Friday, August 9, 2013

Horrific Disgruntlement

On Sunday Lance, Jason, Cary, myself, and Lance's girlfriend (a complete noob to DnD) played the 3.5 version of the Tomb of Horrors using Pathfinder characters. Jason was the GM. It was an interesting experience. I rolled a Cleric and a Paladin and focused on durability and healing. Initially, it was my Cleric and Paladin, Lance's Druid, and his girlfriend's Fighter. That's right, we waded into the Tomb without a Rogue. That's how badass we are.

We TPKed in the fourth room. Pit traps, man, pit traps.

Luckily, Jason let us reboot and continue on and several hours later we were joined by Cary and his Summoner and Rogue and things got a little more careful. Lance did manage to fail a Will save and get his ass mind controlled, which we sidestepped by my Cleric using hold person on him (just remember, Lance, I may have pulled the lever that TPKed us, but my useless spell saved your Druid from getting his ass kicked by your girlfriend). I had memorized it thinking that it might be handy against a certain four armed gargoyle with a poor Will save, however, hold person only works on people and Lance's Druid is a people, but a gargoyle is not a people. So yeah. Whoops.

Anyway. It was pretty fun. There was a fair amount of analysis paralysis and indecision on my part. Knowing the lethality of the Tomb, but not recalling all the details, it's hard to make choices. Granted, this adventure had absolutely no consequences for us. We weren't using characters we had a history with and Jason was willing to let us reboot as much as necessary and continue on. It's just hard to make choices when you know everything should pretty much have a big glowing danger sign over it. One neat thought I had just before we started was the idea that instead of making throwaway characters, we should have remade our favorite/best characters from previous campaigns or something. Kind of pitting our best against Gygax's most feared/renowned adventure module. 

I like The Tomb of Horrors and I respect it as a dungeon and as kind of a mythic figure of our hobby. Its legendary lethality is definitely appropriate for its contents. However, there is one "trap" in it that I call bullshit on. That trap is the Complex of Secret Doors. So, the gist is that there are seven connected rooms. Each room has a secret door in it that leads to the next room. The seventh room is actually easy, there are buttons to be pressed. In each room is also a magical crossbow trap that fires a bolt at a random party member in the room each round for 1d6 damage, unless they make a saving throw vs. magic (I forgot what those look like in 2nd Edition AD&D, but it is interesting that a Wizard has an easier time dodging a crossbow bolt than a Rogue). Jason actually toned down the hostility of the trap when we went through. The original Tomb states that nothing can do anything to prevent the crossbow from firing or from hitting the character, aside from their saving throw vs. magic. We were able to shut one down with swords for a minute while it reconstituted itself. 

So while the party is wandering around each of these seven rooms, these crossbows are firing. Now, 1d6 isn't much. It's a drop in a bucket for characters of 9th - 14th level. However, you're going to be in these rooms a long long time. See the problem with these secret doors is that they have to be opened by hand, and you have to describe how you are attempting to open them. 

When we went through, Jason was kind enough to describe the various types of actions that may or may not open the doors, I believe WotC also suggested doing this. I may have been talking over him while he did so and that may have led to some confusion. Whoops. WotC also put a little note about the trap in the adventure saying something to the effect that modern RPGs have no manner of mechanics to represent how to proceed through and resolve this trap. 

Guess what WotC, neither does 1st Edition. Gygax is just batshit crazy. This isn't some bullshit Old School vs. New School issue. It's stupid trap design. It's not designed to challenge the players or kill them. It's designed to be aggressively vague and obtuse and infuriate them while they die by d6s. 

See, there's no description of these doors. So they're just concealed doors. I assumed wood or stone construction with knobs or iron rings to open them along with cunningly concealed hinges. Something identifiably door-like with means of opening or shifting aside and such. So the ways the doors open are as follows: 

A: Pull down (on what!?).
B: Pivots centrally (perhaps on some manner of rod that could be handily discovered via searching by someone using their chance of finding traps or Perception? No? Ok, Gygax. Why wouldn't just pulling on the door or pushing on it cause it to "pivot centrally' in the first place?). 
C: Pull inward and up at bottom.
D: Slides up
E: Double panels pull inward (what panels?). 
F: Slide left (perhaps through a channel in the stone that could be found via Perception or perhaps via"Old School" running your fingers over the where the door meets the wall? No? Ok, Gygax.). 

