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

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I guess I'll be the detractor, and say the last time I ran T1-4 (about 10 years ago?), it was pretty easy to run. Play up the factions in the temple itself. It's not just a dungeon crawl; there are lots of opportunities to use roleplaying and diplomacy to work each faction and build allies and/or turn them against each other.

Like every other adventure back then, tweak things to fit your own campaign. For example, one of the villains from a PCs background was a general for Zuggtmoy and appeared at various times to harass the party until they finally fought him towards the end. The paladin was on a quest to find his holy sword (we were playing 1e), so the general wielded blackrazor. After defeating Zuggtmoy, they needed to take Blackrazor to White Plume Mountain to gain Whelm. Then take both weapons to the lair of an ancient white dragon and get it to breath on Blackrazor, then smash it with Whelm. Then take the pieces and reforge the weapon in the fire giant forges of G1-3.

It wasn't a lot of extra work to make all of that work.

I will say that UK2 and 3 need to be on that list.
 

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Stormonu

Legend
A few more I've had experience with:

A1-A4: Scourge of the Slavelords. A good premise, A1 & especially A2 are strong. The "scripted" end of A3 is a problem and I wish Suderham was more fleshed out. A4 is a pain in the neck from the player's perspective, but if you're willing to go along with the premise (starting with no gear), it's one that really tests the player's creativity instead of the character's ability.

C1 - Ghost Tower of Inverness. To me, this module is trash - a bunch of random, anachronistic puzzles held together with an extremely loose plot. The last encounter is a random dicefest player killer where skill plays little to no part in its resolution.

N1 - Cult of the Reptile God. I like its premise, and this is essentially a homage to the Lovecraftian Secret of Innsmouth , but I had trouble running this adventure and keeping it from devolving into "kill every commoner in town, it's the only way to be sure" sort of mentality.

Ruins of Undermountain - the original is overly wordy for a snobbery-based attempt to tackle a megadungeon and attempt to prove the genre is "wrong". I wouldn't recommend it.

X1 - Isle of Dread - A great concept and oozes with theme, but unless you're willing to put in the extra work to flesh it out (or get the Goodman version that does that for you), it can be frustratingly barebones. Also, by the original B/X rules for sea travel, I discovered that it's impossible to reach the island without ending up losing your ship to a hurricane. This needs a little bit of fiat to reach the isle in one piece in the first place - I guess that's somewhat expected, but its annoying and should be kept in mind when used.

Dwellers of the Forbidden City - another Conan/Lovecraft throwback, this one is really bare bones and needs a lot of prep to be workable. It has a great premise, huge potential as an exploration sandbox and the potential to ooze with atmosphere in the right hands. Again though, takes a lot of work to pull off effectively and doesn't really have a plot - it's more of just an adventuring location. I think the ToA reinterpretation does this much better, though it too is a bit bare bones at time.

DL1 - Dragons of Despair. The adventure, I've tried it at least 3 times and its a slog to run. It's a great sourcebook for the novels, but has serious issues as an adventure. If you do try to run it, you have to put the novel out of your mind, and I'd still recommend NOT using the pregens. Which defeats the adventure's entire purpose.
 


Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
I have not btw played or read all 30 modules, but I'm the OP so I should probably give my take on the ones I actually have;

Played:
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders
I've played the beginning of the giant series, read the rest... this is pretty good. Yes it's a series of dungeon crawls, but it actually has a story as opposed to "Hunt for treasure" and each dungeon is linked together by that story. So it really is a campaign as much as dungeons, and a pretty fun one... who doesn't want to fight giants?

I6 Ravenloft
Ok I've played Curse of Strahd and not the OG, but if this is the core of CoS, then it's pretty damn good. It takes a lot of the vampire tropes and coalesces them into an adventure and setting that epitomizes Gothic Horror. It bucks the typical D&D trend, but in a good way.

