The nightmare of Acererak's tomb once again hungers for life!
Imagine a place of unspeakable evil. It was built upon hopelessness and filled with unending terror and pain. This loathsome place shattered the life of everyone who ventured near. But through tremendous sacrifice and heroism, over the course of many years, it was finally gutted and its foul creator destroyed.
Now imagine that the horror is beginning all over again.
The sinister wizard Acererak took great pains to safeguard his tomb. It took many years, and many more lives, before his evil was finally laid to rest. But though the demilich is gone, he is not forgotten. Others who would become as he was have traveled to the site of Acererak's tomb seeking the secrets of mastery over death. Slowly these pilgrims gathered, eventually building in the shadow of the tomb itself a community dedicated to the dark arts: Skull City.
But even these twisted necromancers have no inkling of the true evil that swells and crackles beneath their feet.
This boxed adventure contains:
- A 160-page adventure book;
- A 32-page book of illustrations to be shown to players;
- Player handouts, including an adventurer's diary filled with clues;
- A 16-page book of maps and monsters;
- And a reprinted facsimile of the original Tomb of Horrors adventure module as first published in 1978.
Return to the Tomb of Horrors is an epic adventure for characters of levels 13-16.
Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), by Bruce R. Cordell, is the third adventure in the Tomes series. It was published in July 1998.
Concluding the Tomes. Return to the Tomb of Horrors was the last book in the Tomes series, created by TSR to "update classic ideas from the AD&D game’s rich past and reintroduces them to new generations". Like its predecessors, Return to the Tomb of Horrors is a prestige-format boxed set, and it indeed updates a classic idea: S1: "Tomb of Horrors" (1978).
There's no recorded reason for Wizards of the Coast ending TSR's "Tomes" series following Return to the Tomb of Horrors, but it's easy to speculate that it wasn't cost-effective due to its prestige format; rumors have long-stated that TSR lost money on some of their boxed sets.
Whatever the reason, Wizards was nonetheless onboard with continuing classic adventure updates. Over the next two years, they published four more adventures of the same sort, two of were also called "Returns". They were: Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999), Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff (1999), Return to White Plume Mountain (1999), and Slavers (2000). Like Return to the Tomb of Horrors, these adventures were all sequels to the classic adventures with the exception of Against the Giants. One more "Return" followed in the 3e era: Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (2001).
A History of the Tomb. The Tomb of Horrors was originally conceived of by Alan Lucien, then created by Gary Gygax as a challenge for two of the player characters in his Castle Greyhawk campaign: Rob Kuntz's Robilar and Ernie Gygax's Tenser. In later years, Gygax carried the Tomb around in his briefcase to challenge D&D players with. It was also run as the official D&D tournament at Origins I (1975). Eventually, the Tomb was published as S1: "Tomb of Horrors" (1978), TSR's seventh* adventure.
"Tomb of Horrors" quickly became one of D&D's most iconic dungeons, but there were no efforts to revisit it or expand it for two decades — with the exception of its inclusion in S1-4: Realms of Horror (1987), a compilation of the four "S" adventures (1978-1982). It was only following the 1998 publication of Return to the Tomb of Horrors that the Tomb was revisited with increasing frequency.
Adventure Tropes. Return to the Tomb of Horrors is a massive adventure, with the set's scenario book being almost 7x the length of the original Tomb. As was common in the 2e era, Return to the Tomb of Horrors is heavily plotted, with a backstory underlying the entire adventure. Two classic puzzle-dungeons (one of which is the original "Tomb") nonetheless give the adventure an old school feel, while other parts of the adventure require research and the infiltration of evil cities. Overall, Return to the Tomb of Horrors is an interesting reimagination of the dungeon crawling tropes of the '70s that also incorporates the plots and stories of the '90s.
Expanding Greyhawk. Return to the Tomb of Horrors advances Greyhawk's clock twenty years past the original investigation of Acererak's tomb. Not only does it place the Tomb much more firmly in Greyhawk (where it had been loosely connected before), but it also reveals the metropolis of Skull City, a foul dominion of necromancy that has been built atop the ancient Tomb. It also touches upon a few nearby locales: Kalstrand and the Glorioles mountains. Finally, Return to the Tomb of Horrors reveals much more about the archlich Acererak and his plots and plans.
Overall, Return to the Tomb of Horrors is a nice example of an adventure firmly placed in a setting, without that placement being overwhelming.
Expanding the Great Wheel. A rare visit to the Negative Energy Plane provides details on a part of the Great Wheel that's usually neglected.
Whoops! The text in Return to the Tomb of Horrors claims that the original S1: "Tomb of Horrors" was TSR's first published adventure, and it was not. The "G" adventures were published at Origins IV (1978) while the "D" adventures were published at Gen Con (1978). "Tomb of Horrors" was certainly published after the "G" adventures. One source suggests that "Tomb of Horrors" appeared in June, which would have made it TSR's fourth adventure, but the product numbering and early product listings instead suggest it postdated the "D" adventures as well, which would make it the seventh(*).
Monsters of Note. There are several new monsters in Return to the Tomb of Horrors, including a negative energy elemental and a winter wight.
Future History. "Below the Tomb of Horrors " in Dragon #249 (July 1998) supported Return to the Tomb of Horrors with new traps, magic items, and spells.
S1: "The Tomb of Horrors" and Return to the Tomb of Horrors eventually formed a trilogy of adventures with the 4e Tomb of Horrors (2010).
Meanwhile, Wizards of the Coast has continuously reprinted the original Tomb in new forms: in a novel (2002); in a Free PDF for 3.5e (2005); in an RPGA D&D DM Rewards Program module for 4e (2010); and in an adventure in Dungeon #213 (April 2013) for D&D Next.
Wizards also provided more details on the adventure's archlich in "Legacy of Acererak" for Dragon #371 (January 2009).
About the Creators. 1998 was Cordell's most prolific year ever writing for D&D. He also produced the entire 4-book Monstrous Arcana on the mind flayers, as well as a few other books. He'd return to write about another classic in 1999 with Return to White Plume Mountain.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.