Sunday, July 1, 2012

From the Hard Drive: Temple of Elemental Evil

To give you a sense of the stuff hanging out on my computer, here's a journal I started about the Temple of Elemental Evil... I just cut and pasted it in its entirety, but it's got some things in it I particularly like... note that the heroes I have stats for are for an older game version, and will not be compatible with the new RTSR...

I constantly have a hankering to stat up some heroes and take them on an epic dungeon crawl. I want to be surprised, but it’s hard to surprise yourself… so I figured that I could accomplish a whole bunch of things by taking a group of level 1 Resolute heroes through the classic Temple of Elemental Evil (which I downloaded last year before Wizards pulled their products from RPGNow). I can read through a classic dungeon crawl for inspiration while also seeing how Resolute holds up and getting to play as well.

I’ll start by reading through the module from the start, and create characters where it seems appropriate.

The Cover: Man I want to adventure here! (I’m using the 1987 edition for those following along at home).

Table of Contents: So as not to ruin the fun, I’m just perusing this very briefly … but this seems a bit ambitious for starting at level 1! The appendix has information on demigods. I can’t expect we’ll be hob-nobbing with them, but you never can tell.

Page 4. Right away, the Gygaxian prose is a bit inflated. Here’s a taste:

“Hommlet and Nulb are two small villages, which squat in the vales between these great powers like two dark and tiny eyes, surrounded by the ancient wrinkled hills on the face of some evil demiurge.”

I actually have to hit dictionary.com to tell me that a demiurge is a mythological creator god, the artificer of creation. Wow. We’re only going to be level 1- shouldn’t the imagery be a little more low-key? As I continue through page 4, Frank and Gary recommend that each player has a copy of the PH, and the DM needs the DMG, and all three monster books would help. Can’t my players just share a book or two between them? I’m struck now by the marketing, but at 12 I would have shrugged and told my mom I needed some more players’ handbooks… I could have up to eight people playing some time, and I should extra copies on hand just in case. I have to chuckle. Before we get to the players’ information, there is a warning that it’s a bit long-winded, but you’d better get used to it. It’s going to be a long adventure.

Editorial comment: It’s a bit early to start ragging on Gary and Frank too hard, but I have to marvel at their design sensibilities. They have this whole method acting approach to design that astounds me. Your characters are going to feel bored and tired and worn out, so we want you (the player) to feel the same way. I’ve written about Gygaxian doors before, but the design sensibility comes down to this: I’ll keep throwing so much mundane stuff at you (the player) that when you hit something important, you get sloppy (read ‘bored’) and give up going through your step-by-step process, and then I (DM) will nail you (player) through your character (thing you’ve invested a lot of thought into but now that I’ve bored you for two hours you are ready to take greater risks with).

The players’ introduction carries through to most of page 5, and I have to say- it’s worth the time it takes. I can see why Greyhawk amassed so much acclaim- it really feels like a genuine locale. The whole place feels very lived in and organic, just based on a few paragraphs’ description. Design note to self: you adventure in specific places, not general locations. This is pretty well done.

The DMs introduction reinforces what I’ve already come to understand- Gary and Frank really believed in method acting. The advice here feels right out of Hamlet (his advice to the players before the Mousetrap)… notes for acting. In general, this is pretty good advice, although the bit about having the PCs robbed by thieves to balance them out is – well – horribly unfair. Basically, if the heroes start with good gear or have a few magic items, make sure these get ‘lost’ on the way here. Ouch.

I think it’s time to make my heroes, by the way. It suggests one each of the four core types, so I’ll follow that advice. Since we’re starting at level 1, I’ll go with the straight-up starting stat blocks for 10 CP heroes in the core rules.

Charity, Human Cleric of Yahalla (10 CPs)

Fighting +2 (Shield Use); Healing +2; Stamina +2 (Armor); Resolve +1 [+1 racial shift]

Mace +3 (attack +2/damage +3); Ring Armor +3; Shield +3

Cinder, Forge Gnome Wizard (10 CPs)

Flame Bolt +2; Focus +2 (Warding); Intuition +2; Lore +2

Wand of Flame +3 (attack +2/damage +5/range 2)

Glower, Dwarf Myrmidon (10 CPs)

Battle Acumen +2 (see below); Fighting +2; Might +2; Stamina +3 [2 CPs +1 racial shift] (Armor)

Axe +3 (attack +2/damage +5); Chain Armor +4

Vesper, Moon Elf Stalker (10 CPs)

Evade +2; Fighting +2; Intuition +2; Precision +2; Stealth +2

Short Bow +3 (attack +2/damage +5/range 2)

The DM section concludes with suggestions for expanding the adventure into a larger campaign. While all good advice, this is pretty much useless to me right now- the whole point is to play the module as written, not to generate new stuff for the world (at least not for this one!).

Page 8: The Adventure Begins!

