A farewell to Returns to the Temple of Elemental Evil

Last month was a milestone for my AD&D gaming group, as they defeated my latest version of the TSR classic supermodule, Temple of Elemental Evil. It’s the second time I’ve run the module and the first time my players have completed it ‘successfully’, which I judge as destroying the evil artefact, defeating the imprisoned demon lord, and making off with a heap of treasure. Two  of the triumphant PCs (human magic-user and dwarf cleric/thief) had come a long way from their generation as first level characters (for 1st time AD&D players) at the beginning of the campaign. Those less fortunate had perished, some less confident about their chances had retired, and of course other adventurers joined along the way. This ToEE lasted 2 years of game time. The module is far from perfect but you can get a hell of a lot of mileage out of it. 2 settlements, a starter dungeon, a 4-level megadungeon, planar travel, minor deities, and a host of NPCs and interesting items. For me, it’s a great foundation for a mini-setting. I never used Greyhawk used the Temple to springboard my own world-building, adding additional locations, NPCs and side-quests, more or less confident that the mystery of the Temple and its multiple levels would keep the players focus on the started area and get them invested in the world while I fleshed out it’s surroundings. It’s a bonus that the module was designed to provide enough treasure and enemies to level a party to around the 8th level, a perfect time for them to leave the dungeon and venture out into the wilderness to carve out territory for their strongholds, as encouraged by Gygax in the 1e core books.

I first ran ToEE more or less BTB, but the PCs never ventured into the nodes or the secret level. Once they had beaten the evil cult leaders and recovered the Golden Skull, it seemed enough to them that the thing should be removed far from its missing gems, and they pursued other interests that eventually took them to distant lands, never to return to Hommlet or its environs.  For my second ToEE campaign, aware that one of my players had played through the module many years ago, and that others owned the 3e-based videogame, Many events from the first campaign were incorporated as legacy elements in the new one, I added more background and locations, and replaced some of the original ‘surprises’ (illusionary vampire/paladin, Zuggytmoy, shopkeeper assassins), and re-fitted the lower levels with more demonic and elemental elements, replacing the nodes with side-adventures into the elemental planes themselves. This made the module harder than by the book, but with the additional resources from their sidequests, my current group of players still have the honour of ‘beating’ the Temple. Well before this part of the campaign was over, I was halfway through a 3rd revamping of the Temple for a future group, and I realised it was becoming very much its own beast, very different from the pages of T1-4, and perhaps it was time to cut the cord that tied it to the original.

Now as the AD&D campaign progresses, I’ve become more and more tempted after much perusal of the Basic/Expert Ruleset kindly gifted to me by one of the players (he found the English boxed set in a German flea market) to move further away from BTB and do some streamlining in a B/X direction. I’m very keen to give (Advanced) Labyrinth Lord a try, especially with how its character creation/progression and attribute bonuses appear to me to combine the best elements of Basic and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve got a serious itch to start new campaigns with LL rules (at least for players, even if they have the LL pdfs I can still pull surprises out of my 1e rulebooks), but it’s also time to say goodbye to Temple of Elemental Evil  to make room for more low-level adventuring locations. Version 3 might come into play some years on, but for now, I’d just like to pay tribute to the classic module and the great players who’ve braved its darkness, with a record of memories from my Temple campaigns.

Round 1

New party’s first encounter is with the comely face of a widow who hails them from the window of her house. Unsure of how to respond to this, the party falls into confusion and discussion- 15 minutes later, one of them formulates a response, but she is long gone. It’s an easy nerd gag, but there were few monster encounters in the following adventures that terrified the PCs more than talking to an attractive woman.

My last post on romance in the game world references this campaign, in which a PC won the heart of Elmo the uber-henchman and formed a relationship which persists in sucessive campaigns and game worlds, and a random comeliness roll for an NPC sparked a dangerous rivalry between two players.

The short but memorable career of Tuk, an Unearthed Arcana style barbarian, strong of body and short of patience. Tuk’s player took the barb’s suspicion of magic very seriously, and at one point discovered a reasonably powerful magic weapon early on the game, only to keep its existence a secret from the party. But his distrust of magic would be somewhat justified on the first dungeon level of the Temple, as he was fatally struck by a javelin of lightning. The party raised him after quite a hefty donation to the church of St. Cuthbert, but convinced him that he had only been stunned by the bolt, knowing full well that Tuk would rather die a thousand deaths than owe his life to vile magic. It would take the most mighty of magics to bring this barbarian to his end, however, as, upon drawing what must be the most unlucky hand possible from the Deck of Many Things, his soul was ripped from his body and cast into the void, while his body banished to a donjon somewhere in the Nine Hells. Tuk’s spirit (bound to a magic weapon), and his body (occupied by a new spirit), have since been encountered by adventurers in separate campaign worlds.

Squid, the amoral thief who made himself rather unpopular in Hommlet after trying to pick too many pockets at the Inn of the Welcome Wench, in particular that of fellow thief Furnok of Furd. He didn’t even make many friends among his own party members, fleeing a crucial battle and refusing to stick around to stabilise his allies when they were downed and critically wounded. The cowardly crook eventually made his home in the pirate town of Nulb, which was more tolerant of a man of his disposition, even shacking up with a local girl there. Squid had a strange approach to overcoming his fears, getting a tattoo of every monsters that had ever seriously injured him. A large grotesque rendition of a giant tick was his favourite piece. A colourful character in life, he was undistinguished in death. I can’t even remember what killed him.

