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(1) Tomb of Horrors. 5+ stars. Gary Gygax, 1978. (2) The Lost City. 5+ stars. Tom Moldvay, 1982.

Levels 10-14. The mother of all killer dungeons is Levels 1-3. A close second on my list, and I could 3) Castle Amber. 5+ stars. Tom Moldvay, 1981.
revered by everyone, even victims who insist almost award it the top slot for being a beginner's Levels 3-6. Another Moldvay treasure, but in this
otherwise. It gave DMs a license to be punishing module. It's hard to come up with top-notch low- one I was the player. The Amber family are a lot
off the scales, and players the okay to be level adventures, but The Lost City is so inspired like a warped version of Tolkien's elves: "The
masochistically thrilled by impossible challenges. that I never resented the fact that the city itself Ambers live magically lengthened lives, but they
Today's gamers accuse it of being ridiculously leaves much for the DM to develop; I bought into have seen too much and are bored. They seek
unfair, and they're right, but they don't realize that's the pyramid so much that the rest flowed without anything to relieve this boredom." Equally amused
an accolade. Multi-layered traps and demonic thinking. The module in many ways epitomizes by the success or deaths of anyone working
snares are in play everywhere, and some of the what the Golden Age of D&D had to offer: pulp against them (for "a good spectacle" is more
rooms have acquired mythic status: The Forsaken fantasy at its purest, depicting an ancient important than victory or defeat), their chaotic
Prison, The Chapel of Evil, The False Crypt, The underground civilization that's been corrupted by a indifference disturbs more than the evil of
Chamber of Hopelessness. I get chills thinking of Cthulhu-like deity monster. The three renegade traditional foes. No other module on this list boasts
them and the disturbing illustrations provided in the factions adhere to the old gods, but they don't like so many colorful and psychotic characters: the
special booklet. No other dungeon has called forth each other, and will use the PCs as pawns in their librarian Charles who buried his sister Madeline
the level of commentary that continues to this day, covert agendas. The revolving passage on the third alive; the soul of Princess Catherine waiting to
ranging from the outraged to the venomous to the tier of the pyramid is a terrific dungeon feature, and possess someone; the evil priest Simon; Madam
heapingly sarcastic (my favorite is the cover parody the personalities of the cult leaders, their costume Camilla who is itching to tell fortunes. Also, no
carrying the label "For Advanced Sadists & attire and masks, are spot on, meshing perfectly other module offers so much with such effortless
Masochists"), but what's interesting is that the only with the decadent culture of the Cynidiceans. The economy. First, there's the castle itself, with two
reason Tomb of Horrors even exists is because influence of Howard's Red Nails is often talked large wings, an indoor forest, and a chapel, and not
players were complaining that the game was about, and the hallucinogenic drug-addicted a room is wasted; second comes a challenging
getting too easy. It's hard to imagine how D&D devotees of Zargon are exactly the sorts Conan dungeon with well planned surprises, ending at a
would have evolved if not for those complaints, but would find himself going against. I'll never forget magical gateway to -; third, the old home of the
there's no question that Gygax is remembered for my friend's reaction when his characters confronted Ambers on an alternate prime material plane
his response to them, this module, more than any the high priest beside the underground lake, and I resembling medieval France, where the players
other. When he died in 2008, it was even had the fanatic cast an earthquake spell. (I think he must acquire four artifacts to return to - ; fourth, the
suggested as a tribute to start a fund for a thought I was as psychotic as the priest.) There is tomb of Stephen Amber himself, where lies the
mausoleum based on the tomb's layout, and I can't endless potential in The Lost City for follow-up means to break the curse of the castle. Moldvay hit
imagine a more appropriate honor. The '90s adventures, and at one point I harbored ambitions a home run like he did with The Lost City, and I
sequel, Return to the Tomb of Horrors, is frankly to develop an entire series out of it. would probably call Castle Amber the most
just as good (and twice as deadly), and may be rewarding D&D adventure I ever experienced as a
considered an honorary tie at first place. The Lost City, 1982 (B4) player.
The third module of Moldvay's "Pulp Fantasy
Tomb of Horrors, 1978 (S1) Trilogy," this one is one is sometimes Castle Amber, 1981 (X2)
overshadowed by its bigger brothers, which is a Part of Tom Moldvay's "Pulp Fantasy Trilogy,"
I wrote at length about this yesterday, so you shame, because it's a terrific evocation of "Red Castle Amber is a favorite of mine.
already know my opinion of this module. It's Nails" and other similar stories.
definitely one of the top 5 adventure modules of all
time and I'd be suspicious of any list that didn't
include it as such.
