Tabletop RPGs can be a wonderful and imaginative way to create unforgettable memories with friends. Everyone involved helps to create an adventure together and that process can be some of the most fun games have to offer. However, sometimes it can be hard to know where to start if you are a new Dungeon Master, the player tasked with shaping and running the game. Even experienced DMs can find themselves at a loss on how to spice up their existing campaigns or where to turn for inspiration for new ones.
The good news is that Wizards of the Coast has been putting together fantastic adventure modules for decades and there are some great ones out there that either use the current game system, 5th edition, or can be easily adapted to it. We’ve gathered together some of the greatest modules to use as a spur for your creativity whether you are just starting out or are a veteran looking for some fresh ideas.
Keep on the Shadowfell
I’ll come right out and say it: Keep on the Shadowfell is one of the best introductory adventures for Dungeons & Dragons. It has everything players and DMs could ask for. It was designed to be a flexible module that introduces new players to the town of Winterhaven. The small village houses a number of colorful characters, some of whom have mysterious motivations. More importantly, Winterhaven has problems with the local kobold population and a mysterious, dark power that has arisen in the ruined chambers of the long-abandoned Shadowfell Keep.
A lot of thought went into Winterhaven. It has unique supporting characters that make the town come alive, some with little to nothing to do with the adventure itself. They provide the town with a sense of life and vigor that can sometimes be missing from adventuring towns. Even if you are a veteran role-player, there’s a lot that can be learned from how the town has been crafted and the characters who live there. That same care extends to some of the villains in the adventure who, if played right, can provide some unforgettable moments.
While Winterhaven stands out as a compelling location, the small dungeon of Shadowfell Keep provides a great, easily digested dungeon delving experience for players while giving DMs enough pieces to keep things spicy. Players who want to improvise and explore the relationship between the townsfolk and the various factions both in and around the town will find that there are plenty of intriguing relationships that can be made into fun diversions. By the time the adventure concludes, if everything goes well, players might want to use Winterhaven as a base of operations while adventuring into the wilderness. Keep on the Shadowfell provides plenty of potential plot threads that could link to other modules or awesome homebrew content.
The main downside of Keep on the Shadowfell is that it exists as a 4th edition D&D adventure. That means DMs will have to do some work if they want to directly adapt the adventure to their campaign. However, it serves as a great template for designing future towns and introductory campaigns of your own. It actually served as the basis of the Verne, the town central to the plot of the Dragonguard that only just concluded. It’ll take a bit of work to get it up and running, but Keep on the Shadowfell is an absolute must if you are looking for direction on how to begin a D&D campaign right.
Tomb of Annihilation
A fantastic, self-contained adventure, Tomb of Annihilation is one of the special adventures made for 5th edition that can be rolled into most campaigns with ease or serve as the setting for an entire campaign in its own right. The adventure serves as an excellent excuse to get players out of the comfortable environments of traditional fantasy and into tropical settings filled with dinosaurs and a need to track resources for survival.
Experience stands out as one of the big downsides to Tomb of Annihilation. DMs looking to run a campaign with it should probably have a few adventures under their belts before trying it out. The book provides so much information that newer players might find it to be daunting to run.
For the experienced or bold newbie, Tomb of Annihilation makes for a really cool trek into the unknown. Magic cities, devilish curses, zombie dinosaurs, and more hide in the forests and remote reaches of Chult, the island nation where the campaign takes place. Compared to Keep on the Shadowfell, Tomb of Annihilation is massive, designed to take players from level 1 to level 11. The adventure allows for higher level characters to be rolled into it, giving it a degree of versatility for DMs looking to roll less vulnerable characters into the action.
The other big downside to Tomb of Annihilation lies in its central hook. Something on Chult has disrupted the effectiveness of resurrection magic and the players have been hired to uncover and put a stop to whatever might be causing the problem. This means that players who die will have to create new characters, something that can be off-putting to players who aren’t prepared for perma death in Dungeons & Dragons.
