A Guide to Official DnD 5e Adventure Modules (2023)
Published on January 6, 2021, Last modified on September 21st, 2023
Looking for your next adventure module to run? In this article, we’ve broken down all of your options of official fifth edition adventures to help you make your decision!
Table of Contents
What are Adventure Modules?
Adventures typically come in the form of 256-page hardcover books that can be purchased anywhere from $30-$60. Adventure modules come with a story for the DM to run for a party of 4-6 players. The stories are accompanied by a breakdown of the NPCs, locations, and monsters that players will encounter on their run through the adventure.
When getting into the world of D&D, newer players and DMs often look to the adventures published by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) to introduce them to the world of D&D. Some of the adventures listed below are great for newcomers, while others are not. We have rated the adventures based on their difficulty to DM and play through to help figure out whether or not the adventure will be right for your table.
Which Adventure Module Should I Play?
Listed below are all of the official D&D 5e adventure modules. In order to be “official”, these adventures must be published by Wizards of the Coast. The adventure modules are listed by release date, in descending order.
Keys from the Golden Vault
Check out our full Keys from the Golden Vault Review.
Pages: 208 pages
Published: February 7th, 2023
Levels: 1 – 11
DM Difficulty: Easy
Player Difficulty: Medium
Keys from the Golden Vault is an adventure anthology for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D 5e). This book contains short heist-themed adventures that take players to different locations across the multiverse. Each adventure emphasizes player choice, giving the party a map to plan their adventure and multiple paths to complete their objective.
- The inclusion of map handouts for players makes these adventures work. Not only can players formulate a plan (a must for any heist scenario), but the maps tend to leave out crucial details, which can make for fun improvisational moments when enacting the heist.
- These heists can each be run in one session, making for short, digestible content to either slot into a campaign or pull out for a fun night of gaming.
- The multitude of themes and locations keep these heists fresh and fun.
- An adventure from the book, Prisoner 13, is free on D&D Beyond. All you need is an account to sign up!
- The failure scenarios aren’t always appropriately strict. For example, in Prisoner 13, if you get caught performing suspicious activity in a high-security prison, all they do is kick you out.
- If the party’s plan starts to go awry, it could easily lead to a TPK because they’re in a hostile environment and usually outnumbered and outmatched. If things start to snowball out of control, DMs will have to consider what will happen if the players get overwhelmed.
Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen
Check out our full Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen Review.
Pages: 224 pages
Published: December 6th, 2022
Levels: 1 – 11
DM Difficulty: Easy
Player Difficulty: Hard
Shadow of the Dragon Queen is an adventure for the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (5e) that takes players to the long-awaited Dragonlance setting. On the world of Krynn—the realm in which Dragonlance takes place—the party will become embroiled in a war between the evil Dragon Queen’s armies and the free people of Krynn. The fate of the world will rest on the party’s shoulders as they embark on high stake missions to undermine the Dragon Armies’ attempts to uncover a powerful relic.
- The adventure is full of meaningful choices and player agency, which can make players feel like their very much a part of the world.
- The “large-scale battle mechanics” that were toted are simple and effective. Also, not having the board game doesn’t take away from the play experience at all.
- Characters that choose the Mage of High Sorcery background can actually take a version of the Test in the adventure and choose the color of their robes, which is pretty cool.
- The Lunar Sorcery subclass is easily the most versatile sorcerer subclass, which is a welcomed boost to a class with limited spellcasting options.
- The adventure can be played without any prior knowledge of Dragonlance.
- Fans of Dragonlance are not the target audience of this book. They skirt around swathes of lore, the mention of most established characters, and prominent locations on Ansalon in favor of making the adventure streamlined for new players.
- A lot of infamous Dragonlance villains (Lord Soth, adult chromatic dragons, etc.) are simply out of the player’s league and, while they show up in the adventure, you don’t actually get to face off against them.
- Going with the con above, the adventure doesn’t really reach a solid conclusion because of the level (and, presumably, page count) restrictions.
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space
Check out our full Spelljammer: Adventures in Space Review.
Pages: 64 pages
Published: August 16th, 2022
Levels: 5 – 8
DM Difficulty: Easy
Player Difficulty: Easy
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space contains a 64-page adventure that takes players from level 5-8 titled Light of Xaryxis. The adventure is campy, lighthearted, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. These traits are acknowledged upfront when the authors note the inspiration for this adventure, 1980’s Flash Gordon. The adventure certainly feels like a space opera where everything is a bit over the top and self-aware.
- The episodic, straightforward nature of this adventure makes it fun to play and easy to run.
- The unique mechanics and setting Spelljammer provides give this adventure a breath of fresh air.
