Friday, May 19, 2017

[D&D] Reclaiming the Temple of Elemental Evil (part 2)

OK, so when we left off we were talking about Frank Mentzer, Gary Gygax's 80s-era right hand man and Official AD&D Rules Guru who took Gary's 300 page Temple of Elemental Evil manuscript and turned it into the T1-4 module that was ultimately published in August 1985, six years after it was originally announced.

Frank, at least in that era, was a rules guy. In both the profile of him as winner of the "Best DM" title in Dragon #43 (Nov. 1980) and the preface to his module R1: To the Aid of Falx he touts how he runs a strictly "by the book" game that eschews rule variations or additions and feels that is the superior approach. That attitude can be seen in his other adventures, and in the two rules-oriented columns ("Dispel Confusion" and "Spelling Bee") that he regularly wrote for Polyhedron. To Frank the rules were a fixed system, and were effectively the physics of the imaginary game-world. This led him, in my opinion, to extend the "logic" of the game-engine beyond where it was intended to go and draw some rules-conclusions and extrapolations that I don't agree with and feel shift the tone of the game away from its fantasy roots into a more sci-fi-flavored direction. The key to success in Frank's adventures is often having sufficient mastery of the rules to recognize when to use a particular spell or magic item in a novel way in order to save the day. That sort of literal-minded, system-hacking approach feels, to me, like it diminishes and cheapens the spirit of the game.

Gary was certainly impressed with Frank's rules acumen. But my guess is that a big part of what he liked about Frank's rules-centric approach was that it was so different than, and he presumably felt complementary to, his own more situational, descriptive, and instinctive approach to rules-design. That's pretty much exactly what Gary says in his dedication to Frank in Unearthed Arcana: "To stalwart Frank Mentzer for always spurring me on and making me be more precise and logical."

And that, to finally circle back after a very long detour to the ostensible point of this post, is where most of the trouble lies for me in the published T1-4: that too much of it feels more to me like a Frank Mentzer adventure than a Gary Gygax one.

Now on the one hand, we know that Gary delivered approx. 300 manuscript pages to Frank, so there must be a lot of Gary in the final product. But we also know that Frank is credited as co-author on that product, which we can surmise means he did more than just edit and polish Gary's work. In an interview on the Random Wizard blog Frank describes his process on turning Gary's T2 manuscript into T1-4 like so:
[O]ne day he dropped off what he had typed (he didn't use a computer until the later NIPI days), and I rewrote it as I entered it into TSR's mainframe computer, thereby becoming proficient in High Gygaxian and able to finish the lower levels in his style.
This explains why it feels (at least to me) like there are "Mentzerisms" (places where the text feels more like Frank's authorial style than Gary's) scattered throughout almost the entire text, while also confirming that Frank actually wrote, not just edited, some parts. Based on my subjective gut feelings (based on the style of the encounters and also, for instance, the fact that those are the only two sections of the adventure that include content from Unearthed Arcana), the two sections I'm most confident were written by Frank are Falrinth's lair (rooms 335-338, pp. 86-90) and the entire Elemental Nodes section (pp. 107-119). This seems to suggest Frank likely also created the Orb of Golden Death (pp. 127-128) and the whole plot surrounding it, as summarized on pp. 29 and 44 (since the Orb is found in the former section and the keys to destroying it are found in the latter). The Orb is, of course, the linchpin that ties the entire adventure-as-published together. If Frank contributed the whole idea of the Orb of Golden Death and the Elemental Nodes then he absolutely deserved his co-writer credit because that's a very large and significant part of the published adventure - the difference between something TSR was able to release and something that probably never would have made it out of Gary's desk-drawer.

And yet, it's also the part of the adventure that I like least. Not just because the Nodes are unfinished and are a boring slog (both times I've run the adventure we've ended up severely shortening that phase), but because making everything center around the Orb - finding it, then destroying it - makes the whole thing feels very tidy and mundane. T1 hinted at a large scale conspiracy of layers-within-layers, and T1-4 doesn't really deliver on that - instead it just presents a grindy dungeon-crawl with way too many similar encounters (endless bugbears!) that becomes a formulaic macguffin-hunt.