(4) Vault of the Drow. 5+ stars. Gary Gygax, 1978. (8) Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. 5 stars. Gary
Levels 10-14. Some modules don't age well as you Gygax, 1980. Levels 8-12. Robots and laser guns
get older, and Queen of the Demonweb Pits is the come to D&D. There are some who decry any
best example of this. Others do the opposite, and injection of science fiction into fantasy, and I tend to
for me Vault of the Drow has appreciated in value be like that myself, but when done occasionally,
more than any module in the history of D&D. I and when the sci-fic elements are treated as
never got proper use out of it for two reasons. First completely alien, it can work. Expedition to the
because it falls in the worst place possible in a long Barrier Peaks works wonders. I could go on about
series, penultimately trailing five dungeon crawls, the mileage I got out of this module, especially as a
and by this point characters are burning to get to player in taking over the crashed ship -- by
the Abyss to which Vault of the Drow serves as a acquiring the color-coded cards that key open
mere doorstop. The second reason feeds into the restricted areas and give one authority over the
first. This is an underground city, not a dungeon, robots. It's essentially about fantasy characters
and with enough care can be mostly sidestepped going wild with their fantasies of super technology,
by those not interested in lingering. And that's a and the stunning visual aids help tremendously on
shame, because this is a realm to be milked and this point. The uniquely designed blaster pistols,
savored for all its worth. The descriptive writing on blaster rifles, laser pistols, laser rifles, needle guns,
display is nothing less than brilliant, and DM's who paralysis guns, various grenades, and powered
know what they're doing can serve up an incredibly armor are etched in my mind forever, and you
haunting world where factions of dark elves plot pretty much need a lot of this stuff to have any
against each other, demons and undead walk the hope in taking on the alien forces infesting the ship.
streets, and obscene sacrifices are offered to the Provided you can figure out how to use them: there
goddess Lolth -- all under the purple glow of are flow-charts determining this, and high
phosphorescent fungi and a bizarre "moon" of intelligence scores are much advised to guard
shimmering amethyst. There are torture parlors, against shooting oneself. Expedition to the Barrier
bordellos, and drug saloons, but everything is Peaks represents a clash of genres which should
ironically civilized and disturbingly beautiful. If I be emulated perhaps once a decade; when done
were running this today I'd use it as a stand-alone, right, the result kicks ass.
with the aid of the amazing background provided in
Dragon issue #298. It's a module I wish I'd known Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, 1980 (S3)
how to manage better, and appreciate better, in my I don't have any quibbles about this module, which
gaming years. It's brilliant, and I get chills just I both thoroughly enjoyed and think is indeed a
reading it. classic on many levels, not least of which being its
excellent illustration booklet.
Queen of Spiders, 1986 (G1-3, D1-3, Q1)
This is a bit of a cop-out entry. Taken as a whole, I don't
think there's much doubt that the Giants/Drow series of
modules is probably the most iconic collection of D&D
adventures ever published and firmly established a
number of Gygaxian elements/motifs/idiosyncrasies as
normative for the game as a whole. However, I think it's
cheating to lump all the modules together, particularly in
the rather hamfisted "supermodule" format, and declare it
the greatest D&D adventure of all time. In my opinion, Q1
is very weak, both conceptually and in its presentation,
and the G series consists primarily of workmanlike
dungeon crawls, albeit with a solid theme and enough
backstory to give them greater significance. The D
series, on the other hand, are universally excellent and
indeed groundbreaking on many levels. I'd have fewer
quibbles about naming, say, Vault of the Drow the
greatest adventure of all time, even if it's not necessarily
what I'd have chosen.
(9) Ravenloft. 5 stars. Tracy and Laura Hickman, (11) The Village of Hommlet. 5 stars. Gary Gygax, (12) The Keep on the Borderlands. 5 stars. Gary
1983. Levels 5-7. The middle of '83 is when 1979. Levels 1-3. At first blush this is just a village Gygax, 1979. Levels 1-3. Pure classic, this is the
everything changed: inferior cover designs, serving as a base for an expedition to an evil module DMs and players cut their teeth on back in
railroady adventures, the inception of the dreaded temple described in another module. But there's the Golden Age, when it came packaged in the
Silver Age. But before ruining everything with nothing "just" about anything by Gary Gygax, and I introductory boxed set. Everyone played the Caves
Dragonlance, the Hickmans came up with this little can understand why people like James of Chaos, and there's something fundamentally
terror, and as much as I hate to include them on a Maliszewski and Joe Bloch rhapsodize about "D&D'ish" about a castle on the edge of civilization
list of favorites, there's just no denying that Hommlet to no end. Says Maliszewski: "There's providing a base to launch forays into a network of
Ravenloft is plain awesome. In the opinion of many, something powerful about this perfect set-up for a lairs populated by various humanoids -- orcs,
in fact, it's the #1 module of all time. It's Dracula in new campaign. I share with Tolkien the conception goblins, hobgoblins, gnolls, bugbears, even an owl
a D&D setting and saturated with gothic menace. of history as a 'long defeat' and The Village of bear and ogre, and an evil priest with a pet medusa
The premise involves an isolated community under Hommlet touches on that theme obliquely -- the to boot. By later standards (the mid-'80s and
