The Village of Hommlet
Once upon a time, roleplaying was simple: you bought the rules, you read the rules, then you bought cheap adventure modules and played them like Atari game cartridges. For the most part, these adventures had no "plots", as such -- just a description of a place to explore and a rationale (however flimsy) for why the characters would want to go there.
Today, of course, we know that's all wrong. No more mucking about just exploring for the fun of it! Nossir, an adventure needs a story, one with which the players had darn well better play along. And no more cheap little 20-page adventure booklets with detachable maps! Nope, adventures should be works of literature, with every NPC described right down to his favorite color! (That is, if you actually need a written adventure. Most real roleplayers these days just buy supplements out the wazoo and write their own adventures, don't you know.)
I exaggerate here just a bit, of course. Certainly, many (if not most) early adventure modules had a mind-numbing "kill the beastie and take its stuff" theme, not much different than today's "first-person shooter" video games. But some of them possessed a quality that the current flashy novella-sized adventures lack: true spontaneity.
I give you... The Village of Hommlet.
The subject of this novice-level adventure is exactly what it claims to be: a village. A village mostly filled with ordinary people going about ordinary lives. Are all of them given names? No. Do all of them have detailed histories? No... but you know their general dispositions, you know what they can do, and you know why they're there.
Hidden in their midst are several folks who are much more than they seem, some of whom have awfully nasty skeletons in their closets for the characters to discover. And nearby is a forbidding ruin, a relic from Hommlet's dark past that beckons intrepid explorers with promises of riches and adventure. Are there coherent reasons for these people and things to be there? Yep. Is there some storyline to be followed involving them? Nope. The players' course is entirely up to them, and not in the sense that there are multiple outcomes possible to the story, either -- they can literally do whatever they want without the harried DM having to patch up the plot in their wake. They can root out and slay the baddies, or they can hook up with them. They can become the town's heroes, or else burn the place to the ground. Shocking, ain't it?
It's simply amazing how much hard, playworthy information is crammed into this thing. I don't recall how many times I used this module, but I know I got hours and hours of use from it. This, from a mere 16 pages! Is the artwork dazzling? No, but it's effective. And oh, those glorious maps: maps of the town, the inn, the guard tower, the trading post, and the ruined moathouse!
Yes, I know it's a module for AD&D, a game system that is to RPGs what the Apple II is to computers. Yes, I know it's written by Gary Gygax, King of the Dungeon Crawl. Don't let that stop you from giving this little gem a second look.
In short, if you're seeking deep, meaningful plots that will make players and characters alike ponder the nature of the universe or the darkness hidden within the depths of their souls, you'd best stick to the road and leave the good people of Hommlet behind. But if, on the other hand, you'd like to turn your characters loose in a well-developed setting and let them do as they please, it's time to dig out this old classic.
For my part, I know I'll always cherish those memories of telling my players that they were "approaching the village of Hommlet, having ridden up from the lands of the Wild Coast"... and sitting back to enjoy the show.
Style: 3 (Average)