Tuesday, June 21, 2022


5:20am on Tuesday morning. I am up (with coffee in hand); the rest of the household sleeps (except for the loyal beagle). Finally, it's time to write.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Solstice/Father's Day/Juneteenth weekend. I know I did. I am going to tell you about it now:

Saturday was a bit of this, that and the other thing, but we did manage to get into Ravenspire (my re-hashed version of Ravenloft) proper. So far, so good, and I'll write about this later. We should be able to play some more of it today, and I look forward to continuing.

Sunday, on the other hand, was dad's day, and while I would have been happy spending the day running D&D, my family had other plans. Specifically, they ran D&D for me. It went down like this: my son was peppering me with his usual slate of questions over dinner last Friday: what was my favorite AD&D adventure, what was my favorite AD&D character I ever played, what was my favorite character class, etc. He does this kind of thing a lot...asking my opinion on stuff, getting my insight, collecting recollections of my youth...unlike my daughter (she prefers to tell the stories, rather than listen to Pops bather on). However, this particular time he had an ulterior motive: 

Look, Pops, said he, I want to run you through an AD&D adventure for Father's Day, and I want you to use one of your old characters. You pick the module and I'll prep it and run it for you.

[it would seem that my family has finally come around to accepting their father is a Big Fat Nerd. Gifts I was given over a breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy, which my lovely wife cooked for me (I am the only person in the household that will eat such fare...their loss...so it was a special occasion)...they included a new wallet emblazoned with the Dungeons & Dragons moniker and a 20-sided die and a flat black stocking cap that said "Dungeon Master" across the front. I was truly touched]

Well, I have to say I was pretty darn surprised by this offering. We had just finished discussing my past AD&D characters and the fact that I'd only really ever had ONE (many AD&D characters were rolled up by Yours Truly back in the day, but the vast majority had never seen table play). So it was that I found myself sitting down to play the Tomb of Horrors on Father's Day with a character that I hadn't used in 34 years, with my son acting as a proper AD&D dungeon master. 


...never would I have imagined, as a 14 year old, that such an event would ever occur...

We'll get to the game in a moment. We decided on S1: Tomb of Horrors as the adventure for a number of reasons. For one thing, my character was a high level character...whatever adventure got used would have to be in that high level (10-14) range. For another thing, it was short to prep...at 10 pages and a single map, it is one of the shortest classic adventures ever published...and in all honesty I didn't think there was enough time between Friday evening and Sunday for Diego to prep something like Vault of the Drow or Q1 (I know I'd need more time than that!). Finally, Tomb is one of those adventures I've run many times over the years...most recently in 2020 using the original OD&D version...but one that I've never suffered through as a player. As a one-off event using an insanely over-powered character, it seemed like a fine test: would my knowledge of the adventure module allow me to conquer the thing where so many others had failed before? I dug the adventure out of the closet and handed it over to the boy (with strict instructions to not let me read it/re-familiarize myself with it), while I set about doing my own "prep work."

In a dusty folder at the bottom of a pile of dusty folders containing pages collected across decades of RPG play, I have a sheaf of characters from my earliest AD&D campaigns. One goldenrod sheet may be the the earliest AD&D character I ever penned (a dwarf fighter-thief for my brother). And several of the sheets detail various iterations of my character, Landon, from the last long-term campaign in which I played. 

Some of these (the character at 1st level) are hand-written on loose-leaf notebook paper by my dungeon master. Others (later in his career) were printed up on fan-fold dot-matrix printer paper, pages and pages of magic items and "background material" (loves, hates, enemies, allies, etc.) accumulated over years of gaming. I don't usually go through this stuff...I am already painfully nostalgic, and there's a lot of "lost youth" and regret stuff I associate with my old gaming group...but I needed a version of Landon to play in the adventure.

We had decided to run the adventure strictly "by the book" (using only the PHB, DMG, and MM) so the first thing I had to do was clean up the character. Regular readers have heard me expound at length about how my old AD&D group tried to hew as closely to Rules As Written as possible, but we didn't always succeed. We incorporated Dragon magazine articles that we liked. We adopted various bits from the Unearthed Arcana and extrapolated on it. And quite frankly, we got some things WRONG in our interpretation of the RAW that I, as an older, wiser man, find a little embarrassing.  

I settled on the 16th level version of my character...I am fairly suspicious of the higher level versions of the character (my DM was tracking XP and advancement and I distinctly remember some hand-waving towards the end of the campaign). Landon was a 1E bard, so the experience point total for the character, even including his fighter and thief levels would put him on par with a 13th level fighter or wizard...i.e. right in the 10-14 level wheelhouse of S1.  More editing, however, would be required.

Ability scores got knocked down to their original levels (which were high enough) as I'm not sure how many librams and wishes had been used to raise those stats and questioned their accuracy. His exceptional strength was removed (bards don't get that), and his fighter/thief levels reduced to 7th/8th instead of 8th/9th (there's some discrepancy about this in the DMG and later TSR modules but I'm fairly certain this is correct). UAisms were axed from the sheet (including a huge swath of magic items, weapons specialization, etc.), as were unique magic items ("bad luck swords" and "endless bags of food"). Hit points were re-calculated (should have only had one hit die of thief and CON was now back to 15), and weapon proficiencies corrected. Finally, I removed his incredibly beefy psionics (one of his major advantages in our old campaign) because A) Diego hasn't incorporated them into the game, and B) per the PHB, half-elves shouldn't receive psionics. 

