A sinister force, long thought destroyed, stirs from the black hole that spawned it. Like an ebony darkness it prowls the land and safety is but an illusion, for it watches from every shadow and ponders possibilities.
The Backstory tells of the Temple of Doom dedicated to the Demon Queen of Fungi, Zuggtmoy (don't laugh, she's one mean hidden Final Boss!). The forces of good sealed and hid her inside her temple with the help of five powerful wizards. For many years the temple was quiet and the nearby village of Hommlet was prosperous, but there are signs of life in the temple yet...
The temple was divided into roughly five sections, one for each classical element and a fifth lowest for herself and her followers. A firm believer in Social Darwinism, Zuggtmoy had the head priest of each upper level go through a near constant Enemy Civil War to find out who was the strongest.
In 2002, a 3rd Edition revisit, fittingly titled Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil put a new temple inside of an extinct volcano, 25 years after the fall of the first temple, in in-game time. The new Temple was actually an Evil Plan by Tharizdun, god of Entropy, to escape his prison. This game in turn was remade as a fan module for Neverwinter Nights 2.
A partial conversion of the original module for the 4th Edition rules, covering the first leg of the adventure in Hommlet, was distributed by Wizards of the Coast to RPGA members in 2009; of the rest, there has yet been no sign.
The 1985 tabletop version (pen, paper, and dice) has many of the tropes on the Tabletop RPG and Dungeons & Dragons pages. The video game has its own set of Video Game Tropes. They're divided here for your reading pleasure.
Tropes in both versions
- Achilles' Heel: The Goldenskull (If destroyed) to Zuggtmoy
- Cool Sword: Fragarach and its twin Scather.
- Depending on the Artist: Between the various incarnations of the module and his appearances in other material such as the miniatures spin-off game, the only thing consistent about Lareth's appearance is his long hair. Armor, facial structure and sometimes even hair color vary greatly.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: It's extremely difficult to do, but the module notes that the player characters conceivably could defeat Zuggtmoy in direct combat. If that happens, she'll be banished back to the Abyss like any other demon lord, but the Elemental Nodes will also be destroyed, the Goldenskull will be useless, and the Temple will have effectively been defeated once and for all.
- The Dragon: Hedrack, to the demigod Iuz
- Dragon-in-Chief: Iuz, to Zuggtmoy
- Everything Trying to Kill You: Hoo boy. Just existing in the Elemental Nodes is enough to kill you by degrees... and that's if you manage to not run into the numerous dragons and other nasty creatures populating each node.
- Fighting a Shadow: Subverted with Zuggtmoy. Reducing her Hit Points to zero isn't enough to permanently kill, but it does banish her to the Abyss for several decades, destroys the Elemental Nodes, makes the Goldenskull useless, and effectively ends the threat of the Temple once and for all. Destroy the Orb first, however, and then defeat her within 4 days....
- As is Iuz, but if you kill him, it causes him to spend a long enough time recovering that most of his followers leave him, weakening him further.
- Hopeless Boss Fight: Hedrack may summon Iuz (or he may fail) in your battle with him, when you fight him
- Big Damn Heroes: Then Saint Cuthbert takes him away (after they heal any damage he has done)
- It is possible to win in Troika's version, but Iuz has high DR against non-holy weapons and non ice energy damage. If you play well and use Scather, the elemental power gems (to summon high level demons) and magic missile your main obstacle is the time limit.
- The Mole
- Hommlet: traders Rannos Davl and Gremag
- Nulb: Otis, Mother Screng (Canoness Y'Day) and Hruda (Murfles)
- The Temple: Kella the druid, Smigmal and various monsters (jackalweres, a lamia and two werewolves)
- Enemy Civil War: Encouraged by the fungus goddess between the elemental level priests.
- Killer Game Master: This module would turn even Gandhi into one. Seriously. This module raises complaints, warranted and unwarranted, of The GM Is a Cheating Bastard. Particularly when the Temple's assassins start to come after you...
- Kaizo Trap: Even if the players manage to defeat Zuggtmoy, they may still fall victim to the deadly traps she planted on her treasure, including a particularly nasty one that sprays green slime like a garden sprinkler would spray water.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jaroo Ashstaff decided only to have the top level of the temple cleared the first time.
- When Gary Gygax ran this module for the first time with his original group, Rob Kuntz decided to run his character, Sir Robilar through the dungeons solo. He defeated the dungeon (a Crowning Moment of Awesome in itself), but Gary, annoyed that Kuntz had run so rampant through the Temple, decided to bring down the long arm of the law to tear his castle down to its component bricks.
- No Campaign for the Wicked: Averted, evil players can get to ally with Zuggtmoy or Iuz and spread evil (I think)
- Savage Setpiece: the rats.
- Temple of Doom: The titular Temple
- The Man Behind the Man: It's hard to tell unless you read the works associated with it, but every villain - Headrak, Iuz, and even Zuggtmoy - is a pawn of the true Big Bad, Tharizdun.
- Title Confusion: Just about everyone (Even this article) leave off the "The" at the start of the title. The smaller font for it kinda encourages it. So does the infamous "check toee" misprint in the Complete Divine handbook, which was later recognized to mean "check ToEE".
- Token Evil Teammate: several.
- Total Party Kill: A common occurrance in the Temple of Elemental Evil.
- Wretched Hive: Nulb is a town populated by bandits, pirates, and of course, cultists.
Tropes exclusive to Troika's adaptation
- Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The changes to computer game format and 3.5 rules has left many rooms without purpose and rendered encounters within the temple Giant Space Flea From Nowhere.
- Arbitrary Headcount Limit: You can only have 3 NPC's with you at a time.
- Dialogue Tree
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: In addition to the above, if you "kill" Iuz it affects the ending
- Fan Sequel: Just one of Circle of Eight's many ambitious projects is to make hacks for other modules. Independent work has begun on an Icewind Dale port.
- They have actually completed a very promising Keep On The Borderlands demo.
- Gay Option: Bertram
- Joke Character: Ted, Ed and Ed
- Multiple Endings: It's a Troika title
- Obvious Beta: It's a Troika title
- Roboteching: Magic Missile
- Save Scumming: Doing the same thing keeps the results the same, but doing it slightly differently (say, attacking from the left instead of the right) will get a new result.
- Title Confusion: The subtitle "A classic Greyhawk Adventure" appears on the cover/disc, the first patch's installer and copyright screen, but is absent on the installer, title screen and the 2nd patch's installer. Interestingly the "the" at the start of the title (see up) is always present.