Probably just about all of us have played this adventure, and probably just about all of us ended up being disappointed by it and felt it didn't live up to its initial promise. I'd like to think at this point we have the capability (experience and understanding of the game) to rectify that. I think the best route towards that is to remove Frank's additions, go back towards something like what Gary delivered to him in 1984, and devise an alternate resolution. So the Orb is gone and Falrinth is gone (possibly to resurface in an expanded S4). I'm not sure if Iuz's involvement was one of Frank's contributions or not, but either way it's so firmly entrenched in the canon by way of Artifact of Evil that it stays. In order to try to make this all hang together and not just seem like a random dungeon-crawl, we need a new (or at least modified) backstory. I propose this:

The cult of elemental evil was born on the shores of Nyr Dyv as worshipers of the sleeping Elder Elemental God - that very same mysterious deity venerated by the Eilservs in the Giant-Drow series. In one or more post-TSR interviews Gary mentioned how his original plans for both that series and the Temple of Elemental Evil centered around this eldritch figure and attempts to cause (or prevent) his awakening, which is why he mentioned in the introduction to module Q1 that he handed it off to David Sutherland because his own ideas for it were too similar to what he was doing with T2, but the irony is that he ended up eventually handing off T2 as well, so the idea was dropped from the published versions of both adventures. Gary never got to write his Elder Elemental God adventure, which means it's up to us to do it in his place.

So my version of the story is that instead of inventing the cult of elemental evil as a "false flag" cover for her true ambitions, Zuggtmoy instead co-opted the real existing cult, or at least this particular branch of it. Her initial reason for doing so was presumably the same as that of the Eilservs - as a check against her rival demoness, Lolth. But gradually Zuggtmoy fell under the spell of the Elder Elemental God, and dedicated herself to awakening it. In pursuit of that effort, she built the temple, and deep within its dungeons opened gates to isolated pocket areas within the four elemental planes where she learned that keys to awakening the Elder Elemental God were hidden. These are the iron pyramid representing earth, the silver sphere representing air, the bronze eight-pointed star representing fire, and the pale blue crystal cube representing water. However, to her chagrin, Zuggtmoy realized that these keys alone are not enough to accomplish her task and two more sets are required: one of which is in the possession of Lolth herself (see module D3) and the other of which is currently unknown (and will form the heart of an eventual remake of Q1 if I ever get around to it).

Iuz in this conception plays the same role as in the published adventure - he opportunistically attached himself to Zuggtmoy but shares none of her interest in the Elder Elemental God and is not privy to, or interested in, the secrets surrounding it. Because, with Zuggtmoy imprisoned, Iuz has been directing most of the cult's activities, they have mostly floundered since the kidnapping of Prince Thrommel. Lolth, however, takes a more active role. She has learned that the temple is connected to the same trouble she is facing among her drow followers and is thus desirous of obtaining the second set of keys for herself, to keep them out of the hands of the Eilservs. Therefore, since the original temple fell she has tried to infiltrate her own agents into its resurgent hierarchy, most successfully to date her protege Lareth the Beautiful.

The Elemental Nodes thus are not separate mini-sized demi-planes, but isolated pockets within the actual elemental planes. Theoretically they could be reached by other means, but the gates within the temple dungeons provide the easiest and most direct access. The gems of power are replaced with the key-tokens as described above. The gates on dungeon level four that send traffic to the Nodes (areas 421, 424, 427, and 431) send to these areas. The gates that previously sent traffic to the elemental planes (areas 422, 425, 428, and 432) instead become receiving portals: anyone in possession of the appropriate key can transport from the plane to the corresponding location at will, or a being from that plane (including, theoretically, a character) can be summoned by means of the cult's rituals.

When the temple was active, there was a place for each key in the altar of the respective temple (areas 145, 201, 212, and 213), which are now empty depressions of the corresponding shape. If the appropriate key is inserted into the altar it transports the party to area 339. None of the current temple hierarchy are aware of this function. The gates in area 339 also allow transport to the planes as in the published version. These depressions should be a sufficient lure to cause players to start searching for items of the appropriate size and shape. Once they find one (or more) of the keys and place it in the appropriate altar, they will be transported to Zuggtmoy's lair (assuming they haven't been there already).

And, of course, since rooms 335-338 have been deleted, the secret tunnel from the Broken Tower just leads straight to room 313.

