There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but I think, more than anything, what I like most about it is that it has an ominous, brooding character to it that haunts my imagination. Unlike, say, the Keep from Keep on the Borderlands, Hommlet feels like it's a community that sits on the precipice of disaster. Though the forces of Good carried the day and defeated the forces of Elemental Evil some years previously, the victory was not total and everyone in Hommlet knows it -- even if they dare not speak the truth. The ruins of the moathouse are stirring again and agents of Elemental Evil have infiltrated the village. Everyone knows it's only a matter of time before Evil will again rear its ugly head; it's simply a question of when and whether Hommlet will emerge from the coming battle intact.
I don't know; it's hard to explain. There's just something powerful about this set-up, something that, for me anyway, strikes me as the perfect set-up for a new campaign. I share with Tolkien the conception of history as a "long defeat" and The Village of Hommlet touches on that theme obliquely -- the notion that each generation must stare Evil in the face and bar the way of its advance, even if it's ultimately just a holding action, for Evil can never truly be defeated in this life. Obviously, I'm reading more into this module than is there in the text, but that's part of the point of this entry. T1 inspires in me a lot of feelings and emotions that I find incredibly useful in kicking off an old school fantasy campaign.
There's also the fact that, as the cover notes, The Village of Hommlet is the "first of 2 modules." T2, as originally conceived, never came out and I regret that. When we finally got The Temple of Elemental Evil, it was nothing like the module I expected it to be, nor do I think was it much like the module Gary would have written had he done so in 1979, as planned. The six year gap between T1 and its sequel gave me plenty of time to create my own conception of the Temple of Elemental Evil, which bore little resemblance to what we finally saw in 1985. The "unfinished" character of T1 is appealing to me; I see it as representing unexplored possibilities and, for me, that's the essence of old school module making.
Hommlet itself is a joy. I love every little bit of it, from the Inn of the Welcome Wench to the tower of Burne and Rufus. The inhabitants of the village, from their names to their personalities, are Gygax at his mellifluent best: Jaroo Ashstaff, Calmert, Fernok of Ferd, Ostler Gundigoot, and more. And of course my love for the church of St. Cuthbert was forever by his holy sayings presented in the module, such as:
SQUARE CORNERS CAN BE POUNDED SMOOTHLittle details like that simply tickle my fancy. Likewise, the pretty squabbles of the various villagers over past slights, the rivalry between the followers of St. Cuthbert and the Old Faith, and the loves and losses of the townsfolk are an amazing tableau against which to adventure. The whole thing is very atmospheric and I can't helped but be pulled into it.
THICK HEADS ARE NOT MADE OF GLASS
SALVATION IS BETTER THAN SMART ANSWERS
Then there's the moathouse, which has everything I crave from a low-level old school dungeon: a plausble backstory, lots of vermin, and several encounters that might, if the PCs are foolhardy, lead to deaths. To my mind, the moathouse ruins provide a superb template which other referees might use in creating their own starting dungeons. It's a great example of Gygaxian naturalism in action, which is itself a reminder that, while the campaign may be set in a fantasy world, that doesn't mean the world exists solely to fulfill the players' fantasies. There are many encounters -- such as the giant crayfish -- that will kill low-level PCs if they are stupid enough to charge in until they are ready to do so. I like that a lot and it's something that D&D has slowly lost over the years, much to my disappointment.
What can I say? I absolutely adore The Village of Hommlet.