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

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Point of order: you capped out before you gained enough for a SECOND level. So if you were, say, a 1st level Fighter needing 2,000xp for 2nd level, 4,000 for 3rd, and you stumbled onto a cache of 10,000gp, you could cart home as much as possible and gain up to 3,999xp before stopping to train. In 1E this meant you couldn't accumulate more in the meantime.

The Basic/Expert and BECMI lines didn't have training costs, but did cap XP garnered from a given expedition at the same point.

I believe 2nd ed had the same rule, but it might not have. Gold for XP had been turned into an optional rule and the intent was for xp to primarily come from story awards and monsters (the latter of which was somewhat increased over 1E).
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Point of order: you capped out before you gained enough for a SECOND level. So if you were, say, a 1st level Fighter needing 2,000xp for 2nd level, 4,000 for 3rd, and you stumbled onto a cache of 10,000gp, you could cart home as much as possible and gain up to 3,999xp before stopping to train. In 1E this meant you couldn't accumulate more in the meantime.

The Basic/Expert and BECMI lines didn't have training costs, but did cap XP garnered from a given expedition at the same point.

I believe 2nd ed had the same rule, but it might not have. Gold for XP had been turned into an optional rule and the intent was for xp to primarily come from story awards and monsters (the latter of which was somewhat increased over 1E).
2e did have a variation on the rule. When XPs are awarded, if the XP total is enough to allow a character to gain more than one level, they gained one level and lost extra XPs subject to a DM choice. They could set the XP value of the PC to anywhere between halfway to that next level or 1 XP short.
That said, 2e also supported immediate leveling if that worked for the group. So if XPs were awarded every session and the optional training rules weren't in effect, a PC could level up as soon as they hit the right XP total - the likelihood of wasting XPs by having too many was extremely low. If the DM thought that might be disruptive to an adventure in progress, they certainly could hold the XPs until there was a more appropriate stopping point between adventures, in a pause as the PCs head back to town to resupply, whatever. The expected pace of 2e was for there to be multiple adventures per level, so there too it was unlikely to produce a lot of lost XPs due to being unable to level-up more than once, particularly past the very lowest levels.
 


pogre

Legend
I have run almost all of the modules on the list and my judgment/rating of modules reflects the enjoyment my group and I got out of the module. Whether a module deserves to be on the list is always going to boil down to your play experience and style.

For example, in reference to newer 5e adventures - my group loved Dungeon of the Mad Mage. DoMM is regularly rated as mediocre at best by most reviewers. It was an amazing, epic experience for us - it involved lots of subplots and faction wars. Some of the same reasons I have fond memories of B4.

I will admit there are some quantifiably bad modules and adventures, but at a certain level it is a very personal taste thing.
 

Bupp

Adventurer
Played/ran a decent number of these. In many ways I agree with the nostalgia factor.

GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders: Played and ran the Giants series. Never saw the rest at my local stores. Big fan of the G series.

I6 Ravenloft: Owned and always wanted to run, but my groups were always "If we wanted vampires, we'd play Vampire." A good read.

T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil: Ran this in high school with a decidedly murderhobo group. All the factions were just new enemies. The Moathouse is top notch, and have run it in 5e. The ending of the whole thing was half-heartedly thrown together.

I3-5 Desert of Desolation: Played in this way back. I don't remember the group, but I remember enjoying it.

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands: Played and ran many a time. That "limited options and nostalgia" holds true here. Ran in early days of 5e, but spread out the lairs a bit more, and mixed in elements of Return and Hackmaster's Little Keep.

S2 White Plume Mountain: Ran and played many times. One of my favorites. My daughter is running her group through it right now.

X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d’Amberville): Only ran once in high school, but it was a blast. Due for a re-read.

X1 The Isle of Dread: Started playing once in an aborted campaign. Started running once in an aborted campaign. No fault of the adventure, just the groups.

C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan: Played once. Ran once. Long time ago, and I really don't remember it much.

