Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: The Temple of Elemental Evil

Caution: Spoilers (both of the novel and the modules it's based on).

Today's bit of Greyhawkiana is the novel The Temple of Elemental Evil, by Thomas M. Reid. Mr. Reid is probably much better known for his novels set in the Forgotten Realms, but this novel, published in 2001, is his first written for TSR before he moved on to the FR.

This novel hews pretty closely to the original classic adventure module written by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer and published by TSR. A party of adventurers is summoned to the village of Hommlet by the powers-that-be to explore the happenings at the supposedly-abandoned nearby Elemental Temple. The village is attacked by brigands before the expedition can begin, but they soon make their way to the Moat House. I thought that their being attacked by the famous giant frogs near the entrance to the Moat House was a nice touch, and the use of some Temple spies first encountered in Hommlet, who then later pose as fellow explorers of the Moat House was pretty well done.

Lareth, I thought, was under-utilized. Having failed to keep the Moat House safe from the intruders, he hies himself back to the Temple, only to be tortured and maimed by the high priest thereof, Hedrack. Now no longer "the beautiful", Lareth is sent to destroy the intruders with an army of humanoids and a giant, but is himself slain and somehow rises as a shadowy spider-like apparition. Reid takes the casual mention of a connection between Lareth and the demonness Lolth and runs with it, building a whole sub-plot of machinations between Iuz/Zuggtmoy and Lolth, which I found somewhat unnecessary. In the end, Elmo is dead, Zuggtmoy left imprisoned, the Temple itself leveled, and Prince Thrommel freed and off to Chendl to marry the fair Jolene.

I found this book to be... workmanlike. The writing was decent, the characters presented well enough that I could differentiate them from one another (unlike Against the Giants on both counts), but the whole seemed rather a bit lacking in verve. I would have liked to see a lot more of the iconic NPCs from the module; we get our share of Elmo, but Burne and Rufus are on the sidelines, Jaroo is mentioned but never seen, Otis and Y'Dey are absent, etc. Too, I find it difficult to place this novel in the context of Greyhawk canon; the events vis-a-vis the Temple are fairly straightforward, but the very end of the novel mentions a brewing civil war in Veluna that I don't recall happening in other sources.

There's not a lot here that can be added to a campaign; aside from the adventurers themselves, there are no new NPCs of note, no background or plot to pillage for a campaign, and no new ways to utilize the existing module (unlike what we saw with White Plume Mountain or Descent into the Depths of the Earth). Still, it gives a good idea of what a "typical" campaign focused on the Temple would look like, so in that respect it would be a good read for a DM planning on running such a campaign.

I give it three wizards out of five.

3 comments:

grodog said...

I'll be curious to hear how this compares to the ToH novel, Joe: I enjoyed that one, but never picked up any of the other non-Gygax GH novels other than Nightwatch, which I also enjoyed.

Allan.

Joseph Bloch said...

I'm going through them in order, Allan, so I've got Queen of the Demonweb Pits and then Keep on the Borderlands to get through before I reach Tomb of Horrors. I'm reading through each before I review them, since in most cases it's been years since I read it, so it might be a while, but I'll get there!

Niels Adair said...

It has been over a decade since I read that book but I can remember that my biggest problem with it was that they had a Baklunish monk as a member of the Scarlet Brotherhood.