My party is very close to finishing ‘T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil’. First off, regardless of what your local 5e players say, this is a MEGA-DUNGEON. Granted it’s not a hundred little independent adventures in the same area as most modern players know mega-dungeons (or, as MMO players call it, a quest hub), but a classic mega-dungeon consisting of ONE BIG CONTINUOUS ADVENTURE!
The module is the expansion / completion of T1 – Village of Hommlet, which was supposed to serve as a quest hub for future modules. Due to issues with the number of projects in which Gygax was involved, T2 –Twhatever were never made. A few years later, the combined module was created and the number set to 4 due to the new module being in 4 acts (Hommlet / moathouse [original T1], Village of Nulb, The temple and dungeons, and the elemental demi-planes). I played through T1 and remember waiting and waiting for the next module, before this one dropped years later.
First, like all 1e & most 2e modules, it was NOT a hand-holder, you could get very dead if you are not careful and still could if Istus (the goddess of fate) wasn’t smiling on your dice. A couple cases in point. The moat-house, for low-level characters, has a giant snake…poison save VS death. In the Temple dungeons, another snake, an incident with dust of choking and sneezing (save or die) and a banshee (save or flee in fear, save or die vs the wail).
Second, this module is BIG! Considering the levels at which the players start, you will be keeping track a time a LOT as DM, the players frequently needing to rest, heal, even return to Hommlet for new gear, level training, etc.
Playthrough (Combat / Exploration):
Initially, the temple is not on alert, so players can (within reason) run rampant on the first dungeon level. Second through fourth, not so much as guards will have been set, doors locked, traps armed, etc. And the difficulty ramps up FAST the deeper you go. Keeping track of what uniform was worn where by the denizens, stashing loot instead of exiting to sell it and attempting to reason with the humanoid troops (read arrow-fodder) can go a LONG way to mitigate this.
Regardless of your tactics, you WILL be fighting a LOT and frequently against competent Cleric casters (with a few magic users the deeper you go). If you are introducing a group to 1e that prefers the head games / talkee-talkee of 4-5e, this is probably not the best introductory module (alternately, just play the T1 part (Hommlet and Moathouse) and MAYBE some intel gathering in Nulb….but skip the temple as 5e talkee-types will hate it).
It is also possible for things to end badly for the entire group as well. At one point, there is a chance of accidentally (or an NPC doing it on purpose if forwarned of the player’s approach) of summoning the evil demigod Iuz the Old. However, if this happens, there is an equally good chance of the lesser god, St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel, appearing and all the gods departing to settle their issues in private. Also, greedy or thoughtlessly reckless parties can end up freeing the demoness Zuggtmoy LONG before there is a chance to destroy her and the temple. And note, even fully bound, she is incredibly powerful…unbound…forget it. My party pulled a Sir Robin (They bravely ran away, away…when danger reared its ugly head, they bravely turned their tails and fled!) when they encountered her.
The first three sections are well-thought out, the clues and a long-epic poem add a certain feeling of suspense, and when the players have that ‘AHH!’ moment and connect a line or paragraph of the poem to an in-game location or event, it is very satisfying for the players…and the incorrect guesses are amusing for the DM.
The NPC’s players can meet, with a bit of GM polishing, can be memorable. My party grew attached to an orc they rescued on Level 1 of the temple dungeons…there were two, but a failed poison save made it one. The Lawful Evil Orc pledged to help them fight the Chaotic Evil of the temple in return for gems…and kept his word until the last. Touchingly, when he died and could not be raised, the party built a funeral pyre and burned him with the promised gems…their Neutral cleric of Istus performing a service. The Gnome fighter/thief they rescued who also died…they have stored in a sealed box with the intention of raising/resurrecting him and failing that, returning him to his people and his share of the treasure to his lady (I created a note from him to his intended and they found it after he died). Much room for creating personalities from the NPC’s
Treasure is VERY Monty Haul and you can tell where Gygax’s parts ended with the original T1 and where the folks that helped complete the module begins. Gygaxian GM’ing aimed to keep the Characters hungry for more. Magical loot was something to be awed by, saving up for a castle was a goal for the mid-late teens in terms of level. The Temple sections went full munchkin on treasure. An intelligent sword? Jewelry worth 20,000gp? In a module for levels 4-8? Even an artifact shows up at one point (my party missed it, thankfully). I had to cut out a LOT of the Munchkin, dividing the gold by a factor of 10-20 and STILL my players are talking about how much loot there is. As a GM, unless this is a throwaway one-shot campaign, you ARE going to have to do your own item / coin reward balancing or you WILL destroy your campaign.
The module quality as it relates to proofreading and editing goes downhill the further in you go. In the Hommlet sections, weapons are listed as Broadsword 2d4 (2-8)…by the Temple, they drop the dice and let you figure out that 4-14 is actually 2d6+2. They list experience for monsters….it is accurate to the chart in the DMG for the first sections. Once you get into the temple it can be low by several hundred or HIGH by an equal amount. No idea how they got the numbers they did. By the final section, the demi-planes, you have maps with numbered encounter areas but few if any of the listed areas have either descriptions (beyond something like ‘A ledge, 10’ above the water’ or what monsters are found there, if any. You have to pick off a list of applicable monsters, roll the hit points (yes, they stopped listing HP in that section of the module) and make up a description for the encounter. Four entire demi-planes, each with at least 20 numbered areas and full page maps, fits in under 10 pages. The whole Demi-Elemental plane section feels like something typed up after the writer lost interest and just wanted to finish it or was up against a deadline and hacked something together and shipped it.
We play twice a month, every other weekend, due to most of my party having civil-service type jobs with odd work so many days on/ so many days off schedules. Game sessions usually last 6-8 hours, with a few that have ran 10 hours. We have been playing the Temple literally for MONTHS (and have only missed 3 games due to illness or prior obligations)….the module is BIG! Several times, I have asked them if they were having fun (I would have vastly shortened it were they not), but everyone says they have been and are enjoying themselves. It’s a hell of a slog to get through, and at times annoying for the GM, but if your party likes a module with multi-session continuity, a module with consequences for your actions and a module where they feel they are making a difference…folks, this is it.
Play Value: 10 of 10
Lethality: 8 of 10
RP Options: 8 of 10
Editing/QC: 5 of 10