Saturday, December 5, 2015

Retro Review & Commentary On T1-4 The Temple Of Elemental Evil Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer For Advanced Dungeons And Dragons First Edition & Adapted Into The Astonishing Swordmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea Rpg System

Grab your sword, your brothers in arms, and come with me now to a time of legends as we go down to the temple, the Temple of Elemental Evil!

A sinister force, long thought destroyed, stirs from the black hole that spawned it. Like an ebony darkness it prowls the land and safety is but an illusion, for it watches from every shadow and ponders possibilities.
This module holds deep and dangerous memories for me, six year after the release of The Village of Hommlet we were led to this hell hole on Greyhawk. Total characters lost to this place another six 1st and 2nd level PC's. So personally I have strong feelings about this module.
I loved this adventure in the 80's and constantly used the Village of Homlet, Nulb and the Wild Coast Surrounds of Greyhawk all through the 90's.

Finally I've read through this one hundred & twenty eight page monster in two days and its been a pretty interesting ride to say the least. The Temple of Elemental Evil is a monster of a campaign written by by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer Its also one of the most polarizing modules I've ever run across, folks argue over it constantly.
This module of pulpy sword and sorcery goodness was created under the gaze of the Blume brothers watch at TSR in 1985. This was one of the modules released in the super format "The 128-page book was 2 to 4 times the size of any of TSR's adventures to date, and it also included a 16-page map book that a GM could use to easily cross-reference locations with details. The format would continue to be used in the years afterward for TSR's most prestigious adventure releases." according to the blurb from D&D Classic's website. Shrugs, basically Temple of Elemental Evil dove tails into Greyhawk adventure path, which continues in two more super modules, A1-4: Scourge of the Slave Lords (1986) and GDQ1-7: Queen of the Spiders (1986). This can be both a bane or boon to the dungeon master because it affectingly hamstrings the dungeon master into those paths unless you ignore them in mid campaign mode.

The module is considered by many to be one of the greatest Greyhawk adventures ever released and possibly one of the most fun.  Alright enough of the introduction stuff, so you know I've got experience with this bad boy and a bit of post player syndrome with this mega dungeon location in Greyhawk's history. In fact its got such a huge chunk of history that Wiki has one of the better break downs for it; "
The temple referenced in the module's title is an unholy structure located in the central Flanaess not far from the city-state of Verbobonc. In 566 CY, forces of evil from Dyvers or the Wild Coast constructed a small chapel outside the nearby village of Nulb. The chapel was quickly built into a stone temple from which bandits and evil humanoids began to operate with increasing frequency.
In 569 CY, a combined force was sent to destroy the Temple and put an end to the marauding. The army included regular forces from the human kingdoms of Furyondy and Veluna, dwarves from the Lortmil Mountains, gnomes from the Kron Hills, and elven archers and spearmen.
This allied army clashed with a horde of evil men and humanoids, including orcs, ogres and gnolls, at the Battle of Emridy Meadows. Men-at-arms from Furyondy and Veluna united with dwarves from the Lortmils, gnomes from the Kron Hills, and an army of elven archers to face the threat of the Horde of Elemental Evil, consisting largely of savage humanoids such as orcs, ogres, and gnolls. The arrival of the elves from the shadows of the Gnarley Forest turned the tide of battle, trapping the savage humanoids against a bend in the Velverdyva where they were routed and slaughtered.
After dispersing the Horde of Elemental Evil, the allied forces laid siege to the Temple of Elemental Evil itself, defeating it within a fortnight. Spellcasters loyal to the goodly army cooperated on a spell of sealing that bound the demoness Zuggtmoy (a major instigator in the Horde of Elemental Evil) to some of the deepest chambers in the castle's dungeons.
At some point in this battle, Serten, cleric of Saint Cuthbert and member of the Citadel of Eight, was slain. The Citadel was notable for its absence at this pivotal moment in the history of the Flanaess, and their failure to take part in the Battle of Emridy Meadows contributed to the group's decline and eventual disbandment.
The forces of good were victorious and the Horde of Elemental Evil was scattered. The Temple was then besieged and fell within two weeks, although a few of its leaders managed to escape.
The site itself remained, however, and over the following decade rumors of evil presence there persisted. The Viscount of Verbobonc and the Archcleric of Veluna became increasingly concerned, and cooperated to build a small castle outside the Village of Hommlet to guard against the possibility of the Temple rising again.
For the next five years, Hommlet gained in wealth thanks to adventurers who came to the area seeking out remnants of evil to slay. Things quieted down for another four years as the area returned to peace and normalcy, but in 578 CY evil began to stir again, with groups of bandits riding the roads. In 579 CY, the events in the T1-4 module occur." That's ton of history to throw into a campaign of your own design or Hyperborea or is it? Well over the years I've talked with friends about doing exactly this and the thought is to throw the temple inland in Hyperborea. The temple itself is a multi dimensional location. There are different versions of the village of Hommlet and because of the nature of the village's stats, this is easily accomplished.
There are three reasons to ccustomize the Temple of Elemental Evil :

