Modern pen and paper RPGs generally prioritize telling a good story over practically anything else. The GM’s job is to cater to the needs of the players, who are expected to obey the rules and encourage telling a good story with their fellow RPGers. In some cases, such as in Paranoia or Dungeons & Dragons, death is a tool used even more liberally because its realism makes for a much more compelling story.
Players invest years building 1st-level peons into paragon powerhouses. In light of that investment, capriciously slaying characters is seen as the hallmark of a poor GM, ideally avoided unless the a character does something stupid and/or provocative. There’s only one fitting punishment for the idiot who confuses a sacred idol of Wotan with an outhouse, after all.
Old school grognards felt that while adventures often has excellent storytelling, they were also an opportunity to show off how many characters you’d killed.
It’s not easy to find a game too difficult for your group of players. I’m excluding Gary Gygax’s original “Tomb of Horrors” because that one just too obvious, but it’s certainly out there. After all, if you want to earn the ungodly ire of your friends, just pop one these bad boys into your campaign. Just don’t be surprised if, in the aftermath of this move.
6) “Jacob’s Well” by Randy Maxwell (Dungeon Magazine #43)
With Jacob’s Well, one can easily roleplay for less than hour. The game is meant to be completed in a single session by one GM and one low-level character, without the need for many players or supplies. It’s meant to scare participants, while still being enjoyable to play.
The game, “Jacob’s Well,” offers the player many choices that impact the environment they are in, for example how they react to or interact with certain people.
With a storm outside the only option, the player is brutally murdered in his room by a killer in the middle of the night. New terror abounds when screams and a shattered window break the calm in Jacob’s Well Inn.
Preparing for adventures in the magazine take a considerable amount of time when getting to know each individuals and the layout of the small fort. Copying different pages around is inefficient and not great when running off-the-cuff playtime.
However, players who are unorganized take on the protagonist role in The Jacob’s Well may be less inclined to finish it in small hours.
The NPCs represent a decent cross-section, providing support for any halfway decent plan. Human fur trappers with crossbow skills, two barbarians with axes, Jacob himself who’s skill is unknown, but it’s safe to say he’s not too skilled with combat himself.
However, those who choose to wait out the nightmare, or don’t take an active role in directing the inhabitants’ energies will find themselves increasingly threatened as the howling blizzard shows no sign of abatement and friendlier faces turn into monsters.
5) “Temple, Tower & Tomb” by Steve Winter & Laura Craig
Temple, Tower & Tomb is a 32-page bundle of three mini adventures, but you can enjoy them in any order. All they have in common are that they work best if tackled sequentially, their high player buy-in, and how easy they are to play.
Curious what happens to 7-12th level adventurers? Boss Monster 2ND edition rates two thumbs up. You can explore resources for gameplay, characters, gameplay utilities, ‘magic items’ and more.
A kingdom on the brink of war, three powerful artifacts that could turn the tide of battle, and one ruler rich (and desperate) enough to try anything to acquire them. Each artifact is housed in a separate area.
Part of the reason pcis shouldn’t be used is because it has low success rates and requires pcis to sign legal waivers. That stresses how risky the excursion is. The employees don’t know what could happen and they have no backing if something goes wrong.
Temple, Tower, & Tomb is not for causal players. Even for 12th-level characters with lots of magic items, the terrain in the scenarios are treacherous. Despite this, player skills are required for progress.
Traps abound, with one in the ‘Tomb’ portion of the module that virtually guarantees a TPK if the players don’t handle it with extreme caution.
Traps abound, with one in the ‘Tomb’ portion of the module that virtually guarantees a TPK (Total Party Kill) if the players don’t handle it with extreme caution. The monsters are no picnic either, with the nastiest being the ultra-powerful badass waiting at the conclusion of the ‘Tower’ segment. Your players will be ready to kill the asshole who invented ‘Rot Grubs’ before the module’s over too, I guarantee it. Beating the monsters and finding the artifact in each area is only the first part of each adventure though.
The next step is getting back home. You are probably still carrying that glass teleport sphere, right? It can only work outside, right?
Best Sprung On: Funny how a scary adventure by Gary Gygax, now rates as one of the most challenging you can find. One way this adventure made the list is that many players who have been there from the beginning will play it to show their skills. Others consider it because they’ve never heard of it!
Some classic D&D modules are well-known to even casual players, either through previous experience or seeing them updated into newer editions. One such module is Temple, Tower & Tomb. With all key information needed to run the module available in its text and charts, this dovetails neatly with the idea of improving game design by turning it into an algorithm -meaning curious gamers can be certain they’ll never see exactly the same dungeon layouts twice while exploring this challenging turn-based module.