The introductory text makes it clear that interacting the residents of the town is going to be a part of the adventure. The problem here is that I am both referee and player. I think that I’ll give each hero a default ‘setting’ for how he or she interacts with others.

Charity assumes the best of everyone, and she always trusts people, taking them at their word.

Cinder assumes that everyone (even the most humble beggar) possesses wisdom and insight that can be of some use. He likes talking to everyone.

Glower likes no one, and he prefers battle to sitting around and talking. Companions are only for protecting your weak side in a fight.

Vesper trusts no one, and feels that everyone’s motives (including those of her allies) are suspect.

In reading through the first place description, I’m struck by two things:

1. We get details about everything- this is pretty helpful for running this family. I know what they are like, and how they will react in most situations.

2. They are LOADED! Seriously, just killing this family and taking their stuff can net 57 platinum (!) and a gem worth 200 gold (!!). This is 770 gold- split four ways, this is almost 200 gold each- for butchering a humble farming family. I’m sorry but NO ONE could be sitting on this kind of cash- even the modestly rich (i.e. ‘prosperous farm’ as indicated) are not going to have this much money just sitting around. All of the work on veracity of the setting goes right out the window when you have this much cash just sitting around. 40 silver buried in the back yard and a gemstone worth 12 gold for an emergency I might accept…

Needless to say, my heroes don’t butcher the family… although even Charity is sorely tempted considering how much money they have stashed. If we get really desperate later on, we can always come back and knock them off.

Farm #2. This one is more modest, and the description keeps it that way- until you get to the cash! Again, they have 172 ep, 51 gp, and 20 pp. A cupboard in the house holds a silver service worth 1, 300 gp. That’s over 1600 gold value- so for killing these two families, each hero now has over 600 gold in valuables. Holy snap!

Editorial Comment: I’ve never considered fantasy game economics in this light; when your culture is desperate, you make more cash to try to save your economy, and it (of course) has the opposite effect. I’d get what Gary was doing here if the prices in the Player’s Handbook supported this concept, but they don’t. Right now (two ‘encounters’ in) the heroes have access to enough money to fully supply a small army (and I’m not exaggerating) and this is after two encounters- and not even really tough ones- the heroes could distract the family and have their thief rob the house blind in the middle of the night- or just wait until most of the family goes to market and make off with everything. I like the idea that you get excited about all of this money you are making- until you go to spend it. I had this experience when we went to China- 100 Yuan is about 18 US dollars- so you feel like you have a lot of cash in your pocket until takeout dinner at McDonalds comes to 80 Yuan… I could see economies doing the same thing after the Great Reckoning. ‘Gold Crowns’ distributed by the remains of the Great Cavarian empire (actually 90% nickel and only 10% gold) were pumped out at an incredible rate to keep the image of the kingdom in place – if everyone has our currency and everyone is using it, then we’re not so bad off, right? Then the bottom falls out, and these things become comparatively worthless. Congratulations on your 100 gold crowns… however, a dagger costs 50 crowns, and a suit of leather armor costs 90, so you’ll need to so some more saving before taking home starting adventuring gear. You get D6 gold off of a fallen goblin? Big whoopdie doo. However, this has a stronger psychological effect on players- you ‘feel’ like you are making more progress because you are recovering gold instead of silver coins- but they are effectively the same thing. Hmmm. I’ll think more on this one…

Back to the encounter. Before reading on, I have already decided that, should we encounter either of the sons,
Charity and Cinder will do all of the talking while Glower and Vesper brood silently off in the distance.

There is a 3 in 6 chance that Elmo shows up while the heroes are here (I roll 4)- I decide that puts him as a random encounter on the road. The heroes run into him and (according to the text) he tries to join their brotherhood. Hmm. I really don’t want to keep track of another character, and I know that Glower and Vesper would be against it… although Charity would think it’s peachy to have another along. I’m going to have Cinder roll intuition (DR 8). A high roll means that Cinder detects the subterfuge that Elmo employs, while failing (7 or lower) means that Cinder completely buys Elmo’s lame story. Cinder rolls 8+2=10, and gets an uneasy feeling about the story. He votes no, and the heroes continue on without him (whew).

Just for the fun of it, I note that Elmo has several magical items and cash valued at 360 gold… discounting the magic, this brings our total to almost 2000 gold for an industrious and greedy party, of which my group is neither so far. Reading ahead, I see that this sort of description of “common people” with lots of disposable income will continue. I’ll summarize by money…

#3 Woodcutter’s Cottage is another mundane encounter. My heroes won’t kill him or take his stuff, but if they did they’d net another 15 gold. What?! I’m GLAD they didn’t waste their time butchering him… I’m sure the next family will have something worth stealing…

#4 Well Kept Farm. Almost 140 gold buried in the back yard under a tree.

#5 Prosperous Farmhouse. Manure pile has 575 gold in valuables, plus farmer carries 100 more.