Tomb of Annihilation contains many intriguing scenarios that a DM attempting to homebrew will find interesting and helpful. If everyone is on the same page and down for a campaign where lethality and danger take center stage, Tomb of Annihilation presents a fantastic change of pace and a unique opportunity that can’t be found anywhere else in 5th edition.
Ravenloft has a long history in Dungeons & Dragons. The setting first appeared in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons back in 1983 in an adventure simply titled Ravenloft. It gained popularity for its emphasis on a creepy, horror-focused atmosphere. This stood in stark contrast of the traditional fantasy D&D had offered players up until that point.
Beginning in 2nd Edition, Ravenloft became a full campaign setting, full of factions and unnatural powers. The setting draws heavily from Gothic horror, drawing players into a pocket dimension full of macabre domains ruled by cruel and twisted overlords. These rulers have all been trapped in the realm by strange and inscrutable wills known only as The Dark Powers that use the drama and pain inflicted on the unfortunate souls for their own unknowable purposes.
Over the decades many adventures have released set within Ravenloft. In fact, one of the most popular adventure modules Wizards of the Coast have released for 5th edition is Curse of Strahd, which make use of the Ravenloft setting. This means that a lot of people who have played through Curse of Strahd might be thirsting after some more horror-oriented content.
Enter Death Ascendant. The adventure originally released in 1996 as a module for 2nd edition D&D. The adventure kicks off with the players in pursuit of a band of assassins from an organization called Ebon Fold. The dastardly villains have been slaughtering everyone in their path, leaving strange, desiccated husks in their wake. The party happens upon a lone survivor gifted with the ability to see glimpses of the future. The path takes players to the city of Nartok where several secretive organizations have made a play for power at the expense of the people living under their influences. Players have to uncover the secrets of the city and figure out how to put a stop to the mysterious machinations of the city’s three major factions.
By simply adding a plot hook at the end of Curse of Strahd, players could find themselves embroiled in another fantastic Ravenloft adventure. Unfortunately, players looking to do that will have to put in a not insignificant amount of work. Converting from 4th edition like for Keep on the Shadowfell doesn’t stand out as a particularly cumbersome challenge. However, the deep combat system and complicated rules mean that DMs might struggle to find equivalent stat blocks for enemies. The result is that a shoddy attempt to convert Death Ascendant could result in incredibly unbalanced encounters, making it either too difficult or too easy.
Despite the difficulty, the Yojimbo-like scenario with multiple factions, vile magic, and hidden secrets could prove to be an amazing inspiration for a homebrew adventure. Since it’s an older adventure, PDC copies are available online for about $5 USD with soft cover books going for $10.
The Tortle Package
At first blush, The Tortle Package seems like it was designed as a supplement for Tomb of Annihilation. It offers a lot in a relatively concise bundle for players either looking to start out a campaign in a remote and uncharted area or for people who want to take a short break from their main campaign. Not only that, but it introduces tortles to D&D 5e.
If you aren’t familiar with tortles, they are basically humanoid turtle people. Think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They’re fantastic and offer some fantastic roleplaying opportunities for players who have been everything else in-game up until this point.
The Tortle Package isn’t really an adventure per say. Instead, it’s better to think of it as an adventure tool kit. It includes a lot of information about a region called The Snout of Omgar as well as a dungeon called Dangwaru, the Typhoon Palace. On top of that, there’s a great small village and many points of interest for curious players to explore. All of the pieces are provided for players to make a fantastic adventure of their own in The Snout of Omgar.
In addition to being an affordable and fun addition to almost any campaign, sales of The Tortle Package also support Extra Life! Wizards of the Coast has generously created a series of modules over the years as special promotional materials for their Extra Life fundraising efforts. For giving players the ability to run around as literal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while also helping real world kids, The Tortle Package gets a big ol’ stamp of approval.
What are some of your favorite modules you use to inject some excitement into a campaign? Let us know in the comments!
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!