Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
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    Warning: this review contains large, huge spoilers. Absolutely don't read on if you have any intention at all of playing in this adventure and enjoying the experience. This is your last warning.

    Back in 1979 when I bought my first AD&D Player's Handbook, I saw a couple of slim modules on the shelves. Figuring it'd be a good idea to pick up a pre-made adventure (I'd found the map from the adventure in my D&D boxed set, B1 - In Search of the Unknown, useful), I was happy to note that one of them was listed as "Introductory to Novice level". So I took home T1 - The Village of Hommlet as well. My players enjoyed eating at the Inn of the Welcome Wench, crossing swords with Zert, discovering that Elmo was not quite the simpleton he seemed, and eventually sending Lareth the Beautiful to the fate he so richly deserved. We couldn't wait for the promised sequel, Dungeon Module T2, The Temple of Elemental Evil.

    But wait we did. And wait. And wait. Eventually, I made up my own Temple, and we moved on - but I always kept track of mentions in Q1 (Queen of the Demonweb Pits) and in Dragon magazine, which always hinted that the Temple would be out soon. It would be 1985 before T1-4 was released in all its glory. Sadly, it suffered somewhat from "Phantom Menace" syndrome - so many people had looked forward to it for so long that it was almost guaranteed to be disappointing. So I've always felt like that there was something missing from my very first AD&D adventure.

    Now, twenty two years (yeesh - that long?!) after picking up that first module... we have Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. And I finally have my closure. For anybody who thinks this review is already too long, here's the final verdict on this review: this is the best published adventure I have ever laid eyes on. If it plays even half as well as it reads, it'll be fantastic. Go buy it right now.

    Components:

    For your $29.95 ($45.95 for us Canadians), you get a 190 page softcover book and a 16 page full colour map book (which is glued inside the back cover, easily removable). 154 pages are the adventure itself; the remainder is appendices. In the first appendix, you get new magic items (up to and including artifacts), new monsters, and a new template (half-elemental). Appendix 2 gives you details on the worship of Tharizdun, the ultimate villain of the piece - look I told you there were spoilers, OK? - which includes a prestige class (the Doomdreamer) and two new clerical domains (Madness and Force). You'll be happy to know that every cleric of Tharizdun is insane, and they even have an Insanity Score (equal to half their level) to prove it. That's an interesting mechanic - clerics add their Insanity Score to their Wisdom for spell-related purposes, and subtract it from their Wisdom for all other purposes. So high level Clerics often have lots of spells, but aren't sufficiently in touch with reality to notice pesky adventurers sneaking around.

    Appendix three is monster and NPC stats for each segment of the adventure. Appendix four is a pair of handouts that will help the PCs puzzle out what's going on.

    Commentary on the Plot:

    The inclusion of Tharizdun as the ultimate bad guy might be a point of contention for some Greyhawk gurus. In T1, the source of the Elemental Evil was never really spelled out; all we knew was that Lareth the Beautiful, the clerical bad guy in the moathouse, was beloved of Lolth. In the G and D series, much of the conflict was eventually traced to a schism in the Drow religious community, when a powerful segment turned from the worship of Lolth to the worship of the "Elder Elemental God", a deity who didn't seem to have a lot of elemental powers but did have a fondness for tentacles, darkness, and unnameable evil. We didn't even know if the Elder Elemental God was related to the Temple of Elemental Evil in any way, but heck - it seemed likely.

    In T1-4, it was revealed that the Elemental Evil was actually set up by the demoness Zuggtmoy, essentially because elemental evil was sexier than the fungi Zuggtmoy ruled over. Iuz and Lolth got involved once they found about it, leading to intense rivalries within the Temple. This of course meant that if the Temple was related to the Drow's Elder Elemental God (as many DMs assumed), Lolth had been involved in setting up her own rival religion, which lead directly her being killed or chased off her own plane (in Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Hmm.

    Of course, there were also the Princes of Elemental Evil showcased in one of the 1st edition monster books - just the name suggested they should be involved with the Temple. Just to throw another module into the mix, the Greyhawk adventure that presented something most similar to the Elder Elemental God was actually WG4 - Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. So, how to put this all together?

    Monte Cook's solution is to say that Zuggtmoy - and Iuz, and Lolth - all of whom thought they were duping worshippers with the "Elemental Evil" story, were in fact being duped themselves. The Elemental Evil they tapped into was actually a conduit to Tharizdun, an insanely evil and powerful deity trapped by the actions of all the other gods. So Tharizdun had been using the three demons to spread his own twisted cult. His worshippers (all completely insane) seek to release him, and releasing him means the End Of The World. Tharizdun was also behind the Drow breakaway religion, and the Princes of Elemental Evil all serve him - they are in fact the keys to breaking him out of his prison.

    This is the threat that rears its head in RttToEE, and it would be a Good Thing if the PCs stopped this from happening. Tharizdun and his cult are great villains because they have absolutely no redeeming features; if they win, the world ends. Vecna and Iuz, who merely want to enslave everyone under their rule, end up looking like good guys by comparison.

    I'm not real familiar with current Forgotten Realms cosmology, but I assume it's Tharizdun's presence that has prompted discussions about whether this adventure could be converted to FR. My thinking: Tharizdun is essentially Cthulhu minus the licensing fees. Any campaign that doesn't have a little Cthulhu-like flavour already can only be improved by the addition of ancient world-eating horror with no redeeming qualities. If there's not already an ancient evil deity kicking around the Realms who could serve, there shouldn't be a problem with adding one - Tharizdun's worship is supposed to be highly secret anyway, and I imagine the great majority of those going through this adventure will be running into him for the first time, even in Greyhawk.