It's entirely possible that a group of players might "defeat" the temple (by decimating the forces of the Greater Temple on dungeon level four) and leave the area without solving this mystery, leaving Zuggtmoy still bound and forgotten. Potentially that same group could later find the second set of keys within the Vault of the Drow and then return here to employ them. If so, they're likely to find the results a bit disappointing (since any party capable of reaching the Vault of the Drow and defeating Lolth isn't likely to have much trouble defeating Zuggtmoy too) - though perhaps if Zuggtmoy, once freed, summons her allies Iuz and Iggwilv things might become more interesting :)

And that, at long last, is my large-scale modification to Temple of Elemental Evil, to make it feel more "Gygaxian" and of a piece with his other adventures and the larger World of Greyhawk setting. I have further, smaller-scale thoughts on how to make the dungeons themselves feel more dynamic and less grindy (by reducing the number of humanoids milling about the dungeons and moving more of the human cultists out of the dungeons and into Nulb) that I'd intended to also cover, and which may still form an eventual part three of this series, but probably not anytime soon. This adventure is so oversized that even just writing about it is exhausting!

28 comments:

  1. Fantastic analysis of the ToEE, its shortcomings and its potential. I'd love to see this vision of these modules (the T and Q series) happen, and think it would tie everything together more neatly.

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  2. So far pretty observant from my perspective as a hardcore fan. I've had the same notions, in a general way, that TOEE was never up to snuff and I always wanted to do something about it. I had two roads as I saw it. Rewrite the original modules or add to it and retcon it better. I'm going with the latter, a retcon for expansion and I'm marrying together material that I discussed with Gary in a lot of detail that is nearby. My biggest theory was deflated by Gary himself in person. THEORY: dungeon level four was the level that caused the conflict with the Gygax version of the demonweb because it was a Lolth level originally. FAIL. Completely bad theory on my part he said that there was no Lolth themed spider level AND that his demonweb was something that ultimately wasn't used for anything and it disappeared in the Lorraine Williams lockdown of his personal property (library, notes, personal effects, etc) in the paranoia of the hostile takeover of TSR(all of which was looted). The bitterness over his stuff being legally stolen really grinded on him but in the end he was more willing than ever to let the truth be known.

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  3. Fascinating take & excellent analysis on a flawed classic.

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  4. I don't know why I find this topic so fascinating. I've also enjoyed some of articles over at Greyhowk Grognardia on the topic as well. Trying to suss out the original Gygax intent for the Temple and its connecting with the G/Q series is like trying to find a lost artifact---although I believe he also struggled with the details of that final connection, which is why its so confusing.

    Rather than two sets of keys, it would be fun if there was just one. If Zuggtmoy could somehow trick a party into thinking she was a benevolent being, trapped by the evil forces of the temple, and convince them to free her by confronting Lolth ("the true power behind the Temple") and obtain her four keys so she could "destroy them and the Temple, forever preventing the release of the Elder Elemental God who would wreck untold havoc on Oerth". She could give material aid to the party (some sort of weapons/abilities that work against Lolth the drow, but not her?), maybe a one-shot artifact that could be used to force Lolth's retreat from the Great Fane (leaving behind the platinum egg containing the keys), and provide a means of transport or clues on how to get to the Vault of the Drow.

    That way, if the party succeeds (and maybe the whole D1-D3 series gets turned on its head---i.e. an escape back to the surface chased by the drow and covertly aided by the House Eilservs), there is a nice twist at the end when, thinking they've won, the party has accidentally freed a demon, who then tries to make further use of the keys to open a portal for the EEG's return.

    In this scenario Zuggtmoy snatches the retrieved keys and flees onto each of the elemental planes in order to super-energize them in order to open the way for the EEG's return. That sequence could lead to a compelling chase in which they need to thwart the Demon's attempts on each node in order to win the day. Perhaps on its home elemental plane, the particular key is also vulnerable to being destroyed/recreated, either permanently ending the EEG threat or exacerbating it. The planes themselves could be wonderfully alien set-pieces surround each key's original forge/foci, capable of challenging a high-level party. Maybe she only needs to succeed with super-charging one of the four, and just flees to the next elemental node if she fails in the first three attempts, or if she is defeated, the party continues onwards in order to eliminate the keys from existence.

    At any point in the cat-and-mouse game, Lolth herself could make a dramatic return (with a resurrected Lareth in tow!?) and attempt to reclaim her stolen property. She would obviously be hostile to the party, but could even become a temporary ally against Zuggtmoy---although not a very reliable one. It would present an opportunity to defeat Lolth as well, without ever having to rewrite Q1. Some plot mechanism would be needed to prevent Lolth from just destroying the keys on the elemental planes herself, because that begs the question of why she didn't just do that long ago.