terror, and anyone who enters the vale cannot notion that each generation must stare Evil in the beyond), the Caves of Chaos seem almost like a
leave: once you breathe Barovia's enchanted face and bar the way of its advance, even if it's videogame, in that there is no story behind the
atmosphere, your life depends on it, and killing the ultimately just a holding action, for Evil can never caves' inhabitants, no over-arching motivations
vampire Strahd is the only way to dispel the fog. truly be defeated in this life." And Bloch thinks it's behind the priest in the evil shrine... they're all just
The castle of Ravenloft itself is superb, infested literally the best D&D module of all time. I love it there, sitting in their rooms, as if obligingly awaiting
with bats, wolves, and various undead in thrall to too, and designed a terrifying module that begins in D&D adventurers who want to fight them, take their
the vampire, and the teleport trap protecting Hommlet. There's something about a Gary Gygax treasure, and gain experience points. But these
Strahd's coffin is genius (exchanging someone who module that's so richly subterranean even when were the days when DMs took the initiative to
passes through the crypts for the undead body of a focused on the mundane; this village wouldn't carry develop their own backstories and let them develop
wight who then assumes the character's attire and a fifth of its effect had it been penned by anyone organically, by accommodating unpredictable
possessions, while the poor fool goes inside the else. It's certainly superior to what was supposed to players who could actually decide what they
wight's coffin; to the other players, it simply looks be a smash sequel, The Temple of Elemental Evil, wanted to do without playing into some pre-
like the character has turned into a wight). As with which frankly left me cold. And I even place it over determined arc. Keep on the Borderlands sits right
Stoker's classic, there's a tragic backdrop to the Keep on the Borderlands, though I have a difficult below Village of Hommlet, but it's really a tie; these
vampire's story, and if the players succeed in killing time choosing between them. low-level Gygax gems shine in different ways.
him, it's a true mercy. The module makes good use
of "fortune" through the gypsies of Barovia, whose The Keep on the Borderlands, 1979 (B1)
card readings result in different scenarios each Like The Village of Hommlet, B2 is nearly perfect.
time the module is used. The black-and-white I'd rate it higher than 7, but that's a quibble.
visuals evoke the mood perfectly. Beyond doubt,
Ravenloft is the best undead adventure ever made.

Ravenloft, 1983 (I6)


Much as I love the Gothic horror/melodrama
atmosphere of this module, I think it's fair to say
that Ravenloft has probably exercised the most
baleful influence over the development of D&D of
any module other than the Dragonlance series,
which isn't surprising since Tracy Hickman was
involved in both. I loved David Sutherland's three-
dimensional maps at the time, but they proved less
than ideal to use in play. Likewise, the plot is
heavy-handed and railroad-y. And don't get me
started on the fetishization of Strahd von Zarovich.
(13) Beyond the Crystal Cave. 4 stars. Dave (14) Descent into the Depths of the Earth. 4 (15) The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. 4 stars.
Browne, Tom Kirby & Graeme Morris, 1983. Levels stars. Gary Gygax, 1978. Levels 9-14. Resonating Harold Johnson & Jeff Leason, 1980. Levels 5-7.
4-7. Sinfully underrated, even unheard of in some with Cthulhu-like myths and Mesoamerican The format copies Tomb of Horrors to a tee, as if
circles. I can't believe it's not on more favorites architecture, the Kuo-Toan shrine is the real feature the authors wanted to come up with the same kind
lists. Porpherio's Garden is the closest thing TSR here. The first installment in the D-series is rather of thing for lower level characters who at least
ever came to Tolkien: a Lothlorien-like domain that bland, which is no doubt why it was eventually stand a chance. Players stumble on an abandoned
never sees winter, where time passes 700 times released as a package deal with the Kuo-Toa shrine in the middle of nowhere, loaded with traps,
more slowly on the inside, and where an attitude of module, under the title of the first and given cover light on treasure, and with few but formidable
hacking and slaying will get you swiftly killed. This art for the second. That cover (click on the image to monsters (including a vampire). It's a great
module was a milestone for me in showing the full expand) remains one of my favorite of all time; I dungeon that tests the players' mettle around every
potentials of role-playing that leans on verbal skills love the way the blues and greens and yellows mix, corner, in memorable rooms like The Chapel of the
and crafty intelligence. The plot centers around a and bathe the lobster-goddess statue in a weird Feathered Servant (one player fights an imaginary
pair of aristocratic lovers who apparently got lost in spiritual candor. The kuo-toa made nearly as much foe while the others are forced by a winged serpent
the garden, haven't been seen in years, and the impression on me as the drow of the next module, to solve a puzzle), the Hall of the Smoking Mirrors
players are hired to find them and get them out. with their highly regimented society of priests and (look into them if you dare), and the Hidden Room
The problem is that the lovers have drunk from a assassins and brutally exotic culture; as of the Alter-Ego (a statue duplicates the looks of
fountain that makes them want to stay forever, and amphibians this makes them even more intriguing. one of the players and comes to life while that
nothing, short of using force or a wish, will For all their practices of slavery and sacrifice, it's player turns to stone). The visual aids are splendid,
persuade them to leave, forcing questions about possible to negotiate with them if characters are and again in the same design as those in Tomb of
