XII: The Temple of Elemental Evil ~ Part III (1976)

Hommlet is filled with intriguing characters, wearing many masks. And just wait until you meet the gracile and “enchanting” young ladies of Nulb …

Art on this web page was created by Bob Greyvenstein.

Artwork © Grim Press, used with permission. All rights reserved.

Hello, and happy Flanaess Growfest to you from the castleoldskull.com blog. For our next glimpse into Gary Gygax’s Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, we will be looking at many of the characters and their secret origins. Who did Dave Arneson and the Gygax children play? Who were Burne and Rufus? Who were the secret Temple agents? Hommlet is watched by demons, it has an evil side. Let’s slip into the shadows and see what we can find …

In Hommlet, Darkness Rising:

April 1976

A chronicle of the year 1976 as it pertains to the history of Tactical Studies Rules, fantasy role-playing games, E. Gary Gygax, and David Lance Arneson.

Disclaimer: This is an historical essay, developed for knowledge and research endeavors, and is freely shared to the public for nonprofit educational purposes as a matter of fair use. All mentioned copyrighted entities remain copyrighted by their respective holders, being corporate for-profit organizations which castleoldskull.com (Kent David Kelly) is neither partnered nor affiliated with. No challenge to such copyrights is intended by specific entity mention in this open historical record.

This is Part III of an ongoing blog series. Click here for Part I or Part II.

When last we left Gary, Dave, and company – April 1976 – the Lost Temple of Elemental Evil campaign structure was just coming into being. Nothing had been played yet, but Gary was very busy and inspired by what he seeing and doing at TSR.

At the same time that he was working on his Hommlet and Temple mapping project (as discussed in Part II of this blog series), he was also working on his secret campaign notes. His new Greyhawk and Great Kingdom game just about ready to begin.

Meanwhile, the bills still had to be paid and the Dungeon Hobby Shop was ready to roll. Tim Kask would be busy with the editing of D&D Supplement III, Eldritch Wizardry, which would include – among many other treasures – all of Gary’s new and malign demon creations for inclusion in advanced campaigns.

We continue with our TSR chronology …

Mid-April 1976: Tim Kask is working hard to finalize D&D Supplement III, Eldritch Wizardry. He is working on editing Sustare’s druid class, the psionic monsters and psychic ability system, Brian’s artifacts (including the Hand of Vecna and the Sword of Kas), Gary’s artifacts (including mentions of Arneson’s City of the Gods and good Saint Cuthbert), and of course Gary’s demons.

We also find reference to “High Devils” (arch-devils), as these creatures of evil will soon (late 1977) enter the D&D infernal cosmology. But the demons are created first.

“As I got busier and busier, and the demands of work kept me from playing Greyhawk, I began to merge my profession with my avocation, and cheated a lot by creating the village of Hommlet and the Temple of Elemental Evil to test some ideas I had about random dungeons.”

Gary Gygax

c. Mid-April 1976: At this time, Gary is using random generation methods to generate many side rooms to his core design of the Temple dungeons. He might well be using a variant of the Solo Dungeon Adventures system, pioneered by George A. Lord and then further refined and playtested by Gary, Ernie, and Rob as demonstrated in The Strategic Review #1 (Spring 1975 issue). This would later become the core system that would appear in 1979’s Dungeon Masters Guide.

Gary might also be using monster lair and treasure generation systems that would later become the foundation of the Monster & Treasure Assortments (three volumes, 1977-1988), but that is speculation on my part.

April 19, 1976: Gary notes for Gamelog magazine that he is “readying a small fantasy campaign” to play at the office with TSR employees. (Weekend play sessions would likely occur at his home as well.) This will become the Hommlet campaign, in a as situated different part of the Great Kingdom away from Greyhawk, as we have discussed earlier.

April 23, 1976: Tim Kask writes the Foreword to Eldritch Wizardry, a piece of text which is usually a capstone indication that the writing is done. (April 23 was a Friday, and it seems likely that the Temple “office campaign” was about to begin now that the work on Eldritch Wizardry was finally done.)

c. Late April 1976: Gary invites the players into the campaign. He asks that the players start new characters if they were already established in either the Greyhawk or Blackmoor sub-campaigns within the larger Great Kingdom setting.

This will be a good thing, because he was probably thinking of the disruption that veteran adventurers such as Tenser or Robilar would cause with new lands to plunder and power disparities with other players. And of course, Rob Kuntz with Robilar would do just that soon enough in early 1977.

Gary assigns some parts of Hommlet to be developed by the other players. Each player is given a specific roll to further develop.

“The area here, as well as that of the Temple … was developed in order to smoothly integrate players with and without experience in the Greyhawk Campaign into a scenario related to the ‘old timers’ only by relative proximity. All had new characters, although the experienced players were assigned characters with levels above 1st or 2nd. The whole attempt turned out quite well, and many of the NPCs in the module are the characters and henchmen developed through play.”

Gary Gygax

A Who’s Who of Early Hommlet (1976)

Sorting out the players in Gary’s new game becomes a bit tricky due to all of the vague and conflicting recollections from those who were actually there. (No one, for example, seems to remember who all of the players were or who they played; but everyone has a small shred of data that can be compared to others’ memories.)

It seems however that there were two main play groups in the beginning. The first group was the TSR employees, playing townsfolk and those already resident in the Inn.