- While it may be short, the adventure’s length can be padded with the free introductory adventure available on D&D Beyond, Spelljammer Academy.
- The episodic nature of the adventure can get in the DMs way if the “episode” is coming to a close at an inopportune time. Usually, each episode is meant to end on a cliffhanger, which can cause a bit of wonkiness if you need to play through it.
- The cliffhangers usually rely on a fakeout like “oh no, a dragon a swooping right towards the party!” Then, the next session starts with “oh, nevermind, the dragon was friendly.” Once this happens more than a couple of times, players will start to catch on and become disenfranchised by the attempts to mislead them.
- The story is shallow and meant to be rushed through without too much deliberation on the party’s part. This adventure is meant as a showcase of how fun Spelljammer can be, rather than being about complex, player-driven choices.
Dragons of Stormwreck Isle
Pages: 48 pages
Published: July 31st, 2022
Levels: 1 – 3
DM Difficulty: Easy
Player Difficulty: Easy
Dragons of Stromwreck Isle is the adventure included in the new Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. It focuses on teaching both DMs and players how to play the game by easy-to-follow quests and introductory combat. If you’re a new DM, check out my tips for running Dragons of Stormwreck Isle on D&D Beyond. All-in-all, this is a great beginner’s adventure, though still might not be as good as Lost Mine of Phandelver.
- Probably the best adventure yet in terms of teaching DMs how to run the game without making them read the entire Basic Rules
- The adventure itself is compelling and satisfying for players. My favorite part is that players get to decide which quest to take on in the middle of the adventure, provoking meaningful player choices.
- The adventure takes place on an isolated island, which can make the party feel railroaded if they get bored and want to leave. If you’re still learning the game, players tend to want to flex their freedom a little, which this adventure doesn’t really allow for.
- It’s revealed that the main quest giver is a powerful dragon in disguise, which may raise the question “why didn’t you go do the things you just asked us to do?”
Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel
Check out our full Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel Review.
Pages: 224 pages
Published: July 19th, 2022
Levels: 1 – 14
DM Difficulty: N/A
Player Difficulty: N./A
Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel is an adventure anthology containing 13 adventures that take players from levels 1–14. Each adventure establishes a detailed and unique cultural setting that serves as a backdrop to the story. They are built to be standalone adventures but can also be dropped into any campaign. Alternatively, a DM can weave the adventures into a complete campaign, using the Radiant Citadel as a hub for the party to return to during their downtime.
- The adventures include a diverse mix of settings and revolve around visiting different cities and regions, allowing you to more easily include them in a prewritten campaign than the previous adventure anthology, Candlekeep Mysteries.
- The gazetteers included at the end of each adventure help DMs continue their own story arch in locations that players enjoy.
- Most adventures, particularly the low-level and high-level ones, tell interesting stories and provide players with unique gameplay and meaningful choices.
- Some of the shorter adventures in the middle of the book suffer from weak stories and/or a lack of meaningful choices.
- There is no direction on how to tie the adventures together, meaning DMs looking to write a Radiant Citadel campaign will have to write their own story.
- In my opinion, the Radiant Citadel setting information chapter contains too many mysteries to which there are no answers. This puts unnecessary pressure on DMs who want to use the Radiant Citadel in their game. Also, most adventures don’t mention the Radiant Citadel beyond using it as a starting location.
Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep
Check out our full Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep Review.
Pages: 224 pages
Published: March 15th, 2022
Levels: 3 – 12
DM Difficulty: Easy
Player Difficulty: Easy
Call of the Netherdeep is an adventure for the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (5e) that takes a “deep dive” into Critical Role’s World of Exandria. This globe-hopping adventure takes players from the Wastes of Xhorhas on the continent of Wildemount, to the oasis city of Ank’Harel, then into the sunken realm of the Netherdeep.
DMs will find everything they need to run this adventure, including:
- 168 pages (6 chapters) detailing the adventure that takes players from level 3-12
- 27 new monsters, including a set of rival NPCs that level up with the party
- 15 new magic items
- The lore, art, and story are all magnificent. In my opinion, this is some of the best content we’ve seen in official D&D adventures.
- I love the grim, gritty tone and prefer it to the upbeat, happy-go-lucky vibe of Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos and The Wild Beyond the Witchlight.
- The dungeon crawls featured in this book are particularly solid. While there are only two big dungeon crawls, they both contain a fantastic mix of challenging combat, puzzles, exploration, and role-play.
- A number of factions are introduced that all have an interest in working with the party. This allows players to make meaningful choices when deciding who they will support and work with.
- The way the adventure ends creates an opportunity for continued adventures in the lands of Exandria. These adventures aren’t supported by the book, but hooks are provided at the end for groups that want to continue their own story.
