Friday, June 16, 2017

The Egg and I

Returning to one of my favorite subjects -- the Temple of Elemental Evil, Elder Elemental God, etc. -- I wanted to explore a bit of Greyhawkiana that is at once both obvious on the surface, but pregnant with possibilities once one delves just a little deeper.

I speak of the platinum egg that rewards adventurers who slay the mortal form of Lolth at the climax of D3 Vault of the Drow. Here is how it is described therein (on page 21):
If Lolth flees, or is slain in her current form, a silvery (platinum) egg will be revealed. A remove curse will enable it to be opened, and whomever does so is geased to enter the astral gate on Level #1 (14) and confront Lolth if he or she is able or die trying. In the egg are an iron pyramid, a silver  sphere, a bronze star of eight points, and a cube of pale blue crystal. (These items have value and use only if the party continues the adventure in the next Module (Q1, QUEEN OF THE DEMONWEB PITS).
Fair enough. This is expounded on slightly in the introduction to the aforementioned Q1 (on page 3):
The play begins with the council of nobles (those good rulers who started this series of adventures by enlisting the aid of the adventurers in fighting the raiding giants; see Dungeon Module G1,2,3-AGAINST THE GIANTS) in conversation with the adventurers via the amber pool. This pool apparently acts as a communication device, though none of the characters understands its operation. When the conversation begins, the players will have in hand a platinum EGG about the size of an ostrich egg (5" long and 3" wide). In a previous conversation, the adventurers will have explained about the appearance of the EGG (see Module D3) and will have shown it to the council. After much private discussion, the council has recontacted the players, offering three different opinions concerning the EGG. The majority believe it to be cursed, left by Lolth to wreak vengeance upon her attackers. Some of the older (and perhaps wiser) members believe it to be both a key and a trick to lead and lure intruders somewhere so that Lolth may destroy them. A small majority think that the EGG is a gift from a rival god as a reward for the destruction of Lolth's plans on this world. All agree that extreme care should be taken in dealing with the EGG. They also advise the party to investigate the EGG further, possibly casting one or more of the following spells: augury, commune, remove curse, dispel evil, identify, or dispel magic.
You can bet that when we see that the "perhaps wiser" members of the council of nobles thinks it's both a key and a trick, that's what it is, and we're not really disappointed in that. Once in the Demonweb itself, the four items within basically serve (without much rhyme or reason) to ferry the PCs around the place. The iron pyramid, silver sphere, and the bronze star will glow and hum when taken to specific rooms in the web, and teleport the party to another location. The blue crystal serves to open up the doors to the spider ship.

Yeah, I know, steampunk spider ship in a spiderweb design taken from a hand towel. The history of how the module came to be is well known and recounted in many places, often with a bit of wistful wishing what-could-have-been. Moving on...

The first three items from the egg serve to move the PCs from one level of the demonweb to the next. Pretty straightforward. The fourth one opens a door. Again, straightforward. But the problem is, the PCs can get from one level of the demonweb to another simply by stepping off an overpass; there is a permanent feather fall effect for their convenience. Similarly, a simple knock spell will open the doors to the spider ship. The contents of the platinum egg are thus something of a let-down, as they are not only relatively minor in effect, their lack can be easily circumvented.

