We recently took a quick look at some of the worst D&D modules ever produced. The feedback was divisive to say the least. Some called us idiots while others said we were simply trolling. Maybe people absolutely loved the adventures we named as the worst? And others are still dealing with nightmares generated by playing the games? In any case, we maintain that the six listed Dungeons and Dragons modules are bad for the reasons stated…
Except, of course, for the ones that are also great.
Dungeons and Dragons is a game of tremendous highs as well as horrific lows. While the six modules we looked at before are likely to cause a great deal of despair in players (and some DMs who aren’t creative), the six we discuss here are just as memorable in our opinion. These are the modules that fired imaginations and helped Dungeon Masters learn exactly how a game should be put together – with a bit of work and a lot of imagination. Remember, a good DM can make even a “bad” module a good one. With that in mind, we have more thoughts on old D&D modules.
Below are six modules we think helped define Dungeons and Dragons for generations of players. Are they all perfect? Of course not. They’re flawed, they’re weird, and they’re endearing. They’re everything Dungeons and Dragons is when the game is played right! While there are certainly other modules out there that have pushed players just as hard, these six captured the imagination in a way rarely seen. If you’re looking for your next classic Dungeons and Dragons adventure, we think these are the best places to start, even if you’re only looking for homebrew ideas.
S1 Tomb of Horrors (1978)
Tomb of Horrors controversially made our list of worst modules, and that’s not changing today. Tomb of Horrors is a meat grinder that has no real love for its players. It is poorly tuned, designed with a great deal of malice, and it’s absolutely not the kind of thing that players should be subjected to by a DM who really loves his or her crew.
It’s also an absolute classic!
As we said before, this is a sadistic module that makes people hate playing the game just a little bit. It’s also a module that makes players hate the game in the best possible way. It’s part of a long legacy, one that really does deserve to be honored by those who have come to the game recently.
Don’t run Tomb of Horrors with someone who has never played before. Do, however, run it with an experienced group who complains that you were “too hard on them”. This module is still a byword for meat grinder modules and everyone deserves to see what it means to play a module that absolutely hates them.
Tomb of Horrors will make your players hate you a little, but it will also give you a great story to tell. Play it, have fun with it, and put it away until you bring in the next unsuspecting player. You’ll start to look at it with a sort of sadistic fondness.
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (1979)
Yes, trash was also talked about The Keep on the Borderlands. Yes, this is still a pretty archaic module, and it’s still one that isn’t a ton of fun to read. It’s a history book, if nothing else, and one that probably isn’t going to be for everyone.
If you love old-school, absolutely classic Dungeons and Dragons, though, this is going to make your best-of list. There is a sense of imagination here that might not always make it off the page, but it definitely does permeate the entire encounter. You can tell that this was something that was really new when it was put in paper, something that was special. As great as some of these other modules are, they just can’t match The Keep of the Borderlands for the sheer potential of what could have been.
As valid as the complaints are about the module, the fact does remain that it’s entirely playable. It’s rough around the edges, but that’s okay. DMs who are willing to put in a little bit of effort can draw a lot of the potential out of the module, as are players who don’t mind the fact that they won’t be spoon-fed everything that they need.
Sometimes, great modules aren’t great because of what they are. They’re great because of what they represent. If more modules had this kind of potential, D&D would probably be a very different game. In the old days of D&D, players and DMs had to use their imagination. Most people created their own worlds for adventures, and non-fleshed out modules could easily be popped into their homebrew worlds.
We miss the old days of D&D.
I6: Ravenloft by Tracy Hickman
Most people who don’t already love Ravenloft just haven’t played it before. By this point, even the name is famous among D&D fans. Dark, gothic, and appropriately a little scary, Ravenloft was one of those modules that showed exactly how far you could push Dungeons and Dragons without breaking it. It’s a setting that deserves to be revisited again and again, but even that first module stands as an all-time great.
A huge part of what makes Ravenloft so great is the atmosphere. It’s just different from anything you’d usually see in a Dungeons and Dragons game. The whole concept of a world that’s essentially run by evil and twisted by the psyches of its lords is a ton of fun. The fact that your players can succumb to the temptations of the world and find themselves fallen is something that your players will have to deal with, and anyone who fails will be left with a fantastic story to tell later.
