Ready for our pick of the ten Best D&D Adventure Modules of All Time? We’ve made our list and checked it twice. Do you agree with our choices?
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 Dungeons & Dragons 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 ten listed Dungeons and Dragons modules are bad for the reasons stated…
Except, of course, for the ones that are also great.
Dungeons & Dragons is a game of tremendous highs as well as horrific lows. While the six worst D&D adventures we looked at before are likely to cause a great deal of despair in players (and some DMs who aren’t creative), the ten best RPG adventures 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 ten Dungeons & Dragons 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 ten D&D modules 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.
Our Top 10 Classic D&D Adventures
- Tomb of Horrors (S1)
- Keep on the Borderlands (B2)
- Ravenloft (I6)
- Dragons of Despair (DL1)
- Queen of the Demonweb Pits (Q1)
- Vault of the Drow (D3)
- Test of the Warlords (CM1)
- Temple of Elemental Evil (T1-4)
- The Lost City (B4)
- Beyond the Crystal Caves (UK1)
S1: Tomb of Horrors (1978)
Tomb of Horrors controversially made our list of worst Dungeons and Dragons 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!
[bctt tweet=”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!” username=”litrpgforum”]
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.
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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.
DL1 – Dragons of Despair
If you’re going to look at the best D&D modules, one of the best places to start is with DL1. While Dragons of Despair is far from being the original module, it’s one of the most important in D&D’s history. This is the start of the Dragonlance saga, a module that was actually released before the novels themselves. It’s one of the most heavily-advertised modules in D&D history and it really set the tone for some of the more epic adventures to come.
While the module is old, it still stands up to a surprising extent. Tracy Hickman’s story design is stellar, and the story unfolds in a very interesting way no matter how your PCs act. The plot does hew fairly close to the first Dragonlance novel so it is kind of hard to play with people who have read the books, but it’s also an interesting throwback to an era where the games and the novels were so incredibly intertwined.
The plot’s excellent crafting is one of the few real downsides to this module, though. There’s a definite sense of rail-roading here, something that veteran players might resent if not done with a light touch. Again, though, this is a classic module that most seasoned players will put up with if only to experience some of D&D’s best history. Consider this one the next time you’re running at throwback game to get a real glimpse of what D&D was meant to be back in the 1980s. It’s different, but it’s an absolute blast to go through as both a player and as a DM.
Q1 – Queen of the Demonweb Pits
At some point, you have to go back to the big games. D&D has relatively few supermodule series, but they’re all amazing. One of the best, though, can be broken down into its component parts and still holds up. Queen of the Demonweb Pits is a rare module that’s part of a larger story that is not only a ton of fun to play in context, but that works particularly well even when played alone.
In terms of plot, the story isn’t all that complicated. It’s a sequel to the D-series of modules, which did a lot to introduced and/or flesh out the drow race and the Underdark. It’s a huge part of D&D history, of course, because of what so many other authors did with the setting after this particular module. As it stands, though, it’s one of the first big modules to pit players against something that’s quite near a god and expects almost perfect play from everyone in the party.
As cool as the base module is, though, a ton of its value comes as part of the Queen of Spiders super-module. This is a huge, grand adventure that will allow any classic D&D party a chance to really stretch their combat and role-playing muscles and that has been voted the best adventure of all time in a few different polls. It’s definitely still rooted in the time and place in which it was written, but the adventure as a whole really has to be experienced by anyone who wants to call himself or herself a true fan of the game. This is truly one of the greatest adventures ever made for Dungeons and Dragons.
D3 – Vault of the Drow
The Underdark has become such an important setting to the Dungeons and Dragons world that it’s pretty much a cliche at this point. By now, everyone knows about the dark dealings of the Drow and their spider goddess. Everyone knows this is a place where light never touches and from which good sinks away. Before all that, though, it was a mystery. Before this whole setting became nothing more than another gaming cliche, it was explored in the D series of modules. The climax of that series, Vault of the Drow, really pushed this setting forward as something that could be mined for the future.
D3 Vault of the Drow is a part of the same Queen of Spiders super-module as Queen of the Demonweb Pits, though it’s got a somewhat different flavor than that game. Still set in the same Greyhawk universe, this module has players delving into the Underdark to take on a Drow stronghold and to eventually deal with things as major as a gate to the Abyss.
The game itself is fun and really should be experienced, but it holds a special place in history for providing the original stats and racial concepts for the Drow. If you’re a fan of a certain ranger and his adventures, you’ve got to give this one a look. Even if all you’re looking for is the source of a cliche, you’ll find something to love here. Love or hate what it introduced, Vault of the Drow managed to change the landscape of Dungeons and Dragons in a very permanent way.
CM1 – Test of the Warlords
Dungeons and Dragons campaigns generally deal with a small scale. You’re solving problems that might end up endangering the world, to be sure, but things can generally get solved with a party of three to five adventurers. While there is a grand scale to some adventures, most of the big stuff happens in the background. One module that ditched that common conceit is CM – Test of the Warlords.
Test of the Warlords places players in the north of Mystara and tasks them with being part of the movement to settle a new part of the world. Players are actively put into the struggle of creating new dominions, places that can quickly become the bases for new societies and new adventures. There’s plenty of established lore in the area, but there’s always a sense that this is a place where things are being created rather than a place where things have always been the same.
Indeed, a lot of the fun that’s gained from this particular module comes from seeing how players will react to unusual challenges. They don’t just get to kill thet monster and move on – they often have to stick around and deal with the consequences of their actions. This makes the module one of the first to really make players deal with long-term consequences and to serve as the basis for a future set of adventures. CM1 might be just another module, but it is one that could work as a fantastic launching point for an unrelated campaign. Consider this one if you’re looking for an adventure that has plenty of hacking and slashing with a dose of nation-building and politics.
T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil 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 is basically 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 Are Your Top D&D Modules and Adventures?
The great thing about classic 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. We have a thread for Best D&D Adventures if you want to share your arcane wisdom with us.
Give these classic D&D adventures a shot. With a little luck, the might inspire your own stories. Also check out our post on the Best D&D Adventures for 5th Edition.