ToEE: Nulb

One way or another, the moat house quest leads the player to the nearby town of Nulb, where you can get directions to the Temple of Elemental Evil itself. I’ve ventured inside the Temple only briefly — it’s still well beyond my capabilities. Nulb was more explore-worthy, although nowhere near as large as Hommlet. It’s basically the same idea as Buccaneer’s Den in the Ultima games: a pirate settlement, built on an irregular tangle of piers, devoted entirely to wickedness and debauchery.

And, as in Buccaneer’s Den, this means it’s all kind of compressed and cursory, without much examination of what it all means. Here’s a pirate ship, there’s a whore house, over there is a tavern that has regular brawls that people bet on. Hommlet also has a tavern, but Nulb, despite being smaller, has two. A blacksmith’s assistant offers to help you steal his master’s wares. Two of the pirates seem to be in an abusive gay relationship, and they’re the only openly gay characters I’ve seen. An old gypsy woman has a young female slave, who you can buy and set free, or for that matter buy and keep. “Gypsies” in fantasy worlds are always problematic, considering that they’re a stereotype of a real-world ethnicity, but if that bothers you, wait til you see the old Chinese man selling exotic weapons, and consider how he was probably played by the typical teenage dungeon master back in the 80s. Heck, consider how the very existence of that whore house in such campaigns. In the CRPG version, it’s filled with naked women, completely interchangeable and without any dialogue. It’s not unusual for the game to treat supernumeraries this way, but context makes it oogier.

There’s one difference between Nulb and Hommlet in the CRPG version that seems particularly strange: in Nulb, you can flirt with all the tavern wenches, and some of the other characters besides. The dialogue menus in Hommlet didn’t even have such an option. It’s as if merely being in such a place expands the range of social possibility a little. Probably it’s another artifact of adaptation, that the original module contained explicit instructions about how characters in Nulb respond to flirting and no such instructions for Hommlet. If so, it shows something about what the creators of the module were expecting of the players, that they would see a place where all manner of licentiousness is practiced and perceive it as permission to throw their inhibitions to the winds.

Hommlet is the picket-fenced suburb of Greyhawk, full of wholesome middle-class families whose chief concerns are getting authority figures to approve their marriages and arguing about which church to attend. Nulb is the attempted alternative to this. Sexier, edgier. There are no children in Nulb. Everything transgressive you can think of happens there. Except it’s all a vision from behind that picket fence, exoticized and othered.

1 Comment so far

  1. matt w on 2 Oct 2017

    This reminds me of “The Street of Crocodiles” and more so of that “Roll the dice to see if I’m getting drunk!” sketch.

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