So last night I put my focus on the excellent Beyond The Black Gate Blog's
Sword & Sorcery Greyhawk entries from 2010. If you haven't read those I would strongly suggest you do. They really do refocus the classic Greyhawk campaign setting into a viable sword & sorcery setting perfect for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. But reading through them got me thinking about the original Tomb of Horrors adventure (1978) by Gary Gygax. Now over the last couple of days I've been rereading a lot of Clark Ashton Smith & turning over in my mind how S1 is put together. Where its placement is and its form and function. This relates to my sword & sorcery version of Greyhawk which doesn't have quite the same style as Beyond The Black Gate's S&S setting because of its relationship with AS&SH.
I've been putting a lot of thought into Acererak the power behind S1 Tomb of Horrors, I've reviewed & made another commentary about S1 a while back.No I've been thinking about Acererak's rise to power & what function the Tomb of Horrors might have on the greater world around it. What got me thinking about this was reading through Wiki on Greyhawk characters;"Acererak first appears in the original Tomb of Horrors adventure (1978) by Gary Gygax as the main adversary. One of the areas in the Tomb is a "Chapel of Evil", described as "obviously some form of temple area - there are scenes of normal life painted on the walls, but the people have rotting flesh, skeletal hands, worms eating them, etc.":5 The adventure described him as "a human magic-user/cleric of surpassing evil" who took the steps necessary to preserve his life force as the lich, Acererak." Now supposedly he was/is a half fiend which fits the Howard ideals for villains. So going on that could the Tomb actually be a celebrated right of passage for warriors,adventurers, & kings that have come to a cross roads in their careers or reigns? There might be a bit of the Aztec mythology about it.
Imagine if you will that the Tomb of Horrors is part of a world religion whose form and function is to keep the 'universe' moving. Occasionally it needs the blood of kings & idiots to keep the machinery oiled. Acererak the Devourer is described as a cambion which makes the traps, tricks, etc. all part of the torture & torment of those who enter the Tomb as a part of the machinery of the place. All of this might be part of a grand event where the souls of those who enter are used to keep life moving. Entire economies & infrastructure could be built around this sort of step up. The tomb might not be isolated at all but used as a part of state instituted religion ala some of the set up we've seen in various Robert Howard Conan stories. This could explain who resets the traps, why their maintained,etc. " The player characters must battle their way past a variety of monsters and traps, with the ultimate goal of destroying Acererak." But why?!? Could Acererak the Devourer actually be a sacred king whose a symbolic figure head who for the last eight hundred years has been a title given to various victims?Those who become the next victim of the demi lich's religion? Could the PC's actually be the ones to replace the demi lich as the next rex Nemorensis? Could the soul of the hero or last man standing be the fuel for the spirit of the demi lich? Yeah, I think so. It puts a whole different spin on the proceedings as only the most cunning, dangerous, and intelligent might be able to navigate all those tricks and traps. Acererak the Devourer might be a "dying and reviving god" whose inner mysteries actually depend upon adventurers,outlaw,& kings being stupid enough to navigate his creation. Given the number of rulers in history whose egos would trap them this sort of an event. S1 would have a waiting list a mile long. In fact this whole thing could act as the center lynch pin for an entire campaign. High level PC's making the journey to the tomb to take on its demi lich ruler for the 'ultimate' prize.
This is a guy whose got eternity to play with so not only can he expand upon his tomb but he's got plenty of time to expand upon his bloodlines, family position, and even role out monsters to guard his domains. So what does all this mean to Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea? Well two possible things, the Tomb & is environs might be a part of one of the far flung outer regions say along the rim of Diamond Desert making Acererak the Devourer an ancient Hyperborean ruler before the Green Death. Or more interesting the invitation to S1 is announced each year as a part of a festival in which only the bravest (stupidist) rulers are given passage through one of the Borea gates into Greyhawk where S1 The Tomb of Horrors awaits them.