When does T1-4 take place?

The question of when different modules take place can sometimes be a vexing one. There doesn’t seem to be a straight conversion between real-world dates and those in-universe; a module published in 1985 might take place a few years before or after another one published that same year.

By way of example, let’s look at my favorite module, and one of the real classics from the TSR era of Greyhawk; T1-4, The Temple of Elemental Evil. Getting a definitive answer to the question of dating the module is going to be important for an upcoming project of mine (more about that later).

Published in 1985, T1-4 is both an expansion and sequel to T1 Village of Hommlet, which was published in 1979. Considering the adventures take place immediately after one another, that means we can’t rely on real-world dating to assist our investigation.

We do have some hard dates that can be gleaned from published sources. The original Folio (and later Guide) tells us the Battle of Emridy Meadows takes place in CY 569. That is a well-defined benchmark against which other things can be measured.

In T1 itself, we are told “For five years afterward [after the Battle of Emridy Meadows], the village and the surrounding countryside have become richer and more prosperous than ever before. … After a time, adventurers stopped coming to the area. … Hommlet continued its quiet existence for four years more. But then, a year ago, the bandits began to ride the roads again–not frequently, but to some effect.”

So, taking CY 569 as a base, we have 5 years of adventurers clearing out minor monsters, then 4 more years with no adventurers, then 1 more year with bandits, for a final year of CY 579. Fine. It’s basically right there in the text, with just a little math.

However…

In the (truly awful, but occasionally helpful) sequel adventure Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, we are told that 15 years have elapsed between that module and the first (p.4). We are also told that 25 years before Return, “the forces of evil and darkness gathered north and east of Hommlet and constructed a huge temple. … The Temple of Elemental Evil took three years to complete… The lands of Furyondy and Veluna rallied their forces and sacked the temple twenty-two years ago in a battle called Emridy Meadows…” (p.5)

So that gives us some more dates to hang on to.

If Emridy Meadows is in CY 569, and Return takes place 22 years later, that means Return takes place in CY 591.

Thus, it stands to reason that if Return takes place in CY 591, and it is set 15 years after T1-4, then T1-4 takes place in CY 576. Nice and neat, and not surprising given that the Folio is said to have been published (in-universe) in that same year.

However…

In the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, we are told “Adventurers put down an attempted resurgence of the Temple of Elemental Evil in 579 CY.” (p. 15) So here we have a flat-out endorsement of the original 579 date from T1-4.

So where does that leave us? I’m inclined to go with the original text and its CY 579 date. Not only do two of the sources give it as the answer, but one of those is the earliest source, and I’m inclined to give earlier sources precedence when it comes to adjudicating conflicting information. In this case, my impression of Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil as being poorly written and researched is reinforced, as it can’t even come up with a simple date correctly.

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.

7 thoughts on “When does T1-4 take place?

  1. In my original campaign I set it in 577. It was a new 1st Level campaign for the same players who had finished GDQ which took place in 576. This was in 1987.
    In my new campaign I’m still setting it in 577. I’ll just change ten years to eight in the background info.
    I don’t recognize LG as an authority on when 1e modules occurred.
    I’m pretty sure that Thrommel was also rescued in most 1e TOEE campaigns, unlike the B.S. Return module.

  2. I had written down in my own notes (of timestamps for various adventures) that Return takes place in 594. I must have calculated 594 using Return’s statement on page 4 (“Fifteen years have passed in the campaign world since the defeat of the Temple of Elemental Evil”) along with the assumption (from T1-4’s verbiage) that T1-4 took place in 579. So 579 + 15 = 594. However, I missed the contradiction (which you have now pointed out) posed by Return’s verbiage on page 5: “Twenty five years ago . . . (they) constructed a huge temple” that was sacked “twenty-two years ago in a battle called Emridy Meadows.” If we start from 594 and go back 25 years and 22 years, respectively, that would put the construction of the temple at 569, and the battle of Emridy Meadows at 572 But we know those dates can’t be right! As you noted, the battle of Emridy Meadows is a “well-defined benchmark” — according to the World of Greyhawk folio and gold box set, it took place in 569, not 572!

    So I would agree with you — and for all the reasons that you mentioned — that a date of 579 for T1-4 is the way to go!

    The followup question would be, when does Return take place? Basically, the page 4 statement appears to be in conflict with the page 5 statements. But I think the key to resolving the conflict lies with a particular phrase in the page 4 statement: “Fifteen years have passed in the campaign world since the defeat of the Temple of Elemental Evil.” Not only does the phrase “in the campaign world” give a clue as to what the writers of Return were thinking, but it can also be used to reconcile the page 4 statement with the page 5 statements.

    Return was being released (in 2001) around the time of the re-launch of the Greyhawk campaign as the default campaign world for 3rd edition D&D. At that time, the Greyhawk campaign was definitely being relaunched from 591 CY (as per the Living Greyhawk Gazzetteer). So Return seems to be written from a 591 orientation. I think that’s what they are thinking when they say, “Fifteen years have passed in the campaign world.” In other words, they’re saying, ‘The original date of the campaign world was 576 CY (you know, back when that T1-4 adventure happened back in the 570’s), and now we’re relaunching the campaign world in 591 CY — so that’s fifteen years!’ Unfortunately, the writers of that page 4 statement goofed at that particular moment, overlooking the fact that T1-4 actually pins down its own adventure as happening in 579 CY, not 576 CY. But then, when the writers wrote the page 5 statements, they actually got it right and the numbers work out with reference to T1-4 happening in 579 CY and the current adventure starting in 591 CY.

    All to say, I think the solution is to take the page 4 statement as more loosely saying, “Fifteen years have passed in the campaign world since (around the time of) the defeat of the Temple of Elemental Evil.” This allows it to be referring to the original campaign timestamp of 576 (shortly after which T1-4 took place in 579), and now the present campaign timestamp is 591. So Return would take place in 591.

    Curious if any Living Greyhawk folks recall whether any specific events occurred in that RPGA campaign that directly spun off of what happened in Return? If so, did they take Return as starting in 591 or 594?

    Thanks for the article, Sir Grognard! I love trying to figure out these dates! (Now I can go update my Excel spreadsheet for adventure start-dates, especially for Return!)

    1. CY 591 is the clear choice for Return; as you say that was the year that they were pushing as the new “current year” when it was published, and at least some of the references in Return point to such a date!

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