Thursday, September 18, 2008

30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time

Back in November 2004, Paizo published Dungeon 116, among whose contents was "a list of classic adventures with help from an all-star panel of judges including Ed Greenwood, Christopher Perkins, Bruce Cordell, and Monte Cook." Called the "30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time," the list was intended to showcase the best modules ever published for the game. It's an interesting list for a number of reasons, chief among them being how idiosyncratic it is in its inclusion of modules that, quite frankly, aren't noteworthy in any significant way, never mind worthy of being called one of the "greatest." The list consists entirely of TSR-published modules with one exception, which I also think is important, because it points out how the "official" moniker has so come to dominate not just the way people play the game but also how they remember its past.

Here are my thoughts on the list.

1. Queen of Spiders, 1986 (G1-3, D1-3, Q1)
This is a bit of a cop-out entry. Taken as a whole, I don't think there's much doubt that the Giants/Drow series of modules is probably the most iconic collection of D&D adventures ever published and firmly established a number of Gygaxian elements/motifs/idiosyncrasies as normative for the game as a whole. However, I think it's cheating to lump all the modules together, particularly in the rather hamfisted "supermodule" format, and declare it the greatest D&D adventure of all time. In my opinion, Q1 is very weak, both conceptually and in its presentation, and the G series consists primarily of workmanlike dungeon crawls, albeit with a solid theme and enough backstory to give them greater significance. The D series, on the other hand, are universally excellent and indeed groundbreaking on many levels. I'd have fewer quibbles about naming, say, Vault of the Drow the greatest adventure of all time, even if it's not necessarily what I'd have chosen.

2. Ravenloft, 1983 (I6)
Much as I love the Gothic horror/melodrama atmosphere of this module, I think it's fair to say that Ravenloft has probably exercised the most baleful influence over the development of D&D of any module other than the Dragonlance series, which isn't surprising since Tracy Hickman was involved in both. I loved David Sutherland's three-dimensional maps at the time, but they proved less than ideal to use in play. Likewise, the plot is heavy-handed and railroad-y. And don't get me started on the fetishization of Strahd von Zarovich.

3. Tomb of Horrors, 1978 (S1)
I wrote at length about this yesterday, so you already know my opinion of this module. It's definitely one of the top 5 adventure modules of all time and I'd be suspicious of any list that didn't include it as such.

4. The Temple of Elemental Evil, 1985 (T1-4)
Another cop-out, but a more justifiable one. I'm personally of the opinion that T1 The Village of Hommlet alone deserves to be in any top 10 list of greatest adventures of all time. Coupled with the rest of the material from this supermodule, you can see how much better it is than the material that followed, which represents a valiant effort by Frank Mentzer to put into print both an important part of the Greyhawk campaign's history and a module promised for many years beforehand. I think T1-4 is solid, but it's not top 10 material as its rank here would imply.

5. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, 1980 (S3)
I don't have any quibbles about this module, which I both thoroughly enjoyed and think is indeed a classic on many levels, not least of which being its excellent illustration booklet.

6. The Desert of Desolation, 1987 (I3-5)
Another cop-out compilation but one I'm willing to let pass with less worry, since the modules play less as a series of independent but connected modules and more like a single module broken up into three pieces. It's been a long time since I looked at these and, while I am pretty sure they share the flaws of Tracy Hickman's other works (i.e. a heavy-handed plot), I recall there being a number of very clever old school traps and tricks throughout. Again, I'm not sure these modules are top 10 material, but I don't think them unworthy of some praise.

7. The Keep on the Borderlands, 1979 (B1)
Like The Village of Hommlet, B2 is nearly perfect. I'd rate it higher than 7, but that's a quibble.

8. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, 2001
I could go on at some length about why this is a terrible, terrible module that misunderstands and butchers Greyhawk lore and demonstrates why the 3e Challenge Rating system is an abomination, but why bother? There's simply no justification for including this in a top 30 list, let alone ranking it at number 8.

9. White Plume Mountain, 1979 (S2)
I have great fondness for this module and no qualms about its inclusion in the top 30. I think it's too "game-y" an adventure to make the top 10, though. By that I mean that the whole set-up feels too artificial, as if it exists solely to provide an adventuring locale rather than as a location with its own internal logic independent of the adventurers having to go there.

