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Friday, January 23, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - The History of Elemental Evil

You can buy Princes of the Apocalypse on amazon here:

Princes of the Apocalypse (D&D Accessory)

Wizards of the Coast has announced some details about the new Dungeons & Dragons storyline that will carry us through the summer. Tyranny of Dragons ends in March, and Elemental Evil begins.
  • The adventure is called Princes of the Apocalypse and it takes characters from levels 1-15.
  • The book also includes new elemental spells and a new PC race: Genasi.
  • There will be a free download that includes the player content in the book as well as new races.
  • The adventure is in one book.
  • It will be set in the Forgotten Realms city of Mulmaster.
  • The storyline runs from March to mid-summer. This is a detail I didn't notice until just now. Mid-summer would be July. That means that this runs for only 4 months, and then we will have a new storyline (Chris Perkins has hinted that the next storyline is related to Alice in Wonderland. Gary Gygax had published a pair of "Dungeonland" adventures that were demiplanes connected to... Castle Greyhawk). 
  • There is a list of Elemental Evil Expeditions adventures.
Elemental Evil and Tharizdun

Traditionally, "Elemental Evil" has to do with the evil deity Tharizdun, sometimes known as "The Elder Elemental God". It's all been made famous by the legendary Gary Gygax adventure "The Temple of Elemental Evil".

I'm going to try and cover a lot of bases here, to hopefully create a nice foundation of knowledge that will be an aid when running the 5th edition Princes of the Apocalypse adventure.

A good portion of this article is framed by the content in a great Skip Williams overview article in Dragon Magazine #425. I have organized the information by relevance rather than chronology.

The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun

This is a classic adventure by Gary Gygax known for it's deadly beginning where all of the monster in the dungeon might come at your heroes at once.

There's a nice background in the beginning. It says:
  • Tharizdun, "He of Eternal Darkness", was imprisoned by the gods.
  • His servants discovered a "Black Cyst" beneath his temple.  A huge form could be seen in the Cyst.
  • Every day they tried to awaken him, but nothing happened.
  • The cultists eventually died or left. Now the place is over-run with monsters.
When the heroes get to the Cyst, they see it, sort of: "The shape is so black that it is absolutely lightless...". An occasional ripple seems to pass through the lightless, haze-swathed form.

Just before this room is an insanely nasty tree trap.

Dragon Magazine #425 - History Check: The Temple of Elemental Evil
The Gods banished Tharizdun to an extradimensional realm. He reaches his followers through dreams. He can only give them spells if they use a relic or ritual.

His followers infected other religions and then tried to convert the clerics. Two organizations were infiltrated:
  • Some drow worship him as "The Elder Elemental Eye", not knowing it was Tharizdun they truly worshiped.
  • A cult dedicated to slimes, fungi, and the demon lord Zuggtmoy was similarly infected. It split into four branches, one for each element: fire, water, earth and air.
Zuggtmoy got directly involved in building the temple. As Zuggtmoy's army grew, the forces of good raised an army to destroy them. The army of good marched to the temple and the Battle of Emridy Meadows commenced. The army assaulted the temple and destroyed the upper works. They sealed it off, imprisoning Zuggtmoy.

Iuz, an evil Greyhawk deity, helped Zuggtmoy out. Together they made little elemental nodes, small demi-universes 5 miles across. In the nodes, the deities could magically summon evil elemental creatures. Lolth also got involved.

Zuggtmoy and Iuz created the Orb of Golden Death, which was a magic item that made it easy to access the nodes.

The Temple of Elemental Evil

This classic adventure contains "The Village of Hommlet" adventure as well as the temple. The Hommlet adventure details the town, and a moathouse run by agents of the temple. The moathouse is known for it's giant frogs, and the leader - Lareth the Beautiful. People really like this adventure.

The temple itself is known for the four factions that squabble inside, the temples of earth, air, fire and water. I ran this a few years ago, and there was some fun stuff in it:
  • The telepathic pool that needs your help.
  • The temple of fire and it's many weird little dangers.
  • The wand of "a" wonder - a variant wand of wonder.
  • Zuggtmoy's room with some really insane, deadly stuff.
The Elemental Nodes are not detailed much in the adventure. It is suggested in the adventure that the DM create them

The official version of what happened, suggested by Skip Williams: Adventurers busted in, accidentally freed Zuggtmoy, and then destroyed the Orb of Golden Death. Doing so caused the lower levels of the dungeon to collapse, cutting off access to the Elemental Nodes. Zuggtmoy was wrenched from the world into the Abyss.