the ethics of trying to finish the job. Druids will feel shrewd. And there's a pathos to this race of fish- Horrors, though with clear Central & Southern
like they're in heaven, as they automatically gain a men clinging to their obscene sanctuary, way below American features that give a distinctly exotic vibe
level in the garden, and will naturally bond with the the earth, raising their "fingerlings" (baby kuo-toans -- it even puts one in mind of an Indiana Jones
resident wildlife (satyrs, centaurs, unicorns, etc.). who can't survive outside water), carrying on adventure. A quintessential example of a module
Warriors are a bit useless, and mages will be worship of the Sea Mother. Gygax did a good job from the Golden Age: there's no pre-packaged
frustrated to find that many of their spells coming up with treasures, altars, traps, and other story; the dungeon itself is the exclusive platform
(especially fire related) won't work. And since a day peculiarities one might expect to find in such a on which the players (and DM) can build their own
inside the garden translates to two years outside, peculiar place, and I have especially fond story, and as such it can be inserted into almost
time is of the essence... or the players will be memories DM'ing this product. any wilderness campaign; most importantly, every
returning to a much different world. Beyond the room counts and contains the unexpected.
Crystal Cave teaches some serious humility and
deserves more recognition than it gets. The Hidden Shrine of Tamochan, 1980 (C1)
This is an excellent old school module that reminds
me a bit of Tomb of Horrors in that it has very few
monsters but plenty of tricks and traps. Likewise,
the Mesoamerican ambience of the place -- given
glorious life by many Erol Otus illustrations -- adds
to its charm.
(16) Against the Cult of the Reptile God. 4 stars. (17) The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. 4 stars. (18) Danger at Dunwater. 4 stars. David Browne
Douglas Niles, 1982. Levels 1-3. This body- Dave Browne & Don Turnbull, 1981. Levels 1-3. & Don Turnbull, 1982. Levels 1-4. This one may be
snatching adventure has sharp intrigue, and is The following trilogy is a class-A example of a less scary than the house on the cliff, but it's even
even better than I remember. The village of Orlane series that doesn't have railroading baggage. This more dangerous, as it easily invites bloodshed
has Hommlet vibes, but without feeling like a is hard to do in a series approach, which is why when diplomacy is needed. It turns out the lizard
copycat, and fleshed out with remarkable detail. there weren't many series modules in the old days men have been arming themselves not to attack
The plot involves a serpent cult (it seems that (only becoming the norm after Dragonlance). The Saltmarsh, or any human settlement, but to take
snake worshippers are always a hit in D&D) taking trilogy also scores big-time as thinking-players' back their own fortress from invading sahuagin --
over the village by an unpleasant brainwashing modules, especially the first two where things aren't who are the true threat to humanity (the enemy of
process that's been going on for about a year. PCs at all what they seem. This first one is the fan the third module). It's a tricky business: even PCs
must determine which villagers have been favorite: a haunted house that's not really haunted, who reach a negotiating stage will more than likely
converted, and they can be given quite a bum steer and PCs ultimately become policemen when they have killed at least some lizard men before piecing
depending on whose suspicions they take to heart: find out that smugglers, not ghosts, reside on the clues together and will face new problems. Any
the mayor is convinced the hermit is the cause of cliff. It's the build up to that realization that makes treasure they've acquired will have to be returned,
the village's distress, and others suspect the newly Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh so exciting. DM's can and the lizard-man king will impose weregild fees
arrived elves; there are plenty of wrong guesses to instill a lot of fear if they know what they're doing, for any casualties among his race. Some claim that
keep players on their toes. The village drama is and keep players believing the supernatural is at Danger at Dunwater doesn't measure up to the
nothing less than a horror-mystery thriller, and a large with the blinking lights, ghastly shrieks, and previous module, or that it's a dungeon wasted on
superb prelude to the swamp dungeon full of lizard nauseating carrion. On top of this, the assassin pacifist strategies, but neither is true and ignores
men and crocodiles (and the insidious naga with plant in the upstairs bedroom has loads of that all but the most shrewd PCs will believe the
hypnotic powers). In fact, the villagers are so well potential, and if used subtly, can really sow lizard men to be the evil threat until they proceed
fleshed out that I brandish this module as a first- confusion or even discord among the players. The far enough through the dungeon to piece clues
rate example of how to create NPCs with second half of the adventure is more together. Some PCs won't even catch on at all. (If
compelling hidden motives. Against the Cult of the straightforward: the jig is up, the players board the they figure out things too quickly, then the DM is
Reptile God requires a lot out of beginning players, smugglers' ship and discover lizard men involved doing a lousy job.) My favorite encounter area is
brains as much as brawn, and the beauty is that with the plot, which segues into the next module. the room where the two lizard boys are playing,
any or all of the PCs are fair game for kidnapping having escaped the nursery; in the game I
and brainwashing -- they could well be up against refereed, the PCs fed them treats and couldn't get
themselves. rid of the little pests.