Round 2

Players tackle the moathouse ghoul crypts by pouring oil down the well, throwing down corpses to lure the ghouls and then setting the crypts ablaze. A fantastic way to neutralise a terrifying low-level encounter.

One side adventure had the PCs sneaking into a wizard tower to rescue a hostage, they were discovered and in the eventual bloodbath everyone involved was dead, or dying or unconscious save for Xariarch, the party’s magic-user, and the evil NPC wizard. Both magic-users had exhausted their spells, so they would either have to come to terms or blows. The evil sorcerer had an ace up his sleeve in the form of an imp familiar, but the PC mage was possessed of a +2 dagger and more than his fair share of luck, and so the final round of the battle, two nerdy academics in star-spangled dresses grappled, punched, and stabbed each other until Xariarch came out victorious in his first hand-to-hand duel. He was as proud of this as any of his magical accomplishments, and there was much lamentation from his player when, later in the campaign, his dagger was melted by the energy attack of a Xag-Ya.

The presence of a pair of orcish prisoners in the Temple dungeons was used as an introduction for 2 new PCs, both half-orcs. One, a fighter-assassin named Gnolltwister, the other a strong bruiser of a fighter named Thuragh. Gnolltwister had a brief career which saw the beginnings of a sinister plan to murder prominent good NPCs in the area, but he was cut short by a bad draw on the Deck of Many Things. Thuragh, however, survived and became the party’s main melee fighter, and has been much changed by his life among humankind, having converted to good alignment and worship of the Norse gods, he adventures on in the Land of Ice and Fire.

Since Thuragh recruited another half-orc fighter henchman and the party has also hired a semi-retired former PC half-orc to adventure with them, it seems to me that this game is almost lousy with half-orcs, despite having very few orcs appear in play. Unusual as it is, this suits me fine, since I think half-orcs need some love. Murnol Rapak, a Lawful Good dervish-inspired warrior-priest of a Mesopotamian fire god, initially sought the destruction of the ‘heretics’ of the fire elemental temple, now seeks to revive the faith of Girru, his mostly forgotten and obscure deity.

Divine backing was provided by Aygarr Grimdeep, a cleric/thief, follower of Vergedain, god of luck and wealth. A fantastic patron deity for a party of old school adventurers, as the acquisition of wealth was sacred in itself to his faith. His greed often landed the party in trouble, however, as he strictly opposed spending money or gems to bargain with monsters or hire henchmen. At one point he even used a wish spell granted by a Talisman of Zagyg to wish for a chamber full of gold back in his ancestral home, a place that has yet to feature in the campaign. Late into the campaign he used a gate scroll so summon Straasha, Lord of Water Elementals (Elric mythos in Deities and Demigods), to aid in a battle, and earned the favour of the elemental prince by having the consideration to cast a humble cure light wounds on the powerful entity’s manifestation.

Fiona, the first transgender character I’ve seen in a D&D game not under some kind of curse, is one of the long term characters who survived the Temple. A female dwarf trapped in biologically male body, she struggles to express her femininity while indulging her rather unladylike appetite for bloodshed and mayhem. Is supremely excited whenever the opportunity to loot perfumes, unguents and fabrics present themselves, although she is not particularly skilled in their application. Despite her female identification, Fiona is a sucker for a hot babe, and has more than once come out a few levels short due to unfortunate encounters with succubi and sexy vampires.

My version of the 3rd level of the Temple had a succubus inside a secret room, disguised as a ‘sleeping beauty’ lady that could be awakened from her curse by a kiss. She weakened the PCs before gating in a type IV demon which chased them out of the dungeon. Then she escaped to the surface to plague the party as a subtle but vicious recurring antagonist. Cynthia the succubus played many dirty tricks on the players via impersonation, manipulating NPCs against them, picking on their henchmen or allies when the main characters were on an expedition or sabotaging their efforts from a distance. But she wasn’t afraid to get up close and personal. My girlfriend, who was trying D&D for the first time, had her half-elf wake up while Cynthia was riding her during the night (which would have resulted in level drain). She didn’t quite realise the peril of the situation enough to put up much of a fight but fortunate intervention from the other PCs saved her soul. Cynthia was eventually vanquished from this plane while attempting to disrupt a ritual to banish a demon lord who had been imprisoned in the temple. At first it seemed like she had charmed the key players into giving her control of the greater, but then she was entangled by a critical hit from a harpoon thrown by Thuragh, and dragged to the ground. The chamber they were in was enchanted to prevent extradimensional travel, so she could not escape easily. To add insult to injury, Xariarch the mage had managed to charm her at the last minute. While some considered that a bound, charmed succubus would be worth taking home to enjoy with the rest of the treasure, Fiona cut the poor demonette down in a bezerk fury, claiming vengeance for those treacherous kisses.

Thanks for the memories, ToEE, of which these are just a few. Thanks for spawning the ever-changing evil temple megadungeon in my mind. It might never become ‘perfect’ but many adventurers will have a great time playing through its evolution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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