Evil Never Dies
Years ago, brave heroes put the denizens of the Temple of Elemental Evil to the sword. Now, dark forces whisper again in the shadows of the once-deserted temple - forces far more insidious and dangerous than any sane person could dream. Evil has risen again to threaten the village of Hommlet.
Characters battle the power of darkness in Hommlet and beyond, forging their way through hundreds of dire encounters before reaching the fiery finale. Designed as the backbone of a full campaign, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil takes characters from 4th to as high as 14th level. This deluxe adventure builds on the groundwork of the original Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), as well as other classic adventures. However, none of those products are necesary to enjoy this one.
To use this adventure, a Dungeon Master also needs the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual.
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (2001) has big shoes to fill. The original Temple of Elemental Evil, by E. Gary Gygax, is one of the game's most iconic adventures, a sprawling and trap-filled sink of evil that requires most adventurers to play one cult faction off against the others in order to have any chance of dismantling the evil that is growing within. It was the long-awaited sequel to the much-beloved "Village of Hommlet," and it's an adventure location that many players consider iconic of D&D. Choosing it for one of the first truly large dungeon crawls for 3e D&D was very deliberate, as was selecting the immensely talented Monte Cook as the author.
So the question is, how did Monte do? Other than some minor pacing problems, extremely well. There's a huge amount of well-written material here, enough for more than a year of regular play. The adventure carries heroes from 4th to 14th level, although I suspect that's a little bit conservative. The variety of encounters is tremendous, the game mechanics and encounter design are solid, and the scope of the adventure is suitably epic and nefarious. If you're looking for an adventure for players who love to dungeon crawl, this is the perfect choice.
Pacing Back and Forth. I'll state my one concern up front. There are a lot (!) of fights in this adventure, and there's the very real risk that these may degenerate into a combat slog - two steps forward, one step back - as difficult fight after difficult fight causes the PCs to have to rest between encounters. This "15-minute adventuring day" problem can be avoided, but as written, the crater-rim mines section of the adventure, alone, may cause some issues with pacing.
The concern, of course, is that the players might become so focused on wiping out bad guys in fight after bloody fight that they lose sight of their real goals. Side adventures, more reasons to adventure outside the dungeon, and a slightly greater variety (or perhaps just fewer!) of combat encounters would alleviate this. If you're running the adventure, consider pruning a few of the less essential melee encounters.
All that said? What a good adventure! Here, cultists are attempting to excavate the original Temple of Elemental Evil, planning to bring the elder elemental diety Tharizdun back into the world. That would be a very bad idea indeed. Enter the heroes, who must prevent the cultists from opening the four elemental nodes and releasing the four princes of elemental evil.
Adventure Structure. The adventure occurs in three major sections over eight chapters. It starts in the town of Hommlet, with its ever-memorable moathouse. This adventure leads the heroes to the ruined village of Nulb, the remains of the original temple, and the cult of Tharizdun. The second section has the PCs infiltrating or invading the stronghold of the cult, a series of mines around a volvano crater's rim that hold four elemental temples. The adventure design funnels the PCs closer to the center, where the most powerful priests of Tharizdun dwell. Clever groups can play each faction off against the others, leveraging the cultists' vicious rivalry for the heroes' own advantage.
By the time the PCs reach the Temple of All Consumption, they face some tremendously dangerous obstacles that point them back to the original Temple of Elemental Evil. Rituals have begun that will bring back Tharizdun, and in section 3, the heroes will have to act in order to prevent the catastrophe that would follow. They must close the open nodes, destroy the artifact being used, and kill the powerful priests who are opening the way for their elder elemental god.
The adventure also includes four appendices: new magic items and monsters (the grell is back! And who, may I ask, doesn't love floating beaked brains with barbed tentacles?), details of Tharizdun's worshippers, stats for all unique monsters and NPCs, and several player handouts with clues and plot details. If you're looking for good "insanity" rules for D&D, this is where to find them. These rules give the entire adventure a disturbing feel that may remind players of a Call of Cthulhu gamre (in a good way!).
Brimming with Encountery Goodness. It seems churlish to complain that an adventure has too many encounters, especially when they're so easily removed. This is an excellent adventure that's jam-packed with adventure. Whether you're a DM who prefers to steal great ideas or one who runs adventures exactly as written, you'll find Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil to be both fun to read and exciting to run, well worth the time spent tweaking the pacing.
About the Creators. Monte Cook may deny it, but he's about the closest thing our hobby has to a rock star. His current project, Numenera, a science-fantasy RPG set in the distant future, raised over a half a million dollars on Kickstarter and is the setting for the computer game said to be the "spiritual sequel" to Planescape: Torment. Monte resides in Seattle.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.