The Village of Hommlet
The Village of Hommlet Playtest Review by Piaw Na on 14/12/01
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
A surprisingly well-done adventure setting that works well, despite it's age. It's challenging for experienced players, and has a lot of detail.
Product: The Village of Hommlet
Author: Gary Gygax & Frank Mertzner
Company/Publisher: TSR, Inc
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Piaw Na on 14/12/01
Genre tags: Fantasy
This is a playtest review of "The Village of Hommlet" section of the larger adventure, The Temple of Elemental Evil (T1-4) by Gary Gygax and Frank Mertzner. It's an old module, but I found it in my closet and decided to run it for a 3E game I'd started DMing. The Village of Hommlet is downloadable from the Wizards.com website as an ESD for approximately $5.
First of all, let me note that converting an old adventure from 1E AD&D to 3E D&D is not hard, but it is time consuming and requires significant attention to detail. In particular, the stat blocks for classed characters such as Clerics and Fighters are obviously out of date and require significant rewrites. I would not recommend buying an old adventure to play unless you were willing to devote significant time to it.
As noted in other reviews, the Village of Hommlet details the name sake village, populating it with largely un-named characters for the DM to fill in. The village certain feels real, and the DM is provided enough information and motivations to be able to play the NPCs convincingly.
The nearby Moathouse and included dungeon does not look large, but is indeed big enough for several sessions of play. It took my players about 28 hours of play to completely explore it, and enough experience was disbursed to bring fortunate characters (who did not get killed) to 4th level, with one side trip introduced by me. One of my players made the mistake of basing his character's backstory in the village itself, allowing them the benefit of having a base to stay, but also unfortunately, allowing the villains of the story to strike against his family. This allowed me to run the dungeon completely non-linearly, and nothing in the written adventure worked badly because of it.
As a 1e adventure, the Village of Hommlet is significantly more challenging than most D&D adventures published today. I had 6 PCs characters, 1 NPC along, and even so, through the course of the adventure have had 3 PC fatalities (the climatic confrontation with the villain of the piece killed two characters, while the villain managed to escape, all without the DM having to fudge die rolls), and there was not one session in which at least one PC wasn't knocked unconscious in the course of a battle. Many of the players were quite experienced veterans of D&D.
Given that the Temple of Elemental Evil is not available as an ESD, and is probably quite pricey on the on-line auction places, I cannot recommend spending collector's prices on this adventure unless you get it at a significant discount. Comparing it to other DM's accounts of the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, as well as reading my copy of the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, I would say that if you had a choice, choose the Return. It seems to offer the same amount of lethality for player characters, (though the village is less detailed this time around), at the cost of starting players at a higher level. It is significantly less work for the DM to play one of the 3E specific adventures, but on the other hand, those don't seem to be written to cater for more than the standard 4 characters.
On the other hand, having played through the adventure, I can understand why it was considered a classic in many ways. It is versatile, has no plot for players to mix with or to railroad players, and is flexible and can be used by the DM in many ways. And it accomplishes all this in 16 pages! If you have a large number of players (larger than the 4 or 5 that is now assumed by many adventures published today), I think you could do no better than to try this adventure.