    So FR folks, go ahead and buy this puppy if you want to run it - a little elbow grease and some name changes, and you should be scaring the bejeezus out your players in no time. Just don't tell Elminster about it, or he'll want to be Chosen of Tharizdun, too.

    The Adventure Itself:

    The adventure is broadly split up into three parts. It's set 15 years after the destruction of the Temple; Hommlet has grown up into a small town, Nulb is a deserted ruin, the Temple dungeons have collapsed. Once a hotbed of adventure, now it's considered a relatively peaceful area - but strange things are stirring in the old moathouse, where the adventure started so long ago. For anyone familiar with the original incarnation of Hommlet, many of the NPCs are still around - Elmo, Y'dey, Terjon, Rufus, Burne, Jaroo, etc. - although often somewhat different than you'll remember. They've had fifteen years to change, after all. The map provided is nice, but not especially filled out; lots of room for DMs to place their own NPCs in the area.

    The moathouse is the main adventuring area in this part. It's a heck of a nostalgia trip - the map is largely unchanged, but a couple of areas have been excavated to reveal sites important to Tharizdun. The PCs might also poke around the Temple grounds (inhabited by some hobgoblins, but the dungeons have collapsed) and the haunted ruins of Nulb, where they may run into a surprise from the past. Eventually, they'll figure out that something bad is going on, that it's related to the Temple in some way, but to figure out what they need to travel some ways west into the Lortmils.

    Part two is the major portion of the adventure, when the PCs will be poking around the Temple of All Consumption near the Hamlet of Rastor. This is the massive dungeon that has caused so much discussion as to whether this adventure is just a big dungeon crawl. If you started at 4th level, your PCs will likely be in the neighbourhood of 6th level when they start this section. They'll be somewhere between 12th and 14th by the time they leave.

    As a DM (players did stop reading way up there, right?), you'll need to be intimately familiar with this place in order to do it justice. This isn't just a few hundred encounters to blast through; the dungeon has an ebb and flow to it, the inhabitants play politics and compete with each other. Some of them may see the PCs as useful tools - or even allies. Monte Cook has done a good job indicating what the inhabitants will do when they come under attack, and getting the DM into the right mindset - this is a highly dynamic dungeon, and no two trips should be the same.

    The Temple of All Consumption is actually in three parts; the Crater Ridge mines (where the PCs will spend most of their time), the Outer Fane (a much smaller area where some very tough villains await, accessible only once you've found the appropriate keys), and the Inner Fane (where the leaders of the cult live). At some point during their exploration/destruction of this Temple, the group will find out that Tharizdun is up to no good back at the Temple of Elemental Evil, which means it's time for...

    Part three, where the group returns to the Temple of Elemental Evil (see, the adventure's name does make sense ;-). Tharizdun's cult has a plan to free their dark deity, and it all hinges on opening the Elemental Nodes (small demi-planes created back when the Temple was operational) and summoning the Princes of Elemental Evil. Our Heroes, of course, have to stop them.

    Fortunately, the bad guys have only opened one of the nodes so far. Unfortunately, this means there's a CR 17 Prince of Elemental Evil stomping around, who needs to be stopped. Fortunately, there's at least one alternate method of upsetting Tharizdun's evil plans that doesn't involve fighting Imix (Prince of Fire) mano-a-flamo. Unfortunately, regardless of which plan the PCs follow, they're going to have to go head to head with Tharizdun's most powerful clerics.

    Artwork:

    The cover shown next to this review isn't actually the cover WOTC used. For whatever reason, they went with a reasonably generic humanoid (probably a shaman) looming in a large doorway. If it has any special significance to the adventure, it went over my head, but it's a nice enough picture.

    Interior artwork is all line drawings, with the standards about normal for WOTC's products. Nothing struck me as exceptional, nothing struck me as laughable - generally a solid job. Four iconic characters are featured in about half of the drawings (Krusk, Hennet, Lidda, and Jozan).

    The maps are very nicely drawn, and graphically they're the high point of this adventure.

    Problems, Nitpicking, etc.

    This is an extraordinarily long adventure, and quite a bit more complex than your average dungeon crawl. There's a few things that aren't done quite as well as they could've been:

    - The introductory text recommends against having the adventurers’ place of origin be Hommlet. I don't really see why they couldn't; the town is pretty sketchy, and with a little work would make a fine place to start off new 1st level characters with an eye towards tackling Return once they gain a few levels. Stick a couple of low level adventures - maybe Crucible of Freya and Forge of Fury - in the Kron Hills, and you've got a 1st through 14th (or higher) campaign ready to go.

    - Much spleen has been vented over the central dungeon, the Temple of All Consumption. Much of this comes from looking at those 300ish rooms as if they were a standard dungeon bash. If the DM treats this like a standard dungeon bash, s/he isn't using anywhere near the full potential of the setting. The more work the DM puts into making the Crater Ridge mines come alive, the more reward you'll get out of it. The dungeon is active, reasonably consistent, and fun - it can be approached from any of a number of different playstyles. I don't think you can ask for any more out of a dungeon.

    - There are a few typos in the text, but fewer than most books of this size and nothing that makes it too hard to figure out.

    - The map book is very nice, but it could easily have been doubled in size. Grognards would no doubt prefer a more detailed Hommlet map (half a dozen or so similar to the original T1 map would be nice). My main beef is the Crater Ridge maps - a lot of features aren't shown on the maps. Some traps are shown, some aren't, and I'm not sure why those were omitted. Some rooms are fairly complex topographically, with ledges, overhangs, deep pools leading to underwater caves, etc. - and generally these details are in the textual description, with nothing on the map to indicate there's a special feature.

