You might have noticed the name ‘Modular’ being tagged onto the front of some gaming-related posts over the past several months. Well, being the savvy folks we are we here at Black Gate, we know that Role Playing Games (RPGs), whether tabletop or electronic (Pc/video game/MMO) are immensely popular. And we periodically post about RPGs, in addition to other types of games: such as this one I did on the Dungeons and Dragons Board Game line. And because we’re an on-the-ball kind of website, we’ve noticed that those posts do pretty well.
So, beginning in January, we’re kicking off a regular gaming column called…. you guessed it, ‘Modular.’ The primary focus will be on Role Playing Games, but we want to write about all kinds of fun games and gaming-related topics such as movies, television shows, books, etc. Posts will be written by various Black Gate contributors, and we’re also going to invite some industry folks to come visit, like we did with our popular ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.
I’m really excited about ‘Modular,’ as I think we’re going to be presenting you with some great stuff – both contemporary and nostalgic. From pen and paper Kickstarters to Dungeons and Dragons history. To give you a taste of what’s coming, the following was intended to be one of the first posts in the series next year. It’s a look at just about my favorite module, T1 – The Village of Hommlet. And as I mention at the end, there’s going to be a follow up post with my thoughts on why The Temple of Elemental Evil was delayed for several years. If you’ve got a topic you’d like us to cover, or even something you’d like to write a post about, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latter is how I ended up with my own column, ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes,’ here at Black Gate. So….
The golden era of my RPG life is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D). To prepare for this post, I sat down and read my favorite AD&D module. Now, there are quite a few which I’m still fond of and would like to play again. But T1 – The Village of Hommlet is the leader of the pack. Surprisingly, I’m not particularly crazy about T1-4, The Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE), the much-delayed sequel, which is usually listed near the top of every “All-Time Greats” list. For me, Hommlet is a completely self-contained adventure in and of itself.
Location, Location, Location – Adventure awaits the party an hour horse ride away, as Hommlet can be used as a base for multiple visits to The Moathouse. There are essentially two different delves here at The Moathouse: the above-ground ruins and the below-ground dungeon. And (eventually), the party can move on to the Temple of Elemental Evil for a massive adventure. If the party is young enough, they can come back fifteen years later for The Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil!
It’s a Living Village – It’s not just a collection of buildings. This was the first TSR module to include a population center for the party to interact with. The GM has lots of options to make things happen. For example, perhaps a Druid, Ranger or Cleric in the party gets caught up in the growing tension between the long-popular nature religion and the newer faith of Saint Cuthbert.
There are evil cultists in Hommlet, though the other villagers don’t know this. And the Viscount of Verbobonc has a spy there as well. Villagers have their own motives and problems and the characters may be impacted by them. Heck – there might even be some kind of labor problem with the building of the new castle. The GM has a lot of room to maneuver with the NPCs. Hommlet is not static and a lot can go on there.
I think a lot of villages and towns in subsequent adventures can point back to Hommlet as the foundation for such bases of operation.
Enough But Not Too Much – Gygax packs in a TON of information into this module. Hommlet is brought to life and the Moathouse is ready to run. And with the history, there’s room for growth (The Temple). So, it’s ready to go ‘off the shelf.’ But there’s also space for the GM to create as well. If the players want to mix in role play, the GM has a lot to work with. You could run quite a few sessions without any adventuring at all. Makes me think of Pathfinder’s Ultimate Intrigue book.
The MoatHouse Rocks! – Hommlet is not a push over, but it’s not exotic. TSR didn’t fill it with dinosaurs or aliens or other weird stuff. You’ve got the two types of adventuring I mentioned earlier. But it’s a sensible, down to earth module. I think of it as a good cup of coffee, as opposed to a nonfat, triple soy, pecan-infused grande latte. And if you can take over The Moathouse, you could make it a heck of a base for future adventuring. Assuming that fit in with the plans of various folks in the village and beyond!
T1 Trivia – The miniatures war game, The Siege of Bodenburg, was an influence on Gygax when he began creating what became the Fantasy Supplement for Chainmail. The ruined moat house in T1 was directly modeled on the floorplan of Castle Bodenburg. The history of the destruction of the moat house is based on the Bodenburg siege.
TI – The Village of Hommlet was released in 1979 at Gen Con XII, along with S2 – White Plume Mountain. It originally had an orange monochrome cover, with the now well-known green battle scene depicted by Jeff Dee, coming in 1981.
Gygax references T2 – The Temple of Elemental Evil, multiple times throughout The Village of Hommlet, including on the front page. But T2 never quite came.
Around 1983, Hommlet was going to be renumbered WG (World of Greyhawk)1, with The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth as WG3. It’s certainly no stretch to imagine that The Temple of Elemental Evil was going to be WG2. That didn’t happen and Temple remained MIA.
However, desperation would finally lead to the long-awaited module. Gygax, who no longer controlled TSR, had been sent to California to try and make a D&D movie. In 1984, with the company in financial straits and rumored to be up for sale, he rushed back to Wisconsin and dealt himself back into the decision-making process with a board room maneuver late in the year.
An aggressive publishing schedule, designed to generate cash, resulted in Unearthed Arcana, Oriental Adventures, and finally, The Temple of Elemental Evil in 1985.
Frank Mentzer expanded the original T1 and worked from a couple hundred pages of Gygax’ notes to produce the super module T1-4, The Temple of Elemental Evil. Finally, adventurers could go beyond Hommlet and conquer the evil temple.
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil followed in 2001. That was an almost 200-page monster from Monte Cook. It was set fifteen years after T1-T4 and Tharizdun, God of Eternal Darkness, Decay, Entropy, Malign Knowledge, Insanity, and Cold, prominently featured in WG4 – The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun was the villain. It’s quite the feel-good fest, as you can imagine.
Hommlet was a new kind of module for TSR. Judges Guild had been putting out pieces of The City State of the Invincible Overlord (which was awesome, but today is a disaster of a Kickstarter), which gave players a metropolis to explore. The actual village of Hommlet took up almost two-thirds of the module, giving the players a base to work out of, people to interact with and a place that existed outside of the dungeon. You had lots of role playing opportunities alongside the dungeon exploring (well, it wasn’t exactly a dungeon). TSR would go back to this formula several times over the years.
This was the first Gygax module for low level adventurers, followed the next year by B2 – In Search of the Unknown. He had been producing high level adventures before this.
A follow up to this post is going to talk about the actual Gygax campaign that resulted in Hommlet and the Temple, as well as speculate on two reasons Temple was delayed for so long: one business and one gaming-related.
Our previous coverage of The Temple of Elemental Evil includes:
Gary Con II Report
Four Modules by James Maliszewski
The Art of Storytelling and The Temple of Elemental Evil by Matthew David Surridge
Black Gate Recommends: The Temple of Elemental Evil by Thomas M. Reid
Get The Temple of Elemental Evil for Free at DriveThruRPG
Art of the Genre: The Artistic Mystery of The Temple of Elemental Evil and the Turmoil of 1985 TSR by Scott Taylor
Art of the Genre: The Top 10 Campaign Adventure Module Series of All Time by Scott Taylor
Chainmail re-enactment of T1: The Village of Hommlet at Garycon II
A Return to The Village of Hommlet (4E Style)
And the Temple of Elemental Evil board game:
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.