Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back to the Moathouse: Lareth was a Paladin!

I just finished reading the extensive comments section of The Underdark Gazette post re: T1 Village of Hommlet--you know,  the one where Scottsz of Cold Text Files fame went to town on T1 and its younger sibling, T1-4 Union of the Snake.  Inspired as always by Scottsz's obssessively thorough scholarship, I dug out my ancient, rusty-stapled copy of T1 and gave it a gander.  The following is based solely on The Village of Hommlet published in 1979, not the 1985 Temple of Elemental Evil, which I am not familiar with.  Or at least I wasn't before I read Scottsz's diatribe.

Anyway, there I was reading along when there, on the final page, we get our first glimpse of Lareth.  I gather that he went on to greater infamy in the expanded Temple module published in 1985, but in the original, he was basically the scout leader of an organized troop of thugs who live under the moathouse outside of town.  A 5th level cleric with mostly bitchin' stats, Lareth is described variously as "the New Master," "The Beautiful," "well endowed" [yes, it says that] and "the dark hope of chaotic evil."  Did I mention that his stats are pretty awesome?  Have a look for yourself:

S: 18
I: 9
W: 18
D: 17
C: 16
Ch: 18

I got to thinking; Cleric shmeric, with such awesome stats this dude would make a great paladin.  Check it out:  He's got the royal flush at Str, Dex, and Con; any fighter's wet dream.  And he's loaded with charisma, great for clerics trying to impress upon the devoted, but absolutely essential to Paladins.  In fact an 18 just barely clears the bar; 17, as you'll recall was the minimum.  Wisdom, of course, is essential to both clerics and paladins.  The big outlier--Intelligence--is conspicuous not just for being so much lower than the rest of Lareth's inflated ability scores but for being exactly as low as it is: 9 just happens to be the minimum Intelligence for Paladins.  Was it Gygax's intent to model Lareth after the paladin class?  The evidence is scant at this point, but the seed was planted.

Now consider what Lareth is up to in the Hommlet vicinity: according to the text, he's recruiting "men and humanoid fighters to gather loot and restore the Temple to its former glory."  So he's creating an army of mercenaries, not converting true believers.  This sounds like a great job for an accomplished, charismatic--if not particularly bright--fighter; especially one who is as devoted to the cause as a paladin would be.  A slightly dim cleric sent to live in a hole in the ground under a swamp alongside 20-odd unwashed bandits, however, does not sound like someone on the fast-track to the top of a temple hierarchy.

But here's the clincher: a sentence from the "Notes for the Dungeon Master" on page 3 where EGG explains that the module was developed to integrate new players into his existing Greyhawk campaign: "Many of the NPCs in the module are the characters and henchmen developed through play."  Elmo, Otis, and who knows how many others are more than likely based on the characters created by players from EGG's home game.  Could Lareth also be a legacy of that campaign?

Now let's go back and pick the scab that is Lareth's low-ish Intelligence again.  If you were a player and were handed Lareth's ability scores and had the freedom to arrange them as you saw fit--as was prevalent in AD&D--wouldn't you choose to put the 9 on Intelligence too?  Normally the 3 dump stats for fighter-types were intelligence, wisdom and charisma.  Paladins of course have high pre-requisites in the Wisdom (13) and Charisma (17) categories, so they're out.  The only places an AD&D paladin can stash such a low ability score is intelligence, dexterity or constitution. No one wants a slow-ish or feeble-ish paladin, but a dumb-ish one, big whoop. So you fore-go a few extra languages in favor of missile and AC adjustments and a decent hit point bonus; anyone would have done this in a heartbeat.

Now you're saying, "You said it yourself Caveman, Intelligence is useless in AD&D, so what's the big deal if Lareth is a lightweight in the brain-pan?" The big deal is that Int is useless to PCsThey get to decide how smart to play their character regardless of the number on their character sheet.  As long as your PC isn't utterly feebleminded, no DM is ever going to say "Dude, your character isn't smart enough to come up with that plan."  But Lareth is an NPC in a module, so his Int becomes a guideline for how the DM is going to run this guy.  Also, NPCs are not limited by dice rolls; if the DM wants to give Lareth a 9 Intelligence, he can do it just as easily as he can give him a 15 or a 6 or a 12-5/8.  So a 9 Int that, on a PC, would be slightly less prominent than a freckle on a werewolf's ass,  stands out like a sore thumb on an NPC.  Especially one such as Lareth, who has been described as "cunning." 

Still not convinced?  How about this: there are two light warhorses and a lance in the store room of Lareth's hideout. Whose lance is it?  One of Lareth's men-at-arms, possibly.  But these dudes are brigands not knights.  So why, considering that there's no way a lance and warhorse are going to see any action in the cramped confines of the dungeon, would Gygax add such a throw-away item to the dungeon stores?   Maybe because it's Lareth's lance from his paladin days, left here as a hint to his past and a sly nod to the players of his original game.  EGG was quite prone to less subtle shout outs to his cronies, so why not?