Against the Cult of the Reptile God, 1982 (N1)


An under-appreciated module that proves Douglas
Niles once had serious design chops.
(19) The Final Enemy. 4 stars. David Browne & (21) The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. 4 stars. (22) Master of the Desert Nomads. 4 stars.
Don Turnbull, 1983. Levels 3-5. The last part of the Gary Gygax, 1982. Levels 5-10. This one may not David Cook, 1983. Levels 6-9. The cover design
trilogy is the straightforward one, but an incredibly excel with content, but it's one hell of a mood piece and trade dress should signal alarm, and
deadly one for low-level PCs. Underwater and inspired one of my own dungeons similarly technically the next two modules fall outside my
breathing is required in two-thirds of this dungeon, premised on a dormant evil that has the power to scope which covers up to the middle of 1983. But
and woe to the fools who don't swiftly kill any possess and drive people insane. The temple itself for all the sins creeping into D&D at this time, the
sahuagin before they can raise an alarm; is a two-tiered pyramid with dungeons beneath, Nomads series is astoundingly superb, and
underwater combat becomes just as critical. But and a secret mini-level harboring potent treasures perhaps that's no surprise given David Cook's pulp-
PCs aren't supposed to seek out any combat, far and nasty traps. The idea that characters must fantasy genius. This is a desert wilderness of
less clear the dungeon (which would be a suicide enact twisted rituals to progress through the temple horrors, at the end of which waits an abbey run by
mission), only to recon the three levels and report is creepy as hell; the temple itself is the chief (what appear to be) a benign group of monks who
back to Saltmarsh officials who will launch war antagonist, defending itself against assault and (in actuality) are strange undead-like creatures who
themselves. That's far easier said than done, and penetration in insidious ways. And while some show their true hideous forms when the sun goes
there are many encounter areas which will put role- consider the final room of the Black Cyst to be anti- down. The abbey is frankly one of my favorite
playing to a test. For instance, the temple on the climactic, I love it for the non-traditional endgame scenarios ever designed and it plays extremely
middle level is a nasty business, where sahuagin involving a subtle energy force -- which of course is well, with a lot of nail-biting tension. What slightly
priestesses sacrifice young infants to a shark Tharizdun himself, trying to manifest and be set rankles are the NPC encounters that happen out of
swimming throughout the room. These are the free. An efficient DM can really work on player's nowhere in order to steer PCs in the right direction
hatchlings who don't measure up to the rigorous emotions throughout the temple, as Tharizdun's and make sure that events go as planned. Again,
physical standards of the sahuagin race, and the essence seeks to elicit sympathy, but also lust and this foreshadows Dragonlance-like designs which
ritual on display is enough to sicken all good- greed, before killing people or driving them insane. orchestrated events with less accommodation for
aligned characters who in most cases won't be able The possibility of being trapped forever spontaneity. With a little tweaking, of course, you
to stop themselves from intervening. Taken underground is very real. As a mood piece, it's the can ignore some of the script-slavery, and to be
together, the Saltmarsh trilogy is a shining example kind of module that requires some thoughtful fair, it's not that heavy-handed. In fact, Master of
of an extended adventure that draws on players' planning before running it. It's full of dark secrets the Desert Nomads and Temple of Death are the
resources in unexpected ways. David Browne (see and an overlooked gem. least offensive examples of the new school I know
also Beyond the Crystal Cave at #13) was a rare of, and their settings so strong that I have to
designer who could think outside the box without include them high on this list.
succumbing to the evils of the new school.
