The aim of this post is to share my opinion on the best adventure modules you can buy for D&D 5th Edition, straight from the official canon of material. There are countless adventures contained in physical books and PDFs, written by stupendous authors, so I’ve had to limit the scope of these ‘top D&D adventure modules’ to books published solely by Dungeons and Dragons owner, Wizards of the Coast.
While this article contains many of the official D&D supplement books, it does not contain all of them. I will also continue to add to it as WotC produce more and more modules. This list is from my experience and is purely subjective.
The adventure modules listed below are roughly ordered from easiest –> hardest to DM – however don’t let that put you off any adventure titles here.
TL>DR – I think the greatest official D&D adventure modules are:
- Lost Mines of Phandelver
- Dragon of Icespire Peak
- Waterdeep Dragon Heist
- Curse of Strahd
- Storm King’s Thunder
Out now! Released Q4 2021: The Wild Beyond the Witchlight
On my hot list: Candlelight Mysteries
Lost Mines of Phandelver
I believe this to be the quintessential starting-point for D&D adventures, especially for new DM and novice players. There are some great NPCs, lot of good encounters and plenty of plot-hooks that can be easily used or dropped by the DM. What’s more, you get this greatest adventure in the D&D Starter Set, with some adventuring dice and an introductory rulebook. All for approximately £15/$20 – making this one of the best adventures you can currently buy for 5th Ed D&D.
Does that mean Lost Mines of Phandelver is only for new DMs/Players? Most certainly not.
In fact one downside of LMoP is that there are ALOT of plot-hooks and several narrative paths, something new DMs may find overwhelming. More experienced dungeon masters can intertwine these hooks and paths to form more complex adventures. On top of that, as with most published adventure, there are plenty of ways to ramp up the difficult of encounters if your players aren’t so green behind the ears.
If you’ve not run many D&D adventures before in 5th Edition, I can recommend SlyFlourish’s guide to running the Lost Mines of Phandelver. I echo a comment he makes in his blog: “Level 1 is brutal in the fifth edition of D&D. You may want to get your characters to second level as soon as you can, even as early as the middle of the Cragmaw Hideout”.
Year of Publication: 2014 (and still going strong!)
Adventure Setting: Sword Coast, Dwarves, Mountain Dungeons, Dragons, Derelict Locations
Character Level: Starting at level 1 (pre-gen sheets supplied) up to level 5
Side note; I actually sketched up Cragmaw Hideout as it would have looked before it fell into ruin.
D&D Essentials Kit: Dragon of Icespire Peak
So you’ve DM’d the Lost Mines adventure and your enjoying the lovely town of Phandalin the PCs have made a home in. Now you’re looking to sink your teeth into the next adventuring step but what do you choose? I would suggest the Dragon of Icespire Peak, featured in the D&D essentials kit.
I’d also heavily recommended this adventure module even if you skipped over the Lost Mines of Phandelver.
DoIP is once again set on the Sword Coast, with the players arriving at Phandalin. The local area is undergoing some pretty series upheaval after a white dragon, Cryovain, takes over the nearby mountain peak, Icespire. This has serious ramification for nearby creatures and NPCs.
Adventurers can visit the central Phandalin job board, where they’re able to pickup their next juicy quest. Doing so helps level their characters up, quickly at first and then slower as the campaign progresses. The adventure book handles this in a straight-forward manner by combining the job-board with milestone leveling. As they complete quests, and as the world continues to turn around them, the job board gets updated.
Similar to the D&D Starter Set, the Essentials Kit includes extra goodies, including more dice (11 this time), beautiful maps, item and initiative cards, companion characters, and rules for D&D. If you want a good unboxing view of what’s inside the D&D Essentials Kit, I can recommend Elle Osili-Wood’s YouTube video on it.
One super nice feature included in the D&D essentials kit is the Adventurers Sidekick! This relatively simple mechanic allows solo-play (1 DM and 1 player). Finally WotC have realised we can’t all get 6 players around the table every games night.
You can also continue your experience after DoIP concludes, with 3 additional adventures on D&D Beyond (free too, I believe).
