This module ranks in my Top Ten Classic Modules of All Time—full list to come in a latter post! I can't resist making a few comments about it.
This adventure was a masterpiece of old-school design. It's open-ended, with no overt hooks at all. The PCs are presumably at the village simply because evil once lurked hereabouts and they want to make a name for themselves. Aside from reports of bandits running the roads (don't they always?) there's little to go on, yet the ruined moathouse, a former bastion of evil, begs to be explored by the brave and perhaps foolhardy.
The module shows its age in some ways. Every NPC is written to have treasure in case the PCs decide to slaughter them. It's possible for several nights of combat-free play in the village and then WHAM, the PCs can find themselves in a meat grinder of a situation and die. Yet despite this, it's surprisingly easy to run and can be successfully used by new or newish DMs.
I ran the module a few years ago (not for the first time) and the players had a great time. They cut rather quickly to the chase, not seeing the need to interview every wainwright and fletcher, but the detailed locations and small mysteries stood the test of time.
1. The village is brimming with interesting personalities and NPCs just waiting for DM expansion. Moreover, there are plots aplenty here and villains abound. Some NPCs have the potential to be long-time allies or enemies.
2. The village has great "home base" potential and the PCs could realistically return to the village between adventures elsewhere. It's also located in a fairly civilized but interesting area of Greyhawk.
3. The infamous moathouse works well. It has atmosphere, a cool map, and it has a great mix of critters without feeling overcrowded. (In realistic terms, it is overcrowded, but it's easy to look past that simply because the dungeon has a great flow to it.) And Lareth the Beautiful is a splendid bad guy (his moniker alone is classic).
Also worth noting is the awesome illustration by David Trampier of the moathouse (see below), which corresponds to the map exactly. I love that drawing.
1. It's Deadly! I don't know if this is exactly a con, for me it's almost a bonus. Not because I enjoy killing off characters—indeed, I've been accused of being a "DM softie" no doubt—but at first level it's good for the players to get a subtle (or not so subtle) reminder just how inexperienced and, well, mortal their characters are. This has been lost in the era of 3.5/4e/"look at all my powers Ma!" and it's a shame.
The moathouse has a few real uber-baddies, which include two—count 'em—patches of strategically placed green slime, a killer crayfish (a very cool addition), and some heavy-duty humanoids. Lareth, the final bad guy, has an armor class of –1; that means first-level characters including fighters need a 20 to hit him! (It's mixed odds the PCs will even have magic weapons when they met him.) There's also a place where the characters can simply get lost in a warren of ghoul tunnels—presumably until they starve—if they take a few wrong turns on the map! Woe to the player that lets the giant rats lull them into a false sense of comfort!
2. As Mike mentions in his post about the adventure, the delayed release of the Temple of Elemental Evil left the poor DM hanging for years. One wonders just how many DMs created their own Temple, based on the name and few other details, simply because their players wanted to head there next.
3. The treasure is lop-sided. The villagers have almost nothing, the average treasure is often a number of coppers in a iron kettle buried beneath a dung heap. Yet the moathouse, as Mike also mentions, has a great deal of loot. (Where are the bandits getting all this anyway if most of the locals are so poor? Local merchant trains? Extra from the Temple?) Be prepared to cut the end-treasure in half if you want to maintain game balance.
4. A few things don't make complete sense. How did the moathouse start crawling with evil again under the collective noses of Rufus and Bernie, and the other agents of good within Hommlet? To be fair, the good NPCs are hobbled or kept otherwise busy so the PCs can be the stars, which is how it should be, but still...
If you're looking to start an old-school campaign and remember the true spirit of AD&D as it was first envisioned, break out your venerable hardcovers and give this oldy-but-goody a try. You won't be disappointed.