Today we run our first session for my player’s foray into the Tomb of Horrors, which I had adapted for D&d 3.5 (I used the freebie by WotC as a basis, though I’ve done a lot of things my way). Since my players and I prefer the Forgotten Realms, I moved Acererak’s resting place from Greyhawk to Greenwood’s kitchen sink setting.
The characters were a (fairly unoptimized) party, consisting on:
- A bard, whose signature weapon is an intelligent, speaking scythe that she inherited from her father.
- A mature and somewhat overweight Guild Wizard of Waterdeep.
- An elven Tempest (basically, a Figther/Rogue with a couple of levels in the Tempest PrC for better two-weapon fighting).
- Two Aasimar twins (Paladin/Fighter/Pious Templar of Lathander), who had identical character sheets.
A final character (a human scout) was supposed to have turned up too (and he was to be the party’s trapfinder, as the Tempest only had one level of Rogue for now), but the player couldn’t make it in the end, so the party was missing that, plus a cleric type (since one of the Aasimar twins had been an afterthought for the player, who was initially going to create a cleric). This made me think that the whole thing was going to end pretty badly, but decided to go ahead anyway.
To give the whole thing somewhat of a background (and to tie it to the GDQ series, which I’m planning to follow up with, should they survive the tomb), I told them that evil was stirring in the north. Given that the Wizard and the Bard were friends prior to the story, and that the twins were already linked, I decided to make the Wizard an envoy from the Guild, sent to investigate the situation up north by the Lords’ Alliance, with the tempest acting as his bodyguard (hired by the guild) and set the Tomb somewhere within the Evermoors, mentioning that the party had met at Nesme, where the paladins had been told to meet the wizard to investigate a crypt that might hold some items that the guild wants to acquire. Meanwhile, the paladins get to slay some undead lich in the name of Kelemvor, so all is fine and dandy. Enter the creepy hill on top of the tomb:
The players spent some time looking around, and using a levitation spell to raise above the hill, discovering the skull-like setup of the stones. Then they spent a good while digging by the entrances, uncovering all three before moving in. After some discussion, they took to the left entrance at the wizard’s suggestion (“gut feeling gives me a good vibe for this entrance”. Famous last words?), where the bard moved in on his own, using a collapsable 10′ pole to prod around… Which meant that, from the entrance, he triggered the ceiling trap. Since he was doing this from the entrance of the tunnel, I decided to roll only 8D6 damage (instead of the 16D6 he´d normally have taken), and allowed him not to get buried. Still, he failed his save, and his ring of evasion did not work, so he took a pretty decent hit, but survived.
Seeing that the Wizard’s intuition was not that good, the players went for the second entrance (the real entrance to the tomb), and started following the red tile path. This made one of the paladins take quite a few saves to avoid falling onto pits (that he passed without much trouble, thanks to Divine Grace adding his Cha modifier to his saves). He also fell to the trap inside the chest on the wall by the wizard’s study, but his ring of feather fall, and the fact that he was already tied to a rope after falling on a couple of pits before this one saved him from all harm. After following the tile path and discovering Acererak’s riddle, the Elf tempest found that the wall behind the torture chamber drawing hid a passage, while the others were examining the glowing portal and the infamous Green Demon’s Head.
While one of the paladins was contemplating to charge through the Demon’s head (that anybody who has played the Tomb knows where it leads to…), the other decided to go and take down the wall at the torture chamber painting. The elf, meanwhile, at the demolisher paladin’s behest, had started surveying the bottoms of the open pits, and, thanks to some lucky rolling, found the secret door taking to the small crawlspace that led to the oubliette. Curiosity got the best of them, and they decided to go with this new route. To cut a long story short, some lucky rolling later, they had reached the room with the three chests, taken down the scimitar wielding skeleton without too much hassle (in no small part thanks to the bard’s clever spell selection), and got the magic ring within the chests. Since they didn’t search much, they didn’t find the secret door leading to the Hall of Spheres, so they decided to backtrack their steps to the initial room, and then went through the Torture Chamber door, to face off the 4-armed gargoyle.