- I really like the carnival-style introduction that we’ve seen in this book and The Wild Beyond the Witchlight. Maybe “you meet at a carnival” will be the new “you meet at a tavern.”
- This adventure contains a set of rivals that are meant to challenge the party at every turn. There’s really not much stopping a particularly brutal (and practical) group from killing their rivals once they’ve interfered in their business a couple of times. While killing the rivals won’t ruin the adventure, there are a lot of set pieces that are made better when they are present.
- This adventure introduces an alien substance called ruidium that can spread into items and creatures. While I love its lore and role in the adventure, its mechanics can be difficult to navigate. To boil it down, using items imbued with ruidium can cause ruidium corruption that manifests as physical and mental afflictions. Beyond finishing the adventure, divine intervention, or the wish spell, there is no way to cure ruidium corruption. If, as a DM, you end up struggling with ruidium, I wrote an article for D&D Beyond that offers some homebrew ways to allow players to cure it.
- This adventure contains a number of different locations on multiple continents but doesn’t include a regional map to allow DMs and players to get their bearings. The area maps provided are good, but DMs will have to look elsewhere to find a map of Wildemount.
- This adventure is very much set in the World of Exandria. If you’re looking for a setting-ambiguous adventure to slot into your campaign, this isn’t it.
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
Check out our full Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos Review.
Pages: 224 pages
Published: December 7th, 2021
Levels: 3 – 12
DM Difficulty: Easy
Player Difficulty: Easy
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos is a campaign setting for the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (5e) that takes players to the magical school of Strixhaven. Incorporating player options, new monsters, and a four-part campaign, this book provides groups everything they need to play a campaign in the Magic: The Gathering school of Strixhaven.
- The adventure included in this book makes the setting a lot more accessible to your average playgroup. Other campaign settings which only provide an overview of the setting are reliant on the DM to homebrew an entire campaign whereas the Strixhaven book gives tables a good launching off point.
- The adventure chapters provide plenty of area maps as well as battlemaps for important locations around campus that can be helpful even if you aren’t going to run the adventure.
- The NPCs provided in this book are fleshed-out and can be useful for running a Strixhaven campaign even if you don’t follow the adventure.
- The backgrounds provided in this book are very unique because they provide a feat based on the college chosen, on top of extra spells. This makes the student background easily the most powerful background choice released in 5e, though they are quite specific to Strixhaven. They may need some reworking to fit into other settings, but for those players looking to optimize a build for another campaign they will provide a significant power boost.
- This book is very much a resource for running adventures in the university of Strixhaven. There are only a couple of pages devoted to the larger magics and mysteries of Arcavios which introduce more questions than they answer. If you’re planning an adventure that uses Strixhaven as a starting point and are planning on branching into the rest of the world, you won’t have much information to go off of.
- Likewise, because this book isn’t entirely devoted to the adventure, it is lacking in some areas. We discuss the adventure, what it does right, and where it can be improved in the in-depth review below.
- Most of the playable options presented in this book (spells, magic items, background, feats, and even the monsters to some extent) are very setting specific. If you were to buy this book to read, but also wanted to have access to the content for a separate campaign, there won’t be a ton of options that can directly be transferred across without having a wizard school of some sort in your world.
- Apart from four classes (one for each year), classes are skipped over entirely. We have attempted to remedy this situation by compiling 144 class ideas for Strixhaven courses in our supplement Strixhaven: A Syllabus of Sorcery.
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight
Check out our full Wild Beyond the Witchlight review.
Pages: 256 pages
Published: September 21, 2021
Levels: 1 – 8
DM Difficulty: Medium
Player Difficulty: Medium
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is a Feywild-centric adventure that takes players from a mysterious circus on the Material Plane into the whimsical plane of the fey. The main villains of this adventure are three hag sisters that have taken control of the fey domain of Prismeer.
In this adventure, players are rewarded for quick thinking and diplomatic discussions rather than solving disagreements with violence. The time spent in Prismeer is rife with impactful player choice, open-world exploration, and problem-solving. The fey inhabitants of Prismeer are colorful and have their own motives, making interacting with its denizens feel like they are actually alive rather than following a set script.
Interestingly, this adventure was said to come with a DM resource for creating Domains of Delight, different planes in the Feywild that are ruled over by powerful fey creatures, and Archfey, the rulers of the aforementioned Domains of Delight. This didn’t make it into The Wild Beyond the Witchlight but is available for purchase on DMs Guild here: Domains of Delight.
- This module goes to great lengths in order to provide alternatives to combat or secret weaknesses of powerful NPCs when combat is necessary. These can be easily overlooked, but once players get in the right mindset they will begin to think differently about how to approach encounters.
