Monday, September 25, 2023

Grading Classic Module Towns

Today's assignment is to run through the town-ish settings from nine classic--or at least old--D&D modules. Scoring is based on four categories:
Details: how well the setting is described; 
Intrigue: are there reasons to interact with the setting beyond spending a night at the inn and replenishing supplies, 
NPCs: are there interesting characters in town? And 
Map: did the cartographer make an effort? Includes maps of structures if any are provided.

As always, this is a non-comprehensive list. If you know of a town that I've missed--I know there was one in Ravenloft--let me know and maybe I'll get to it in a future post.

Hommlet (T1 V. of H.)  Grade: A

If you've ever read this blog before you probably expected Hommlet to score pretty high on this list. Likewise, if you've ever played/run T1, you probably expected this as well. Weighing in at only 8-ish pages, each building in town gets a couple of paragraphs describing the residents and where they've hidden their life savings. There's also the agents of Elemental Evil lurking about, the unspoken tensions between the cult of Cuthbert and the old time Druids, Rufus and Burne's castle and the accompanying displacement of traditional authority in the village; it goes on. Slight points lost because a DM really needs to devise their own means of injecting this intrigue into the adventure. And while the map is good by early TSR standards, that is not a very high standard.

Details: A+
Intrigue: A-
Map: B+


Garrotenstadt, AKA Shankton, Murdergard, Assassinville, etc. (L2 Assassins Knot)   A-

I'm still not done making fun of the name of this burg but, despite the name, Garrotenford is provided with a wealth of detail and in depth descriptions of all the "worthy" townsfolk (those with levels in some class) plus a table summarizing the entire populace. The entire adventure will likely take place within city limits--unless you go off on that silly octopus hunt--so high marks for intrigue. And this town wins the best-in-class map score because it is, to the best of my knowledge, the only published TSR map ever to include latrine facilities. 

Details: B+ 
Intrigue: A
NPCs: A 
Map: A-


Orlanes (N1 Reptile God) A-

The plot requires that the PCs skulk around town investigating the populace, dragging up muck while drawing the attention of nefarious elements. Most if not all of the residents are provided with almost Hommlet-esque level of details--though many homes are abandoned which makes the job slightly easier. A solid town with a good plot, this is the first modge penned by Douglas Niles and is likely his best effort as well. 

Details: A
Intrigue: A+
NPCs: A-
Map: B


Restenford (L1 Bone Hill) B+ 

For those who don't know, I have a whole other blog dedicated to this module and its quirky town full of weirdos. For those who do know about that other blog, you're probably surprised Resty finished this low in the grading; we'll get to that later. R'ford is loaded with intriguing NPCs like the well-meaning but incompetent baron who barely rules over a town whose citizens feel nothing but disdain for him; his wife who carries on an affair with her spiritual advisor; his daughter who openly seeks his throne; and a manipulative sorcerer who is the real authority in town. And let's not forget the psychotic priest or the treacherous bait salesman. But this burg is dragged down by it's maps; underwhelming even by the standards of the day, it loses even more points for the building plans; they all suffer from 1-story syndrome, and are so poorly laid out they are used in architecture schools as comedic relief. It seems unfair that the maps should count for a quarter of the grade here but I don't make the rules--Pelltar does--so we're stuck with giving Resty a B+.  
Details: B+
Intrigue: A+
NPCs: A+
Map: C-


The KEEP (B2 KotB)  B

Another place you probably thought would rate higher, given my predilections. This one, though, rates a B by intent. Gygax left out details like names for any of the NPCs and intrigue for any of the KEEP's residents--excepting the Cleric of Evil Chaos in apartment 7b; who is the Zert of the Borderlands--so that novice DMs could provide these details themselves. Not necessarily a strategy I appreciate, but this was early in the days of module production, points for experimenting. Anyway, the KEEP is is really an over-achieving way station with the option of being developed into a cool town setting.

