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.
The Temple of Elemental Evil is part of the Greyhawk setting. Gygax's later "supermodule" Queen of the Spiders is considered largely his sequel to The Temple of Elemental Evil, to the point TSR has re-balanced another linked module series, Scourge Of The Slave Lords, to seamlessly fit in between the two. The three have been referred together as "the Greyhawk Sequence" among the fans.
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 plot concept was revisited for Fifth Edition in 2015 as the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure, which is essentially "what would happen if the Cult of Elemental Evil appeared in the Forgotten Realms". That said, it did include an appendix titled "Adapting to Other Worlds", which included information for converting the adventure contents to Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Eberron, player-created worlds, and of course, Greyhawk. The same year saw the release of an Adventure Board Game based on the module.
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, see The Temple of Elemental Evil.
- 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 Golden Skull will be useless, and the Temple will have effectively been defeated once and for all.
- The Dragon: Hedrack, to the demigod Iuz.
- 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: Straight D&D case 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 Golden Skull 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...
- Mega Dungeon: The 2002 Return sequel has the Temple of All-Consumption which has 300 areas full of encounters, traps and treasure spread out across the Crater Ridge Mines, Outer Fane and Inner Fane. This dungeon takes up most of the print module.
- 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.... The module also includes rules for replacement forces being recruited and actually explicitly says that the temple forces would increase by the same amounts if the PCs were not killing off monsters quickly enough. If the PCs spend a lot of time training, crafting or otherwise wasting time any non-unique enemies could be two or three times more numerous, for instance fighting twelve trolls instead of the original four in the room. A creative GM would have no problem deciding the temple could go on the offensive when its forces are sufficiently built up, completely changing the tone of the scenario from a standard, if well-crafted, dungeon crawl to a desperate struggle to save Hommlet and Verbobonc from a massive onslaught.GM: After several weeks spent in Hommlet researching spells, training and crafting useful magic items for your assault on the temple, your peaceful interlude is interrupted by the panicked news from a farmer of a vast army of humanoids bearing the colours of the four temples sighted approaching the village...
PC: Oh, Crap!....
- 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, 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.
- Nobody Poops: Played with - the module is particular to note that privies, offal pits, and waste buckets are regularly located within the temple. That said, unless the DM tweaks parts of the module, nobody ever uses them.
- No Campaign for the Wicked: Averted, evil players can get to ally with Zuggtmoy or Iuz and spread evil, but only in the Troika video game adaptation.
- Savage Setpiece: the rats.
- Taking the Fight Outside: It's possible for the opposing deities Iuz and St. Cuthbert to both be summoned to the same area. If this happens, they will not fight inside the Temple (and in front of their followers). Instead, they will mutually agree to leave the area and settle their differences elsewhere.
- Temple of Doom: The titular Temple of Elemental Evil.
- 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.
- Token Evil Teammate: several.
- Total Party Kill: A common occurrence in the Temple of Elemental Evil.