We played our second session of Tomb of Horrors yesterday. There were a few more deaths than the last session, but overall I still felt a bit disappointed with the module.
At the end of the last session, the players had gotten up to the corridor with the three pit traps behind doors. I came close to killing one of the PCs (again, Ian's halfling Tyreese who took point for virtually every part of the dungeon they explored) but she survived due to player ingenuity. Though Tyreese (formerly male, but transformed by a mysterious archway) did fall into one of the spike pits, Jason's character Cecilia acted quickly to cast feather fall to save her. Tyreese then arrested her fall with an iron spike in the wall, and then leapt off the spike using her boots of striding and springing to escape the pit. This was a great example of the kind of creative thinking I want to see in my AD&D games, but it also highlighted the fact that by the time they reach this high level, the PC spellcasters have a spell to counter just about any problem you can throw at them.
The next trap was the tilting floor that slides the PCs into a pit of lava. Here, Tyreese managed to jump back out of the trap area, while Cecilia and Grumpy the Dwarf (played by Zor) were trapped. Cecilia managed to save herself by whipping out an iron spike and driving it into the tilting floor. Grumpy was not so lucky. Apparently believing that there was a fire elemental to be fought at the end of the corridor, he charged in and was destroyed utterly by the lava. That was the Tomb's first PC-kill, but I'm not sure if it counts since Zor often displays somewhat suicidal tendencies in these killer dungeon one-shots.
After this, the game rather ground to a halt. In order to proceed, the PCs needed to find a secret door hidden in the third pit trap in the corridor. In my opinion this is one of the worst elements of the Tomb. I can just imagine Gary Gygax gloating over how difficult he's made it for his pompous players: "Ha ha! They'll never think to check the third pit trap!" There seems to be an intermittent tendency in AD&D design to try punishing players with tedium - in this case, the tedium of wandering around the dungeon looking fruitlessly for some clue as to where to go next. What this punishment fails to take into account is that tedium is equally punishing to the GM.
Ian got bored of smashing through secret doors (they were going the wrong way anyway, so they wouldn't have found anything.) He decided to touch the evil altar again, and it blew up and killed him instantly. Chalk up another PC death, but again it wasn't due to a player's mistake so much as their boredom. At least it gave me the chance to use the DMG's Item Saving Throw Table to determine that Tyreese's magic boots were obliterated along with her body.
Just as I was getting sick of watching the players do useless stuff that they didn't yet know was useless, Jason came to my aid. He decided to cast Limited Wish and wish for map of the entire dungeon. Ha-ha, nice try! But I told him that he saw a brief flash of the map, including something that indicated a secret passageway at the third pit trap.
So at last the players arrived at the fake lich encounter. They didn't pick up on any of the 'clues' that Gygax placed about the true nature of the enemy (apparently, the fact that he has a bag that isn't rotten is a "dead giveaway" that he's not the real Acererak). So the players really got excited about the boss battle and pulled out their most ridiculous powers. Zor turned into a giant gorilla; Jason surrounded the fake lich with a wall of ice, and then Shaun filled the ice trap with a blade barrier. The zombie was torn into tiny pieces.
The players totally fell for the illusionary collapsing tomb, but they did manage to grab all the treasure before they left. The rest of the session consisted of them struggling to get a solid gold couch back through the narrow crawlspaces of the dungeon. Pretty soon they had decided to plane shift into the ethereal and get out that way.
"Well!" I thought. "Now you're in for it!" Pretty soon, a nalfeshnee demon appeared and attacked them in the ethereal plane. However, I don't know if I was playing the nalfeshnee incorrectly, but it didn't seem all that threatening. Even after it had used gate to summon a glabrezu as well, it wasn't that difficult for the players to just run away and escape the Tomb.
The module seems to assume that the players will be clever enough to realise that the first lich was a fake, which seems like a bit of a long shot to me. Ian did mention that he thought it was a bit easy for a final boss, but they were still quite happy to sail away from the tomb with the treasure they'd already acquired. I decided to tell them that they had been tricked, but we won't be going back to the Tomb since it's time to start our new Star Wars campaign. But perhaps in the future the intrepid band will return.