Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
Dungeon Module T1: The Village of Hommlet was originally designed as a part of Gary Gygax's Greyhawk campaign that would accommodate the new players and characters that were joining the game. Nearby was the fearsome (and ruined) Temple of Elemental Evil, but - as it happened - the players in that campaign were too frightened to go anywhere near the place. Instead, they just had a lot of adventures around the Village. (Eventually, Rob Kuntz brought his high-level character Lord Robilar in and sacked the Temple, but that's another story).
In 1979, The Village of Hommlet was published. It probably doesn't resemble Gary Gygax's original village all that much, which would have likely been made up of a lot of short notes and a lot of improvisation. Many of the NPCs within the adventure are PCs and henchmen of the original campaign - altered to fit the whole. What we get is a small little hamlet, with the inhabitants described in perhaps more detail than you'd think necessary.
What's good about the detail is that it really gives a picture of who lives in the village. There's tension between the Old Faith (druidical) and the New Faith (St Cuthbert), some of the villagers secretly serve other masters, and the villagers that are members of the militia are called out.
Text is given in parentheses or bold if its for the DM's eyes only, whilst the remainder can be revealed to the players - although it's a long way from read-aloud text; it still should be paraphrased or roleplayed out. It's a pretty clunky way of presenting the module, and it doesn't help its readability.
We certainly get hit by Wall of Text syndrome. The villagers are presented (mostly) in the houses where they live, and there are a lot of really boring ones. There are great potential characters like Elmo the drunk (actually a 4th level ranger) and the duplicitous traders, but you need to wade through a lot of mostly irrelevant detail first to find them.
Then, once you have discovered the characters you like, the job of actually bringing them to life in the campaign is completely up to you. Sadly, very few of the characters have much detail of the intrigues they are involved with. Gygax gives the setting, yes, but the actual adventures are up to the DM to devise, and it's an approach that I find flawed.
The introduction to the adventure is one of those evocative pieces of Gary Gygax's writing that I delight in. It describes the founding of the Village of Hommlet, the rise of the Temple of Elemental Evil, and the fall of the latter, which left Hommlet a sleepy hamlet again - for a while at least. However, bandit raids are on the rise again, so adventurers and other sorts have made their way to the village. It's at this point that the introduction and the actual text of the adventure are at odds, for the bandits of the Moathouse are specifically noted as raiding "far from this area, never nearer than three or four leagues".
The adventuring locale provided here is the Moathouse - a ruined outpost of the Temple of Elemental Evil, some two miles away. It is a small keep-and-dungeon environment of some 34 encounter areas in size, containing 17 combat encounters: the upper level contains some bandits and a lot of animal-type encounters; the lower levels contains humanoids, undead and the New Master: Lareth the Beautiful.
Exactly how and why the PCs end up investigating the Moathouse isn't explained in the text. The DM will have to make up some reason to point them in the direction of the adventure. Once there, they'll be faced with some rather difficult encounters (especially if the party is small in size): the giant frogs and the bandits in particular. Compared to the other dungeons that Gygax wrote, this one is quite mundane, with the final encounter being the only one of real note.
That is with the New Master, Lareth, Beloved of Lolth. At this point, we begin to wonder what Lolth has to do with the Temple of Elemental Evil. Alas, that was never answered: later releases derailed that plan, and we come to the greatest problem with the Village of Hommlet: as it stands, it's meant to be part one of two modules, the second detailing the Temple of Elemental Evil. Unfortunately, the second part never got released by Gygax, instead being completed by Frank Mentzer five years later, and much that we'd expected to see based on this adventure was missing.
The Village of Hommlet, released in the same year as The Keep on the Borderlands, makes an interesting contrast with that adventure. Hommlet goes into much more detail with the home base (village) of the characters, especially with the NPCs found there. However, the adventure site is far more compelling in the Keep; more variety and certainly a greater amount of adventure material. Where Hommlet is superior is in describing a locale where intrigue and adventure can really build up and make a compelling campaign, but doing so requires a lot of work by the DM: the module, as it stands, gives only a hint of the potential.
The small amount of artwork in the adventure is by Dave Trampier. Trampier's art is mostly very good, except for one misfire: the original cover of the adventure, which has a few compositional problems. Dave Sutherland is credited, and I expect his work is mostly in drawing the maps, which are quite functional (although the map of Hommlet on the interior cover of my edition is quite faded).
The Village of Hommlet has never been close to being one of my favourite modules. The actual adventure content in it is quite weak. The whole is weakened by the lack of a Gary Gygax T2, but even so, there should be more adventure around Hommlet. A big problem that confronts the adventure is that event-based adventure writing had not yet appeared, and so an encounter with a "bandit raid" is beyond the form at the time. That style of writing would come much more to the fore with the Dragonlance adventures. As a result, you've got a module that promises more than it can deliver, but still has enough material in it for a good DM to use it as the basis for an enjoyable game.
Death and the dice level all distinctions.
And so it goes...
Thanks for another great review of a fundamental adventure module, Merric!
A recent post on The Underdark Gazette presented a sampling of fan-made maps for Hommlet, some of them are really nicely done.