I had envisioned him as a pre-Migrations arch-mage or cleric/m-u from a culture that was vaguely Babylonian in the Vast Swamp or Hepmonaland. Ziggurats, snakes, Tiamat, etc.
I've always been intrigued by the murals painted on the walls of entry hall, the hall of "colored spheres" and the chapel. As a player, I was certain they were hints to the history of Acererak and the tomb. But when I read the module, I realized a lot of that is left to the DM's imagination.
A lot of it has an Egyptian/Babylonian feel to it, with the asps, mummy, skeleton wielding curved swords, halls of semi-precious stone like lapis lazuli, malachite, serpentine, etc. At least that was my impression.
I think to read too much into what is Greyhawk in there might be too much.
In the context of the product S1, there are a bunch of factors to consider.
First, Trampier and Sutherland art are following the text comparing each to the other shows some variance for the same subjects. The hieroglyphs by both seem different.
Second, many of the elements were "not of this Oerth" and by Alan Lucien.
Third, the font of imagination in this adventure is all Gary's. We know that, its his style.
Now that said, if this module has Gary's style and its set in "World of Greyhawk", why doesn't it feel like it?
Here lies the mystery which has confounded me for some time but now it congealed in my mind and I now see it for what it is. The Tomb of Horrors is a real world analogy of something.
This is the "mad" Archmage in action. Not mad as in crazy but mad as in angry. Remember those Dragon Magazine articles where Gary would get up on his soapbox and talk about business trends in the field of games?
TOH was Avalon Hill. KABOOM!!!
Tomb of Horrors was presented at Avalon Hill's first Origins convention in 1975 and AH turned down Gary Gygax two years earlier. Gygax's description of TSR attending that event is sharp seeming at best. The history of Avalon Hill was that it was bought out by some moneylender who was not a wargamer in the 1960's.
You might say he was seen by wargamers as a userer hack.
Using this clever design you might also say he was found in a "lost and lonely hill" or perhaps conceived from the notion of a veiled, lone hill.
The new directions that he took the company made many ill-bred games (entrance mural - area 3) where the designers eked it out in a kind of undeath in a once good land (chapel of evil mural - area 14). One of these more notable ill-bred games was called SQUANDER which was a failed rip off of MONOPOLY. ( a central theme of TOH is squandering valuables). The busted 1973 deal to buy the D&D game for a mere sum (a great green devil - area 6) might have been concluded with insincere flattery followed by a warning regarding an inevitable future for the game (the mosaic floor pattern - area 3). With all this in mind there might also have been tales of how they treated their employees (area 25 - pillared throne room) with with rapid taking of their ideas and dismissal (area A), relegated to a non-design position (area B), no escape clause contracts (area C) and senior staff signing permanent non-disclosure agreements (area D).
Perhaps even the suggested locales for the tomb are based on a list of wargamers from the Great Kingdom map who were disappointed with Avalon Hill... The play at Origins had it at the Vast Swamp where the parties arrived in barges. Across the Chesapeake Bay from Origins/Avalon Hill in Baltimore is the Delmarva peninsula and the Great Cypress Swamp...
I don't know about all of that Avalon Hill stuff, but you are right in that if I go over the illustrations with a fine tooth comb I am likely wasting my time -- to an extent. Same goes with putting too much effort in linking it to the World of Greyhawk, especially due to the multiple suggested locations given, and the fact that this module came out when Greyhawk was still in early, formative stages.
So, all of that being said, all I can really do is read the module now and, assuming a place it in the Vast Swamp, and based on what I know about Greyhawk, say what my impressions are about Acererak.
I think that there is definitely an Egyptian/Middle Eastern vibe, there.
I always had the feeling that Tomb of Horrors was EGG's reaction to gamers saying, "Aw, D&D is too easy. Nothing can kill my character." And then EGG said "Oh yeah?" and adapted Lucien's dungeon to something he could pull out of his briefcase to smack people with. Or to instruct people with, as if to say, "You shouldn't just be able to bull your way through everything, you should have to think and try to figure things out, or DIE if you fail to, sometimes!"