    - There's an appendix that contains some of the creature descriptions, and all of the named creatures - whenever the stats are different from the Monster Manual, there's an entry in the Appendix. But all the critters that are normal examples of their species just have references to the MM; this is somewhat annoying, since you have to look in two places for the stats. This is probably due to space considerations, so I'll let it slide.

    - For a secret cult and an imprisoned deity, Tharizdun and his priests aren't very stealthy. Most likely, by the end of the adventure as written, the cat will be out of the bag and many people (not just the PCs) will know that Tharizdun is a real threat. What changes I do make to this adventure will probably be making the bad guys a little subtler, so that Tharizdun remains a secret threat to menace my campaign.

    - Of all the threads and references this adventure draws together from classic old modules... they left out my favourite. The weird temple of the escaped orc slaves under G1 - Steading of the Hill Giant Chief looks fairly Tharizdunian, but isn't referenced here. Sorry, now I'm being pedantic.

    - Just on a personal note... Monte, what you did to Thrommel was mean. As penance, I want a third edition version of Fragarach before the end of the year ;-).

    Hmm, is it possible there's anything I didn't cover? Oh, probably. In summary, this adventure kicks butt and takes names. Price tag's hefty, but I think anybody that enjoys old-school adventures will more than get their money's worth out of this book. Run it as it is or pillage it for ideas - either way you won't be disappointed. To repeat what I said way up there - this is the best adventure I've ever read, and I recommend it unreservedly.

  2. #2
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    Note: This review does not contain spoilers. I feel a review is for people who are thinking about buying a module to use it themselves. Just like when people dislike when others ruin the ending of a movie, I am not fond of spoilers. Please feel free to read.

    The Temple of Elemental Evil (original) was the first module that I ever ran as a beginning Dungeon Master back in 1986. The characters lived for a total of 1 hour, but it was the best darn hour they ever had. Troves of adventurers followed, many died, and years passed until the module was finally completed. Saddened that the quest was finally over, the temple of elemental evil became integrated in my campaigns. Still, I longed for the “good ol’ days” of 1st ed D&D, the temple in particular. Then, after two decades, a new return was foretold. Infamous game designer Monte Cook was reworking this legendary setting into an all-new adventure written for the third edition Dungeons & Dragons d20 system. I counted the days till its release. I was among the first people to get my hands on a copy.

    I must have stared at the cover for nearly an hour, examining the title, credits and back with microscopic precision. Then, I greedily poured through its pages, absorbing every last detail. My DM brain was tick ticking away at the horrors that awaited the PCs. I read the whole thing in a few hours, and then returned to page one and started again. I was not disappointed. This module is every bit as good as its prequel. In fact, it was better in every way. What follows is my assessment:

    Adaptability: Although this is set in a standard, Greyhawk setting, it can be easily adapted to Forgotten Realms, or any other D&D campaign world. Luckily, nothing ties the adventure to any specific world beyond the names, which can be easily changed. The level variance can be lowered with some work, or raised easily.

    Content: 150+ pages of excellent adventure grace the interior. The remaining pages contain new magic items, monsters, PC handouts, and a “worship section” that includes a prestige class, two new cleric domains, and a new game mechanic called “insanity.” A 16 page map book is included in the back cover. Unlike the original, however, it is attached with that “peel away” rubber glue, rather than in a pocket. Personally, I would have preferred the pocket, but this is a minor issue.

    Cover: The cover is nice, but lacks the ominous appeal of the prequel. Also, it seems to have little to do with the actual adventure.

    Internal Artwork: The internal artwork is extremely reminiscent of the prequel (line drawings) with the third edition characters featured. Overall, it was good, but not excellent. There are no bad or totally useless pictures.

    Layout: I was happy that they kept true to the original, yet made great improvements while they were at it. Like the cover, the layout was reminiscent of the original. It is quite well organized and easy to read.

    Maps: Excellent maps, perhaps better than any other module out there. They are clear, concise, and very nice to look at. I am blowing some of them up at my local copy place to hang on my wall.

    Play testing: One thing I admire about Wizards of the Coast products is the extensive play testing that a product goes through before it hits the shelves. The Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil was obviously no exception. The adventure was honed to a nice shine. It is virtually free of glaring errors (besides a few minor type-Os) and has smooth mechanics.

    Plot: The plot has everything that the prequel had and much more. It is has exciting hack & slash moments, role-playing opportunities, and many twists and turns. It is much less predictable than most plots, with a good possibility to extrapolate future adventures. It is well written and well developed. It uses familiar characters, as well as introducing some new ones. Some old villains return, and are joined by entirely new ones. It is also quit long and complicated. Overall, it is every bit as terrifying as I had hoped.

    Price: Almost 200 pages for $29.95 is a good deal. Compared to the Psionic’s Handbook, it’s a steal. No, it is not hardcover, but that is perfectly reasonable for an adventure book. Let’s face, the days of twenty dollar, full length adventure modules are long gone. However, if you look at it as at least 60 hours of solid, good clean entertainment, that works out to about 50 cents an hour. What can you do for 50 cents an hour? Movies are at least $1 an hour, and not half as fun.

    Bad Points: There is very little wrong with this adventure. It is a bit long and complicated, and I would not recommend it for novice DMs. Additionally, the surrounding area and its inhabitants could have been detailed slightly better. This is both a good and a bad thing, providing an easy puzzle piece for DMs wishing to plunk into their campaigns, but providing some missing pieces for those DM’s who have a less detailed campaign world.

