XIII: The Temple of Elemental Evil ~ Part IV (1976)

Sycophants, cultists, and evil agents are afoot. Who can be trusted?

Hello all, and welcome once again to our castleoldskull.com blog chronicle for the 1976 Lost Temple of Elemental Evil campaign. In today’s post, we take a look at the goings-on in rustic Hommlet, seedy Nulb, and the Temple ruins as explored by Burne, Rufus, and Otis. The events of this time are hazy and ever-shifting in recollection, but you all want to know what happened, so let’s do some archaeological reconstruction with the Yellowskull shards at hand! Down we go …

Adventurers Seek Their Fortunes:

April-August 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 IV of an ongoing blog series. Click here for Part I.

So … you would like to know exactly what happened when Gary sat down with the players to begin the Lost Temple of Elemental Evil campaign? That’s great! I’d like to know, too. But most of the details have – I am honestly sad to say – been washed away by the cruel sands of time.

There isn’t much left to go on, and the riddles are basically scattered to the winds. But due to repeated requests I will try my best to tell the tale from the translatable shards that do exist. Kindly do not shoot the messenger when I tell you that there is not enough there to establish facts from. I hope to be able to expand upon this post in the future when more evidence comes to light, or when one of the original participants has some more fond memories to share.

But that day is not today, and we only have what we have.

So without any further ado, here is a broad summary of the spring and summer 1976 Lost Temple campaign events, collated into a very rough sequence with many missing pieces. If you would like to know more, I would too, so please let me know if you find any other comments or memories from those who were there and I will happy to add them in.

(This is another instance where the very fragmentary records play against us, and we have to assume things based on the evidence at hand.)


“Many veterans of the Greyhawk Campaign, as well as many newcomers, began adventuring in and around Hommlet about ten years ago. From these episodes rose Burne and Rufus, Jaroo, Terjon, Otis, Y’dey, and the rest.”

Gary Gygax


[1] Late April 1976: Gary sets the scene in Hommlet. From the character name “Rufus of Hommlet” – later to be changed by Gygax into “Sir Rufus of Skipperton” in honor of Skip Williams – we can assume that Rufus the level 1 fighter is a promising farm boy or some such. If so, he will be bored and present in town, ready for adventure as soon as some enterprising strangers show up.

[2] Burne, the level 1 magic-user played by Ernie Gygax, comes into Hommlet, probably from the City of Greyhawk, up the south road and past the farmsteads. Perhaps he falls in with Rufus at this time.

[3] In Luke Gygax’s reminiscence (Gary Con forums, 2009), a party of individuals comes to town along with Burne. And that probably wouldn’t include the players who are running NPCs at the traders’ establishment and so forth. So at a guess, the party might also include Tim the druid (Tim Kask) from the village priest house, Rufus, and maybe Murfles (Heidi Gygax) and/or Y’dey (Cindy Gygax). Luke guesses that table participants might have included Rob Kuntz, Jim Ward, Mike Ratner, and/or Mike Mornard. (If so, we have no information yet about their characters.)

[4] Burne walks into the Inn of the Welcome Wench.

[5] The party hires some men-at-arms in Hommlet. From the text in T1, they might do this by going to the traders’ establishment. Or, they might go the village elder to talk about available militia, or maybe just put up hiring notices at the Inn. We can assume that since the defensive village militia are loathe to leave their homes, most of the men-at-arms would hail from the northern city of Verbobonc.

[6] Whatever happens, one of the men-at-arms hired is actually Otis the level 1 ranger, as played by Luke Gygax, “sent to spy on the group and see what their intentions were.” The early OD&D, pre-Players Handbook ranger class (1975) that was used at this time is described in The Strategic Review #2, as designed by Joe Fischer.

[7] The party leaves Hommlet and begins adventuring abroad. Perhaps they journey into the moathouse if that mini-dungeon even exists yet. If so, we have a good idea of what happens there beginning with the killer frogs (another Gygaxian nod, by the way, to Dave Arneson’s Temple of the Frog scenario). If not, they might just travel east and north into the woods to where Nulb and the Temple surface ruins are. There are only two other roads out of town, one toward civilization (north) and another into the perilous borderlands (east), so it’s pretty clear which direction the party is heading in search of gold and glory.

[8] The adventurers fight monsters, with men-at-arms and Otis the “tank” battling in the front rank. At some point during these initial adventures, the party figures out who Otis actually is and what his (good) intentions are. At a guess, they might have witnessed Otis in efficient combat against humanoids, or using tracking skills, or doing something else beyond a mere man-at-arm’s normal capabilities.

