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October 30, 2018

Tomb of Horrors – Kobold Meat Grinder Style

Dungeons and Dragons

My apologies for the late post, but I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for my players that got to run through this during our session yesterday! Around Christmas, my group will have a session that’s a Christmas-themed one-shot adventure. This year I decided to try out something thematic for Halloween too!

Awhile ago Draconick had written a post about putting a group of kobolds into a meat grinder type of dungeon. This jogged my memory back to this Reddit post about how someone had retooled a bit of Tomb of Horrors from Tales from the Yawning Portal(Affiliate Link!) into a kobold meat grinder.

Let’s be honest. There’s nothing in D&D that could be considered a more iconic meat grinder than Tomb of Horrors. No one is safe from the deadly traps, challenging encounters, and absolute savagery of Tomb of Horrors.

Using kobolds instead of high-level PCs both saved us the time of having everyone make multiple high-level characters and the heartbreak of losing most of those high-level characters. You simply roll for a new kobold and keep pressing forward!

I had high hopes for the adventure already since White Plume Mountain from Tales from the Yawning Portal was a fun time for my group. Needless to say, I was not disappointed

Preparing the Tomb of Horrors for Your Kobolds

The nice people at Roll20 were awesome enough to give me a review copy of Tomb of Horrors which is part of the Tales From the Yawning Portal pack. This was my first time using one of their adventure add-ons and I believe that it’s well worth the $8.99 price tag they put on it.

These adventure add-ons allow you to create a new game using the module you purchase in the Roll20 Marketplace. When you launch the game you already have all of your prep done for you.

tomb of horrors kobold meat grinder

Our little kobolds are about to have the adventure of a lifetime! Art by Kaus Pillon.

Every creature is placed in its proper position, all of your handouts are typed up, every monster you need is in your library, and the dynamic lighting is set-up for you!

It saved me hours of setting everything up from scratch like I did when I ran White Plume Mountain. I also found myself using the reference handouts for all of the traps as opposed to using my book copy as they were much more convenient to look at on the fly.

With all that being said, you don’t need to use Roll20 to run Tomb of Horrors: All Kobolds Must Die Edition. This can be done in person or on a virtual tabletop program with simple map drawings, copies of the official maps, or you could make your own using map making software.

Any way you slice it though you’re going to need maps for this one. You’re doing your group a disservice trying to keep track of all of the random traps, locations, and secret passageways using the theater of the mind playstyle. Your players need every tactical opportunity they can get!

Encounter Changes

Now, there were a few changes that I had to make to Tomb of Horrors to make it both possible to complete and fair to the players that are using kobolds instead of high-level characters. I used all of the required and recommended changes in the Reddit post, but in case you don’t click that link I’ll summarize them here.

  • Remove the gargoyle.
  • The giant skeleton instantly kills everyone in the room.
  • The greater zombie can only make 1 attack per turn.
  • Ochre jelly is removed and replaced with acid in the tank.
  • Remove the mummy lord.
  • Acererak can be killed with 1 use of the Disintegrate Wand. Otherwise, it’s a TPK.

The idea is to remove a lot of the fights that a small group of kobolds would have 0 chance of success against. The gargoyle, ochre jelly, and mummy lord would all simply waste everyone’s time to play out a fight that they have no chance of winning.

The greater zombie is able to be slain by our brave kobolds, but we need to remove a bit of its action economy to give them a better chance of success.

The greater skeleton now poses a greater threat, but it’s a completely optional fight since it’s contained in a chest in a side room. The instant kill mechanic is only to speed up the encounter. You’d get the same result if you played it out, but it would take you 20 minutes to do so.

The ochre jelly change is fine too. It doesn’t add much to the dungeon other than a long and frustrating fight for our party of kobolds.

Tomb of Horrors Kobold Meat Grinder

You have a 50% chance of spawning as a unique Kobold. Use this advantage well should you get it! Art by Wizards of the Coast.

Equipment

  • 1x 5ft pole
  • 10x Pitons
  • 1x Thieves’ Tools
  • 5x Detect Magic Scrolls
  • 1x Wand of Disintegrate (2 charges)

These supplies are all basically required outside of the Wand of Disintegrate which only exists to give the players a way to kill Acererak.

Unlike high-level characters, kobolds don’t come with any supplies, magical equipment, or magic (outside of the sorcerer variant). Tomb of Horrors requires each of the listed items at some point throughout the dungeon.