- The module takes an open-world, sandbox-style approach to its design. This is made very apparent by the fact that players don’t necessarily have to go anywhere or do anything. The main limiting factors of this open-world playstyle are the NPC guides that take the party between areas of Prismeer.
- The main villains of the story don’t have a negative predisposition towards the party. In fact, the party can complete the entire adventure without fighting any of them. While this may seem anticlimactic to some groups, I like that success in this adventure is based on completing a goal rather than defeating a BBEG.
- There is a lot of importance placed on a certain item that is randomly assigned to a location in the gameworld before you start the adventure. While the campaign can be completed without the item, it is mentioned as the only way to undo a powerful curse. Players that miss the arbitrary hiding spot of the item can be frustrated by the fact that it seems exceptionally important yet is very difficult to find.
- There aren’t a whole lot of combat opportunities without “going against the story”. The module seems to want players to reason and investigate their way to what they want. If your party is looking for a fight, they could be put off by the seemingly docile nature of the carnival.
- The module can have quite a few things to remember. The player’s interactions throughout the campaign have a significant impact on events that occur. Luckily, the module includes a “story tracker” that allows you to note down the outcome of these pivotal decisions.
- Disappointingly, this module only takes players up to 8th level. While I hoped that the Feywild would include higher-level combat threats, the module focuses on non-combat resolutions. Taking it beyond the 10th level would have left a lot of player abilities unused.
Pages: 224 pages
Published: March 16, 2021
Levels: 1 – 16
DM Difficulty: Easy
Player Difficulty: Medium
Candlekeep Mysteries is a collection of “book-themed” adventures. Each adventure incorporates the greatest library in the Forgotten Realms, Candlekeep.
The book is split into 17 different “mini-adventures” all of varying length but none of which should take more than 3 sessions to complete. While the suggests each of these adventures are “mysteries”, I’d more refer to these adventures as “mystery-lite”. Yes, they all have an element of exploration and intrigue, but they all follow a fairly linear path and aren’t particularly hard to reason out.
The point behind this book is to provide DMs with a bunch of one-shot type adventures that can fit flawlessly into any campaign, whether it takes place in the Forgotten Realms or not. While other D&D anthology books have at least a somewhat cohesive story (Ghosts of Saltmarsh), that thread of storyline is missing from Candlekeep Mysteries.
- Adventures are unique and involve more roleplaying and exploration than typical adventures
- Adventures can be dropped in any campaign with little setup (they even include threads that could lead your party into the adventure)
- You get access to a fairly thorough map/outline of Candlekeep that is useful even if you don’t run any of the adventures
- If you want to run these adventures sequentially, you will have to write the storyline yourself
- The adventures are fairly disorganized, there is not a single appendix that houses all of the monster stats. Instead, they are included at the end of each chapter. While this isn’t an issue if you are running the adventure via DnDBeyond or Roll20, it certainly limits the paperback copy’s effectiveness
- If you are looking for open sandbox, Sherlock Holmes-type adventures you will be sorely disappointed
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden takes place in Icewind, a northern region of the Sword Coast in the Forgotten Realms. As you may have guessed from the title and artwork, this adventure takes place in a frigid environment. This means that players will be dealing with surviving in the environment as much as they will be in combat.
The adventure is split into two main segments, the starting levels where adventures explore the Ten Towns (1st – 6th Level), and the “real adventure” segment (7th – 12th Level).
The first segment is an open sandbox type setting where players will travel between the Ten Towns and complete quests for different NPCs. These quests are well designed to help establish these characters in the early days of adventuring in this area. This segment culminates with the players saving the Ten Towns from an entity hellbent on destroying it.
The second segment works through three primary areas: Auril’s isle, the Caves of Hunger, and the crashed remains of one of the floating cities of ancient Nether. The culmination of this segment pits the players against the force that is imposing eternal night on the area and, hopefully, saving the day.
This adventure has already been praised as one of the most well-written, well-paced, and unique 5e adventures to date.
- Two entry points, one at 1st-level, one between 4th and 6th-level.
- Encounters include much more than just combat. Players are rewarded for being quick-witted, clever, and thinking outside the box during combat.
- The story contains multiple branching decision points so players don’t feel railroaded and even includes multiple endings based on the decisions of the players.
- The well-structured description of the different areas of Icewind can provide DMs a “campaign setting” for Icewind to go off of if they don’t plan on following the story.
- Survival and traveling between areas of the Ten Towns can become quite cumbersome.
- The final act of the 1st segment is an extremely difficult fight with serious ramifications if the party even slightly fails.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus takes our players from the iconic city of Baldur’s Gate to the first layer of the Nine Hells, Avernus.