10. Return to the Tomb of Horrors, 1998
I never owned or read this boxed set, so I can't really comment on its merits.

11. The Gates of Firestorm Peak, 1996
Written primarily to show off the new rules options from the 2.5e Player's Option books, I suspect this module made the list because of its introduction of the Far Realm, the Lovecraftian dimension that WotC era D&D seems so in love with. I'm not sure that alone justifies its inclusion here, as the rest of the module is pretty forgettable.

12. The Forge of Fury, 2000
I never owned this module either and, given that it's the second rather than the first release in WotC's 3e adventure path, I'm a bit baffled as to why it's here.

13. Dwellers of the Forbidden City, 1981 (I1)
As I've said before, this is definitely one of the greatest modules ever. I'd actually rate it higher than 13.

14. Dead Gods, 1997
I'm a fan of Planescape, but I can't say much good about most of the modules produced for the line, particularly the later ones, of which Dead Gods is part. They represent TSR's rather unfortunate flirtation with White Wolf-style metaplot, in the process wreaking havoc on an otherwise well-done, if off-kilter, take on fantasy.

15. Castle Amber, 1981 (X2)
Part of Tom Moldvay's "Pulp Fantasy Trilogy," Castle Amber is a favorite of mine.

16. Isle of Dread, 1980 (X1)
Ditto Isle of Dread.

17. Ruins of Undermountain, 1991
I never owned this, so I can't comment on its placement here.

18. The Hidden Shrine of Tamochan, 1980 (C1)
This is an excellent old school module that reminds me a bit of Tomb of Horrors in that it has very few monsters but plenty of tricks and traps. Likewise, the Mesoamerican ambience of the place -- given glorious life by many Erol Otus illustrations -- adds to its charm.

19. Against the Cult of the Reptile God, 1982 (N1)
An under-appreciated module that proves Douglas Niles once had serious design chops.

20. Scourge of the Slave Lords, 1986 (A1-4)
Yet another cop-out, but, again, an understandable one, given that modules A1-4 are a tighter series than the G/D/Q modules. I have a certain fondness for these adventures, but I don't worship them the way some old schoolers do. Part of my problem with them is that I don't find the central premise very compelling and the modules, being written by a variety of authors, are somewhat uneven in quality. In addition, there are moments of heavy-handedness, such as the necessity of the PCs to be captured, that I think militate against the series' real virtues. I don't object to their inclusion in a top 30 list and rank 20 seems about right for them.

21. Dark Tower, 1980 (from Judge’s Guild)
The sole entry in this list that wasn't produced by TSR, I don't have any problem with its presence, since this is a classic module by Paul Jaquays and deserves to be recognized as such. However, I happen to think there are many other Judges Guild modules even more deserving of being here, such as Caverns of Thracia and Tegel Manor (among others). Were I to make my own top 30, you can be sure quite a few JG adventures would bump many of the entries in this somewhat myopic list.

22. The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, 1982 (S4)
I have a fondness for module S4, but that's mostly because of its extensive booklet of monsters, magic items, and spells, which made far more of an impact on my campaign than the adventure proper, which is is rather bland.

23. The Forgotten Temple of Tharzidun, 1982 (WG4)
The "sequel" to The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, though, is one for which I have a greater appreciation. The adventure has a creepy, "eldritch" ambience to it that I love and the eponymous locale is suitably bizarre and Lovecraftian.

24. City of the Spider Queen, 2002
No. This adventure exists solely to sell more R.A. Salvatore novels and its heavy-handed plot depends on events in the novels to make any sense.

25. Dragons of Despair, 1984 (DL1)
Though my dislike for Dragonlance is well-known, I do think the first module in the series is well-done and intriguing. Had the series as a whole not been so heavily tied into events in the novels and had there been more support for deviating from the "correct" storyline, I think the DL could have become true classics. As it is, DL1 represents a path not taken, as well as one of the key moments when D&D lost its soul.

