I'm hoping to run a 5th Edition version of the original S1 Tomb of Horrors very soon for my group, as a break from our larger 4E campaign. The problem is, I only have the Basic Rules and the playtest stuff for 5E, and the AD&D ToH module. What adjustments do I need to make to fit it with the new rules? I want to keep things as deadly as the original.
Quickly, I thought that my DM wrote this question, because we were in that exact same scenario. What helped us was:
The experienced players knew the material, and each took a pupil to help guide the new players. We're still having trouble actually "roleplaying" as a group. Most still treat it as a series of battles and not as an interactive story. We're getting better as a group, but be prepared for inexperienced players to decide that all they want to do is kill things. An overwhelming battle is a good idea for this. Make them need to retreat/consider not engaging.
Our DM used the total number of players as the guideline for us. Instead of 6 orcs, there were four orcs and two ogres. Instead of a group of skeletons, there were two wights and a high level mummy. Some caused problems, some didn't, but it was all fun.
Never underestimate the power of deus ex machina. An inexperienced DM can overwhelm his party. He can also use deus ex machina to solve the problem he created. For instance, we are a group of 6 (2 experienced players), and we had an encounter suitable for 8 characters. When it was clear we were in trouble (it was our 3rd/4th encounter), the DM used his god-like powers to help us out. We were near a town, and townspeople "witnessed our heroics and were inspired to help us" and took some flanking positions near some of the weaker enemies. This allowed our healer to retreat and heal the two tanks, and the rogue and ninja to clear out using sneak attacks. I think one villagers did 2 damage with a pitchfork. The damage wasn't the important part, but the attacks weren't centered on as many of the party, and the flanking helped with extra damage/increased attack rolls.
Just remember to think of creative solutions to problems that you will create, even just by mistake. In a dungeon, perhaps a trap springs and hits an enemy, rendering him unconscious for 5 rounds. Thing like this will allow the newbies to learn combat, and you can phase out the deus ex as you learn to better estimate your players skills and knowledge of the game.
Tomb of Horrors appears to be the odd one out in terms of published adventures, originally designed very specifically as a challenge to his own group.
Gary Gygax himself said "There were several very expert players in my campaign, and this was meant as yet another challenge to their skill—and the persistence of their theretofore-invincible characters" The cover of the original ToH also states it was designed for tournament play, which indicates a far more competitive requirement than a normal adventure module.
I'd very much suggest comparing ToH to the style of, say, Temple of Elemental Evil which has much more of a balance with narrative and roleplay aspects when you read through it.
One thing to bear in mind is that his "style" was likely that of any good DM - to constantly adapt his style to fit the situation at hand. Given players that defeated everything he placed in their way with relative ease, he ramped up the difficulty. That doesn't mean he'd necessarily throw that level of difficulty at a different group. Any good adventure should be designed with a specific aim in mind, and a good author will tailor their work to that aim, rather than their personal gaming style.
This kind of approach can be seen in passages from the AD&D 1E Dungeon Master's Guide, such as "The testing grounds for novice adventurers must be kept to a difficulty factor which encourages rather than discourages players", and "If things are too easy, then there is no challenge, and boredom sets in after one or two games" - to me, that pretty much reads as "be a tough DM when your group needs one" and it seems he felt his group needed one. On the RP side, he clearly states "Place regular people, some 'different' and unusual types, and a few non-player characters (NPCs) in the various dwellings and places of business. Note vital information particular to each" and "When they arrive, you will be ready to take on the persona of the settlement as a whole, as well as that of each individual therein" so I'm pretty certain he didn't feel RP was something to be ignored.
Any quotes from players in his games should be taken with a pinch of salt, as they're undoubtedly going to apply to how he played with that particular group.
tl;dr: His style appears to have been to present the game that would best entertain and engage his players, rather than to play the game "his way".
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