[1] Gremag (junior partner of the Traders’ Establishment) was played by David Megarry.

[2] Jaroo Ashstaff (of the Village Priest residence, later to be known as the Druid of the Grove), named merely “Tim” in 1976, was played by Tim Kask.

[3] Kobort (a fighter staying at the Inn) is likely a reference to Rob Kuntz, but I do not think he played in the campaign as anyone other than Sir Robilar. He is probably not present in the 1976 campaign, being added by Gary for the 1979 publication of module T1.

[4] Nira Melubb (the Moneychanger, in fantasy as in TSR, and that’s an anagram by the way) was played by Brian Blume.

There is a scant hint in a Gygax interview (Polyhedron #2) that Brian indeed played in Gary’s Greyhawk campaign from time to time, including in the Temple campaign.

[5] The Ostler (that’s a title, not a name, meaning Innkeeper) Gundigoot might be Gary Gygax himself. I have no evidence of this, but my speculation runs as follows: Gundigoot has “GG” as its syllables; TSR employees’ characters ran various businesses in Hommlett; no other player ran the Welcome Wench, which is a major establishment; and the text mentions Gundigoot’s loved daughters and Goodwife. It’s not much to go on, but it’s not nothing!

[6] Rannos Davl (senior partner of the Traders’ Establishment) was played by Dave Arneson.

[7] Terjon (of the Church of Saint Cuthbert) was played by Timothy Jones, roommate of Mike Carr. I do not yet know whether Tim played prior to his employment at TSR as there is very little info. (Tim by the way would be credited with layout and editing for 1979 module T1.)

I believe however that he played after 1976, because the Church of Saint Cuthbert does not appear on the 1976 Homlett map.

[8] Turuko (a monk staying at the Inn) is likely a reference to Terry Kuntz, but I do not know if he played in the 1976 campaign. He is an “associate” to Kobort.

These individuals may have played in the 1976 campaign, and/or they were included in the published 1979 module based on their contributions to Gary’s Hommlet setting.

If we consider this group as a whole, we can see that Hommlet is actually a microcosm of TSR and the Dungeon Hobby Shop.

The second (younger) group was comprised of Gary’s friends and family. They did not have establishments in Hommlet, but were rather outsiders and novice adventurers entering the area. Games with them were probably played at Gary’s house rather than at the office. (One of Heidi Gygax’s recollections mentions playing on the weekends.) However, the games might also have been played at the Dungeon Hobby Shop downstairs.

[9] Burne (B-Ernie) the magic-user was played by Ernie Gygax.

[10] Elmo does not yet exist.

[11] Murfles was played by Heidi Gygax, but perhaps not until later in the 70s.

[12] Otis was played by Luke Gygax. Luke was born in late 1970 and remembers that he was only four or five when he was invited to play this first character of his. (Doing the math, he was probably five and a half.)

Luke Gygax is able to play his first character, Otis the Ranger, who will go on to adventure through the Giant and Drow play tests, eventually dying at the bottom of a pit in the Tomb of Horrors. Luke is only about 4 years old.

[13] Rufus was played by Skip Williams.

[14] Y’dey was probably played by Cindy Gygax, but perhaps not until later in the 70s. Some people say that she was played by Heidi, but Cindy seems more likely because Heidi remembers herself, Cindy, and Luke playing together as refereed by their father … and Cindy does not have a character referenced.

So many questions. Like I said, the information is sparse in places.

Here are some wry things that Gary tells us about each character, we take these opinions as we will!

Burne (of E. Gygax) is clever, young, and a bit greedy.

Gremag (of D. Megarry) is agitated and somewhat hard to please.

Gundigoot (of G. Gygax?) is a good judge of character, who is watchful and “talks freely but says little”.

Jaroo (of T. Kask) is exceedingly wise, but immediately demands offerings or donations in gold to support the “needy of Hommlet”.

Kobort (of R. Kuntz?) is planning hard but running out of money. (Rob and Ernie by the way would begin working for the Dungeon Hobby Shop in the summer.)

Murfles (of H. Gygax) is an elven fighter/thief of low level. Perhaps more play and experience earning are needed …

Nira (of B. Blume) handles all the money in town. He is politely neutral, but he does not like the presence evil at all, because it hurts business.

Otis (of L. Gygax) is fond of his brother. Currently, his adventuring accomplices are Y’dey and Murfles.

Rannos (of D. Arneson) is placid, yet secretly evil and serving the Temple rather than Hommlet … (Sigh.) We learn in the 1979 module text that Rannos and Gremag would hide Lareth’s evil raiders in their wagons so that they could wander far and wide to plunder the countryside without the Moathouse environs being suspected of rising evil.

Rufus (of S. Williams) is good, dutiful, merciful, and loyal to Burne.

Terjon (of T. Jones) is stern and a bit untrusted, but still a good guy.

Turuko (of T. Kuntz?) is busy convincing Kobort that they can become wealthy and famous.

Y’dey (of C. Gygax?) is a good yet mysterious priestess who always seems to be absent.

All in all, a curious cast of entertaining characters I would say.

And how would all of these sundry personalities interact once the game began? That remains to be seen.

In our next installment, we will look at the adventures that were played and how these characters interacted in the shadow of the Temple.

Stay tuned …

Do be careful leaving the road.

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