Friday, April 7, 2017

Delving into the Tomb of Horrors: Road to Victory
Welcome back to Delving into the Tomb of Horrors. Today I'll be analyzing chapter 6, "Tomb of Acererak Level", and covering areas 30-32.

Tomb of Horrors: Crypt of Acererak Level

30. Wondrous Foyer

We're nearing the end now, and these final areas really start to bring together all of the theming, lessons, and horror that we've seen over the course of the dungeon.

This foyer starts out by giving the players a vital component of the dungeon: the bronze key. There is a spell on it, but most parties will have at least one member who can pass the check. The key seems like the setup to a trap, and it is.
A door and a key? Hmmm. Seems easy enough.
The mithral doors have a keyhole, which could fit either key found so far, or the scepter from the last area. Of course, the keys are traps in this area, but the majority of the text here is devoted to what happens if the door is scratched or cut.

If the party has learned their lesson at this point, this encounter will never come up. The blood spurting from the doors is dangerous, unpredictable (magic effects range from instant death to fully healing the party), but most of all it is easily avoidable. This isn't as much of a trap as it is a test, that brute force won't solve things in the Tomb of Horrors.

A more dangerous trap is inserting the silver end of the rod into the door. This triggers that now-familiar "teleported back to the beginning of the tomb naked" effect. That's not terrible, but it might be difficult for the player to find their way back to the party alone.

31. False Treasure Room

Much like the "False Tomb Level", here is an area name you don't want to say out loud. This area is another test for the PCs, and it ramps up the difficulty quite a bit.
Aw, that's not so scary!
To start, this room prevents all magic except that used to detect magic or evil. This prevents the PCs from using a spell such as Find the Path or Augury to discern the next passage to take. It also prevents them from investigating the Urn or chests too closely. The very least they can say is some of them are magical and others aren't.

The Urn is a very straightforward test, and those parties who freed the Siren will likely get a couple wish spells for being kind to the Efreet. The lesson being taught (and tested) here is that NPCs shouldn't be approached rudely, or instantly killed.

I'm not really sure how much of a problem this was in 1975. Obviously, it merited a section in this module. But even in modern games, this remains a relevant lesson to learn. Modern RPG gamers decry "murderhobo-ism", where players just go around killing things and hoarding theri gold, forcing themselves to live like hobos. Despite this, OSR groups and systems praise the idea that they can kill indiscriminately, not worrying about things like NPC interaction or morals.
See? He's just a silly little demon
Usually the OSR mentality is directly linked to Gygaxian dungeon crawls and deadly games, but here we can see that Gary himself was trying to impart a different lesson on his players. He was trying to discourage muderhobo-ism. However, this part of his legacy seems to have been lost.

The rest of the room is fairly standard treasure and traps. If the players are still casting detect magic on everything, then the "strong aura of magic" from under the statue will be no problem to find. Additionally, it is mentioned that the "Iron Men with Visage Grim" are "More than meets the viewer's eye" in Acererak's riddle.

32. Out of Phase

This is one of the more confusing sections of the module. Out of phase... isn't really in the rulebooks. It was invented specifically for this dungeon, to deter spells like the ones listed in the module.

In my own interpretation, I would call this a portal into a room built on the Ethereal plane. The players will probably have been deterred from entering the plane anyway because of the dungeon-resetting demons. Aside from wish-proofing the space, that is a simple explanation that can accomplish the same goals.

This area tests the most important lesson of the module: inspect everything! The players could easily miss the entrance to area 33. Note that the punishment for doing so isn't just having to turn back around and look again: they could end up going through a one-way door that doesn't exist from the other direction.

This hidden door also reinforces, one last time, the truth in the riddle clue at the beginning of the dungeon. Acererak wants you to find him. If the players have disregarded the poem, they may never find the lich's true resting place.
Know your evil undead floating skulls. Chances are, if you don't die instantly you're not fighting Acererak.

Of course, after that, the only thing left to do is to enter the Crypt of Acererak the Eternal.

Which we'll get to next week.

Thanks for reading!

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