[there IS a later Dragon mag that corrects this...i.e. that allows half-elves to get psionics...but we weren't going to use apocryphal texts]

Even after all this, the character had (in my estimation) too much "stuff," so I went a step further: I advanced his age 34 years (real time, Jeffro!) and calculated the total cost of his living expenses from the passage of time: 652,800 gold pieces. I then sold off enough of his magic items and treasure to cover the deficit. What I was left with was little enough in the way of magic (bracers of defense, a magic sword and dagger, a single bag of holding, one ring of protection and another ring of feather falling) and something around 800 gold pieces in treasure. A bit better equipped than the pre-gens in Tomb...but then, this was all gear that had been found in actual adventures. 

Other than my character, our party was composed of pre-gens from the module itself. Sofia would play the 14th level magic-user, and we took along the 14th level cleric and 12th level paladin as NPCs. Since we were going "by the book," spells were memorized beforehand (including clerical and druidic spells) and I did the bulk of the selection, as well as the outfitting of the party members. Sofia chose her own spells (with some suggestions from me) and purchased her own equipment (Tomb pre-gens receive up to 1,000 coins of any type to spend, and up to 5,000 g.p. worth of gems).  Lastly, I recruited two henchmen (a 1st level elven fighter and a 1st level half-elf thief) and equipped them from my own (swiftly diminishing) funds. Light (leather) armor, ten foot poles and lanterns lit with continual light spells was the order of the day. 

So prepared, we set out to the conquer the Acerak's tomb...or die trying.


Hmm. How much to talk about? Well, I'll be brief:

Our extreme competence, our plethora of resources, and my personal knowledge served us well, ESPECIALLY in the beginning phases of the tomb...everything up to and through the "evil/good chapel" area. A piece of cake, really (Diego bemoaned that we were kicking the tomb's butt). But as we got into the middle section, my knowledge started to fail. I knew what was in the Tomb, I knew what we were looking for (and what to avoid), but I was less familiar with the actual logistics and placement. 

Tomb of Horrors is a GRIND. Even for someone like me...who has run it half-a-dozen times over the years and read the thing countless others. Finding and locating secret doors and passages is a pain. Trying to remember the later stanzas of the riddle...or not remembering their proper order can lead to panic. You second-guess yourself. You grow impatient. You fall into a pit or trip some trap that you damn well know you shouldn't have. The thing wears on you, the farther you get into it. Even without wandering monsters, being stuck in the middle of the dungeon with no readily available exit (those one-way teleporters), you end up feeling pressure. Even with the plethora of healing magic at your disposal, there is an attrition of the mind that occurs...the players argue with each other, tempers fray, snap.

It got us. Five and a half hours in (we were keeping time on a stop-watch) it TPK'd the whole party. Didn't even make it to "the columned hall;" opened the wrong door...incautiously...and put the whole expedition to sleep (no saving throw). We were then crushed flat by a stone juggernaut. Thanks for coming.

Totally, terribly unfair. Total asshole move, Gygax.

And it sucked...not because my long-time character had died (for all intents and purposes, he died a long time ago...in the Spring of 1988). No, it sucked because I wanted to beat the damn thing. I wanted to say that I killed Acerack and that he "wasn't so tough." But even knowing the adventure, I still screwed up. And paid the price. But really the only "loss" I took was to my pride...something I probably have too much of anyway.

And pride is easily replenished anyway. At least, it is for me. All I have to do is look at my children. My son, 11 years old, did an excellent job as a DM. My 8 year old daughter did a great job working with her old man (even saving my bacon by remembering a couple lines from the Acerack poem/riddle that I'd forgotten). Yes, I had to pull Sofia's character away from a couple of deathtraps that she wanted to wander into, but in the end it wasn't her play that killed us all.

Yeah, I am very proud of my children. I really can't express it.

Afterwards, we ate pombazos (made, again, by the wife) and watched Big Trouble In Little China, one of my all-time favorite films, and one that the kids had never seen. They liked it a lot...a perfect cap to a (mostly) perfect Father's Day. Maybe the best one I've ever had. They sure set a high bar for next year.
; )



  1. It's great and very touching story.

  2. What a great idea for a present, and a lovely story... despite the TPK!

    1. Definitely the best "gift" I ever received from my children. Just warms the heart thinking about it.

      I joke about being angry at the dungeon module, by the way. I was annoyed with myself, for making a stupid mistake. The dungeon was just doing what the dungeon does.
      ; )

    2. Oh yes, that was clear. Worry not!

  3. Sounds like a great and proper Father's Day to me!

  4. You lucky man!!!!!!! nice you had such great time. Sure they'll never forget it.

  5. That's awesome. Having a kid that into D&D is living the dream. A "I got TPKed by my son" would make a great shirt.

    Tomb is tough I could read it then in 30 days not be confident I could make it through.

    But your son might have a young enough brain that you could run it for him in a month and he might beat it.

    1. Mm. Doubtful. He’s smart, but…

      Well, maybe we’ll have to try. It wouldn’t be the first time he surprised me.
      ; )

  6. So glad you had an excellent Fathers Day... That is the most important thing to take away. Also, your son is AWESOME! :-)