Friday, April 6, 2018

Dating Modules - Slavers, Elemental Evil, Giants

A fun, and sometimes necessary when delving into the deep lore of the published adventures, pastime is to try to figure out when, exactly, a given adventure module takes place. Originally, of course, the early modules such as Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, had no definitive date beyond their year of publication. Too, some are completely location-based, like Tomb of Horrors, and thus could take place in any number of time-periods, as needed.

But some do take place in specific years in the World of Greyhawk setting, based either on the characters or events mentioned therein, or in later publications. Using the good but sometimes flawed Greychrondex as a jumping off point, I thought I'd take a pass at determining when some of the classic modules that have been my focus here, might take place.

A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity
A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords
A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords

This is probably the most straightforward series of adventures to date. In the much-later follow-up, Slavers, we are given specific dates for the earlier events:
After a year of preparation, recruitment, and organization, the Slavelords began their operations in 576 CY. Yellow-sailed pirate ships, under the command of the Slavelord Eanwulf, began raiding the coasts of the Sea of Gearnat, from Onnwal to the Wild Coast. In addition to netting slaves, these raids sowed terror throughout the region. The fact that the local militias proved unable to stop the Slavers only heightened the fear spreading across the land.
The Slavelords' operations ran for four years. (Slavers, p. 121)
So that sticks a pin in module A4 for CY 580, four years after the start of their piratical raids in 576. Nice and neat. Oh, and Slavers itself takes place ten years later, in 590, but that's kinda out of my current period of interest.

T1 The Village of Hommlet
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil

The timing of Hommlet and the Temple of Elemental Evil begins with the Battle of Emridy Meadows, which the timeline in the Gazetteer and Guide to the World of Greyhawk place at CY 569. In the Introduction to Temple of Elemental Evil, we read:
For five years afterward [after the Battle of Emridy Meadows], the village and the surrounding countryside have become richer and more prosperous than ever before. ... The villagers heaved a collective sigh -- some pained at the loss of income, but others relieved by the return to the quiet, normal life -- and Hommlet continued its quiet existence for four years more. 
But them, a year ago, the bandits began to ride the roads again -- not frequently, but to some effect. ... This information has been spread throughout the countryside, and the news has attracted outsiders to the village once again. (Temple of Elemental Evil, p. 5)
So, 569 + 5 + 4 + 1 = 579. The PCs are supposed to arrive at Hommlet, and take on the Temple, in 579. Crap, I need to revise my latest Greyhawk's World article. Because I put it in 578. Dammit.

G1 The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
G3 The Hall of the Fire Giant King
D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth
D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
D3 Vault of the Drow
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders

Oy. Here we go.

Here we have something of a confused muddle, when it comes to the giants, and the drow, and all that. On the one hand, Temple of Elemental Evil implies that the events of G1-D3 happen before that module:
Lareth was one who sought to serve both the Temple and Lolth. And although Lolth hated Zuggtmoy's Elemental Evil, she so lusted for power that she accepted such service. Had she not been routed, her dark followers so crippled, much might have come of this.
But as it transpired, Lolth could -- and can yet -- give only encouragement, without physical or magical aid, to those who call on her. (Temple of Elemental Evil, p. 29)
That certainly sounds like a description of the aftermath of a bunch of PCs going through the Vault of the Drow and slaying Lolth's mortal form. So, based on that tidbit, we might be strongly tempted to put the GDQ modules in the 577-578 time-frame. That mostly squares with the later module Against the Giants - The Liberation of Geoff, which explicitly says they take place "in the years 576-580 CY" (p. 2).

However, if we accept that Temple of Elemental Evil took place in 579, and D3 took place before that (with Lolth's mortal form being slain), that 580 reference cannot be right. It has to be earlier, because T1-4 takes place in 579, and Lolth has already been slain.

It gets worse, though, because in the combined version of the modules, GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders, which has a different introduction, explicitly claims that the Eilservs were backing the Slave Lords!
Two noble families, House Eilserv and the lesser House Tomtor, have sought to extend their power over the surface world through actively encouraging evil agents in the lands above. It is house Eilserv that provided the support for the slave lords of the Pomarj, and have been rallying the giants of the Crystalmist mountains to raid the human lands. (GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders, p. 4)
So we have:
  • The Giants modules take place between 576 and 580 
  • The Giants modules take place before 579 
  • The Giants modules take place after 576 and before 580 
So here's my brilliant theory as to how the drow could have been supporting the slavers after the events of Vault of the Drow.

The support for the Slave Lords given by House Eilserv was early on, while the slavers were still getting organized. It had certainly ended before the Slave Lords themselves were destroyed, since by that time the events of D3 happened, and Lolth had already been destroyed. One point that would support this even further is the background of one of the Slavers, the drow fighter-cleric Edralve:
Edralve is an exile from Erelhei Cinlu, from which she barely escaped after an abortive coup. (In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, p. 20)
And I think that fits perfectly. The whole motivating force behind the actions of Eclavdra and House Eilserv in the whole Giant/Drow series of adventures is to seize control of the Vault of the Drow away from the priestesses of Lolth. If Edralve was indeed the representative of House Eilserv among the Slavers, it makes perfect sense that once the Eilserv plot was undone by the PCs, she would be stuck in the Pomarj, unable to return home. And that would also fit in neatly with the original plan for Q1, which would have seen both Lolth and the Elder Elemental God dealt with once and for all, because the full imprisonment of the EEG would render the Eilservs and Tormtors largely powerless.

Okay, so that works out pretty well.

