Ensign Expendable

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Tomb of Horrors in Space?

I mentioned a while ago that I was thinking of putting together a session of Traveller based on the old Dungeons & Dragons module Tomb of Horrors. I thought that it would be fun to mix it up a bit and do a sci-fi dungeon crawl, and it was. Now this post will contain a few spoilers for anyone who isn't familiar with the Tomb of Horrors should be wary. It is available updated to 3rd and 4th Edition D&D so you might find yourself playing it one day.

To convert the module I had a look through and decided that I only wanted to use the first half of the Tomb. There were a few reasons for this. The first was that I only wanted this adventure to last one evening. These guys are space farers, they don't want to be stuck in a dark underground ancient tomb for very long without good reason. The second was that Traveller characters are fairly squishy and the traps and combats become pretty deadly in the second half of the Tomb of Horrors. You can't just find a cleric that's willing to raise your dead crew mates. They are dead and it's back to character creation and a session to introduce the new character into the story.

Next I had a think about how to handle the magic. This is science fiction, there is no magic unless you include psionics so everything had to be technological. This limited some things and a few had to go. I kept one of the teleporters though. The fact that there isn't any teleportation technology in my galaxy made this significant.

The traps were next. Most of these operated just as they would in the original. Poison spikes were poison spikes, I just had to change the mechanical effect to fit with the Traveller rules. Some of the traps were blunted a little to reflect the realism of Traveller compared to D&D but certainly had the crew made it to the Perilous Hall they would have been in serious trouble as they became barbecue.

Monsters. How was I going to portray undead? Easy, skeleton cyborgs, with laser guns. Although I kept the iconic double sabre for one of them. The added sound of servos whirring along with the sight of moving skeletons coming towards you just adds to the effect. The gargoyle turned into a killer robot bristling with weapons that fell off as physical stats took damage. I added an extra killer robot in the chapel too just for good measure instead of the lightning trap. Snakes were snakes, everyone likes snakes.

So how did it go on game night? It went well, not especially earth shattering, but well. The players picked up on the writing on the floor at the Tomb entrance and did well to work out the clues during the game. They even missed out on the Perilous Hall due to working out the clues. We only had one unexpected triggering of a pit trap and it was the guy in the full combat suit who fell down it so the spikes didn't even pierce his armor.

They battled the robot gargoyle and pretty much destroyed it before it got a good shot in. This was a good outcome for a squishy Traveller character but a bit disappointing for a referee who was looking forward to that fight.

The sections with weaken and fear gas were interesting. I had neglected to take into account that one of the characters was wearing full combat armor and so would be immune to these. This turned out to be one of the funnest unexpected departures from the plan because he was carrying on searching the place while the others took cover in another area and had to hold his own when a killer robot unexpectedly attacked.

When the crew got to the fake Acererak (another cyborg skeleton, this one with higher stats and lasers) things got more interesting. The engineer who wasn't wearing armor and doesn't really know how to hold a gun was sent in and got hurt, badly. The ex space marine PR specialist threw a very effective grenade in that set the furniture on fire and hurt the engineer more. Everyone missed. Acererak tried to kill the pilot. Everyone hit and eventually they brought him down, and stole his laser gun. Everything was now on fire so they took what they came for (I have deliberately not mentioned what that was) and got out before the place collapsed.

On the way out they went through the chest room and for some reason the captain opened all three chests, assuming there was going to be treasure in at least one of them. The already seriously injured characters were forced to help him take out the threats and then made their way out of the Tomb.

We had fun and reached our objective, got out and got the injured to hospital, although one NPC, the engineer, ended up with a permanent limp and loss of stats. I wasn't really left with a feeling that it really clicked though in the way I had hoped. I think maybe I was hoping for too much. I was a little disappointed that nobody present had played through a version of the Tomb of Horrors in previous versions of D&D. That would have been great if someone had recognised the entrance and broke out in to shivers due to previous experience.

I think the idea worked. It was a good change of pace for the players, they were isolated from their ship and any technology that they weren't carrying and thrust into an environment that they had to endure to get back to civilisation. I think I would do something similar again. Not too often though, the straight sci-fi drama is working quite well and I don't think we need to overdo the gimmicks.

I would be interested to know if anyone else has had good results taking published modules out of their usual environment.

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  1. Overall, I liked it. I think it would be good if down the track that the background behind pyramid and aliens came into play (who where they/why were they there/why did they leave/are they coming back?) And, of course, we still have the question of the artefact itself. 🙂

    I think the lack of clicking has more to do with adjusting to the game than anything else. Each session, to me anyway, has gotten better than the last as we get comfortable with Traveller. The fragility of the characters and the game mechanics are quite a bit different from the traditional fantasy rpg.

    • Yes, I’m liking Traveller a lot. The differing reward system (no XP) and squishy characters is giving everyone good reason to get out of the line of fire and finding rewards in different ways and it’s making a better story.

      I’m sure if there was 350xp up for grabs in Mos Eisley Han would have stayed to shoot those storm troopers. Same goes for the crew in Traveller.

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