GM Advice: Why is the Village of Hommlet So Awesome?

It seems strangely appropriate to talk about the Village of Hommlet and why it’s so awesome during the annual GM’s Day celebrations.

The Village of Hommlet

The Village of Hommlet

 

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.

 

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

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23 thoughts on “GM Advice: Why is the Village of Hommlet So Awesome?

  1. Never played it at the table, but funnily enough I played through the moathouse section of the PC game Temple of Elemental Evil dozens of times. I don’t think that really counts (the game had a save function, after all), but it was a very faithful representation of the original dungeon. Village too, for that matter. Elmo was a textbook example of a cool NPC to help out the players without holding their hands.

  2. Did you notice that the artisans in the village meet the needs of the Player’s Handbook of gear? You can almost see his thoughts as he goes over the gear list in PHB as he adds the shop to get those items from. Armor, Weapons, Clothes, Herbs, Livestock (some), Miscellaneous, Cleric holy items (St Cuthbert) and Druid holy items, and even touches on transportation. About the only thing missed is real estate the PCs could buy. All in all not much personalization needed to run!!

  3. I must confess that I have a real liking for GG’s original work. Like Keep on the Borderlands, Homlet is both simple with depth for adventurers, although I would say it was by far the better of the two. It still stands the test of time and is as good to play as it was 30 years ago when I first did…

  4. We just got done with Hommlet in one of our last sessions. It’s fantastic for a lot of the reasons you mentioned above. In fact, my players got so familiar with the people they feel they KNOW Terjon and Jaroo. When we completed the Moathouse, we captured Lareth and brought him back to Hommlet to stand trial. It was an awesome experience to see players reacting to NPCs and participating in “side roles”! I’ve played up a lot of stuff not written about but thought it was fun to add: like why did Y’Dey leave and does Burne really have the village’s best interests in his heart?

  5. What’s is a backward village without a good old cultist infestation, a bunch of interesting people to meet and a handful of great adventure hooks? Places like Hommlet, Orlane (Cult of the Reptile God) and Harlanshire (Night Below) provide excellent examples of how to build such a starter village. The great thing about kicking off a campaign this way is that players get really invested in a place. They become obsessed with learning all the strange secrets of its inhabitants, they form friendships and alliances, and start to genuinely care about the village’s fate.

    I made my own variation of Hommlet/Orlane/Harlanshire to kick off my homebrew campaign, and I can highly recommend it.

    • Orlane is also an excellent village. Cult of the Reptile God is a super module. I’ve run it a couple of times and had great fun with it! When John Bennett wrote Against the Cult of the Bat God we took a certain amount of inspiration from Orlane and its surrounds.

  6. Yay, I’m one of two! I’ve often thought of getting Elemental Evil to run, but this had made my decision easy.
    Really like all of your articles, keep up the good work.

  7. The group I play in is approaching our 100th session of T1-T4, using Hommlet as our base of operations, of course. We’ve been playing 1+ times a month for the past 5 years and it continues to be an interesting locale.

  8. Currently running Hommlet for my new home-brew campaign – but not in conjunction with the Temple of Elemental Evil. I have other nefarious plans…. (heh). All that aside, I’m loving it as much as I did 30 years ago when I first encountered it as a budding AD&Der.. This module is so beautiful – and has so MUCH, that I can see keeping my players in and around Hommlet for years. It’s a perfect central location to my campaign and the more I read it, the more ideas I come away with to incorporate to the game. Great stuff and I second that huge recommendation you gave previously. Well written. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I recently converted this to 5E and ran it for a group starting at 1st level. It still works really well as an introductory adventure – both for new PCs and for anyone starting out DMing 5E, and of course it is a great gateway leading to other things.

  10. It is indeed awesome. I’ve never played his but know it well nonetheless from its appearance as “Brewersbridge” in Elizabeth Moon’s books about the paladin Paksenarrion. Just as you say, it comes across there (and now that I see the mod can confirm) as a plausible living place of its own with just the right scope for players and GMs alike. Some of the villages from MERP’s modules are quite similar, and I expect may have had this and the Keep on the Borderland in mind as much as Bree (which may get a bit circular in inspiration now I think on it 😉 )

  11. I’ve never run it (did get into the D&D paradigm until relatively recently), but your post sparked interest, so I googled for a map. There are a few versions out there and I don’t know for sure which one is original, but nearly all suffer from the same problem. The village is surrounded by forest, the area occupied by fields look smaller than that occupied by houses! Am I missing something, or does »versimilitude« not extend to agriculture?

    • You bring up an excellent point. There is verisimilitude and there is verisimilitude. Everyone has a different tolerance/expected level. For me, not being an expert in farming, the size of the fields works for me (given the map scale is 20 ft. a square).

  12. Great article! I also plan to run this module with 5E system, but I have no idea how to convert the stats, especially the encounter, since previous edition has more enemies in an encounter.

    Anyone would like to share the idea how to run this module in 5E?

  13. I’m DM’ing my first adventure in 1e AD&D on Tuesday and am looking forward to the players exploring Hommlet. I’ve prepped quite a few of my own “side-quests” using some of Hommlets existing NPCs to excercise the players before they make their way to the moat house.

  14. Great to see dialogue about this…..

    Just to share- Hommlet was the very first module I ever played back in 1981 when I was 12 years old. Had just learned about D&D and have been playing ever since- 1st edition rules! (with a few add ons over the years- Feats, etc…). Playing hommlet and DM ing hommlet are two different things, but I still love it. Back then they hadn’t started putting all the description of what to say to players in boxes, so you have to describe it all yourself- be prepared! The small town factions, open ended options and multiple level dramas can be hard to organize for a new DM. Also, an open town as opposed to a controlled dungeon setting is fun but difficult to organize, especially when party members decide to split up. Overall, this adventure is really fun, chaotic and well worth the time to play and run. Magical as a player, challenging as a DM- great fun overall…
    When you get there say hi to Elmo and his brother Otis for me…..