D&D General Dungeon Magazine's Top 30 Adventures: Do they hold up?

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Way back in ye' old 2004 on the 30th Anniversary of D&D, Dungeon Magazine published its list of the top 30 published adventures of all time. The list was dominated by classic TSR adventures from the game's earliest editions. Notably, only one adventure (The Dark Tower) was not published by TSR, but considering how the list was published by the successor WotC it's not surprising.

My question is... does this list hold up under scrutiny? Do you agree with the choices? Many of these adventures have been criticized, such as Matt Colville calling the Temple of Elemental Evil "un-runnable," and the Tomb of Horrors is notorious for being... unpleasant for players. Is the list too heavily tilted to the earliest editions of D&D, or does this erase the good work of 3rd-party publishers? Or perhaps, are the critics just contrarians and these are indeed the best adventures of D&D?

I'm curious of people's thoughts. In my opinion, some of these are indeed very good, others more mixed. Tomb of Horrors being number 3 is probably my biggest gripe.

The list, from starting from the best:
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders
I6 Ravenloft
S1 Tomb of Horrors
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks SONY DSC
I3-5 Desert of Desolation
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
S2 White Plume Mountain
Return to the Tomb of HorrorsSONY DSC
Gates of Firestorm Peak
The Forge of Fury
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
Dead Gods
X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d’Amberville)
X1 The Isle of Dread
The Ruins of UndermountainSONY DSC
C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God
A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords
Dark Tower
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of TharizdunSONY DSC
City of the Spider Queen
DL1 Dragons of Despair
WGR6 The City of Skulls
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
B4 The Lost City
L2 The Assassin’s Knot
C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness
 

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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
It's a good question, though challenging to answer. I wonder how many of us have even read most of these, never mind run even half of them?

I've read a fraction and run only Castle Amber, from that list; and I've been involved in the hobby for 35+ years.

From my understanding Temple of Elemental Evil is indeed overrated. I think Tomb of Horrors is a genuine classic, though it may want slight adaptations when running it outside a competitive tournament context. Making sure the party gets Acererak's Riddle, for example.

I suspect that if the poll were re-run we'd see Jacquays' other famed dungeon, Caverns of Thracia, on there.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
Let's see - I can only really comment on the ones I've played or run, and should probably stick to ones I've played or run relatively recently...

The list, from starting from the best:
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders
It's been years - I remember putting a lot of work into it to make it work under 3e and my players still weren't all that into it. Haven't had the urge to touch it since.
I6 Ravenloft
Still good. Curse of Strahd is probably slightly better at doing what the original wanted to do though (to be fair, gaming has a lot more tools to do what the Hickman's wanted to do with it back then).
S1 Tomb of Horrors
Fun as a one-off - as it was intended. Not something I'd use in a campaign, but works if you approach it like a slasher movie with disposable characters that you want to see how horribly they can die and/or who gets to be the Final Girl and make it to the end.
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil
Not worth the effort to make it work. I like Metzner but it just doesn't hold up these days IMO - even as a location setting it's just kind of boring.
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks SONY DSC
Definitely worth the effort to make it work. An adventure that I've run under at least 3 different editions of D&D.
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands
Nope. Doesn't work with my current groups. Tried to run it with a group to show them how the game was back in the day and they noped out of it from the premise alone - a few of them suggested burning down the keep and sending the humans back where they came from. We switched over to In Search Of The Unknown and they had more fun with exploring Quasqueton.
S2 White Plume Mountain
Holds up! Ran a conversion of it for my 13th Age group and didn't have to change much at all. If anything the weirdness of it has aged better than some of the more "straight" adventures from the same era.
The Forge of Fury
Mostly holds up - also ran a conversion of it for my 13th Age group and the orc encounter at the top of the mountain played a lot differently than it did when I ran it under 3e for a different group back in the day (this time my players negotiated passage into the Forge from the orcs instead of just jumping in ready to fight, which gave the whole adventure a different tone).
X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d’Amberville)
Holds up surprisingly well, with a few tweaks. I think the Averogine parts are better now that I'm older, but that's probably more on me and the fact that I've read a lot more Clark Ashton Smith than I had when I was 13 and ran it for the first time...
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
Holds up! I love this Scooby-Doo adventure and the look on player's faces when they figure out what's actually going on.
B4 The Lost City
Wish I could say it holds up, but I haven't tried to run it in years. I love this adventure, but the "you're trapped in a pyramid and could run an entire campaign in this one dungeon alone" model just doesn't work for my group.

I'd add the Sunless Citadel to that list, actually, after running it multiple times under 3 different editions of D&D. The ending is a bit of a dud, and the lower level is mostly underdeveloped, but the first level is a really good intro to dungeon crawling and every time I've run it its turned out differently (just ran it again within the last couple of years for my 13th age group as well).

