Monday, May 27, 2019

Wandering Hommlet

If a DM considers possibly running the classic Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, one must first answer: Where is Hommlet? Interestingly, its official published location varied quite a lot in those heady early years.

Here's a timeline of relevant publications (all with Gygax's name on them):
  • 1979: The original monochrome version of AD&D Dungeon Module T1: The Village of Hommlet is released. In the first paragraph of the Background (p. 2), it says, "The village... is located some 10 or so leagues southeast of the town of Verbobonc..." This places it in hex #1 of the regional map above (each hex being 10 leagues in distance). 
  • 1980: The World of Greyhawk folio set and Gazetteer are published, including the fabulous continental map by Darlene excerpted above. In the single-paragraph entry on Verbobonc (p. 18), it states, "A temple and fortress were constructed in the wooded hills southeast of the town of Verbobonc, not far from the village of Hommlet. (Look for the VILLAGE OF HOMMLET and the TEMPLE OF ELEMENTAL EVIL modules from TSR)." So: no explicit change, although hex #1 noted above is not depicted with either woods or hills.
  • 1981: The multi-color version of module T1 is released. However, the booklet inside is identical as far as I can tell (even maintains the same inside logo and 1979 copyright, different from the color cover), so no textual changes in that regard.
  • 1983: The boxed-set version of the World of Greyhawk is produced, with the same map, but a pair of expanded books. The Glossography includes more detailed in-game statistics to various entities, including a section on "Adventure Locales" (p. 30), which gives specific hex coordinates for every TSR module published to date. For the Village of Hommlet (noted with a predicted change in code from T1 to WG1), it says, "The legendary villlage is located in hex O4-98 near Verbobonc". That hex is noted as #2 in the map above -- quite a surprising distance away; not 10 leagues, but rather some 40 leagues away from Verbobonc. And still not very much near the wooded area. 
  • 1985: The supermodule AD&D Official Game Adventure T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil is finally published (in the final year of Gygax's tenure with the company; finished with the help of Frank Mentzer). This includes what is mostly a reproduction of the T1 Hommlet module inside; although now the Player's Background section (p. 4) states that it is, "located some 30 leagues southeast of the town of Verbobonc" (not 10 as before). In addition, it comes with a rather sketchy wilderness "Map 1: From Hommlet to Nulb" that depicts Hommlet as being in hex #3 on the map shown above (indeed, 3 hexes, so 30 leagues from Verbobonc).
That's really quite a bit of wandering for a little village -- the triangle formed by hexes #1, 2, and 3 above is a bit larger than that formed by New York, Philadelphia, and Allentown, PA.

A secondary issue is: Given Hommlet, where are Nulb and the Temple in relation?

 Above is the wilderness map given in the T1-4 adventure. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of the story with that:
  • In the original 1979-1981 T1 text, Hommlet and Nulb are set fairly close together. The Background says (p. 2), "The folk of Hommlet tended to ignore Nulb, even though it was but six miles distant." Likewise, the T1 moat house is given as "about two or three miles away", along an overgrown track leading northeast off the Hommlet village map (area 33, text p. 8). The text to those ruins reiterates this, describing travel of "a mile or so" along the overgrown track, and then "two miles of distance" along a somewhat clearer pathway (total time: one hour on horse, two on foot; doubled on subsequent trips after clearing it). It concludes this description with, "The track continues past the ruins for many miles -- seven leagues, in fact -- until the temple area is reached." (p. 12) Note that this total of about 8 leagues (24 miles) to the Temple is considerably more than the 6 miles to Nulb in the opening Background.
  • On a related note, the T1 Background speaks of a "Lowroad" leading from Verbobonc, south of the river: "Many days' travel to the east, on the shores of the Lake of Unknown Depths (Nyr Dyv) is the great walled city of Dyvers". This first paragraph seems to be describing the various roads off the edges of the Hommlet village map; the one leading directly east (best matching this description) is labeled "To Nyr Dyv & the Temple". There is no mention in this text of any corresponding "Highroad". 
  • The Brief History in the 1980-1983 Greyhawk products (identical in both) spends a rather surprising amount of time focused on the area and action around the Temple. For a piece of text covering the entire history of the continent, 3 of its 11 paragraphs are specifically about the battle with the forces of the Temple (clearly, it was foremost in Gygax's mind at the time). Yet even here the location of things is just a bit garbled: the Brief History says the battle was, "below the city of Verbobonc" (folio p. 6), while the section on the Kron Hills mentions it as, "the battle above Verbobonc" (p. 23). 
  • With the 1985 T1-4 product you get the wilderness map above, but it seems mostly unrelated to any of the descriptions in the text itself. Note that it clearly shows Hommlet at Nulb as being at least 10 leagues (30 miles) distant as the crow flies; if I map and measure all the little twists and turns on the roads, then I count either 16 or 18 leagues (48 or 54 miles) depending on the route. But the Hommlet reproduced background still says Nulb is "6 miles distant" (p. 5), the track out of town still says the moathouse is "2-3 miles" away (p. 14), and the text to the ruins still describes the same "mile", then "two miles", then "seven leagues" to Nulb (p. 21); which again awkwardly implies a total of 24 miles from Hommlet to the Temple.
  • Meanwhile, the new Interlude section to T1-4 is also contradictory. The Players' Background says, "Just a half-day's journey afoot (only about two hours' ride), east along the High Road, lies the disreputable community of Nulb, and the Temple hidden in the hills nearby" (p. 27). Per standard AD&D/Greyhawk moves rates, this implies a road distance of about 5 leagues (15 miles). On the other hand, under Notes for the Dungeon Master, it says, "The adventure began in the Village of Hommlet, only about thirty miles west and south of the edge of the Nulb area map" (p. 28). 
  • Then the very next thing T1-4 says is, "You can construct your own campaign map by using graph paper of roughly the same parameters as that of the Nulb map, assuming 100 yards to the square. Two sheets of paper the west and to to the south cover all of the important territory, with Hommlet being located on the High Road, two maps west, one south near the map bottom, but in the southwest quadrant. (The Velverdyva river, by the way generally remains along the upper portion of the northern map additions...)". By my figures, the described map would only cover about 4 by 6 miles, although the description seems to cover an area at least 30 by 40 miles on the T1-4 wilderness map. Was this particular text accurate to an early placement close to Verbobonc (hex #1), and overlooked when the official T1-4 map was drafted? Or was it simply a total meltdown in someone's arithmetic?
  • Other miscellaneous comments about the T1-4 wilderness map: Note that while T1 mentioned only a "Lowroad", the new T1-4 sections have now switched to reference only a "High Road". Whereas T1 showed and spoke about a major road leading due east to the Nyr Dyv, the roads in T1-4 are highly kinked, going far to the south and then far to the north (not very useful for a major east-west highway). The map has no placement for the T1 moathouse or the overgrown track leading northeast off the Hommlet map. The relative location of the Temple seems to have switched sides of the road; in T1 you can go northeast of the main road and reach the Temple, while in T1-4 it is shown south of that road. It's weird that the "Low Road" is along the crests of the hills, while the "High Road" is in the depths of the forests; and also that while the T1-4 text speaks of the "High Road" as the major route to Nulb, on the map it is shown as an "unused trace road" with many points of Danger/Evil along the way. Likewise, none of those Danger/Evil areas are described in the T1-4 text.

