D&D General Tangent from Vecna - How Many Actually Good Adventures Are There?

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
One of my favorite adventures that I think is great is 4E's The Last Breaths of Ashenport.

It has the standard 4E style of "set combat encounters" that the game wants a DM to build for "exciting combat set pieces"... but also has a fairly strong narrative story and arc, with a beginning, middle, and end. Something that a crapton of 4E Dungeon Mag online modules never had. I've run it twice and both times they worked out wonderfully.
 

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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
When a module is 32 pages with blank spots on maps - yes, expand them.

But when you're looking at Level 1-13 WotC mega-adventures or Level 1-20 Paizo APs, if you start adding stuff all Willy Nelson, you risk unbalancing future encounters because of extra XP or treasure AND/OR messing up the stories that are sometimes already at risk of collapsing like a Jenga tower.

I know that when I tried to riff on published adventures in the past with fun improv bits, I ended up really painting myself into a corner that messed up the rest of the adventure.
Part of adding the willie-nillie extras encounters that are outside of the module means also doing the self-editing of the module itself. Taking out or moving magic items from areas within the written portion and into the stuff you add. Not giving out as much XP or just not tracking XP at all and merely doing milestone leveling. And reading far enough ahead and really digesting the full plot of the entire AP such that anything you do add via improv can and will have a solid tie into the plot of entire story.

I often read in threads that talk about these APs wherein the DM says they don't actually want to have read the entire book, or especially not read it enough times that they were able to remember most of what was supposed to happen. But for an improvising DM... in my opinion that's actually the best and most effective way to use these things. By knowing ahead of time everything that is written to happen and being comfortable with remembering the paths to get there... it allows the improvisor DM to go off-road and off-script whenever necessary, but thus always knowing where you need to end up and thus have the foresight to redirect the action so that the players will find their way back to the path down the road. Even if it means jumping ahead a bit in the AP, having skipped over some other written parts that ultimately got replaced by the improvised off-road action (which also help take care of the "too much XP" and "too many magic item" problems.)
 

Enrico Poli1

Adventurer
BECMI:
Palace of the Silver Princess
Eye of Traldar
Night's Dark Terror
Isle of Dread
Castle Amber
Master of the Desert Nomads + Temple of Death
Red Arrow, Black Shield
Test of the Warlords + Death's Ride + Sabre River

AD&D1e:
Against the Cult of the Reptile God
Lost Caverns of Tsojicanth
Against the Giants
Lost Caverns of Thracia
The Night Wolf Inn

AD&D2e:
Die Vecna Die!
City of Skulls
Return to the Tomb of Horrors
Dragon's Crown

D&D3e:
Tomb of Abysthor
Rappan Athuk

D&D3.5
Age of Worms AP
Savage Tide AP
Curse of the Crimson Throne AP

Pathfinder 1e:
Kingmaker AP
Reign of Winter AP
Shattered Star AP
Skulls & Shackles AP
Strange Aeons AP
Sword of Air

D&D5e:
Curse of Strahd
Tomb of Annihilation
Descent into Avernus
Rime of the Frostmaiden

Other Systems:
Eyes of the Stone Thief (13th Age)
 

the Jester

Legend
I have to say that one of the best adventures I've had the pleasure to DM is Of Sound Mind, a fantastic low-level 3e psionics-focused adventure written by Piratecat- not sure if he is still around here. It has the best climax of any adventure I have ever run.

I'll say that of the 5e adventures I have, I really like:

Lost Mine of Phandelver
Curse of Strahd
Tomb of Annihilation
Rime of the Frostmaiden
Wild Beyond the Witchlight
The ghost story adventure in Candlekeep (the name escapes me)
Salvage Operation (from Ghosts of Saltmarsh)

From 4e, I really like:

H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth
P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens
P2: Demon Queen's Enclave
Tomb of Horrors (not a conversion, but a continuation of the previous ToH and RttToH)

From 3e, I really like:

Of Sound Mind
Sunless Citadel
The Whispering Cairn (Dungeon Magazine)
The Prince of Redhand (Dungeon)
There Is No Honor (Dungeon)
The Sea Wyvern's Wake (Dungeon)
Wells of Darkness (Dungeon)
Kings of the Rift (Dungeon)
Into the Wormcrawl Fissure (Dungeon)
Dawn of a New Age (Dungeon)
The Quicksilver Hourglass (Dungeon)

From 2e, I really like:

Return to the Tomb of Horrors
Dead Gods
Gates of Firestorm Peak
Oh damn, that one where you enter a dead wizard's giant body? Or shrink down and go in, or something??

