Tuesday, May 23, 2023

ACKS Greyhawk: Hommlet and the Moathouse

We agreed upon a reasonable backstory for the adventuring party - the merchant guildmaster of the town of Verbobonc (Mistress Fernhall) had fielded complaints of expensive shipments of trade goods from the Elven kingdom of Celene  going missing in the vicinity of a small village in the south of the Viscounty.  The Viscount's steward authorized a bounty of 10gp per head for any bandits brought to justice, dead or alive.  The players each came up with a good reason why their fresh-faced level 1 character wanted to hunt bandits and earn some money, and we were off and running - the sleepy village, Hommlet was a 3 day's ride south of Verbobonc 

Looking at my Greyhawk  calendar, the players spent 7 game sessions adventuring in and around Hommlet.  First there was arriving in the village, seeing the sights, meeting people at the inn, the church, the trader's, the druid's grove, and eventually presenting their writ of bounty to Lord Burne, the erstwhile liege lord of the area.  Neither Burn nor his guard commander, Rufus, were aware of bandits or missing caravans, although Rufus suggested it'd been some years since anyone had ventured out to the ruins of the old moathouse a few miles outside of town.  Ruins, you say?  We specialize in ruins, said our characters, and they were soon off to investigate their first dungeon.

If you're not familiar with the Temple of Elemental Evil, as my players were not, they learned the local history along the way.  A decade back, an epic battle between the forces of Law and Civilization, led by the Viscount of Verbobonc, with allied armies from the northern kingdoms, members of the knightly orders, and friendly forces of elves and gnomes from the nearby Gnarley Woods and Kron Hills, fought a significant pitched battle about a day's march away at a place called Emridy Meadows.  A varied force of evil soldiers, wicked clerics, humanoids, and monsters, had vomited forth from a vast dungeon and evil temple nearby, to bring Chaos and destruction to the countryside.

The armies of Chaos were routed, the evil temple was defeated, the dungeons (supposedly) cleared, and ancient evils locked away once more.  The moathouse near Hommlet was a smaller outpost from the Temple of Elemental Evil, overthrown via siege in the aftermath of the temple's fall.  Two of the player characters were members of the Church of St Cuthbert, the local dominant religion, and they knew this history well - the church's spiritual leader, the Patriarch Serten, was one of Law's casualties in the fight against the temple's forces, and clerics and paladins of St Cuthbert memorialized Serten's sacrifice.

This adventure, the T1 Village of Hommlet was originally published for AD&D back in 1979 and written by Gygax, later to be joined in a campaign book called T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil, written by Frank Mentzer with access to Gygax and his notes.  T1 is a solid introductory adventure, although the 1970's edition always felt like a teaser, alluding to the nearby temple and a much grander story - alas, we'd have to wait until 1985(!) to see the full thing.

I'm going to elide the play-by-play and focus on the big picture in these summarized recaps.  The players spent several sessions exploring the upper ruins of the moathouse, facing over-sized swamp critters and discovering that bandits were indeed lurking in the ruins.  Sadly, the bandits did not have any of the rare elven trade goods, so the players surmised there was another factor.  The dungeon beneath the moathouse yielded a further mystery.  The characters discovered secret stores of arms and equipment, evidence that someone other than the bandits was using the dungeon as a staging area for future military action.  They found monstrous humanoids lurking in those dark chambers - gnolls, bugbears, and even a man-slaying ogre.  Ultimately they faced off against a small force of mercenary humans led by a powerful, evil cleric - the New Master.  Among the spoils in the master's treasury they found the rare elven wines and crystals, the missing trade goods and luxury items from Celene.

The master's forces had black garb embroidered with the crimson eye of fire, one of the many evil symbols worn by the forces of the Temple a decade ago, and recorded in the annals of the Church.  In the aftermath of the exploration of the moathouse, the players convinced the village council evidence pointed back to the cult of Elemental Evil.  The threat posed by the cult of elemental evil endured and was once again creeping forth to threaten the countryside.  The players made schemes to carry their explorations to the temple ruins themselves… but we'll cover those next time.

There are a few more points to make.  First, agents of evil had infiltrated the village, and some of them even joined the player group, seeking to betray them at opportune moments.  One such agent was the mercenary Zert, who tried to keep the players from returning to Hommlet with evidence of the crimson eye of fire.  There are other agents still in Hommlet the players haven't discovered yet.

One of their allies, the beefy farmhand Elmo, turned out to be an agent of good, serving the Viscount of Verbobonc himself.  The players would never have survived the moathouse without Elmo's sturdy axe and copious hit points.  At the end of these adventures, Elmo recused himself to report to his superiors in Verbobonc, and has vacated the story for the time being.  The party also relied heavily on an NPC mage, the greedy wizard Spugnoir.

Let's meet the players - our cast of player characters includes the Cuthbert worshippers Brother Grayson (cleric), and Barfred (paladin); a fighter Randolph; an Elven Ranger, Glyndal; an exotic scimitar-wielding priestess of a foreign deity, the temple dancer Shakti.  Several of them reached level 3 by the end of the moathouse, but the others are trailing based on attendance.  In future games they added Magnus, a mage, and Dunne, a whiskey distiller who happens to be able to fight, along with various henchmen and mercenary hirelings.  Casualties during this arc were relegated to hirelings, NPCs, and mercenaries, although there have been some lucky saving throws, and Barfred was mauled by a giant lizard, leading to some permanent scars (courtesy of the ACKS mortal wounds table).  Until next time!

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