I'd also add Palace of the Silver Princess to that list - another adventure that I've run under multiple editions of the game for different groups - but I know that it doesn't get as much love because it does need a lot of work to make it actually work (As a Moldvay fan I hate to say it, but the Orange cover edition is actually a bit better IMO, though both suffer from maps that are kind of nonsense).
 

Greggy C

Adventurer
Supporter
Tomb of Horrors was one of our most enjoyable sessions. They went through with their campaign characters, which were fairly powerful and they were careful players. Template of elemental evil was pretty cool, but when we played it I had it cut it down as it is very long.

I think overall the list is accurate, and it was created by quite a prestigious panel.

Btw I have most of them with their goodreads scores, levels and nbr of characters in a sortable list here: TSR Modules

Does it hold up to TODAYS writing and modules. No of course not, hence why wizards redid some for 5e.
 
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Parmandur

Book-Friend
The rankings were always an arbitrary epiphenomenon of the voting preference system and the individual tastes of the Editors at the time (including, importantly, Chris Perkins), but as a list of recommendations it remains pretty sound.

A lot has been published in 18 years, though, so not an all time list anymore.
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I ran or played a number of these in the original, 3e, and/or 5e. So I'll mark my experiences:

GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders
Ran all of it in 1e and the G parts 3e. Absolutely holds up. You generally have to be at the higher end of the levels as listed for the original modules. It also helps to give giants the feat that allows them to use their strength bonuses with thrown boulders or you run into their weakness in 3e (and only in 3e) - ranged combat. Back in 1e/2e, their attack rolls were the same for melee and ranged, but in 3e, their much lower Dex really weakens them at range. Fortunately, this is better in 5e. Should run quite well there too.
I6 Ravenloft
Ran in 1e, 2e, and 3e. Holds up very well. I've run this with 3 very distinct groups of players and had a blast every time.
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil
Ran in 1e. After the Village of Hommlet part, which is really good, the rest of it largely sucks. It's rated WAY too high. I like Princes of the Apocalypse better.
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks SONY DSC
Played in 1e. It was... ok, but so much of it is based on being weird or surprising. And that's kind of hard to do again.
I3-5 Desert of Desolation
Played in 2e. Had a lot of fun with it. I think it would convert well to 5e.
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands
Ran in 1e, Return to the Keep on the Borderlands in 3e and 5e. Return is better and holds together better and still works in later editions.
S2 White Plume Mountain
Played in 1e, ran in 3e. It's fabulous. Silly in its structure, but fabulous. Holds up extremely well.
A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords
Ran in 1e and 3e. Converts well. Also holds up really well. Built much of the 3e campaign around it. I'd move it farther up the list. Great premise, great villains to take on.
Dark Tower
An excellent choice. Played in 1e and loved it.
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
Ran in 1e. A bit on the silly side, but it was a good, nonsense dungeon crawl.
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of TharizdunSONY DSC
Played in 1e. A bit like Lost Caverns in the sense that it was a fun dungeon crawl.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Adventures that I have run at some point are in BOLD.

GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders
I6 Ravenloft
S1 Tomb of Horrors
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
I3-5 Desert of Desolation
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands

Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
S2 White Plume Mountain
Return to the Tomb of Horrors
Gates of Firestorm Peak
The Forge of Fury
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
Dead Gods
X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d’Amberville)
X1 The Isle of Dread

The Ruins of Undermountain
C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God
A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords

Dark Tower
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun

City of the Spider Queen
DL1 Dragons of Despair
WGR6 The City of Skulls
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
B4 The Lost City

L2 The Assassin’s Knot
C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness

I'm sure you can see a pattern.

I think that the selection of adventures, mostly from the "golden age" of modules is largely accurate. When it comes to the classic great modules, I think they have a good representation here.

That said, they are definitely cheating (GDQ is one module? I3-I5 is one as well?).

I think that a person could make an argument for one of the UK modules (I would go with UK1). But the only real AND SERIOUS omission is X4-X5 (the Nomads two-parter, still one of the classics).
 

I've never played the original Temple of Elemental Evil, but earlier today I listened to a podcast that previously had praised Queen of the Demonweb Pits and had pretty much nothing nice to say about Temple of Elemental Evil, going so far as to question why people even remember it.
 

Well, they are still classics, but are they "good"? No, not really and certainly not the best 30 adventures published. I disagreed with the list in 2004 and certainly have not grown fonder towards them since.

These are all classics. And they have great ideas in them. But the quality of play, editings, and even writing in them is generally abysmal, plus many of them uphold the old school/classic approach of adversarial DMing that today I find... immature.