The Baldur’s Gate portion of the campaign is relatively short, even though it contains about 30 pages of backstory on the city. The party starts in Baldur’s Gate, gets sent on a fetch quest-based introduction to the story, and then they move on. After the Baldur’s Gate chapter, our players are sent to Avernus in order to stop the chaos that is leaking out of the Nine Hells onto the Material Plane.
- Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus contains an awesome amount of information regarding Baldur’s Gate and Avernus which makes this book a good pick-up even if you primarily homebrew your material. The book also introduces vehicles called Infernal Machines as well as providing guidance on making deals with devils and demons.
- The Adventure is straight forward and doesn’t dawdle like some adventures tend to do
- The part with the city of Elturel is particularly awesome.
- The adventure is very much a long fetch quest. Players meet an NPC and the NPC tells them to go to a location and get/do a thing.
- The section of the adventure in Baldur’s Gate is uninspired, especially when taking into consideration how much effort was put into outlining the history, geography, and political structure.
- The culmination of the adventure is very much about a particular NPC, rather than our heroes
For a more in-depth Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus review click here.
Dragons of Icespire Peak
Dragons of Icespire Peak is included in the D&D Essentials Set, along with a set of dice, a DM screen, and an abbreviated rule book. This adventure is widely regarded to be weaker than the Lost Mines of Phandelver, another “starter kit” type product.
The book outlines a situation in which a young white dragon has taken up roost in a location around Phandelver. The players then begin their story in the town of Phandelver, where they are expected to set out completing quests off of a job board. Once the jobs are done, a couple of side quests open up to give players a chance to further level up. None of these sidequests explicitly lead the party to Icespire Hold, the location of the young white dragon, but there are options to help guide your party towards the dragon when they are ready to fight it.
- While hard to loop into the story, the job board provides short, well-structured one-session adventures.
- There is plenty of player agency and non-linear storytelling.
- 1st level characters are extremely easy to kill by accident. This module pits 1st level characters against some pretty nasty foes including a CR 3 Manticore.
- The beginning of the campaign has an extremely weak plot hook that newer DMs might struggle with.
- There is no definitive, overarching plot that brings the party to the BBEG’s (a young white dragon) lair.
Pages: 224 pages
Published: June 18, 2019
Levels: 1 – 6
DM Difficulty: Easy
Player Difficulty: Easy
Acquisitions Incorporated is a popular D&D podcast that has been running since 2008. This podcast was one of the first podcasts to get the 5e gravy train rolling, precursing popular shows such as Critical Role and Adventure Zone. The story of Acquisitions Incorporated is a dark, wacky take on D&D’s high-fantasy genre, where the party is working for a corporation to accomplish typical high-fantasy tasks (i.e crawl through this dungeon and bring back the treasure). This show became so popular that they began selling out conventions for their live-play sessions and began hosting popular guests such as Chris Perkins, Wil Wheaton, and Patrick Rothfuss. The popularity of the show led to the Acquisitions Incorporated team collaborating with Wizards of the Coast to create a campaign setting that will let groups run their own games in the Acquisitions Incorporated universe.
This book contains player options, DM tools, and an introductory adventure that takes place in the Forgotten Realms and takes players from the 1st to 6th level. This adventure has garnered a ton of praise, most consider it to be on par with the Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure, while some say it’s even better.
- The adventure nails what makes Acquisitions Incorporated so compelling. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, has a great story, and is just generally really fun.
- The theme of this book is that the players are part of a corporation and are trying to move up through the ranks while being sent on dangerous assignments. This is a refreshing breath of air and works extremely well as a plot device.
- There are plenty of well-written, interesting NPCs, opportunities for downtime activities, and side quests.
- While this is a “themed” product, the concept and world are really easy for players and DMs to grasp. No prior knowledge about Acquisitions Incorporated is needed to run this adventure.
- Episode 1 takes players through a dungeon that is packed to the point of becoming a slog. This chapter has eleven combat encounters and a good amount of traps/puzzles. While the encounters and puzzles are well-designed, this chapter tends to drag on.
- Episode 2 re-uses a set piece from Lost Mine of Phandelver. If you have played this adventure previously with the group you are running this adventure with, you may need to adjust aspects of this chapter to avoid replaying the same mission.
- Something that caught me off-guard was the lack of “complete” maps. In this module, if only 4 rooms of a particular building are important, they will only show the 4 rooms.
Ghosts of Saltmarsh
Similar to Tales of the Yawning Portal, Ghosts of Saltmarsh isn’t exactly an Adventure, but instead a collection of adventures from earlier editions of D&D that have been modified for the 5th Edition. Ghosts of Saltmarsh also contains a ton of really helpful information around using Saltmarsh as a campaign location, as well as rules for ships and sea travel, deck plans for various vessels, and an appendix with rules for new and classic monsters.
