Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lolth in "Vault of the Drow"

Over on the G+ Greyhawk group, William Tiller asked a great question. I was going to answer there, but it got a little long, so I figured I'd post it here. He asked:
Why are the PCs going after Lolth? I know why they go after Eclavdra- she is trying to take over the surface world. But as far I can tell from reading it there is no reason to attack the Fane of Lolth and go after Lolth herself on the Abyss. Or did I miss something?
And he's exactly right. I discussed this module many years ago (Hextor's Balls! Nine years ago - have I really been doing this blog that long?!), but I didn't stress this particular point enough, and I think it's worth calling attention to.

First off, Tiller is entirely right to say that the PCs' goal should be the destruction of Eclavdra and House Eilservs, who abandoned the worship of the spider-demon Lolth for the Elder Elemental God when their aspirations to rule all the drow were thwarted. They're the ones who have been behind the hill, frost, and fire giant raids, but it's interesting to see that the motive isn't really spelled out until this module, and even then it's just sort of buried on page 18 (emphasis added):
The Eilservs have long seen a need for an absolute monarch to rule the Vault, and as the noble house of first precedence, they have reasoned that their mistress should be Queen of All Drow. When this was proposed, the priestesses of Lolth supported the other noble families aligned against the Eilservs, fearing that such a change would abolish their position as the final authority over all disputes and actions of the Dark Elves. Thereafter, the Eilservs and their followers turned away from the demoness and proclaimed their deity to be an Elder Elemental God (see MODULE G1-2-3). Although there is no open warfare, there is much hatred, and both factions seek to destroy each other.  An attempt to move worship of their deity into the upper world, establish a puppet kingdom there, and grow so powerful from this success that their demands for absolute rulership no longer be thwarted, was ruined of late, and the family is now retrenching.
That's one thing about this whole series of modules (G1-Q1); the whole plot and setup is never spelled out for the DM, requiring an exceedingly close reading to suss out all the details and bring the whole to life.

Now here's where Tiller's question comes in. If the real enemy is the Eilservs house, and they worship the Elder Elemental God who is a rival to Lolth, why the heck are the PCs seemingly expected to attack the Fane of Lolth? Shouldn't they be on the side of the anti-Eilservs?

There are three possible answers.
  1. The PCs aren't aware of the split between the Lolth-worshiping drow and the EEG-worshiping drow, and just assume Lolth is behind everything. Honestly, this is probably the case for at least some parties playing through the adventure series.
  2. The PCs are aware of the split, and approach the Lolth-worshipers in an attempt to ally themselves with them to take out the Eilservs and the other EEG-worshiping factions that are causing trouble on the surface. That would definitely take some mithril balls on the part of the PCs, but I could definitely see it happening.
  3. The PCs somehow become aware that Lolth's egg has the keys to the prison of the EEG, and go out of their way to kill her material form in order to grab it and travel to the Abyss to shut the interdimensional crack that has allowed it to manifest on Oerth.
Truth to tell, I think the answer is "all of the above," and the details about Lolth and the Fane were included for the sake of completeness, but I think the most intriguing possibility lies in the Q1-that-never-was.

I've discussed the connection between the Elder Elemental God and the Temple of Elemental Evil at length in the past (particularly here and here), and it seems relevant here as well. In the original conception for Q1, according to Gygax:
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." [Great Fane of Lolth, Dungeon Level, Room 5.] The pyramid, sphere, eight-pointed star, and cube evolved into the triangle, circle, eight-pointed star, and square from the ToEE correct [see p.108 of ToEE]? 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.
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. (EnWorld Q&A part III)
In the Queen of the Demonweb Pits module as it ended up being written, the weird objects in the egg ended up being nothing more than a means to teleport from one level of the web to another (and a superfluous one at that). Ah, but in the original concept, those items in the egg were going to be keys to the prison of the Elder Elemental God, which the PCs could either release by accident or close off the breach in its prison that allowed it to aid the Eilservs:
I had what I consider a much more interesting plan for the conclusion of the G-D series, one in which the PC party could loose the Elder Elemental god or send him into deeper isolation, thus assisting Lolth to become more powerful. By very astute play, they could have thwarted the designs of both evil entities. The Demonweb Pits were indeed envisioned as maze like, but there were to be no machines therein. (EnWorld Q&A part I)
I can't say for sure, but I strongly suspect that's the reason for the inclusion of all the details about the Fane of Lolth and the Demon Queen of Spiders herself. If the PCs really wanted to take out the threat behind the giant uprisings forever, they could use the keys hidden in the egg to finally end the Elder Elemental God's influence once and for all. If these are the same PCs that went through the Temple of Elemental Evil (as I am convinced it was originally intended to be run, which includes a link to the EEG), and thus had previous experience with it, that would make all kinds of sense.

Just as we (including the DM!) don't learn the true motivation behind the giant uprising until Vault of the Drow, so too would we not learn the real means to end the threat until Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Unfortunately, that version of the module never got published, and so all those lovely hints that were scattered throughout Vault of the Drow were never realized in their fullest form.

But let's rewind just a second and consider the implications of what I wrote above:
The PCs somehow become aware that Lolth's egg has the keys to the prison of the EEG, and go out of their way to kill her material form in order to grab it and travel to the Abyss to shut the interdimensional crack that has allowed it to manifest on Oerth.
Just effing imagine the implications of that!

Not only would the PCs have to have some sort of way of learning all that backstory about the EEG, but they'd also have to learn that Lolth has the keys hidden in the egg that only manifests if she is slain. And then figure out a way to make it happen, before they ever make it to the Demonweb Pits themselves.

Ehlonna's tits! What an adventure that would make, just in and of itself! I can envision a whole new module, perhaps a D4, set up as an urban adventure in Erelhei-Cinlu, where the PCs need to navigate through the treacherous city to track down all the pieces to the puzzle. First they'd have to find and engage with the enemies of the EEG to find out what its weakness is, and then find and engage with the enemies of Lolth to figure out how to get to the egg. There's a balancing act that would require world-class play, right there, going through dives and dens of iniquity to find contacts, then maybe dealing with drow sages and renegades, all the while trying to evade the forces of both Lolth and Eclavdra and keep them both from figuring out what's going on. And then go on to the Abyss itself to bring the plan to fruition, having just alerted Lolth to the scheme by killing her!

Crap. I might just have to write this.