S2 White Plume Mountain
A funhouse dungeon, but arguably the best one. I'd say of any dungeon where the premise is "Insane wizard built this" this is the dungeon that actually meets that premise. It's also fairly concise compared to something overly long like Undermountain. Plus, since the wizard isn't actually here, you can theoretically wring a whole campaign out of that premise of the insane wizard on the loose.

U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
For a level 1 adventure, it's pretty damn good. Level 1 is a difficult thing to balance for, but this adventure meets that bar and exceeds it by subverting the players' expectations. A great beginning to the Saltmarsh series.

Read:
S1 Tomb of Horrors
Ugh. If you don't care about your PC, then sure this can be fun. But most players shudder when this module is suggested, and it's not hard to know why; it's actively anti-fun and designed to kill characters. It's contrary to most D&D design and therefore a failure IMO.

X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d’Amberville)
This is actually really, really good. It's a big mansion complex, filled with an interesting family with complex conflicting motivations. If that was it it'd be good, but with the entire province of Averoigne after it's simply awesome in scope. A great adventure that blows away most of the "Just a dungeon" TSR modules on this list.

The Ruins of UndermountainSONY DSC
I've read 5E Undermountain. If a megadungeon is your thing, it does it's job. But that's a narrow taste, and for everyone else this isn't going to cut it.
 

My question is... does this list hold up under scrutiny?
It definitely didn't at the time, and only looks worse now.

Even back then, as you point out, it was basically "30-something dude's most nostalgic adventures from when he was a teenager and before he got bald and overweight", with a couple of random concessions to slightly more modern stuff like Dead Gods. I remember sneering at it pretty violently, as a mere 26-y/o stripling.

I mean, it's easy to say:

1) It totally unnecessarily favours TSR (not even WotC!) over 3PPs - this made a little more sense back in 2004 to be fair.

2) It largely (entirely?) ignores Dungeon magazine.

3) It's a gigantic nostalgia-fest with tons of deeply mediocre or even actively-bad adventures included solely because they're from when whoever wrote it actually used to play D&D.

Also I'd say even trying to list 30 is just begging to trouble. It's hard to properly curate a list that long, because for starters, it's unlikely anyone has played all of them (unlike a list of say, 30 classic movies or albums), let alone run all of them, so there's going to be limited peer-review. If you made a list of 10 or so, and and explained what they exemplified, and why they were included in some detail, that would make a lot more sense and have a lot more value. It would also less prone to include stuff which is pretty much just there for nostalgia's sake, because you'd have to actually justify it.
 

Not sure what 4E or 5E adventures might be added to the list, honestly; many are derivative from the ones on the current version.
The most well-regarded 4E adventures to my knowledge are Reavers of Harkenwold (an Asmodeus-worshiping mercenary company called the Iron Circle attacks a barony), Madness at Gardmore Abbey (a paladin's stronghold was thrown into chaos by the Deck of Many Things, which has left lingering effects; the cards of the deck must be collected to reassemble it), and Some Assembly Required (kobolds construct a mechanical body for a dragon's brain to inhabit).

Curse of Strahd seems to be the darling of 5E so far.
 


That was intentional - in the article they note that they didn't feel comfortable including their own adventures in such a list. However there is a sidebar that lists a provisional top 10 from Dungeon.
Oh christ I vaguely remember that now you mention it. But still it contributes heavily to the list "not holding up", because there's no shortage of Dungeon adventures better than a lot of those on the list.

In fact, push comes to shove, I think if I was really looking for the best D&D adventures of all time, Dungeon would be the place I'd start. Especially post-1E.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
Generally, I like the list but like any “greatest ever” list it will always tend to wallow in nostalgia a bit but IMO that’s kind of the whole point of the exercise.
The glaring omission for me is The Night Below of course.
I’m going to DM Keep on the Borderlands for 5e in a couple weeks which I’m looking forward to.
 

