Friday, April 27, 2012

The Village of Hommlet As Adventure Locale

I am a big fan of pilfering ideas, maps, and locales from various published adventure modules and gaming publications. While the Lands of Ara is to some extent a full-fledged game world, with many basic assumptions built in and many others organically accruing over time, it has always also been a place into which I can ungraciously shoehorn a modified map from a Gygax module, a random encounter idea horked from Jeff Rients' blog, and/or an entire megadungeon by Michael Curtis. To me this "sampling" is absolutely integral to my DM'ing process: not only do I enjoy buying, reading, and raiding other creative people's RPG'ing products, but I am also a fairly half-assed and slapdash preparer, so when the PCs suddenly decide to visit a place I haven't yet mapped, it is great fun for me to just choose an old TSR module and use (parts of) that. In short, I like allowing significant input from outside sources, sometimes randomly generated, sometimes deliberately planted, to infuse Ara with elements that exceed the limits of my own imagination.

Along this line, last summer there was a spat of creative blog talk about using TSR's 1979 adventure module, The Village of Hommlet, as a launching point for different types of campaigns. Of course, James Maliszewski has succinctly assessed why Hommlet makes such a rich foundation for old-school adventure in general, but in particular I refer to two separate posts (here and here) on James Smith's previous blog, The Underdark Gazette.*  scottsz in particular gets going in the comments of the first post above with a proposed 'alternate' version of T2, T3, and T4 -- and it rocks! Here are some excerpts:

[Given] how Furyondy and Veluna take such an interest in events of the Temple, characters at 2nd level could take a trip to a garrison to report their findings and make contact with more forces of Good/get more background about the history of the Temple. They might ask an 'official' historian (and not some Hommlet druid) what happened. Perhaps they'll get the truth or another part of a mystery. A full 'city module' isn't required - people of importance would want to prevent any panic about the Temple's resurgence.

If module T2 - Temple of Elemental Evil was targeted for levels 2-4, involved a lot of investigation and 'mood buildup' and led to a Temple visit, PCs still aren't likely to get inside - but at least PCs get there. T2 could culminate in rooting out and nullifying the Greyhawk influence of Temple operatives outside the Temple, even if such influence was to powerful entities in Furyondy or Veluna.

T3 - The Elemental Keys could be about finding (a) particular artifact(s) allowing entrance (perhaps Goldenskull wasn't kept inside the Temple but safeguarded elsewhere!), and wouldn't require railroading if the characters were already (falsely) accused of 'treason' and being hunted.

T4 - The Lady of Fungi begins with entrance to the Temple and reaches Zuggtmoy. Throughout the 'T' series, the assumption is that the 4 classical Greek elements are what are referred to by Elemental Evil - an assumption that proves to be dangerously incorrect!

And then there's James' own proposal to mash-up some of the Hommlet premises / adventure seeds with fungi-based zombies for what he's calling Death Fungi Doom:

I didn't want "T2" to be a megadungeon. I wanted it to be T2, not T2-4 and suitable as a follow-up to T1. Also, T1 is taking place before the Giants/Drow modules, as those events are going to be in play, whether or not the players decide to investigate.

The fungal dead are human corpses whose bodies have been overtaken by a virulent strain of unwholesome fungus. These alien spores animate their non-living hosts into a nightmarish semblance of life and seek to spread the colony into new, recently-deceased corpses.

And of course, instead of a Vampire, down there, we have Zuggtmoy, needing the PC's as much as they're going to need her! And a certain bizarre, keening/humming plant creature, which puts fungi into a stasis, instead of undead. Crypts? Or, maybe thousands of dead combatants, strewn about the dungeon. Put into stasis right before the demonic fungi, was ready to activate their corpses.

Maybe old Zeke has been making forays into the place, taking out bodies one by one and burying them. Unawares, of the quiescent evil, of all that sickening growth. I might need to tweak the timeline, a bit. Maybe decide that St. Cuthbert's followers believe all bodies must be buried. An anti-cremation doctrine might fit well, with old Cugel-dudes historical inspiration.

Now, as an added bonus, I can throw a few scary undead encounters into the dungeon. :)

This all was and is very exciting and inspiring. How fortuitous for me that I ordered module T1 around the same time as these posts (July 2011), and have since had a chance to plant its titular village somewhere in the Lands of Ara.

* The Underdark Gazette has been taken down from public view, and therefore my links may not work for you. However, James told me that anybody interested in seeing the old material directly may request access by contacting James via email at dmkastmaria at gmail dot com. See also his current blog, Dreams of Mythic Fantasy.


  1. This sounds great Carter but I can't for the life of me find James' email on his blog.

  2. dmkastmaria and g you know what.

    I need to collect all that stuff and archive it on the new blog, or send it to scottsz or something.

  3. @David: Sorry about that, I thought I had picked the amil off James' blog, now I recall I reached him via G+. Have updated original footnote.

    @James: Yes, an archive post on the new blog would be awesome!

  4. Thanks James and no worries Carter. :-)

  5. Carter,

    I'm still crunching on this stuff - some newer developments and some older ideas have been superceded.

    I think I have a strong concept for the Temple environs and relations with the Greyhawk political entities (per the Gazetteer). I'm currently focused on the ancient culture of the Elemental Gods (I was lucky enough to track down some interesting side notes on Lovecraft and Native American culture and just got finished reading Blatty's Exorcist for some support about Tsuggtmoy.)

    I think the larger challenges of T2's requirements have been about 75% met so far (I found the origin of Y'dey, figured out how to have a powerful demoness and low level characters under the same roof, and I think I have a decent set up for a non-evil Elder Elemental God.)

    I'm been really crunched at work the last few weeks, but I'm working on a progress report post. I hope to have it ready by tomorrow morning.

    I'm still working out the web programming to be able to present the final information as images, notes, and supportive links to pics, etc. but I'm many weeks behind because of time constraints.