I can agree that they can be used as a basis, but were they published today with today's standards, the would rightly be ridiculed for their quality. Again, don't get me wrong, many have great ideas and are also foundational for our hobby, but no, they don't hold up to my current standards.
 


I really think it depends on your criteria. I'd agree that most of these were influential and some were quite good for the time. But I think the list is more about nostalgia and adventures that got played a lot than being a measure of the quality of the adventures themselves. For example B10 Nights Dark Terror is hands down better than almost anything on the list, but it was a Basic adventure that got released long after Basic was past its heyday, so not many people played it.

This list also has a HUGE bias toward the early adventures. By my count 18 out of the 19 AD&D adventures published in 1982 or earlier are on the list* (some as compilations). These adventures represent 12 of the entries on this list. (GDQ, Slavelords, C1, C2, S1, S2, S3, S4, I1, U1, T1, N1). (Strangely the only pre 1982 adventure that missed the list was the L1 Secret of Bone Hill, yet the sequel L2 got included even though I don't know of anyone who thinks this one is a particularly good adventure). Conversely only one of the eight "core" adventures released for 3E made the list.

So if you buy that TSR legit hit it out of the park with 18 out of its first 19 AD&D modules, but then WotC only had one great adventure out of eight to start 3E then you can believe this is a solid and fair list. But I would suggest it is about nostalgia more than quality.

*I'm going by the marketing blurb on the back cover of N1 for this - it is possible my admittedly haphazard methodology missed something.
 
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TheSword

Legend
Way back in ye' old 2004 on the 30th Anniversary of D&D, Dungeon Magazine published its list of the top 30 published adventures of all time. The list was dominated by classic TSR adventures from the game's earliest editions. Notably, only one adventure (The Dark Tower) was not published by TSR, but considering how the list was published by the successor WotC it's not surprising.

My question is... does this list hold up under scrutiny? Do you agree with the choices? Many of these adventures have been criticized, such as Matt Colville calling the Temple of Elemental Evil "un-runnable," and the Tomb of Horrors is notorious for being... unpleasant for players. Is the list too heavily tilted to the earliest editions of D&D, or does this erase the good work of 3rd-party publishers? Or perhaps, are the critics just contrarians and these are indeed the best adventures of D&D?

I'm curious of people's thoughts. In my opinion, some of these are indeed very good, others more mixed. Tomb of Horrors being number 3 is probably my biggest gripe.

The list, from starting from the best:
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders
I6 Ravenloft
S1 Tomb of Horrors
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks SONY DSC
I3-5 Desert of Desolation
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
S2 White Plume Mountain
Return to the Tomb of HorrorsSONY DSC
Gates of Firestorm Peak
The Forge of Fury
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
Dead Gods
X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d’Amberville)
X1 The Isle of Dread
The Ruins of UndermountainSONY DSC
C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God
A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords
Dark Tower
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of TharizdunSONY DSC
City of the Spider Queen
DL1 Dragons of Despair
WGR6 The City of Skulls
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
B4 The Lost City
L2 The Assassin’s Knot
C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness
Interestingly I have only DM'd a few of these - Forge of Fury - which is an excellent adventure, and Return to the Temple of Elemental evil which was a fairly monotonous hackfest/slog through endless tunnels of mediocre foes.

I've read it but I wouldnt count Ruins of Undermountain as an adventure - more like a setting based on the complete lack of plot.

I've read city of the spiderqueen and was a bit disappointed to be honest. It was supposed to be a highlight of 3e but I thought the Cormyr/Shadowdale/Anauroch trilogy was much better.

I've played in I6 and it was indeed great (as is the Curse of Strahd remake... a beautiful campaign)

I'm also currently playing in the Saltmarsh reboot and loving it! Funnily enough @GuyBoy is also DMing keep on the borderlands for us at some point in the next couple of weeks. The rest of the adventures are well before my time to be honest. I'll let @GuyBoy bring them to life in the future
 

Riley

Hero
I've read city of the spiderqueen and was a bit disappointed to be honest. It was supposed to be a highlight of 3e but I thought the Cormyr/Shadowdale/Anauroch trilogy was much better.
Agreed. I’ve always wanted to run a version of the 1st/Cormyr adventure, at least. So many good ideas in that one.
 

TheSword

Legend
Agreed. I’ve always wanted to run a version of the 1st/Cormyr adventure, at least. So many good ideas in that one.
Yes, the first was best, Shadowdale was very good (I particularly like throwback to the adventure in the AD&D FR campaign setting box) and Anauroch was the weakest I think but still enjoyable. These are probably the best 3e, non-dungeon magazine adventures in my opinion.

Ironically for this list in dungeon magazine I'm amazed no dungeon magazine adventures were in there. I consider Hall of Harsh Reflections, Champions Belt, and a few of the Shackled City adventures to be brilliant.
 





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