If I’m being honest (and I am), I’d never really heard of Temple of Elemental Evil before this month.
Rob: Moving on…
I’d never heard of it, but apparently a lot of other people had because it was all I was seeing on my Twitter feed for a few days. Anyway this dungeon crawler (for one to five players) by designers Peter Lee and Ben Petrisor, and published by Wizards of the Coast, is apparently a new addition to the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System. This is also a thing I wasn’t familiar with before.
Temple of Elemental Evil is basically an abbreviated Dungeons & Dragons campaign that uses a modular board with random room and corridor tiles, prefab player characters with a tiny bit of customizability, and a bunch of very nice looking miniatures. Players need to work together in order to make it through each scenario – and eventually the entire campaign – but it’s not going to be easy.
The party will set out to explore one of the modular, scenario-based dungeons, facing down monsters, traps, deadly encounters, and villains. Each character has a handful of abilities which they can use in combat, from the perfectly serviceable ‘At Will’ powers to the awesome-yet-limited ‘Daily’ powers. Slaying monsters earns you treasure and each new tile explored (hopefully) brings you closer to meeting the goal of the scenario, be that escape, rescue, or discovery.
Andrew: If I may?
Andrew: As Rob said, Temple of Elemental Evil is a part of the D&D Adventure System, and as such it feels very much like other games that are a part of that system. In fact it’s almost exactly like them for the most part. If you’ve played Castle Ravenloft or Wrath of Ashardalon, you’ve played this.
Rob: Well, as someone who isn’t familiar with any of the other games I thought it was pretty neat.
Andrew: Oh yeah, it’s neat. And some of the small changes they’ve made here are interesting – like the higher quality map tiles and the addition of traps that create a more interesting risk/reward dynamic for exploration. The thing is I’m not sure there’s enough New here to convince longtime fans of yet another purchase.
Rob: Fair enough.
From the perspective of someone who’s never played anything from the D&D Adventure System before, it’s pretty interesting. The number and variety of monsters adjusts automatically based on the number of adventurers, characters can level-up between scenarios and purchase new special abilities, elemental symbols can be used to trigger some nasty events on specific map tiles, and so on. From a newbie’s perspective, it’s all pretty cool.
That said, Temple of Elemental Evil isn’t quite as interesting when played in individual scenarios. It’s really meant to be played from start to finish as one big campaign, with character growth and all that. If you don’t carry your adventurers over from one situation to the next you’re honestly missing out.
Andrew: Half the treasure we got from monsters was gold! That’s completely useless in-scenario!
Rob: True, but if we were playing campaign mode, we could use that gold in town (between games) to upgrade our gear and stuff. The game really rewards people who are into playing multiple scenarios with the same characters.
Andrew: I know, I know. But I wanted a new sword now.
Rob: Are all Fighters as whiny as you are?
Andrew: Your face is a whiny fighter.
Rob: That’s not even…You know what? Whatever.
This doesn’t mean that you have to sit down and spend 6+ hours barreling through the whole thing, though. Instead, you can separate out and pack up each character’s inventory, abilities, money, etc, and simply deal it all back out once everyone gets together to play again. Or you can snap a photo to remind yourself. Really, so long as you find some way to avoid playing each scenario standalone you’ll be totally fine.
Rob: You look like you want to say something.
Andrew: It’s… it’s just that while I can see how this might seem new and exciting for you, which it totally was to me when I first started in on the series.
Rob: … but?
Andrew: But speaking from the perspective of someone who already owns several of the other games that use this system, and has played them a lot, there’s just not enough here for me. It’s still a good game, don’t get me wrong, but the incremental changes it makes to the formula are too incremental, you know?
Rob: Yeah, I guess I can see that. So what do you think of Temple of Elemental Evil as a place for newcomers to start?
Andrew: Yes, absolutely. In fact, I sort of wish I had started with it instead of Castle Ravenloft or Wrath of Ashardalon, only because I think Temple of Elemental Evil has learned from the weaknesses of those other games and is better for it. It’s more polished and it’s campaign mode is great. I actually feel like if you think you’ll enjoy this kind of game, then Temple of Elemental Evil is absolutely the place to start. And if you loved the others, then it’s just more of the same goodness.
What About Solo
It says on the box that Temple of Elemental Evil supports anywhere from one to five players. This is, to borrow a line from the irreplaceable Tim Curry, both true and misleading.
The first scenario is made for 1-5 adventurers, this is true, but that’s the only one in the entire book. Everything else is for 2+. This doesn’t mean you can’t still play solo as you could just control two or more heroes, really, but it feels a little clunky to jump back and forth between characters while remembering who’s turn it is, what phase you’re on etc.
You could attempt to play using only one hero all the way through, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Many of the later scenarios add “villains” to the board, which are some seriously powerful monsters that will give a whole team a run for their money – much less a single character.