A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords: I recently bought a POD copy of this. Was going to weave elements of this into a Saltmarsh campaign that the pandemic killed.

WGR6 The City of Skulls: Ran this in my Army days. I enjoyed it, but don't remember much of it (there was a lot of beer around the table in those days).

U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh: Never ran this until early 5e days. Deserves it's rankings.

Dungeon does have a bunch of great adventures. The issue is that you need to separate the wheat from the chaff. I did run a long campaign by stringing together a bunch of Dungeon adventures, and still pull out copies to mine for ideas to this day.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
It is my understanding that The lost laboratory of Kwalish is a spiritual successor to that one. Said adventure is ... quite flawed, but has good elements in it.

Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
I played that in 3.5 and ... oof, what a slog. An endless wall of battles. We had a partial PK (about a third captured, a third dead, a third escaped), and at this point more than half the original PCs had died and been replaced.

Gates of Firestorm Peak
I have run this adventure twice and it is very good. Definitely deserves to be on this list. I've spoken about this adventure here before, and I'm a bit sad that this strong recommendation hasn't made an impact :(

The Ruins of Undermountain
We did most of the first level in our first ever D&D campaign. Then we moved on. It was ok? (I was a player, not the DM)

The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun
I strongly suspect that a GM converted that to 3e and ran it in my 3e days. I don't know if it was him or the module, but A+ material.

I also suspect the same GM took elements from kingdom of ghouls, but I am not sure (again, very strong stuff).
 

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.

I've been away but I will give you my take on these.
The list, from starting from the best:
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders
I wouldn't say it's "best". Influential, as the first adventure path, is a better description. Parts need a lot of work to adapt to 5e. Personally, I've never liked adventures where you are fighting a lot of the same kind of creature, it gets repetitive.
I6 Ravenloft
Yup. Stands up well, better than 2nd edition Raveloft Campaign setting, better then 5e Curse of Srahd.
S1 Tomb of Horrors
Never run it, but is a good exemplar of the deathtrap dungeon archetype, and still works well.
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil
Poor.
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
Classic, especially the art design and concept. In play some parts can be a bit large and repetitive, especially for completionist players.
I3-5 Desert of Desolation
I3 was a a classic, and still works well today. I4 and I5 are a case of cash-in-sequilitis, and where never more than okay.
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands
If this was published today people would demand their money back.
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil
Never read.
S2 White Plume Mountain
Classic, still works well.
Return to the Tomb of Horrors
Gates of Firestorm Peak
Never read.
The Forge of Fury
Vanilla D&D. It's fine, but I look for more novelty in D&D adventures. By my standards, it's too recent for classic status.
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
Dead Gods
Not read
X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d’Amberville)
Classically brilliant. I have struggled to adapt it to 5e though, principally in terms of what level range to aim at.
X1 The Isle of Dread
The Ruins of Undermountain
Not read.
C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
I've run this in 1st edition and 5e. It works well, so long as you remember that a) it was designed as a tournament module (the scorecard is useful to see the author's intent) and b) it makes no sense.
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God
A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords
Dark Tower
Only really glanced at Slavelords, wouldn't be fair for me to comment.
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
It's okay. It problem is it has lots of interesting lore, but no way for the DM to transmit it to the players. probably better for reading than playing.
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun
When I ran this in 1st edition this the alarm was triggered and it turned into a mass battle in the entrance. Wouldn't want to run that in 5e! Would have been even worse in 3e! The players never found their way to the Heart of the Temple. I re-read it recently, and the writing style is interesting. It tells you a lot more about what the author was thinking than is typical in modern adventures.
City of the Spider Queen
Don't know.
DL1 Dragons of Despair
Yes, the dungeon part of this is excellent, and the isometric map innovative. Unfortunately, has the roots of the hard railroad that spoiled the rest of the series. But lift the dungeon, it's great.
WGR6 The City of Skulls
Not read.
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
Excellent. Still works, but doesn't feel as revolutionary. The original Saltmarsh managed to have a distinctly British feel too.
B4 The Lost City
L2 The Assassin’s Knot
Not read.
C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness
Hm. Nothing really special here. It's a standard dungeon in the style of White Plume Mountain. I think the giant chess game was already a cliché! Also, as someone familiar with the real world city of Inverness, I find the name a distraction.