- The first chapters 2, 3, and 6 flow into one another and provide a coherent story. When they are combined with the detailed information for the town of Saltmarsh and the surrounding area, it forms a sort of “mini adventure” for an adventuring party starting at the 1st-level (though they will need side missions to level up between Danger at Dunwater and The Final Enemy).
- The adventures in this book are all proven classics, adapted from earlier editions of D&D.
- The adventures and nautical mechanics are very easy to fit into other long-term campaigns, so even if you aren’t planning on running an entire campaign around Saltmarsh the book can be very useful.
- The book comes with some pretty good advice and ideas on how you can flesh out the story and give it an overarching narrative, but doing so will require a good amount on the DM’s end.
- If you go purely by what is written in the adventures then the book becomes nothing more than a series of loosely connected side quests.
- Some adventures (namely The Final Enemy) have a pretty weak finale.
- The RAW (rules as written) for nautical combat leave a lot to be imagined.
Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage
Dungeon of the Mad Mage picks up where Waterdeep Dragon Heist drops off. The two adventures do not share a whole lot of plot, Dungeon of the Mad Mage is more of a setting extension that starts off in Waterdeep, but mainly takes place in the mega-dungeon of Undermountain. When we say “mega-dungeon” we mean the mega.
This sourcebook is very little other than a 23 level dungeon meant to put the limits of players to the test as they try to make a name for themselves and delve deeper than any adventurer has gone before.
- Dungeon of the Mad Mage is a set of 23 dungeons that interlink, each one is like a different world/experience so lots of interesting stuff to see and explore.
- While it is mainly a dungeon crawl, there are certainly a few hooks to draw players at least a couple of levels deep.
- If you are continuing on from Waterdeep Dragon Heist your players may have a lot of acquaintances built up in Waterdeep which are not involved in this campaign at all.
- At the end of the day, there is no real reason for the characters to be in the dungeon. If you are open to homebrewing an underlying story then Dungeon of the Mad Mage provides a solid framework of encounters. If you are hoping for a compelling story out of the box, Dungeon of the Mad Mage isn’t for you.
Waterdeep Dragon Heist
Waterdeep Dragon Heist, similarly to the Lost Mine of Phandelver, is a shortened campaign running characters from level 1 to level 5. This Adventure takes place entirely in the city of Waterdeep, one of D&D’s most recognizable locations. Wizards of the Coast calls Waterdeep “a sprawling melting pot held together by firm laws and swift justice”, which really holds true after reading the 256 page book devoted to fleshing the city out.
Waterdeep Dragon Heist’s title may be a bit misleading, as most people who see the title think that this Adventure would involve a heist. Some may be disappointed to learn that the heist actually happened close to 5 years prior and the players do a lot more investigating than heisting.
One of Waterdeep Dragon Heist’’s unique features is that there are 4 villains that DMs can choose to be the “main villain” of the story, while the other 3 take more of a backseat role.
- Waterdeep Dragon Heist has a number of interesting NPCs and good locations set out in the city of Waterdeep.
- It also has an intriguing premise, with the 4 different villains who can all impact the story in different ways.
- One of my biggest gripes with Waterdeep Dragon Heist is the fact that it devoted 60 pages of the book to describing each of the villains lairs in detail only to not take the players there at all.
- The whole 4 villain premise may have a semblance of replayability, but in truth, most of the Adventure isn’t affected by the villian that was chosen.
Tales of the Yawning Portal
Tales of the Yawning Portal isn’t exactly an Adventure, but considering its contents, it was included in this article. This book contains the framework of seven dungeons:
- The Sunless Citadel (Levels 1-3)
- The Forge of Fury (Levels 3-5)
- The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (Levels 5-7)
- White Plume Mountain (Level 8)
- Dead in Thay (Levels 9-11)
- Against the Giants (Levels 11-13)
- Tomb of Horrors (High Level)
These dungeons have all appeared in previously published D&D literature, so what Tales of the Yawning Portal has done is bring their mechanics into 5e and freshened up their concepts a bit.
All of the dungeons are very unique, ranging from a hack and slash murder fest in The Forge of Fury to a DM vs player type dungeon in Tomb of Horrors.
- The dungeons described in this book are very well created and are versatile enough to stick into any campaign or string them all together with a homebrewed story
- Honestly, this book does not have many cons. Tales of the Yawning Portal is a must-have supplementary resource for running some fun, engaging, and drastically different dungeons.