26. City of Skulls, 1993 (WGR6)
I never owned any of the Carl Sargent era Greyhawk modules, so I can't comment on this one, which I believe is about the empire of Iuz.

27. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, 1981 (U1)
Like most of the TSR UK modules, this one was excellent, being another great starting module that combines a fascinating little town with adventuring locales and adventure hooks. The rest of the U series is just as good in my opinion and quite possibly deserve a place on this list.

28. The Lost City, 1982 (B4)
The third module of Moldvay's "Pulp Fantasy Trilogy," this one is one is sometimes overshadowed by its bigger brothers, which is a shame, because it's a terrific evocation of "Red Nails" and other similar stories.

29. The Assassin’s Knot, 1983 (L2)
Why this is here and not L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is a mystery to me. Oh wait, it's because L2 features a mystery that it got the nod while the often-overlooked L1 did not. I think L2 is a solid module -- practically a mini-campaign, just like L1 -- but I also think that it gets more kudos than it deserves simply because of its murder mystery plot.

30. The Ghost Tower of Inverness, 1980 (C2)
While I have fond memories of this module, like White Plume Mountain it has the feel of being a game module rather than an internally consistent and logical location in its own right.


  1. Great comments James. Funny thing about modules though is that there are so many different criteria by which to judge them eh?

    Take for instance the craftsmanship that went into Night's Dark Terror (B10)... Now while I wasn't over fond of the "plot" (if it could really be called that), I just absolutely LOVED the way they laid a wilderness down in front of the players and said "Have at it."

    It seemed to take that type of adventuring just one step further. And the detail that went into it was superior. Again, a nod towards the British made modules.

    I could go on at some length about why this is a terrible, terrible module...

    You and I both. Honestly (And this is not a dig at Monte Cook...whom I actually quite respect in his own right.), this module was the one that made me start questioning the (then) current rule set. In a word, it made me crazy.

    I'd love to see your list.

  2. FWIW, here's a list I made when this topic came up at the K&K Alehouse a few months back (modified slightly):

    1. The Abduction of Good King Despot (Will & Schar Niebling and Russ Stambaugh, New Infinities, 1987)
    2. Caverns of Thracia (Paul Jaquays, Judges Guild, 1980)
    3. Necropolis (Gary Gygax, GDW, 1992) (cheat: not actually a D&D module, though it feels like one)
    4. The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1983)
    5. Shrine of the Kuo-Toa (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1978)
    6. The Lost Caverns of Tsojc[o/a]nth (Gary Gygax, Metro Detroit Gamers, 1976 / TSR, 1982)
    7. Vault of the Drow (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1978)
    8. The Original Bottle City (Rob Kuntz, Pied Piper Publishing, 2007)
    9. Tegel Manor (Bob Bledsaw?, Judges Guild, 1977)
    10. Dark Tower (Paul Jaquays, Judges Guild, 1979)
    11. Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure (Rob Kuntz & Gary Gygax, TSR, 1984)
    12. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1978)
    13. "The Temple of the Frog" (Dave Arneson, TSR, 1975)
    14. Prisoners of the Maze (Rob Kuntz, Creations Unlimited, 1987)
    15. In Search of the Unknown (Mike Carr, TSR, 1978)
    16. Castle Amber (Tom Moldvay, TSR, 1981)
    17. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1980)
    18. Tomb of Horrors (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1978)
    19. Hall of the Fire Giant King (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1978)
    20. Dwellers of the Forbidden City (David Cook, TSR, 1981)
    21. In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords (Lawrence Schick, TSR, 1981)
    22. The Ghost Tower of Inverness (Allen Hammack, TSR, 1980)
    23. Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1982)
    24. White Plume Mountain (Lawrence Schick, TSR, 1979)
    25. The Keep on the Borderlands (Gary Gygax, TSR, 1979)
    26. The Lost City (Tom Moldvay, TSR, 1982)
    27. Palace of the Silver Princess (orange version) (Jean Wells, TSR, 1981)
    28. Isle of Dread (Tom Moldvay & David Cook, TSR, 1980)
    29. Master of the Desert Nomads (David Cook, TSR, 1983)
    30. Temple of Death (David Cook, TSR, 1983)

  3. Hey T. Foster... quick question:
    3. Necropolis (Gary Gygax, GDW, 1992) (cheat: not actually a D&D module, though it feels like one)
    You're obviously NOT referring to the module 'Necropolis' that Gary penned for Necromancer Games? Is it similar? I'm unable to find much on it unfortunately.

