Who Is Acererak and What Is His History In Dungeons & Dragons
The Tomb of Annihilation is a villain unto itself, but I also talked to the D&D creators about its creator, the lich, Acererak.
Chris Perkins: Curse of Strahd was about ... Everything revolved around Strahd and the inevitable end game with him. With this story, Acererak sets things into motion and then kind of steps away and leaves you to face the true villain, which is the tomb. That's what you're up against. That's the major antagonist. However, you can encounter Acererak in this story. That's not to say he's just gone. He is present and you can actually confront him, which is fun, but you're right. In this story, he is really a catalyst and I think that's very in keeping with original Tomb of Horrors. In the original Tomb of Horrors, he lures adventurers to his tomb and watches with glee, sets all the traps in motion and just lets them die horribly. It's the tomb that you're up against. We wanted to preserve that element here.
Chris Perkins: In certain other appearances that he's had, he's been present or not present, but I think if you want to be true to the essence of Acererak, he's the guy who build the place that tries to kill you and then walks away. He's not just a boss monster. Honestly, when you're that powerful of a lich and your phylactery is in a place nobody can find, you can't really kill him anyway. He'll always come back.
Todd Kenreck: You mean, really you don't matter to him.
Chris Perkins: No, you don't. That's part of his personality is you are just soul energy to him. You're a Monster energy drink for Acererak.
Todd Kenreck: You don't talk to your Monster energy drink.
Chris Perkins: No. He has no emotional investment in your life. He's got no personal attachment to you. You are just a powerful adventurer whose arrogant thinks your hot shit and he is gonna put you down.
Todd Kenreck: Yeah. That sounds like a good time.
Chris Perkins: Yeah. He's a very, very different villain. I think one of the things that we try to do with each of our stories is either go back to a villain in the past who has some resonance with the community or try to come up with a villain who doesn't match any of the villains we've done in D&D before. That'll be our challenge going forward as well.
Matt Sernett: Part of what we wanted to do with pretty much everything in fifth edition, in the edition of Acererak, is say, let's look at this long history of all these things and let's find the best truth through all of these changes that happen to whatever it is, whether that's Acererak or the Owlbear or whatever, and try and find the best version of it to bring forward for the new audience of the game.
Todd Kenreck: He's had lots of weird iterations over the editions.
Chris Perkins: Yes. He's had a remarkable amount of canonical inconsistency has been introduced over the years.
Matt Sernett: It's weird because Acererak is really inconsistent in the lores, one of those elements where people clearly like the idea of Acererak and like the idea of Tomb of Horrors, but then came to Acererak with very different ideas of what they wanted to do with that character based up on their own personal experiences as opposed to knowing what the brand was doing as a whole. In one adventure, Acererak is just a human necromancer. In another one, he is a tiefling. In another one, he is actually a cambion. In another one, he has horns. In another one, he doesn't. There's all kinds of different depictions of Acererak based upon who was doing the writing at the time. The Tombs of Horrors is in first edition just like a hill. In fact, there's not even an entrance. You have to dig your way inside. In Return of Tomb of Horrors is like a whole necropolis and city with necromancers that have built up around this hill on a cult of Acererak and so on.
Matt Sernett: In later projects and products, things go wiffely waffely. There's one in the Against The Giants adventure fourth edition. You time travel back in time and meet Acererak when he is young and kill him along with his war forged bodyguards. Okay.