Warning: The following material introduces a new section of the Tomb of Horrors, and is meant for the eyes of the Dungeon Master. If you are planning to play through this adventure in the role of a hero, you are strongly advised to stop reading now!
Few villains throughout the history of the Dungeons & Dragons
game have a legacy as daunting as that of Acererak the demilich. From the earliest days of the game, tales of his lair have spread throughout populations of bold characters and fascinated players alike. It was a short adventure that first introduced Acererak and his penchant for fiendish traps, but that adventure’s name has lived on throughout every incarnation of the game. You know it, of course, as Gary Gygax’s original Tomb of Horrors
It’s time to bring Acererak’s legacy to today’s gamers.
The 4th Edition Tomb of Horrors is not a simple conversion of the original adventure. Why not? In addition to the fact that many players are familiar with the original adventure in one way or another, the game play and design aesthetics of the game have evolved over the various editions; it would be doing both the 4th Edition game and the original adventure a disservice for us to simply convert the latter to the former and call it a day.
Instead, this adventure involves the characters in Acererak’s ongoing schemes, exploring not one but three other “tombs of horror,” created by the demilich for his own inscrutable purposes. Like the 2nd Edition game’s boxed set Return to the Tomb of Horrors by Bruce R. Cordell, this adventure builds on Acererak’s legacy and finds inspiration in the original.
We hope we’ve done a good enough job that you, your players, and their characters—those who survive—will agree that we’ve created something worthy of the "Tomb of Horrors" title.
Over the coming weeks, we'll showcase an encounter from each of the adventure's chapters. This week, Chapter 4: Dead God's Tomb.
Dead God's Tomb
You arrive in a crumbling courtyard, and the teleportation circle at its center is set within a field of blasted dark red stones. Steep slopes strewn with rubble fall away in all directions but one. There, a ruined staircase twists down and across the shadowed landscape where pulsing white fire cuts through an ever-present darkness.
To most folk of the world, the gods are transcendent beings—ultimately powerful and uniquely immortal. Those who have a strong grasp of ancient history know a forbidden truth: Even gods can die. These lost deities are known to sages and scholars who study the history and lore of the Dawn War, the Blood War, and the Astral Sea. Tuern, Amoth, Khala, Semuet, Nerull—all gods who fell in battle or were slain by usurpers. Asmodeus murdered He Who Was, a god whose name is now lost, and the divine ranks of the dead include countless others fallen beyond the memory of even their fellow immortals.
The astral dominion of Pluton is a wasteland whose name is known to many, but whose dark history is understood by only few. The dominion of Nerull, god of the dead, was a realm of lavish excess and extreme suffering, where the deity also known as the Reaper bound souls to his service. When Nerull was slain by the mortal sorcerer who claimed his power and became the Raven Queen, Pluton was abandoned and fell to ruin. A host of undead still dwell here, and the tombs of the dominion hold rich treasure and lore, but the divine power of the Reaper has long since been lost.
Or so it was thought.
Several years ago, Gary Gygax penned a lethal scenario meant to challenge the expert players of his Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The original Tomb of Horrors sprang from this scenario, which dismayed many far less expert players as they explored Acererak’s weird labyrinth. That adventure, combined with the illustrations for players that were included, became an instant classic. Since Tomb of Horrors was the first modular Dungeons & Dragons adventure published, most players of the time probably played it, or at least heard tell of it.
Years later, it fell to me to attempt to follow Gary’s effort with Return to the Tomb of Horrors, and I was ecstatic. Who wouldn’t be thrilled at the possibility of returning to a revered gaming touchstone? A generation of gamers recall it as one of the first times they were frightened within the confines of a roleplaying game.
Now more years have passed, and Ari Marmell has taken up the story. When I read the words “god golem,” I knew I was going to love the newest take on the Tomb of Horrors. After perusing the entire scenario, and learning about eldritch engines, what became of the City of Moil and Skull City, and, of course, Acererak himself, I wasn’t disappointed. I won’t lie; it was heartwarming to see many elements from Return to the Tomb of Horrors brought forward, even elements covered only in Dragon magazine articles, such as Moghadam’s undertomb. This is an adventure I look forward to running (now that I’ve read it, I suppose it wouldn’t be fair to play it, darn it!).
Not so long ago, Gary Gygax passed away, leaving all of us the poorer. As you know, in addition to writing Tomb of Horrors, Mr. Gygax is credited for inspiring people all over the world as the co-creator of the Dungeons & Dragons game. If Gary were still around, he’d be the one writing this afterword, and given his generous spirit, probably saying similarly glowing things about Ari’s adventure design. Indeed, he would likely apply his gift for exotic language and words to paint you a picture of this product in metaphor that would have you salivating by the time you finished reading. He would have addressed you directly, Perspicacious Reader, and described in wondrous terms how this adventure will help you relive the glories of old.
And I agree. Have fun giving Acererak one more go-round!
—Bruce R. Cordell