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Tomb of Horrors (4e)
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Tomb of Horrors (4e)

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The deadliest dungeon in the D&D world returns!

For generations, the Tomb of Horrors has held an inescapable allure. It draws adventurers to it like a beacon then devours them utterly like some monstrous predator. Within its sepulchral, trap-ridden halls and chambers lay the secrets and treasures of the demilich Acererak and, some say, the demilich himself.

Tomb of Horrors features a modular design that allows Dungeon Masters to build campaigns around the events herein, or pick and choose from the various chapters for use as standalone adventures. It presents a variety of challenges, from intricate combat encounters to traps and tricks evocative of the classic Tomb of Horrors adventure.

This D&D adventure is designed for characters of 10th-22nd level and includes a full-color, double-sided battle map designed for use with D&D Miniatures.

Product History

Tomb of Horrors (2010), by Ari Marmell and Scott Fitzgerald Gray, is the second super-adventure for D&D 4e. It was published in July 2010.

Continuing the 4e Adventures. In the early days of D&D 4e, Wizards put considerable focus on their "HPE" adventure path (2008-2009), publishing nine books in just 18 months. After that, they cut way back on adventure production, limiting it to one setting adventure and one super-adventure a year. Players who wanted more would have to join their Encounters programs (2010-2014), which enjoyed 18 adventures over the next four years.

Wizards' first super-adventure for 4e appeared a year previous: Revenge of the Giants (2009). Tomb of Horrors followed in its gigantic footprints as another 160-page hardcover adventure. However unlike its predecessor, which covered just six levels of adventure, Tomb of Horrors instead covered 12.

How did Tomb of Horrors manage so many more levels in the same number of pages? It's actually split into four parts, which begin play at levels 10, 14, 17, and 22. GMs will need to introduce other adventures in between the four parts (or else jump the characters in levels after each section).

Returning to the Tomb of Horrors. Tomb of Horrors is one of the most classic adventures in the D&D oeuvre. It was originally created by Gary Gygax to torment overly arrogant PCs, then it appeared as one of TSR's first adventures, first with a monochrome cover (1978), then with a color cover (1981), then in the S1-4: Realms of Horror (1987) anthology. Years later, Wizards of the Coast updated the original adventure to 3.5e as a Halloween PDF (2005).

In the meantime, Wizards had also produced a sequel to the adventure, Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998) by Bruce Cordell. This second adventure was set twenty years after the first and revisited the Tomb in the wake of adventurers looting it. The Black Academy and a necromantic metropolis called Skull City had grown up around the fallen Tomb, and the arch-villain of the original, the demilich Acererak, was revealed to be up to his old tricks.

Though D&D 4e (2008) dramatically revamped D&D's mechanics and its cosmology, it nonetheless was filled with classic D&D lore — moreso than D&D 3e (2000) in many ways. Thus, Open Grave (2009) quickly revisited the story of Acererak — canonizing the fall of the Tomb and the rise of Skull City and Bleak Academy as part of the World Axis cosmology. Even more details appeared simultaneously in Dragon #371 (January 2009). This allowed Gray and Marmell to treat Tomb of Horrors as another sequel — the third part of a trilogy. More time has gone by, and once more Acererak — thought long dead — is rising.

The Tomb of Horrors super-adventure was actually one of two books released nearly simultaneously that touched on the ancient dungeon. Confusingly, the other was also called Tomb of Horrors, but it was only available as part of the D&D DM Rewards Program for RPGA DMs. This shorter adventure revamped the 3.5e version of the original dungeon one more time. Because the 3.5e dungeon had integrated the Bleak Academy background from Return to the Tomb of Horrors, the RPGA adventure could be used as a prequel to the hardcover Tomb of Horrors super-adventure.

Adventure Tropes. The state-of-the-art of adventure design changed a lot between 1978 and 2010. In particular, the original Tomb of Horrors is remembered as a very lethal adventure, where characters die at the drop of a hat, but this wasn't appropriate for the D&D 4e design style — though the designers did include more traps than usual, and even included tips for making those traps more deadly, if the GM wished.

