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Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil

IronWolf

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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.
 

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Talon

First Post
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
 

Psion

Adventurer
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.
 

JeffB

Legend
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.
 

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
 

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
 

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
 

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.
 

Killer Shrike

First Post
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?
 

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.
 

Illuminati

First Post
I have to say I thought this product was poor overall. When I originally bought it I was full of high expectations (it really looks neat, ordered, and attractive), and really only after playing it did it fall short.

To put it simply, this adventure seems to have been written to become a computer game, not to perform as a traditional pen-and-pencil scenario. It is full of too many monsters, too many potentially large-scale encounters, and almost impossible odds at every turn. The party I took through this adventure consisted of six well-balanced characters, and still must have died four or five times. The survivors always ended up fleeing to the nearest big city after each high point of the adventure, casting True Resurrect ad nauseum until the illusory excitement of the adventure's deadliness just became tedious.

I definitely got the feeling there is supposed to be a "Save game" feature in this adventure. God knows you'll need it...

This isn't a classic "deathtrap" dungeon like Tomb of Horrors or other old favorites (though certainly in retrospect many of these really weren't all that great either); this adventure is just designed to be HUGE - and it loses a LOT because of it. The focus at times seems to just be "Hey, you thought the old Temple of EE was bad? Take a look at this even BIGGER temple complex we've made a few score miles away." This shouldn't have been titled "Return To The Temple of Elemental Evil" - it's misleading. The real focus and meat of the adventure doesn't even take place in the temple from the original adventure, it takes place in a newer, even more grandiose dungeon complex that tries to be classic but ends up feeling more like an imitation of Castle Greyhawk's worst incarnations.

Specific points I disliked: the introduction of a blue dragon so early in the adventure (with, no surprise, no real treasure for the colossal effort). Green dragon in the mines. Red dragon as part of the temple's on-call "air force". Half-dragon T-Rexes (come on now, that's just silly). Too many dragons.

What else? The lightning bolt towers surrounding the Outer Fane were absolutely ridiculous deus ex inventions. If such super-powerful apparatus existed in the world, why would there be castles? These things could easily be made as siege weapons, destroying entire armies, not to mention fortifications. Or, why build walls when you could just have a perimeter of lightning towers to defend you. Awful. Very poorly conceived, way too powerful, and obviously just the writer's way of preventing PCs from flying over the ring of 200+ encounter areas to the heart of the island complex. Terrible!

I was also disappointed in the way Tharizdun (who in my opinion was portrayed perfectly in Gary Gygax's old Gord The Rogue series as THE ULTIMATE evil) seems to have "absorbed" all the elements that made Ghanadaur what he is. Tentacles, ugly colors, all that. I could be wrong on who came first or whatnot, but in Return To The Temple of Elemental Evil you could easily switch out Tharizdun for Ghanadaur and never know the difference. Then again, maybe that was the idea...

Positive aspects of the adventure include a touching upon the old village of Hommlet, and the same attention to small details that made (in my opinion) the old Village of Hommlet such a great module (though the new computer-generated map of Hommlet leaves a lot to be desired). It also has some interesting NPCs that the characters will undoubtedly end up working with/for. If you want a gigantic dungeon complex to lose yourself in for literally weeks of game play, this module has it.

All in all, though, these elements just weren't worth it for me. As I said in the beginning, I expected a lot from a "Return to..." scenario, and this just didn't do it.
 

For those of you who do not know, this is a WoTC product that was designed as a mega adventure or campaign size adventure taking characters from approximately 4th level to 14th over the course of the full adventure. At first glance as a DM this product seemed pricey by well stocked with rich full color maps, 200+ room detailed with encounters, full rosters of NPC's and Villains, etc. My glance proved correct and then some, boy did I underestimate the size and undertaking of this massive adventure. What I thought my group (7 players, once a week, 8 hour sessions) could finish in a couple of months turned into a monster campaign that lasted near six months of real time sessions. Quite an epic that was more than worth every penny that grew a small group of 3rd level nobodies to an epic group of 14th level heroes ready to do battle with dark gods and elemental princes!