I think what you're saying there about tougher for hard-nosed wargamers is true. I don't have the STRATEGIC REVIEW in front me but there was one of his industry rants about D&D being a new category (adventure) compared to war games.
You would think he would be of Flan origin. I always imaged that there was an advanced Flan culture that collapsed long before the migrations. I use Mesoamerican as the base, but you could probably throw in some Old Kingdom, Upper Egypt as well. Gary has made conflicting statements about the Flan. In To Forge a Fantasy World, he stated: "The Flan people, the aboriginal inahbitants of Oerik continent, were based loosely on a combination of Africans and North American Indians. The Oerid and Suel peoples were mainly drawn from the Indo-European models. The Bakluni "race" was meant to suggest the Asian, combining the Near East and Central Asia." In an En World thread he stated: "I can say that the Flan were not meant to be anything like the American Indians. they were of Hamatic-like racial origin, Negroes if you will. Little is known of them because they were generally absorbed into the waves of other peoples immigrating eastwards through the continent, so their culture was generally lost."
I don't know if its conflicting, I think it might be the setting of the forum answer. He was answering a messageboard post about Celtic and Native American and I think he meant to emphasize no Celtic.
Regardless there was definitely a case of mistaken identity with "rovers" for "Irish rover",
Flan went from assumed "Celtic" to definitely some kind of "Sub-Saharan" as time went on:
WORLD OF GREYHAWK (1980) The descriptions of Duchy of Tenh and the Rovers of the Barrens are as of the Flan race. No description of color but plenty of non-viking savagery that automatically assumes Celts (Northern, lances, javelins, short bows, ropes, greatest leaders given nominal titles, etc).
DRAGON #51 (AUG 1981)
- Flannae: The Flannae have bronze-colored skin. Although some are more coppery, numbers of them are very dark bronze (deep brown). Eye color tends to brown or black, although some have a pale amber eye coloration. Hair tends to be dark brown or black.[/blockquote]
DRAGON #55 (NOV 1981)- page 18
Flannae: The Flan race have bronze-colored complexion. This varies from a lighter, almost copper shade to a very dark tone which is deepest brown. Eye color is commonly dark brown, black, brown, or amber (in declining order of occurrence). Hair coloration is black, brown-black, dark brown, or brown. Also, Flannae tend to have wavy or curly hair. The Duchy of Tenh are pure Flan, proud of their bronze color. Geoff and Sterich, despite mixture, show strong Flan racial influence. The Rovers of the Barrens are of the copper-toned sort of Flannae, although the western tribes show the golden skin color of the Baklunish due to interbreeding with the Wolf Nomad tribes. The people of the Hold of Stone Fist and the citizens of the Theocracy of the Pale are primarily hybrids, the former Flan/Suel, the latter Flan/Oeridian. The inhabitants of the Pale are particularly handsome.[/blockquote]
WORLD OF GREYHAWK BOXED SET (1983) repeats the version from #55 word for word.
So what does this have to do with Tomb of Horrors? Does he seem like he's some early Flan? Worshipping Tharizdun? In the context of "in the world" thinking, he might just be completely out of all the cultural loops and is an anomaly from some kind of pre-migration colony for all we know from anywhere.
I go with Flan primarily because I date him much earlier than the migrations. It's easy to imagine a reason a wizard that powerful from any group would end up building his tomb there, but I go with Flan. A Flan wizard that rose to power during a long forgotten Flan civilization.
I tend to think that the Flan tribes in the Flanaess were rather primitive, at least magically. With so many greater gods in their pantheon and their ties to druidic cults I've always viewed them as more religious than magically studious. I also don't consider Acererak to have been any run-of-the-mill lich. IMO he was quite potent and since he seems to have been among the oldest liches (being old enough to transform into a demi-lich) it doesn't sound like he grew out of the Flan as I envision them.
IMO it is better for him to have come from somewhere else and then ended up being worshipped by the Flan. Where he is from? No idea, not really important to my campaign. The beyond perhaps? The suel, if you like, or perhaps the last mage of yet another lost civilization that inhabited the Flanaess.