D&D General Iconic and Best Adventures in each Edition


No rule is inviolate
I'm intentionally excluding Dungeon magazine adventures because I could easily triple this list with its goodness. It's hard to pick these as each brought new, iconic monsters and ideas! [edit] Fixed editions, added more AD&D stuff, really a golden age of goodness.

  • Isle of Dread: hexploration became awesome thanks to this one. You wanted to map every single hex and find every secret. [edit] I may have played this under AD&D rules, but it's an oldie worth revising for any edition.

  • Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Brilliant design, unique monsters. Set a standard.
  • Ravenloft/House of Strahd: one of the best maps of all time and coolest villains ever.
  • Dragons of Despair (Dragonlance): a chance to play your favorite book characters, and the Xak-Tsaroth map remains one of the best of all time. Maligned today as "railroad," it showed that "railroad" can and will sell. These adventures, combined with promotions, calendars, video games, recipe books, etc., launched a whole new way for TSR/D&D to do business.
  • White Plume Mountain. Fantastical and memorable along with weapons that get everyone drooling.
  • A Paladin in Hell. Pure epic idea, fantastic voyages to the darkest realms, and homage to the idea later in 5E's Avernus adventures.
  • Return to the Tomb of Horrors. Brilliantly written and designed "return," making the old fresh with a set of mega-adventures around it all.
  • Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. Already recreated in 5E, brilliant way to start PCs at the "end" of the dungeon with a built-in timer (get out before the poison gas gets you.)
  • Vault of the Drow. We get drow, the way they were meant to be.
  • Tomb of Horrors. I ran this in every edition, but I always ran it to original form, hence the shout out. Challenge the way you design and think about dungeons. Gygax turned player expectation on its head and came up with a dungeon that couldn't easily be solved by hack-n-slash. Much debated, it's the most iconic module name in D&D history. One irony is that the finale, in the tournament version was completely avoidable, but players were conditioned that there's a big boss to fight.
  • The Village of Hommlet. For design (dungeon, personalities, secrets), it's a model for how everything should be done for starter adventures.
  • Slave Lords. Epic, should make you hate, hate, hate the slavers. However, dumping your PCs' hard earned treasure into the ocean after capture might get you strung up as a DM.
  • The Assassin's Knot. First adventure I can recall with a timeline running behind a murder mystery with a cool area to search, can be linked to other stuff in the Lenore area but this one stood out.

D&D 3.0/3.5:
  • Red Hand of Doom. The best way I've ever seen written to handle a restricted sandbox invasion adventure. Just so well done.
  • Sunless Citadel. Near-perfect dungeon crafting for a starter-level group, and Meepo.

Pathfinder 1e:
  • Kingmaker: hexploration returns with unique (albeit too complex) kingdom building rules. With a lot of help, this one became the best campaign I've ever DMed. Thanks to Paizo forums, you have all the pre-written help you'll ever need for those ideas.
  • Skulls & Shackles, Carrion Hill, et al: I lump the Pathfinder "series of 6" modules because they're all decent, but they're decent because you gradually got your adventures with time for others to offer ideas on active forums, find what other DMs are doing, find what other players are doing, talk to the game designers (who are active on their forums) before and after modules come out, and they came with optional accessories like maps. The only downside is that some writers are better than others, and it can show when modules come out. As an example, one author had a lot of material cut for space in a Kingmaker module. He provided all this material to gamers, freely. 100% awesome. You never found that kind of interaction with D&D.

D&D 5e:
  • Curse of Strahd. Like Kingmaker, it needs fleshed out, and the personality of Strahd redone to match his literary ("I, Strahd") version. Otherwise, brilliant successor to the original.
  • Lost Mines of Phandelver. It worked on every level to capture that original feel of exploring the unknown and finding secrets behind every rock. And a dragon. Great for bringing in new folks to D&D.
I just can't put anything else from 5E on the list.
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Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Here are my lists, in no particular order within each subsection.