(23) Temple of Death. 4 stars. David Cook, 1983. (24) Dungeonland & The Land Beyond the Magic (25) The Ghost Tower of Inverness. 4 stars. Allen
Levels 6-10. The sequel to Master of the Desert Mirror. 4 stars. Gary Gygax, 1983. Levels 9-12. Hammack, 1980. Levels 5-7. I don't revere this one
Nomads is a close tie, though against consensus I These are the well-loved spin-offs of Alice in as much as I used to, though I will say that if
slightly favor the abbey over the temple. The Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and there's an award to be given for "most difficult and
deception behind the former adds another level of their function depends on a good amount of meta- frustrating module that I enjoyed as a player",
tension, appearing to be a benign sanctuary but in gaming. Meta-gaming is essentially the use of out- Ghost Tower of Inverness would probably win. It's a
fact a death zone. The temple harbors no such of-game information or resources to affect one's in- horror house of trapped puzzles and formidable
illusions, and players know exactly what they're game decisions, and there's plenty of that here, beasts, with an emphasis on the former, and if
getting into -- the capital of a modern-Iran though what's amusing is that such strategies will you're not quick at solving them you haven't a
equivalent led by an "Ayatollah" responsible for work against players as often as for them. For chance. The warning at the start is quite apt: "the
desert raids and holy wars. Once again, there is instance, when the herald begins charging PCs by tower is designed for experienced players, and the
some troublesome railroading, not least the town of talking about "the Queen of Hearts", players might mistake of equating experienced characters with
Magden which instead of being a location on the be tempted to respond cleverly with rhymes about experienced players should be avoided". Obviously
map only becomes a location after the PCs visit tarts or the knave stealing them. This will seal their I wasn't as experienced as I thought, because I
one of the three nameless towns; i.e. to ensure that fate, as the King and Queen will demand to know was duly shafted, one of my characters killed, and
they reach "this" particular town. But as before, the how they even knew of the crime. Meta-gaming is obtuse enough that the DM had to offer some
railroading is minimal and forgivable in light of the usually deemed the worst sin in RPGs, but it helpful steering at one point so I could at least have
excellent encounter areas and dungeon designs. seems acceptable in a batshit context like a chance. Considering my other hobbies at the
The mountain pass into Hule is wild pup fantasy Dungeonland. And make no mistake, for all the time, I should have been able to do a lot better on
come to life, with alluring caverns of hallucinations, craziness, Dungeonland and Magic Mirror work the chess floor (where each player must move like
and even a ladder that ascends into a Kingdom of wonders as high-level challenges: they are deadly a particular piece or take heavy damage), and
the Moon. As for the temple of death itself, it can be and unforgiving. Like the Brothers Grimm, fairy given my intimate familiarity as a DM with the
counted on to kill all but the most shrewd PCs. And tales are supposed to be scary, as most of them punishing surprises that come at the end of
the decoy of the Master's avatar is brilliant. The were until the influence of Disney. Gygax dungeons, you'd think I'd have taken a less cavalier
real Master's inanimate body resides in one of the understands this and equips his psychotic NPCs attitude in the room of the soul-gem. It's a very fun
coffins of the huge crypt, and is actually fairly accordingly. For instance, the Mad Hatter is an 8th- module for all its artificiality, and I especially like the
accessible; few PCs ever realize this. level monk who has an endless supply of cursed premise of PCs being forced to retrieve the soul-
hats that he will attempt to throw on people's heads gem to atone for crimes they didn't even commit.
-- hat of occupation (PC believes himself to be a
different class), hat of imprisonment (enlarges to
cover the PC and make him immobile), hat of fools
(makes the PC dance uncontrollably), etc. The
March Hare is even more insane; the Cheshire Cat
an omnipresent nightmare. Had Wonderland been
translated into a beginner's level adventure it would
have been a joke. Gygax made it a terror like Pan's
Labyrinth, and there's no real purpose to it other
than to ride the psychosis and see if you can
survive. It's a pocket universe feeding DM sadism
and PC risk addiction, and despite certain
reservations I'm very fond of it.
(26) White Plume Mountain. 4 stars. Lawrence (27) Dwellers of the Forbidden City. 4 stars. David (28) The Isle of Dread. 4 stars. David Cook &
Schick, 1979. Levels 5-10. Here's another that Cook, 1981. Levels 4-7. Like The Lost City, a Tom Moldvay, 1980. Levels 3-7. Of all entries on
hasn't aged well; in my teen years I would have wonderful homage to Red Nails, this time set in a this list, this one is an anomaly in the sense I hardly
easily put it somewhere in the top five (my extreme jungle instead of a desert, with factions split by remember specifics about it as a DM or player, only
example of a module that has aged badly is Queen race rather than religion. The module tends to that it was a lot of fun on both counts. Rereading it
of the Demonweb Pits, which went all the way from divide fandom, its detractors emphasizing the lack today I can see why. Players basically sail off to a
#1 to #40). Don't get me wrong, I still have plenty of of cohesion and sections that seem tacked on tropical island to go treasure hunting, and how
affection for White Plume Mountain, but there's without much thought. It's true this isn't the things unfold depends entirely on where they
something artificial about it that rubs me the wrong masterpiece Lost City is, and the mountain choose to go exploring. There are King Kong
way. Also, it plays like Tomb of Horrors lite. Almost passages into the city aren't half as impressive as homages, notably the village of Tanaroa, and
every room involves a trap, puzzle, riddle, or the Cynidicean step pyramid. Worst of all, there are plenty of prehistoric creatures, not to mention