    With this or similar expanded context, the adventure might live up to its original promise of "layers within layers", and also become a true Greyhawk-spanning epic.

    Whew! Got myself excited. Maybe I should go have a little lie down.
    :)

    Thank you for a pair of thought-provoking, imaginative, and scholarly articles. Love reading your blog.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words. What you've described here is a very intriguing possibility, and might be a good option for a higher-level party (either higher-level characters drawn into the action, a la Robilar in Gary's original campaign, or a group that has had enough side adventures to attain ~9-10th level (because I don't see how a lower-level group wouldn't be eaten up and spit out in the Vault of the Drow, even with supernatural aid).

      I still think the second set of keys is needed to give shape and reason to the party's exploration (and to provide a means of encountering Zuggtmoy without sundering the gates and freeing her) but perhaps they're not identical - perhaps Lolth is holding the True/Greater keys and Zuggtmoy, unable to get ahold of them, created a set of False/Lesser keys as an attempted workaround.

      I definitely like the idea of the D-series in reverse and the chase across the planes and the party possibly finding themselves as uneasy allies with Lolth against Zuggtmoy and the EEG. Good stuff!

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  5. I like the idea of Zuggtmoy creating her own duplicate, but flawed, set of keys. Nice!

    One other thought: wouldn't this topic make for a great series of panel discussions at one of the big convention? Folks like yourself, Joseph Bloch, and others theorists could sit on the panel and discuss the historical record. Frank Mentzer is even still around---he could be the keynote speaker.

    The goal would be to explore a handful of hypothesis regarding "original intent" and vote on "alternate endings". While I haven't attended a D&D con since GenCon in the late 80's, but I'd make the time for something like that in a heartbeat.

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    1. If any of the big con organizers wants to comp my expenses I'd certainly consider it :)

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  6. I've written quite a bit about my own ideas for "fixing" ToEE. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts; we're on the same wavelength in a lot of areas, it seems.

    http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/search/label/T1-4

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    1. I haven't put anything in writing on it, and am not sure how much actually needs to be written, as opposed to just interpreting the written material. The idea is to put more focus and attention on how the cults within the Temple operate - how they move about, how and where they gain recruits and conduct raids, etc. - in order to tie them in more closely with Nulb and the larger world and make them seem more like an active conspiracy than just a bunch of weirdos hanging around in a dungeon waiting for some PCs to come kill them. Presumably the cults have most of their manpower on the surface - in Nulb, or in other secret bases - and only venture into the Temple itself for services, at which point they're kind of like adventurers themselves, trying to avoid encounters with "untame" monsters wandering in the dungeons and ambushes or traps set by the other factions.

      In this conception the dungeons are probably less heavily populated than in T1-4, at least most of the time, and exploring them will feel more like venturing into a creepy abandoned mental hospital to explore than infiltrating an enemy fortress. That said, if the PCs do show up at the same time the cultists are there, or they loot one of the temples while nobody's around but they later find out who did it, they'll be in a world of trouble.

      This sort of set-up feels much more dynamic and interesting to me, and much riper with possibilities for non-linear action and complications, than the grindy "4 rooms full of gnolls followed by 4 rooms full of bugbears followed by 4 more rooms full of bugbears" module-text.

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  7. Joseph just posted a great new article on the ToEE over at the Greyhawk Grognard that rifts on some of these ideas.

    http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-egg-and-i.html

    As usual, I love what each of your are brainstorming.

    Trent your concept for how the cults operate in the surrounding environment is spot-on. And the Temple itself as something ancient and creepy to the cults and PC's alike is freaking brilliant. I mean, *honestly*, there's a DEMON trapped down there---and gateways to other worlds. What could be scarier, especially for low-level characters. Sayonara gnolls---back to the Moathouse with you!

    Joseph's big idea (that I love) is that neither Lolth nor Zuggtmoy has the complete set of [true] keys. It is s great concept that puts the two demon-queens at each other's throats.

    What fun!

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    1. I'd like to amend what I wrote. I think in my exuberance I misstated Joseph's intent. I believe he thought an eloquent solution to the "key problem" was that the keys start out in the Temple, and then later (if the player's haven't already obtained then) they end up in Lolth's Fane---in the platinum egg---through the activities of her agents (Lareth, Falrinth, etc.) who have successfully stolen them. What I think is wonderful about his idea is that it provides a missing purpose for Lolth's agents (double agent?, a.k.a Lareth) and "visiting drow"---steal those keys!