Everything about this module is classic. It’s so clever that it almost hurts at times. If you want your players to have a great time with a module that’s off the beaten path, expose them to Ravenloft. You won’t be disappointed by what you find between these pages.
The Temple of Elemental Evil (T1-4 ) by Gary Gygax
The Temple of Elemental Evil is perhaps the most famous Dungeons and Dragons modules. It’s been remade, it’s had video games bear the name, and it’s a favorite among those who love the classic game. This is everything a module is supposed to be, wrapped up in package that has aged remarkably well.
The Temple is the grandfather of all of the big dungeon crawls. It is an undeniably huge module, especially for the time period. Created even before adventure box era, this module is spectacularly massive. It’s also something that is integral to the Greyhawk setting, something that you don’t really get from all of the modules that were published at this time. This is a module with Gygax’s handiwork on full display and it absolutely nails everything that most people want from D&D.
The Temple of Elemental Evil can feel a little grindy and it’s a little dated, but that’s okay. It’s still incredibly fun, especially if you have a group that is familiar with most of the classic mechanics. If you ever have a chance to play it with someone who has been playing for decades, take it – you’ll get one of the few real chances to get back into D&D in the way that it was originally meant to be played.
B4 – The Lost City
A city in the desert. An underground civilization. A ten level pyramid. This what makes up The Lost City, but it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. A fantastic example of early Dungeons and Dragons, The Lost City emphasizes so much more than just combat. This is a module about player choice, about developing civilizations, and about making a difference. This is one of those rare modules that dares to be something bigger than what it should have been.
There are some very real problems with The Lost City. It puts far too much work on the shoulders of even a skilled DM. Some of the writing hasn’t aged particularly well. The main ‘dungeon’, the Pyramid, is only ten levels and doesn’t provide much of a challenge for those who have been playing for a bit.
These problems might as well not exist, though. There is a sense of atmosphere in this module that is only rivaled by the best in the field. The civilization with which you fight, work, and eventually try to aid, is fantastic. There is nothing within the module that really needs to be changed, save for some minor cosmetic details. This is a module that deserves to be up there with The Temple of Elemental Evil or Ravenloft in terms of its place in the pantheon of D&D stories.
UK1 – Beyond the Crystal Caves
The other modules on this list are, if nothing else, incredibly famous. Beyond the Crystal Caves, however, has managed to stay under the radar for decades. It’s a UK-published module, one that plays and feels very different than most of its American counterparts. It’s a game that puts most of the emphasis on role play and non-violent solutions, something that’s very rare among the earlier modules.
With all that said, this is not a pick that’s going to excite everyone. If your ideal game of D&D involves a lot of hacking and slashing, you will almost certainly be very disappointed here. Your goal here is to find a couple who has eloped and must contend with the mystery of the Crystal Cave. Experience points are doled out here not for combat, but for solving problems intelligently. It’s definitely the antithesis of what some consider to be the typical D&D game, but it proves just how flexible the system can be for those who are willing to try something different.
Beyond the Crystal Caves is great because it gives players a different look at what D&D can be. It is heavy on role playing and light on combat, actively penalizing the so-called ‘murder hobo’ style of play that so many players have embraced in recent years. Give this module a chance.
If you’re into role-playing more than hack ‘n slash, this module is right up your alley.
What is Your Favorite?
The great thing about early D&D is that there were so many modules published. There’s pretty much something for everyone out there, be you a fan of hardcore dungeons or a fan of simple mysteries. You don’t have to play one of these six to have a great time, but each of them is recommended because they bring something special to the table. You can learn a lot about what D&D was meant to be by just trying out each of these six modules, especially if you are playing with like-minded players.
Of course, these are only six of the great modules. It’d be very easy to expand this list to include many more. At the end of the day, though, this is all subjective. Your six favorite modules might be entirely different. As you can tell, there’s a fine line between the best and the worst in some cases, and one player’s travesty might be another’s treasure. So many of the best modules are great not because of what’s in them, but because of what players have made out of them.
As with our previous article, we’re counting on a lot of passionate players (from many different eras of D&D) to add their two cents. Just know this isn’t meant to be “click bait” – we’re not showing tons of ads. It’s also not trolling – we genuinely want to find people who have a passion for Dungeons and Dragons. The end goal, if we’re honest, is to get you to the LitRPG Forum to join our community of like-minded adventurers.
Give these D&D modules a shot. With a little luck, the might inspire your own stories.