ToEE: Impatience to Get Started

I’ve given the CRPG version of Temple of Elemental Evil another go. I had really expected to be further along by now, but I’ve been stuck in the very beginning, suffering a series of Total Party Kills in the game’s first real mission. Most of my attempts have gone like this:

1. I start a new game with a Good-aligned party. Apparently the alignment of your party affects how you get drawn into the scenario. Good parties get involved by witnessing a murder; there’s a brief bit of combat against the murderer, after which you discover the victim to be a cleric from the picturesque stone-and-thatch village of Hommlet.

2. I go to Hommlet to deliver news of the murder to the church of St. Cuthbert. This is clear on the opposite side of the map from your starting position, so I pass by a number of farmers, tradesmen, and merchants along the way, some of whom I can talk to. I’d call them distractions, but they’re frankly not very interesting distractions, so I quickly lose patience with them and make a beeline for the church.

3. The head cleric gives me a quest to clear out some bandits holed up in an abandoned moat house out in a nearby swamp.

4. On the path to the moat house, I’m bushwhacked by giant frogs, which eat my party. I’ll say this: the game doesn’t waste your time with vanilla stuff like kobolds. It goes straight for the monsters with special combat moves, specifically, a tongue-based grapple with a possibility of halflings getting swallowed whole.

I did manage to kill the frogs once, but wound up so hurt and spell-depleted that I decided to pitch camp and recover before proceeding any further, just like I would in the Gold Box games. During the night, bandits came and finished me off.

You can only go through so many identical failures before you start to wonder if there’s a better approach. Maybe stealth? I switched the party’s rogue into Sneak mode and sent her along the path alone, and successfully reached the moat house without incident. And the rules of the game are such that when you reach a door from one map to another, the entire party goes through as a unit, even if only one party member is anywhere near the door. Sneaking everyone into the moat house this way felt like a cheat, but at least I got killed by bandits before I could feel too bad about it.

Since fighting the bandits is the whole point of the mission, I don’t think I’ll be sneaking my way past that part. So I’m just resigning myself to the fact that I’m not ready for the moat house yet, and that, despite my impatience to see some elemental evils, I’m going to have to spend some time talking to those boring rustics first, looking for side-quests and probably picking up a hireling or two. It turns out that the generic fantasy tavern has multiple opportunities of this sort. I guess I should have gone there first, on the basis of cliché, but the story was doing a much better job of driving me towards the moat house. (It turns out you can get that quest from multiple people, even.)

It strikes me that my impatience is partly based on the idea that fight scenes are the meat of D&D. You go and create these highly combat-specialized characters, and you’re champing at the bit to put them through their paces, then the game puts all this town in the way. But wait, isn’t a fight scene the very first thing that happens? Before you get to Hommlet, you take down that murderer in combat mode. That’s way too little to satisfy, though, as either ludic challenge or as power fantasy. It may even increase my impatience.

4 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 4 Sep 2017

    It’s based on the old 1st edition module, so it’s quite combat-heavy. Just gotta bear with it.

  2. Jason Dyer on 4 Sep 2017

    I did ok gunning straight for the moat house, but those frogs are disproportionately hard compared to other parts of the game. (This is partly due to the general effect in rpgs of having more resources as the game goes on, though.)

    I played before the mod existed and never ran into the infamous bugs. Lucky I suppose?

  3. Carl Muckenhoupt on 5 Sep 2017

    I don’t know if “based on a 1st edition module” is good support for the claim that it’s combat-heavy. Even the most combat-heavy pen-and-paper modules tend to have fewer and smaller combat encounters than a typical CRPG, for the simple reason that it takes so much longer to play them out when you have to do it by hand.

  4. malkav11 on 5 Sep 2017

    Well, the game is 90% combat, regardless.

Leave a reply