It would seem the contents of the platinum egg are nothing more than the casualties of the hand-off of the module's design from Gygax to Sutherland. And there the question would have lain, were it not for an exchange in one of the Gygax Q&A's on EnWorld, wherein Gygax states the following:
Q: At the end of D3, the party can end up with the "egg". "In the egg are an iron pyramid, a silver sphere, a bronze star of eight points, and a cube of pale blue crystal." The pyramid, sphere, eight-pointed star, and cube evolved into the triangle, circle, eight-pointed star, and square from the ToEE correct? Did you intend the items in the egg to be associated with the elements as they turned out being in the ToEE?
A: When I wrote an adventure I always tried to put in a few disguised hooks for later exploitation, or not, as the creative muse moved me.
The symbols in question, from the
"Hall of Elemental Magic"
As you note, the shapes were repeated in the ToEE as I did intend to tie the latter into the series. Lolth was to be connected to the temple, she the key to activation of that which would remove the imprisoning bonds from the Elder Elemental God. Of course that would have been by unintended consequences of her actions when the PCs discovered her.
How it was all to operate was something I never did get fleshed out. This was to happen in the lower levels of the temple, the development of which I never got around to because of my work out on the West Coast. Spending time trying to get a D&D-based film and like projects going took precedence over paper game material creation until the very end when I came back to Wisconsin to bail TSR out of its near-bankruptcy position.
Okay, here we go. I've explored the relationship between Lolth and the Elder Elemental God previously in detail, so I won't recount all of that, but suffice to say that Lolth is involved with the EEG's imprisonment on a distant star, and the platinum egg was at some point somehow related to its release. Doing so in ToEE would have counterbalanced the release of Zuggtmoy (per an interview in Oerth Journal 12):
The EEG was indeed meant by me to have a place in the very nethermost recesses of the ToEE. An anomaly there allowed him to manifest a portion of himself, and by doing the wrong (right from the DM’s point of view) thing the adventurers could release him also! Of course that would counter somewhat the freeing of Zuggtmoy, had she been loosed, so on balance it could serve to redress that error.
The pieces are falling into place. But here's what I see as the clincher (from the room description on p. 90):
Zuggtmoy once used the symbols to visit the Elemental Nodes, and to send screaming sacrificial victims to their dooms in these places.
Here's where my speculation starts. What if the contents of the platinum egg are the keys to activate those symbols in the Hall of Elemental Magic, turning them into teleporters/gates to the elemental nodes? That would be consistent with their function in the as-published Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits, where they are keys to activate teleporters to other levels of the Demonweb.

What if the contents of the platinum egg are the keys to release the Elder Elemental God? And what if that could be done via the Elemental Nodes beneath the Temple of Elemental Evil?

The sticky wicket is how to get the platinum egg from Lolth in the Vault of the Drow to someplace the PCs could discover and use it. How to work them into the existing adventure as written is the easy part; the iron pyramid, silver  sphere, bronze star, and cube of blue crystal take the place of the four Elemental Power Gems that, once fitted into the Orb of Golden Death, can be used to free Zuggtmoy from her prison.

Note: the four elemental objects double as keys, just like the gems do in the published adventure. I like the notion that they could be used to unlock more than one prison. Especially when that seems to be the original intention; that freeing the EEG would "somewhat counter the freeing of Zuggtmoy."

The tricky part, from the texts as published, is figuring out how the elemental keys are introduced into the Temple, since they were placed in the Fane of Lolth seven years before the Temple was published. There are a couple of ways around this conundrum:

  1. The PCs use the elemental keys in the Temple after they adventure through D3. I find this unsatisfactory, as it means they either need to come back years later, or they hit the Temple after the Vault of the Drow, which would not make a lot of sense game-wise, as PCs of sufficient level to kill or drive off Lolth would not find much challenge in the Temple as written.
  2. There are two sets of keys. Having a duplicate set of keys is sort of a cheat, but it does work. I think there's a better solution, however, and one which solves yet another problem with the published work. To wit...
  3. The elemental keys start off in the Temple, and if the PCs don't use them to good effect, could end up with Lolth. Indeed, perhaps that is what Falrinth (who is secretly in Lolth's service, just like Lareth the Beautiful) is actually there to do; find the gems/keys and send them to his mistress, the demon queen Lolth, to keep the EEG in prison for eternity. 
I really like the symmetry of that third option. In essence, it sets up the Elder Elemental God as the ultimate Big Bad for the campaign. As the PCs venture through the Temple, they could free it at the same time they free Zuggtmoy. If that doesn't happen and they move on to greener dungeons, the same keys  would show up in the possession of Lolth, giving them yet another shot at freeing the EEG or imprisoning it forever, this time in Lolth's lair.