This adventure really caters to DM's who prefer to have every detail really flushed out for them. Like I said above, this adventure has 200 + rooms, encounters, etc wrapped into a massive dungeon crawl (the Mines and the Moathouse Ruins) as well full color maps, temple of elemental evil, flushed out towns (Hommlet, Nulb, Rastor, etc), and evil outer planar strongholds of evil elemental princes! Dont worry about adventure or excitement, this adventure is massively loaded with tons of both. It is definitely more stacked towardshack and slash melee rather than roleplaying, but that carries over well in this action oriented adventure.

The tough thing to add in is the backstory of the original adventure. For me, 3 of my 7 players had played it and the other 4 had not even heard of the adventure. That complicated things just a bit and to make it tougher, we use the Forgotten Realms setting. This adventure as well as its predecessor were more designed to fit the Grayhawk campaign world. Although do not be disheartened by any of these facts, all things are easily explained, flushed out, and easily adaptable to any campaign world. The plot is as easy to follow in any world as this . . . an evil cult of priests look to set up a powerful base of evil minions in the land to sacrifice people and do evil in an attempt to gain a release of their banned or imprisoned elder dark god! The heores must come to the aid of this small land, find out about the cult, track them down to their base of operations, and prevent them from releasing their dark god from his prison. It boils down to just that simple of a storyline. Yes, there are some twists and turns, so dont be worried reading the above simplification of the story.

Strong points:

1. Details, this adventure has more encounters than your party would even possibly want to do. Maps, encoutners, NPC's, villains, plot, reactions, tactics, etc, its all here, somehow!

2. Battle, taking your party of characters from 4th to 14th or so should show you just how much battle is tucked in between those two covers. Anything from evil cultist priests, to demons, to dragons, to assassin NPC's, to elder elmentals, to giants, to ogres, to hobgoblins, etc!

3. Story, I dont want to give to much away in this review, but the story is exciting and well paced. It doesnt lose anything in the middle and ends with a strong climactic battle, an all out good versus evil for all the marbles! Stuff that makes characters into heroes and legends!

4. Bad Guys, I love the variety of class and monster race they dish out in this game. Half Fiend Stone Giant Warriors. Undead Aboleth High Priests. Half Elemental Assassins and Priests. The list goes on and on. Very creative and rich bad guys that really open your eyes to 3rd editions flexibility.

Weak Points:

1. The dungeon crawl at the mines becomes a grind at best if your party is a tedious one that can leave no door unchecked (such as mine was). Your talking about, in a worst case scenario, 150 encounters right smack dab in the middle of the storyline. This could take months of real time and with enough unlucky nights or poor team work, can really grind into and rip at the core sanity of your group of players. If Little Danny the rogue dies 3 times in 5 sessions and goes from 10th level down to 7th, and then through those experience gains, back to 9th, then things begin to look like chutes and ladders more than DnD. My advice is to thin out the encounters a bit by having some of the larger rooms and allies join forces against the heroes, breaking apart some of the 30 plus encounters per temple section.

2. Treasure, its massive as many (maybe 50%) of the main encounters involce battles against NPC's instead of monsters. And all of the NPC's from 5th level to 15th level have a minimum of 2 to 5 magic items each! Towards the last few sessions many of my players had 3 or 4 rings of protections each, granted, they were all +!, but it seemed a bit over kill.

3. Villians potency, it really catered to those that played the first adventure, thats for sure. The players who know of Lareth and the others were really happy to meet and beat them again. To those that had not played before, they were just some more high priests of the evil cult, not anywhere near as dangerous as the First, Second, and Third were.

Overall this adventure was a gem! Much more flavor rich and chalk full of adventure than the adventure path series (Sunless Citidale, Forge of Fury, etc) has been. Monte Cook and Company really out did themselves putting this impressive adventure together and tying it into the past story line. Dont think about the price tag of this adventure, you and your group will surely get much more than you payed for with thise epic campaign like adventure!

Arreon, Lord of the Dragon Slayers
Sean McDaniel
 

Andorax

First Post
First, I will preface by saying that I'm not going to go into the plotline much, nor descriptions of the adventure track, the plot, the artwork, and so forth. If this were one of the first few reviews, I would assuredly do so. However, that ground has already been well covered by those who DID post the first few reviews.

From back in 2nd edition, there were two different versions of adventures, the regular "thin" module, for a fairly small price and good for a level or two, and the occasional "book" module, of which Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil is not only an example, but also a heir. The original Temple of Elemental Evil was not only a book module, it was the first in a set of three, a full campaign of epic proportions with links to carry it on into Scourge of the Slavelord and Queen of Spiders for a grand, 15 module tour of Greyhawk in all it's glory.

