‘Tomb of Horrors’: Hangover Edition

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Tomb of Horrors: Hangover Edition
Tomb of Horrors: Hangover Edition

You awaken on a bare stone floor. You’re cold. Naked. A spectral voice fills the darkness:

“Bloody contractors.”

This was how our session started. It was a one-shot Dungeons and Dragons game meant to last a few weekends. The players were told to make 9th level characters. We were using 3.5 rules so we were flexible on race and class. Generous even with the magical gear (none of which they would start with).

As they wandered through the corridors, memories, both in and out of character, began to stir. Some recognized the timeless images – gates of swirling mist, demonic faces with gaping maws, intricate murals which hid clues to their survival.

Then there were the bodies. Horrific traps. Their lost items strewn haphazardly down perilous hallways. Slowly, they figured out they were in the Tomb of Horrors and all hope was lost.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Tomb of Horrors, it was a module originally created by Gary Gygax for use in the very first Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Tournament held at Origins I in 1974. In ’81, TSR produced an official module and with each subsequent edition, the legend surrounding this masterpiece of Dungeon Master sadism grew.

The module was designed as a tournament adventure with a single winner in mind. And the odds were most certainly not ever in your favor.

Admiral Ackbar would straight up lose his voice in the first entryway to the temple alone. Often the traps are accompanied by riddles and puzzles that don’t really care if you’re right or wrong. Hallway that dumps you into a pit of hellfire? Check. A crushing floor trap that lets you, the DM, roll handfuls of d20s for damage? Double check. The whole place simply wants you dead.

Unless the contractors are on a lunch break.

I wanted to run this classic adventure with a new twist. I wanted to run it backwards and see just how long it took for the players to catch on. Invert a story and in the process invert the traditional character arc as well. You can use these same techniques to breath life into any classic module.

I created a scenario based on two things – character amnesia and a failing maintenance crew of demons charged with taking care of the place. Then, stepping back through the traps and magical horrors, I puzzled out what could’ve led to their current state. And it was glorious.

In a dusty chapel sits an infamous trap that can not only switch your gender but your alignment as well. And deeper into the lair is a door that can teleport all of your belongs into the demilich’s lair while placing you, naked, back outside.

Lawful devils are into details, not chaotic demons. Here, the demon contractors had gotten so sloppy that the teleport trap was completely reversed, sending naked characters to the treasure room and scattering their stuff throughout the tomb. A perverse and suitably demonic idea for a scavenger hunt.

Next task was to make use of the alignment changer.

At one point the Aasamir stumbled across the body of a halfling in a pit. That unfortunate fellow looked very familiar to him, unlike these people he was travelling with. He became the first one to piece things together.

See, he’d come here hot on the heels of a band of evil adventurers whose plan was to free the demilich. Turns out, the Tomb was not just a character meat grinder but a prison. Suddenly, he had many questions about his present company, most of which he kept to himself.

A few more modifications – an ethereal infestation of obliviax moss that extended to each of the portals (mold remediation is such a chore …) and, when the players had gathered enough clues and realization was dawning, the introduction of a surviving member of the evil band – sealed the deal. With that, Tomb of Horrors: Hangover Edition became one of the most memorable times my group has spent around a gaming table.

The module we used was converted for 3.5 rules but with D&D Next‘s back to basics feel, any classic module is up for grabs with minimal fuss. But don’t just convert the module, turn it inside out. Which module would you run as a Hangover Edition? Tell me about it in the comments and let me know how the session goes!

Header graphic compiled from images made available through wikimedia and creative commons license by users Amada44 (photo: Flame_of_fire) and Jesse Chang (photo: KenJeongMar10). Photographer Alan De Smet and fair use copyright apply to the miniatures background (photo: Dungeons_&_Dragons_Miniatures_2).

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4 thoughts on “‘Tomb of Horrors’: Hangover Edition

    1. Another reason I modded it was that I wanted to play more with those story elements and make it less tournament focused. That and do what you just did: bring back the memories!

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