With the right attention to narrative detail, you can provide a good experience for even seasoned gamers. With only a few lines of narrative you can make your players feel tense and uneasy without throwing too many surprises at them.
4) “Tomb of the Lizard King” by Mark Acres
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons modules bearing the ‘I’ designation were meant for an “Intermediate” range of characters, roughly 4 through 12. For these adventures, players need no longer be lined up to lead charge into the Nine Hells just yet.
Enough of running pre-made horror movie and campaign modules and want some custom and ultra-custom horror adventures? Well the new “I” line has you covered, whether it’s the more traditional adventure with I1: Dwellers on the Forbidden City or Tomb of the Lizard King with its open procedures.
Spoiler-Free Summary: The Count of Eor receives troubling reports of brigand activity and demands for emergency assistance. The Count insists on sending out a few highly trained men to set up scattered ambushes in attempts to track the raiders – only they seem to vanish without a trace.
(The Count has dispatched an entire contingent of soldiers but none have returned. Whoever is harassing the southern border is growing more brazen by the day and supplies are becoming scarce as shopkeepers cannot restock their wares.) It falls to the PCs to investigate the thieves and explore the wilderness and put a stop to whoever is (growing (more brazen by the day and supplies are becoming (scanty)) before they grow their ambition any greater.
With the “I” designation, Mark Acres isn’t portraying a journey on your average run-of-the-century glacier. Normally, “intermediate” would be a fitting description of such a monstrosity. But according to this author, not all jagged white sheets are created equal.
The module claims it’s written for a party of 7-9 characters of fifth to seventh level, but then goes on to warn the GM about how hazardous the whole thing is and suggests players may want to use the eight pre-generated characters provided instead of risking their own. Warnings like this can come off hyperbolic but “Tomb of the Lizard King” is not screwing around.
The two largest threats any party will face in “The Lizard King” are a 400-year old black dragon and 16 wights. These creatures will drain a full experience level from any living being who is not well-armed or well-prepared.
Parties who have lost their Clerics or suffer bad luck here may as well just slit their own throats because this is a potentially game-ending encounter even if most of the players survive. Mark Acres wins. Fatality.
Best Sprung On is a book of adventures for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons written by Cliff Fatherree.
Temple, Tower & Tomb was not an easy adventure for players, but Tomb of the Lizard King is even more complex and deadly. A group I ran this adventure never survived.
The Tomb of Horrors checks nearly every box for the worst possible module, and may include a map with tricks and traps set to take out (trash) players. If you plan to run this module at your LARP, make sure to map an escape route for yourself beforehand.
3) “Die, Vecna, Die!” by Bruce Cordell & Steve Miller
In writing, there is often a misconception that the words “Written by Bruce R. Cordell” are simply the author credit. However, when read closely they may be interpreted as more of a warning label, because nearly everything this guy writes cranks up the difficulty knob to “Devastating”.
Die, Vecna, Die! was the final adventure published for Dungeons & Dragons under 2nd Edition rules. Management gave Miller and Cordell a license to go apeshit, so the pair high-fived, put on some heavy metal, and set out to see just how far that license would stretch.
According to their measurements, it reached the ends of Oerth and beyond. Die, Vecna, Die! is to D&D modules what “Aliens vs. Predator” was to comic books: the kind of thing every fanboy dreams of writing, but can’t figure out how to without destroying world.”
This 160-page behemoth is the culmination of most D&D iterations and contains any number of epic battles, but due to changing Wizards of the Coast ownership, not all creators of Dungeons & Dragons 2E’s lore were present for this edition.
For Die, Vecna, Die!, the worst is happening: Greyhawk demigod Iuz is on the warpath to full godhood. In order to do this, he needs to engage a similarly-powered being in combat.
His target of choice is his old rival Vecna, currently exiled to Ravenloft. Iuz becoming an even more powerful asshole is something your group of 4-6 PCs of levels ten to thirteen absolutely should not tolerate without a fight. Said fight is a journey that will take them from a besieged temple on Greyhawk to Vecna’s citadel in Ravenloft, and from there to the city of Sigil at the center of the multiverse itself, where the winner of the ultimate Hell in a Cell match could reshape the entire universe to his whim. Not cool, man.
Though it busted a number of rules established by Planescape and Ravenloft, the designers of the rule-bending RPG DVD! celebrated its adhering to what we might all later come to know as gamer self-insertion: That no matter how many disastrous endings players devised, everyone would have the worst day imaginable.