However, the designers felt that the lethality wasn't what make Tomb of Horrors a classic. They felt that its "primary draw" was actually its "style and feel" — that it had become a classic due to its puzzles and its problem-solving. So that's what they tried to replicate in their new adventure, doing their best to meld 4e's skill challenges with the "ingenuity" that Gygax looked for in his players.

The other issue with redesigning the Tomb for 4e was its encounter format for adventures — which made individual encounters much lengthier, and thus provided less opportunity for expansive exploration. This limitation were one of the reasons that the designers opted not to revisit the Tomb in its original form (the other being that it had already been seen in each of the three previous editions of D&D). Nonetheless, there are a total of four new Tombs in 4e's Tomb of Horrors, each with challenges of their own.

Though careful design, they were able to create a fairly innovative 4e adventure that allowed more exploration than most and thus less linearity. As promised there were also more puzzles and, yes, more traps.

Expanding D&D. Published just a month after the Monster Manual 3 (2010), Tomb of Horrors was one of the 4e adventures that featured mixed-monster math. Newer monsters (including the new ones created for this adventure) featured the updated math, but monsters that originated in the original Monster Manuals still featured weaker damage that GMs might want to update.

Expanding the World Axis. The original Tomb of Horrors was set in the world of Greyhawk. Though this super-adventure acts as a sequel to the two adventures that came before it, there's no reference to the adventure's setting. Nonetheless, it's clearly set in the World Axis cosmology that was at the heart of 4e: the designers felt that Cordell's work with other planes in Return to the Tomb of Horrors had helped to "ground" the adventure in the reality of D&D's multiverse, and they wished to do the same here.

Early parts of the adventure take the players to the the Feywild and the Shadowfell, favorite 4e destinations. One of the most prominent locales in the Shadowfell is the city of Moil, a cursed city from Return to the Tomb of Horrors. The finale to the adventure takes place in Nerull's fallen realm of Pluton. This realm was once part of the Gray Waste (Hades) in the Planescape cosmology and had become the lost realm of the dead in 4e's World Axis. The full story of how the Raven Queen replaced Nerull and abandoned Pluton for the Shadowfell had been revealed in Divine Power (2009), but this was the first major appearance of the realm in a 4e supplement.

NPCs of Note. This adventure is all about Acererak, with a full explanation of how he survived Return to the Tomb of Horrors as a vestige, as had been revealed in Tome of Magic: Pact, Shadow, and Truename Magic (2006). However, it also features a few other notable NPCs in supporting roles, including Demogorgon, Nerull, Orcus, and Vecna.

Whoops! The 1e Tomb of Horrors featured a scale where each square was 10 square feet, as was typical in AD&D days. The original Tomb reappears here as The Abandoned Tomb, but the scale is now "1 square = 5 feet" — meaning that Acererak's original Tomb has shrunk to a quarter of its previous size!

Future History. Vecna reappears in Dragon #402 (July 2011), which talks more about his relationship with Acererak. The original Tomb then got an update for the playtest version of D&D 5e in Dungeon #213 (April 2013). It returns to the original 1978 text and the world of Greyhawk.

About the Creators. This was Gray's third adventure for D&D 4e, following coauthorship of E3: "Prince of Undeath" (2009) and "Seekers of the Ashen Crown" (2009); he of course also authored the 4e version of the classic Tomb of Horrors, which was released around the same time. Marmell had also previously been writing for 4e, but this was his first adventure.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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Discussions (2)
Customer avatar
Timothy B September 15, 2017 6:58 pm UTC
PURCHASER
This PDF is usually $7.99 on DM's Guild. The September Settings sale has actually increased the price to 33% off of the printed book's cover price, which is higher than the typical PDF price. Is there any way to get this corrected? Thank you.
Customer avatar
Jonathan P February 02, 2017 4:50 pm UTC
Easy to convert to 5e?
Customer avatar
Scott S February 26, 2017 10:16 am UTC
It is being re-released for 5e in April in Tales from the Yawning Portal :)
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This title was added to our catalog on August 04, 2015.