It seems strangely appropriate to talk about the Village of Hommlet and why it’s so awesome during the annual GM’s Day celebrations.
Written by the great DM himself as the precursor to T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil, Hommlet has entered gaming legend as perhaps THE fantasy village by which all others are measured. Countless adventurers have started their careers in Hommlet, before travelling to the nearby ruined Moathouse to do battle with the evil lurking within.
The Village of Hommlet is one of my favourite adventures. I’ve run it at least four times, and I even based the design of Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands at least partly on Gary’s design of the Moathouse–itself perhaps the perfect low-level adventure (and probably the subject of another post in the future!)
But once you strip away the rosy tint of nostalgia and the halcyon glow of the adventures of yesteryear what makes the Village of Hommlet so awesome?
- It’s a Living, Breathing Place: There’s lots going on in Hommlet independant of the PCs’ actions. Its folk have various goals, problems and opportunities. Some of these may eventually come to the PCs’ attention–such as the tensions between the two main faiths in the village–while others will remain unknown. In any event, these give the GM insights into the NPCs and help him portray them as actual people.
- It’s Got a Nearby Adventure Site: But a few miles away lies the crumbling ruin of the Moathouse. Ripe for exploration, the challenges within are flavoursome and make sense. It’s not just a random collection of monsters stuffed into rooms guarding a random assortment of treasure. It’s also a relatively large dungeon–one the PCs won’t clear out in one go–meaning the party will be in Hommlet for some time. This gives the party a chance to get to know the village and to form emotional bonds with the place and its folk. It also gives the GM time to introduce his own subplots.
- It’s Got Versimilitude: Everything about Hommlet makes sense. From the layout of the roads and buildings to the various services available to travellers it feels like a real place. Its design fully emerses you in the setting making it much easier to suspend your disbelief, which in turn makes the adventure more enjoyable.
- It’s Got History: Hommlet is a place with history and its history shapes and affects its layout, mood and inhabitants. Beyond the threat of Elemental Evil, powerful folk dwell in the village. These folk have their own agendas which may or may not work with the PCs’ own goals. Perhaps useful allies to the party in the future, they are not automatically friendly; their trust must be earned.
- It’s Got Lurking Evil Within: Cultists lurk in the village. While they may remain hidden and simply observe the PCs, their presence gives the GM the option to bring conflict to the village. It also underscores the looming threat the village faces and provides things to do for players more interested in role-play and investigation rather than simple combat.
- It’s Detailed, But Not Too Detailed: Gary packs an incredible amount of detail into this module. In 16 short pages we get 8 pages on Hommlet itself and then 5 pages on the Moathouse. Hommlet’s design gives the GM the space to make the place his own, while simultaneously giving enough detail to run “as is.” That’s an incredible achievement and one we’d be hard pushed to replicate today.
Beyond all this, Hommlet stands the test of time remarkably well. Only a few select modules truly manage a seamless transition between editions. The Village of Hommlet is one of those modules. I’ve run it as a 1st edition, 2nd edition, 3rd edition and Pathfinder adventure and in each case converting and tweaking it was a doddle.
If you are one of the two people reading this who hasn’t run or played the adventure yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. And while you are at it, spare a thought for Gary–who 36 years ago wrote a module so awesome it is as fresh, relevant and fun as it was when it was first published.
What Do You Think?
Did I miss something? Is Hommlet awesome for a reason I haven’t considered? Let me know what it is in the comments below.