    Good Points: The adventure is very well written and fun to play. Its long enough to provide several months to play, perhaps even years, depending on how often you play. It also provides many possible sub-plots that can be developed into further adventures. Those with lots of DM experience will truly admire the work that when into this book.

    In conclusion, go out and buy the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. You will not regret it, and it will become a valuable part of your D&D library. It is one of the best adventure modules ever written. In twenty years or so, you will still be looking back fondly on the good ol’ days. Then, perhaps, if we are lucky, we will see one of the role-playing superstars revisit this marvelous tale again, perhaps in another, even more exciting format. Maybe holograms and rocket ships next time?

    -Talon

  3. #3
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    Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil

    Monte Cook is perhaps best known by modern fans of the D&D game as the author of the D&D 3e Dungeon Master’s Guide. However, he is no stranger to adventure writing. In his dawning days working on the Dungeons & Dragons product lines, he was responsible for much of the material for the Planescape campaign setting. Indeed, two of the best adventures for the Planescape setting were super-sized campaign style adventures, Dead Gods and Tales of the Infinite Staircase.

    In my estimation, those two adventures were the best published adventures for D&D. I had often wondered how Monte would do if he tried his hand at an adventure for the D&D 3e game.

    At last I have a chance to find out. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil is such a module, aimed at taking characters from 4th level to 14th level.

    The adventure is conceived in the same vein as a variety of other “Return to” adventures that WotC / TSR released prior to the publication of D&D 3e. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil holds more promise, however, in that it gives us a fresh take on a classic adventure using the totally revamped D&D 3e system.

    A First Look

    Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (RttToEE) is a 192 page perfect-bound soft-cover book. The cover bears a color illustration by Brom. The interior is black & white, with ink artwork by David Roach depicting locations and possible situations from the adventure. The margins are of average size and the text density is high.

    The cartography is in a separate 16 page color booklet that is glued into the back of the main book. The cartography appeared attractive, though the printing on my copy was somewhat blurry.

    A Deeper Look
    (Warning: The following section contains some spoilers for secrets revealed in the adventure.)

    The original Temple of Elemental Evil was, according to the history in RttToEE, is a result of cultists of Tharizdun convincing the demoness Zuggtmoy that she could gain power through creating a temple dedicated to elemental evil. Iuz became involved thinking he could use the temple to strike at his enemies. The truth as told by RttToEE is that the princes of elemental evil are servants of Tharizdun, the destructive ancient deity described in various Greyhawk-based adventures. Tharizdun is also secretly the Elder Elemental God that the renegade drow follow in the Against the Giants and Drow trilogies.

    In RttToEE, the players must foil the plan of the cultists to uncover the Temple of Elemental Evil and open the gates to each of four elemental nodes. If this can be done, Tharizdun’s servants, the princes of elemental evil, can emerge and use an artifact to release Tharizdun from his prison.

    Needless to say, Tharizdun is a really bad Lovecraftian-type world eating entity and the players really do not want him wandering about.

    The adventure itself is sorted into 3 sections and 8 chapters.

    The first section deals with the characters escapades in and around the town of Hommlet (it has grown a bit from the days of the original ToEE, where it was merely a village.) The characters are really given little direction while in Hommlet, but poking around Hommlet will lead them to rumors of strange things going on at the moathouse near the town. There are some cultists of Tharizdun in town, but chances are that the party will not discover them until they have investigated the moathouse.

    There are some cultists trapped in the moathouse by a significant creature. Said creature could easily be the end of the party if they are not careful. Once the major encounter is dealt with, the party can explore the moathouse and find clues among the belongings of the cultists there that there are cultists operating in the town of Hommlet. If the party deals with the cultists in town, they may find the clue that they need to lead them to the second part of the adventure.

    A final chapter in the first section details the ruined village of Nulb and the Temple of Elemental Evil itself. It is inhabited by some hobgoblins and some other creatures that the players can take out if they please, but at this stage, the temple and Nulb do not figure prominently into the adventure.

    The second section details what is currently the stronghold of the cult of Tharizdun, the Temple of All Consumption. This is probably the meatiest part of the adventure. The Temple of All Consumption is built in an old volcano crater. The central part of the temple cannot be entered directly. After a brief bit of exploration in a local hamlet, the characters will have to head into a series of old mines that exist in the crater rim. The mines are inhabited by cultists and their various denizens, and there are four separate elemental temples situated about the mines.

    The mines are situated such that as the characters penetrate deeper in the mines in either direction, the encounters become more challenging. Though that seems like it will channel the players quite a bit, there are still a variety of possibilities as to the how this will play out. The four elemental temples compete with one another, and are constantly at each others throats. This will limit the possibilities for players sneaking into the mines, but once the players learn of the politics in the mines they can use it to their advantage.

    Once the players have discovered the secret to getting to the central section of the temple they may proceed there. By this time they should be able to handle the challenges there. The central section of the Temple of All Consumption is filled with some of the most powerful priests of Tharizdun, the doomdreamers, as well as a number of other daunting obstacles. In the end, they may run into a priest who had a change of heart and other clues that will point them back to the temple of elemental evil, where the excavations and rituals that will eventually bring Tharizdun to the world are beginning.

    The third part of the temple details the excavated Temple of Elemental Evil. To stop the plans to bring Tharizdun back, the players must confront some of the most powerful followers of Tharizdun, destroy the artifact that allows his return, and/or close the way to the fire node which has been opened.

    In addition to the adventure itself, the adventure has four appendices. The first is a listing of new magic items and monsters introduced (or reintroduced) in the adventure, including the grell, a favorite monster from the old days of AD&D, and new favorites like a half-elemental template.

