The original Tomb of Horrors AD&D module, published in 1978, had a widespread reputation for being the deadliest dungeon ever created, so full of nasty traps and puzzles that a PC who wasn’t utterly paranoid was basically hamburger, and even the paranoid PCs fell in droves as well. In fact, it was so dangerous that my suspicion is that very few players experienced the dungeon without dilution or foreknowledge.
One of my complaints about the original is that so many gamers owned a copy it was impossible to surprise anyone with the riddles and traps. Therefore, I’m going to review the 2010 version of the Tomb of Horrors in more general terms so as to not ruin anyone’s surprise.
So what is different between this version and the original? The answer is that this is not a rehashing or revision — it’s a sequel, describing the plots demilich Acerekak concocts after the pesky adventurers roust his old tomb. And there is a plot! In the original, the demilich was basically hanging out — the Tomb truly was a tomb. In the updated version, he has a devious plan. Furthermore, the new Tomb is actually multiple locations on different planes. This makes for more of a campaign environment than a simple dungeon crawl. In fact, the updated version starts PCs out at 10th level and expects them to be in their 20s toward the end.
Another difference, in keeping with 4th Edition’s direction toward more tabletop combats, is that there are vastly more monsters and much fewer traps and puzzles. Which is not to say the latter are gone, there are tons of them — but the proportion of monsters is higher. Some who remember the classic adventure may dislike this, but 4E has evolved toward more action; deal.
One of the innovations of the original was the fabulous art — handouts that players could study for clues. The 2010 version has these as well, and I really like them — though they are bound into the book, making it relatively difficult for players to look at them closely. Also, the art seems less directed toward providing clues to the players, and more to adding color to the adventure. Still, I appreciate the thought and hope that more adventures use them as well.
Tomb of Horrors is a lengthy quest that will occupy PCs for nearly half their careers, in terms of levels. It brings them from the lowest part of the Paragon tier through the middle of the Epic tier. Along the way they’ll get to battle ferocious monsters and defeat dangerous traps, while puzzling out Acererak’s diabolical plot. It does an admirable job of capturing Acererak’s cunning while updating the adventure for 4E’s combat-heavy feel.