From 1e and the Basic line, I really like:

In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords
Keep on the Borderlands
The Lost City
Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan
Dwellers in the Forbidden City
Vault of the Drow
Queen of the Demonweb Pits
Against the Giants
Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
Pharaoh
Secret of Bone Hill
Murder at Romdrill Mansion (Dragon Magazine)
Isle of Dread
 

The Sigil

Mr. 3000 (Words per post)
Top three from stuff I've actually run (with more or less spoiler-free notes here) that was fantastic:

B10 Night's Dark Terror - Originally for BECMI, I ran it about 20 years ago for a 3E party. It's a BECMI module, but as I recall, the extent of my "conversion" was simply grabbing the 3E versions of monsters from the Monster Manual and plugging those in instead. The scope of the adventure is incredible, and it has so many different vignettes that allow you both intimate moments and sweeping, epic moments. The group LOVED it. This one is probably my all-time favorite among adventures I've had the pleasure of DMing.

B7 Rahasia - Also originally for BECMI, ran it about 2-3 years ago for a 5E party. Again, "conversion" was mostly grabbing 5E versions of monsters from the MM and plugging those in (and stealing some ideas online for a 5E versions of the Black Opal Eye). Party had a hard time adjusting to the tricks of the temple, but really got into the adventure (and were upset when the miniboss, who was set up as the BBEG, got away).

N4 Treasure Hunt - Originally for 1E, ran it about 7 years ago for a 5E party. Had to work a little harder to convert this one, as it assumes characters start as 0-level characters, which aren't really supported in 5E, but turned out pretty well. The adventure was memorable, and I ran it for my son and his high school friends on a weekend because they wanted to see what D&D was like. Me running that adventure got their imaginations going and they started a D&D group at the high school (which they DM'd, not me).

DDA3 Eye of Traldar - In the process of running this in PF2E, players seem to be having a blast. Converted this more heavily than the others, including replacing maps as I am moving to a VTT-like structure to run this and wanted to use better-looking maps than B&W ones in the module, but ran the first half in "theater of the mind" and that worked great as well.

B6 Veiled Society - Originally printed for BECMI, ran in BECMI about 40 years ago. Still one of my favorite modules as it's not your typical hack-and-slash. Professor DM's "Reviled Society" looks like a great 5E conversion -
CM9 Legacy of Blood - Originally printed for BECMI, ran in BECMI about 35-40 years ago. One of the best modules I've ever seen for "managing a kingdom" for high-level play where the dangers aren't simple monsters but instead the ill will of the peasants you are nominally ruling over.

The Lost by N. Todd Antil - I mentioned it here (Best 1st level adventure out there) over 20 years ago, and I don't think it's around any more (I still have my PDF copy), but I found it a great introductory adventure for 3E (and played it in 3E). Very flavorful and could be dropped in almost anywhere when you need to get a holy relic into the hands of the party.

As can be seen, I usually utilize the maps, plot, and structure of modules, the mechanics bits are mostly monsters and traps and monsters at least are easy, just steal stuff from the MM and you're fine. IMO great adventures are less about the mechanics and more about a compelling plot, memorable characters, and exotic settings IMO. Players glom on to those more than anything mechanical. They might remember a spectacular crit or an enemy failing a save at a critical moment, but it's more likely they'll remember some weird idea they had that you as the DM didn't have a simple rule for and had to improvise a check for (what happens if you're being chased across a rope bridge that passes between two waterfalls while being chased by gnolls and the party's cleric decides to use "control water" to "raise water up" and "change the horizontal direction by a factor of two" in order to redirect the waterfalls on to the bridge where the gnolls are?), so I've found mechanics are not so important.

Modules I've read that I think have all the right plot elements to be amazing but which I've never had the pleasure to run:

  • Red Hand of Doom (3E, finding a way to somehow combine this with Night's Dark Terror could be AMAZING)
  • Ravenloft (1E, played it in the original 1E when it was still new, but never DM'd it so don't know how it runs, but the story elements are excellent)
  • Keep on the Shadowfell (4e)
  • L1 The Secret of Bone Hill (1e)
  • DA1 Blackmoor (BECMI, I think the central location here can be a great source of both creepy horror and magical wonder if DM'd in the right way)
  • Ruins of Gauntlight (PF2E, first adventure in the Abomination Vaults adventure path) - I haven't read the rest of the path yet, but this one looks excellent.
  • X1 Isle of Dread (BECMI)
  • Sunless Citadel (3E)
 

I was doing some preparing for my session tonight and this thread tweaked my memory.

I'm running a module to give our DM a break. I'm running The Infernal Machine Rebuild - a module that was done for the charity Extra Life. It's a fun module that really dives incredibly deep into the history of D&D - you travel to the Tomb of Horrors while it's being built and travel to the Temple of Moloch - the iconic cover of the 1e PHB with the thieves trying to steal the eyes - with the map being based on the map that was included in the 1e DMG.

The module is just chock a block with all sorts of historical lore references. But one thing they mention in the module is that there is a small village near the Temple of Moloch that supplies the temple. Nothing is detailed about the village. It's basically a throwaway paragraph in the module.

I took that and ran with it. My village is full of cultists of the Hopping Prophet Wastri (the original Tomb of Horrors is set in the Vast Swamp, near where the temple of Wastri is located). I'm doing all sorts of deep dives on Greyhawk lore for buildling this village. It's not a huge thing - just a handful of houses and some NPC's. I figure the players will fiddle about with it for an hour or so and then move on.