Storm King’s Thunder
Storm King’s Thunder takes the players back to the Sword Coast region of the Forgotten Realms. The players are confronted with a staggeringly large world that is being torn apart by a giant civil war. Players are tasked to choose a side, make alliances with the giants, and eventually restore order before the entire region is crushed underfoot by the rampaging giants.
While we have taken a look at some other sandboxes so far in this article, none of them are quite as generous with their size or scale. Storm King’s Thunder covers the entirety of the Sword Coast region and includes information and hooks for 164 individual locations.
- Great balance of roleplay, exploration, and combat encounters.
- Awesomely open-ended world.
- The Giant Strongholds are extremely well built.
- Storm King’s Thunder works by simply providing locations and events that occur at these locations. It is very much up to the DM to link the locations together.
- The beginning of the Adventure doesn’t really include any good reasons for your players to be hooked into this Adventure.
- Giants are tricky to run combat encounters with. They have low action economy but could easily one-shot a player under level 6.
Tomb of Annihilation
Tomb of Annihilation is another departure from a typical high fantasy DnD setting. Mike Mearls, D&D’s lead designer, mentioned that the Tomb of Annilhation’s vibe was “Indiana Jones meets zombies”. This rings very true as the majority of the Adventure takes place in a deadly jungle surrounded by deadly fauna, dinosaurs, and ancient temples.
The Tomb of Annihilation module begins when it is discovered that a death curse has been placed on the land. The death curse causes the bodies of people that have been raised from the dead to slowly deteriorate. The party is pointed to the jungle peninsula of Chult as the source of the curse. Our adventurers are tasked with stopping the death curse by traveling into the jungle in order to find the cause of the evil magic.
- The creatures (aside from the undead) are alien enough to most adventures that they should regularly encounter new things, and some pretty cool stuff like unicorn bunnies, zombie T-Rexes, and killer jungle plants.
- Many things can happen due to the randomness of the encounters in the jungle. This allows for awesome replayability.
- Tomb of Annihilation is pretty dependant on the party to make their own fun once they have wound up in the jungle. If you’ve got an immersive party that’s into roleplay and playing it up a bit, it’ll be fine, but otherwise traveling around a hex grid will be tedious and boring.
- The final temple in Tomb of Annihilation has some pretty ruthless traps that can instakill players. I would recommend removing them or at least scaling them down a bit.
Curse of Strahd
Curse of Strahd is an ode to the classic standalone Adventure Ravenloft (1983) and certainly hits the mark. While not a traditional, Tolkien-esque D&D experience, Curse of Strahd features an awesome villain, a unique setting that provides great adventuring threads, and solid explorability.
Curse of Strahd takes place in the cursed demi-plane of Barovia where players are trapped until they finish the story. The landscape features many interesting places to explore and (potentially) finishes off with the iconic Ravenloft Castle. The whole module has a gothic horror feel and, thanks to the in-depth description of locations, NPCs, and monsters, creates an awesomely creepy atmosphere.
The Adventure centers around the most famous villain in D&D history, Count Strahd von Zarovich. In this tale, Strahd is a powerful vampire, a master necromancer, a skilled warrior, and the unquestioned ruler of the domain of Barovia.
- There are frequent hooks to direct players from one area to another or send adventures to key locations, which makes this a well-designed sandbox as it doesn’t rely on the players to just get curious or abandon plot hooks to see the most interesting locations.
- Unlike prior sandbox adventures, Curse of Strahd is fairly contained. The lands of Barovia only feature a couple of well built out locations so it is not overwhelming for DMs to prep or players to choose between locations.
- The story doesn’t allow for exploration outside of the small area provided for you to play in.
- The plot hooks in the first act are fairly weak. Extra DMing will be required to get your party invested in the campaign in the early stages.
- Most of the encounters with Strahd are left to the DMs discretion. This takes a solid understanding of how Strahd is supposed to be played. Without this, Strahd can come off as a lackluster character.
Out of the Abyss
Out of the Abyss follows the players as they escape a Drow prison, make their way out of the Underdark, spend some time on the surface, and finally head back into the Underdark to defeat some demon lords.
Out of the Abyss is truly all about the Underdark, providing amazing settings and inspiration that can be retained and reused in later campaigns. You get introduced to all of the main movers and shakers of the Underdark (Drows, Duergar, and other subterranean races), and the sandbox-like structure is accompanied with solid direction based on the NPCs the player interact with.
- The first half of the campaign where players are interacting with the prisoner NPCs and trying to survive in the Underdark is very fun and engaging.
- The final battle is a refreshing departure from your typical BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) encounter.
