Bypassing Half a Module
One key aspect of being a DM is adjusting to what the party throws your way, and boy did they throw a curve ball my way…
My gaming group has recently started a “1.75e” campaign, embarking on the classic AD&D adventure “The Temple of Elemental Evil”. In preparation for the first sessions I read and reread the 20 pages of the module that outline the who, what and why of Hommlet. I felt I was comfortable to play out the conversations and scenarios the party would generate upon arriving in Hommlet. Little did I know that I wouldn’t need 90% of what I had prepared…
This first session had the players developing their back-stories in a communal fashion, developing their motivation for adventure, and setting out for Hommlet. Playing true to the module’s origins, the campaign is set in Greyhawk, and the party is based in Verbobonc – which is to the northwest of Hommlet.
The party arrived in Hommlet from the northern road and first stopped at the local church of St. Cuthbert. The party (known as the “The Outsiders“) is a very eclectic mix of races and classes, with the most “normal” being a gnome thief/illusionist named “(P)ike”. In an effort to not upset the local clergy, the party decided to have the gnome enter the church to talk with the priest. After a cordial conversation (and a nice offering to the church), Ike left with the priest only knowing that a gnome had stopped in.
From there, the entire party crossed the street and attempted to talk with the herdsman who lived in that house. The herdman was not fond of having a drow, fire genasi, fire-based tiefling and gnome on his property and quickly told them as much. With bow trained on them, he instructed them to leave and they quickly obliged. While he will tell others of his encounter at some point, it will probably be several days before this retired warrior who “does not like company or strangers” will get around to seeing anyone in town.
As they traveled further into town, they party’s noses directed the them to the braumeister located down a southwest branch in the road. Two party members have brewing as non-weapon proficiencies and are active brewers, as per their backgrounds. Having made the appropriate checks, I determined they could smell the brewing operation only 250 feet away.
Based on good role-playing (regarding the art of brewing in particular) and some high Charisma scores, the party makes friends and ingratiated themselves with the brewer and his family. They find out that he has information relative to the story (and their motivation), and end up soliciting his help.
The party decides to adventure on towards the Temple and the town of Nulb, but don’t want to make their presence known to anyone else in town. The brewer agrees to let them sleep in the attic of the brewery (in exchange for some work), and they set out during the next night and successfully sneak out of town towards Nulb and the Temple.
True to old AD&D modules, very little was outlined on the braumesiter and his family. It was probably assumed the party would have little interaction with them. However, my players did and I had to wing it. It felt great weaving a story *FOR* my players, and not just reading flavor text.
So, after one great role-playing session, the party only encountered a handful of people: a priest who knows a gnome came through, the anti-social herdsman who won’t tell anyone what he saw until the party is gone, and the brewer’s family who is helping them. Roughly 30 locations in the module were bypassed (including all the major landmarks), along with almost any NPC of note (the priest being the only notable NPC encountered).
So, what did I learn? Not much really. I already knew my friends and players were full of surprises. And, it further reinforced by love of the non-combat side of role-playing games. It was a hell of a good time and a great game between friends.