Wednesday, September 23, 2009

T1: The Village of Hommlet

Hands down, module T1: The Village of Hommlet is my favorite AD&D adventure. Better than Vault of the Drow, better than Tomb of Horrors, better than the Slavers modules or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

Many AD&D fans disagree, and I think I know at least part of the reason. It's a hundred times better without the Temple of Elemental Evil, the long-awaited sequel.

Let us turn back the clock. The year is 1979. One of the several modules that TSR publishes is Gary Gygax's "The Village of Hommlet". It describes an intrigue-filled village and a fairly modest ruin/dungeon complex. What it also does --absolutely brilliantly-- is describe an historical background that is really and truly meaningful to the module setting. The World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting folio was a year away. We had little idea what these powers and kingdoms were like; Verbobonc, the Kron Hills, Celene, etc. were all just names (if that). Too, the deities of the setting, like the central player Saint Cuthbert, were little more than names from artifacts in the DMG. And the Old Faith of the druids? That was a new wrinkle.

It was all so fresh and new. The WoG folio filled in some of the gaps (as well as using the module's background as an historical object lesson), but there was still so much to figure out. And it would all be revealed, we were promised, with the release of T2: The Temple of Elemental Evil.

We waited six long years between the release of T1 and what would eventually be released as T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil. (I am proud to say that I purchased the very-first-ever copy of that module sold, at Gencon, signed by EGG Himself. I am less proud to say that I eventually sold it, albeit for a tidy sum, but hardly what it would be worth today.) And what did we do in the meantime?

We ran the hell out of it. Over and over again. I never got around to doing my own version of the Temple, because it was always "just over the horizon" (kinda like Castle Greyhawk, but I digress). But man, I had party after party arrive at the Inn of the Welcome Wench, and interact with all the villagers, whose roles and personalities I could pretty much do by rote. And the obligatory visit to the moat house, and the confrontation with Lareth the Beautiful.

One party ended up finding the lair of the demoness Lolth. She was a Type V demon. Remember, this was way before a lot of that particular mythology got set down. She was little more than a name at that time.

One party got mixed up in the power politics between Burne and Rufus and the Viscount of Verbobonc, after one of their thiefly con-jobs got unraveled. They ended up burning down the tower and fleeing, after killing one of the Viscount's guard-captains, and with the men of the patrol hot on their heels.

Yet another party did the best yet. They cleared out the moat house and ended up using Hommlet as a base of operations for many months as they explored various lairs and ruins in the Kron Hills and the Gnarley Forest. They eventually moved on to the Wild Coast, but not after one of them assumed the command of the village militia.

The latest foray into Hommlet didn't end so well. The PCs took on a hireling, who ended up calling down an illusionary blue dragon whilst off traipsing about the Kron Hills. They didn't realize until it was too late that attacking him, rather than the dragon, would have saved their hides. Hommlet doesn't always end well.

See a pattern here? None of them ever made it to the Temple itself. The moat house was the finale. Once that was done, the village remained, and new adventuring opportunities presented themselves. Trade routes, gnomes in the Kron hills, Verbobonc... I didn't need the Temple!

The Temple, once it came out, was bloated. It lacked the elegant simplicity of Hommlet and the moat house. I'm certain there was an element of inflated expectations-- we'd been waiting for six years for the damn thing, after all. But it lacked verve. It was very very complex, and the complicated bits didn't really seem to fit all that well together, especially given the scenario that Hommlet had laid out, albeit in a nascent fashion. Competing factions within the Temple seemed an unnecessary complication, and where the heck was Lolth in all this?

Also, the leveling sequence never seemed to make a lot of sense to me. A party would get to 4th level... max... going through Hommlet and the moat house. How they were supposed to go on to the Temple, and engage in repeated forays (even with the help of the notable NPCs in Hommlet and Nulb) is beyond me. The sinister forces in Hommlet have the werewithal to hire a high-level assassin just to take care of nuisances, for crying out loud. Wouldn't they do a little bit more if they were being set upon salami-style? (A slice at a time.)

In the end, I used the kidnapped-prince theme to great effect, but discarded just about everything else. I've actually never run Temple of Elemental Evil (although I've toyed with the idea of making my own). But I've run Hommlet more than a dozen times, and had a blast every time. Its utility comes from its elegance, and its simplicity. Perfect.