The Temple of Elemental Evil
Author: Gary Gygax with Frank Mentzer
Company/Publisher: TSR, Inc.
Line: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
Cost: $15.00 (cover price; now out of print)
Page count: 128 pages, perfect-bound, plus 16-page map booklet.
Capsule Review by Christopher Page on 10/11/99.
Genre tags: Fantasy
Some of you are probably wondering what the joke here is. After all, this is an out of print 1st Edition AD&D module that typically goes for $30 or more used, when it can be found at all. What's the point of doing a review?
Several reasons. The differences between first and second edition AD&D are not great, which makes old 1st Ed material useful to a GM who doesn't mind making a few minor alterations. More importantly, the high price some of this material carries means that not everyone can just buy it all and use what they like; if you're looking for campaign material, rather than "collector's items", knowing what to skip can save you a bunch of money. In other cases, really good and useful material is now dirt cheap, and many people simply don't know about it or aren't willing to take risks. Hence, I intend to review particularly good, or bad, pieces in the hope of pointing people toward or away from them. If you just want the short version, this is one of the good pieces, and is worth getting if you can at all afford it; for more details, read on.
The Temple of Elemental Evil (hereafter 'the Temple') holds the distinction of being perhaps the most long-awaited adventure ever published by TSR. About half a dozen years passed between the publication of T1 The Village of Hommlett, which promised the Temple as a sequel, and the actual arrival of T1-4. The compilation subsumes the contents of T1, so it's unnecessary to own both. It also contains a great deal of material not found in T1 and not available in any other form, making it perhaps the most desirable of the 'supermodules' (A1-4, GDQ1-7, I3-5, S1-4, T1-4). It is billed as an adventure for levels 1-8, but actual play suggests that a group capable of completing the entire module will be closer to the 11th level range by the time they do so. If you want to run either A1-4 or GDQ1-7 as a sequel, you'll probably want to think about eliminating the nodes at least and probably the Greater Temple as well.
If you can find a copy in good shape, the Temple is a handsome piece, with a lovely, atmospheric cover painting by Keith Parkinson, and a somewhat plain but clear and comprehensible layout. Interior art is a bit sparse and varies a lot in quality; this is not a product with a lot of space to waste, even at 128 pages. If you're buying a copy out of shrink -- virtually the only way you will find one -- be absolutely certain you get the map booklet; the module is almost useless without it, except as a source of vague and general ideas. There's a handy flap inside the back cover where the booklet's often tucked.
T1-4 is, of course, set in Greyhawk, although it's not Greyhawk-branded. This is perhaps unfortunate, since it is tied fairly firmly to the world and can't really be just dropped in elsewhere. Although Hommlett, Nulb, etc., are fairly out of the way and are not important population centers, some of the important elements of the module (the Iuz - St. Cuthbert conflict, the presence of Prince Thrommel, etc.) are strongly Greyhawk-flavored. None of this is outside the ability of a competent DM to rework, but be aware that you may need to do some shoehorning if your players expect a consistent and logical campaign world that isn't Greyhawk.
There are five main parts to the adventure; the village of Hommlett itself, intended as a home base for characters; the ruins of the moathouse nearby, which serves as the introductory adventure; the neighboring village of Nulb; the Temple itself and the associated dungeons; and the elemental nodes to which the Temple is linked. Some require more work on the GM's part than others to be playable (Hommlett in particular, as some reviewers have noted, is sparse in terms of minor details like names and such). Otherwise, Hommlett is a reasonably complete place for low to mid-level adventurers to hang their hats, complete with a handy wizard to trade spells with and buy potions from. High-level clerical services are not provided here, though, or indeed anywhere else in the module, so a GM who wants to have such magics available will need to detail an appropriate source (perhaps in Verbobonc, the nearest major city).
The moathouse is an acceptable introductory adventure area, not particularly innovative but adequate for its purpose. The main villain, Lareth, is a bit of a puzzler; he is built up as a great hope for Chaotic Evil and the Temple in general, but there is almost no reference to him and his role in the actual Temple scheme of things in the rest of the module. Clues that something is going on in the supposedly abandoned Temple are provided, so linking the two adventures is not difficult (although the GM may need to provide some kind of helpful pointers for particularly obtuse groups, as there is no direct railroading).
Nulb, the riverside community near the Temple ruins, is a distinctly unpleasant place. It makes a nice counterpoint to the peaceful and pleasant Hommlett, and if your players like to wallow in medievalesque grime, they'll appreciate the place. A nice touch is that several Temple factions, and several anti-Temple factions, have agents in Nulb who can conceivably be rooted out and questioned; but otherwise the place is not very necessary. It could be collapsed with Hommlett without much loss, especially given the sparse details on the place (less than half a dozen numbered areas), although it serves as a nice way to shift the mood of the adventure between the village and the dungeon.
The real heart of T1-4, of course, is the Temple itself. Counting the nodes and the ground level, it amounts to nine sizeable levels of varied and lethal content. Descriptions are quite complete, with major Temple leaders given brief bios to summarize their positions toward each other. It is made very clear that, while techically united, most of the lesser Temple priests hate each other thoroughly, and a clever party can make use of this. Partly due to this, however, the adventure virtually demands a thoughtful and evenhanded DM who can mediate the actions of the various temples against one another when the players are not present (or after one or more of the Lesser Temples has been wiped out, leaving a power vacuum).
In terms of dungeon design, the Temple is relatively standard. The layout is not particularly original or groundbreaking, but neither is it illogical or obviously flawed. There are no brilliant and vicious traps that will make the reader pause simply to admire them; just an ordinary, workmanlike underground temple complex with an intelligently conceived defensive layout and a reasonable (if not inarguable) monster and treasure distribution. In terms of strict realism, this is one of the better-thought-out AD&D modules; it does not require heavy magical shoehorning or incredibly stupid decisions on the part of its enemies to continue existing.
The gradual increase in lethality in the module design is also worthy of note. The threats presented to the players gradually escalate, from the completely isolated moathouse, to the largely isolated bandit camp, and so on down to the lowest dungeon level, which is both unified and well-guarded. It is not clear whether this was intentional or not, but it does serve a thoughtful player group very well as a primer on successful AD&D tactics -- each new level adds a new wrinkle to be taken into account. Indeed, the module points out that it is not likely -- though possible -- for a direct frontal assault to succeed. The Temple seems like it would therefore be an excellent way to introduce players to the AD&D game...as long as said players are smart, sensible, and cautious. Inexperienced groups who are none of these things are in for a brief adventure.
The module closes with stats for the key villains, Iuz and Zuggtmoy, along with the former's long-time enemy St. Cuthbert. There's a table of Greyhawk gods (reprinted from the Greyhawk box set, but handy if you don't have that and weren't expecting a Greyhawk adventure), a couple of new monsters, and a spate of new magic items, some quite powerful and useful.
In many ways, T1-4 represents the height of 1st Edition Gygaxian adventure design. It is clearly a dungeon crawl first and foremost: a big one, a nicely done one, but a dungeon crawl nonetheless. It is focused on adventure, not on roleplaying, and while there are enough clues for a skilled DM to produce the latter, there are no detailed NPCs, no set-piece 'scenes', no real emphasis whatsoever on the roleplaying aspect of the game. If this is the sort of thing you like, you'll love the Temple. If you can swing the roleplaying aspect on the basis of the few notes provided, you'll like it. By modern standards, it has flaws; but judged on its own merits, it is one of the very best AD&D adventures there is.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)