Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun was the first module produced in the “WG” (World of Greyhawk) series, despite its number of WG4. It might be that the two books of the World of Greyhawk boxed set had a virtual numbering of WG1 and WG2, although It is also possible they were reserved for a revised Village of Hommlet and the first printing of the Temple of Elemental Evil, and that the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth could be considered WG3 rather than its actual code of S4. Tharizdun is, in fact, a companion adventure to Tsojcanth, the map showing the mountains just to the side of those explored whilst the characters were seeking Iggwilv’s Horn; the location that is in both is that of Gnome Vale, the denizens of whom hire the group at the beginning of the adventure to deal with a group of allied humanoids that have been raiding the Vale.
Gygax notes that the adventure is written for a similar group that has been going through the Tsojcanth adventure, but this particular adventure has slightly lesser requirements due to the high likelihood of character death in Tsojcanth requiring replacement (and thus lower-level) characters for this one. In any case, the adventure text suggests a group of 4-8 PCs of levels 10-12. (The cover suggests levels 5-10).
It is quite interesting to note that the wilderness map design for Tharizdun is actually quite different than that for Tsojcanth, with Tharizdun using much more of a hex-map approach (Tsojcanth is almost a line design). Tharizdun’s wilderness is one of the low points of the product: the hex-map is very hard to read and not very attractive, and is full of nothing. When I recently ran the adventure, the group quickly became lost amongst a lot of mountain paths that appeared the same, with a very low chance of having a random encounter, and with only five of the twenty-two vales having an encounter in them.
Once the group get to the stronghold of the humanoids, they face a battle royale against the gnolls, norkers, trolls, ogres and giants as they protect their lair. This can be an extremely entertaining battle; Gygax constructed it carefully so that the players would face several waves of reinforcements, with any survivors hiding down in the dungeon levels until they get a chance to escape or to wreak their revenge on the party, if they considered themselves powerful enough to attempt the latter!
Unusually, once this battle is completed, the bulk of the combat for the adventure is done. What is left is exploration, and the Forgotten Temple is an evocative setting. At the point that the adventure was written, Tharizdun was an unknown being; this is the first mention of the imprisoned god. There are a few minor monster lairs in the lower levels of the temple, but the players will mostly be exploring a strange, deserted temple.
This portion of the adventure could be deadly dull if the group doesn’t “get” the setting; the upper level has secret chambers that must be discovered to progress further, and very little is spelt out for the players; they really need the DM to communicate the atmosphere of the place and to play up the great age of the temple; this a place that has been lost to the knowledge of today’s sages.
Things pick up on the lower level of the temple, where various statues of the aspects of Tharizdun tantalise the players, and finally the Undertemple and Black Cyst are tremendously evocative and quite deadly if precautions are not taken. Finally, there is the image of the trapped Tharizdun himself, which foreshadowed further appearances that would never happen quite as planned.
The adventure makes a lot of use of monsters from the recently-published Fiend Folio, and introduces two new monsters itself: the Annis, a type of hag, and the Boggart, the immature form of a will-o-wisp. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Boggart is actually more dangerous than the full mature will-o-wisp; regardless, they’re both good additions to the canon.
After the new monster-fest of Tsojcanth, the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun feels remarkably sparse as an adventure. Unlike most of Gygax’s adventures, this is an adventure that emphasises the setting over more mundane dangers. I very much enjoy the feel of this adventure, but it can get wearing for a group exploring empty room after empty room. It might be realistic, but realism isn't always fun. Skipping past the exploration of the abandoned rooms and heading straight to the more interesting parts of the temple may be what your group needs to maintain their interest.
Tharizdun itself is only briefly described in this adventure, but evocatively so, along with the last days of his cult, and that description is more for the DM's eyes than that of the players. Tharizdun is described as a deity of such power and evil that the other gods banded together to imprison it, for otherwise all creation was in danger! Tharizdun's name would soon appear in the World of Greyhawk boxed set with an alignment of "Evil"; not Neutral Evil, not Lawful or Chaotic Evil, just Evil. The concept of a god transcending the normal use of the word so that all gods, regardless of their position on the moral compass, had banded together to imprison it is a fantastic one, and one that later designers would occasionally use.
Gygax himself used Tharizdun as the ultimate foe in his Gord the Rogue novels; although not great books by any stretch of the imagination, the plotline that begins in the second book, Artifact of Evil, and proceeds until the final book, Dance of Demons, is entirely around Tharizdun. If you can find a copy, Artifact of Evil is worth looking at for more information about the deity; his depiction in Dance of Demons is, alas, disappointing.
Some time later, Gygax's two deities of Tharizdun and the Elder Elemental God (from the Giant/Drow series) would get merged, despite the two not being particularly similar in concept. It's quite a bit more understandable when you look at how much was written about the EEG, and then examine the trappings of both temples, which have a number of similar points. This is the Tharizdun or Elder Elemental Eye found in Monte Cook's Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, but personally I use a version closer to that found in this adventure.
Physically, the adventure looks quite primitive - more in the order of the adventures of 1981 than those of 1983, and I expect it came out early in the year. The art, by Karen Nelson in her only product on record, is not of a high technical standard but is suitably unearthly and disturbing; it helps make the adventure stand out from its peers.
The greatest tragedy of The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun is that the themes in it were not developed further by Gary Gygax in his adventures. Although only 1982, the first age of adventure modules was coming to an end. A new designer was coming to TSR, and that designer was to have a major effect on how adventures were written. That designer? Tracy Hickman. His first design was the classic Pharaoh, which I will cover in my next review.