While I will openly admit that I am not as knowledgable about Greyhawk, the specifics of it's history and traditions, as some who have reviewed this adventure, I will say that Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil captures that same Epic feel.

There are two definitions of Campaigns commonly in use. One is the ongoing adventures of a coherent group of adventures from low level to high, with replacement characters coming in as others fall. In this sense, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil is superb. True to it's back cover, it will take 4th level PCs and transform them (or the survivors, anyways) into 14th level adventurers who have had a dramatic effect on the world around them.

The other definition of a campaign is one that presents a consistant, ongoing world. One that persists from adventuring group to adventuring group, through several runs of PCs from 1st on up only to start again. Taking years to evolve, such a campaign is a work of art, but it's a work of art based on a mountain of assumptions and events that have already taken place one particular way or another. In this sort of setting, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil cannot possably hope to be a "perfect fit", as events have already taken place in a different manner.

As with any "return" adventure, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil must of necessity be based on it's own set of assumptions. This NPC died in this manner, that one escaped, etc. If you've run the Temple of Elemental Evil, and intend for this adventure to treat your own run through that one as "canon", then it won't match up, and it will take some legwork to untangle it. If you've run Temple of Elemental Evil in the distant past, and gone on to other things...if your experience is left for just what it is, an enjoyable experience, then Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil has some phenominal nostalga value and will strike all the right cords with your gamers.

Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil had the advantage of being one of the first-to-market "major" adventures of 3rd edition. However, now that we're well past it's original publication, it's still the only epic adventure (no, not Epic...epic in scale. It's for 4th to 14th) I've seen well worth this sort of price. Don't pick it up to be part of your campaign...pick it up for it to BE your campaign, and don't be surprised to get a good, solid year of gaming out of it. For that kind of story, it's well worth the price.

Yes, it does have flaws. It suffers somewhat from being a showcase of the Monstrous Manual (if you count that a flaw). It has a number of minor mechanical errors (as does anything of this size). Still, with all it's faults, I find it to be the best 3E adventure on the market today, long after it's initial publication. Thus the 5/5 rating.

And besides, where else will you find an adventure with it's own support board? www.montecook.com, in their message board section, has an entire forum dedicated to Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. If these reviews haven't answered all your questions, come visit and ask around...the DMs there will be glad to answer them for you. As with any review, I'd love to see you, the DM, make an informed decision about this product. If you've picked it up already, then come visit. We'd love to have more DMs to swap stories, tactics, and ideas with. We've also put together a FAQ and Errata for it.
 

Let me preface by saying, I have owned this product since it was released and have read it several times over. I have NOT playtested it. I usually don’t review non-playtested products and that I don’t review much here, so take this as you may. I have read the other reviews and do see the “love it” or “hate it” type relationship “The Return to The Temple of Elemental Evil” fosters.
This review contains SPOILERS so read at your own risk.

Title: Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
"an adventure taking characters from 4th -14th level"

Author: Monte Cook

Appearance: A 192 perfect bound soft-cover book with excellent illustrations and a full set of perforated detailed color maps.

Overview: A Campaign module of epic size and scope chronicling the third rise of the Temple of Elemental Evil in the World of Greyhawk.

Synopsis: The book is broken down in 8 chapters each of which details a specific section of the three part story arc., There 4 detailed appendix detailing various, Items, NPC’s, Monsters, and Classes.

PART 1) The players have returned to the now renown Village, (now a small town) of Hommlet, ( The provided motivations of “why” they return here are weak, The best of those listed being the PC’s are essentially “bored” and there is always something going on in Hommlet, right?) Local inquiries soon lead adventures back to the old Moathouse, the now ghost town of Nulb and the ruins of the original Temple of Elemental Evil.

PRO’s: I found this first section of book to be excellent, Starting with a good background history of the area and how events came to be as they are in the 15 years since the original. Part 1 is filled with colorful NPC’s, past and present, exciting encounters which all accurately fall within the context of the new story.

CON’s There are silly errors that contridict other Greyhawk published matierials.
For instance both here and in the original, The Free City of Verbononc is listed as 10 leagues from Hommlet while in every published Greyhawk product (including maps within) It is plainly shown as being 30 leagues distant. While this isn’t a big deal, it is annoying and shows a lack of knowledge of the editors. Also clues given on reasons why or how to continue on to part 2 are tentative at best and will require some serious DM prodding and/or major hint giving to get players in the right direction.