  4. The Necromancer module is a rework of the one written for GDW.

  5. Oops..never mind. Found it. Looks like it's identical. Just written under a different rule set.

  6. Yeah, I've got the original version (for Gygax's ill-fated Dangerous Journeys game), not the remake, and don't know how the different stats may or may not have changed the feel of the adventure (from what I've heard, for instance, there are places where "no saving throw" situations in the original became "really hard saving throw" in the remake) so I'm only vouching for the one I know :)

  7. I've got the remake. I have yet to read it though. It's long. ;-) And I wasn't a huge fan of Necromancer games...although I do have to admit, it was penned by Gary. Maybe I'll have to sit down w/ it after all and take a gander.

  8. I have to agree that picking the Assassin's Knot over Bone Hill is crazy talk. I've run Bone Hill more than once over the years, but I've never found a group of players thrilled with the idea of tackling a murder mystery when they could be killing bugbears for gold.

  9. Take for instance the craftsmanship that went into Night's Dark Terror (B10)...

    There is much to recommend about that particular module. It's far from flawless, but it's one I'd feel far better about seeing on the top 30 list than, say, The Gates of Firestorm Peak or Dead Gods.

  10. 1. The Abduction of Good King Despot (Will & Schar Niebling and Russ Stambaugh, New Infinities, 1987)

    This module comes up a lot in discussions like this and, never having seen it, I'm curious as to why it's so well regarded. The title alone strikes me as nonsensical, which only makes me more intrigued.

  11. I have to agree that picking the Assassin's Knot over Bone Hill is crazy talk.

    As I said, my guess is that the guys polled for the list were mostly types who see L1 as having "no plot," whereas L2 is more in line with what people expect nowadays from an adventure and thus rated it more highly.

    Interestingly, I've come to realize that there's a lot of hate for L1 among many people. It makes no sense to me, but there it is.

  12. This module comes up a lot in discussions like this and, never having seen it, I'm curious as to why it's so well regarded. The title alone strikes me as nonsensical, which only makes me more intrigued.

    It was a tournament dungeon from the 70s designed by the Metro Detroit Gamers. It's a total funhouse dungeon, that makes the likes of White Plume Mountain and Ghost Tower of Inverness seem downright naturalistic.

    The ostensible plot is that Good King Despot has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Ignax and hidden away in his dungeon-lair, which the PCs must infiltrate and attempt to rescue him. In fact the dungeon isn't Ignax's lair, it's a deliberately designed gauntlet to test and humiliate the PCs (part of an ongoing rivalry between Ignax and another wizard, Candelabra, with the PCs unwittingly caught in the middle).

    The dungeon is a straight-line gauntlet (though the corridors are windy enough and there are enough red-herring rooms that it will probably take awhile for the players to realize it) through 13 encounter areas that start out as a simple straight-forward combat -- a group of berserkers wearing ram's horn helmets -- and gradually become more complex -- an evil sorceress and her 2 pet bulls, a pair of frost giant twins, a room with a sand-covered floor with a suspended orb that emits periodic blinding flashes and a giant crab lurking under the surface, etc. until in the last few areas combat drops away pretty much entirely and it's all player-level puzzle solving. There's a pattern to the encounters which is crucial to solving the final puzzle and rescusing Despot. There's another pattern that tells the party how to avoid the red-herring rooms (which are essentially a "best of" old-school dungeoneering tricks and traps) that I won't go into here.

    Plus, as you've probably realized (the title itself gives it away) the module is completely whimsical and replete with puns and jokes (Ignax himself makes several cameo appearances to taunt and mock the PCs) but not in a "joke module" manner like Castle Greyhawk, more like, well, the actual Greyhawk Castle (or so I assume). You have to be smart and quick-thinking (and luck won't hurt) to get through, but you'll also have a laugh or two.

