Recently, I ran the Tomb of Horrors for a handful of friends. They had a blast, and repeatedly said so. For what it’s worth, Tales from the Yawning Portal hadn’t come out yet, so I used a 5th Edition conversion I found online, combined with the original module.
In pitching the Tomb to the players, I explained that it was very deadly, and that the first characters they threw at the Tomb were unlikely to survive. I further told them that I’d provide pre-gens. I then went online and printed off 30 pre-generated level 10 D&D 5E character sheets from Digital Dungeon Master.
This was the secret: use a bundle of pre-generated characters.
The players arrived, grabbed random character sheets, and spent a minute glancing them over. Then I jumped into the module.
The players began investigating, and soon triggered a tunnel collapse. The first character death came as a surprise, then they grabbed another character sheet and I could see the realization dawn on their faces: I matter more than my character.
We spent two sessions getting through the Tomb, and to give you an idea of how much fun they were having, after the first session the players came to me to schedule the second. I skipped a couple of rooms for time, and one that was just a little too silly and complex for me to run (multiple secret doors in a row, for those familiar with the module).
The players turned into investigation machines. The character became a tool, a thing to inhabit because it’s useful and fun. Sure, you wanted your character to survive, but character death lost its horror.
And that, to me, is the biggest reason to run the Tomb. It teaches players that their characters don’t have to be carefully considered, multi-dimensional characters with complex backstories. It teaches them what it feels like to lose a character, in a context where doing so is expected. It allows their characters to die, and realize that’s okay, because it’s fiction and death happens. And death isn’t scary in a tabletop game because there’s always another character.