The gargoyle, which I had taken from the 3.5 free conversion module without a second thought was quite above the CR11 shown on its stats, as it was proven when it dealt almost 100 HP to the Tempest in two hits (one of them a critical) on the first round of combat, dropping her down into negative HP (after I realized that the monster’s stats were somewhat out of whack and took its damage and DR down a bit. Otherwise, the Tempest would have died). After a really tough fight, where the bard got to shine again thanks to some timely cast heals and clever spells, as well as the bardic music, and where one of the twins took the worst part of the monster’s offense, the Gargoyle finally crumbled, dead (leaving the Tempest at -6 HP and one of the paladins at 4HP, with the other at about half HP). All this while, the Wizard was grumbling, as the spells he was trying to get from the Guild’s magical reservoire were never available. The players took the gargoyle’s necklace, found the secret compartment on it, and kept on, entering the gauntlet of secret doors that would take them to the Hall of Spheres, which they navigated without much trouble thanks to the wizard’s gaseous form giving him some insight on how the doors were supposed to open. From this point, their journey sped up considerably. They took some damage from the trapped false doors, explored the various illusory spheres until returning to the room of three chests, obtaining the gem of true seeing from the 3-armed statue (losing all the gems they had gained from the gargoyle in the process), and entered the chapel.
Somewhat baffled by the various good-aligned gods on the walls, caution got the best of them, and they avoided the portal, the altar and the benches in the room, and used the gem of true seeing, which allowed them to find the secret door that led into the lower areas of the tomb. Following the corridor, they avoided the three doors with the pits on the way, and came accross the reinforced door with the audible glamer. The paladin’s adamantite weapons destroyed the door, and the party proceeded forward… Right into the balancing floor trap. Some VERY LUCKY saving throws later (one of the paladins avoided falling into the lava by rolling a 25 on his reflex save, exactly the number needed), the floor was raising while everyone jumped off of it in the nick of time, and avoiding certain death once more.
Backtracing their steps, and using a wand of detect secret doors and the gem of vision, the bard finally found the hidden door on the third pit they had passed before (while they were saying “this lich was a real idiot. How did he think we’d fall for this a third time?”). Crossing it led them to the false crypt. Zone of clean air took care of the fear mists long enough to let the elf open the door to Acererak’s resting place… Or was it really his resting place? Entering the room, and getting ready to face the lich, one of the paladins saw the mace at the end of the stairs, and instead of acting carefully, he picked it up, making the Lich raise from his resting place. The fight begun, but a single hit from the Mace of lich smiting took care of the evil undead (natural 20 on the attack roll, then the lich failed its save vs. the disruption effect. It felt very fitting and heroic). With the lich’s death, the whole tomb started crumbling around them, and as the elf and the mace-wielding paladin were grabbing the jade coffer to salvage it before the tomb collapsed on their heads, the bard took out the gem of vision, and saw through the illusion. It was all a ruse. The characters stayed, ignoring the illusion, and came to the conclusion that this was just a decoy. Some more searching (with the aid of the gem of vision and the wand of secret door detection, once more) made them find the door to the lower crypts. Venturing forth into the tomb, they reached the Mummy preparation room, and at that point we called it a night, since we´d been playing for 8 hours already, stopping only for dinner.
Some thoughts on the session:
– Lack of a cleric certainly hurt the party on the only serious combat encounter (the 4-armed gargoyle), but it was mostly a non-issue on the rest of the tomb. Wands of cure light wounds + a bard to cast them was enough, given that the players avoided just about all the really dangerous traps thanks to a mixture of good luck and smart play.
– The bard player made a weak class shine through clever play. Good spell selection, a large amount of wands, and in general great support for the party made for a great asset to the group.
– Lack of a rogue was mostly a non-issue for two factors: the first was that the design of the tomb as a 1st edition module meant a greater reliance on clever thinking and experimentation than on “roll disable device”. I let them deal with most of the traps as a guy without disable device would have (the elf had a +10 or so to disable device, which wasn’t enough to really tackle most traps anyway), and they did fine, though they were very lucky with some rolls (like the saves on the lava pit)… Which takes us to the second factor. For some reason, the elf managed to roll between 18 and 20 whenever she was looking for a hidden door that was important to find.
– The more experienced players showed more restraint and creativity. The one paladin that almost went into the Demon’s head was the same one that was tempted to go into the chapel stomping about, whereas the other one was the one that kept testing for pits, that picked the mace, and that suffered the least HP damage of the two. Meanwhile, the bard was pretty spot-on when interpreting the riddle of Acererak, and using the gem of vision.
All in all, it was a hugely fun adventure (even though I did tone down the lethality of it all a little, to make for a more enjoyable experience for both my players and I) and I can’t wait for the next session to begin, to see how they handle the lower (deadlier, too) crypts of the Tomb of Horrors. If all goes as planned, the next session will be in 2 weeks from now, and I’ll post a report of it too.