That being said though. There are so many ways to lose these items. Death is by far going to be the most common since these items don’t teleport back to the reserve kobolds outside the tomb. However, there are also traps and rooms that strip the characters of their items and teleport the items into Acererak’s lair.

But that’s Tomb of Horrors in a nutshell. It’s unfair, grueling, and hilarious so long as you’re not playing characters that you’re attached to. As the DM all you need to do is give them the tools to succeed. After that, it’s down to the dice and the players’ collective wits.

Checkpoints

ViCaelestis also recommends adding checkpoints to make the adventure a little less grueling. These are just simple blue circles that are activated the first time the kobolds step on them. Once a checkpoint has been activated, new kobolds can step on a blue circle at the entrance and be teleported to the most recently activated checkpoint.

  • 1st Checkpoint: The Hall of Spheres
  • 2nd Checkpoint: The False Crypt
  • 3rd Checkpoint: The Pillared Throne Room

I decided to add these because I wanted to speed up the game a bit and this helped immensely. Besides, you can only teleport to the most recently activated checkpoint so it’s not like you can fly around the tomb to cheese encounters.

It definitely helped streamline the game and I don’t believe the experience suffered at all for it.

Running the Kobold Meat Grinder

Tomb of Horrors is always an absolute blast to run, but the Koboldstorm version of it was something else entirely. For starters, the image of a group of tiny, unsuspecting kobolds being tasked with a suicide mission to bring down a lich in its lair of death traps is hysterical.

That being said, Tomb of Horrors was designed for a party of high-level PCs to struggle through. Practically every trap in here has a very good chance at instantly destroying an unsuspecting kobold. They don’t have the luxury of resting up or healing and moving forward as a proper group would.

tomb of horrors kobold meat grinder

Press onward brave kobolds! You have numbers on your side. Art by Butterfrog.

However, what the kobolds have are numbers. The party gets 30 “lives” to rush through Tomb of Horrors. Their deaths and failures will generally be visible to their new kobolds. They’ll see their friends impaled, smashed at the bottom of a pit, and countless other deaths, but they’ll know what not to do in that area.

There aren’t a lot of combat encounters in Tomb of Horrors to begin with. In this homebrew however, there are even fewer, but they are much more dangerous. Just like the majority of the traps, a single attack can out-right kill a regular kobold which each player has a 50% chance of playing.

I’d estimate this adventure to take between 6-8 hours or about 2 full sessions of play depending on how cautious your group is. My group started off very slow and cautiously but began to pick up steam after the first couple of deaths to spike traps and threw caution to the wind.

What I’d Change

I removed a lot of the DC 20 Perception checks required to find some of the secret doors. Kobolds have such abysmal Wisdom and Intelligence that a lot of these secret entrances will remain a secret making the dungeon a bit more of a slog than it needs to be.

The Complex of Secret Doors, in particular, was one such instance where I changed the convoluted doors to a simple illusion. Another option would be to simply make the DC a lot lower than 20. It makes sense for high-level characters, but not for kobolds.

That being said, this is not a necessary change to make. I simply wanted to speed up the game a bit.

 Roll20-Specific Comments

In the Roll20 module specifically, there are a few spaces where the dynamic lighting needs a bit of touching up. Two specific locations that are missing dynamic lighting are the two false entrances of the tomb. All that’s needed is a simple line that can be removed by the DM once the players clear out the tunnels.

A few of the secret passageways invisible as well. The Great Hall of Spheres was one specific location where the dynamic lighting was an issue. Just be sure to do a quick walk-through of all of the secret passageways before you play this adventure.

These issues are easy enough to touch-up yourself before or during the game, but I’d like to see them fixed in a future update.

That being said, it was amazing to have all of the creatures, maps, lighting, and handouts already made for me. All I had to do was read through the module (which is also in Roll20), make a few adjustments for the homebrew and the lighting, and my group was ready to play.

Conclusions

This is a meat grinder through and through. Be up-front with your players that they will die many, many times sometimes in an unfair way. Honestly though, they’re playing as a bunch of NPCs that they have no attachment to. They shouldn’t have any qualms with dying.

I had a ton of fun planning and running this and I think my players enjoyed the insanity of it as well. I always have the players make throwaway characters when I run meat grinders but, giving them creatures to control was an out-of-the-box solution and it worked surprisingly well for such a high-level dungeon.

This was a great break from our regular game and it was very fitting for a Halloween session. There’s plenty of death, undeath, and wacky antics to be had in this iconic adventure.

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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