I would very much like to run a party of people through the TPK machine that is the original Tomb of Horrors. However, while I'd like to keep the balance and toughness that made this first entry so memorable, I'd be running them through in 4e.

The first challenge is a more mechanical one...trying to make traps and monsters (what few there are) of approximately the same difficulty. The question: Is there any system for upgrading monsters and/or traps from AD&D to 4e that people have tried?

The second challenge is a bit different...it's more of a gestalt type thing. Characters in 4e can more easily rest and recuperate, and HP loss is a minor temporary inconvienence rather than a major obstacle like in AD&D. In short, I'm wondering if ToH wouldn't translate well because the characters won't be "worn down" enough by the various individual encounters. The question: Is this an exercise in futility, or can I perform this kind of transition?

(Of course, there will have to be a lot of experimentation and such in any case, and the details are well beyond this question, but it would be interesting to know if there are obvious answers to these things.)

EDIT: I do own the new ToH hardcover for 4e...but that's not what I'm looking for. The new book is a sort of sequel to the original adventure (or, more precisely, a sequel to "Return to the Tomb of Horrors", which was the first sequel).

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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI there was a 4e conversion of the original Tomb of Horrors released by WotC in their GM rewards program (an actual conversion, not the hard cover book module homage to the original). You may be able to find a copy of it if you search around. \$\endgroup\$ – Simon Withers Mar 27 '12 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you looked at the fourthcore design philosophy? \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Mar 27 '12 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Brian Not sure exactly what you mean (so, I guess, the answer is "no".) If you think it would be a good structure to base this type of conversion on, add it as an answer (along with any relevant details). \$\endgroup\$ – Beska Mar 27 '12 at 19:10

There is a design philosophy called fourthcore. This is trying to adopt the adversarial player-driven AD&D paradigm to 4e. It's quite successful but requires a new campaign as it is completely different in expectations than normal games, and trying to do one adventure in it will simply get the party killed without utility.

While there's no formal adaptation schema, the design paradigms presented in Crucible and Revenge (Big list here as well as the other articles on the site should serve as a guide.)

In terms of conversion, use the default numbers for monsters, but with Level 1 adjusted damage, the inclusion of save-or-die effects, and a trivial ability for characters to respawn. The last 3 hour game I played of Crucible, I killed 17 out of 4 PCs. The enemy was the timer, not character death.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Apparently I need to look into this :) \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig Mar 27 '12 at 21:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just scanned it; facinating! \$\endgroup\$ – Beska Mar 28 '12 at 13:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Brian Okay, this catches the essence of what I was looking for...the mindset required to capture the feel of the original ToH. Now, I have something to look forward to...after I finish the conversion, there will be a brief moment in time in the future when people will be able to ask me, "What system did you use to convert it, and when?", and I will be able to respond "Forthcore, and seven years ago..." \$\endgroup\$ – Beska Mar 29 '12 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ .... ... owwwwwww, not punnnnnny... \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Mar 29 '12 at 18:12

4e and the original Tomb of Horrors isn't likely to work very well.

I've used 4e to redo some old modules, particularly G1 (Hill Giant Steading) and it can work fairly well. With a little experience you can choose the correct monsters and (de)level them as necessary.

Two areas that I'd be very concerned with when trying ToH in 4e would be the presumed lethality of ToH and that AD&D typically tests players, not characters.

Save or Die

Before 4th edition, D&D had many save or die mechanics. Tomb of Horrors takes this one step farther and has several mistake and die encounters. Stick your hand in the wrong mouth, or don't respond to a tipping hallway immediately and your character will suffer severe consequences.

4th edition does not have any real way to model this. 4e players are not used to having their characters die without recourse because of one decision (that they may have made minutes ago even). You could introduce these, but it would be a big paradigm shift. In AD&D you could have a new character up and ready to rejoin the adventure in a couple minutes, with 4th edition, you're doing good if you can get a new character ready in under an hour. I'd argue that just that one change means that characters shouldn't die very often. It sucks to spend half the session creating characters because you died a few times.

For me, the Tomb of Horrors without frequent character death/disability just wouldn't ring true.

AD&D has players, D&D4e has characters

When playing AD&D it is expected that players will ask questions about and interact cautiously with the environment. It can take a great deal of time for an experienced party to decide to walk down a seemingly empty corridor if they have decided (rightfully or not) that the area is dangerous. They'll break out the 10' poles, maybe some marbles, perhaps some flour to look for invisible critters...etc.