- This Adventure can essentially serve as a guide book on how to run the Underdark. If you are going to feature the Underdark in any of your campaigns I would recommend reading through this book to look at descriptions of different creatures and places you could use in your encounters.
- The large number of NPCs can be hard to DM and can significantly slow down encounters.
- The second half of the book (after the party escapes the Underdark) is essentially one long fetch quest that can get tedious.
- The second half of the book tends to provide your party with easy encounters that will need to be buffed if you want your players to face a challenge.
Princes of the Apocalypse
Princes of the Apocalypse is an Adventure that has love for one thing and one thing only: dungeon crawling.
This module consists of 13 dungeons. Of these, 3 are devoted to each of the elements (fire, earth, air, water) and 1 is a neutral dungeon. The reason players are crawling through these dungeons is to rescue a delegation from the clutches of 4 crazy cults, each devoted to the 4 elements.
- There are some really cool, unique dungeon designs and encounters.
- The delegation plot hook is super weak. Players should be told ahead of time to expect to play the typical “hero” who is willing to crawl through 13 dungeons for the good of the realm.
- The dungeons do get monotonous after a while but tend to freshen up a bit towards the end.
- The dungeon’s locations don’t really make sense. To read about fixing this check out Power Score’s guide.
- The 4 prophets aren’t great villains as they are written.
Lost Mine of Phandelver
Lost Mine of Phandelver is included in the D&D Starter Set and is probably the most well-received 5e Adventure to date. The moduleice is intended to serve as a basic introduction to tabletop D&D. It contains a set of basic rules, an adventure, several pre-made character sheets, and a set of dice.
The Adventure takes place in a fairly small, unspecified geographic area, and the story is split into 4 chapters. Lost Mine of Phandelver is a typical high fantasy setting and starts your party on the road as you get ambushed by a group of Goblins. The story continues around the area, visiting a goblin cave and a nearby city, and ends with an awesome final boss fight in Wave Echo Cave.
- Lost Mine of Phandelver is a great start to any DnD campaign. It is meant to serve as a jumping-off point for DMs to either start their own adventure after or jump into another module that starts at level 5 such as Storm King’s Thunder.
- The module features well-crafted combat scenarios, a dungeon crawl or two, and a town that’s understandable, which all serve as awesome tools to get your party accustomed to the world of DnD.
- An added bonus of the D&D Starter Set is it comes with five Ready-to-Play Characters, Six dice sets, and an introductory D&D Rulebook (note: the Introductory Rulebook is not the same as the Player’s Handbook or the Dungeon Master’s Guide).
- The first part of the Lost Mine of Phandelver can be pretty deadly for level 1 players. Consider leveling your party to level 2 before the initial Goblin encounter.
- The villain is not great. However, it can be taken advantage of if you sell that he’s more of a henchman of a bigger evil when it’s over and the party can ride off to the bigger adventure after.
Tyranny of Dragons: Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Tyranny of Dragons: Rise of Tiamat
Pages: 96 pages (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) and 96 pages (Rise of Tiamat)
Published: Aug. 19 2014 (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) and Nov. 4 2014 (Rise of Tiamat)
Levels: 1 – 8 (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) and 8 – 15 (Rise of Tiamat)
DM Difficulty: Hard
Player Difficulty: Hard
Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat
were the first two published adventures for D&D 5e. Together they make up the Tyranny of Dragons Story Arc.
The Tyranny of Dragons Story Arc takes players through the Sword Coast region of the Forgotten Realms as they attempt to stop a cult of Dragon-Worshippers from bringing Tiamat, the goddess of chromatic dragons, to the material plane.
Being the first two written D&D 5e Adventures definitely shows for two reasons:
First, the actual book style is different from the rest of the Adventures. These two Adventures are printed on heavy stock, non-gloss paper instead of the glossy paper seen in later printed Adventures.
Second, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat were written before the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual was finalized. This has caused some issues with the Adventures, mainly the fact that some encounters are particularly unbalanced.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat are not what I would consider Sandbox Adventures. Players are directed from one location to another, though they are still tasked with how to handle the situations they find themselves in. Some players may not notice the railroading or may actually like it, but players that want to have more of a hand in the decisions they make will find this frustrating.
- There is a lot of negative talk regarding Hoard of the Dragon Queen specifically, but most of the criticism is followed up with “the story has good bones”. I tend to agree with this and Power Score has an awesome article on how to modify Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat to be better experienced.
- These Adventures were built before rules and monsters were finalized, which causes some encounters to be extremely deadly for players.
- Hoard of the Dragon Queen is known to be very railroady, specifically the Caravan section.
Hope you liked the article! If you have any questions or feel we’ve missed anything go ahead and post a comment below. If you like our content subscribe to Arcane Eye!