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Wow! I can't believe it's a nodeshell!

Tomb of Horrors is a Dungeons and Dragons adventure module published in 1978 and written by Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeon and Dragons.

This is, quite simply, one of the most brutal dungeons ever published. Never enter it with a character you plan on keeping.

It is light on combat and heavy on deathtraps, including spheres of annihilation, pit falls, and chests filled with deadly gases. Players need to be extremely bright, creative, and lucky to survive the experience.

Oh, and then there's the demilich at the end...

In 1998, TSR released Return to the Tomb of Horrors which builds a greater campaign around the original tomb and features even more deadliness, though mostly in the form of deadly monsters and demons. PCs that reach the end of this epic story will be faced with the true form of Acererak and will need to stop him from achieving godhood.

Synopsis from the Return to the Tomb of Horrors box set:

Imagine a place of unspeakable evil. It was built upon hopelessness and filled with unending terror and pain. This loathsome place shattered the life of everything who ventured near. But through tremendous sacrifice and heroism, over the course of many years, it was finally gutted and its foul creator destroyed.

Now imagine that the horror is beginning all over again.

The sinister wizard Acererak took great pains to safeguard his tomb. It took many years, and many more lives, before his evil was finally laid to rest. But though the demilich is gone, he is not forgotten. Others who would become as he was have travelled to the site of Acererak's tomb seeking the secrets of mastery over death. Slowly these pilgrims gathered, eventually building in the shadow of the tomb itself a community dedicated to the dark arts: Skull City.

But even these twisted necromancers have no inkling of the true evil that swells and crackles beneath their feet.
The Tomb of Horrors is a D&D module that one can argue lays claim to the title of "first" D&D module (see my node on Palace of the Vampire Queen for a discussion on "first"). It was officially released in 1978 and authored by Gary Gygax. This was a full two years after TSR's first official module release: 1976's Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. However, Gary Gygax himself makes reference to it as the first. Gygax's claim lies in the fact it was the first TSR module to make a public d├ębut. It was a tournament module used at Origins I (1975).

Tomb of Horrors was a decidedly high-level adventure. It was intended as a bit of the ol' chin music, an attempt to cut players within Gygax's campaign down to size. Hence the lich encounter at the end. However, unlike dungeons of the time, Tomb of Horrors featured very few actual monster encounters (save for that rather nasty lich encounter at the end). In the early days, there was a rather nonsensical approach to dungeon design. It was room after room of monster encounters. Frequently referred to as a either a dungeon crawl or a "monster hotel". One room had orcs. The next room had a wyvern. The room after that had trolls. None of the monsters seemed to take notice of each other or ever leave their rooms to forage for food. And some of the monsters were of such large size, one wondered how, say, a red dragon squeezed his way down a 10'x10' hall. Their existence seemed to be predicated solely on the idea that if they waited in their dungeon hotel room long enough, a tasty band of adventurers would present themselves.

The main challenge in Tomb of Horrors was its various traps. Any player can reach level 12 slaughtering orc after orc. However, any player worth his double digit character level should have a level of intelligence and guile to match. Tomb of Horrors tested that assumption. It required players to figure out a series of traps. Failure meant instant death or some cruel, cruel twist, like changing the character from a man to a woman.

Tomb of Horrors also had this odd "innovation". It had a 12-page picture booklet. Certain rooms were keyed to certain pictures in the book. When the players entered a room, the DM was queued to show the characters the appropriate picture. The art work ranged from rather terrible to classic. The better illustrations being produced by Wormy creator David Trampier. It had a certain "smell-o-vision" quality about it. Like smell-o-vision, the keyed illustration gimmick never really caught on.

Tomb of Horrors was given the module code S1, the first in the TSR's S-series. S stood for "special". Each were stand alone modules, tending toward high level, and usually found their start as tournament modules at Origins or GenCon. The other three in the series were:

S2 White Plume Mountain by Lawrence Schick
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax
S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax

Two more S modules were planned, S5 Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga and S6 Labyrinth of Madness, but did not actually come out until 1995, long after TSR changed their module numbering system.

S1-S4 were packaged into a "super module" series called Realms of Horror.

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