      Just didn't want to unfairly put word's in his mouth/blog.

      As I commented over there, the 'as written' keys are

      Lolth's egg:
      1) iron pyramid
      2) silver sphere
      3) bronze 8-pointed star
      4) cube of pale blue crystal

      In the Temple
      1) triangle
      2) circle
      3) 8-pointed star
      4) square

      Playing off your idea a a duplicate set, I propose there is only one true set, and both collections include fakes. Perhaps attempting to open the gate with the fakes is deadly/dangerous, so both factions would like to obtain all eight and through some process of elimination (perhaps out on the elemental nodes) determine the truth.

      Alternatively, it could be that none are fakes and the half-powered pairs need to be combined to be capable of releasing (or banishing) the EEG.

      Perhaps no-one really knows the truth since the keys were forged so long ago (by whom?) and there are so many contradictory legends surrounding them. And using a wrong combination of keys could perhaps only partially bring back the Elder Being, driving it insane in the process. Maybe it was attempted once before with bad results back when the TOEE was destroyed and that's why the forces of good where only partially successful with its destruction (and Zuggtmoy's banishment). An unintended side-effect is that the EEG is now "half-released" down there in the lowest level, like Gygax stated he had intended.

      That leaves Iuz. What's his deal? Does he want all the keys for himself, or just to make sure the EEG doesn't ever get out and challenge him for domination of the Oerth. Perhaps he just wants to keep tabs on what's going on because it could be a game-changer to the world balance of power. Honestly, he's not one of my favorite baddies, so I don't often give him much thought. I tend to imagine he is annoying and has bad (spittle) breath---so no one wants to talk with him, but he keeps popping up, hanging around, and asking uncomfortable questions anyways. Everyone just wishes he'd leave and go back to "Drakkar Noir" or where the hell he is from. (Just kidding. Maybe not. I dunno...stupid Iuz...can't even pronounce his name.)

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  8. OK. One more ingredient for the ideas-stew...

    What is the four keys are powerful artifacts that assert their influence over whomever encounters them. Maybe the keys *caused* the four factions. The cult leaders were originally entrusted with just guarding the keys, but over time became obsessed with them. Each key, as an earthly embodiment of an elemental power, wants to dominate and destroy the others and the cultists are just pawns in their cosmic battle.

    Only when all the keys are brought together are their four conflicting wills brought in check, and then their intrinsic powers can be fully harnessed---to bend space and time---either opening or closing any dimensional portal.

    Oh. Wait...
    Maybe that's the plot to Doctor Strange.

    My bad. :P

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  9. In a fortuitous coincidence I was just looking at level 1 in T1-4 and brainstorming about what modifications to make to it. The ghouls definitely stay, as do the various "vermin" monsters (rats, snake, stirges). The Turnkey stays because he's insane. All of the other Earth Temple humans are moved to someplace on the surface, and only venture into the Temple itself for ritual services. The allied humanoids (which I think I'll change from gnolls to norkers and/or ogrillons to introduce some variety) have been placed as guards by the Earth Temple in order to hold their territory when the humans aren't around, but they're scared to death of the other monsters on the level and hate and resent being forced to stay down there (and only do so out of fear of their ogre bosses). The now-empty set of rooms 133-137 and/or room 149 become the lairs of "wild" monsters that have either wandered up from the lower levels or in from the outside - probably creatures that have some sort of affinity for elemental earth that have been drawn to the proximity of the Earth Temple. Romag presumably has made a deal with these creatures or has some means of holding them temporarily at bay in order to allow his group to pass to and from the Earth Temple, but that won't stop them from devouring an occasional stray humanoid or two.

    Presumably something similar can be done for level 2. Level 3 is already mostly "wild" monsters (some of which perhaps should be relocated to levels 1 & 2), and level 4 I think it's appropriate to leave mostly as-is - the true, secret, reconstituted Temple of Elemental Evil that's going to require concerted action, not just a group of wandering adventurers, to destroy.

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    1. Above everything else you've mentioned, the notion of the humans cultists braving the dark and treacherous rooms beneath the Temple in order to conduct the necessary rituals is evocative and sets the tone for the entire series of modules. As a concept, it is pure gold and it alone elevates my opinion of you as a story teller. It cuts to the heart of what D&D is all above IMHO---mood, ambiance, and fear of the unknown. It truly "takes back" the Temple of Elemental Evil. Bravo!

