I cannot understate how much I love 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. Of all of the tabletop RPGs that I’ve played it has been a constant in my gaming life since it launched in 2014. A gold standard of what I personally want and enjoy in role-playing games. Especially after the slog that was 4th edition. All in all, it’s a very, very good time to be a D&D fan.
I’ve been constantly surprised by how consistently good to great the book adventures have been. If you’re looking to start playing or are just hungry for a new module to run, turn your attention to these D&D campaigns. Just crack open one of these books and almost everything you need to run it is in there. The only additional things we’d recommend picking up are a Player’s Handbook, as it contains pretty much everything you need to know to actually play the game, and a Monster Manual, as these adventures don’t list the stats for every monster you will encounter within their pages.
The campaign setting of Ravenloft and the vampire lord, Count Strahd von Zarovich, have been a constant since the very first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Released in 2016, Curse of Strahd is an adaptation of the original Ravenloft adventure. Everything kicks off when the party is unknowingly trapped in Barovia, a cursed land surrounded by an impenetrable wall of fog where everyone lives in a constant state of despair.
If the campaign name and setting haven’t made it obvious, Curse of Strahd is a Gothic horror adventure so there’s a big emphasis on supernatural and undead opponents. Early on the players are given vague clues regarding the location of two magic weapons, a faithful ally and where Strahd’s coffin lays. (All of these are randomly chosen by the DM.) From there, the party is allowed to travel across Barovia, searching for these items, meeting a fun mix of NPCs and then finally confronting Strahd at Castle Ravenloft.
I like Strahd as a villain, as the DM is actively encouraged to make him a constant threat that is constantly stalking party. Did they just finished fighting some werewolves? Then it’s time for Strahd. They just escaped a tomb that almost killed the entire group? Time for Strahd. They just woke up? Oh, you better believe it’s time for Strahd.
If I had to pick an absolute favourite 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure, it would be Tomb of Annihilation.
A death curse is plaguing the Chult, the source of which is located somewhere in the vast Chultan rainforest. The sprawling, sandbox jungle setting that you will absolutely never be able to completely cover, with a good degree of gameplay variance that will appeal to the individual preferences of any party.
There’s also just a lot of wonderfully weird things to encounter within the jungles of Chult. A tribe of yuan-ti trying to unleash a terrible snake god on the world; goblins that build their village on a giant catapult, so they can quickly escape if there’s any trouble; a teleporting dinosaur that can shoot bees out of its mouth.
The chances of your character permanently dying are high (I personally went through three during my play through) and Tomb can feel a bit punishing at times. However, it’s never the type of punishing that makes you wish you were playing a different game. You’ll start as a chunk of coal and emerge a hardened diamond.
Waterdeep Dragon Heist‘s name is a bit misleading as there isn’t an actual heist, per se. Sorry to anyone hoping for a fantasy version of Ocean’s 11. There is a hidden vault holding a great treasure, but you aren’t making meticulous plans to steal it — you’re just trying to beat everyone else there.
If you’re someone who favours more open world gameplay than a straight dungeon crawl or set-story, this is the Dungeons & Dragons campaign for you. Waterdeep is a gigantic city that is split into different wards, which each have their own vibe. There’s a staggering amount of NPCs that the party can interact with, which leads a lot of consequential choices being made,. whether you intended it or not. Dragon Heist‘s approach to gameplay reminds me a lot of Grand Theft Auto. There is a main quest that you can complete, but sometimes you just want to muck around and run missions for the Xanathar’s Thieves’ Guild or try to steal a guard’s griffon mount.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus is an D&D adventure that asks an important question: What if Mad Max: Fury Road was set in Hell?
This campaign is huge, you can easily sink a couple of months into it. The main plot hook is that the city of Elturel has been torn from the Material Plane and is now suspending above River Styx in Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells. It’s a race against the clock to stop the city from collapsing into this infernal realm. It’s also literally hell, so everything sucks. There’s even a Blood War being waged between demons and devils. Did I not mention that this entire campaign is as metal as a Slayer album cover?
The biggest draw of Descent Into Avernus is the inclusion of Infernal War Machines, twisted vehicles that are fuelled by the souls of the damned. At some point, the player party will score the keys to their very own War Machine, which they can take for a casual spin around the hellscape.
Set in the Underdark, a labyrinthine subterranean world, Out of the Abyss starts with the players captured by a group of drow. After escaping, the party adventures through a few key Underdark locations before making it to the surface. And just when everything seems fine, a drow wizard summons all but one of the demon lords into the Underdark. Now you need to stop them from tearing the entire thing apart. Although, you’re more or less trying to stop Godzilla from stomping through Tokyo.
Out of the Abyss is worth visiting for the the open world Underdark setting, a longtime staple of D&D. It introduces a variety of different races and monsters that you wouldn’t usually encounter on surface adventures. There’s also a fun madness mechanic. It will that help gauge how firm each player’s grip on reality is, because facing down colossal demon lords will do that to you.
Tales from the Yawning Portal‘s appeal is that it isn’t one adventure, it’s nine. Yawning Portal is somewhat of a greatest hits album that collects some absolute classic adventures from Dungeons & Dragons‘ long history, remastering them to run with the mechanics of the 5th edition. These adventures are great if your player’s want a smaller adventure, or some fun one-offs with new characters.
The biggest draw of Yawning Portal is the inclusion of Tomb of Horrors, one of D&D‘s most iconic adventures. Conceived by Gary Gygax, the co-creator of D&D, Tomb of Horrors is an absolute nightmare of a dungeon. A constant barrage of insta-kill traps. The challenge isn’t to see how long it takes you to die, but how few times can you die. Even when you reach the final boss he can just teleport you out of the dungeon. Now I know this doesn’t sound all that appealing, but trust me, Tomb of Horrors is something every D&D player needs to experience at least once.
If you’re looking to start playing D&D, both the Starter Set and Essentials Kit are great options to help both players and Dungeon Masters acquaint themselves with the game. You learn by doing, and there’s plenty to do in these kits.
Depending on which you pick up, you’ll get a different adventure: The Lost Mine of Phandelver (Starter) and The Dragon of Icespire Peak (Essentials). The booklets these adventures come in may seem thin, but you’d be surprised by how much there is to do in both of them. I’ve run Phandelver a few times, both as player and DM, and I’ve enjoyed it every play through. If you’re a big fan of The Adventure Zone, the gang ran Phandelver for the podcast’s first arc, Here There Be Gerblins.
Not only do you get a solid starter adventure, you also get some dice and pre-rolled character sheets. If you’re stuck on which one to choose, I’d say go with the Essentials Kit. The campaign is longer, and it comes with a mini-DM screen and extra dice. Those are always handy to have.
If you’re a big Magic: The Gathering fan, I’d recommend picking up the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica. While it is predominately a sourcebook detailing various races, monsters and magical items that you can find in the plane of Ravnica, it also comes with an adventure designed for first level players. It’s good place to jump on with if you’ve been looking to play Dungeons & Dragons for the first time.
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