I hope that you'll forgive me for all that detailed nit-picking. But the contradictory nature of the T1-4 wilderness map has bothered me for a long time, and I think I've repeated this textual exercise a number of times, and wanted to document it here so I don't ever do it again. One last complaint I'll levy is how that map seems to imply that the PCs will need several more custom adventuring areas to gain XP between Hommlet and the Temple, when this simply isn't the case; the average danger level of the Moathouse is almost exactly the same as the first level of the Temple dungeon, by my calculations.

So, at this point I think I might come to the following conclusion if I were to ever run the T1-4 adventure: just kick that wilderness map entirely to the curb as incoherent, and make my own map in line with the original 1979-1980 descriptions, which suffered from somewhat fewer contradictions. Consider: perhaps Hommlet lies in the plains of Verbobonc, along a "Low Road" that runs generally due east (through wilderness and woods) to the Nyr Dyv. Meanwhile, there could be a "High Road" that loops north of the river and the whole area, through the safety and civilization of knighted Furyondy, and reaches Dyvers that way instead. (In fact: Gygax's Gord the Rogue books speak of a "High Road" running through the center of the City of Greyhawk; while not clear there, I might fantasize that this is the same major mercantile thoroughfare running all the way from Verbobonc, through Furyondy, then Dyvers, and then to Greyhawk itself. In contrast, there's no way to interpret the road on the T1-4 wilderness map as doing the same.).

A final thing I'll reflect on (a little bit of back-in-my-day-ism): Just think about the incredible wait time we suffered from the publication of T1 with all of its hints and promises about the soon-to-be-released Temple adventure, until the actual appearance of the T1-4 module. The former was in 1979, and actually my personal copy of T1-4 has a 1987 print date on the inside cover. That spans the time from when I was 9 to when I was 17, or in fact half of my life to that point waiting to get the damned thing. There's a reason why some of us have a small part of our brains kinked up over that production.


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  2. That's got to be the weirdest spam comment I've ever read. Is it a scam that's trying to filter out anyone but the fully deranged? Or an situationist prank?

  3. I think I started with the Wilderness map (or maybe it came from one of the "return to" modules TSR/WOTC put out around the silver anniversary? I like that there is a little room to breathe around the adventure locations.
    At any rate, I started using this map as my go-to for the flanaess: which put Homlett about 40 or so miles away. (someone made a hexed version too. I base my simplified
    hand-drawn "what the characters know" map off of that incredible work.
    As for the spam comments above, I assume that is someone testing their machine learning bot.

  4. It's this kind of obsessing over small scandals that makes me feel we're kindred spirits, Dan.
    ; )

  5. I had to make my own map, too, when I recently ran T1. Of course, my complaints about T1-4 are well known... the map is the tip of the iceberg, but this is an excellent helpful article! Thank you!

  6. Thanx for putting in all that work to analyze the situation and write up your findings! I used to run T1 all the time "back in the day," but never got to T2-4. If I ever do it all again I will take the info you've provided into account.