A 4e player will have his character make a perception check. 41! She'll proudly announce, what'd I find? If the answer is "nothing", the party will march forward.

It's a completely different vibe. The Tomb of Horrors requires very cautious experienced players. Even with extreme caution, it is likely that most characters will die as there are several places where the correct answer cannot be divined in advance.

A solution still exists!

What you can do, is run your current 4e characters through the Tomb of Horrors in AD&D using avatars of themselves. As long as the players are clear that these characters are themselves, yet different, it can work out and be enjoyable for all.

Things that my group has done

  • Play 30th level avatars battling Orcus
  • Shrink and go Through the Looking Glass (used many munchkin rules)
  • Visit an alternate reality and become vampiric versions of themselves

It's up to you whether dying as an avatar has consequences in the "real" game. It can work both ways depending on how you set it up. Keep in mind that outside of blatent DM fudging, a TPK is by far the most common result of going into the Tomb of Horrors!

You can either create the AD&D avatars yourself if you wish to surprise the group or engage them in the process. It would also give you a good chance to push out some notes on the differences between AD&D and 4e if your folks aren't already aware of them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I definitely agree with your sentiment that expectations about ToH (and AD&D in general) are very different than 4e. I would never dream of unleashing this monstrocity on player's normal characters. It would be too much of a shock, and would either be watered down, or have a huge uneven effect on the rest of the 4e campaign. This would have to be more of a one-off thing, I'm thinking...I was thinking of separate, pre-created characters as a good choice, but the avatar suggestion is very interesting... \$\endgroup\$ – Beska Mar 27 '12 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Beska - if it is a one off, why not do it in AD&D? \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig Mar 27 '12 at 18:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, there would be a pretty big learning curve for the players (and for me...it's been a while.) Also, part of the point is to immerse them in a change that will shock and surprise them. If the entire game system changes, I think their expectations will be reset, and they won't be as shocked by the mise-en-scene differences. \$\endgroup\$ – Beska Mar 27 '12 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @beska - hmmm, I wonder if something like Microlite20 would work. I haven't had a chance to play it yet myself, but the reviews are pretty good. I think ToH needs to have throwaway characters and a simpler rule set than 4e seems in order. Good luck though, it sounds like fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig Mar 27 '12 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the avatar idea. Allows the gruesome frequent deaths without the long-term consequences. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason White Mar 27 '12 at 21:05

A major dynamic to insure the 'worn down' effect is a lack of extended rests. This has a couple of benefits and pitfalls. Benefits: - Encounters and traps will use up the healing surges that are vital to replenishing HPs. - Encounters and traps will also use up the powerful daily powers of characters, some of those relate to the first bullet. - House rules that incorperate "fatigue" (perhaps penalizing skill checks) will also further the haggard state of the adventurers mid and late game.

Pitfalls: - The players will get to use their cool daily powers less than usual. - Some magic items are also regulated by 'daily' uses and would lose much of their potency.

Compromises: - If the characters try to obtain an extended rest, you can disrupt them with a monster encounter, or an event that upsets their full Health Surge refill. - perhaps have partial rests that let them regain 1-2 Health Surges. - utilize traps and monsters that strip Health Surges to keep the danger an all time consideration for the characters.

I think the conversion is possible, but will require a ground up approach which entails a lot of work on your part. I don't know of any formula that can be applied to AD&D stats to generate 4E compatible numbers. utilize the numerous trap examples in the DMG and the DDI compendium to guage appropriateness. Are you interested in publishing the final product?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with you about the "ground up" approach...it seems very likely that the sheer quantity of difficult encounters and ruthless (but possible) nature of the original adventure would require a lot of tinkering to get the right balance in 4e. Sadly, I wouldn't publish the final product, much as it would be neat, because I'd be afraid of lawsuits. However, it could be interesting to blog about the various learned lessons during the conversion. \$\endgroup\$ – Beska Mar 27 '12 at 18:44

There is also the Fourthcore adventure "Tomb of the Iron Lich" which is obviously inspired by Tomb of Horrors.


There are several good answers here. I will add that while not much used, Save or Die effects can be used in 4th edition as the underlying system is designed to be exception based. I wouldn't necessarily make every deadly trap Save or Die but certainly the Sphere of Annihilation and the corridor that tilts the part into a pit of flames should remain as is. I would look at the 3rd edition conversion of Tomb of Horrors for idea on how to mechanically convert the module to 4th edition.


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