued into looking for secret doors everywhere already, they will have to search everywhere here. Nicely of Gary, they only have to deal with the trap every other room.

The next big lesson has already been hinted at with the misty veil and the devil face in the first area: these magic traps can't be avoided or disabled. Setting up that expectation early and (relatively) painlessly can prevent some table-flipping later in the dungeon.
Everybody loves traps without saving throws
And these traps really are pretty painless. Save vs magic, and only 1d6 force damage if they fail? The only thing that makes this dangerous is that the random nature of searching for secret doors in AD&D could potentially stack up the damage. But even then, the traps are only every other room, giving clerics a chance to heal up after each trapped room.

The other thing that makes this difficult is the "trial-and-error" nature of the secret doors. But once the door is found, retreating to a safe area and poking with the great 10 foot pole will ease the pain.

Again, Gary is rewarding smart players, but not in too deadly a fashion yet.

10. Hall of Spheres
Liches have been known to absentmindedly doodle in the corners of their dungeons
Here we are, the second big hub area of the Tomb of Horrors. There's a lot to learn here, but let's start with a lesson that we hinted at earlier.

Gary gives us a long hallway with many images, some which are vitally important, some which are not. But he doesn't just describe the important ones. We get a whole table so that the dungeon master can relay information about any picture the players want to inspect.

Now, the players enter through a one-way secret door, so they might start searching for secret doors. And in AD&D searching for secret doors doesn't reveal illusions, which modern gamers might not enjoy. "Searching the walls" in a modern game will probably yield information on illusions and secret doors. I don't think that's what Gary intended to happen here.

So, players are supposed to explore this entire area, probably running into the trapped doors at least once before they start looking for illusions. But once they find the illusions and explore where the passages go, we find another important lesson Gary conveyed here:

Clues can be trusted in this dungeon. So far, we've had the following color information:
  • Shun green
  • Red is blood's color
  • The shade of night is for those with great valor
  • Ignore poppy's hue
  • Also color of ice
  • Look high and low for Gold
And sure enough, Green, Poppy's hue (light violet) and Color of Ice (light blue) lead nowhere. Red leads to a trapped room (Area 13), gold leads to more treasure (area 12), and the shade of night (black) leads to the next area.

Now, up until this area, players probably have doubted the clues in the riddles they have found. This dungeon does have a bad reputation, they may have even purposefully ignored the clues in order to try to "outsmart" the Tomb. But here we're getting hints that the clues are correct, indeed, that they are the way forward in this dungeon. Players often have reservations about trusting hints left by evil creatures, but here Gary is encouraging them to reconsider.
Look at this guy. Who wouldn't trust him?

11. Another Veil

This is the first trap in the dungeon that pulls a signature Acererak move: teleport you back to the beginning, minus your gear, which goes to the dungeon's final treasure room.

Fortunately, this archway is fairly close to the beginning of the dungeon, so a character might actually be able to make it back to his companions, albeit without any gear or treasure. Hopefully the person holding the gems from area 8 didn't step through.

Again, this trap is foreshadowed by the last veiled archway. Unless players "solved" the last archway, they should know that this trap is a teleporter. So, there's really no excuse to go through it.

Unless of course your players have exhausted their search for secret doors and haven't found the illusions yet.

12. Statue's Lair

Here is another reward area, in the best sense of the word. You can be teleported here by solving the entranceway arch, or by following the clue given in the Gargoyle's room.
One of many extremely metal statues in the Tomb
This area also reinforces another key element of the dungeon: you have to sacrifice treasure to get ahead. That will come up a few times more before the players are finished here.

The Gem of Seeing is a great reward for the players, even if it breaks after 12 uses. I don't think there are 12 places that the Gem of Seeing is required, but obviously Gary was being nice and letting the players look around a bit.

13. Chamber of Three Chests
Bad worse, and just awful
Here is the final lesson Gary is teaching the players before they enter the real dungeon: Sometimes there won't be a good option. Sometimes all the choices are bad.

However, there is certainly a small victory available in this room. Careful players (who have been searching rooms for secret traps) can find the passageway back to the entrance. That's a big victory on a meta-level, but also gives the players a chance to retreat and take on the rest of the dungeon fully-rested.

The three chests aren't much aside from being basic no-win traps. Still, the chests each reveal something small.
This dungeon is a pain in the asp
The Gold Chest encourages players to notice the snake holes again. That can prove important for certain players later on.
The Silver Chest actually has treasure the heroes can keep! Now, from the text it seems like something is missing here... We find a small locked coffer that can't be easily opened, but with no comment on what might be inside. In my personal games, I would put a Ring of Protection in the coffer. I'll expound on why next week.
Hey guys, it's... oh, whoops, did I interrupt something?
Finally the Oak Chest, which reveals the true nature of the Green Devil face. This is a clue to how the other devil faces will work. Also, there's a great little scene Gary plays out here, with the undead corpse of a former comrade leaping out and embracing one of the players. Good stuff.

And that's the end of chapter 4! There's a lot of lessons and foreshadowing here, if you know where to look. And players don't usually do. So as the dungeon master it's important to impart that information, explicitly if necessary.

Remember the good old days of poking a cliff with sticks?
The rest of the dungeon will be deadly enough, believe me.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating...
    Many of the elements you’re covering here are only in the 1987 Realms of Horror version of S1.
    For instance, Area 4 is called the Perforated Pit (with the “Fit” typo, which may only be in the unauthorized pdf) is called the “FRESCO OF THE WIZARDLY WORK ROOM” in the original versions (mono, green & WotC 2012 Dungeons of Dread compilation).

    Most interesting 1987 (post-Gygax) inclusions so far are are additions of the Riddles & Rumors section and the “PC Zombie” in the wooden chest at 13c, which also don’t appear in the original module.