Shannon Appelcline of has a fantastic actual play thread of his group's run through the temple. Each session report is short and fun to read.

The Temple of Elemental Evil Novel

There was a Temple of Elemental Evil novel released years ago. I have it and tried to read it, but I couldn't get into it.

The reviews seem to agree the book is pretty dull with weak characters, but the descriptions of the temple are a lot of fun.

Dungeon Magazine #221 - The Battle of Emridy Meadows

I remember waiting and waiting for this 4th edition adventure, but by the time it came out, I was neck deep in some other campaign and didn't pay this any mind. I had become jaded, feeling that Dungeon didn't offer enough new content. Now, looking back, I appreciate these magazines much more.

This adventure is written by Chris Perkins and Jon Leitheusser, and it uses the D&D 5e playtest rules! This adventure depicts the battle that took place just prior to when Zuggtmoy was sealed in the temple of elemental evil. The struggle is underway, and our heroes fight alongside "The Righteous Host" and go on missions to help take down the enemy army. Their missions:
  • Assassinating the gnoll leader.
  • Ambushing a lich.
  • Tracking down an escaped spy who stole a ritual book.

That third scenario involves the scummy town of Nulb, which appears in the AD&D 1st edition Temple of Elemental Evil. We get a new map, details of the familiar locations and everything. I loved the depiction of Nulb in the computer game. You should check it out, it really brings the place to life. This scenario is very, very, good.

With those missions complete, it is now time for the actual battle. The adventurers now get to choose the role they will play in the conflict:
  • Help a team of dwarves deliver alchemist's fire
  • Defend a field hospital
  • Sneak behind enemy lines and topple a signal tower
All of this stuff is tracked with quest points. At the end, the DM makes a final d20 roll with quest point modifiers. This one roll determines if the battle is won or lost.

This adventure looks absolutely fantastic and I hope I am able to fit it in to some campaign, someday. It deserves to be run.

The Battle of Emridy Meadows is actually depicted in the intro to the computer game.

Dragon Magazine #423 - The Inn of the Welcome Wench

This is actually the hostel in Nulb, I just like the picture
Shawn Merwin wrote this handy article which details the Inn, which is a central location in the Village of Hommlet. This includes a depiction of the map of the inn which has been published in a number of poster map forms. He runs down the major NPCs, right out of the original Hommlet adventure:
  • Ostler Gundigoot: The owner. Militia man and trusted elder.
  • Goodwife Gundigoot: She runs the kitchen and is very insightful
  • Vesta Gundigoot: The eldest daughter. Attractive, single, hopes to run the inn one day.
  • Emadyne: The mischievous younger daughter. She likes to spy on the inn patrons (how amusing).
  • Zert the Fighter: Zert is a mysterious guy and an accomplished swordsman.
  • Spugnoir the Wizard: A fledgling, secretive wizard.
  • Turuko & Kobort: Dumb, evil fellows looking for a scam to run.
  • Furnok the Gambler: A guy who always seems to win his games of chance.
  • Elmo the Ranger: An enthusiastic, friendly fighter who is a bit of a drunken yokel.
There's a few adventure scenarios linked to the Inn. A delivery that never arrives, a fugitive who needs the PC's help, and bandits who want to get at "treasure" in the cellar.

Very good stuff. The Inn is a perfect place for new players to start playing D&D at.

Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil

This D&D 3rd edition adventure takes place 15 years after the original adventure. It is written by the great Monte Cook.

Followers of Tharizdun (sometimes known as The Doomdreamers) have set up a new base, the Temple of All-Consumption. Their goal was to regain access to the moathouse, which was a holy place that would give them a magic connection to Tharizdun. They also wanted to get into the Temple, to sift through the dungeon ruins and find the elemental nodes, which were not destroyed.
They had a new magic item - The Orb of Oblivion. Basically, using the orb, the moathouse and the nodes, the bad guys could free Tharizdun from his ancient prison.

Lareth the Beautiful is now the anointed champion of elemental evil and he might be able to summon the Princes of Elemental Evil to release Tharizdun. Our heroes must stop them.

The cultists can summon evil elementals: "A small, isolated number of the inhabitants of the Elemental Planes are indeed evil and ruled over by the Elemental Princes of Evil...".