TSR era (we played BD&D and AD&D adventures interchangeably, while using AD&D as our ruleset, which I suspect was incredibly common at the time):
  • A2, Secrets of the Slavers Stockade: The best of the A series, player characters face a citadel full of smart, engaged, cooperative enemies. The group cannot hack their way through the stockade if they want to be successful, and so must use smart, real world tactics to get in, achieve their objective, and get out alive. Also the first appearance of several iconic monsters, most notably the cloaker.
  • B1, In Search of the Unknown: The "fill in your own monsters" system seems silly today -- and was pretty ill-informed even at the time -- but Mike Carr's energy instead went into creating some of the most iconic room designs of all time. Even if you've never played B1, you've played remixed elements of it, as its DNA is in everything that came afterwards, even if writers were just reacting against it.
  • B2, Keep on the Borderlands: It still has some weird decisions (none of the NPCs in the titular keep are named because of reasons, although NPCs out in the world are) and the Caves of Chaos are a little silly in design, but in a lot of ways, they prefigure what computer RPGs would look like for years and, played smart, they taught a lot of great lessons to early D&D players. (The first encounter outside the kobold cave has more than a dozen kobold archers in a tree -- yeah, you can get easily TPKed by the first encounter at the theoretically easiest cave. You gotta play smart!) The borderlands around the keep and the cave get short shrift a lot of times, but they're a surprisingly good wilderness area, even today.
  • B4, The Lost City: It owes more than a little to REH's Red Nails, but it's a great early megadungeon featuring rival groups that players will have to work with at least some of, since otherwise, they'll get slaughtered pretty quickly. Much of the city is underwritten, unfortunately, but the bones are very, very good. Anyone wanting to run a megadungeon campaign could do a lot worse than to drop their player characters in the desert outside this pyramid.
  • B6, The Veiled Society: The first great urban adventure. Simple by today's standards, but easily portable into campaigns even today.
  • D2, Shrine of the Kuo-Toa: Another module where the players can't simply rush in and kill everyone, lest they be absolutely torn to shreds by the incredibly tough and smart kuo-toa. This is also the first time, as I recall, that one can meet a god in a D&D module. Hope you and your sanity survive the experience!
  • D3, Vault of the Drow: A much better Underdark crawl than D1, Descent into the Depths of the Earth, this is followed by the at-the-time mind-blowing reveal of the vault, the capital of the drow of Oerth, a crawl through an incredibly deadly urban capital where, in theory, the player characters might be able to walk openly and survive, plus a chance to raid Lolth's great temple (although the Elder Elemental God, not Lolth, was the real enemy in this series, meaning the player characters have no real reason to take on Lolth's temple other than sheer murderhoboness). Vastly better than Q1, Queen of the Demonweb Pits, and still the standard that other big Underdark adventures are chasing today. (There's a similar set-piece in Kobold Press' Empire of the Ghouls, which is even scarier than Vault of the Drow, if you can believe it. The only way Midgard can survive is if the ghouls never truly work together.)
  • EX1 and EX2, Dungeonland and The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror: Probably the best funhouse dungeons of the TSR era, giving structure and whimsy to a format that often just didn't hang together well otherwise. (And the Tim Truman art is fantastic.) Way more classic AD&D content debuted in these two modules than you'd expect.
  • I1, Dwellers of the Forbidden City: Like a lot of AD&D adventures, this was underwritten, and again feels very much like a Conan pastiche, but jam-packed with classic monsters and a great setting in which groups could set their own adventures.
  • I6, Ravenloft: A classic for a reason, although tonally, it still sometimes slid into early D&D silliness. (Strahd's crypts are not improved by pun names. Let the players provide the jokes, folks.)
  • L1, The Secret of Bone Hill: Another great level 1 starting adventure and location. Unfortunately, this was too similar to T1, below, so it didn't really have a niche to fill, and is often forgotten. It's also a great example of simple reskinning or adding abilities to common monsters to make something new, which was a valuable lesson for me as a DM.
  • N1, Against the Cult of the Reptile God: Man, they got a lot of mileage out of Conan. The second best first level adventure of all time, setting a murder mystery in what just looks like an ordinary starting area like we got in T1 and L1.
  • T1, The Village of Hommlet. Gygax's best adventure, presenting a great starting town in exhaustive detail and a fantastic low level dungeon.
  • U1, The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh: Scooby Doo does D&D, with Britishness so thick that you expect this module to serve you tea. Far better than the rest of the series, but also far better than nearly everything else TSR published.
  • UK1, Beyond the Crystal Cave: A Shakespearean "return the lovers lost in Faerie" adventure where combat is unavoidable (it is AD&D, after all), but where it's otherwise not the preferred solution. Atmospheric and shockingly modern, despite being published 40 years ago this year.
  • X2, Castle Amber: A funhouse module with a (somewhat) logical reason behind it: It's a castle full of high-level magic-users who have been driven mad. Again, you will have to be smart to survive and not be too quick to go for your swords (that doddering old man is literally one of the most powerful magic-users on the planet), but there are tons of great set pieces -- including a number from literary classics -- cool new monsters, an alternate world and a castle siege by a golem as tall as Castle Amber itself.
I missed the Return To era, but otherwise, if I left your favorite off, it's for a reason. I will be happy to fight you behind the dumpsters after school. ;)