PART 2) The players travel to Hamlet of Rastor in search of the Temple of All-Consumption, which is in a dormant Volcanic crater in the Lortmil mountians around 200 miles to east .There they find out what (or whom) is really behind the new rise of the Temple and somehow figure out how to put a stop to it.

CON’s: This is where things really go bad for this book. First of all, The Crater Ridge Mines are just too big and they are filled with too many overpowered encounters.
It’s suggested that players are supposed to come up with a way to play various factions against each other (as each section represents a temple of the four elemental nodes) However by the time the PC’s figure that out and they already have a good taste of what’s there, I would think any thinking PC’s would be headed to Veluna or Verbononc in order to solicit a small army to help finish the task.
Any DM will have a lot of work to do to make this area run smoothly, while it can done
(Namely by pulling out a lot of encounters, Dinosaurs???) Someone mentioned this plays out like a video game- I concur.

PRO’s: There are some excellent encounters here: The player’s discover the fate of Prince Thrommel, D’gran The Half Ogre/Half-Demon is a nice touch and the return of Zert is great if you played the original (and got some mileage out of him). I also like the story the players uncover. The secret cult of the evilest of evil god’s “Tharizdun” is the true culprit behind all this and that his minions are trying to free him from his eternal imprisonment to wreak havoc in the world. Finally the maps of these areas are well detailed and simply great.

PART 3) Players discover the Cult has re-excavated the fire node at the original Temple and must travel back 250 miles to the dungeon of the recovered temple and stop the cults evil plans.

PRO’s: Good synchronicity with the story, that prevents players from finding the re-excavated temple when the visit the upper temple the first time they are there.. (As it simply hasn’t happened yet). The players have plenty of opportunity to gain NPC allies for this assault. And I like the structuring and organizational detail of each area as well as the re-visiting if the original areas.

CON’s: First of all, the 500+ mile journey that players take to go to find the Temple of All-Consumption and then to travel back to the original is just too far and leaves the player’s way too much room to lose focus or get side tracked. Granted they should realize that this is a matter of great urgency and should Tharizdun actually be freed, it would literally mean the end of the world. That being said, as heroic as they surely are. This becomes a job for a small army. Not a job that a smart bunch of adventures would dare to risk failing. It is going to take a DM a lot of creativity to stifle the player’s correct assumptions and get them back to the Recovered Temple in a hurry, while only stopping in Hommlet to pick up a few NPC’s as muscle. As in part 2, there are too many creatures that just seem out of place within the context of the story environment. (Ex: The purple worm, no matter how creative the story to why its there, it is just silly). Finally the end game with Prince Imix, is pretty hard to swallow even with 4- 14th level PC’s and some powerful NPC’s. Chances of winning this fight would be near zero, If the DM plays Imix properly. Even a 14th level “buffed-up” fighter would be hard pressed to go head to head with him for more than round or two.

CONCLUSION: I don’t think trying to run this module “As Is”, is even remotely feasible. Even the most skilled DM, has not only an incredible amount of work to do in managing all the characters, monsters and environments, but has way too much PC hand-holding and hint dropping, all the while not working the players adversaries to their true potential is required. However,this book is an excellent source book for a classic style Greyhawk campaign and with some minor modifications can be easily be awesome “Return To” adventure/campaign.

If you are a fan of the source material this book is totally mandatory,
If not it’s still worth the read and quite usable if broken up into several small adventures or as part of any larger Greyhawk campaign. Finally as an adventure I would rate this book a “3”,As a source book I would rate it a “5”. For an overall score of “4”.
 

After 7 months of mostly-weekly playing sessions, we're about half way through. Hommlet is long forgotten (and probably razed by the forces of evil). Forces of evil have probably detonated the world by now, actually, having managed to send the characters -- none of which have any ranks in sense motive -- off on countless goose chases. So on the one hand, the score is very much influenced by my players. On the other, who's to say your players will fare any better?

Ultimately, however, my rating comes down to this: If there's so much "on the line," then how do we cross the line? The campaign never lines that up (City of the Spider Queen does this very nicely, for comparison) and as a result, the PCs have no urgent need to save the world. That's an unforgiveable flaw in my book -- evil cults aren't supposed to wait for heroes to come try to foil them. Period. Didn't they ever read the list of things to never ever do when being evil?