    As a model for designing your own dungeons there are all kinds of problems here, starting with the straight-linear structure, though almost every single room could be lifted out and would fit perfectly into an old-school funhouse-dungeon, but as a "palate-cleanser," a reorientation towards a different approach to play (less serious, less naturalistic, more focused on challenging the player's mind than the character's stats) and just a really fun way to fill a few hours, there's no published module I enjoy more.

    Bonus points are given because this module was published in 1987 and flew directly in the face of then-prominent adventure design philosophy. This was both a blatant nose-tweak at the rest of the rpg industry by Gary Gygax and also (AFAICT) the first product that was marketed with specifically "retro" appeal -- "think back to when the game was actually fun," etc.

  13. Interestingly, I've come to realize that there's a lot of hate for L1 among many people. It makes no sense to me, but there it is.

    I'm a Bone Hill "hater" -- it's always been one of my least favorite modules because it seems so bland and by-the-numbers; too much focus on trivial and mundane detail and not nearly enough sense of wonder or unique elements I couldn't get by extrapolating what's in the rulebooks. Even the new monsters feel like blandly obvious variations on the existing monsters.

    OTOH I have a soft spot for L2, mostly (entirely?) because it was the first module I ever played in with someone besides me or my best friend acting as DM (and usually also running a couple characters). So in some sense playing in this module was my first "real" D&D experience. So I'd definitely rank L2 above L1, though I realize that's more emotion-based than rational.

  14. Re: Good King Despot

    I have variable tolerance for "funhouse" dungeons. I approve of them as what you call "palate cleansers," but I don't think I actually like them all that much in and of themselves. So, I might grab this module if I ever come across a copy someday, but I certainly won't seek it out, even if I do approve of Gygax's intention to tweak the nose of the late 80s RPG industry by publishing it.

  15. I have to say it's my opinion that Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is bar none my favorite module ever, just because the idea is so quirky. the Dungeonland series are both neat too.

  16. Yeah, given your preference for "Gygaxian naturalism" and your stated ambivalence to the likes of C2 and S2, Good King Despot probably isn't the adventure for you. That said, I will stress again that even though it's even less naturalistic it is (IMO) considerably better than either of those -- it has more and better internal logic and a wider variety of more unique and more interesting and difficult challenges.

  17. Please tell me more about Tom Moldvay's "Pulp Fantasy Trilogy."

  18. Please tell me more about Tom Moldvay's "Pulp Fantasy Trilogy."

    I could be wrong here but I believe he's talking about 'Castle Amber', 'Isle of Dread', and my favorite, 'The Lost City'.

  19. I could be wrong here but I believe he's talking about 'Castle Amber', 'Isle of Dread', and my favorite, 'The Lost City'.

    That's correct. I call them that, even though there's no connection between the three modules, because each one -- X1, X2, and B4 -- is heavily influenced by some aspects of pulp fantasy. X1 is a "Lost World" adventure, with bits of Tarzan thrown in. X2 is a weird fantasy that uses Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne tales as an explicit tie-in. B4 is a Lost Race adventure that's almost certainly inspired by Howard's "Red Nails," among others.

  20. I'm a Bone Hill "hater" -- it's always been one of my least favorite modules because it seems so bland and by-the-numbers; too much focus on trivial and mundane detail and not nearly enough sense of wonder or unique elements I couldn't get by extrapolating what's in the rulebooks. Even the new monsters feel like blandly obvious variations on the existing monsters.

    I agree that on the face of it Bone Hill is just another locale and dungeon. But sometimes that's all my players and I need to make magic. We made magic with Bone Hill.

  21. This is fascinating. I got into gaming in the early-to-mid 90's so all these early adventures passed me by. Also, we tended to play scenarios from White Dwarf or home-brewed settings; the only two official D&D adventures I've played to date have been one that came with I think the "Black Box" Basic Set, and the first bit of Night Below. So hearing about these classics is great for me. Keep it up!

  22. Great post.

    I think I'm alone among old schoolers in that I can't stand S1. To me it reads like a primer in how *not* to design a dungeon--lots of capricious encounters, rewards that aren't commensurate with the risks, instant and unavoidable death around every corner, weak internal logic. It's Gary's worst.