WotC era (note that I skipped 4E after reading the Players Handbook and one terrible adventure and left for Castles & Crusades; I also have been running a long 3E->C&C->5E campaign set in and around Ptolus and have had little interest in picking up 99% of WotC adventures as a result)
  • The Sunless Citadel: From a map-making perspective, it's basically just a tube, which is unforgivably dumb outside of an MMO (and it annoys me there, too), but the theme park ride does take new players through the concept of rival groups of inhabitants inside a dungeon and introduces an NPC for the ages in Meepo.
  • Lost Mine of Phandelver: Without a doubt the greatest D&D-branded starter adventure of all time. Players start with a simple (but still potentially deadly) dungeon, arrive in a starting town with adventures in town and through a bounty board system, and eventually face a dragon. I am nervous and excited to see how this is expanded to a hardcover book length adventure this year.
  • (I own and intend to run Wild Beyond the Witchlight and Journeys through the Radiant Citadel this year, but haven't done so yet, and don't want to comment on them until I do. I will say what I see of them doesn't dissuade me. I also own Strixhaven, which I bought as a setting and am irritated that it turns out to be a short adventure path with gazetteer elements embedded in it. I doubt I will run it as intended ever, but will just continue to use it as a wizard school setting as needed.)
  • DCC 11, The Dragonfiend Pact: This was a $1 promo adventure by Goodman Games and is one of the best adventures I've ever run. It's an old idea -- the player characters get shrunken down and have to contend with regular size nuisances that are now enormous -- but executed incredibly well. Easy to adapt to any edition of the game and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
  • DCC 24, Legend of the Ripper: It starts off as a Jack the Ripper adventure (with a D&D twist) and turns into an interesting dungeon crawl. Easily adaptable to any grimy fantasy city setting with a grimier waterfront. I ran this here on ENWorld years ago, setting it in Ptolus.
  • DCC 31, The Transmuter's Last Touch: The other $1 promo adventure by Goodman Games. Not quite as good as The Dragonfiend Pact, as it's essentially a puzzle dungeon full of magically altered kobolds (I turned them into ratmen for the Ptolus version of it I ran on ENWorld back in the day), but this is another adventure with exceptionally good bones that I encourage DMs to pick up and adapt.
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The High Aldwin
Against the Giants is iconic, yes; I say to my friends that it has something primal about it; you basically enter, kill monsters and take their stuff. But I prefer the Keep on the Borderlands
Both are typically modules I run for every group I organize. KotB is my introductory adventure and AtG is for higher levels of course. :D

I loved every aspect of that adventure except the conclusion (Tiamat) which just seemed a bit generic compared to the rest of it.
Switch the Fane and the battle of Brindol. Make sure the avatar of Tiamat escapes the Fane to show up in the climax battle before the awed citizens of Brindol.


White Plume Mountain wasn't meant to be a published adventure -- it was an audition to get a job. ("Look at these cool traps and encounters!")

The silliest thing about White Plume Mountain is that the adventure expects the players to return Blackrazor, Whelm and Wave at the end, because presumably no one at TSR ever met an actual AD&D player.

I think WPM works best as a one shot.

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