    The second appendix gives the details of worshipers of Tharizdun, including special rules for insanity, two new clerical domains (madness and force), and a new prestige class, the doomdreamer. The doomdreamer are highly placed clerics of Tharizdun with powers stemming from their maddening communion with their dark deity.

    The third appendix gives all of the statistics for NPCs and special monsters encountered in the adventure.

    The last appendix are two player handouts. The handouts are clues that the players find along the way, memoirs that reveal important details about the plans of the cult.

    Summary

    The adventure is stuffed with a huge variety of encounters that should keep the players busy for months. The adventure purports to run the characters through a major portion of their careers, from 4th to 14th level. That it should easily do.

    Further, the material is well written and consistent with the D&D rules. That should not be a surprise given the author is one of the lead designers of the 3e system.

    However, I do not consider this to be Monte Cook’s best adventure by a long shot. His two campaign style adventures for the Planescape setting, Dead Gods and Tales of the Infinite Staircase, are just as epic in scope but have a far greater variety and creativity in the types of challenges that the adventurers face. For the most part, RttToEE is mostly a series of interconnected dungeon crawls.

    As I read the crater-rim mines, I was reminded of the second book of another campaign style adventure, the Night Below. The Night Below was similar to RttToEE in that it had the players facing an evolving plot that the players must grapple with. But the second book had many combat encounters that the players must plow through to get to there objective. In the end, it started to prove very tedious. I worry that the crater-rim mines could turn out the same way.

    Another problem I noted is that in the initial section, the players motivations are weak and the trail of clues is quite tenuous. The adventure could have used some suggestions for firmer motivations for the PCs and there should have been more to clue the players into what was going on in the town. If the players miss the diaries of the priest in the moathouse the whole adventure could pass them by.

    Still, the adventure isn’t bad for all this – it is still an immense adventure with tons of usable material with a sort of brooding Masks of Nyarlothotep feel to it. It just isn’t up to what I have come to expect from Monte Cook’s mega-adventures.

    Ratings

    The adventure had outstanding ready to use gaming content. It features new creatures, new magic items, spells, domains, and prestige classes. The adventure has full color glossy maps with good keys. It also includes a large variety of solid and creative NPCs and other encounters.

    I consider the idea content to be about average. Though there are a few gems, overall I felt that the dungeon crawl feel was a little overbearing and the players were funneled in places, and the crater rim mines could easily become a tedious stream of encounters.

    RttToEE had good value for the money. Though it comes at a pretty penny, this thing is stuffed.

  4. #4
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    I must admit, more than any other product that WOTC has put out in the past, I was looking forward to this book the most. Being an old pre1E & 1E era player as well as huge Greyhawk campaign fan who recently returned to gaming, I had high hopes. Unfortunately, I must say I was pretty dissapointed in "Return"

    RttToEE is a gigantic adventure. 190 pages of mostly dungeon based adventuring ( I really hate the term "dungeon crawl", when did that come into vogue?). It involves an updated plotline to the original Temple of Elemental Evil module released in the mid 1980's. Although the original had some faults, it is regarded highly as a classic, and served to provide lot's of "canon" information for the Greyhawk campaign that to this day is evoked whenever GH gurus gather to discuss their fave world. IMO, this is where "return" falls flat. While a well crafted, and constructed adventure that is sure to offer gazillions of hours of adventure, it fails in adhereing to Greyhawk "themes" and "canon"..

    I'm sure most readers of this review have read others so I won't get into the general plotline as it's been covered by many.

    Warning: SPOILER ALERT







    As I was saying, "Return" has a few defenite GH "no-no's" placed throughout it. One annoying departure of GH canon is the fate of Prince Thrommell. In this adventure it is said that Thrommell was captured by Tharizdun Cultists, which totally disregards GH canon written both Gygax & Carl Sargent(the two most well known writers for the setting). While this may seem minor to a non-GH fan, it is the sort of thing that would annoy a devoted GH'er,and also shows the authors lack of research for "Return".

    Sadly, the above is only a prelude to the biggest reason "Return" left a bad taste in my mouth (as far as GH is concerned). The rather ridiculous tying up of various major GH plot threads/mysteries to one "uber enemy" (if you will). Tharizdun and his cult is used throughout "Return" as basically the "masterminds" behind a few (in)famous GH plots/storylines. Historically, Tharizdun, and his minions have had little or nothing to do w/ the plotlines of The original "Temple", or the Giants/Drow series let alone Thrommells kidnapping. However, in "Return", The author decides to use Thatrizdun and his cult as an excuse or answer for every mystery regarding this adventure and those past...BORING! One basic premise of GH has always been to never,ever to use lame plotlines such as this. This cheapens Tharizdun and his cultists as villians, and likens them to any other of a hundreds of poorly conceived,written, and executed villians in thousands of Fantasy books, and RPG supplements. As much as I like Monte Cook, and all of his work over the years, he certainly dropped the ball on this one.

    Of course if one is not a GH fan, these points might seem silly, but I have heard tales of similar dissapointment from other GH fans who have purchased "Return", so I guess I'm not alone in my feelings.

    Technically, the adventure is very well written, interesting, and the map book is quite nice. I found the art a bit nicer than the art found in the WOTC core 3E modules, but still nothing particularly outstanding, or mood-evoking. the cover is a different story, a very, very nice work by Brom. Still, IMO the cover of the original "Temple" is one of the best pieces of art ever done for an RPG, and will be hard to top.

