Though my attempt to run Tomb of Horrors turned out to be a glacially paced fiasco, it did result in a new friendship with yet another kid named Scott. Scott lived two streets over from me and that geographical proximity led to Scott spending a good deal of time at my place during the summer of 1987. He’d show up at my door around mid-morning, then spend the rest of the day and most of the night hanging out with Lil Bro and me.
Scott had an incredible knack with electronics and other such devices, which nicely complemented my facility for breaking things. Not only did he keep the battered joypad for my Master System functioning, but he also managed to jury rig a second controller from an old Atari 2600 stick and some bits and pieces he had lying around. Most of my basic education in the field came from watching him work and patiently explain things like “contacts” and “piezo discs” to my awestruck teen self.
When he wasn’t trying to help me wire my TV’s audio into my stereo’s auxiliary jack or run a high gain antenna up my duplex’s drainpipe, we spent our time reading comics, discussing geeky popcult shit of the day, and indulging in marathon Dungeons & Dragons sessions — the most memorable and epic of those involving The Temple of Elemental Evil.
Though designated T-1 through T-4 in TSR’s product listings, The Temple of Elemental Evil was actually a softbound “megamodule” following up on the starter-level Village of Hommlet adventure released half a decade earlier. I had owned the book for a while before tackling it in earnest. It was one of the deep discounted remainders on the local Toys R Us’s ever shrinking RPG shelf, and the ten buck price tag and sheer thickness of the thing convinced me to buy it.
The module was billed as the ultimate dungeon crawl, a four level complex (and introductory annex) filled with all manner of fell creatures and fiendish traps. It was an all-inclusive, ready-made aimed giving beginning players the archetypal loot ‘n’ hack fantasy role playing experience. I had run through the Hommlet part of the adventure with my previous group of players, but had never progressed into the Temple complex proper.
By the time I did decided to run the full adventure, Scott’s paladin and Lil Bro’s cavalier had already passed the upper limit of the suggest level range for the scenario. If I was running it today, I would scale the opposition to match the players’ strength. My fifteen year old self, however, decided to let the chivalric duo brute force their way through the module with bloody — but nominally “lawful good” — abandon.
Having brought the vengeance of the righteous to the cult-riddled community of Nulb, Scott and Lil Bro took on the dungeon proper. They shrugged off what were intended to be lethal hazards while slashing through hordes of enemies and filling baggage trains with newly appropriated loot. It was absolutely absurd, but they couldn’t gent enough of it. They’d been at it for six hours (including videogame and dinner breaks) by the time midnight rolled around, but had no desire to break their streak. After checking in with his parents, Scott suggested we pull an all-nighter to finish the adventure, and I was more than happy to agree.
The three of us walked down to the Christy’s (now a 7-11) on the outskirts of the center to fortify ourselves with Cajun Spice Ruffles (oh, how I miss you), Mamba candy chews, and slushies that were at least 40% syrup by weight. Every few steps Scott or Lil Bro would shatter the silence of early morning Hammond Square with “AND WHEN I SCORED A DOUBLE CRITICAL ON THAT EVIL PRIEST? AWESOME!” or some similar celebration of triumph.
They broke into the demon god’s lair at the center of the temple shortly before daybreak, sending her screaming soul back to the Abyss in time for the three of us to catch an hour’s sleep.
We woke up wanting more, and I scrambled through my stack of RPG clutter to oblige them.
Of all my role-playing memories, that night was absolutely my favorite one. Solid narrative structure and well-crafted challenges are fine and all, but there’s nothing quite like the goofy exuberance of dumb-ass kids bullshitting their way through a fantasy power trip. It gets old after a while, because of the buzzkilling creep of maturity or simple repetition, but that fleeting moment when those stars align? Man, there’s nothing quite like it…precisely because you know it can never be recreated.
My lingering fondness for The Temple of Elemental Evil remained strong enough to convince me to pick up a used copy of TSR’s novelization of the module and the bug-riddled PC game based on the adventure. My affection survived both experiences, suggesting that it is functionally immortal.
The module also inspired a cream soda spit-take a few months back, when Lil Bro told me the DM of his current gaming group “was way more generous with loot” than I ever was.