Sunday, January 18, 2015

Making Temple of Elemental Evil bigger

Some of the criticism of T1-4 over the years has been around the idea that it's just too big. There's too much detail in there, too many things going on for the DM to get a grasp of. I beg to differ. As I've gone through my (literal) deconstruction of the module, I've come to the conclusion that it's not big enough.

Indeed, The Temple of Elemental Evil shouldn't even be on the players' radar initially. I envision a campaign set in the eastern Kron Hills and western Gnarley Forest. The players, being the agents of Celene, Verbobonc, Furyondy, and/or Veluna, are investigating a rise in banditry and humanoid raiding in the region. Nobody suspects the Temple; it was overthrown years ago, and all that remains of it are ruins. And besides, Y'dey and Otis would surely know if anything was going on on that front.

There would need to be a whole set of fleshed-out villages in the forest, complete with deep-cover agents of the now-resurgent Temple. Why would there just be a moathouse thirty miles southwest of the Temple? Surely that would have been only one of a whole system of outworks. There could be a watchtower to the south, originally to keep an eye on Celene and give the humanoids coming up from the Pomarj a place to aim for. And a fort on Imredys Run, now used by river pirates. And an opening in a mine in the central Kron Hills, leading to the Underoerth, whence come those drow that have been seen around the region. All of the former Temple fortifications don't have to have a direct tie-in, but some of them can.

And while Hommlet was described in detail, Nulb was left for the DM to flesh out, after a few detailed locales were given. And Sobanwych remains nothing more than a name. But Verbobonc itself is a hive of Temple operatives, keeping an eye on the forces of Good to the north. I'd like to see a treatment of the whole city, or at least the features that the module says the DM should make sure are described. Could there be evil gnomes in Namburil in the Temple's employ? And what about Corustraith? In later years it's the center of activity for the Rangers of the Gnarley, but in CY 576 it could be a lot more open. They all want full treatments, describing both the agents of the Temple slowly recruiting bandits and humanoids, and the agents of the surrounding Good powers working to keep an eye out.

And maybe Narwell on the Wild Coast also has an interest, but isn't as dedicated to seeing the Temple's resurrection thwarted. And Dyvers? Their interest is in keeping the trade routes open, and maybe knocking Verbobonc down a peg to get a better slice of tariffs on the river trade.

Maybe they're both playing both sides against one another, and hoping to make out with the best deal. That shifty-looking guy in the tavern? Yes, he's not what he seems, but he's not working for the Temple, he's working for Narwell. Lots of factions, lots of intrigue, lots of chances for role-playing and false leads to follow up. Lovely.

The campaign would unfold in typical Gygaxian fashion. The PCs would be sent to take out a particular bandit group, which would lead to another, and another, with the layers of the onion leading to the Temple agents in various villages and locales, leaving the PCs to figure out that there are powers behind the bandits, and then powers behind those powers, leading to the Temple. They spiral in on the Temple over time, rather than that being the obvious goal from the outset.

So rather than the "you arrive at a seemingly peaceful village near the evil Temple", it becomes "you're rooting out some ordinary-seeming bandits, and learn that there's a shadowy figure behind them, and then there's some sort of weird cult behind him, and now it looks like that cult is tied to the Temple, but they also have their tentacles into the government of Verbobonc who hired you in the first place, so just who can you trust?"

I find that a lot more satisfying. Turn the whole thing from two villages and two dungeons into a whole wilderness campaign with multi-layered political intrigues, bandit fighting, clearing out former(?) Temple locales, eventually culminating in the assault on the Temple itself.

And of course once you get there, you realize that the Temple itself is riven with factions, and there's a whole shrine to the Elder Elemental God that nobody, not even the evil priests in the Temple, expects to be there, and loosing Zuggtmoy could strengthen or even loose the EEG inadvertently (and won't Lolth be pleased if THAT happens*)...

Just a snapshot into what my little "fix the ToEE" project is morphing into. It's huge, and sprawling, and wonderfully complex. No idea what will ever become of it.

EDIT:
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* Something just occurred to me. Falrinth, the high-level magic-user on level 3 of the dungeon, is obviously an agent of Lolth in the Temple (he's got a small shrine to her in his quarters). He also has the Golden Orb of Death, which could be used to free Zuggtmoy, but seems to be sitting on it for some reason. What if he had instructions from Lolth not to use it or remove it from the premises, not only because she's happy to see Zuggtmoy helpless, but also because she intuits that doing so might lead to the Elder Elemental God (with whom she has a great rivalry and history) being freed from his prison on a distant star? Ohhh, I like that.

18 comments:

tom said...

I like it...

Norman Harman said...

What you describe, weaving published module into campaign world, expanding it, making it one's own. Is exactly (one of) the job DMs are suppose to do.

