Saturday, January 29, 2011

Virtuosos of Villainy: Eli Tomorast

Few villains in all my home Greyhawk campaigns have struck a nerve with players as much as Eli Tomorast. Tomorast is one part Freddy Krueger, one part Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a dash of Pinhead from Hellraiser all mixed together in a Greyhawk pot. All of this is what makes this diabolical, demon-clawed mage my favorite villain of all time. Unlike many module villains however, Eli Tomorast has a rich back story to match his evil appearance, as well as the perfect base of operations to conduct his plots: the dungeons of Maure Castle

Background: Eli was created by Robert J. Kuntz and Gary Gygax to be the main antagonist for the AD&D module, WG5 Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure. Based on Kuntz and Gygax's home campaign, this module retells the early exploits of the Citadel of Eight (Gygax's own character, Mordenkainen for instance is only 12th level.) as they go beyond the "Unopenable Doors" and discover one of the most difficult challenges of their careers in Eli Tomorast. Though he is ultimately meant to fall to the heroes, his evil was too good to stay dead for long. Tomorast made his triumphant return in the Dungeon Magazine #112 mega-adventure Maure Castle cowritten again by Kuntz. This epic dungeon-crawl greatly expounds upon previous material and delves further into the background of this evil character.
Tapestry depicting the Lost City of the Elders.

Eli Tomorast is a renegade Seeker of the Arcane (a group of scholarly explorers and treasure hunters) who allegedly destroyed their chapter house in Highfolk. It is also known that Tomorast earned the enmity of the Silent Ones of Keoland. Possibly hiding from his peers, Eli first set up shop in the dungeons near ruined Maure Castle around 550 CY. A diary found in this lair reveals his previous expeditions including one to the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun where he learned dark secrets from its priests, and more recently a place of myth he stumbled upon called the Lost City of the Elders. It is here, Eli gained his signature hand-grafts and captured a particularly nasty guardian demon named Kerzit. Evidently Tomorast strongly desires to return to this otherworldly place again, and much of his work below Maure Castle might have been towards this goal.

Powers: Tomorast is a billed as a wizard, artificer and madman. He is responsible for creating many magic objects, most of which are deliberately cursed. The worst of his creations however come from the pages of his Tome of the Black Heart, an evil book he chanced upon in a curio shop in Greyhawk City. This includes the rituals to summon and bind the demon Kerzit and the plans to create the Terrible Iron Golem. 

Where most evil wizards would be happy just hiding behind minions and flinging spells into combat, Tomorast shows off his most sadistic, intimidating side: his demonic hands. Eli likely gained these profane appendages during his visit to the Lost City. Who they belonged to and what deal he made to gain them is unknown (though I speculate they are originally part of Kerzit). What is known about them is their horrible melee and magical effects. 
Eli's claws and spikes are as deadly as any fighter's blade and he takes delight in using them to shred other spellcasters apart instead of using spells. And while he does have a full compliment of killing spells at his disposal, the demon hands have other inherent powers to make Tomorast an even more tenacious opponent. His left hand can boost his dexterity and armor class, while the right hand improves his chances to hit with held weapons (however he accomplishes that!). Should both hands hit the same target in melee, the poor victim can end up paralyzed and possibly lose a level! Defensively, when Tomorast's hands are clasped, his armor class and saving throws are improved, plus he gains some healing. Yes indeed, a fight with Eli Tomorast is like none other.

Eli in the Home Campaign: As I mentioned before, Tomorast has earned a special place of hate in the memories of my friends. We never played WG5 with the pre-generated characters from Gygax's game, Mordenkainen, Bigby the mage, Riggby the cleric and Yrag the fighter. Using our own characters they faced the same dangers and came to the same results, battling and running from the Terrible Iron Golem, finding loads of magic items only to find them horribly cursed and even pestered by Tomorast's minions like the one-eyed familiar Rel. Lastly, the climatic encounter with the guardian demon Kerzit and the final show-down with Tomorast himself was one of those edge of your seat combats that left some dead and others eager to leave. 
It would be several game years later that I resurrected Tomorast (well before the storyline of Dungeon #112) in a plot to force the PCs into delivering to him some dangerous magic object out of the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. This of course didn't set well with some of the PCs who had personally had a hand in killing him the first time. Needless to say they did the quest and in the end killed Eli a second time. This led to an act so heinous and vile by these so called "heroes" that to this day it still amazes me. The players were so insanely vindictive against Tomorast that they took his corpse and had him stuffed to stand in their character's tavern back in Greyhawk City. They would later regret this move.
Many years later, with the publication of Maure Castle, Eli Tomorast cheated death yet another time. Thanks to the PCs, the preserved body in the tavern made it easy for Eli's allies to resurrect him again, this time to aggravate a second generation of characters. To date, my players managed to search out only about 1/3 of the dungeon (never mind the three expansions published after Dungeon 112!) until a near TPK against a severely buffed Kerzit caused them to turn tail and never come back. Tomorast is still down there laughing at them. Should they ever read this article, I hope my players take Eli's challenge someday and try to finish what they started.


scottsz said...

Love this post - Tomorast was definitely a choice villain!

Michael said...

Always loved Tomorast as a villain. I must have missed the reference to the the Forgotten Temple. I may bring him in to the Ket game I'm starting up

Mike Bridges said...

scottsz: when i found the reference to tomorast meeting priests at the FtoT it reminded me of your article series. would such an encounter mid 500 CY affect any timing of that?

Mike Bridges said...

Michael: yeah i think that time i used tomorast near the FtoT was when i was playing heavy around Ket and Perrenland. BTW, the reference to him destroying a Seeker lodge in Highfolk might be apocryphal info that Gary Holian wrote. I can't remember if it saw print.

scottsz said...

@mortellan: I'm not an expert on the Greyhawk timeline(s), but I always remembered that reference:
* Does it indicate that the Temple was still 'active' in some way?
* Was his expedition responsible for 'cleaning out' parts of the Temple?

I'm of the thinking that he never found or activated the Black Cyst - Tomorast would never leave behind that Wailer Horn!

Mike Bridges said...

scottsz: Ah right, so if Tomorast learned anything from active cultists there, he must've dispatched them afterward and left, not knowing about the Cyst.

Michael said...

Mort, this is all great stuff. I could have a long-distance battle between Eli and my BBEG and their respective organizations. Seekers in Ket getting involved, Iggwilv-cultists. OH yes this can work very well.

Boz Shulun said...

Not only was he stuffed, but we rubbed his head for luck when we entered the bar... resulting in a rather unsightly bald spot, as I recall.


Mike Bridges said...

Hah! That is true. Evil evil PCs.

Valkaun_Dain said...

I was not involved in stuffing Tomerast. I'm from the school of "Disintegrate the bad guy and scatter his dust in a swift moving river."

Rob Kuntz said...

Nice article! Just discovered it in researching a related subject. However. Gary Gygax had nothing to do with the original content or the new. In WG5 he wrote the into and provided guides and content for his pre-gen PCs; in MC he provided consultation to Paizo (for a fee) as well as was given a nod for having originally done the intro, as noted. I was the author, and people have gotten that straight elsewhere, such as in Shannon Applecline's review of WG5, etc.

Nice to see that Eli was appreciated as the great villain I made him out to be!