The most well-regarded 4E adventures to my knowledge are Reavers of Harkenwold (an Asmodeus-worshiping mercenary company called the Iron Circle attacks a barony), Madness at Gardmore Abbey (a paladin's stronghold was thrown into chaos by the Deck of Many Things, which has left lingering effects; the cards of the deck must be collected to reassemble it), and Some Assembly Required (kobolds construct a mechanical body for a dragon's brain to inhabit).

Curse of Strahd seems to be the darling of 5E so far.
That discussion is what I started this thread for ;)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
U1 is good (but U2 is ... troublesome), it's a pretty good introductory adventure. Just ... take Ned out of the adventure and it's much better.
Huh? Ned's the best part, and very much suits the spying/scheming/can't-trust-anyone tone of the whole adventure.
I really liked I3 Pharaoh, it's a very interesting take on a dungeon crawl, but I3-I5 Desert of Desolation tries too hard as a railroad and doesn't deliver.
I3 is excellent. I've never run (or played, for that matter) either of !4 or I5 so can't comment there.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I think I am the only person who has come to love U2 - Danger at Dunwater. I have run it twice in the last couple years with different groups and both times it was a nice change and a lot of fun.

That said, the first two times I ran it (30 years ago or more) it went horribly and I thought I hated it - luckily I decided to give it another chance as a more mature DM with players who are not interested in only killing things and taking their stuff. The lizardfolk that feature in it are now an important ally to the PCs.
 

Riley

Hero
Yeah, U2 went really badly when we played it as 13-year-olds. We never made it to U3.

U1 was great when I played it, then ran it.

I did not try to run U2 or U3. I’m still not sure how I’d ever use them successfully.
 

such as Matt Colville calling the Temple of Elemental Evil "un-runnable,"
Colville's wrong. It's not good for his style, but that doesn't make it unrunnable. I've run it numerous times, and it was the introduction of my first 5E campaign. Some of these may go against modern sensibilities, but that doesn't change that they are good for what they are. Most objections seem to be aimed at 1E adventures, since most have either forgotten or ignore the fact that 1E was meant to be a strategic game, even having tournaments to test players skills. Adventures like Tomb of Horrors, Temple of Elemental Evil, Keep on the Borderlands, etc, are very light on story, since that's not what most players cared about at the time. They were meant to be dungeon crawls that challenged the players, with the DM adding whatever story they felt was necessary.

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
S2 White Plume Mountain
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
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
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of TharizdunSONY DSC
WGR6 The City of Skulls
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
B4 The Lost City
C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness
I have either ran or played all of these. Some were better than others, as I rate Ghost Tower higher and Slave Lords lower, but feel that all deserve to be on the list.
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
Return to the Tomb of HorrorsSONY DSC
Gates of Firestorm Peak
The Forge of Fury
Dead Gods
Dark Tower
City of the Spider Queen
DL1 Dragons of Despair
L2 The Assassin’s Knot
I've not run or played these, and honestly some I've not even heard of. I've had intentions of running Return to the Tomb of Horror, The Forge of Fury, and The Assassins Knot, but never had a good opportunity. Either the setting was wrong, the campaign setup was bad for it, or the group just wouldn't like it (particularly Return to the Tomb of Horrors).
 

Zardnaar

Legend
The content of that list was pretty predictable - it was always going to be made up of those adventures that most, if not all, of the judging panel had fond memories of. Given the experience of that panel, that meant old TSR adventures were going to dominate.

Even a few years ago, a similar panel would have come up with much the same list - almost nothing from the 2nd Ed era, 3e, 4e, a third-party publisher, or Dungeon magazine had the widespread exposure to make it. The only likely exceptions being "The Sunless Citadel" and/or "Forge of Fury", "Red Hand of Doom", and the three Dungeon Adventure Paths.

5e has skewed things significantly, since for the first time in decades it has adventures that are selling spectacularly well. However, most of those adventures are either poor, or are remakes of, or at least homages to, the classics. "Lost Mine of Phandelver" should probably be on the list, but other than that...