Details: A-
Intrigue: C
NPCs: B-
Map: B


Ducal City of Rhoona (X3 Curse of Xanathon) C

I just spent the last month lambasting this module for it's scripted plot and mis-drawn maps, now I'm taking down it's setting: the City of Rhoona. Despite almost all the action of X3 taking place within Ducal city limits, there is no incentive for the PCs to engage with the city outside of the Ducal Plot. The city provides little more than Ducal window dressing for the adventure; the only NPCs described are either inhabitants of one of the adventuring locales or the rabid dwarf and cryptic beggar-priest from scene 1 whose job it is to direct the PCs toward the adventure. While the neighborhoods are described in a general way--all buildings are 1-story, groan--Rhoona loses points because there are no details provided for any places or NPCs who are not directly involved in the action--you've already broken into the Ducal Barracks/temple/Ducal Palace before you will encounter them. And the map is half-assed, providing blank circles and squares that you have to fill in with business establishments. Though there are random tables provided to assist with that task, this yields a generic No-Place of a city.  

Details: C-
Intrigue: B
NPCs: B- 
Map: D+

Suderham (A3 Aery of the Slave Lords) C

"Are you alright?"
Due to the tournament origins of this module, the secret city of Suderham is more like a puzzle for the PCs to solve than an actual urban setting to interact with. You're supposed to get in and follow the clues to the drop zone as quickly as possible, no time for loitering over pints at the tavern, joining the thieves guild for a heist, or patronizing any of the brothels in town--though 5 points to Gryfindor for including brothels. Interactions with NPCs  are highly discouraged other than a couple of informants who contribute only a single line of dialog each to the experience, and a couple of miscreants intent on slowing the PCs down. But there is the assumed cabal of abolitionists who are providing the informants with clues to pass on to the PCs, an obsessive wingnut like you should be able to develop that strand of intrigue into something. And, sadly, the map is very basic: a big old square filled with outsized single-story (groan) buildings, not much thought was put into this. I'm working on the assumption that the 1 square = 50' scale is a mistake, otherwise I'm downgrading the C- to a D-. But I do really like EO's illustration of the guards at the gate.
Details: C
Intrigue: C+
NPCs: D+
Map: C-


Guido's Fort (B5 Horror on the Hill) D

From the third Niles-penned module on this list, Guido's Fort really doesn't deserve to be here because it is only meant to be a way station, a place to kick off the adventure and move on. But too bad, you give the place a name like Guido's Fort and then don't bother telling us who the crap Guido is? You brought this on yourself, Niles.
Details: D
Intrigue: D-


Saltmarsh (U1 Sinister Secret of) D-

I know that some folks have published a posthumously detailed town of Saltmarsh, we're not talking about that place. This grade is based solely on the text of the original release of U1 back in 1841, which I've already written about at length. This gets such an exceptionally low grade because, unlike Guido's Fort, the PCs are expected to loiter in this town for several days interacting with a town that the MWs didn't bother fleshing out--beyond telling us that it resembles a small 14th c. fishing village on the southern coast of England--not good enough for the weight this town is supposed to pull in this adventure. It earns a D--as opposed to an F--only because there are some NPCs mentioned such as the infamous "Receiver" and some rent-boys who will help row the party out to the smuggler's ship. There is also some intrigue--smoking out the Receiver and taking it/them down could be a good follow-up adventure--but, ultimately, the authors didn't bother to make an effort here so screw them.
A novice DM tasked with "quite thoroughly" preparing the village of Saltmarsh so that TSR doesn't have to.
Details: F
Intrigue: D
Map: F-


  1. Hommlet has always been my model when I write up a town for an adventure or locale. Because you never know then the party will go Full Chaotic and steal everyones' coppers that they hide in a chamberpot under the bed.

  2. you ever check out Dungeon 221, there is an adventure there The Battle of Emridy Meadows, which is tied to Nulb. it is a precursor to an updated Village of Hommlet from dungeon 212

  3. Well I have now, Rick. More on this later.