Some say that it lies at an eternal horizon, a never-reachable site that forever recedes to the edge of the world. Others claim that it lies in a gap between planes—perhaps the dead space between the positive and negative material planes, the same purgatory between life and death with which its occupants would only be too comfortable. And still others insist that the Tomb of Horrors doesn’t exist at all, that it’s only a figment of imagination born of a collective fear—after all, were it real, the dark terrors of their own nightmares would cease to be only dreams.
The lore of the tomb is rare, for few have knowledge of it, and of those none will speak of it willingly. The elves of Imilith, in the West, and Nareth Namerilli in the Northwest, have the greatest knowledge of the tomb, but they no longer permit Men into their kingdoms, having withdrawn from the world after they mistakenly taught humanity—a young, headstrong race—magic. To the South, in the confederate kingdom of Orarin, warring city-states are too preoccupied with political advantage to concern themselves with a legend that has now passed into myth. And the dwarves, holed up in the Eastern peaks of Din’hae Zaras, have no interest in the esoteric and the arcane.
By a struggle, though, some have come to learn of the existence of the tomb, and of the terrible legend behind it. In the age before all races, the time before time, dragons fashioned the world from the union of the four elements. They then created the races of the world: men, from fire; dwarves, from earth; and elves, from air and water. Elves, being uniquely borne of two elements, were taught the secrets of the forces of creation, what has since come to be called magic. But the elves were too trusting with this knowledge, and taught Men the intricate sorceries of their power. Humanity was not ready to wield such responsibility, for the fire that created them burns hot and dies soon. Tensions brewed, and conflicts erupted, growing into war.
One man, whose name has been lost to the passing of time, sought greater power than all of his fellows. He believed the magics taught him by the elves were mere intermediaries to the true power afforded by directly wielding creation—he as such desired the ascension to immortality and god-dom. Through dark rituals now forgotten, he bound his life energy to a material object, and when he died—some believe through suicide—he was reborn as a lich, a powerful, magical undead. He fashioned himself a new name from the Old Tongue: Acererak—“devourer of souls”.
Acererak bred an army of horrible undead servitors, and when he perceived himself strong enough, entered the Negative Material Plane—the realm of death and the god of the dead. Acererak marched on the City of Skulls and the Palace of the Dead, and in a magical duel that forever altered the course of history, slew the god of the dead and took his place. Yet fortune, ever fickle, was unkind to Acererak, and the power of his corporeal form waned. His body disintegrated, and a demon lord called the King of Ravens usurped the role Acererak himself had stolen, banishing Acererak’s soul back to the Material Plane. He believed Acererak destroyed. But the fallen god-lich’s power, so tightly bound to creation magic itself, could not be undone.
On the Mateiral Plane, Acererak’s servants labored for decades to construct the Tomb of Horrors, where Acererak—who had lost the power of his godhood but whose unlife had preserved his soul, transforming him into a demi-lich—would bide his time. They placed Acererak’s only unharmed physical remnant—no one knows which part—inside the tomb, while Acererak’s soul wandered far planes unknown to even the wisest sages. There, he seeks the power that will allow him to manifest a new body and return once again to the Negative Plane, to challenge the Raven King for the godhood over death that he believes to be rightfully his.
The tomb lay quiet for centuries, for ages, as time passed and civilizations rose and fell. Eventually it fell out of the awareness of all except those devoted to the early cosmic history of the world. But now, something is stirring inside the tomb. There has been a…change, which none can yet fathom, but which has called the champions of good toward the tomb.
A few have answered the call, though they do not know what power or motive compels them besides the twists of fate. Some have come out of arrogance, to test their strength against the fabled power of the demi-lich who still wards his final haunt. Others have come out of greed, for the promise of magical treasure deep within the tomb. Still others have been sent by the Holy Powers of the world, the gods of justice, righteousness, and protection—for they know that Acererak must not be allowed to return. And some who have come to face the tomb do not yet know why they have answered the world’s call, a call known only to them.
Yet come they have, as have legions of dead heroes before them. There is no turning back for these heroes, for there is no hope. They have found the Tomb of Horrors. And they have found their certain deaths.