      You sir, must run one hell of a campaign.

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  10. A propos of nothing in particular, when doing my recent re-read of level 1 I got annoyed that there were repeated references to locked doors, chests, etc. but never mention of anyone having keys, so I started keeping a list of who has keys to what.

    Moathouse:
    The Lieutenant (area 34) has keys to rooms 19 & 20 (I figure Lareth doesn't want to be bothered with such trivialities)

    Broken Tower:
    The Leader (area 3) has keys to both the coffer & chest in area 3

    Level One:
    The Ogre Leader (area 126) has a key to the chest in area 126
    The Commander (area 136) has keys to room 114 and the chest in area 136
    Romag (area 137) has keys to the chest in area 137 and to room 141
    The Turnkey (area 152) has keys to cells 150 d,e & f and to the two cells in area 152

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    1. Key-holders on Level Two:
      The Fire Temple Troll (area 203) has a key to the chain holding hydra in area 202
      The Half-orc priest (area 205a) has a key to the chest in area 205a
      Alrrem (area 205c) has keys to the chest in area 205c and the box in area 212
      Belsorning (area 215) has a key to the chest in area 215
      The Water Temple Troll (area 218) has a key to the chain holding owlbear in area 217
      The Ogre Overseer (area 221) has a key to the chest in area 221
      Kelno (area 225) has a key to the chest in area 225
      The Ogre Gaoler (area 228) has keys to the four cells in area 228
      Feldrin (area 243a) has keys to room 238 and the chest in area 243a

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    2. Not as many locks on level 3. The module covers the trolls in areas 302-305 and their keys to the locked doors in area 306. Smigmal and Falrinth both have locked chests in their rooms that they presumably hold keys to. Other than that there's only the locked doors on rooms 319 & 320. Not sure yet who has those keys. Presumably somebody on level 4.

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    3. The locks on level 4 are also pretty straightforward - several of them actually mention who holds the keys, and those that don't it's obvious (i.e. NPCs holding keys to locked chests in their own quarters). It looks like Deggum (Commander of the Temple Guards) is the most appropriate holder for the keys to rooms 319 & 320.

      I see that I also missed a locked chest in room 117. I'm torn whether one of the ghasts in that room holds they key or if perhaps the key has been lost (maybe part of another treasure hoard somewhere else on the level).

      And of course the four sets of great bronze doors (locations 1, 145, 210, and 352) are also all described as being padlocked. Presumably the keys to those locks are not found within the dungeon complex and were either intentionally destroyed or perhaps held in Verbobonc or Veluna (and will certainly never be freely given to a group of troublemaking adventurers).

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  11. In my research towards restocking the temple dungeons to remove a lot of the endless humanoids and replace them with more weird and creepy stuff I've grown fond of all the fungal creatures in the MM2 - ascomid, basidirond, phycomid, ustilagor, and zygom. These are all mentioned in T1-4 as "beloved of Zuggtmoy" but not placed within the dungeons. And even though they were all created by Gary (and originally published in Dragon magazine) he never used any of them in a published adventure. So using them here feels fitting in a few ways: 1) getting to use some underutilized "Gygaxian" monsters; 2) they're all weird and creepy so they fit the vibe I'm going for; 3) they fit thematically with Zuggtmoy - suggesting perhaps that these beings have been drawn to this area because they know their "mother" is nearby, even though they can't communicate with her; 4) it also helps foreshadow the Zuggtmoy/fungi connection so it won't seem like such a random twist; and 5) if Zuggtmoy is freed it makes her more dangerous to have more "allies" near at hand whom she can immediately summon to her side. So moving a lot of the humanoids out and putting these weird fungal beings in their place feels like a win-win.

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  12. Right on target. I love the fungus creature too, because it never seems like to have to justify why they happen to be sitting in a cavern underground---where else are they suppose to be?!

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  13. I've been thinking about the "broken tower" encounter in the Temple upper works. I've never much liked this encounter because it seems like a rehash of the brigands in the moat house. It's also always been unclear to me what relationship these guys have to the temple cultists - they sit atop a secret entrance to the temple (and to Falrinth's lair) but there's no mention of them being allied to any of the factions.

