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Mar 07

Review: Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil

Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil: A D&D 3(3.5) Adventure Module
or
How I learned to stop worrying and love being a DM again.

Let me paint you a picture. It’s Friday night and your brave band of brothers (and sisters) are on tenterhooks.
Your copy of the DM’s guide sits open in front of you and your Monster Manual awaits your gentle ministrations.
Players are perched, greedy ears hungry for your opening monologue… and… and…

CookRttToEECoverWell, your mind is blank. Your normally fecund and fruitful imagination has abandoned you and all your grand schemes and great plans have vaporised under the spot light. No amount of mental jiggling is going to allow you to add in another exciting encounter and you just don’t know what to do!

This is the DM’s lament and, for those of us who love to craft our own adventures, it’s a pretty common phenomenon. Known to some as the paradox of choice, it says that the more options we have the more limited our decisions become. And with the near infinite amount of choice that D&D, and a fevered imagination, can muster anyone can find themselves struggling from time to time.

A struggle for which Monte Cook provides a solution, a particularly elegant and dreadful solution. Thanks Monte!

The Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, cue thunderclaps and lightning flashes, written by Monte Cook in 2001 is designed to take a merry band of adventurers from level four, all the way up to the giddy heights of level 14.

Set 12 years after the original D&D adventure, “The Temple of Elemental Evil”, “Return” takes us back to the village of Hommlet and its environs. We revisit the Moathouse and the town of Nulb and are once again questing against a band of naer-do-wells working toward an unholy goal!

There are mysteries, murders and mayhem. Duplicitous dope dealers, dodgy dungeon dwelling dragons (fair enough) and some mine cart madness reminiscent of a certain brown fedora wearing archaeologist!

But wait, there’s more! All this is bundled up with the imminent and terrifying resurrection of the god of Eternal Darkness, Decay and Insanity!

Sounds exciting! So how does it handle? Well the module is delivered in three main parts, each part breaking down into three chapters. Playing from beginning to end could provide months of solid weekend gaming if you wish to play it page by page, encounter by encounter.

For those of us who simply want to beef up our own games Hommlet, the Crater Ridge Mines and the Temple of All Consumption can easily be picked apart and used however we might see fit. With a nice, clear layout, well defined characters and plots, plenty and I mean plenty of fearsome dungeons there are no shortage of elements (and elementals) to be used as we see fit.

As a d20 module it’s perfect for adaptation and if you don’t want to follow the script, or you just want to play it out slightly differently, it has many angles that can be examined. For my group, a hardy bunch of investigators more interested in dialogue than diamonds, its strong investigative element was expanded with supplemental rule system “Gumshoe” published by Pelgrane Press to great effect.

It’s not all treasure and glory though…

Being used to smaller modules I was quite intimidated with the near 200 pages of content I was presented with and, having received the digital edition, finding an easy way to handle it during game sessions meant printing out the entire module.

While it added an additional cost to the supplement it has obvious benefits. As a self-confessed margin scribbler I find that taking notes during the game is best if it can be done on the actual adventure its self, plus I get to use and utilize the numerous handouts and maps that are included.

But for those of you that think “hard-copy” is a dirty word and will only ever print out the maps under duress you may find the sheer weight and volume of the adventure cumbersome, even on an e-reader.

Please don’t let that one niggle of mine dissuade you though. This is an adventure module you should have in your arsenal. For, with all the complexity and coverage contained within its many pages, it will provide you with an outstanding adventure that will have your players coming back for more and more.

It plays easily, guiding you step by step. Starting with how best to prepare and, more importantly, what to expect in terms of size and scope. It includes a great background and history to the story, including what should (or could) have happened in the first adventure and is followed by a concise three part break down as to how this adventure should play out, followed by the adventure proper and finishing with a comprehensive set of appendices that cover new magical items & monsters, NPC statistics and handouts along with a new prestige class!

As with all D&D modules I’ve used in the past, it provides some simple character hooks to help you kick start your adventure and then brings in the actual adventure in clear and concise chapters. Each section is also peppered with sidebars providing you with great subplots and adventure seeds should you wish to make use of them.

Regardless of how much i enjoy this module from behind the DM’s screen though, the ultimate accolade has to be the relieved sighs and joyous whoops of my players. My merry band loved it, feeling that the hardest things to achieve are ultimately the most rewarding and “Return” was definitely no cakewalk.

So why not call forth a band of heroes, embrace your ruthless side for a time and let Monte Cooks marvelous adventure instill in your party a sense of wonder and dread that will become the stuff of table top legend.

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