The other fly in this ointment is the fact that later on in the timeline, we see that the giants actually won. They overrun Sterich and Geoff in CY 583, according to the Greyhawk Wars Adventurers Book:
Atop these other setbacks came a new threat from the Crystalmists: giants, ogres, and other hideous creatures, long held at bay, surged into the mountain vales of Geoff and Sterich. The rulers of these lands sent frantic appeals to King Skotti of Keoland, but, with the bulk of his army gone, the king had little help to offer. Even his reserves were largely committed to the Ulek frontier. Nonetheless, King Skotti scraped together what forces he could and offered them to Earl Querchard of Sterich, provided the earl recognize Keoland's authority over him. Negotiations wasted precious time: before the two could come to terms, Sterich and Geoff were overrun. (Greyhawk Wars Adventurers Book, p. 20)
The CY 583 date is explicitly corroborated in Against the Giants - The Liberation of Geoff: 
In Fireseek of 583 CY, the cluster of cloud islands reached the southernmost tip of the Crystalmists. ... Coordinating the alliance had taken several months, and devising the plan of attack would take several more (especially considering the dull minds of some of the lesser giants). Gorroda was finally ready to strike in the middle of High Summer, sending messages to all of her subject tribes to attack when the large moon was new. (Against the Giants - The Liberation of Geoff, p. 4) 
Now, that still doesn't get us too twisted yet, because it's entirely possible that the reference to the giants being "long held at bay" could refer to the original G1-3 series, with PCs coming in and blunting their attacks. Fine. The attack in 584 is a follow-up to the original raids in 577-8.

But...

Here we come back to Against the Giants - The Liberation of Geoff. And here's where things go all cattywampus. From the Using the Classics with the New Material section:
If you wish to use these classic adventures [G1-3] as part of the "Liberation of Geoff" plotline, there are two main ways to do this. The first is to have these events take place ten to fifteen years in the past and set them somewhere in Geoff or Sterich; the new material can represent a new crisis which the heroes who defeated the last giant incursion have been asked to deal with. In this case the three original adventures can be run "as is." The second is to move them to the present day (591 CY) and shift their settings for easier use withthe new information in this product.
Ugh. Honestly, things would be easier if they just left well enough alone, but here they have to go around talking about moving things in the timeline. Fortunately, the whole thing starts with a great big "if", so I'm going to go with a canonical assessment that moving the classic modules around was simply presented as an option, and their inclusion in the module does not necessitate such movement, even if it is seemingly encouraged by filling up more than a third of the book with a reprint of those three modules.

So basically, ignore the "you can move those old modules to the new era" stuff, and keep the background as written, for Liberation of Geoff. We're still left with the original giants in 577-578, and have some more supporting evidence.

To recap, here's what we come up with looking through the source material:
  • CY 576: Slavers appear and have drow support
  • CY 577: Giant raids start
  • CY 578: Giants/Drow modules events occur, Temple bandits start to re-appear, drow support for Slave Lords ends
  • CY 579: Temple of Elemental Evil events occur
  • CY 580: Slave Lords modules events occur
That is certainly different than the "accepted" mega-campaign sequence that's been described over the years, which is Temple of Elemental Evil, then Slave Lords, then Giants/Drow, with the expectation that it's all one PC party doing all the work, and the modules increase in difficulty as they rise in level.

That leaves us with a few implications as to how to make the sequence work "as is" from a canon timeline perspective. More on that anon, perhaps. For now, we've seen where the evidence leads us in terms of where these modules belong. Sweet Myhriss's Lips, I hope they're not all this hard to work out!

7 comments:

jakinefe said...

Mr. Bloch, I was really happy to discover your blog through Sages of Oerth on FB. Truly enjoyed your research on the Giants-Drow series and how this post dovetails so nicely with them. Thanks so much for sharing your efforts with us and enriching our memories of the "good old days" of gaming.

SirXaris said...

Hi, Joe!

This is some welcome sleuthing. I never accepted the idea that a single party of adventurers could explore T1-4, then move on to A1-4, and finally on to GDQ. By the time they finish T1-4 they should be about 10th level. That's far to high for A1-4 and just right to begin GDQ.

So, your timeline makes much sense. :)

SirXaris

Shane Cubis said...

I read that headline and went "Dating modules? This pervert's gone too far this time..."

quantumflux said...

Better than dating slavers or giants though, hey Shane? :)

Great post as usual Joe.

Raymond said...

So I think this begs analyzing the WG modules as a series to move characters through. Look at:

WG1 aka T1 introductory Gygax 1979, TSR Code 9026
WG2 aka T1-4 levels 1-8 Gygax with Mentzer 1985, TSR Code 9147
WG3 aka S4 levels 6-10 Gygax 1982 TSR, Code 9061
WG4 levels 5-10 Gygax 1982 TSR, Code 9065
WG5 levels 9-12 Kuntz and Gygax 1984, TSR Code 9112
WG6 levels 18+ (pregenerated PC levels 14-19) Gygax 1985, TSR Code 9153
WG7 levels 0-25 Editors: Breault with Pickens 1988, TSR Code 9222
WG8 ...2nd Edition--hey, didn't you see WG7 already lost continuity of the series? :)

More seriously though, while S4 and WG4 go backwards for the lower end of the recommended levels, they do have overlap up to 10th. So I can't imagine that's a big deal. I included the TSR Code values and dates in case some readers don't remember that these modules didn't come out in module order.

Joseph Bloch said...

Yeah, @Raymond, I do have a follow-up in mind that addresses the very issue of character level for the modules as laid out in the above order. Stay tuned...

Raymond said...

I also should have referenced EX1 and EX2