ToEE: Tentative CRPG/Board Game Comparison

Although it took me a while to figure out how to activate the level-up interface, my party is level 2 now. I’ve also found a second exit to the complex underneath the moat house, though a pentagonal room with a large pentagram built into the floor. I’m starting to think that the moat house is the Temple of Elemental Evil, or at least that the moat house is a disguise built over one of its entrances, like the innocent-looking phone booths that conceal the entrances to CONTROL and the Ministry of Magic. Maybe the mission to clear out the moat house will take the entire rest of the adventure, like finding the map in Curses. I could be wrong — there’s still nothing particularly elemental about the place, so it could just be one of those random dungeons that litters the world of Greyhawk, devoid of context or history. But either way, those bandits were taking their lives in their hands by using it as their hideout. It was only a matter time before the ogre or the gnolls living below their feet decided to go hunting, and found some prey very close at hand.

I started playing this game to compare it to my experiences with the Temple of Elemental Evil Adventure System board game, and for the most part, the two games haven’t had any similarity at all. I mean, they’re not even in the same campaign setting. The board game version is set in the Forgotten Realms instead of Greyhawk, and substitutes the town of Red Larch for the village of Hommlet. Presumably someone involved in the board game’s creation felt it would be better to stick with the setting that’s more familiar to most players. The final boss of the original seems to be a demon — at least, a demon has been mentioned as part of the backstory — while in the board game, it was a dragon. Perhaps this change was made to placate anxious parents, D&D having a rocky history with satanic panics. Or perhaps it was just an excuse to ship the game with a dragon mini in the box. Who knows?

And, of course, the board game gave us elemental stuff from the get-go. The CRPG has been remarkably reluctant to fulfill the promise of its title. The idea of an adventure themed around elemental magic was the main appeal of the game to me, when I picked it up back in the day, but so far it’s just been Undistinguished Fantasy Village Adventure. Of course, the mechanics of the board game kind of forced things in that regard. There, monsters are drawn from a deck of cards, and apart from some gradual modification by adding adding tougher monsters over the course of the campaign, it’s the same deck no matter what dungeon you’re exploring. The result is that you don’t get thematically-appropriate monsters like giant frogs in the swampy areas and skeletons on the old battlefield. You get a mix of cultists, gnolls, hobgoblins, doppelgangers, and firebats no matter where you are.

And the deeper reaches of the moat house are starting to remind me of that, as things start to turn into the mischmasch dungeon that formed almost the entirety of the board game. Particularly when I run into a familiar monster, like the Gnoll Archers that caused us so much trouble before.

While I’m talking about the board game, there’s one other semi-coincidence I’d like to note. The CRPG allows you to bring a maximum of five characters in your initial party. (Three additional slots are reserved for any NPCs you pick up.) For simplicity’s sake, I initially created a party of the four basic D&D character types: fighter, wizard, cleric, thief. After my initial failures, I decided to fill the fifth slot with another fighter-type, but for variety’s sake, I made this one a Ranger. It took me a matter of days to realize that I had recreated the board game’s party roster.

4 Comments so far

  1. matt w on 10 Sep 2017

    “The idea of an adventure themed around elemental magic was the main appeal of the game to me, when I picked it up back in the day, but so far it’s just been Undistinguished Fantasy Village Adventure.”

    This accords with my memories of the original module though–well, I should probably say my memories of The Village of Hommlet module that came with my AD&D, and then my vague awareness that it had got blown up into a full-fledged Temple of Elemental Evil.

    As you can probably guess from that, Hommlet was a module with a fantasy village setting that was meant to introduce you to D&D, and then years later Gygax & co. finally got around to doing the rest of the planned module leading up to the Temple. But a slow build up to the Temple of Elemental Evil was part of the original conception. And a boardgamegeek thread I just found about the board game is full of a bunch of people saying “It’s not really going to be like the old module. Where are all the cool characters from Hommlet?”

  2. malkav11 on 10 Sep 2017

    I think Forgotten Realms was the default setting of 4th edition D&D, which the boardgame is based on, and that may well be why the setting swap.

  3. Doug Orleans on 14 Sep 2017

    I agree with matt w, this game sounds remarkably faithful to the original T1 module. It’s been fun to read your commentary as I get nostalgic…

  4. Jason Dyer on 17 Sep 2017

    As someone very familiar with both the module and the computer game, yep, it’s very faithful.

    This also has interesting ramifications for the structure that are different than any other crpg I can think of, but our host will get there eventually.

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