    The "Return to the Tomb of Horrors" boxset that WotC published just before the 3E era is actually pretty good, James; you might want to check it out. I think you'll appreciate its reverence for the original. The author (Bruce Cordell?) constructed a fairly interesting and meaty campaign around the original Tomb that drips with old school flavor. And when I say "original" I mean it literally--the box comes with an exact replica of the old S1 module for the DM to crack open if and when the players actually enter the Tomb. It's not a reinterpretation or a "reimagination."

  23. Okay, I've got to ask.

    Ravenloft is probably my all-time favorite module. Granted, now you have challanged me to change the way that I DM, back when I was first cutting my teeth, I always believed that a good adventure HAD to be a railroad job. What can I say? Monkey see, monkey do.

    Modern modules have a terrible requirement of consuming your entire campaign, and I can see how Ravenloft can do that, but some of your other comments leave me rather wanting.

    Could you please elaborate on them a bit? How was Ravenloft's influence baleful to the development of modules? And I kind of do want to get you started on the fetishization of Strahd, not my favorite character, but he was the start of my favorite campaign setting.

  24. Ripper X,

    First: I have a huge soft spot for Ravenloft, both the original module and the campaign setting it spawned.

    That said, I am convinced that, like Dragonlance, Ravenloft (both the module and the setting) marks an important break point with the old school. One of the most important elements of this break is the shift not just toward heavy-handed plots -- they existed in some old school modules too -- but toward plots centered on NPCs rather than the PCs. Ravenloft and its successors are particularly guilty of this. I'm also less than fond of the wide variety of game "fiction" these modules spawned, by which I mean stuff like poetry, songs, diary entries, and the like that serve no purpose other than "setting the mood." That is, they're not meant to help the PCs overcome challenges in the adventure.

    Ravenloft is by far a mild offender on these counts, but it set a precedent and, because of its popularity, it encouraged TSR to use it as a template for what came later, often going even further than the original ever dared. I don't hate the module by any means; I do, however, think it provided a very poor example for the future that laid the groundwork for much of 2e's failures.

  25. The "Return to the Tomb of Horrors" boxset that WotC published just before the 3E era is actually pretty good, James; you might want to check it out.

    Go figure. Maybe I should check it out. I was generally unimpressed with most of the late 2e era "Return to the X" products that WotC produced (not unlike the late 3e "Expedition to X" series), but you have piqued my interest now.

  26. Thanks for your response, & clearing that stuff up for me.

    I found the whole Ravenloft deal quite fun, but it does take a specific kind of breed of player to really get a kick out of it.

    I liked it because it was smaller then Forgotten Realms, and that it had tons of adventure hook ideas that went nowhere so that the DM can just do what he wanted to do with them.

    The books were a blessing and a curse, I think that in the long run they caused more problems then they were worth as they developed a set time-line, which in a campaign world that is always going to be unique to a given DM.

    Granted, many of the books were thrilling reading and fun stories, but I know that a few of my stories were made pointless to me because TSR decided to put out a product that I had already created myself. Hey, I was young and dumb and always desired to run 100% Ravenloft games; That was always my biggest beef with it.

    As far as important NPC's, well my players always got a kick out of trying to find them and interacting with them, and as a teaching point, it shows a DM exactly how much work that one can put into a villain. I found the NPC's to be a highlight of the game, not a hindrance, but I can definitely see your point on the matter.

  27. given that it's the second rather than the first release in WotC's 3e adventure path, I'm a bit baffled as to why it's here.

    Because The Sunless Citadel was awful. It was a pretty silly situation. Wizards was already wary about putting out modules, but they did put out this series. (Which they played down as an “adventure path”, but which sure looked like one to many customers.) Looking like a series meant that, if people didn’t like the first one, there was a good chance they wouldn’t buy the second one no matter how much better it might be. Since The Sunless Citadel wasn’t very good, it didn’t sell well, but since it was the first of the series, that meant it sold better than the rest of the series. This, of course, just reinforced Wizards’ belief that modules were a bad idea.