Now look at Lareth in this light: he's a character statted-up like a PC paladin who's doing the job of a soldier to benefit a temple hierarchy and he has a warhorse and lance on hand.  Alignment aside, this sounds like the definition of a paladin.  Too bad this particular temple espouses evil-most-foul; no paladins allowed.  But, in concocting T1, Gygax wants Lareth to retain not just bad-assedness as a tough guy but also his divine aspect as a servant to a greater force.  So he turns Lareth into a cleric; clerics are 2nd only to fighters in combat competence and armaments and up the ante with spell power.  Decked out in magic plate mail and a bitchin' staff of striking--one of the most potent melee weapons available to a cleric--Lareth is a pretty devastating opponent for a bunch of 1st level characters to handle head on.  Even more so than a paladin might be.

Or, more interestingly,  perhaps Lareth the True was corrupted to the dark side in that original campaign.  Hear me out: we are informed that "Whomever harms Lareth had better not brag of it in the presence of one who will inform the Demoness Lolth!" 'Cuz a 10th level assassin will be sent to kill your ass!  Isn't that a somewhat extreme reaction for a potent demon to the loss of a capricious mid-level cleric of tepid intellect?  Does it sound more like the reaction of a demon who just lost something of personal value?  Like maybe a buff, young, "well endowed" boy toy?  Gygax seemed to pride himself on his openness to prurient themes in the game; is it not entirely conceivable that during that original campaign, on meeting the Demoness, Lareth succumbed to her feminine wiles, casting aside his vows in favor of the indulgent life of the darkside?  And once there, he became a favorite plaything of the Demoness?   I'm just sayin'...


scottsz said...

That's the spirit!

I'm thinking that Lareth perhaps was seen as valuable by Lolth, necessary by Zuggtmoy, but probably (given those ability scores) has his own agenda as well!

I'm finding that a T2 built from T1's information is much more rich than trying to rework T1-4.

I really, really like the anti-paladin angle you've found there... it would explain why he's the 'hope of chaotic evil' and might be on the radar of more than Lolth and Zuggtmoy... perhaps he has a few demonic 'sponsors'?

Over at my Tumblr location, I've been putting up some random image inspired ideas - some of them pertain to the T2 document I'm working on:

Timrod said...

Thanks for the link! Your bit on tentacle-headed Zugtmoy, whom I was going to ignore in my T1-based-Temple of EE, just earned a stay of execution.

On another note, can I ask what's the significance of the flaming eye insignia? It doesn't fit in with elemental evil, more of an eye of horus kind of thing--maybe the temple is like the masonic order or other esoteric cults? Actually, I like that a lot; you can't really recruit vast numbers of normal people to worship evil, you have to work it like a pyramid scheme so that only the truly worthy really know what the hell is going on. Everyone else thinks they're raising money for disabled kids or something.

Or maybe the cult is like Rosemary's Baby. It does you a solid, gives you abundant crops, floats you some gold to expand your farm, whatever, then you're hooked and have to rat out your neighbor. I was actually thinking of using Orlane from N1 as Nulb or at least a model for Nulb. I always loved the creepy cult vibe that module achieved. Still not sure about the Elemantalness of the evil.

scottsz said...

The Elemental Eye?

I haven't dug too deeply into that - I assumed it was a play on Tolkien's Sauron, but...
[search the pages below for 'flame' or 'eye']

* Olmec art features flame 'eyebrows' above eyes (link here)

* Possibly a 'joke' reference to Star Trek's Amok Time (link)

* A twist on a Norse Odin reference (Baleyg = 'flame eye') (book link here)

* Perhaps a twist on the Bible passage from Revelation 1:14 (link)

* Possibly inspired by the Egyptian goddess Wedjat ("I created my Eye in flame... I made an Eye, a living serpent" found here) Wikipedia page here.

I'm sure it's traceable to certain inspirations, but you have to limit the possibilities to what those in Lake Geneva would have known back then (i.e. recent mythological findings might not be useful).

If we mix the ideas from above with the legendary Kraken, we get some cool stuff.

Remember that the concept of 'Element' in T1-4 followed the classical greek model, but a more naturalistic and primordial entity might use the concept of 'element' as in forces of nature... making the Elemental Evil much more frightening... an evil storm? an evil tide? an evil wind? This might open up a third use of 'element'... chemical elements, if one wanted the Elemental Evil to be a bit more sci-fi.

scottsz said...

Ochre is a tan/yellowish color, and is used in T1.

The best I can come up with is a reference to Native American flags.

Perhaps the humanoids under the Elemental Evil banner represent the 'natives' of Greyhawk that were pushed aside by the human settlements that grew into kingdoms. This gives a whole new spin on the Temple's evolution and explains why Lareth and the Temple's priests were so able to easily recruit humanoids - they promised them a return to 'their land'...

Timrod said...

elemental meaning primal--the root of all evil; I like it! The evil of our--or someone else's--forefathers, all about hunger, not this refined, sugar-coated crap.

scottsz said...

This is where it plugs into the alignment discussion at the U.G. thread: go back far enough in time, and the world is Neutral and without compassion...

The Elder Elemental God doesn't know he is evil.

Imagine pure starvation - all the time, the need to consume endlessly.

In the file I'm typing up, characters refer to the E.E.G. by a more blunt name: 'The Great Feeder'. To be in the thrall of the Elementalism is be 'in the Feeder's Reach'...

Paul W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul W said...

Excellent post. If I ever get to run T1, I think I will convert Lareth to an anti-Paladin from the old Dragon NPC class. :) He would seem the perfect fit!