A few weeks ago, I puzzled through the chronological sequence of some of the iconic adventure modules of early D&D and the Greyhawk setting; the Giants/Drow/Queen of Spiders series, the Temple of Elemental Evil, and the Slave Lords adventures.
Now, looking at the suggested levels for those modules, that sequence doesn’t seem to work, even though it is how the chronology of the Greyhawk campaign records things:
- G1-3: 8th – 12th
- D1-2: 9th – 14th
- D3: 10th – 14th
- Q1: 10th – 14th
- T1: 1st – 3rd
- T1-4: 1st – 8th
- A1: 4th – 7th
- A2: 4th – 7th
- A3: 4th – 7th
- A4: 4th – 7th
There are a few things to point out, here.
First, the suggested character levels for T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil never made a lick of sense to me. There’s simply no way the PCs can get enough experience points in the Moat House to get powerful enough to take on the Temple.
Second, the Giants/Drow adventures and the Temple are linked thematically. That is, no matter which you put before the other, one of the keys is recognizing the imagery of the Elder Elemental God (the elder elemental eye, etc.) in both. If you want to push the envelope beyond the written text, there’s a whole implied and planned-but-never-executed sub-plot where the PCs can free or completely imprison the EEG while fighting Lolth at the same time.
Point two-A: If we keep the above chronology, and include the new sub-plot where the EEG is locked away for good, it adds something entirely new to the mix, because the PCs will know that the Elder Elemental God is no longer able to enter the Material Plane! Since there are plenty of clerics in the Temple of Elemental Evil still casting spells beyond 2nd level, that should be an immediate tip-off that there’s something fraudulent going on there!
Point two-B: If we keep the above chronology, and it turns out the PCs accidentally free the Elder Elemental God from its prison (which Gygax mentioned was a distinct possibility in his original conception) then it still has a profound impact on T1-4, as it could very well be that the EEG is able to exert a great deal of influence within the Temple and might even be on its way to pushing out Iuz and Zuggtmoy!
So either way, in terms of plot and theme, putting the intended encounter with Lolth and the EEG (which I call Q2) before the Temple of Elemental Evil adds entirely new dimensions to that latter adventure, depending on whether or not the PCs were successful or failed in their attempts to deal with the EEG.
Third, the transition between the Temple of Elemental Evil and the Slave Lords is the easiest. If, as noted above, the PCs don’t make it up to the maximum level, they should be in prime shape to take on the Slave Lords.
Fourth, I should point out that it’s entirely workable to do what most people do and move the Giants/Drow modules three years later to 581, and have them take place after the Slave Lords. This is the standard play; Temple, Slave Lords, Giants, Drow. It certainly works, and it still includes the EEG payoff, but it seems a bit… jejune to me. Not to mention the fact that it requires bending the time-line. But there’s nothing wrong with the idea, and it still has the necessary EEG theme on either end.
Switching the order, so the Giants/Drow modules come first, is akin to the “Machete Order” for watching the Star Wars films. It’s counterintuitive, but it does have advantages.
Now, going with this Machete Order (Giants/Drow, Elemental Evil, Slave Lords) still leaves us with the following conundrum:
- The encounter with Lolth (and possibly the EEG) comes before the Temple of Elemental Evil
- The PCs are way too high level to go to Hommlet after going through the Drow modules
- The same characters need to go through both to give a real payoff on the shared EEG iconography