Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Retro- Review & Dark Fantastic Campaign Commentary - T1 The Village of Hommlet For Advanced Dungeons and Dragons First Edition

There are classics and then there are modules that you know someday will comeback to bite you in the ass. For me this is one of those modules, Hommlet is one that I grew up on and grew into playing it again and again. This is a module that seems on the surface to be a simple little adventure but its not. This is an adventure set in the World of Greyhawk that came straight from the foulness of time. I've had more PC's die here then the Temple of Elemental Evil. Why you may ask? Well let's peel back the layers of time and go back to Seventy nine. I'm nine years old and I've ready been playing the grand game since I was a seven year old. Does this make me a veteran or a fool? More the fool I at this time. Hommlet is supposedly this sleepy little pess hole of a pseudo European village written by Gary Gygax himself. Let me tell you something I'd had five PC's killed in that damn moat house then in any other dungeon. Over the years I've returned to Hommlet like a lone care taker to the Overlook Hotel in the Shining. The Village has everything dungeon master could want to flesh out a home base for his PC's. The entire village is filled to the brim with colourful NPC's their motives, quick cut stat blocks on them. Hidden little details and subplots straight out of a Gone With the Wind novel. Seriously its all there and the village is detailed quite nicely. So what's my problem with Hommlet? We'll get to that shortly don't worry let's begin our trip down to the Village and what's happening around the place. Hommlet was a big deal back in the misty annals of history because of the Temple of Elemental evil, yes that temple. The mega module that packs in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons players time and again. Well what Keep of the Borderlands is to Basic Hommlet is to Advanced.  There are several classic bits at work here, Hommlet is supposed to be the base of operations for your PC's or is it? There are several key things going on in the village, you've got the Druidic faith clashing against the new upstart religion here the Church of St.Cuthbert. That's right out of the gate that this little simmering rivalry is going on. A bit of background on that particular god according to Wiki; " Gygax, with tongue in cheek, created two gods: St. Cuthbert—who brought non-believers around to his point of view with whacks of his cudgel"
Then you have the villagers themselves and they are fully formed NPC's with a full range of motivations, small NPC's sketches and more to them. And they happen to be a few tricky and cagey apples in the bunch as well. Those out to part you from your gold or your head as well. The village will live and breath according to the dungeon master's skills at role playing.

The Village of Hommlet has grown up around a crossroads in a woodland. Once far from any important activity, it became embroiled in the struggle between gods and demons when the Temple of Elemental Evil arose but a few leagues away. Luckily of its inhabitants, the Temple and its evil hordes were destroyed a decade ago, but Hommlet still suffers from incursions of bandits and strange monsters.
Now in my mind, the ruins of the Moathouse are completely separate from the Temple of Elemental Evil, there was a six year gap before we say the Temple as an adventure. So like many other dungeon masters my friends and I connected the Hommlet with village from Keep on The Borderland. Because Hommlet breathed and pulsed with life in the hands of the right dungeon master. This means that in the hands of a good DM Hommlet can live on in retroclone games such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Labryth Lord, OSRIC or Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. The reasons for this are very simple the history, backdrop, and locations of Hommlet translate over into back part of each of your campaigns. Because the NPC's, setting, etc. are so well done. This also means that the adventure itself stands on its own merits.

There's no reason really given for the PC's to go to the ruins of the moat house once an outpost for the Temple of Elemental Evil. Well, actually there doesn't need to be. The PC's own greed over the years will do it each and every time. Mention treasure and they'll be over there quicker then spit. Sigh, the moat house has haunted my dreams for more then thirty years. Its shaped my dungeon design more then almost any other modules except for Keep on the Borderlands and In Search of the Unknown. The place is a vermin infested pess hole of the worst type and easily one of my favorite dungeons. Undead, horrors and  weirdness abound in its layered rooms. There are weird connections between the main NPC villain and Lolth something that I would exploit for the Queen of the Demon Web Pits. Basically the Moat house is a mini snap shot of  what a dungeon can be. A foreshadowing dire evil and chaos rising from itself again.

As other reviewers have said the moat house is really the center adventure location here;
"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."  or is it?
Taken as a whole the module provides just about everything that the DM needs to flesh out his own locations for the PC's to adventure within a 200 mile or so radius with locations and NPC's looping back onto themselves. This is a techique that saw and still sees use today with adventures. James Raggi's Lamentations published  adventures uses it, as does Venger Satanis and even AS&SH uses a similar approach for adventuring.It gives the PC's an anchor and a way of having a stake within the local campaign setting. Gary Gygax might have noticed this techique happening within the more successful miniature wargames he was involved in. Play a four to six hour historical or fantasy based war game and they seem to take on a life all their own. And that right there is the essence of why T1 has endured all of these years because it makes the PC's have an investment within the confines of the setting as well as incredible greed.

So how do you weave Hommlet into your favorite retro clone? Well, the adventure's 'short comings' become you the dungeon master's hook for reeling the party into the darkness of the Moat house.
"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."
Alright so Hommlet was meant to be a part of something great blah, blah, and that second part never got released. Alright so, simply take Lareth, Beloved of Lolth and grow a demon worshiping cult of chaos around her. Make the bandits her henchmen, the vermin and monsters of the Moat house mutants and mutations attracted by the black magick she's using and away you go. The Moat house suddenly has more then a simple reason to exist, its got history and a backstory to it. For a game like Lamentations of the Flame Princess Hommlet can easily be moved to central Europe around Romania, or Russia, perhaps Spain or France but it suits the material fine. And that's another thing about these modules the classic frame work spun within them remains classic. Hommlet remains vital because it flexes with the DM's needs for his players.

I've had two friends sneer that I wouldn't have the guts to give T1 the same treatment that I did for the 'U' series and L1. Well, guess again folks, this isn't as easy a module as you might think for four or five 2nd and third level  PC's this one is challenging as heck.
So what is the deal with T1 and Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea? Hommlet becomes much easier to deal with then you might think. Hyperborea has a very dangerous and deadly underworld written into its background. Underborea is about as dangerous an underworld as your going to get and the evil of T1 fits it like a glove, the cults and weirdness bubbling up from under the moat house can easily fit into the occult and weird happenings of AS&SH with little problem in point of fact they sort of demand it.
This module also features some of Gary Gygax's great descriptions of the moat house itself but there's a sense of the weird and perverse about the place.
"The bogs here stink, and the vegetation appears dense and prolific, but somehow sickly and unhealthy, creepers and vines throwing their strangling loops over the skeletons of dead saplings and living bushes alike. The rushes and cattails rustle and bend even when only a slight zephyr blows over the marsh, and weird bird calls, croakings, and other unwholesome sounds come faintly across the fen."
And yes I totally stole that from
belst8  from Grognardia. There are several reasons why here; 1. Its a great quote but it also illustrates something I've always believed that the underworld is the rotting birthplace of Chaos and corruption in dungeons. Go deep enough in a megadungeon and it will connect with the underworld of the Inner Earth of a campaign world. Two the Moat house is the first indicator of the deeper happenings and almost virus like birth of horror happening within T1. This sort of a thing would later be seen in another classic module from the Seventies, Keep of the Borderlands. Three the moat house foreshadows things to come in Temple of Elemental Evil or your own mega dungeon creation. There are monsters whose ecology we will look at tomorrow folks.

Do I think that T1 is still viable as an adventure? Yes, classic remain classic for a reason and my five dead or undead PC's can attest to that. There are some reasons why I love these modules. Flexibility, high octane sword and sorcery action, a sense of the classics and roots of D&D and AD&D and more. T1 the Village of Hommlet remains a favorite of mine and one that I return to again and again.

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