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The Tomb of Horrors

Original Module by E. Gary Gygax

Adapted by Justin Alexander


HISTORY OF THE TOMB: Long millennia ago, during the primeval days of prehistory, an order of great sorcerer-kings ruled over the land. Born with the gift of magic, their unnatural longevity allowed them to accumulate powers unto themselves and they became a source of order in a time of chaos.
But as their mastery of the arcane arts grew, corruption crept into their midst. In time, war and treachery turned them against each other, and the cataclysms of their conflicts wrought great woe upon those they had once protected.
Perhaps inevitably, the sorcerer-kings turned to the darkest of arts for the power to overcome their foes. They reared blood-soaked temples in their honor, bound demons of maleficent aspect, and stripped the very land itself of life to fuel their arcane arts.
One of the blackest of these dark lords was the tyrant Acererak. It is said that he sacrificed his own master and feasted upon his still-beating heart to claim his throne. Yet, after a thousand years of terror, Acererak had grown weary of his life upon the mortal plane: Thus he built a mighty and impenetrable tomb, and upon the night of the full moon, he unleashed his demons upon his cities – slaughtering his own subjects in a sacrifice of blood to bind an unspeakable sorcery upon it.
With the ritual complete, Acererak descended into his tomb, sealing it behind him and disappearing from the annals of history. There he performed the blasphemous rites which would transform him first into a lich and then into a demi-lich, allowing his soul to journey through the many worlds, while the mortal remnants of his body remained safe and secure.
THE LEGEND OF THE TOMB: The legend of the tomb is an old story with many parts, some of which may be lost or obscured.
Somewhere, it is said, beneath a lost and lonely hill of grim and foreboding aspect, lies a labyrinthine crypt. Nothing is known of its origins, except for the name of the one interred there: Acererak.
This tomb is filled with terrible traps and strange enchantments, and those who dare to enter it are faced with almost certain doom: Its passages and rooms are fraught with pits and poison gases, magical wards and horrific curses. And, above all these other measures, it is said that those who breach the tomb’s defenses and reach its final vault will be met by Acererak himself, still standing watch upon his final haunt.
But it is also said that the tomb is filled with treasures both precious and magical – riches that beggar the imagination and have never been fully recovered…
From time to time, Acererak’s tomb has been discovered – either by chance or by design. Those who have managed to escape from it with their lives have given it a name: The Tomb of Horrors. From their tales, the legend has grown – passing like a rumor throughout the land.
INVESTIGATING THE TOMB: The PCs will probably first become aware of the tomb only as a name – the Tomb of Horrors. Perhaps they found it inscribed in an ancient script upon an amulet of jade. Or jotted down as a piece of marginalia within the spellbooks of an evil necromancer. Whatever the case may be, from this tiny scrap of information they may choose to unravel the tale of this forbidding place.
Only with the most extraordinary of efforts should PCs be able to discover any information in the “History of the Tomb” section, above – and even then, the material they manage to uncover should be scant and inconsistent. But with some minor effort, they should be able to discover everything about the “Legend of the Tomb”.
If the PCs discover that Acererak is a “demi-lich”, it’s up to you to decide how much information they can learn about demi-liches and their abilities.
Legend Lore/Vision: If the PCs have nothing more than the name of the place and a few vague rumors, a successful casting of legend lore or vision will reveal everything in the “Legend of the Tomb” section. This will give them the name of Acererak, and another casting focused upon that name will reveal a handful of vague references: Sorcerous Kings. Legendary treasure. Blood sacrifice. Mighty magicks. Demi-lich.
Bardic Knowledge: A successful bardic knowledge check (DC 30) will reveal the same information as a casting of legend lore.
Commune: It’s up to you to decide how much information PCs can successfully uncover using commune spells. A few options:

  • It can be very effective to reveal that the gods are simply unwilling or unable to reveal any information regarding Acererak or the Tomb of Horrors. (If even the gods are afraid, what are we going up against?)

  • Acererak belongs to an age of prehistory. The true history of the tomb might be unknown even to the gods of the modern world, but they can impart all the details of the legend.

  • The gods may know and be willing to reveal the entirety of the tomb’s history and legend, if the PCs ask the right questions.

Scrying: Any attempts to scry within or into the tomb are met by a seeming spell displaying an empty room with four doors.
Augury/Divination: The spell augury is surprisingly ineffective when it comes to the Tomb of Horrors – not because there are any special protections against it, but because pretty much everything associated with the tomb is bad news. (For example, imagine trying to use augury to determine which of the three entrances should be taken into the tomb. Whether its one of the false, trapped entrances or the true entrance into the deathtrap which is the tomb, the answer will almost assuredly be “woe”.) Very specifically phrased questions may yield better results. The more powerful divination is generally more useful and can probably help to caution characters away from dangerous choices if used properly.
FINDING THE TOMB: How the PCs actually determine the location of the tomb is up to you. A few possibilities:

  • They discover an age-worn map carved upon a stone block within a ruin so ancient that its very foundations have been worn away to dust.

  • They discover a large diamond, worshipped as if it were a god by a primitive tribe of goblins. Putting the diamond up to the eye, reveals the location of the tomb in a vivid vision.

  • Perhaps a successful legend lore or bardic knowledge check could turn up the information. Or perhaps suggest a great library where the appropriate information might be referenced by those willing to invest the proper amount of time and effort…

  • The party encounters a grizzled veteran of adventuring. He once belonged to a party who discovered the location of the tomb. He would have nothing to do with it, but his companions went without him… and never returned.

  • Perhaps the PCs’ research turns up some piece of treasure which was once liberated from the tomb, allowing them to use a discern location spell.

ACERERAK’S GOALS: So what’s the deal with the tomb? Why doesn’t Acererak just seal himself inside solid stone? Or fill the entire place with burnt othur fumes and incendiary clouds? Basically the tomb does two things for Acererak:
First, the entire structure is, essentially, a temple to Acererak. Every torturous death within its confines – every moment of anguish and pain and misery – is a blood offering upon an altar of prodigious scale.
Second, Acererak enjoys feasting upon the souls of mortals. But he also doesn’t want to be constantly distracted. The tomb serves as a filtering device, and the treasure serves as the bait. The only people who reach his crypt are the mightiest of adventurers, which means that Acererak only gets pulled back to the mortal plane when there’s a particularly tasty snack waiting for him there.
All of this carries with it some slim chance of Acererak being destroyed. But Acererak has actually taken some fairly extensive precautions against his death becoming a permanent thing (see Area 32 for details).

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