    Re: Necropolis: Foster, didn’t you play in an AD&D version of this that Gygax ran at a con? That would make it originally an AD&D module, even if that version was never published.

    Re: Despot: I picked this up on account of Gary always citing it as a favorite. I was pretty surprised when I read it, since it is not—IMHO—a good general example of how to make a good module. But then, I don’t think it is intending to be. For a one-off or side-adventure, it might be good.

  28. I dunno how they could have left out Master of the Desert Nomads. That module was able to immerse you into an empires-at-war storyline like no other. It also had really well designed encounters..although the thing at the end in the monastery was a bit anti-climactic. Also the sequel Red Arrow, Black Shield was pretty awesome as well.

  29. #7. The Keep on the Borderlands is B2, not B1.

  30. Hello, I've played D&D since I was in 3rd grade and have loved it ever since. Having missed out on the classics, I've been wanting to at least find them online and download to play with friends. I was wondering if anybody had access to a site or link with these adventures - updated or not. Thank you

  31. Adrian,

    Unfortunately, none of the old TSR modules are available anymore in any electronic form, since the current rights holder, Wizards of the Coast, removed them all from sale some months ago. You can buy them second hand through eBay and other vendors but that's the only legal way to obtain them at the moment, alas.

  32. You can download 3.5 edition updates of Tomb of Horrors and White Plume Mountains. I can’t personally speak to the quality of these updates or how they compare to the originals.

    Three other classic modules—the original B3 and EX1 and 2—can also be downloaded in their original form. Although, these aren’t ones that made “the list”.

    I’ve had a lot of luck finding classic modules on eBay and at second-hand book stores. They tend to be quite affordable. (The few that command high prices do so mainly on rarity rather than quality.)

  33. Years back I was on a kick to try and get every module (more of a challenge, since I haven't played in so long...) I have pretty much every "classic"/old module, and if anyone is interested I would be willing to sell them for the going rate. There is a great site that offers fair value prices for all D&D stuff:

    Feel free to contact me at CurtFBPool@aol

    P.S. A great module published in Dragon#41: The Halls of Beoll-Dur, is one of my all-time favorites. Very complete for a mini-module out of the mag.

  34. "The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga" is, hands down, the best adventure I've ever DMed. "When Red Roses Bloom" would be close second. As I started to play D&D, 2nd Edition was on the rise so I missed most classic adventures...

  35. There have been so many great modules from TSR that it's hard to pick one as my favorite. Now that my 13 year old son plays, he'll often ask me which is my favorite... I've told him it's a tie between Keep on the Borderlands (because it was my first module ever), Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (great way to start out 1st level chars), and G1-2-3 (probably, because I had a giant-slaying weapon). lol

  36. I was going to comment on how you obviously gave crappy, rogue-like dungeon crawls that suffer from extreme difficulty higher ratings than story-driven 3e modules but I realized I found this through google and its called grognardia... what was I expecting.

  37. @Internal_Combustion: Another way to parse that would be to say he gave non-linear exploration-based games based on players working together to overcome actual challenges higher ratings than railroad 3E modules that hold the players' hands to make sure they keep up with the plot revolving around a bunch of NPCs. Each to his own, huh?

  38. Hi, folks.

    First of all... Great blog! Great comments!

    The first time I stepped into an RPG table was to play MERP, back in 1989. I'm pretty much sure you guys had already played everything out there, through and through. But I'm from Rio (Brazil) and RPG was not popular here back then, you see. Note: I knew nothing about neither Tolkien nor fantasy literature by that time.

    It's funny to hear about how people behaved regarding RPG in the beginning, especially after reading the post about Tomb of Horrors. Because we never really cared much about the DUNGEONS themselves here. We were concerned about the storyline and about role playing. But I must admit that a good dungeon added a great amount of excitement to the experience. I'd never really stopped to think of that before. In addition, we hardly ever used modules, although I have many nice ones taking place in Middle-Earth.

    I remember that, at least here in Brazil, there used to be this silly rivalry between TSR's and ICE's tribes. While one roared about AD&D's playability, the other grunted about Rolemaster's realism. Though I belonged to the latter tribe, I used to nourish a secret sympathy for AD&D and its campaign settings. It all seemed more alive, more mysterious, more FANTASY than good old Middle Earth. Besides, D&D cartoon had also made a good impression on people from my generation. Nowadays I look back and see how stupid that realism speech was. The important thing is having fun.

