XV: The Temple of Elemental Evil ~ Part V (1977)

Some malefic forces beyond mortal comprehension are best not tampered with. But what’s the fun in that?

Hail and well met everyone, and happy Sun’s-Day to you all from the castleoldskull.com blog as we rest away from the dungeons and heal our wounds. Today we conclude the Lost Temple of Elemental Evil history series, detailing the adventures of Robilar, Tenser, Burne, Rufus, Otis, and all the rest as they deal with the havoc of an unleashed demoness, Zuggtmoy.

Journey with us if you will, be wary of the slimes …

The Demoness Unleashed

Early 1977

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 V of an ongoing blog series. Click here for Part I.

Lake Geneva in winter. It is January or February in 1977.

The Lost Temple campaign has grown silent, due to the busyness of TSR and the trepidation of the adventurers as they slowly explored the Temple dungeons to avoid being overwhelmed. The adventurers had just discovered the paladin lord Prince Thrommel imprisoned in stasis, and did not know how to move forward.

One day, Lake Geneva is snowed in due to a long storm. Rob Kuntz is looking for something to do. He is the co-Game Master of the Greyhawk campaign along with Gary Gygax. Gary and Rob decide to play.

The Greyhawk Dungeons campaign is mostly over at this time, due to all of the events of 1973-1976 involving Zagyg and all the rest. Rob’s main character Lord Robilar built a stronghold in the forests beyond the Free City of Greyhawk. In the later published version of the World of Greyhawk, this would be the region of the Gnarley Forest and the Wild Coast.

Considering that the stronghold is in the same forest as the Lost Temple, Gary decides that rumors have reached Robilar concerning Good-aligned adventurers locating the Lost Temple and searching for treasures therein.

Naturally, Robilar decides that he should visit the Temple before the other characters are able to steal all of the most valuable dungeon treasures for themselves …

Here is a reconstruction of events, following the bits and pieces of the several narratives and recollections we have at hand. Sources consulted for this Greyhawk campaign chronicle include the Rob Kuntz’s El Raja Key Archive, supermodule T1-4, Gary’s comments, the Oerth Journal, my own Hawk & Moor, and too many random forum posts to mention.

[1] The evil antihero Lord Robilar comes to the region of the Lost Temple of Elemental Evil, riding his carpet of flying along with his bodyguard Quij the orc hero. He also has control of a pair of tamed griffons, which tells us that there were probably four characters in total.

[2] Robilar comes to the Temple “with a small party” as Gary tells us. At a guess, that probably means that his mage henchman Otto was with him, and perhaps one other follower as well. There are many characters listed throughout the El Raja Key Archive for example who might be active as Rob’s allied NPC.

Robilar might well – in the name of secrecy – avoid Hommlet and Nulb entirely.

[3] Robilar and his crew search the Temple grounds and ruins, enter the cultists’ refectory, and find the trap door that leads down into the dungeons.

[4] Robilar leaves Quij to guard the griffons and the carpet, likely hiding somewhere in the forest nearby.

[5] Robilar and his companions enter the dungeons. While the earlier adventurers (Burne, Rufus, Otis, etc.) were cautious, Robilar is a high level fighter and he “bulls his way through”.

[6] The weather is cold; perhaps Gary has the season as winter in the Great Kingdom, mirroring real life. Quij, left alone overnight to guard the griffons, ruins the carpet of flying by turning it into a poncho (presumably with a nice hole for his head to fit through.

[7] Over two days (equating to a long weekend of play), Robilar rampages through the dungeons. In doing so, they break the magical seals on several doors by throwing massive pillars into them. (Robilar has storm giant strength due to a magical belt.) In doing so, the greed-driven party accidentally frees a “certain personage”, the demoness Zuggtmoy.

“As for the Temple of Elemental Evil, Zuggtmoy is unkillable. She can be set free or sent back to the Abyss, but the PCs cannot destroy her.”

Gary Gygax

[8] According to some accounts, Zuggtmoy briefly imprisons Robilar either in the Temple or the Abyss as a favored servant to be aptly rewarded. Robilar either escapes her clutches or makes a demonic pact of some kind. Perhaps, considering later campaign events, he agrees to serve as her champion for a time, or to recover a powerful artifact in her name. The details are confused and I cannot be clearer unfortunately as to what exactly transpired due to conflicting information.

[9] Likely due to the presence of nearby spies, the forces of Good learn that Robilar is active in the area and causing mayhem. In real life terms, this probably involves Gary telling Ernie, Luke, Skip, etc. that Rob was entering the Temple campaign and had already disrupted things a fair amount. Playing fairly, the other players would have a chance to respond.