Missing from the list:

I10: The House on Griffin Hill. This did more to establish Ravenloft as a horror setting, rather than a movie parody setting, than I6. It added the nightmarish quality with is present in VGR.

EX 1-2: Dungeonland/Land Beyond the Magic Mirror. Openly acknowledges the influence of Lewis Carol in D&D, which can be seen in many modules and modern adventures, most notably Wild Beyond the Witchlight.
 
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No, he is not. He is the typical Gygaxian "screw you" that undermines the adventure whose purpose is to undermine the party ever trusting a NPC in the future. From level 1.
I can't imagine any party ever trusting Ned, he is pretty obvious. And really there is not a great deal he can do if they did. But whether or not to trust an NPC should never be an easy decision. That's where role playing and skill checks come in.

And of course, Gygax did not write it.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Classic, especially the art design and concept. In play some parts can be a bit large and repetitive, especially for completionist players.
This caution reminds me to plug Dyson Logos' revamp of the maps. You're 100% correct that this dungeon is huge, and there's a bunch of empty and time-consuming space in it. Dyson did an updated version of the maps turning it into a triangular cross-section instead of circular, which does a lovely job trimming a lot of that extra space off to streamline play a bit.

 


toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
What qualified these adventures was largely originality (of story, new monsters, and dungeon design). We take much of D&D today for granted, but many of these adventures paved the way for the ideas we have today. Also, many were designed originally for timed tournament play and were meant to challenge players to think-fast during a time when there was no skill system or class abilities to solve a puzzle. You had to meta-game it, and on-the-clock.

I'm reviewing the ones I DM'd instead of played in as I got a more intimate look at the material and player feedback.
I6 Ravenloft
It doesn't get better than this. It was something we'd seen and not seen before in D&D. The vampire trope was reborn with one of the most complex villains in the game along with one of the most amazing dungeons ever. We get a new setting, ideas on how to properly craft a master villain, and non-linear dungeon design all in one.
S1 Tomb of Horrors
I've ran this in AD&D, 3E, Pathfinder, and 5E, largely as originally written. It is an anti-D&D adventure, and not everyone likes that. Written for timed tournament play, it was lethal to eliminate players and to defy traditional "hack and slash" solutions. Gygax premised it as a "thinking person's" dungeon, and despite all the bad things, it really was. In theory, a 3rd level party could do better than 13th level. Ultimately, completing it became a badge, bragging rights. I don't know of any 5E adventure where that is the same.

I don't think the 5E (or 3E) conversions translated well. It's a puzzle adventure best run with players declaring what they're doing with little traditional combat. If you play it as "your passive perception allows you to spot the pit trap" instead of "okay, tapping the floor with your 10 foot pole makes a different sound on that stone," it won't be the same, both in original scope, design, and feeling of accomplishment that your wits got you through.