But, that's what I meant by never running a module straight from the book. I honestly don't see how people do that. Most modules have all sorts of throwaway bits like that where the DM is more or less encouraged to put their own stamp on the module.

Just some thoughts that were running through my head.
I think that level of world building is separate from what a module should provide. There's a reason that settings and modules are separate. I think when people say they run modules straight from the book they mean, given that they already have a setting, they simply place a module down and run it as is. That's easier with location-based modules, where you can just plop a dungeon down next to whatever town that's part of your setting.
 

There are plenty of great OSR modules that can be run as is, and require very little work to stitch into an ongoing campaign/setting. The Necrotic Gnome modules are probably the gold standard, here: Adventures
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Top three from stuff I've actually run (with more or less spoiler-free notes here) that was fantastic:

B10 Night's Dark Terror - Originally for BECMI, I ran it about 20 years ago for a 3E party. It's a BECMI module, but as I recall, the extent of my "conversion" was simply grabbing the 3E versions of monsters from the Monster Manual and plugging those in instead. The scope of the adventure is incredible, and it has so many different vignettes that allow you both intimate moments and sweeping, epic moments. The group LOVED it. This one is probably my all-time favorite among adventures I've had the pleasure of DMing.

B7 Rahasia - Also originally for BECMI, ran it about 2-3 years ago for a 5E party. Again, "conversion" was mostly grabbing 5E versions of monsters from the MM and plugging those in (and stealing some ideas online for a 5E versions of the Black Opal Eye). Party had a hard time adjusting to the tricks of the temple, but really got into the adventure (and were upset when the miniboss, who was set up as the BBEG, got away).

N4 Treasure Hunt - Originally for 1E, ran it about 7 years ago for a 5E party. Had to work a little harder to convert this one, as it assumes characters start as 0-level characters, which aren't really supported in 5E, but turned out pretty well. The adventure was memorable, and I ran it for my son and his high school friends on a weekend because they wanted to see what D&D was like. Me running that adventure got their imaginations going and they started a D&D group at the high school (which they DM'd, not me).

DDA3 Eye of Traldar - In the process of running this in PF2E, players seem to be having a blast. Converted this more heavily than the others, including replacing maps as I am moving to a VTT-like structure to run this and wanted to use better-looking maps than B&W ones in the module, but ran the first half in "theater of the mind" and that worked great as well.

B6 Veiled Society - Originally printed for BECMI, ran in BECMI about 40 years ago. Still one of my favorite modules as it's not your typical hack-and-slash. Professor DM's "Reviled Society" looks like a great 5E conversion -
CM9 Legacy of Blood - Originally printed for BECMI, ran in BECMI about 35-40 years ago. One of the best modules I've ever seen for "managing a kingdom" for high-level play where the dangers aren't simple monsters but instead the ill will of the peasants you are nominally ruling over.

The Lost by N. Todd Antil - I mentioned it here (Best 1st level adventure out there) over 20 years ago, and I don't think it's around any more (I still have my PDF copy), but I found it a great introductory adventure for 3E (and played it in 3E). Very flavorful and could be dropped in almost anywhere when you need to get a holy relic into the hands of the party.

As can be seen, I usually utilize the maps, plot, and structure of modules, the mechanics bits are mostly monsters and traps and monsters at least are easy, just steal stuff from the MM and you're fine. IMO great adventures are less about the mechanics and more about a compelling plot, memorable characters, and exotic settings IMO. Players glom on to those more than anything mechanical. They might remember a spectacular crit or an enemy failing a save at a critical moment, but it's more likely they'll remember some weird idea they had that you as the DM didn't have a simple rule for and had to improvise a check for (what happens if you're being chased across a rope bridge that passes between two waterfalls while being chased by gnolls and the party's cleric decides to use "control water" to "raise water up" and "change the horizontal direction by a factor of two" in order to redirect the waterfalls on to the bridge where the gnolls are?), so I've found mechanics are not so important.

Modules I've read that I think have all the right plot elements to be amazing but which I've never had the pleasure to run:

  • Red Hand of Doom (3E, finding a way to somehow combine this with Night's Dark Terror could be AMAZING)
  • Ravenloft (1E, played it in the original 1E when it was still new, but never DM'd it so don't know how it runs, but the story elements are excellent)
  • Keep on the Shadowfell (4e)
  • L1 The Secret of Bone Hill (1e)
  • DA1 Blackmoor (BECMI, I think the central location here can be a great source of both creepy horror and magical wonder if DM'd in the right way)
  • Ruins of Gauntlight (PF2E, first adventure in the Abomination Vaults adventure path) - I haven't read the rest of the path yet, but this one looks excellent.
  • X1 Isle of Dread (BECMI)
  • Sunless Citadel (3E)

Those early B modules and a fair few X and C ones have an above average hit ratio.

B3,4,5,6,7 and 10 are "good" imho.

B1 and 2 are probably the worst but design was very different.

I've run a lot of conversions to 5E from Dungeon Magazine as well. Recently ran the Matchmakers in C&C and going to follow it up with another one.
 

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