  • There are factions that have lots of uses outside of the temple's setting and they're perfect foils for a sword and sorcery campaign. 
  • This is too good of a setting to leave moldering in the mists of time on a shelf and it begs to be played and modified for your own games
  • The Temple is a pivotal game adventure and can be used to enhance your own sword and sorcery games! Right now!  

Right off the bat there are several small side issues running this module, many of the high level 'good guy' NPC's aren't interested in helping the PC's. This kinda led to a bit of the Marvel Conan feel to running T1-4. The PC's are on their own and the powers of good are being dicks about the affair after all they can take care of the temple's evil and don't need the PC's help at all. Thieves take note about this. This adventure's dungeons can and will grind PC's into paste if they're not very, very careful.
Dungeon Master for Dummies listed The Temple of Elemental Evil as one of the ten best classic adventures, calling it "the grandfather of all huge dungeon crawls" and essentially it is. Lawrence Schick, in his 1991 book Heroic Worlds, says of The Temple of Elemental Evil, "If you like huge classic dungeon crawls, this is probably the best of the lot."  He and I rarely agree with one another but on this module I do agree with him.  As for the placement of the temple in a Dark Albion or dark mythic Europe for something like Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I would place the temple near the borders of France or Spain. The temple's evil in the past might have sparked the entire witchcraft panic of the thirteen and fourteen hundreds. The temple's dungeons are deep, abiding and very, very, dangerous for parties. Another thing is to make sure you use T1 the Village of Hommlet for a base for the PC's separate from T1-4. I'm sorry AD&D purists but that's my personal opinion.  T1-4 takes players PC's from levels one through eight but man that's a struggle and its meant to be. There has been talk among friends of using the Temple of Elemental Evil with Dungeon Crawl Classics but that's an entirely different blog post for another time.

Any campaign relies on the strengths of its NPC's and the archetypes that they represent, the Temple of Elemental Evil presents some very weird and twisted portraits of evil that should be brought to the forefront of running this mega adventure with a retroclone system such as AS&SH. The temple's cult should be encountered far and wide within the bounds of Hyperborea and should never be underestimated by PC's which is one of the problems should they actually make it through T1-4. Pull the cults out of Temple of Elemental Evil and flesh them out for your own version of said cults, make sure at least three different NPC's survive the events of the Temple to spread the evil and let it rise again.

Focusing on the dungeons themselves, I'm not going to go into too much details on the setting material and inner traps nor the methodoligy of the design of the dungeons of Elemental Evil. There are three simple reasons for this; one I have players who read this blog,two I don't really want to spoil any of the surprises in this mega module and three there's potential for lots of side adventures when it comes to Temple of Elemental Evil. That being said I'd like to take the time and whip around back to the moat house of Hommlet. This module's cults are not focused on the elements as you know them but the elements of Chaos and horror in equal measure. It illustrates how factions who hate each other came come together with a common goal in mind. Even coming from different directions of the same eight arrows of Chaos itself.

A big problem as I see with using this module with Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is the way that the monsters in AD&D first edition are portrayed as almost walk on monsters and they're dovetailed into the setting itself or is this really a problem? Well, if we look below the surface of the astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers game  then we see that the orcs and non humanoid races are tied into the forces of Chaos as well. To bring it back around a place like the Temple of Elemental Evil might actually be part of the source of such evil. Think about it for a second, in sword & sorcery books of the Thirties thru  Sixties and into the Eighties adventure settings were always the source of tainted evil. So is it true with the Temple of Elemental Evil itself. A place with that much history is like one big toxic waste dump of foulness in a campaign setting.

The Temple of Elemental Evil is as vital a mini campaign setting today as it was when it first hit the stands back in Eighty Five if you as a DM want it too be. There are going to be many,many detractors and naysayers but once again you are your own OSR. If you and your players are excited by the adventures that you are running at your table then your doing it right in my opinion. There are issues with T1-4 but its a fun adventure setting even if it marks a time of strife and a different direction for TSR back in the far forgotten days of yore. Ultimately this was and is one of the classics and one that you should give a whirl perhaps over the holidays.

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