    Perhaps if "Return" had been written as a "generic" module, or for another campaign setting w/ different names and places, I would give it a 4, maybe even 4.5. However, this much anticipated update to a beloved classic gets an "F" grade when GH canon, history, and standards are taken into account..hence my score of 3.

  5. #5
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    Contains Spoilers
    To start out - I love the World of Greyhawk. I love the atmosphere, the huge scope,
    the untamed borderlands, Mordekainen, The Blue Wizard, Iuz, and on and on and
    on. It is the world I base all my adventures in. So when I saw the module Return to
    the Temple of Elemental Evil sitting on the store shelf I could not resist buying it.
    Memories of Iuz, Zuggtmoy, Hommlet and the Moathouse all came to mind and before
    I had even cracked the cover I began to think about how I could incorporate RttToEE
    into my own campaign.

    I read the module. Put it down. Took a deep breath. Mumured "wow" and proceeded
    to read it again twice more. My first impression of Return was how epic it was. The
    cover says 4th to 14th level and as I imagined my players journeying thru it I got
    goosebumps. Then I began to wonder how many of them would actually make it
    thru this adventure.

    The challenges are great. Evil is on the rise again in the area of Hommlet but this time
    its true face is being revealed. We find out that Iuz and Zuggtmoy and all the others
    were but pawns of a greater evil in the first Temple adventure. A greater evil? Oh,
    most certainly. Monte Cook gives to us Tharizdun and his cult in all their glorious
    madness. Here is a dark god, imprisoned long long ago by the combined efforts
    of all the other gods, god and evil, for fear of this destructive power. Here is his
    cult, manipulating other religions, inventing dark sub cults (Elemental Evil) and
    doing their best to break Tharizdun out of his prison. And their best is damn good.

    The monsters are awesome, the setting is incredible, the plots are myriad and oh
    so twistable. This module is not a closed loop. Side adventures by the dozens can
    easily be tacked on to it. If you like political intrigue, you got it. But if you have the
    type of party who wouldn't know intrigue it if introduced itself to them at dinner, then
    it a DM can just as easily ignore it as use it. The evils of the past blend perfectly into
    the evils of the present. I love the sense of history this module gives its DM and
    its players. And if you're like me and groove on dark incomprehensible Cthulhu style
    evil then this module is a must have. It bends itself into Old One mythology like taffy
    in the sweaty fist of a child.

    Aspects of the module can be intimidating. While the scope is awesome it is also
    demanding. This is no module for a DM to skim thru and run on a whim. Luckily, the
    community surrounding the module at Monte Cook's Temple forum is awesome
    (DM's only please). At a few points in the module a certain timeline needs to be
    followed and as most DM's know, players will do anything they can to break a
    timeline dependent plot. Be prepared to wing it when that happens. Monte gives
    a DM a lot of detail in Temple but their will be times when its necessary to make
    up motivations and plot devices on your own. This module is deadly. Downright
    scary, dirty, oh-my-god you've got to be kidding me, deadly. My players have
    taken to calling it The Temple of Elemental Frickin' Death and of 8 players who
    have started the module, only 2 have not rolled up a new characters and they
    are only half way thru it. Its a hero's module. Evil characters could play this
    module but I fail to see how they would remain motivated in the face of the challenges
    that they will meet. Characters have to be resolved to stomp out evil at all
    costs cause thats what its going to take.

    This module is simply the best I have ever read. Its so big. So put together and
    so darn fun to DM. It reminds me of the epic avdventure Antartica in the Cuthulhu
    world. If you want epic adventure and great writing this is the module for you.

    -Lenny
    Darktheatre.net

  6. #6
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    NOTE: Your knowledge of the plot may experience mild spoilage if you continue.

    More than a decade after the original Temple of Elemental Evil beckoned countless parties to their untimely demises, we're now treated to Monte Cook's superb Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, which is as much a re-imagining of the entire ToEE mythos (in the spirit of Return to the Tomb of Horrors) as it is a "sequel".

    Packed with enough content to keep a party of biweekly adventurers going for months, RttToEE justifies not only its cover price but also an enthusiastic 5 stars. Given the amount of material (hundreds of rooms spanning two towns and multiple dungeons), the occasional typo or continuity hiccup does not detract from the overall quality of the adventure. The plot is engaging and easy to follow, the maps relate well to the text, and there is good use of sidebars to explain supplemental information.

    Some other reviewers have taken issue with RttToEE's fusion of several original Greyhawk themes - most notably in the decision to use material from The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun to make Tharizdun the Dark God a classic "big baddy" whose influence was responsible for the original Temple of Elemental Evil as well a wide range of other (originally unconnected) nastiness. However, given the paucity of information offered in the source material (anyone else remember the infamous "we'll explain what this all means in some future work" from the end of the original Tharizdun module?), I applaud the fresh perspective offered by RttToEE. If something doesn't work for you, don't use it.

    Artwork is generally good, though a few scenes (individual areas within the Crater Ridge Mines) lack depth. However, these are counterbalanced by a some great standouts (the full-page grell attack) and a sometimes-amazing level of detail (the half-dragon/half tyrannosaur beasties have the color-based anatomical features of their dragon halves - nice!).

    I would have preferred that the monster stats appendix be removable (as the Maps booklet is), but flipping back and forth isn't a huge chore. Otherwise, this a terrific adventure which, although set in the Greyhawk world, should be easily portable to the campaign of your choice. Excellent work!

    --GDM

  7. #7
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    This is a poor descendent of the Temple of Elemental Evil series.

