A belated look at John Wick’s ‘The Worst Adventure of All Time.’

I finally got around to reading this piece from The Real John Wick about the Worst Adventure of all Time. Tomb of Horrors, of course. I’ve never played it, myself – but, honestly: even the description of it seems like it’s 90 degrees off from how I usually GM stuff*.  …And I nearly said ‘polar opposite,’ but then it’d be pretty much equally as cold and icy and stuff, right?

Anyhow: interesting article. Check it out. And try not to grumble that there’s nothing about the call for writers thing. NOT THAT I’M ON TENDERHOOKS ON THIS OR ANYTHING

Moe Lane

*That doesn’t mean that other GMs are doing it wrong, mind you. Well, they are, because they’re not doing it my way and my way is self-evidently perfect. But that’s just me being a standard megalomaniac, as usual. It doesn’t actually mean anything, is what I’m saying.


  • RangerSG says:

    You have never played the one true epic high level adventure that is Tomb of Horrors? Oh my. I don’t know what made it more dangerous, the terrors within, or the fact that since it was a party of godlike adventurers, the party had both disparate agendas and obscene friendly-fire options to annihilate each other with.

  • jackson6644 says:

    My understanding is that Wick is misreading/quoting a lot about the original adventure. Read with a grain of salt.

    • Luke says:

      Sadly, he’s not.
      He doesn’t have to.
      The Tomb of Horrors is just that bad.
      The entire purpose of the adventure was for Gygax to take it to cons, and tear up the character sheets of players in front of them.
      It is not even remotely fair.
      Sadism is the entire point.
      Beating it became a point of pride and a major source of bragging rights because of this, which is why the adventure is so infamous.

      • Grue says:

        Actually it was made with his original gang of Castle Greyhawk dungeoneers in mind to provide a bit of a challenge. Playstyle for those early groups could be a bit cutthroat among the players themselves and they also tended to be far more cautious than the direct assault\no retreat style that is built into current adventure design assumptions.
        from here:
        [i]When Gary first introduced the tomb to his own group of players, they relied on masses of disposable hirelings to shield their player characters. “Rob Kuntz, in his game persona as a 13th-level (evil) lord [Robilar] went through the entire tomb in four hours actual time. He took 14 orcs and a couple of the low-level flunkies with him. He lost all the party, but his character personally looted the lich’s tomb and escaped with the goodies.”[/i]
        Anyway, Gygax wrote this for players that used 10′ foot poles (the easy detection for the Sphere of Annihilation), used Sages and researched via divination spells like Legend Lore, and as a pro forma used hirelings as fodder. From Rob Kuntz’s own retelling of Robilar’s adventures, that character earns the (Evil) alignment qualification designers assigned to to his write-ups despite Kuntz’s protestations otherwise. Robilar was a bit of a dick…but that’s who the adventure was written for.
        Gygax wrote about some of the con experiences and some of the clever play that emerged. For instance, one of the parties took a crown that could only be removed by touching one end of a nearby scepter to it (one gold end, one silver). The wrong pick would result in a instakill. So they plopped it on the demi-lich skull…
        I find Ravenloft far deadlier than Tomb of Horrors to be honest. While I’d agree with John Wick that it is one of the top classics, I’m reasonably certain he ran Strahd with kid gloves against his players (sitting like a lump in his encounter area and not as a reactive force as written…he’s supposed to retreat and harass for instance).

        This topic has cropped up on enworld a few times
        The poster ‘Celebrim’ pretty much covers Wick’s boilerplate whining about the adventure.

  • Finrod says:

    I never played it, but Tomb of Horrors seems like a Paranoia! module set in the AD&D world.

    • Compound says:

      Over the years, I’ve heard of multiple groups that tossed troubleshooters into the tomb. So, you’re not the only one to have that thought.

  • Catseyes says:

    Ran two parties thru it both got chopped up Bad! The second party got to the Demi-lich with 9 people only three walked away. Or crawled away to be more exact. It is that bad.

  • Herp McDerp says:

    “Forget it, he’s rolling.”

  • xander-drax says:

    I’ve DM’d two different parties through it and had a blast both times. First party took a bunch of minions with them and used them to find traps. Only one minnion made it through, but the party was fine. Beat the end boss in 2 rounds because one guy got an adamantine warhammer as a randomly rolled treasure – guess what the final boss is vulnerable to?

    Second group made it through, but needed some help.

    Its all in how mean you want to be as a DM.

    Recently loaned it to a friend whose group did not have as much fun.

  • Physics Geek says:

    I waited a long time to run this as DM. My players were pretty strong and buffed up with magical items. They were also 20+ years experienced as players, so they…survived. A couple of them lost all of their magical items when the demilich did it’s ray thing. One guy also ended up buck naked after passing through that other portal. But no one ended up irrevocably dead.

    Hey, they knew me and were all paranoid as hell. When I’d say “It’s big enough for someone to crawl in”, every single one of them said “f*ck no”.

  • Compound says:

    A brief look into the mind of me.
    Read Moe’s article. Followed the link. Read the article. Read the comments. Read Wick’s “Best Adventure of all time” article. Saw a reference to his 1999 “Using Disads against your players” article. Got really, really mad. Started reading his “Death should not be an option in RPGs” article. Got annoyed and started looking for the Full Frontal Nerdity strip that references that rule in 7th Sea and the practice of “Riding cannonballs into battle.” Got annoyed that Aaron hasn’t tagged his strips. Started manually looking for the strip, starting on Oct 29,2003. Got to 2012 before a nagging thought surfaced. Checked my FFN TPB and found the strip in the first few pages,12 strips prior to the one I started with. Along the way got distracted by the webcomic on the banner ad on FFN. Read that archive. So, to sum it up, about 8 hours diverted by this one article. Thanks, Moe!
    Oh, and Tomb wasn’t that bad. Wick just wasn’t a very good DM at 12. Few people are.

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