A Guide to DnD 5e Adventures
What are Adventures?
Adventures typically come in the form of 256 page hardcover books that can be purchased anywhere from $30-$60. Adventures come with a story for the DM to take a number of players (typically 4-6) through. The stories are accompanied by a break down 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 Should I Play?
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 module 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.
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.
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 travelling 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.
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.
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.
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 experiences.
- 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.
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.
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 Scores guide.
- The 4 prophets aren’t great villains as they are written.
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.
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