Now for the serious spoilers...
- My players did not do well in Hommlet. Two of them got arrested for murdering a cultist and the whole party spent over half a month investigating the doppelganger's accusations that his assistant was acting strangely. Oh, and they told the wizard they rescued to piss off, they didn't need his help. While having a detailed city is nice and all, I expect that many newer players will be caught off-guard by the spots of action in sleeply little Hommlet. Of course, my players spent two hours looking at a chair (with nothing special about it; it was broken) and an entire session with a shocking button puzzle that the rogue could have taken 20 on because the required reflex save was so low, so your milage may vary.
- I had to force-feed my players a mission in the direction of the middle part of the campaign because they missed the (as near as I can tell) random encounter that points players to the big elder evil mines. They saw the person skulking about, but they decided to go off the other way and catch up to her later. 'Cept she was a random encounter, so she wandered off.
- The round dungeon is kind of flimsy. It's an interesting concept, but the ultimate result is that a very thourough party will encounter a whole lot of encounters that aren't really challenging for them at all (as the EL ratings are somewhat balanced between the top and bottom of the circle. Oh, and the Blade Spirit (looks like something out of the original Star Trek) is also a bit trippy -- be sure you know exactly how it works before starting.
- Temple politics are poorly defined, and they only get worse with random non-temple forces in the mines. Who hates who? Who tolerates who? That sort of thing.
- There's a lot of information that simply doesn't appear to be available to players -- like the actual name of the evil deity which has all sorts of cool effects if used at appropriate times throughout the adventure. I think they'll pick up on it when they're 2/3rds of the way through... assuming they make their will saves...
- The middle of the mines springs a whole lot of nastiness on the players, much of it in the form of "Now you need to make a Will save against this altar here... 18? Too bad, it ate your soul so now you need to make a new character." (I've had the party Shaman warn the other characters that areas of strong negative energy will require strong wills to survive and introduced a weenie version of Oriental Adventures' "Taint.")
- The map scale is 10' little squares instead of 5' little squares -- so every door is 10' wide? It just doesn't make much sense, let alone transferring well to a battle mat.
- There's an editing error that mentions the name of one of the villians that's in the room just beyond where the players are in the Earth section of the temple. The players have never heard of this NPC and wouldn't know him from Tharuzdin -- at least not without a valid photo id. Nitpick, but the players spent a good 10 minutes discussing the implications before the wizard yelled "Fireball" and wiped out the bugs that were the focus of conversation. (Thank God!) But now I'm getting nit-picky.
- It appears that the characters are going to get themselves annihilated again before the end of the campaign because there's a segment with a couple of iron golems in it. Nicely tucked away as part of an ambush near the end. They're gonna hate me.
- But the worst part of it is that the characters could go off and join the circus and the world would never end because the cultists are waiting for the characters to try to foil them, as I mentioned before. In City of the Spider Queen, there's a timetable for world domination, and any characters in need of a vacation had better think again. Here, there's no such thing -- it's all set at the characters pace, where they want to go, what they want to do, yadda yadda yadda. It's not an evil cult of world destruction, it's a freakin' tourist trap!

Overall, I get the general impression that so much of this adventure was spent in Planning that they forgot to ensure that all of the foundations were there when they went to execute it: Who are the players working on locking away forever and ever; When do they need to get it done; How does the cult of lunatics grow and prosper; Why has nobody wiped them out yet; and Where the heck are they, anyway?

Compare this to the low-level Freeport series -- yeah, Freeport was predictable, but at least my players never spent an entire session frustratedly wandering about the countryside because a cultist doppelganger told them to.
 

Kenmis

First Post
Well, it’s been a little over a year and three months since my party started Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. We’ve got about one more session to go, but it’s all wrap up, the main parts of the adventure are over. I have to say it’s been a good year and three months for the most part.

My party started the module as 4th level characters and ended around 14th-15th, with about 9 party deaths (mostly the rogues, my players have terrible luck with rogues). My players thoroughly enjoyed the adventure, and were quite proud of their accomplishments when everything was said and done.

Production: Standard WoTC production quality here; soft back, fairly large borders, decent art. I have to say I was pretty impressed with the durability of the book, as it got pretty heavy use for over a year and stayed in good shape. It was a week ago when I finally used tape to reinforce the cover and binding, I was expecting to have to do that far sooner. The book also came with a full color map booklet, which was excellent quality. My players really enjoyed looking at the maps of the different dungeons they had already explored. The Temple of All Consumption was especially well done.