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
Lasers, robots, and bunny on a stump. It's goofy fun by today's standards, but there was a boldness in stepping outside our traditional expectations and throwing players a curveball, seeing how well they could roleplay medieval characters picking up laser guns. It piqued sci-fi interest (yes, our rules can support it) as well as mixing genres.
S2 White Plume Mountain
Recreated for today, it's another nonsensical dungeon with some of the most imaginative encounters ever written, new monsters, as well as introduction of epic, take-you-over weapons. Who wouldn't want to test their mettle at conquering Blackrazor? A bit is lost in translation, however, as 5E has put much of the power in character classes. In AD&D, a 2nd level fighter with great gear could hang with much higher level characters.
The Forge of Fury
I'm iffy. It was a well-designed dungeon with a background story that made sense, reactive bad guys, and a traditional villain at the end. But I'm not sure why it falls in the "best of all time" categories. Nothing in it was "first time we've done this" originality.
The Ruins of Undermountain
It was something new. The never-ending dungeon, if you will. Keep the encounters fresh and unique and it became the "plug and play" of its time. You could indefinitely add on sections and levels, and the idea was you never knew what epic treasure might lie around the next corner.
C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
Lovingly recreated, the 5E runs a lot like the original, which was a tournament module. An inverted dungeon design (novelty to start inside the dungeon), new creatures and new challenges, it set another standard for design as well as taking us outside the traditional "European" dungeon. The "timer" element, from tournament design, translates well to "how do I make things challenging if my gamers can simply rest to full power all the time."
A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords
Later my players said they hated it because of the railroad element of
the bad guys took all their stuff and threw it overboard after a "you can't win" kidnap battle.
If you got past that, it's another novelty with bad guys you can take joy in hating, and challenges of surviving with only your wits and a homemade sling made out of your underwear. That part doesn't translate well to 5E due to monks and cantrips.
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
Oh teleports. Players needing a challenge got one (originally tournament play) along with new monsters (a ton that fill up our MM today), great combats that defied traditional "hack and slash" and some great terrain challenges. There's so much in this one, not enough space to put it all. It brought so many fresh elements to an adventure that we now take for granted, perhaps one of the best "originality" examples.
DL1 Dragons of Despair
Dragonlance gets started here. While some lament it's too "railroady," if you played this one, you probably were expecting to be part of an epic story. And it delivered, especially if you'd read the novels and wanted to be a part of Sturm's journey, or Raistlin, and so on. This was brand new (taking on your story book heroes). The Xak Tsaroth map is a piece of art, both visually and in game design. Dragonlance set the stage for "mega adventures" to come and the idea that sales could be made by selling a campaign storyline rather than, to date, stand-alone adventures.
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
Scooby Doo time. We got a different take on writing complex adventure design where it all makes sense (that aha moment). We were starting to see some "put the clues together" adventures around this time, and this one just did it all right. My only complaint was having a +1 dagger just lying around for 1st level characters as random loot; they didn't have to earn it.
L2 The Assassin’s Knot
Like Saltmarsh, a mystery to be solved. This one gets a gold star for a timeline of events running in the background. My players had a blast solving the whodunnit, and when we add in a "contained sandbox" map, just a winner all around. Almost all adventures of the time were reactive to players, and it was refreshing to see something with a lot of moving pieces.
C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness
White Plume gets a nod for goofy dungeon design, but Ghost Tower wins the grand prize. Also a tournament challenge, we get a fresh set of monsters that stand the test of time and rooms with visuals that will stick in your imagination for years to come. The final encounter may not translate well to 5E because it was meant to reduce tournament players.
 

glass

(he, him)
Worryingly (or perhaps not given the general tenor of the thread), I have not run or played any of these with the possible exception of The Forge of Fury - I have a vague recollection of running the early fight with the Orc archers but I am not sure how far we got. In any case, I will be running it again in a few weeks.

Oh, and I have run I6 Ravenloft in its 2e House of Strahd incarnation - not sure how closely that resembles the original.

_
glass.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Point of order: you capped out before you gained enough for a SECOND level. So if you were, say, a 1st level Fighter needing 2,000xp for 2nd level, 4,000 for 3rd, and you stumbled onto a cache of 10,000gp, you could cart home as much as possible and gain up to 3,999xp before stopping to train. In 1E this meant you couldn't accumulate more in the meantime.

The Basic/Expert and BECMI lines didn't have training costs, but did cap XP garnered from a given expedition at the same point.

I believe 2nd ed had the same rule, but it might not have. Gold for XP had been turned into an optional rule and the intent was for xp to primarily come from story awards and monsters (the latter of which was somewhat increased over 1E).

Well, about that ... it's one of those things you have to decode Gygaxian for. Luckily, for once, he uses all-caps.

