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.
32 thoughts on “GM Advice: Why is the Village of Hommlet So Awesome?”
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.
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!!
EGG was clearly subtle and wise in this regard! (And you have very sharp eyes to spot this–it’s never consciously twigged for me).
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…
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?
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.
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.
Thank you for the kind words, and I hope you enjoy the module! It’s an absolute cracker.
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.
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!
I think I am going to run this and the entire Temple as a Hackmaster adventure…
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.
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 😉 )
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).
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?
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.
Good luck, Jordan. I hope you and your players have fun!
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…..
I’ve olways loved old-school villages, hence my love for the village backdrops, and it it’s because of their simplicity. I agree with what you say, a real breathing detailed -but not too detailed place where the PCs can become protagonics with their heroics (or villanous) deeds.
I share many of the opinions and experiences of others here. I’ve had the module since it’s release, run it many times, and recently repurposed the moathouse for an adventure in the Bandit Kingdoms.
One thing no one else has mentioned, though, are two things T1 had that engrossed me back in 1980: Dave Trampier’s village map and his fantastic cover and interior artwork. I pored over the map’s details and in my own maps emulated its style of showing roof architecture and shading, the roughness of the roads, and the tentacle-like contours for hills. You used the eye-level roadway scene in your post — so much to love about the details in it that bring Hommlet to life in my imagination.
We just started it as a 5E home campaign. Its been a blast, so far. I came up with an adventure hook of a murder on the road in to town. It gave the party something to do – to interact with the locals, etc.
If you match this up with Gygax’s Calendar for Greyhawk, the place really comes alive. He lists the phases of the moon, the festivals, etc. Its just great stuff.
You are so right, Jeff. Gygax had an excellent calendar for Greyhawk. I’ve been thinking about designing one for Ashlar. Your post has reminded me I really really need to get round to doing this. Thank you.
I need to thank you and Matt Colville for getting me to reexamine this wonderful module; I was always find of it, but forgot just how cool it was! I’m adapting to use in my 5e Homebrew setting, which includes an Ivanhoe-inspired conflict between the Old Faith of the common people (Celtic Druidism) vs the Northern Church of the conquering nobles (Norse pantheon).
In this context, Hommlet takes on a very different character, as the Old Faith has been outlawed, and the Northern Church replaces St. Cuthbert’s. The Celtic townsfolk begrudgingly attend regular services, but secretly sneak out to a ring of standing stones on the hill to the northeast of the village on nights of the full moon, wearing masks to conceal their identities; in fact, no one even knows who the head druid is!
I’m having so much fun, so thanks again (and Matt C!).
Hommlet has become the starting place for my kid’s first adventures in D&D (8&10) They are thoroughly engaged in helping the community in its pre-T1;post fall of the ToEE force’s life. Things have calmed down… but have they? Just as you said there is enough space to really grow up in the space. The small town feel coupled with the holidays and events. They are in gaming and RP heaven in this space and I couldn’t be happier. As a longtime DM (playing since the 80’s) having a loose collection of peoples and places to fill the space but not so much there is not room… We’ve altered the space to match our sensibilities, there are named women characters now and not just wives we have given them important roles in the community, a very diverse population with species that allow any system’s flavors to simmer to perfection. It’s a rural utopia, ripe with opportunity to be upset with adventure and enemies from within and without. The stage is set.
Well said, my friend. Hommlet does stand the test of time. I’ve run it 3 times over the years (first, third and fifth edition) and it’s translated beautifully. On my second run, I had the party there for 6 to 8 months before ever leaving and they still kept it as their base of operations. It’s brilliant and stands as my favorite starter module of all time.
I LOVE Hommlet as well as Orlane from Cult of the Reptile God. I almost always put both in my beginning campaign homeland for low level players. Often I make the PC’s natives of one or the other village. Orlane has several empty homes that can be snatched up for DM use. The two villages also give the party several higher level NPC’s for the DM to use as advisor/trainers.