Temple of Elemental Evil (CRPG)

Playing the Temple of Elemental Evil board game has made me curious about the original. The 2003 computer adaptation by Troika Games, who would go on to make the beloved Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, is on my Stack, so I reinstalled it and gave it a try last night.

I remember shelving this the first time around because it demanded so much attention, and required so many decisions, for so little result. This game is allegedly the most faithful CRPG representation of the 3.5e D&D ruleset ever, and, while that’s the version of D&D I’m most familiar with, I have to admit that it’s a bit of slog to get started in, with its excessively elaborate character creation system. ToEE pares down some of the lists of skills and gods and such into something more manageable, but it’s still quite a lot to get through, and, unlike a player of regular D&D, you do it for every character in your party. And then, once you get into the game proper and think you’re done with decisions like that for a while, a stranger on the road offers his services as a hireling, for an up-front fee plus a half-share of the loot. This happens before you even reach the person who assigns you your first mission, and it proved a breaking point for me back then.

I should note that the game does come with a number of pre-generated characters, and that going through the whole character generation process instead of just picking them out of a list was my decision — as was going through the “advanced” version of character creation when possible, doing stats by point-buy instead of rolling and so forth. What can I say? I wanted the full experience. But now that I’ve gone through that once, I think I’ll be picking premades for my next party. And there will be a next party; my first party suffered a TPK on its first mission, slaughtered by a mix of bandits and giant frogs while I was still trying to master the command UI.

That’s the game’s biggest peculiarity, the UI. Movement and obvious actions (opening a door, talking to a friendly NPC, using your default attack on an enemy, etc) is done through left-clicking, as you’d expect. Anything else, the whole panoply of spells and special abilities and nonstandard combat actions that 3.5e supports, is done through a system of hierarchical menus, displayed radially. This just looks weird, and takes some getting used to. I guess it’s functionally not all that different from a normal drop-down menu, but it’s not always obvious where a particular action fits in the hierarchy. Also, there are a few non-obvious wrinkles, like spontaneous casting for clerics. See, in 3.5e, clerics can cast any spell they’ve prepared, no matter what it is, as a “cure wounds” spell of the same level instead (or “inflict wounds” for evil clerics). How do you do this in the UI? It turns out you hold down the shift key while selecting it from the menu. This helpfully changes all spells listed in the menu into the appropriate “cure” spell, but it isn’t very discoverable. Fortunately, there’s documentation. Unfortunately, the documentation rivals an actual D&D manual in thickness, so things aren’t very discoverable there either. I have the feeling I’ll be making discoveries about things I could have been doing all along for some time.

3 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 31 Aug 2017

    Did you install the Circle of Eight mod? I think most people consider that pretty essential to playing TOEE at this point, not least because like every game Troika released, TOEE has its fair share of bugs that the mod does its best to correct.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 2 Sep 2017

    This comment was the first I’d heard of it, but I have it installed now.

  3. Ice Cream Jonsey on 3 Sep 2017

    I bought ToEE from a recent gog sale and had many of the same experiences that you did, baf. There was a lot of decision making up front. Which I am fine with, but at the time I think I had just gotten done with a bunch of decisions at my day job, so I shelved ToEE for a little bit. I’m going to download that mod as well (thanks, malkav11!) and give it a go.

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