In Search of Tamoachan

Dungeon module C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is one of those adventures that folks seem to either love or hate. I ran it once or twice back in the day, and was left sort of in the middle. But today I’d like to take a look at the adventure through the lens of what it brings to the World of Greyhawk setting.

I’m not going to go much into the history of the module, other than it was originally a tournament adventure titled Lost Tamoachan at Origins 1979, and the adventure can be run either as the originally-intended tournament or as a standard adventure.

Today, though, I’m less interested in the adventure itself, and much more interested in what can be gleaned about the World of Greyhawk setting from the adventure, and what the module (published in 1980) added to that setting.

First, the location. On page 2, we learn that the dungeon is set in “the ancient ruined city of Tamoachan … south of the Olman islands, southeast of the Lords of the Sea Princes.” The Glossography (p. 30) places it in hex A4-137. There is, however, a curious reference to the extent of the fallen Olman empire: the city was “…once the northernmost capital of the Olman empire, which covered much of the southern continent centuries before current history began.” Which “southern continent” is being referenced here? The Amedio Jungle not depicted on the Darlene map is far too small to qualify as even a sub-continent, let alone a continent.

The answer seems to lie in the much later sourcebook The Scarlet Brotherhood, which gives some of the history of the Olman peoples, who apparently originated in Hepmonaland and migrated westward to the Amedio Jungle. The Hepmonaland Olman empire died out, but the colonies in the Amedio Jungle thrived. The reference to the “southern continent” in C1 must be Hepmonaland, and the reference to the city of Tamoachan being the capital of the Olman Empire must refer to the time after the fall of the Hepmonaland Olman empire (circa -800 CY) when the western Olman “considered themselves the true Olman civilization”. That second, western, empire fell to civil war around -500 CY*, while Tamoachan itself was the last of their cities to be destroyed, around -425 CY.

The adventure itself yields little in terms of new Greyhawk lore. It is somewhat confusing that many of the figures in the adventure have names belonging to actual real-world Meso-American deities, but this was explained much later on to be a case of “alien gods from another dimension” coming to Oerth. Things do pick up with the pre-generated characters, however.

In the entry for Rhialle, an Olman, we learn there are several different Olman “nations”, and collectively make human sacrifice to the Sky Gods (doubtless the Olman deities, but it’s an interesting appellation to use, and could presage the idea that they are alien to Oerth).

In the Myrrha entry, we’re introduced to yet another new deity, Stern Alia, who is lawful neutral and worshiped in Pontylver through the Temple of the Correct and Unalterable Way. Pontylver is ruled by an Archon, we are told, and after a pro-Alia Archon assumed the throne, the leaders of the Temple were led astray by the enticement of power, eventually losing the favor of the goddess, but this fact was kept a closely-guarded secret. Again much later on, we learn that Stern Alia is the mother of the Oeridian deities Heironeous, Hextor, and the (now-slain) Stratis.

On the whole, I like this adventure a lot, and especially as there is quite a bit of interesting Greyhawk lore to be found. The fact that this lore has been embraced and expanded on by later authors demonstrates its appeal.

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* In The Scarlet Brotherhood, p. 63, it states that the fall of the Amedian Olmans took place “500 years later” than the fall of the Hepmonaland Olmans, but this must be an editorial error, as it contradicts the other dates immediately above and below. On p. 62, we are told the eastern Olmans fell by -800 CY, and on p. 63 we are told that Tamoachan was destroyed around -425 CY. For the western Olmans to fall “500 years later” would give us the impossible situation of the empire falling more than a century (-300 CY) after its last city was destroyed (-425 CY), which doesn’t fit any of the other text in the book.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

4 thoughts on “In Search of Tamoachan

  1. Or does “southern continent” mean the south part of the continent in the same way someone might say “southern U.S.”? If it means a continent south of the other continents, then per “Dragon” #1 shouldn’t it be a continent similar to Africa?

    The Æsheba Greek Africa product provides a Greek analog authored in part by Gygax. It seems to me a better fit to have a native American-style culture at the southern end of the continent instead of one coming from a continent to the south.

    But you guys are more Greyhawk experts than I am so I’m curious as to your takes on this too.

  2. I only ran this module a couple of times myself. One time there was a failure of the party to complete it (and many deaths); the second party succeeded by surviving, but did not uncover all of the secrets of Tamoachan; perhaps a third party will be charmed…. I’m not a big fan of a lot of the 2e adventures, but the Scarlet Brotherhood source-book is chock-full of all kinds of lore to expand a Greyhawk campaign in a non-traditional direction.

  3. I’m inclined to consider creating another continent to the south, based on the Oerik map in the Folio, of course: expansion options should not only exist to the west! 😀

    Allan.

  4. I never liked the idea of bringing real-world deities into a fantasy world. I always felt like it ‘cheapened’ the uniqueness of the world somehow, or at least undermined suspension of disbelief.

    I find it strange that a LN god would be so prominent in a decadent empire like the Great Kingdom. I could see it in Ahlissa, but a deity that taught the ‘Correct and Unalterable Way’ sounds better suited for the Theocracy of the Pale than it does for an evil empire with an insane, devil-seeing Overking.

    My Greyhawk has demihumans and humanoids living all over the world the same as humans, so it’d be fun to imagine how the presence of these sentient non-human beings would impact human cultures not inspired by Europe. The Olman obviously wouldn’t wield weapons of wood and obsidian when they can get all the steel weapons and shields they need from any dwarves and gnomes they trade with. The Olman would know all about heavy metal armor, but most of them choose not to wear it due to the hot climate.

    And there is precedent for this sort of imagining even in canon. The Flan are fantasy Native Americans, so how did they get along with the elves, dwarves and orcs of their part of the world? They could, for instance, have used a fantasy equivalent to the real-life fur trade, with dwarves and gnomes standing in for the Europeans, or made defensive alliances offering halflings protection from orcs and ogres in exchange for the halflings’ agricultural skills. Canoes make for fast, efficient travel (and the LOTR movies had Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli use canoelike boats to get somewhere in a hurry), while clothing like moccasins are handy for travelers no matter their skin color. These kinds of innovations could have been adopted by later Suel and Oeridian arrivals to the Flanaess.

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