Great published modules have all these holes, unanswered questions, hints/rumors/things such as Lolth's Wizard pointing nowhere. Open, loose, vague. Just enough to get DM excited and spur the imagination. But, no more.

Anthony Emmel said...

I agree with Norman. I've filled out plenty in the area around Hommlett and given characters backstories and reasons to be there.

R H said...

Your planned expansion of the module sounds like a mod for a computer game. Taking the original content, expanding, revising and fixing issues with the original game.

As you continue on your journey, if you haven't yet played it, I'd pick up the Temple of Elemental Evil computer game. Still available as a download for $5.99. Playing through it vanilla will give you a lot of ideas as how they did the quests and personalities in Homlet and Nulb was a lot of fun, as well as the surrounding environs

Circle of 8 was the mod that was done for it and still available as well. The community out there recommends it as it really expands the game's content and fixes a lot of issues. Would be interested in your perspective on this and if you find any inspiration.

IIRC you reviewed the TOEE novel - just starting to listen to this as an audio book. Any inspiration from that you think is worthwhile adding to the mod you're working on?

Benoist said...

Eh. Not what I expected from the title!

I think the module is fine as it is. Retrofitting the whole in the campaign and making it a part of game play among other things is the province and responsibility of each particular DM. A few more examples might have been useful, a more fleshed out Nulb perhaps, but not much more than that.

If anything, it's the dungeon maps that I personally would change. Too small for my tastes. The Hobby Shop Dungeon maps could be substituted, retrofitting and/or substituting the Elemental Evil cultists into the current mix. One could just add features to the Temple's ruins to reflect various entrances into the HSD. Very easily done.

Joseph Bloch said...

Just to clarify, I'm not arguing that all this should have been in the original 1985 printing. I'm saying it's what I'm doing with it. I've changed the title of the post to make that clearer.

p1r8z0r said...

I couldn't agree with you more about the mod being too small. I did some research before attempting to run the mod (at your blog and some others), and the campaign became HUGE. But I'll be damned it it wasn't worth it.

I'd love to see your version once it was finished.

Unknown said...

It occurred to me that Verbobonc could owe its rise as a trading power so close to Dyvers to the Temple. After all, its such an enormous place it would require a lot of materiel and manpower to complete. And maybe the lords of Verbobonc got strong enough to where their relationship with the Temple was no longer convenient... and they decided to bring the Temple down because the Temple didn't want to comply with their demands...

Elizabeth said...

I love this and it's what I try to do when running a module. Sometimes I can't weave into the beginning but I always add other bits, side plots, etc. as they go along to make sure it feels like a WORLD, specifically a segment of a world, and not just a limited adventure.

Benoist said...

The change in the title does make the intent a lot clearer Joseph! I like some of your suggestions quite a bit, like the implication of outworks around the Temple based on the presence of the Moat house.

carmen sbordone said...

Question. Where can I find a bigger map with more surrounding area which you used in this post?

I think I want to use this area for my next game and the 4 towns, temple(or temples depending on what gets released in march) and a bit more of my own ideas.

Joseph Bloch said...

Outside of my hard drive, I'm not sure, carmen.

Vernon Vincent said...

For an area of Verbobonc in high-resolution, you to Anna Meyer's website at http://ghmaps.net/. She's recreated the eastern Flanaess in incredible detail and there's a Verbobonc area map in there.

fluerdemal said...

I remember having this vague sense of both excitement and disappointment when TEE finally came out. On the one hand it was this very cool megadungeon - on the other, the complaint was pretty much what you describe. It seemed like there was so much that was missing compared to, well, it often seems like near-perfection that was VoH.

I certainly have played the heck out of ToEE over the years, so no regrets. But it could have been so much more!

D.

Alex Karaczun said...

Joe, I love these ideas. I hope someday you complete the project and are given leave to publish it. I'll be one of your first customers!

Jason Raabis said...

Hey Joseph, how about the "Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil?" Does that publication give any more depth to the area and factions? Have you ever ran it?

Sagawork Studios said...

Intriguing stuff, especially when it captures the imagination. In terms of scope, I think that the AD&D Bloodstone series did okay in escalating the plot over four modules. I am sure you'd be familiar with them.

In fact, I'm drawing a few analogs even as I'm writing...

Though, I expect big means bigger than 4 modules and I also expect it may depend on how sandbox-y you want the project result to be. Goodman Games gave a great example of this in the Gazetteer of the Known Realms, where they had a list of uh, "Adventure Paths" that linked the Dungeon Crawl Classics together as a campaign. Could you do similar? It'd be a lot of writing however; the cheat's way out would be to pilfer existing D&D/AD&D modules and see how one could relate them to the overarching plot.

The Badger King said...

Some insightful, spectacular stuff here, as always.