    Although placed in Greyhawk, the author clearly has little experience or information about the setting. For example, some of the action is set in the Lortmils -- a mountain range that has long been the home of thousands of gnomes, dwarves, and halflings. Yet, there is an active volcano there -- which is unknown to all the inhabitants. Except, of course, to some priests of Tharizdun, a god so long forgotten that his previous debut was for a lost temple to an unknown god.

    Yet, suddenly, that lost god is not only known but has a brand spanking new priesthood in a shiny new fortress near that unknown volcano.

    All within one of the most populated and long-settled areas in the Flanaess. And in all this time, nobody noticed.

    Other plot devices are worn thin. Prince Thrommel is found, yet our long-lost paladin (heir to the throne of Furyondy) is now a blackguard vampire. The fact that he exists at all is a stunning revelation, with reverberations across The Land of Iuz, Veluna and Furyondy, yet none of that is even mentioned in the module. In ToEE, it was quite possible that he could have been freed and restored to the throne. Yet now, we're supposed to forget about that. Instead, he's a loyal servant of the Temple, with some cursory instructions as to what how he might be returned to good.

    Lareth is back as well. Except now, instead of being a Priest of Lolth, he's a rabid follower of Elemental Evil. No reason as to the switch, and there's not even a realization that there was a switch. Oops.

    The plot is as linear as they come, with ever higher mountains to climb and monsters to slay. Woe to the group that ventures off the clearly laid out path, as there is no infrastructure in the module to support such a feat. The DM will have to wing it. There is literally no provision for variation here.

    There is this minor detail that the whole thing is headed up by Hedrack, who was one of the priests from the Temple of Elemental Evil. IMC, he died (as, I'm sure, he did in many other runthroughs of ToEE). Oh well, I guess someone managed to find him, retrieve his remains, resurrect him, and put him back in charge. What's one more broken plot thread in a module full of them?

    Summary: linear plot, badly written, doesn't fit in Greyhawk, doesn't fit well at all with ToEE, many plot holes, and no real reason to exist

  8. #8
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    Sorry, I waited 6 months to write this review. I thought that I could be kinder dealing with it in retrospect, but I found that when I opened it up again, my feelings were just as strong and still the same.

    I also played through this module. As you say, it is not as perfectly linear as a corridor with no doors. However, it is not open-ended by any stretch of the imagination. Two or three choices available to the players does not thrill me. However, this is certainly my personal viewpoint, and your mileage may vary. I prefered D3 to Dragonlance for this very reason. Perhaps you feel more secure with a more scripted approach. Many people do.

    You may consider me to be an EGG fanboy -- you know nothing about me, nor do you have anything to judge except for the review I wrote. Perhaps your judgement is so attuned that you can make those claims on such minimal evidence. I merely think that you're foolish for making such a claim.

    This module is the sequel to a classic Greyhawk module. Good manners would dictate that it at least try to fit within the setting and try not to break the material introduced in ToEE.

    I would not place a rainforest within Anauroch. Why do you think that it's ok to place an active volcano within a populated land, and pretend that it's escaped notice? Is it that I think canon so holy? Or that my suspension of disbelief cannot be stretched so far?

    I gave this module a '1' because it's not a very good module. It has some interesting material in it, true, but so does most fantasy literature that I read. A $5.99 book has more in the way of material than this $29.95 module.

    A module is a playable adventure designed to save the DM time. Hopefully it's quality is better than the DM's own material. I pay money for professional designers to produce adventures that I could not have done so well, or in the free time available to me.

    This module fails on all accounts. It's not playable straight out of the shrinkwrap for me. It tries to tie up many loose ends, without any concession to a DM who has already addressed those loose ends in his own campaign. Yet, these plot threads are so entwined within the adventure, that removing them is near impossible. What would you do, for example, if Tharizdun was not the Elder Elemental God? He's not, IMC. In fact, he is not contactable by anyone. Yet, without a lot of work, removing Tharizdun from this module is nearly impossible. Allowing him to stay in it goes against over 12 years of campaign history in my game, and is just as difficult to explain.

    That's merely one item in a long list of items that I would have to change. Anyone with a longstanding GH campaign will also have many areas which this module kicks in the teeth.

    As far as quality goes, this module is nothing to write home about. The plot is a cliche. The villains are transparent. The monsters are big and bad, to be true, but I can get that from the Monster Manual. It introduces a new prestige class -- the Doomdreamer -- that truly has no reason to exist. About the only thing of interest to me was the half-elemental template, and honestly, how often am I going to use that?

    Good ideas and material I can work into my campaign abound everywhere. I see them in newspapers, novels, movies, and real life. I don't need professional designers to produce some good ideas for me -- I need them to produce a playable adventure that I can drop into my own campaign with minimal or no work. That's what I pay them for.

    And that's what this module fails to deliver.

  9. #9
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    I too am a Greyhawker with a long running (12+ years) persisted campaign. I can agree with a lot of what Aelfric is saying; there are elements of Return ttToEE that dont jive well or at all with either the original Temple or the setting.

    Fortunately, Ive always used Tharizdun as a major baddy, with the Scarlet Brotherhood being a cult of Tharizdun in a more Gygaxian interpretation than the rather lame (IMO) interpretation of the much more recent Scarlet Brotherhood 2e supplement. Thus, Tharizdun cult(s) causing heinous trouble behind multiple veils of deceit and misdirection is old hat; otherwise taken as a standalone module on its own merits Return _would_ require major retooling as Aelfric has stated.

