Sunday, December 3, 2017

It's Re-Imagination Time!

As those who have followed this blog over the years are probably aware, my favorite TSR module of all time is T1:The Village of Hommlet. There really is no contest. It is one of the very few TSR modules I have actually ran as a Referee and it is the only one I have ran multiple times. I have even re-skinned it on numerous occasions. Headwaters in my Lost Colony Campaign started life as the map from T1.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I was sore disappointed when T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil finally made its way to publication. While I have used the surface temple map as an entrance to other dungeons, I have never actually bothered to run it outside of a failed attempt at a solo campaign from some summer when I was in college and was desperate for some gaming.

Therefore, it has been the TSR module I have most wanted to re-imagine a la Slave Pits of Abhoth are to A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity and The Caves of Cormakir are to B2: The Keep on the Borderland. I have drawn maps, re-skinned Druids as elemental monsters and fiddled with the idea for years. Unfortunately, nothing has ever really inspired me to go beyond tinkering.

While I have been working on my various alternate versions of SWCL, I have been trying to wrack my brains as to what kind of adventure I could write up to support SWCL since it has set up permanent residency in my gamer heart and mind. It occurred to me that I could write up a mega-dungeon based on maps I’ve done in the past and ran in my Lost Colonies Campaign (with mixed results, thus justifying the re-write). It also occurred to me that these maps could be the foundation of my version of ToEE. Once I had that thought, ideas just started flowing.

The first big idea, the one where this will most obviously be a re-imagining, is to ditch the 4-part European elemental system and replace it with the 5-part Asian system. In terms of gaming, it offers a lot of world-building and factional goodness that the 4-part system lacks. For example, each element has two “opposites,” one element it likes to work with and another that likes to work with that element. Therefore, there is a given structure to motivations and factional disputes that is really easy to re-skin for use in an RPG.

There are also a bunch of associations that are made with each element that are not necessarily obvious at first glance, but not only make some sense but suggest a much richer elemental creature catalog than that suggested by a 4-part elemental structure. For example, here are how the animal associations are described:
Wood = Scaly
Fire = Feathers
Earth = Human
Metal = Fur
Water = Shelled
Given that we are talking about a corruption of nature, this gives me the ability to assign two different archetypal creatures to each element: one is ideal and the other is corrupt:
Wood = Dragonborn/Troglodyte
Fire = Kenku/Dire Corby
Earth = Human/Humanoid
Metal = Ratling/Wererat
Water = Crabmen/Spiders and Driders
Once you start skinning these creatures in elemental clothes and add in other related creatures this very quickly becomes a fertile ground for all kinds of ideas.

Finally, there is one really punny idea that really started this ball rolling and one that as an Old Grognard I cannot resist: Hermit Crabmen.


  1. Wouldn't dragons be associated with fire?

    I'm sure you have your reasons for your associations, but I'd consider putting birds/feathers with wood (they live in trees, as well as considering arrows and reeds/wind instruments); fur/animals/shapechangers with earth; and humans/humanoids with metal (armor?). Regardless, I think you're right: five elementals does give you a lot of options/variety, in addition to a new, interesting spin.

    I've been thinking a lot about T1 (just picked up a copy of the original a couple weeks ago) and T1-4 recently myself. It's been a long time since I've run Hommlet, but it keeps lurking at the corner of my eye, like it wants me to break it out. However, I think it's the whole "evil town of Nulb" that piques my interest even more. The idea of towns infested/infected with Evil is...oh, I don't know. Lovecraftian? Scary (to me) in a weird, strange way.

    1. These associations are not mine, they come from Wu Xing, which is the Chinese version of the five element theory. While I would be very tempted to associate dragons with fire, etc., this is kind of like rolling on a random table for me. While it doesn't necessarily fit my preconceptions, it does challenge me to make it work. As a consequence, my creative output actually increases and comes up with better/more interesting stuff as a consequence.

      I've never liked Nulb. It was one of the first big disappointments for me when I first got T1-4. All of the necessary intrigue you need for the kind of Lovecraftian goodness is already pre-baked into Hommlet. The Old Religion vs. Christianity (St. Cuthbert) and the social/political divide has a lot more potential to me than a village that is boringly all evil. The idea of hiding a true monster in the midst of something you have grown to love and trust is a helluva lot more terrifying to me (and, traditionally, my players) than happening upon a glorified orc village in the wilderness. Seriously, give T1 another read and envision various Old Religion followers as ToEE agents and Nulb becomes irrelevant.

    2. Hmm...what you describe sounds more like adventure module N1: Against the Reptile Cult.

      But I'll give 'em both a new read...soon as I have the chance!
      ; )

    3. N1: Against the Reptile God is one of my favorite TSR modules. It is very similar in set up to T1 and I would use it in a similar way. T1 just does it better.