The Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil is a notoriously large adventure for 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. It revolves around an effort by depraved cultists of the ancient god Tharizdun trying to bring about the destruction of the world. Heroes interested in stopping this group (or even finding out what they’re up to) are faced with a number of adventuring locations, including a ruined temple (the broken down old Temple of Elemental Evil of yore), and ruined moathouse, a ghost town, a thriving small city, a run-down old mining town, and a 200+ room volcano-top dungeon filled with literally hundreds of baddies.
The module itself is quite well laid out, including a reasonably in-depth explanation of what all is going on at each location, and even going so far as to provide tactics that some of the baddies will use against a party of adventurers. It is also set in Oerth, the world of Grayhawk. That is all well and good, but personally I prefer the Iron Kingdoms.
Because the premise of this adventure, which can be reasonably expected to take a party of four 4th level characters all the way to 13th or 14th level before they’re done, revolves around a religious cult bent on global destruction, this poses a bit of a problem for a DM that wants to plug it into the IK: there are no IK Deities that fit the bill smoothly. Let’s take a look.
Morrow is the god of human goodness. He and his church shepard the masses and preach tales of redemption and hope. A group of Morrowites would likely be good as the folks trying to destroy the RttToEE cult.
Thamar is the goddess of human evil, the twin sister of Morrow. Considering the personalities of the cultists presented in the RttToEE, she may be a contender. The cultists are cruel and undoubtedly evil. The problem that comes up with Thamar as the impetus for the cult is that they are effectively tryin to let loose their god upon the world. Thamar and her followers are quite active and disturbingly widespread in the Iron Kingdoms. They don’t represent the kind of fringe evil that Tharizdun presents in Oerth. There are no kingdoms that openly worship her, but she is a part of the main good god’s origin story. Ask any person walking through the streets of Fellig and they can tell you who Thamar is.
Ancient god of man, god of civilization and law, Menoth’s following is in many ways opposed to the younger religion of the Twins (Morrow and Thamar). They are usurpers, and there are large numbers of Menoth followers that would seek to undermine what is now the predominant religion in the Iron Kingdoms.
Though not above being evil, Menoth is also impeccably lawful. The RttToEE cultists are erratic and chaotic. There are large factions that are openly in conflict with each other. This is hardly the kind of unified front one would expect from a Menoth cult.
The Maiden of the Gears is certainly a fringe deity, with no major temples in the cities of the Iron Kingdoms. Her followers are mysterious and secretive, with mysterious methods and goals. She, like Menoth, is not above having evil followers, but unlike Menoth is not lawful.
A major part of the plotline in RttToEE is hinted at in the title. The cult returns to the Temple of Elemental Evil. The Temple is the site of a prior cult that was messing with stuff they shouldn’t. The idea is that there is an awakening of some ancient, horrible destructive power. Cyriss is not an old goddess. Her worship is rather recent in the grand scheme of things, compared to Morrow and Thamar, much less Menoth
Want ancient? The mother-goddess of the gobbers, trolls, ogrun, and such certainly qualifies. But she’s a protector, not a destroyer.
The Devourer Wurm
Ah, much more like it. Chaotic, destructive, beastly, obscure, and ancient. The only thing he’s lacking is proper evil intent. Luckily he isn’t too concerned about good and evil, so a cult of chaotic, depraved nutcases seeking to destroy the world may well try to tap this fountain of ancient power.
The Wurm certainly isn’t “trapped” anywhere like Tharizdun is, but perhaps the cult is looking to call forth some of the Wurm’s greater servants, or even an avatar of the great beast itself. I hesitate to typify Wurm cultists as calculating recluses manipulating their lessers into doing their bidding through guile and promises of power (as the Doom Dreamers do in the RttToEE), but of the available deities, I certainly think the Wurm best fits the bill.
Next up, the opposed temples of the Crater Ridge: how to Wurmize them?