("Curse of Strahd" is the other candidate from 5e, but it's unlikely to dislodge "I6 Ravenloft", and the list is highly unlikely to feature both.)

Problem is there's not much good from 2E adventures except Night Below, remakes of 1E adventures and Dungeon magazines.

3E is in a similar boat.

4E has one potential candidate.

5E has 2-3 contenders most of the adventures are average. Third party and DMguild have some but not known about.

Even with the APs in Dungeon only a few parts were good the APs break later on.

There's a few Pathfinder ones I would consider as well.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I did not try to run U2 or U3. I’m still not sure how I’d ever use them successfully.

I run U2 as a diplomatic mission with my own spin on the idea of a skill challenge once (and if) the PCs become the guests of the lizardfolk. I basically run with the premise that the lizardfolk queen in order to help her decide if the humans of Saltmarsh the PCs represent should be brought into the alliance allows them free reign of the lair to meet her people and have them meet the PCs and get a sense of what they are like and if they can be good guests. The idea being, adventurers might behave for royalty, but the common people will report back what they are really like. At the same time, the orthodox lizardfolk priest is against interaction with any outsiders, which causes ongoing tension and possibilities for violence.

In the final act, I have the Queen ask the PCs to hunt down 1000 Teeth the Legendary Croc. Many in the community see it as a potential avatar of Semuanya, and refuse to deal with it - having led to several deaths of her people.
The priest, of course, sees these deaths as a sign that Semuanya is unhappy with them for building an alliance with outsiders, so he and his loyalists ambush the PCs in the croc's territory causing an awesome fight where the croc indiscriminately attacks both sides. The idea being, that if he can defeat the PCs, he will have the "proof" the queen was wrong, depose her and institute an isolationist theocracy (and inadvertently helping the sahuagin)

I have not run U3 since the mid-90s - but I am super psyched to run it again - I just had to run several other adventures between U2 and U3 to build the plot and give the PCs some experience.
 

JEB

Legend
The most well-regarded 4E adventures to my knowledge are Reavers of Harkenwold (an Asmodeus-worshiping mercenary company called the Iron Circle attacks a barony), Madness at Gardmore Abbey (a paladin's stronghold was thrown into chaos by the Deck of Many Things, which has left lingering effects; the cards of the deck must be collected to reassemble it), and Some Assembly Required (kobolds construct a mechanical body for a dragon's brain to inhabit).
Yeah, Reavers of Harkenwold is pretty good, and also a good example of the potential of 4E play. Definitely a contender.

I haven't read Madness, but I've heard good things (and your synopsis intrigues me).

Curse of Strahd seems to be the darling of 5E so far.
True, but as mentioned upthread, that's basically I6 Ravenloft, again.
 

Retreater

Legend
True, but as mentioned upthread, that's basically I6 Ravenloft, again.
Really, only the Castle, right? There's over 200 pages of content that wasn't in I6 - which is a sizable chunk of content. You have the competing factions in Vallaki, the Winery, the Amber Temple, and a lot of other stuff. That's like saying the entirety of Tales of the Yawning Portal is a clone of Tomb of Horrors because of the one chapter.
In my opinion that's like asking "why play Breath of the Wild when you've played The Legend of Zelda on the NES?"
 

JEB

Legend
Really, only the Castle, right? There's over 200 pages of content that wasn't in I6 - which is a sizable chunk of content. You have the competing factions in Vallaki, the Winery, the Amber Temple, and a lot of other stuff. That's like saying the entirety of Tales of the Yawning Portal is a clone of Tomb of Horrors because of the one chapter.
In my opinion that's like asking "why play Breath of the Wild when you've played The Legend of Zelda on the NES?"
I meant that for the purposes of a Top 30 list, including both would feel like double-dipping. (Which they came close to doing already in the original list with the two Return adventures.) Though I suppose you could have both tied for the same rank?
 


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