[9] The party works to clear all of the evil Temple agents out of Hommlet. Only when this is done do they band together in force to march out and then assault the Temple itself. (We find this bit of information from Gary hidden away in the T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil supermodule, pg. 28.)

[10] Early Summer 1976?: Tim Kask becomes too busy to play on a regular basis (due to the launch of The Dragon magazine and many other events), which leads to other TSR employees coming up with the bawdy “Tim” tales to explain his ongoing absence. You can see one of Tim’s early reminiscences of this fact in The Dragon #13 (April 1978): “In honor of one of my own characters, a number of the players here composed a bawdy ditty entitled ‘Tim, the Lusty Druid’ that is definitely NOT suitable for reprinting …”

[11] The adventurers are terrified of heading toward the Temple proper, even after they know it exists. They might require some coaxing from Gary, or perhaps some aid via NPC alliances, advice from the druid, or something else besides. (Refer to an aside in Rob Kuntz’s history of Sir Robilar, as found in Oerth Journal #7.)

[12] The adventurers head into the wilds. We know (from a brief comment by Gary in ENWorld Q&A Thread VIII) that they went to the village of Nulb next.

[13] For the first time, the adventurers enter the Temple surface ruins. After some exploring, they find the refectory to the northeast, and from there the trap door which leads down into the dungeons. We can surmise these details from looking at Gary’s original 1976 Temple Ruins map.

[14] The dungeon delving beneath the Lost Temple. From Gary’s recollections, the Temple dungeons would feature the main rooms for each level he designed, with the side areas (adjoining the central descent areas for each dungeon level) filled with the randomly-generated monsters and treasures. The adventurers gain several experience levels (which we learn again from T1-4, pg. 28).

[15] Tim’s repeated absences lead to Gary treating Tim the Druid as a stay-at-home advisor to adventurers. “If I was not there,” he explained, “neither was Jaroo [the later name for the druid] unless it was in a role as an NPC / adviser / savant, etc.  This was a courtesy extended to me by Gary following a series of exchanges we had before I got there, and a couple of talks after I got there, dealing with this issue.”

[16] The delving in the Temple dungeon continues over several forays. I will share with you the massive, detail-filled quote bit of relevance from Gary, which comes from ENWorld Q&A Thread VIII, dated February 25, 2005:

“After a lot of adventuring fun in Hommlet, and a foray into Nulb, the team went into the Temple of Elemental Evil, explored, fought, withdrew, and came back again repeatedly.”

Yes, that’s about it. The party probably uses Nulb as their base of operations during this time, or perhaps they return to Hommlet for healing and druidic advice. We learn over at the Dragonsfoot forums that the adventurers were exploring and mapping, but mostly avoid encounters with monsters.

To know more, we would have to make some huge assumptions, such as: [1] Frank Mentzer designed supermodule T1-4 as best he could using all of Gary’s provided notes (very likely). [2] Gary’s notes for dungeon level 1 from 1976 were not substantially rewritten from 1977 to 1982 before being provided to Frank (less likely). [3] Temple Dungeon level 1 as published accurately reflects a freezeframe of the subterranean environment that was played through in 1976 (highly unlikely).

If all of these assumptions are correct, then – following along in our copy of T1-4 – we know that they would have encountered lairing brigands, evil fighters, ghasts, ghouls, giant rats, gnolls, ogres, skeletons, and/or stirges in various chambers. All of these monsters existed in the game prior to the publication of the 1977 hardcover bestiary.

[17] The adventurers reach dungeon level two. I have no details at this time, sorry. If we make the same big assumptions as above, we know that they might have encountered bugbears, evil cultists, gargoyles, gnolls, trolls, werewolves, and other more terrifying things (a hydra, a juggernaut, a minotaur, and so forth).

[18] The adventurers reach dungeon level three. They discover the coffin which holds Prince Thrommel in magic stasis, but they do not yet know what do to solve the dilemma. This is the last event that I know of before Sir Robilar would arrive in Hommlet.

[19] August 1976?: The campaign gradually runs its course without much more action occurring. This might be when – to Gary’s ongoing annoyance – the players are more interested in running around Nulb than they are in exploring the dungeons. It is perhaps the summer of 1976, which would be when Gen Con and other business necessitates a focus on TSR matters and not dungeon play in the Greyhawk campaign.

And so went the early Lost Temple campaign in 1976. But there was much more to come, and the goings-on would be nothing like Gary would suspect. So in our next essay, we will take a look at the coming of Sir Robilar and how that disrupted the Lost Temple campaign. But at least it brought some exciting events for the other players to respond to!

And to re-experience the glorious Mockman misadventures in Hommlet and the Moathouse, be sure to click here.

Stay tuned …

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