    It turned out that I went to uni, started dating, working and bla bla bla... "Adios, RPG". Never again, except for a few sessions of 'Werewolf: The Apocalypse', conducted by a guy who worked with me some six years ago. It was fun, but didn't last long.

    Well, I don't know exactly why, but a few months ago I decided it was time to gather the "old troupe" and start gaming again. But, since I'm now looking for greener pastures, I felt rather keen to play the real classics: all of these amazing adventure modules I hadn't had the opportunity to enjoy in the past.

    Recently, I stumbled into Grognardia and have been eagerly reading your articles and our mates' comments. I'm really interested in hearing about old-schoolers' experience, about how things used to be, how the players mindset was etc. It is, indeed, an amazing body of knowledge.

    This one here happens to be my favorite post, with comments about the list issued by Dragon Magazine. However, I still feel a little lost. Although I've read compliments and complaints about many of these modules, I don't know where to start yet. Can you "old-timers" (hehe, sorry for that) help me? All I need is a little guidance. What are the most recommendable modules for us beginners? I beg you to consider the following:

    a) We plan to use around 10 to 12 of them;

    b) Except for the DM, no one has REAL experience with D&D. Only by playing videogames (those old turn-based ones and the modern 'action RPGs') and by reading the novels (Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, mainly);

    d) Unfortunately, we are not kids anymore (I am 36). So, consider to put away a bit of the nostalgia if you believe a module will be too childish for us;

    c) We want to have REAL FUN. Old times fun. That good old RPG 'look & feel', if you know what I mean.

    Cheers, mates!

  39. This top 30 list omits Sargent's "Night Below". Its argument is invalid. (But, I would say that . . .) "City of Skulls" is great though; and it plays just as well on the assumption of Gygax-Greyhawk. Give it a try, seriously.

    The supermodule "Giants" supercedes G1-3, and should be separate from D1-3+Q1.

  40. Which game system are you planning to use? I'll just assume you'll be playing AD&D since that system seems to have the biggest library of "classic" modules. Anyway here is my recommendation of essential modules to use for an old school AD&D campaign that would take your character from level 1 to 20 or so. Note that I tended to choose dungeon-crawl type adventures since these are more straightforward to play and run.

    1. Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
    2. The Assassin's Knot
    3. Slave Pits of the Undercity
    4. Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
    5. Ghost Tower of Inverness
    6. Ravenloft
    7. Dwellers of the Forbidden City
    8. White Plume Mountain
    9. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
    10. Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
    11. Giants + Drow series (G1-3, D1-3)
    12. Tomb of Horrors
    13. Die, Vecna, Die
    14. The Mines of Bloodstone
    15. The Throne of Bloodstone
    16. The Apocalypse Stone (to end your campaign)

  41. I realize this blog post is pretty old, but I've referred back to it several times over the years. As such, I wanted to share some thoughts on a few that James wasn't familiar with at the time:

    1) Return to the Tomb of Horrors - personally, I don't particularly like this one as more than bathroom reading material. I'd never run it. It's basically the deadliness of Tomb of Horrors expanded into a mini-campaign. Realistically, unless the DM is quite lax the players shouldn't make it very far. That works for a short adventure like ToH, but for something of this size? Kind of silly.

    2) The Forge of Fury - pretty darn good for a WotC 3e era entry. This is probably the adventure that set off the beginnings of another downward spiral - the challenge rating system. There are a couple of dangerous (but avoidable) encounters far above appropriate character level - as it should be for old school play, but apparently caused enough complaints to change WotC's whole school of thought. The other common criticism is lack of faction play, but this is an easy mod for a half-way decent DM. Top 30? Probably top 40.

    3) City of Skulls - one of my favorites, and one of the few good 2e era adventures. Requires a few read throughs on the part of the DM and some definite prep work, but we had a blast with it. A stealth adventure with a great mechanic for managing notoriety. Definitely in my personal top 30.