    However, taken as a 'Return' module, there are many significant details that just do not jive with the old-school ToEE. Perhaps most importantly there is little allowances made to DMs that have run ToEE in the past and persist the outcome of such. Frex, as Aelfric points out, the status of Thrommel does have a big political impact on Furyondy, its enemies, and allies. When we ran the temple Thrommel was freed and returned to Furyondy, but due to political repercussions and the suspect manner of his incarceration/return the government suppressed information about his return and sequestered him. The DM at the time played it up that Thrommel's mental stability wasnt what it could be after his ordeal and Belvor decided he was unfit to rule. Im sure Thrommel was released or killed in many other people's go at it as well. And yet, here he is as a Vampiric Blackgaurd.

    Lareth and Hadrek are two more needless inclusions. In our campaign, they were both killed with extreme prejuidice and malice aforethought. We burned the bodies, scattered the ashes and considered it a good days work. Thier presense in the Return causes continuity issues right out of the box.

    The Lortmils volcano was a little irritating, but could be worked around with some rectification.

    Those are just the big ones. There are other minor continuity gripes here and there but they are to be expected and are easily ignored/rectifyed for the most part. It is a Return adventure and some suppositions must be made by the writer; I can accept that and adapt as necessary so long as the suppositions are not threaded thru the plot too heavily.

    All GH continuity adventures aside, I am of 2 minds regarding the Return itself.

    On one hand it is a very polished product mechanically and organizationally. Its the sort of format that I would like to see more of. It is a product that serves as a campaign-unto-itself or as an adventure requiring as much or little recourse to additional material as the DM wishes. I think this is in general a positive thing as it serves as a sort of primer for non-GHers, and allows for those that just want the adventure and not the setting. Realistically speaking, the product is actually least useful to long time DMs with long running GH campaigns which might seem back-asswards but makes sense from a sales point of view.

    On the other hand, reading thru the adventure, I personally find it to be rather simplistic and kind of random. A lot of the encounters are obviously contrived just to provide a gimmicky or scripted encounter. There seems to be very little versimilitude or logical arrangement of characters, threats, and the existance/layout of the environment. This really bothers me, and is the reason why I dont usually use published material, making heavy modifications even when I do. This scores big minuses for me personally, but I cant really knock it much when rating it objectively because thats just the way most supplements are; its the nature of beast. No writer can please all of the people all of the time or take into account individual playing groups accountrements and disposition or kowtow to individual DMs preferences/predilictions.

    I do have some specific discontents about the Return, but the big sop for me is simple: the original ToEE was basically pretty STOOPID. Heresy, I know, but it made no sense whatsover. Several levels of the dungeon itself were obviously almost certainly designed with a random generator. The Hows and Whys for its layout, population, and even its existance not really developed or plausible. Why the infamous moathouse was a day away and more distant from any real military threat than the temple it was supposed to protect or distract attention from. The color-coordinated cults that worship the elements for no apparant reason, in the temple run by servants of Iuz, with Lolth-worshippers hanging out too. The very existance of Zuggtmoy. The Temple was supposedly razed by the forces of good years before, but youd never know it other than the condition of the watch tower outside the temple. The main door is warded, but there's 2 doors around the corner from it and an underground passage to circumvent it. Stirges in the rafters. Items hidden under floorstones and in any asinine place you can imagine, again for no logical reason. It just goes on and on. But thats the ToEE. And its still fun. Thus, Im willing to cut the RtoEE some slack. Objectively and on its own terms, Id say it was a 4.5 or so. Personally, I would have to very heavily ammend it to run in my campaign and really think the continuity errors could have been avoided easily by a couple pages of exposition and alternate NPCs to fill the Lareth, Thrommel, and Heydrak slots; for those and some other gripes I would rate it around a 2.5 or so.

    Neverthe less I can totally see Aelfric's position and support him in his 1 rating. That is a fair rating for someone in Aelfric's position and as he said, others mileage may vary.

    As far as the GH fan-boy crack above, why was that necessary? Our opinion's dont matter because we like GH? I didnt realize that liking GH was such a mark of shame. Should we pin scarlet G's to our shirts so our sin is visible to all gamers?

  10. #10
    I will start this review by saying that I have not actually run a party through this adventure.

    To put it bluntly this product has no soul. Sure mechanically it is one of the most sound products out there but emotionally this adventure is a void.

    The problem exists on many levels. First is the lack of backup to what is going on in the adventure. When I look at a random page in the book more often then not I am looking at specific room descriptions of stats for a creature. That is the entire modue. The entire module is the individual grains of sand instead of the beach. In fact there is no description of the beach anywhere.

    Then there are the stretches that happen.

    1. Too many assumptions are made about TOEE the first module. Now this won't matter to most people but to some it will. If you are going to create a sequel then you should make it flow smoothly with the origional. This one does not.

    2. Monsters - Way too many creatures are there for no good reason. Sonic foes just to have sonic foes, half dragon dinos just to have a cool template monster. (I wont even go into what the dragon must have been drinking to jump in the sack with the T-Rex.)

    3. CR's some of these seem way out there. Maybe I am wrong but as I look at the stats for the Prince of Fire I see little chance for even a party of four 20th level characters to survive. Imix is way overpowered and I think is he fights with brains he will devestate any party that encounters him.

    BTW - His cohort the half medusa half elemental while mechanically sound is just stupid. Someone explain why these two creatures would happen to be crossed.

    4. Why are we doing this? I don't think there is enough incentive in the module. This is easily done by the DM to fit into a campaign but I think the biggest dangers here is a party losing some members in a battle and the rest saying "screw it this place isnt worth the effort."

    In the end I can only give this product a 2. It is too big to not be the center of a campaign and as it stands I would not want to base a campaign around it. So the best I can do is rob it of some material and use it elsewhere.

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