An adventure of this size could have really used an index of some kind, however, or some way to organize the dozens of different NPC’s. There are a few parts of the book that are frustratingly disorganized, and it’s difficult to find the evil cult’s plans or strategies sometimes.

Content: While at first I was very intimidated by the gargantuan size of this adventure, I found that after a bit of adjustment, it was surprisingly easy to handle most of what was going on. The pace moves slow enough that it’s fairly simple to keep track of both the immediate future and the big picture. One challenge, however, is the denizens of the dungeons themselves. Most are intelligent (albeit insane) humanoids, and it can be rather difficult to calculate the cascading chain of events that results when the party makes an assault on a base.

For example, if the party attacks the main gate of the Crater Ridge Mines (and they most likely will) the DM has to take into consideration the reactions of more than 6 different groups of guards and minor NPC’s. Each will have their armor donned in a different amount of time, will take up different positions, defend certain areas, try to set up flanks, support certain officers, so on and so forth. It is absolutely mandatory that the DM spend a significant amount of time before the session planning this out, or the encounter is far too easy and not very believable. If done right, however, it’s a very entertaining and memorable fight.

This can be a pro or a con, depending on how you look at it. Almost every location in the adventure is a living, breathing place: people move around, react to what the party does, and in some cases certain members of the cult actually fight each other. On more than one occasion I had to role-play out some events that the players weren’t even there for: one faction of the cult launching an assault on another, NPC’s sending spies or assassins after the PC’s or even other NPC’s, lots of crazy things are going on in the background. Depending on how much work you’re willing to put into it (and I know some that put a lot more into it than I did) this adventure can be a fantastic example of a dynamic dungeon.

Fortunately for those of you who may be intimidated by the amount of work that has to go into this module, there is help out there. I really must say that my campaign would not have been nearly as entertaining without all the fantastic help from the Return to the Temple of Evil Message board found at www.montecook.com. (http://pub102.ezboard.com/fokayyourturnfrm17) The DM’s there are always willing to answer questions, discuss strategies, and brainstorm new and terrible ways to harry the players (silenced Invisible Stalkers attacking while the party sleeps...<shudder>).

If the workload doesn’t put you off, then your players are in for quite a ride. Make no bones about it, this isn’t much more than a huge and rather complicated dungeon crawl. Dynamic or no, it still pretty much boils down to a very long hack-and-slash adventure. If that’s what your players are looking for, there are some very rewarding fights to be had with a wide variety of creative and nasty creatures. Particularly memorable is the half-demon ogre mage (acid and fire resistance 20 plus regeneration? aiiieeeee!) and the half-dragon T-Rexes. On more than one occasion my players had to really pull out all the stops to survive some of the encounters. At the end of the day, when the dust settled, they were all terribly pleased with themselves and eager for more.

There are a few problems with Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil however. First off, an adventure of this size is draining on the DM and Players. Especially the area called the Crater Ridge Mines, which is so large it eventually becomes quite tedious. My players only explored half of it before they decided to move on to the next part. Also, there is a predominance of evil clerics in the party. During the lower level portions of the module, the clerics are effectively worthless as enemies, with little in the way of offensive melee or spell casting abilities. Later on of course they become terrifying, but by then my players were sick of fighting clerics. It got so bad during the Crater Ridge Mines that we actually put things on hold and did an entirely different adventure (The Heart of Nightfang Spire) for a change of pace. Not surprisingly, there’s not a single cleric in the adventure we chose.

Also, the “main” town of the adventure, Hommlet is essentially useless to the party. This is unfortunate, too, because Monte Cook spends a fantastic amount of time detailing the people and places of the sleepy village, and lots of great opportunities for role-playing can be had there. But the town has a gold piece limit of 800. When the starting level of the characters is 4th level for the adventure, you can see how this becomes a problem. A major city lies only 20 leagues away, and I found that my players quickly opted to ignore Hommlet all together and set up base at the major city where they could buy and sell all their equipment. At the end of the adventure there is supposed to be this grand, dramatic meeting of all the leaders of Hommlet and the players as they try to decide what to do about this horrible threat nearby, but my players skipped it entirely. In fact, they haven’t set foot in the village since they were 7th level.

Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. It’s a lot of work and a long haul, but in the end your players feel like they really accomplished something grand and epic. It’s full of interesting villains and some great encounters. With hard work and a lot of time (expect no less than a year of play time, assuming once-a-week games) it can turn into one of the most memorable and enjoyable portions of any campaign, if not becoming a full campaign unto itself.
 

anhar

First Post
If I wanted to play Dungeon Siege....

First thing I've ever posted here, so feel free to call me a noob or flame me or whatever.

Background

I have never played any other specific GH adventure, generally play FR but not a fanboy of anything. I don't know anything about GH history except what I've read in the other reviews.

I started playing this module about a week after it came out. After about a month and a half we just all came together with the DM one night, and said "we aren't having fun." the DM replied: "I'm glad you guys said something, I've hated this ever since we got to the mines." Then we started a campaign in HERO system. {which is, sadly, much more fun to build characters with than to actually play, though it can still be fun to play}. RTOEE actually started out promising, I liked Hommlet, it had a good level of detail and interesting things to do. The moathouse was a bit annoying, but still overall fun, then came the mines. the soul-crushingly boring mines.

Specific complaints. Possible spoilers

Some of these we never actually encountered, I only discovered them when reading through the book. If I make any factual errors, please remember the last time I saw this book was more than a year ago.

-Too many dragons, too early
Pointless, unexplained blue dragon in the moathouse, red dragon in the mines, half dragon t-rexes {I disagree that this is a stupid idea, I actually like it, but it's too many dragons}. Honestly I've never been a fan of 3.0 dragons, hover+blindsight is overpowered. {I know they kinda fixed in in 3.5, with dragons now having blindsense rather than blindsight, but the module was written in 3.0}

-Too many encounters with 20-30 minions at once.
I remember this happening at least 3 or 4 times, at first it was long and boring, then our sorcerer hit 6th level and got fireball and they became pointlessly easy and gave way too much experience/treasure.

-Too many low level minions in full plate
Do they have a full plate factory in the mines somewhere that I missed? Seriously, we were lucky and the DM gave us a bag of holding at some point and so we cashed in on something like 20-30 suits of full plate from various hobgoblins/trogldytes before we hit 6th level. From the full plate alone we were way too rich for our level. {I think we may have gotten {un?}lucky in our random encounters}

-Speaking of Trogldytes...
It is not a good idea to put a Trogldyte cleric in full plate with a large steel shield and shield of faith up against the 5th-6th level PC's when they are going to be mostly out of spells. He has a natural armor bonus of +6, this means he has a 28 AC and you end up surrounding him and having three people aid another on your fighter so he has a good chance to hit on his first attack for 6-10 rounds. {it would have been easier if someone had improved trip. I took disarm unfortunately, so he was left trying to ineffectually bite} It's very boring/annoying. In general there were too many Trogs in this adventure, especially too many in full plate. Don't get me started on the half-earth elemental trog-fighter in full plate. The sorcerer did all the work in that fight, let me tell you.

-The doomdreamer prestige classs
in 3.0 a marilith had very few hit dice for it's CR. The doomdreamer prestige class {if I remember correctly} had the ability to command the services of a demon of the number of hit dice a marilith had. Being that the doomdreamers were crazy, they wouldn't care that the marilith would be plotting their eventual demise for being ordered around. I think we had a situation where a CR 9 doomdreamer could have {effectively} a CR 17 pet. When we read this we decided it was the dumbest thing ever and the DM declared that the doomdreamer couldn't command a demon with a higher CR than himself. perhaps we read the prestige class wrong. If so, please enlighten me.

-Why are we here again?
This is the biggest one. As pointed out in other reviews, We had no sense of urgency, the cult didn't seem to have a master plan or anything. it was just a big diablo-style dungeon with random pointless monsters and interesting things to look at and be killed by.


There we go. If I think of anything else I'll add it in the comments. I wrote this because I see how polarized the reviews are and I think I have valid reasons why this shouldn't ever have been given a 5 star rating. I don't think it's a one star, I've seen worse, but even if your DM is the best ever and completely re-works this before serving it to you, it shouldn't be 5-stars.


{btw please don't tell me this is my DM's fault, any module needs a personal touch, but this one needs a complete makeover, and if you're going to completely re-do a 150+ page module then why did you buy the damn thing?}
 

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