[10] Robilar flees from Zuggtmoy. The demoness explores the Temple, surveying her remaining forces. She realizes that a significant amount of time has passed since her imprisonment, and there is little left of her former power structure. Instead of taking years to rebuild and scheme, she departs via gate to reside once more on her home plane within the Abyss.

[11] Tenser musters his forces with the intent of intercepting Robilar before he can escape with all of the treasure. They probably seek counsel from Jaroo (Tim the Lusty Druid) and others in Hommlet. Perhaps soldiers are mustered in nearby Verbobonc as well.

The eventually gathered army of Good will include elves (probably from the Kingdom of Celene), unicorns (ridden no doubt by elven knights and maidens), and paladins (undoubtedly Prince Thrommel’s companions, who hailed from Verbobonc).

As a technicality, note that Tenser is Ernie’s primary Player Character, but the lower-level Burne was played in the Lost Temple campaign. Gary might decide here that since Rob is allowed to use his high-level character Robilar, Ernie is allowed to use his characters Tenser and Burne.

[12] The forces of Good arrive in the Temple area “in force”. They are led by Tenser (Ernie), along with Otis (Luke), Rufus (Skip) and others. There is fierce personal rivalry between Robilar and Tenser, as readers of my Hawk & Moor history books know.

[13] There is some kind of conflict between Robilar’s group and the outnumbering forces of Good. At a guess, Robilar was probably trying to figure out how to transport all of the treasure and then was rudely interrupted. The Good-aligned forces of course would be rather displeased that the demoness Zuggtmoy was on the loose once again after having been imprisoned beneath the Temple for many years.

[14] Robilar flees the area with (at least some of) his treasures, pursued by the forces of Good who are sworn to bring him to justice. They are probably riding the two griffons; perhaps Otto has a Fly spell available (or the carpet of flying might still be somewhat usable at a slower speed).

[15] Robilar successfully evades the forces of Good. However, Gary secretly decides that Jaroo (Tim) stealthily follows them by shape-shifting and soaring in falcon form. Robilar and his companions fly into his stronghold, believing themselves to be safe.

[16] Jaroo / Tim returns to the army of Good, and informs Tenser and all the rest of Robilar’s escape and the location of his stronghold.

[17] Tenser (Ernie), Burne (again Ernie), Otis (Luke), Rufus (Skip) and the rest journey in pursuit of Lord Robilar.

[18] Everyone would be displeased with Rob now, due to the ruining of the Lost Temple campaign setting for other players. Rob – realizing the odds are gravely stacked against him – has Robilar flee. The army of Good besieges the castle. The defense is led by the abandoned mage Otto.

Otto uses Dispel Magic on the stronghold’s courtyard fountain, which is filled with snails. In doing so he reveals that the snails were actually polymorphed bloodthirsty hydras. A huge battle ensues, but the army of Good prevails. Otto flees during the chaos.

[19] The castle is sacked. The army of Good informs the lord mayor of the Free City of Greyhawk about Robilar’s evil acts, freeing the demoness Zuggtmoy. Therefore Robilar loses control of his business, the Green Dragon Inn which overlooks the Nyr Dyv. The forces of law in Greyhawk confiscate Robilar’s remaining property.

“The DM’s vendetta pursued Robilar all the way back to his castle, which he was forced to abandon. A valuable lesson was learned and Robilar’s history starts being controlled by outside forces. Not much treasure was gained and with the fall of his castle, he lost more than he gained. He did make a friend of Zuggtmoy, though nothing transpired from that quarter.”

Rob Kuntz

[20] Considering Robilar’s plundering of the Temple, Gary decides to drop the Temple campaign for now. The dungeons have been looted, Zuggtmoy is no longer present, and Prince Thrommel is probably rescued by NPCs. The adventures in the region are largely played out.

“When Robilar freed Zuggtmoy, I pretty well scrapped the idea of using [the Temple of Elemental Evil] for ongoing adventures for my group, vowing to get back to finishing it eventually. As I was not able to do much DMing thereafter, that never happened …”

Gary Gygax

And so ended the Lost Temple of Elemental Evil campaign. But while Gary’s tale is ended, many hundreds of thousands of players (if not millions, considering the videogame versions too) have enjoyed the Temple dungeons and made their own legends. And if you and your players have not, what are you waiting for? This is one of the most famous adventure settings in Dungeons & Dragons, and all of the unplundered halls are waiting for you. Perhaps it is time to muster forces for an expedition of your own.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of essays concerning the Temple and its dark mysteries. We will return to this subject in the future, concerning the strange history of the Golden Skull, the publication of T1, T1-4, and everything else. But for now, this chapter of the Castle Oldskull chronicle has drawn to a close.

Thank you for reading! As always, there is more to come.

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