    I was thinking of just removing these guys entirely and putting something else in that tower, but I had a sudden inspiration that makes this encounter a lot more interesting (at least to me): they're soldiers in the service of the Viscount of Verbobonc who are supposed to be guarding the ruins and preventing undesirable elements from visiting the temple, but they've been suborned and corrupted and are turning a blind eye to the cultists' activities (presumably in exchange for payoffs). The cultists resent them and would prefer them to be destroyed but recognize that doing so might bring unwelcome attention (i.e. a stronger contingent of more honest replacements) so they put up with it and pay the shakedown money.

    A group of PCs can have an even more complicated relationship - initially viewing them as allies but probably eventually realizing they're anything but. They may turn would-be adventurers away, or they may allow them entry (perhaps with a bribe) and if the party recovers substantial treasure they're probably not above bushwacking them on the way out.

    Otis presumably suspects (or knows, via his spies) that these guys aren't on the up and up and has kept his identity hidden from them.

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    1. If the PCs can prove (and/or have Otis as a witness) that these guys are corrupt and in league with the baddies then they can lawfully take them out, but if they just do so wantonly - especially if it appears that they did so because the soldiers were doing their job (i.e. keeping them out of the ruins) then they'll find themselves on the wrong side of both the law and the temple cultists. Oops!

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  14. Some numbers on Nulb and the various temple factions' strength on the surface:

    Nulb Proper (i.e. area shown on Map 9)

    Total Pop: approx 250 (150 men, 70 women, 30 children)
    25 men aligned with Earth Temple
    25 men aligned with Fire Temple
    25 men aligned with Water Temple
    75 men unaligned to any Temple faction
    Note: this count includes the various mercenaries, bandits/brigands (can be aligned with any faction), and river pirates (most likely to be aligned with the Water Temple) who frequent the area, as well as all of the NPCs detailed in T1-4 (Otis, Dick Rentsch, Mother Screng, etc.)

    Outlying Areas:

    Earth Temple Hideout (Palisade fort in the woods a couple miles south of Nulb & the Temple ruins)
    Romag (C4)
    Hartsh (C2)
    35 men-at-arms (including leader-types)
    Note: 16 of the men-at-arms are newly-recruited Earth Temple Reavers (see areas 129-130 of T1-4) with more loyalty to each other than to the Earth Temple

    Fire Temple Hideout (Roadside inn half-day's travel east from Nulb along the Low Road)
    Alrrem (C5)
    Curate (C4)
    [Note: The half-orc cleric dwells in the Temple dungeons with the humanoid troops loyal to the Fire Temple]
    20 men-at-arms (including leader-types)
    6 ogrillons

    Water Temple Hideout (Palisade fort and caves on Imeryds Run a couple miles upstream (south) of Nulb)
    Belsornig (C6)
    2 Under-priests (C3)
    25 men-at-arms (including leader-types)
    16 bullywugs

    Former Air Temple Hideout (Sacked manor-house just south of Nulb)
    This area is now deserted (except for incidental vermin-type monsters) and the Air Temple has no current organization or body of human followers on the surface. The other temple-leaders believe the Air Temple has been wiped out, and are not aware that Prefect Kelno now dwells within the Temple dungeons alongside his humanoid followers, plotting his revenge.

    Undertemple Hideout (Ruined moathouse midway between Nulb and Hommlet)
    Lareth the Beautiful (C5)
    22 men-at-arms (including leader-types)
    1 ogre
    9 bullywugs
    6 gnolls

    All of the temple factions keep the location of their hideouts secret, so as to avoid unwanted attention from both the other factions and from spies representing the forces of Good

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  15. One of the issues that contributes greatly to the "grindiness" of T1-4 is the large number and small variety of humanoid opponents. The Lawful Evil humanoids (kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins) are mostly avoided, so we get seemingly-endless rooms filled with gnolls, bugbears, ogres, trolls, hill giants, and ettins.

    One of the goals of my rehabilitation project is to reduce the grind-factor both by removing some of these monsters, as well as by adding more variety. Fiend Folio and the Monster Manual II introduce several new types of Chaotic Evil humanoids - xvarts, bullywugs, norkers, ogrillons, and cyclopskin. Employing a bit of editorial license, I also added verbeeg giants (listed as Neutral (evil) in the MM2, but I assume these guys are CE exceptions) to the list.