This "trap" is idiotic. It's not a trap, it's a cheap head game designed to delay. Granted, the easiest thing to do is to look up the hit points for Ye Old Generic Not At All Described Secret Door and blow the fucker off its possibly non-Euclidean hinges and walk on through. The crossbows are untouchable, but there's nothing that says the doors are. Maybe Lance should have used wild shape to turn into a weremanbearpig to tear the fuckers out of the wall. 

What happens when you, a normal human, encounter a door that doesn't open? You start fiddling with the knob and pushing and pulling and turning the knob clockwise and counterclockwise trying to figure out the problem. It's basic problem solving and common sense. If something doesn't open as you expect, you jiggle the fucking handle and figure it out. Within moments, using your appendages and basic problem solving, you figure out that the bolt sits a little too long in the frame so you have to crank hard on the knob to get it to retract fully, or you have to kick a corner because it is warped in the frame or something. This isn't rolling a secret doors or trap finding check. This is basic I have fingers and musculature and brain matter stuff. This trap amounts to a stuck or improperly installed door that still functions and is capable of allowing people to enter and exit through it once they fiddle with it and figure out the trick. 

What this "trap" fucking implies is that all adventurers, regardless of class, race, or level of min/maxing, must now describe precisely how they attempt to open all doors. It takes a normal assumption of jiggling handles and putting a shoulder to a door and turns it into a brand new subsystem of DnD. I'm paraphrasing this from something similar I read in one of the GURPS rulebooks but opening unlocked doors is effectively a DC 5 Strength check that it is assumed you take 10 or 20 on because making a check like that to open every unlocked door you encounter is stupid. This Complex of Secret Door is not a trap, its a stupid and irritating complication. It's not Old School, it's not Fourthcore, or hardcore, or something like that. It's shitty trap design. It's the equivalent of me asking Lance/Eran to make a Survival check to track a wolf and then asking him how he moves his fucking eyes while he looks at the ground because he'll only see the tracks he's looking for if he looks for them at a 45 degree angle with the sun behind him. Or asking Eric/Karl to describe precisely how he rolls the bat shit between his fingers when casting fireball and then causing it to misfire because he didn't press it for 3.2 seconds between thumb and forefinger like he was supposed to. 

I enjoyed what we played of the adventure, but that trap really pissed me off. What pissed me off more was WotC's little disclaimer. Really? There's no method of jiggling handles or pushing or pulling on doors in post-1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons? You guys pull that out along with all the hobbits and ents when you got sued by Tolkien/his estate? (Yes, I know, that happened long before 1st Edition came out.) Fuck off. It's bad trap design and you're just pandering to "Old School" gamers with your little disclaimer about non-Old School adventurers not knowing how to open doors. You know how you resolve the "lack of a mechanic to represent this trap" using modern game conventions and mechanics? Do you? No? Bide a moment.

A: DC 20 Spot check reveals that this door is on tracks and pulls down to reveal a passage to the next room.
B: A DC 20 Spot check reveals that there is a rod in the center of this door, causing it to pivot centrally and open.
C: A DC 20 Spot check reveals that this door is actually a sort of hatch that when pulled towards you and lifted reveals the next room. 
D: A DC 20 Spot check reveals that this door actually slides up into a hidden recess above the frame.
E: A DC 20 Spot check reveals that there are two cunningly concealed panels on this door that open up and lead to the next room.
F: A DC 20 Spot check reveals that this door actually slide left into a hidden recess in the wall. 

Boom! You're bad at your job WotC, and you should feel bad about that. Maybe if the adventure was 160 pages long and you could charge 35 bucks for it you'd have done your fucking job when converting a legendary adventure written by one of the fathers of the game. What do I know? I'm just a dude ranting on a blog that doesn't have to deal with moneygrubbing corporate fucks paying my bills. To be fair, I ran the trap as written when we played through the Tomb of Horrors the first time. Hindsight and whatnot.

Anyway. I really really enjoyed the adventure and had a lot of fun playing as a player. I was pretty much terrified the entire time, which was interesting, as normally during gaming I have no vested interest whatsoever in the survival of the majority my NPCs or the PCs. My Paladin was woefully underpowered when compared to the slaying power of Lance's girlfriend's Fighter, and my Cleric didn't even get to heal that much. If I could do over, I'd roll a Wizard and a Rogue and just equip the Rogue with lots of Use Magic Device ranks and wands to cover the healing. 

All in all, it was an 8 hours well spent and I definitely would not mind returning to the Tomb again to die horribly at the hands (figuratively speaking) of Acerak. 

1 comment:

  1. Damn, wish I wasn't out of it that day and had time to make characters. Ah well, nothing like missing out on fun. I ended up with a migraine anyway, so oh well.