February is Dungeon Master Appreciation Month. Although I tend to be the DM more often than I’m a player, I have had the good fortune to play under some great DMs over the years. Throughout February I’m writing about a few DMs I’ve had, the best of the best, and sharing stories about what I found most interesting and memorable about them. This is my way of reminding them how good they are at what they do and showing my appreciation for fellow DMs.
Today I’m going to tell you a little bit about DM Monty (a.k.a. Steampunked) and why he’s an outstanding DM. I met Monty at my FLGS when I started playing Living Forgotten Realms shortly after 4e was released. He was a fellow player and I was always fascinated by how much careful thought he put into building and developing his characters. He was an optimizer who always looked for the best way to get the most out of his PC. As we met other players at our FLGS we were both invited to join a newly forming home game and for the next two years we played side-by-side week after week.
One night at our new home game someone started talking about the classic Gary Gygax super-dungeon adventure, the Tomb of Horrors. By then a 4e conversion of the original had been released as reward for public play DMs and there was a 4e hardcover that was positioned as a sequel to the original. DM Monty said he wanted to run the Tomb of Horrors as a 4e adventure and try to make it as deadly and fun as the original had been for 1e D&D. I immediately expressed an interest to be in that game.
In order to get the most out of the Tomb of Horrors experience, DM Monty wanted players who knew D&D inside-out but had never played or read Tomb of Horrors. I was one of those players and I was invited to join. DM Monty ended up doing a lot of prep to get it right for 4e. He looked at the 4e conversion as well as the original, the revised original, and the sequel. He scoured the internet to see what other DMs had done to convert Tomb of Horrors and learned from other DMs’ successes and failures. Eventually he was ready to run the game.
Over the years you hear a lot about classic adventures. All I knew about the Tomb of Horrors was that it usually ended in a TPK and most DMs asked players to bring back-up characters whenever they ran it. When we began we were a party of six. Only one player was familiar with the module but agreed not to let his knowledge influence party decisions and he promised not to spoil anything for the rest of us.
For the next six weeks we spent Friday nights at DM Monty’s apartment eating pizza and braving the Tomb of Horrors. We knew the traps were deadly so we were very cautious and played smart, most of the time. It was a lot of fun and we felt that one wrong move could kill our PCs. We were all level 10, and death in 4e at that level was a rarity, yet we still feared the dungeon’s ability to destroy us at any moment.
You may find this hard to believe, but in the end we defeated the Tomb of Horrors. I can’t remember if any PCs died, maybe one at the end, but we defeated Acererak. To be more accurate, I defeated Acererak. It was my spark of imagination that led to the plan that eventually let us defeat the Demi-Lich. We were literally one round from a TPK when the light bulb went off and I shouted out my idea. We tried it and it worked. It was exhilarating. I’d never felt so excited playing D&D. The build up to the final encounter, the weeks of suffering the punishment of each trap, the expectation of certain death, only to end in victory. It was thrilling.
Afterwards we had a long discussion about the experience of playing the Tomb of Horrors and it was then we learned just how much work DM Monty had done to make things work. He’d spent hours converting and adjusting each room to make it challenging for 4e characters. He tweaked encounters to make some harder and some more fair (I don’t want to say easier). You can argue that with a Gygax module in front of him his job as DM was easier, but I’d argue that it was harder. He had to be the best DM he’d ever been to ensure we enjoyed the experience that by all rights should have ended in a TPK.
I’ll never forget my experience playing the Tomb of Horrors largely because of the superb job DM Monty did in running it. He poured his heart and soul into running it for us and it showed. So to DM Monty I want to say thank you. He’s always a fun guy to have around the table as a player, but when he was the DM he always brought his A-game. His rendition of Tomb of Horrors was perfect, I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Thank you.
We had the foresight to record the Tomb of Horrors sessions as actual play podcasts. You can listen to them and follow us as we muddle our way through the Tomb of Horrors. You can hear the cheering when we finally defeat Acererak and most importantly you can hear just how good a job DM Monty does running the adventure. Afterwards DM Monty wrote an article for Dungeon’s Master talking about what he did to make the Tomb of Horrors work for 4e. I encourage you to give it a read.
- Unearthing the Tomb of Horrors (by Steampunked a.k.a DM Monty)
- Tomb of Horrors: Actual Play Podcasts
(Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4)