Year of Publication: 2019
Adventure Setting: Sword Coast, Dragon
Character Level: Level 1 up to level 6. (Pre-generated characters are once again supplied)
One thing I would have liked in this essentials adventuring kit, is some sort of character ‘bridge’ to bring level-5 characters over from Lost Mines of Phandelver. Phandalin is obviously central to both adventure books, its just a shame you’ll need new low-level characters to experience the encounters as written. (I fully understand that DoIP can’t paradoxically be both ‘for-beginners’ and ‘for-level-5’ characters)
Jake from JNJ Tabletop put together a nice little summary of Dragon of Icespire Peak here (contains spoilers), while a new DM has posted this great question on RPG Stack Exchange [How To] Prepare for so many quests…
If this module wets-your-whistle (what does that even mean?!) , check out ShackNews’ full review and unboxing of the module.
Waterdeep Dragon Heist
WDH, first published in 2018, takes place in the sprawling urban environment of Waterdeep. This D&D modules see’s the adventuring party travel through and beneath the bustling streets in order to track down and acquire a huge (and maybe mythical) haul of gold.
This is quite an unusual adventure compared to the other modules, in as far to say your D&D adventuring party decides fairly early on which one of the shady city factions to solely work for… essentially limiting your adventure to 30-40% of the book.
Now at this point I want to point out a few things:
First off, the name ‘Dragon Heist’ refers to ‘dragons’ as a D&D colloquial terms for ‘gold pieces’, not the fire-breathing winged beast. Also, the adventure plays out more as a treasure-hunt than a Oceans Eleven style heist. Alas Waterdeep Gold Hunt doesn’t sound as cool.
Secondly, regardless of what faction the players pick, the encounters and adventures you do end up on will be top-notch. The writing, maps and encounters that will come up are great. Infact the very talented Chris Perkins was the lead designer on this project, as well as the Curse of Strahd module (below).
Thirdly, because of the 8 or say factions and 4 final bosses to choose from, the re-play-ability is significantly higher than say The Essentials Kit mentioned previously. So you DM’d Dragon Heist and your players picked the Harpers faction to battle the Cassalanters … well next time perhaps the Harpers have been dissolved and Xanathar the Beholder is pulling the strings.
Year of Publication: 2018
Adventure Setting: Sword Coast, Secret Organisations and Factions, Society Class Systems
Character Level: Level 1 up to level 5
If you’ve completed Waterdeep Dragon Heist and loved it – why not try out the follow up adventure module – Waterdeep Dungeon of the Mad Mage (~£30). The Dungeon of the Mad Mage adventure module continues your level 5 party up to level 20!
Curse of Strahd
This adventure has probably the greatest of all reputations in the D&D world – and must be one of Wizard’s most popular RPG products. It’s hard to go a day in the Twitter-D&D community without hearing about Strahd; whether that’s someones first-hand experience, cosplay ideas or gorgeous gothic themed hand-built props. There’s something about the quality of writing, the dark horror-like theme and the central villain that just makes this adventure truly amazing.
If you were playing D&D in the 80s, you may have come across the source material for the Curse of Strahd – the Ravenloft AD&D module.
Why does the Strahd adventure not get listed first? Well it easily could, but I think to really get the best out of this epic experience, it helps to run it with a few previous adventures under your belt.
It is also one of the most brutal adventure books that Wizards have produced. There are so many novel monsters that can crush an adventuring party, its helpful if an experienced dungeon master is at the helm.
The whole experience of the Curse of Strahd hinges on the DM’s constant portrayal of the charismatic and very-present dark devil, Count Strahd von Zarovich. If an inexperienced DM was to take on this mantle, it may work, but I wouldn’t rush it.
At over 250 pages of possibly the highest quality Wizards content, every worthy DM should make sure their shelves contain this tome.
Year of Publication: 2016
Adventure Setting: Barovia, Gothic Horror, Vampires, Devils
Character Level: Level 1 up to level 10
Storm King’s Thunder
While the Icespire Peak adventure saw a single dragon upon a mountain, and Strahd focused on a lone vampire Lord in a gothic castle – Storm King’s Thunder see’s countless giants crashing down, invading and tearing Faerun apart. The only way the little-people have a chance of success is if the populace bands together and the adventuring parties fight valiantly and explore bravely.
