Like I said, even though I don’t DM 4e, I haven’t stopped playing or liking the game. When a friend lent me a copy of the Village of Hommlet, which is sadly just a reward for being an RPGA DM rather than a real product, I was pretty interested. I knew some of the module’s history second-hand, but not enough to really care about it beyond “it is a module for D&D 4e.” However, I will say that this is one of the best 4e modules I’ve read (this is an idiot review), and that I’m rather sad that it wasn’t made into a full color commercial product with all the trappings, because it is far more compelling than other 4e modules I’ve read.
Hommlet is a module for 4th level players that will take them to 5th level (a little over it, I think, there’s some optional stuff here). Having never read the original module, I did not know what to expect, so all you old school rebellion neoclassical enlightenment hommletian scholarly folk will have to forgive me if I make a big deal out of anything minor. The module is set in the eponymous village, where recent banditry hides a dark secret that will lead the PCs to do battle against a burgeoning cult seeking to unite numerous evil factions within a new Temple of Elemental Evil. I don’t know the history behind that one either.
Now the first thing that strikes me about Hommlet for one is that there’s something to do around the village, other than use it as an excuse to have undisturbed extended rests before the next gauntlet of endless grinding battles. Many of the village characters get good descriptions that help bring their characters to life, and many minor characters get some interaction as well.
In fact, there are minor quests, worth as much XP as a standard monster, that involve talking to less important villagers and helping them, without having to kill anything to do so! My favorite has to be the one where you help an acolyte of pelor who’s having girl problems. The adventurers feel bad for him, because they’ve got 99 problems and a serving maid at an inn ain’t one, so they got put in a good word and play matchmaker. I can imagine this’d make for a hilarious scene. You can also go fetch herbs for a local druid. There are 5 minor quests in all, so it’s the XP equivalent of a fight for a party of 5 players. I like this touch a lot.
What really caught my eye was the fact that Hommlet has people who actually have stats and could actually help you if you so chose to have them. This module has HIRELINGS! The problem with that is twofold however.
In 4e, money is pretty hard-locked, so unless your GM is one who gives cash above what the guides tell him to, then the value of the hirelings cuts into money you NEED to keep up with what the game expects you to have. Each hireling demands an equal cut of the spoils, and the first reaction a lot of my bros and I had was “well you can send them in first to die and they wouldn’t cost a dime then” which is honestly a very unheroic thing and I don’t like to be pushed into thinking that way in D&D 4e, which is about BIG DAMN HEROES not penny-pinching kamikaze generals.
The other and most major problem with hirelings, despite being a cool inclusion in theory, is that you don’t need them and most 4e players won’t care for the addition. It’s interesting to note as a DM and you’d wish you could do something with it, but unless PCs want to stomp the encounters even harder than they normally could, Hirelings are useless. In fact Hirelings might be undesirable to players who like a combat challenge because they might make things too easy – and if you as the DM add extra monsters to compensate for the hirelings, you essentially invalidated the PC’s purchase entirely by returning the status quo.
I don’t know – I can’t see hirelings in 4e leading to anything but aggravation, at least at base.
It is seriously very hard for me to get excited for 4e module combat encounters, especially at the heroic tier. Gnolls, bugbears, yadda yadda yadda, seen it all before– WHAT THE CRAP A GIANT CRAYFISH? Take it from me folks, I’m pretty hard to please with modules, and I think this one has very well crafted encounters. The frogs and then the crayfish really help break up the monotony of goblins and gnolls and bandits that we’ve all fought over and over and over and over throughout our D&D career. And perhaps it’s because this module only carries you one level, so it only needs 10 encounters to wrap up its plotline, but I was rather fond of the pace. Sadly, the final battle with Lareth is a dazed-fest, since he can do that at-will.
The conclusion of the module offers some solid ideas for continuing. I hope they may sometime do the Temple of Elemental Evil as well to follow up Hommlet, and hopefully treat everything as nicely as they did here, including NPCs and non-combat quests, rather than just combat encounters and dungeon paraphernalia.
Honestly, when I first opened Keep on the Shadowfell without knowing a lick about 4e, this module is what I expected. Some simple but effective storyline, neat NPC interactions, minor social quests in town, and the idea of a little breathing world to explore while also including some cool, quirky D&D battles. I really wish I’d met this one first, rather than Keep On The Shadowfell. Hommlet is a really great little thing, and maybe sometime I’d run an Eden-like Hommlet myself. I should write out something about Hirelings in NAA D6, but it’d probably be one paragraph and have no rules, since they’re unneeded there.