Launched back in 2014, the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons has been an absolute blast for old and new players alike. If your party has just wrapped another multi-month campaign and you’re all hungry for a new module to run, we’d like to turn your attention to some of our favourite Dungeons & Dragons adventures.
And if you’ve never played D&D before, there’s never been a better time to get into it. If you want to know what essentials you need before diving into your first adventure, you can find Kotaku Australia’s beginners guide to Dungeons & Dragons here.
So put on your robe and wizard hat, because these are our picks for the best Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules.
This article has been updated since its original publication.
Best D&D adventures for first-time players
The Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set or Essentials Kit
The D&D 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 that these D&D adventures come in may seem thin, but you’d be surprised by how much there is to do in both of them. A couple of us here at Kotaku Australia HAVE run Phandelver a few times, both as players and the DM, and we’ve enjoyed it every playthrough. 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, but you also get some dice and pre-rolled character sheets. If you’re stuck on which one to choose, we 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.
Best one-shot D&D adventure collections
Tales from the Yawning Portal or Candlekeep Mysteries
Regardless of which book you pick up, Candlekeep Mysteries and Tales from the Yawning Portal are great if your players want to run a smaller adventure in between big campaigns or some fun one-offs with new characters.
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.
The biggest draw of Yawning Portal is the inclusion of Tomb of Horrors, one of D&D‘s most iconic modules. Conceived by Gary Gygax, the co-creator of D&D, Tomb of Horrors is an absolute nightmare of a dungeon, overflowing with 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 we know this doesn’t sound all that appealing, but trust us, Tomb of Horrors is something every D&D player needs to experience at least once.
Similar to Yawning Portal, Candlekeep Mysteries includes 17 adventures, spanning from level one up to level 16. These adventures are all themed around some form of clever mystery and are short enough that you can easily finish them in one or two sessions. If you’re a creative DM, you easily build on these short quests to make them something bigger.
These D&D adventures also let you introduce players to monsters that they’ve never faced before, instead of the usual suspects of goblins, dragons and oozes. When was the last time you fought a Mummy lord or a Medusa?
Best long D&D adventures
Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus
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 suspended above the 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 we 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.
Curse of Strahd
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.
Strahd is a great villain, and the DM is actively encouraged to make him a constant threat that is constantly stalking the party. Did they just finish 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.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
Set in the icy tundra of Icewind Dale, Rime of the Frostmaiden is an absolute must-play D&D module. The adventuring party is tasked with stopping the mysterious Frostmaiden from discovering a forbidden ancient power, while traversing the frigid region and facing a lot of exciting monsters that are unique to the setting, like were-polar bears and gnome ceremorphs.
If you’re someone who loves horror as a genre, this D&D adventure oozes atmospheric dread. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it draws huge inspiration from sources like John Carpenter’s The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Alien and H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness.
The first half of the adventure is a bit more open-world, encouraging the players to explore Ten Towns and build a reputation for their party, with the back half being more linear in its progression. There’s a fair heft to this D&D module, so don’t expect a short play-through – it’ll take characters from level one all the way to level 12.
Out of the Abyss
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 an adventure worth visiting for the open-world Underdark setting, a longtime staple of Dungeons & Dragons. 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 that will help gauge how firm each player’s grip on reality is – because it turns out that facing down colossal demon lords will drive you insane.
Tomb of Annihilation
If we had to pick an absolute favourite 5th edition D&D module, 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 are 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 and Tomb can feel a bit punishing at times. However, it’s never the type of punishment 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
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 (although an upcoming collection of adventures will scratch that itch). 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 adventure for you. Waterdeep is a gigantic city that is split into different wards, which each have its own vibe. There’s a staggering amount of NPCs that the party can interact with, which leads to a lot of consequential choices being made. whether you intended it or not.
Dragon Heist‘s approach to gameplay reminds us 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.
If you’d prefer to play D&D online, all of these adventures are also available digitally via Roll20.
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