All training/study is recorded in game time. The period must be uninterrupted and continuous. He or she cannot engage in adventuring, travel, magic research of any nature other than that concerned with level advancement, atonement, etc. If there is a serious hiatus in the course of training/study the character loses all of the benefits of the time spent prior to the interruption, as well as the total funds advanced for the training/study, and he or she must begin anew if a level of experience is to be gained. Under no circumstances can a character gain additional experience points by any means until he or she actually acquires the higher level through the required training/study course. Thus, a character who successfully adventures and gains experience points which not only equal a new level but are almost sufficient to gain yet a second such level, cannot opt to-forego the period of training and study necessary to go up a level in favor of gaining a few more points and training and studying for two levels at once. ONCE A CHARACTER HAS POINTS WHICH ARE EQUAL TO OR GREATER THAN THE MINIMUM NUMBER NECESSARY TO MOVE UPWARDS IN EXPERIENCE LEVEL, NO FURTHER EXPERIENCE POINTS CAN BE GAINED UNTIL THE CHARACTER ACTUALLY GAINS THE NEW LEVEL. This rule applies to bards, as noted (for failure to make the necessary contributions and payments).

(All-caps are in original. Source: DMG p. 86).

So while the phrasing is confusing given that weird sentence in there, it's pretty clear that the following two sentences control:

1. Under no circumstances can a character gain additional experience points by any means until he or she actually acquires the higher level through the required training/study course.

2. ONCE A CHARACTER HAS POINTS WHICH ARE EQUAL TO OR GREATER THAN THE MINIMUM NUMBER NECESSARY TO MOVE UPWARDS IN EXPERIENCE LEVEL, NO FURTHER EXPERIENCE POINTS CAN BE GAINED UNTIL THE CHARACTER ACTUALLY GAINS THE NEW LEVEL.


So while it is unclear as mud, the rule is that while you aren't immediately cutoff, you also can't gain new XP. Which means that (other than rulings) it would depend on the event that took you over the minimum. So while your example is correct, more often than not the individual would cap out from an event just after crossing over the threshhold.

(But I appreciate the reminder, as our table just houseruled that to "as soon as you cross).
 

glass

(he, him)
2. ONCE A CHARACTER HAS POINTS WHICH ARE EQUAL TO OR GREATER THAN THE MINIMUM NUMBER NECESSARY TO MOVE UPWARDS IN EXPERIENCE LEVEL, NO FURTHER EXPERIENCE POINTS CAN BE GAINED UNTIL THE CHARACTER ACTUALLY GAINS THE NEW LEVEL.
The problem is, if it always stops at "equal", why is the "or greater" there?

_
glass.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The problem is, if it always stops at "equal", why is the "or greater" there?

_
glass.
My guess is the "or greater" is to account for effects or situations that might give a fixed bunch of xp in a single batch e.g. one or two of the cards in a Deck of Many Things.

So for example if you're at 19467 xp and your next bump point is 20000, if some major effect gave you 5000 xp you'd still get all 5000, and then be stuck at 24467 until you could train.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
Worryingly (or perhaps not given the general tenor of the thread), I have not run or played any of these with the possible exception of The Forge of Fury - I have a vague recollection of running the early fight with the Orc archers but I am not sure how far we got. In any case, I will be running it again in a few weeks.

Oh, and I have run I6 Ravenloft in its 2e House of Strahd incarnation - not sure how closely that resembles the original.

_
glass.
Chapter 3 or 4 is just I6 reprinted, and the rest plugs in around it.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I'm iffy. It was a well-designed dungeon with a background story that made sense, reactive bad guys, and a traditional villain at the end. But I'm not sure why it falls in the "best of all time" categories. Nothing in it was "first time we've done this" originality.
There's some recency bias at work, as in 2004 a lot of people playing D&D started with Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury (though it seems people just went off in theor own direction after that in their home campaigns, nobody talks about the rest of the "Advebture Path" modules).

However, I don't think that it is a coincidence that Forges of Fury and Lost Mines of Phandelver were written by the same designer. Richard Baker is one of the unsung heroes of Adventure design: he did Red Hands of Doom, too, for that matter.
 
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