Plotting Among Giants and Drow
What's fascinating about this series is how ambiguous the plot is. Of course, as a rule old-school modules kept plotting underdeveloped so as not to stifle DMs and railroad players, but for a multiple-module campaign to pull this off cohesively is no mean feat. James Maliszewski's retrospective of the D3 module, Vault of the Drow, offers one way of looking at the plot-path of the first six modules:
"There is absolutely no plot to [D3], just as there was no plot to its precursors in the D series. The 'plot' of the series, such as it is, mostly occurred in modules G1, G2, and G3, where the drow priestess of the Elder Elemental God, Eclavdra, was attempting to organize the giants into a vast army with which to subjugate a portion of the surface world, in the process gaining power for herself and her house, Eilservs. Once that plan is defeated, though, all that remains for the PCs is vengeance and exploration of the depths of the earth. Eclavdra -- or her clone -- reappears in Vault of the Drow, but only as the leader of House Eilservs, not as 'the big bad evil guy' of the module. No such personage exists in D3, as its 28 pages are devoted primarily to describing the city of Erelhei-Cinlu, its inhabitants, and their activities."
Which brings us to the question of if and how and to what degree the PCs ever learn this, once they get past modules D1 and D2 and arrive in the Vault. Joe Bloch maintains there are two possible conclusions players will eventually draw as they proceed through D3:
(1) 'We need to stop the Eilservs once and for all, to halt their ambitions against the surface world.'here, #4), I'm dubious that players, without heavy-handed steering from a DM, can bring themselves to ascribe to any drow faction a complete hostility/opposition to the spider goddess. After all, House Eilservs still coexists alongside the other Houses, right next door to the Fane.
(2) 'We need to stop the drow once and for all, because they are evil and are ultimately a threat to the surface world.'
"The first attitude bears with it the implication that the drow factions can be parleyed with, and used against other drow factions. The second attitude implies that the party should be looking for some way to collapse the Vault itself...[In the second case] they have effectively declared war on the entire city. Wish them luck, and I hope they have 4d6 handy to roll up new characters... The module, of course, implies the first option."
Furthermore, option (2) is a reasonable conclusion in any case. The feud between House Eilservs (serving the Elemental God and allied with House Tormtor) and the Fane (serving Lolth and allied with all the other noble houses) owes to local politics, namely Eclavdra's desire to set herself up as Queen of the Drow, thus undermining clerical autonomy. Her crusade against the upper world is intended to consolidate a power base more than anything, but the fact is that all drow are ultimately driven by their ancient grudge against the surface, and not least Lolth's priestesses. Subjugation of other races is hardwired in drow genes; if one house can start a crusade out of self-interest, so can another, and so (especially) can the Fane. What the Fane is opposing is not a crusade against the surface per se, but Eclavdra's crusade and her bid for power, which also promulgates the worship of a rival deity.
Only PCs with high risk-addiction complexes would likely try allying with the Fane, as Bloch suggests, even on the logic that "the enemy of my enemy is my tool". If the drow were lawful-evil oriented, that would be one thing, but they're intrinsically chaotic and poisonous like the spiders they nest with. Getting in bed with the sisterhood is arguably as much an invitation to the grave as declaring war on the Vault. Lolth, for her part, thrives on the divisiveness and backbiting of her people, and would characteristically shaft any makeshift allies (especially foreign ones) at first opportunity. All things considered, PCs would be justified in concluding that the Fane is the ultimate (if not immediate) menace, and in striking a blow against both it and the rebellious Eilservs to send a clear message.
The fact that the plotting of G1-Q1 remains so murky and debatable is precisely its strength. In old-school D&D, plotting was barely integral to module design, and left largely to the interactive dynamic between DMs and players. In this sense, at least, Bloch's scenarios are as credible as anything I've countered with. That's what made the game what it was. Gygax even spelled this upfront:
"While considerable detail has been given, it is up to you to fill in any needed information and to color the whole thing and bring it to life. You, as Dungeon Master, must continue to improvise and create, for your players will certainly desire more descriptions, seek to do things not provided for here, and generally do things which are not anticipated. The script is here, but you will direct the whole, rewrite parts, and sit in final judgment." (Against the Giants, p 16)This sort of gaming philosophy is of course anathema to the script slavery and rigid plotting of later "modules" (Dragonlance and beyond), which hand-held DMs and predestined players. G1-Q1 are a healthy reminder that series modules can indeed work with minimal plotting.