    This expanded array allows me to make some substitutions, both to add more variety and also to generally shift the humanoids down by 1-2 hit dice. This makes those encounters a bit easier than in the published version, but I'm okay with that, both because it means they can be resolved more quickly - allowing the PCs to make faster progress and leaving them with more resources to deal with the NPC and non-humanoid monster encounters that I didn't weaken - and also it rebalances things to a potentially smaller group, which is what I expect I'll have if and when I ever get around to playing this version (3-5 players instead of 6-9).

    So, as a general principle (before I get into the room-by-room restocking) I've made the following blanket substitutions: where the module reads gnolls I use bullywugs or norkers; where it says bugbears I use gnolls or ogrillons; where it says ogres I use bugbears; where it says trolls I use ogres; where it says hill giants I use cyclopskin or verbeeg giants; and where it says ettins I use trolls. Some exceptions are judged case-by-case (for example, I left the ogre in room 24 of the moathouse as a ogre instead of making him a bugbear).

    Between these substitutions and my other restocking and relocations, the dungeons now have both fewer humanoids and a wider variety of types (9 instead of 6), both of which should - hopefully - contribute to making the adventure feel less like a repetitious and boring slog.

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  16. I was re-reading D3 last night and looking at the paragraph on the House Eilserv:

    "The Eilservs have long seen a need for an absolute monarch to rule the Vault, and as the noble house of first precedence, they have reasoned that their mistress should be Queen of All Drow. When this was proposed, the priestesses of Lolth supported the other noble families aligned against the Eilservs, fearing that such a change would abolish their position as the final authority over all disputes and actions of the Dark Elves. Thereafter, the Eilservs and their followers turned away from the demoness and proclaimed their deity to be an Elder Elemental God (see MODULE G1-2-3). Although there is no open warfare, there is much hatred, and both factions seek to destroy each other. An attempt to move worship of their deity into the upper world, establish a puppet kingdom there, and grow so powerful from this success that their demands for absolute rulership no longer be thwarted, was ruined of late, and the family is now retrenching."

    It got me wondering why the Eilserv (or their agents) don't seem to have any representation with regards to the Temple of Elemental evil. Shouldn't they be interested in freeing the EEG?

    Coincidentally, Joseph Bloch recently posted an article (http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/2017/07/lolth-in-vault-of-drow.html) exploring the motives of the Eilservs which I just read this morning. He was focusing on the Fane of Lolth/Q1 connection, but I feel there should be at least some link (or foreshadowing) in the ToEE.

    Your thoughts?

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    1. It makes sense for the Eilservs and the TOEE to be in cahoots since they're serving the same boss, but I absolutely don't want it to seem like the Eilservs are "behind" the TOEE the same way they are the giant uprising (because doing so would severely undermine that series and turn what is otherwise a really cool twist in G3 into an eyerolling "ugh, these guys AGAIN...").

      It fits the nature of chaotic evil that there are multiple EEG-oriented cults that aren't organized and working together. Perhaps that's why Lolth has a agent on the scene - because she realizes the TOEE is pursuing the same end as the Eilservs and wants to both monitor the situation and if necessary take action to make sure they DON'T team up and work together.

      So, rather than having, say, actual drow agents wandering around in the temple dungeons, a better way to establish the connection is to perhaps have some letters in Hedrack's possession (or maybe in Deggum's possession, intended for Hedrack but purloined en route - remember that Deggum has loyalty to Lareth) from a mysterious party from the west about how they're seeking the same end and it behooves them to make contact as soon as possible and consider joining forces - that Eclavdra and the Eilservs are in the early stages of an attempt to subvert and take over the TOEE but it hasn't happened yet.

      Perhaps the giant uprising plot is the Eilservs' back-up plan for surface-conquest that is only put into action once the option of taking over the TOEE has been taken off the table by our plucky adventurer heroes :)

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    2. I totally agree that stealing the thunder away from the G-series should be avoided, and no drow agents should be in the ToEE dungeon. Dropping a few hints (as you suggest) or having a non-drow House Eilserv agent skulking about Nulb or Hommlet might be a nice touch.

      Alternatively, to try and add some historical context, the Eilservs could have been the agents that Lolth originally sent to the Temple to find out what's going on---back when they were her loyal servants. It could be that only after the visit (and accidental exposure to the EGG) that they began paying homage and sought to use he/it as a means to power. Perhaps they fell into the same trap as Zuggtmoy---the pull of the EEG is irresistible and that's why Lolth fears it so much.

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