The heroes end up going into the fire node and fighting Imix, one of the princes of elemental evil.

The Princes of Elemental Evil

Sometimes known as Archomentals, these entities first appeared in the AD&D 1st edition Fiend Folio. They are sometimes thought of as the offspring of the Elder Elemental God, which is interesting. They are:
  • Imix: Prince of Evil Fire Creatures
  • Ogremoch: Lord of Evil Earth Creatures
  • Olhydra: Princess of Evil Water Creatures
  • Yan-C-Bin: Master of Evil Air Creatures
  • Cryonax: Prince of Evil Cold Creatures
Dungeon Magazine #192 - Creature Incarnations: Abyssal Plague Demons

Now we're getting into some more modern stuff. It will be interesting to see if any of this comes into play in 5e. This article was written by Mike Shea of

These monsters are first described in Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale, but their origins are vague. They are demons that infect you with the abyssal plague. If you catch the disease, you grow red crystals on your body, you get mad and violent, and then you die and are reborn as an abyssal plague demon. 
This article explains the following:
  • Tharizdun is imprisoned in the bowels of the Abyss.
  • Tharizdun actually created the Abyss by piercing the Elemental Chaos with the Heart of the Abyss (a crystal of pure evil).
  • A cult was able to summon an essence of his will, in the form of a sentient red liquid laced with silver and flecked with gold - The Voidharrow.
  • The Voidharrow infects those who touch it, filling them with strength and the desire to destroy all creation.
  • The plague spread to many major D&D campaign worlds in a sort of "crossover" event. It hit Dark Sun, the Forgotten Realms, Eberron and 4e's own Nentir Vale.
Dungeon Magazine #197 - Creature Incarnations: Abyssal Plague Epic Threats
This article details high level abyssal plague demons. It also explains that the Voidharrow resides in the Plaguedeep, the core of a demiplane of its own creation.

There's actually stats for the Voidharrow in this. It's a "sentient disease that travels from world to world". It appears as a column of twisting red liquid crystal.

There are also details on high level exarchs. They are knights with red crystal blades jutting out of their limbs.

The Abyssal Plague was an early attempt at the 5e "storyline" approach. It played out through a series of novels, discussed here.

Dungeon Magazine #214 - The Elder Elemental Eye

This adventure was part of the D&D Encounters program, and was later published in Dungeon Magazine. This is one of the most recent treatments of Elemental Evil and might give us some clues as to how the new storyline will handle things.

This is set in the Forgotten Realms, at the crossroads village of Easting.

There's these three dwarf brothers meddling with dark forces:
  • Zarnak: The oldest, a seer whose mind was shattered when it came in contact with the Elder Elemental Eye.
  • Arzyg: Mastered the elements, devoted to the cause.
  • Jakairn: The youngest, fears his brothers.
Zarnak went into a temple of Ghaunadaur (god of oozes) and found a hidden intrusion of the abyssal plague. He brought his brothers and servants to the temple, planning to spread the plague and to create as many demons as he can.

In this adventure, if you catch the abyssal plague, it kills you and turns you into a chaos demon lasher. The problem mechanically with this was that the disease didn't kill you until the season was over, at best. Plus, everyone made their saves.

Abyssal plague demons
The adventurers figure out what to do with sick villagers, then head to the temple. They battle a giant ooze known as the Amorphous One. When it dies:

"The massive ooze turns solid, like dark ice, and then shatters. It leaves behind an immense blue jewel. The unnatural cold subsides, and the ice blocking the exits and covering a spiral staircase in the dais melts. The stairs lead down into a dark hole that has strange whispers emanating from it."

Now they can get to the secret Temple of the Eye. They battle Black Cyst elementals who are made up of all four elements. They bleed mud slicks and punch with fiery fists.

The adventurers eventually need to drain the Voidharrow basin, which will sever the link to the abyssal plague. They'll also need to defeat Zarnak, the crazy dwarf.

This was a good adventure, though it dragged at points when I ran it.

Lair Assault - Into the Pit of Madness

This was the final d&d 4th edition Lair Assault, and it had really, really awesome maps. This scenario is simple: Kill Tharizdun's priests and stop Tharizadun from coming into the world!

It's one ginormous encounter with a 20-round time limit. There's whispering madness, elemental nodes and a creature known as the Essence of Evil.

I never got to run this one, as it came out during my extended break from running store events. It looks incredibly awesome.

Derek Myers talks all about it here

Thanks for reading.

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