Speaking of exploring – it may also be useful to know why the old Storm King, the previous purveyor of peace with the giants, has gone missing.
While many other adventure modules start the level 1 characters off in a safe town (Phandalin) or city (Waterdeep), this module throws the players into a burning town, razed to the ground. Oh yeah it’s also infested with goblins.
SKT has probably the most variety when it comes to encounters. I simply love the fact that while there is some overlap, the majority of the encounters feel fresh, exciting and beg you to throw the PCs into.
Year of Publication: 2016
Adventure Setting: Sword Coast (again!), Giants, Giants and more Giants
Character Level: Level 1 up to level 11
Hold the press! New D&D adventure out in 2021!
New WotC publication
coming Q4 2021 is now on sale! Wizards currently have their next publication, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, slated for release at the end of 2021. This adventure, set in the DM’s world of choice, takes players from level 1 to 8, which is quite the journey! It adds two new races, the Feywild and humanoid rabbits – yes you read that right!
One quality I really like about this adventure publication already, is that the authors have said that *all* encounters will have a non-combat option specified in the book. This is quite a paradigm shift which I think will be really neat. Yes I believe most encounter I run will still lead to combat (personal preference), but having a ‘author-approved’ non-combat option will definitely make me as a DM lean harder into a peaceful / non-aggressive approach.
Will this neat little twist be the start of a new route that WotC are taking? We shall see.
Like the colourful map at the very top of this article – that’s the official WotC map for this campaign setting. Gorgeous to be a piece of art in itself. View it larger, here.
DMs and players alike can expect a magical, Fey-focused kaleidoscope of carnival-colour. I can’t wait to get this supplement, it’s likely to be highly sought after this Christmas.
Next Purchase – Candlekeep Mysteries
This is one of the D&D adventure book I don’t yet own, but am very tempted to pickup as soon as possible. Unlike the other adventure books by Wizard mentioned above, this is an anthology of seventeen mystery-themed adventures. The quests are suitable for characters level 1 – 16.
The library fortress of Candlekeep is the central location where all these mysteries begin. To gain entry to the formidable empire of dusty tomes, simply bring them a book they have never set eyes on before.
Each one of the stand-alone 17 adventurers begins with the players finding a certain book in the library. This book then unlocks the start of their new adventure quest. What is also cool, is that each adventure is written by a different author. How funky is that.
Year of Publication: 2021
Adventure Setting: TBC
Character Level: Level 1 – 16
It all sounds intriguing to me! While I can’t hype this up much at the moment, its been well received by the general Internet world. Chris Perkin’s introduces the book in his YouTube video:
Side note on Pre-generated Characters
I was going to say that this goes without saying, but I stopped myself because I’m not sure it is. Anyway, I want to stress that although more adventures come with pre-generated characters (i.e. D&D Essentials and Starter Sets), please don’t use them if you can.
Take the time to learn how to make characters and guide your new players through the process. They will have so much more emotional attachment to their characters if they have invested time at the start to generate them themselves.
I’ve put together an article on what questions you should ask new players, to help them develop better characters for fantasy RPGs.
That’s not to say the pre-gens are bad – they are fab for time-sensitive games or getting fringe-players an easier way in. For conventions and taster sessions, pre-gens are great.
I just want to say that an adventure doesn’t need the pre-gens. There are plenty of fab web articles and YouTube videos out there to help you understand character generation in 5th Ed. Some resources include:
- My own article on what four BIG questions to ask new players,
- WASD20’s video on D&D Character Creation,
- Taking20’s video on questions for new players,
Think you’re finished? Oh dear
Now that you’ve got your next D&D adventure sorted – do you have all the right miniatures to throw down against your players? You know your players will look at you in pure disdain if you put down another bottle-cap goblin or paper-printed dragon!
Take a look at my most popular article on this blog:
You may also want to check out the list of official Dungeons and Dragon adventure modules listed on Wikipedia