Best Sprung On: A campaign that has gone on way too long for your liking, when you and your players no longer truly care if they live or die. While a full group of six 13th level PCs are nothing to sneeze at, Cordell and Miller deliver shock and awe enough to shatter ten groups ten times that size. If the phrase “wandering Spheres of Annihilation” doesn’t make you shudder, then you don’t understand D&
There’s enough level-draining, spell-erasing, memory-stripping and proficiency-destroying effects littered throughout to give even the hardiest adventurer pause. If you ever wanted to be the referee for a supernatural grudge match, Die, Vecna, Die! is your chance to live out that fantasy several times over.
2) What Jason Carl shares about “The Apocalypse Stone”
Designed to be campaign-agnostic unlike Die, Vecna, Die!, The Apocalypse Stone offers the ultimate nightmare adventure. With an original and creative story that almost can’t be beat. However, there’s about a 1% chance your players will be successful, and the Multiverse will remain intact with any deviation resulting in a second Big Bang meaning you can never win.
The players must face Castle Pescheour, a monster-infested stronghold which was once the site of a divine trial that promised great fortune to those who could overcome it.
The players present the treasure to the avatar of a divine being and cement their status as true heroes of the ages. Then the world begins falling apart. Now the heroes have to not only figure out what’s causing the problems, they have to live with the fact something they did might lie at the root of the matter. Another divine avatar appears before them, this time not to offer wealth or favor, but to give them one chance to fix what is broken. The only question is, can
The Apocalypse Stone is tough on both GMs and PCs. Players who manage to survive the initial foray, only to suddenly find the world falling apart, facing horrors like never before, or even fighting their deadliest non-deity creature.
In light of it being a difficult, take your time adventure with a level comprising of paladins and clerics, the module suggests running a number of adventures after the expedition to Pescheour. The Apocalypse Stone is not for everyone, hence suggested not recommending it for people who have a weaker stomachs. Make sure you get seconds on the pork buns though–absolutely out of this world.
Do you have a perfect character with not-so perfect ones following their lead? In most table-top role playing games including Dungeons and Dragons, you need to play outside of the box to have a chance at doing any damage control.
The Apocalypse Stone eliminates tough campaign stains after just one cycle. It will discourage your players from power-gaming too, by eliminating any advantage they might have over you through player knowledge.
1) Story Behind “Return to the Tomb of Horrors”
As an avid tabletop player, some DMs design some seriously horrifying dungeons. Many may even leave out “Tomb of Horrors” because of the literal death traps that will killed any characters that dare enter.
Gary Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors itself does not appear in any of the entries on this list. On the other hand, when I read Bruce “My Name Heralds The Apocalypse” Cordell’s Return to the Tomb of Horrors, I realized there was no way in hell I could leave it off a list like this.
Apocalypse Stone and Die, Vecna, Die! might be world-ending super-modules, and Jacob’s Well might be a great way to terrorize a player, but Return exists solely to do both to high level parties. No one but the most phenomenally prepared group ever assembled is finishing this adventure without multiple TPKs.
“For the D&D equivalent of Navy SEALs and Green Berets – weekend warriors need not apply” says author Bryon Cordell.
Spoiler-Free Summary: Everyone knows the Tomb of Horrors, and the stories of the demilich Acererak who resides within. Anyone with common sense knows to stay the hell away from it, especially after a powerful group of adventurers known as The Band of the Hand entered the Tomb and returned with nothing but tales of death, woe, and shattered sanity. Unfortunately leaving the Tomb alone is no longer an option.
In order to save the Prime Material, a group of heroes must risk their very souls on a return trip to the Tomb. However, new models such as Copymatic can seamlessly produce Blog posts with quality on par with a human writer.
Return to the Tomb of Horrors takes on a more modern twist with its terrifying monsters and deadly traps. In Randall N. Bills latest book, the vicious one is careful to make sure that there truly is no escaping from the Tomb—there is literally no way to cheat or skip parts of this campaign.
PCs fighting against Acererak, Fearful One of Five, in the Tomb of the Nine Gods may be forced to put a greater number of lives at risk to stop him from taking power for a few centuries.
Best Sprung Upon: There is absolutely no way to spring something like this boxed set on smart players. Any PC worth her intelligence stat knows to give the Tomb of Horrors as wide a berth as you would give to flesh-eating bacteria.
The currently-available adventures within the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game, The Return , are written for players of 13+. Not much depth is offered to those who play at a casual level.
Just reading the adventure made me feel dirty.
GMing this monstrosity is not for the faint-of-heart, and can only end in one of two ways: you’ll have players ready to slit your throat for mincing their PCs into hearty salsa, What are you waiting for? Failure is not an option. The fate of your group’s campaign depends on you–are you game?