deadly creature -- but with an odd feel of levity, so no layouts for yuan-ti strongholds, and they're the pirates waiting to pounce near the coast. The high
you have PCs doing things like kayaking on a river star creatures of the module. But it's inspiring for all point is a ruined temple controlled by amphibious
suspended in mid-air. The premise involves the deficiencies, and we at least get the snake-men mind-controlling creatures, much of it submerged --
recovering three magical weapons -- a warhammer, in the mountain passes. They're as iconic as drow, and this is the part I remember most, especially the
trident, and sword -- artifacts with memorable and their allies (the tasloi and bugbears) work well underwater corridor with the black pearl. The Isle
personalities, and powerful ones at that. It's in tandem, lording themselves over the of Dread is one of the least plot-driven modules I
interesting how the module came into being: mongrelmen and bullywugs. Of course, I'm a can think of, a product that almost epitomizes the
Lawrence Schick wrote it while applying to work for sucker for hidden exotic cities populated by lethal Golden Age, and the wilderness adventure we cut
TSR, and he simply cobbled together the best parts groups at each others' throats, which so clearly our teeth on after The Keep on the Borderlands
of his previous dungeons. It definitely has a emulate the Conan classic. Ironically, I never got a served as our tutorial dungeon. I don't recall ever
patchwork feel to it, and obviously the sword chance to DM this product (staying obsessed with running into the dragon turtle displayed on the front
Blackrazor is a rip-off of Elric's Stormbringer (which Moldvay's lost city), but had rewards as a player; cover, and that's a good thing: they're a bit beyond
frankly I love). One of my players ran wild with the my friend seemed to have a thing for snake-priests the combat reach of 3rd-7th level characters. Per
warhammer's ability to inflict massive stun when and as a Howard fan, no doubt, tapped into the James Maliszewski, this island is a perfect setting
thrown down; it became a running gag in my pulp-fantasy essence with ease. The more I think for Dwellers of the Forbidden City, and no surprise,
gaming group to threaten, "You better look out, I'm about the Cynidiceans and yuan-ti, the more I want since David Cook is the author of each.
going to throw Whelm on the ground!" to design my own lost city, completely on my own
terms -- perhaps an arctic one, since desert and
jungle have had their say.
see how much better it is than the material that adventuring locale rather than as a location with its
followed, which represents a valiant effort by Frank own internal logic independent of the adventurers
Mentzer to put into print both an important part of having to go there.
the Greyhawk campaign's history and a module
promised for many years beforehand. I think T1-4
1. Queen of Spiders, 1986 (G1-3, D1-3, Q1)
is solid, but it's not top 10 material as its rank here
would imply.
This is a bit of a cop-out entry. Taken as a whole, I 10. Return to the Tomb of Horrors, 1998
don't think there's much doubt that the Giants/Drow
series of modules is probably the most iconic I never owned or read this boxed set, so I can't
collection of D&D adventures ever published and really comment on its merits.
firmly established a number of Gygaxian 5. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, 1980 (S3)
elements/motifs/idiosyncrasies as normative for the
game as a whole. However, I think it's cheating to I don't have any quibbles about this module, which
lump all the modules together, particularly in the I both thoroughly enjoyed and think is indeed a
11. The Gates of Firestorm Peak, 1996
rather hamfisted "supermodule" format, and classic on many levels, not least of which being its
declare it the greatest D&D adventure of all time. In excellent illustration booklet.
my opinion, Q1 is very weak, both conceptually and Written primarily to show off the new rules options
in its presentation, and the G series consists from the 2.5e Player's Option books, I suspect this
primarily of workmanlike dungeon crawls, albeit module made the list because of its introduction of
with a solid theme and enough backstory to give the Far Realm, the Lovecraftian dimension that
6. The Desert of Desolation, 1987 (I3-5) WotC era D&D seems so in love with. I'm not sure
them greater significance. The D series, on the
other hand, are universally excellent and indeed that alone justifies its inclusion here, as the rest of
groundbreaking on many levels. I'd have fewer Another cop-out compilation but one I'm willing to the module is pretty forgettable.
quibbles about naming, say, Vault of the Drow the let pass with less worry, since the modules play
greatest adventure of all time, even if it's not less as a series of independent but connected
necessarily what I'd have chosen. modules and more like a single module broken up
into three pieces. It's been a long time since I
12. The Forge of Fury, 2000
looked at these and, while I am pretty sure they
share the flaws of Tracy Hickman's other works (i.e.
a heavy-handed plot), I recall there being a number I never owned this module either and, given that it's
2. Ravenloft, 1983 (I6) of very clever old school traps and tricks the second rather than the first release in WotC's
throughout. Again, I'm not sure these modules are 3e adventure path, I'm a bit baffled as to why it's
Much as I love the Gothic horror/melodrama top 10 material, but I don't think them unworthy of here.
atmosphere of this module, I think it's fair to say some praise.
that Ravenloft has probably exercised the most
baleful influence over the development of D&D of
any module other than the Dragonlance series, 13. Dwellers of the Forbidden City, 1981 (I1)
which isn't surprising since Tracy Hickman was
7. The Keep on the Borderlands, 1979 (B1)
involved in both. I loved David Sutherland's three- As I've said before, this is definitely one of the
dimensional maps at the time, but they proved less
than ideal to use in play. Likewise, the plot is Like The Village of Hommlet, B2 is nearly perfect. greatest modules ever. I'd actually rate it higher
I'd rate it higher than 7, but that's a quibble. than 13.
heavy-handed and railroad-y. And don't get me
started on the fetishization of Strahd von Zarovich.

8. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, 2001 14. Dead Gods, 1997
3. Tomb of Horrors, 1978 (S1)
I could go on at some length about why this is a I'm a fan of Planescape, but I can't say much good
terrible, terrible module that misunderstands and about most of the modules produced for the line,
I wrote at length about this yesterday, so you particularly the later ones, of which Dead Gods is
already know my opinion of this module. It's butchers Greyhawk lore and demonstrates why the
3e Challenge Rating system is an abomination, but part. They represent TSR's rather unfortunate
definitely one of the top 5 adventure modules of all flirtation with White Wolf-style metaplot, in the
time and I'd be suspicious of any list that didn't why bother? There's simply no justification for
including this in a top 30 list, let alone ranking it at process wreaking havoc on an otherwise well-
include it as such. done, if off-kilter, take on fantasy.
number 8.

4. The Temple of Elemental Evil, 1985 (T1-4) 15. Castle Amber, 1981 (X2)
9. White Plume Mountain, 1979 (S2)
Another cop-out, but a more justifiable one. I'm
personally of the opinion that T1 The Village of I have great fondness for this module and no Part of Tom Moldvay's "Pulp Fantasy Trilogy,"
Hommlet alone deserves to be in any top 10 list of qualms about its inclusion in the top 30. I think it's Castle Amber is a favorite of mine.
greatest adventures of all time. Coupled with the too "game-y" an adventure to make the top 10,
rest of the material from this supermodule, you can though. By that I mean that the whole set-up feels
too artificial, as if it exists solely to provide an
16. Isle of Dread, 1980 (X1) series is just as good in my opinion and quite
possibly deserve a place on this list.
Ditto Isle of Dread. 22. The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, 1982 (S4)

I have a fondness for module S4, but that's mostly


because of its extensive booklet of monsters, 28. The Lost City, 1982 (B4)
17. Ruins of Undermountain, 1991 magic items, and spells, which made far more of an
impact on my campaign than the adventure proper, The third module of Moldvay's "Pulp Fantasy
which is is rather bland. Trilogy," this one is one is sometimes
I never owned this, so I can't comment on its
placement here. overshadowed by its bigger brothers, which is a
shame, because it's a terrific evocation of "Red
Nails" and other similar stories.
23. The Forgotten Temple of Tharzidun, 1982
(WG4)
18. The Hidden Shrine of Tamochan, 1980 (C1)

The "sequel" to The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, 29. The Assassins Knot, 1983 (L2)
This is an excellent old school module that reminds
though, is one for which I have a greater
me a bit of Tomb of Horrors in that it has very few
appreciation. The adventure has a creepy, Why this is here and not L1 The Secret of Bone Hill
monsters but plenty of tricks and traps. Likewise,
"eldritch" ambience to it that I love and the is a mystery to me. Oh wait, it's because L2
the Mesoamerican ambience of the place -- given
eponymous locale is suitably bizarre and features a mystery that it got the nod while the
glorious life by many Erol Otus illustrations -- adds
Lovecraftian. often-overlooked L1 did not. I think L2 is a solid
to its charm.
module -- practically a mini-campaign, just like L1 --
but I also think that it gets more kudos than it
deserves simply because of its murder mystery
24. City of the Spider Queen, 2002 plot.
19. Against the Cult of the Reptile God, 1982 (N1)

No. This adventure exists solely to sell more R.A.


An under-appreciated module that proves Douglas
Salvatore novels and its heavy-handed plot
Niles once had serious design chops.
depends on events in the novels to make any 30. The Ghost Tower of Inverness, 1980 (C2)
sense.
While I have fond memories of this module, like
White Plume Mountain it has the feel of being a
20. Scourge of the Slave Lords, 1986 (A1-4) game module rather than an internally consistent
25. Dragons of Despair, 1984 (DL1) and logical location in its own right.
Yet another cop-out, but, again, an understandable
one, given that modules A1-4 are a tighter series
Though my dislike for Dragonlance is well-known, I
than the G/D/Q modules. I have a certain fondness
do think the first module in the series is well-done
for these adventures, but I don't worship them the
and intriguing. Had the series as a whole not been
way some old schoolers do. Part of my problem
so heavily tied into events in the novels and had
with them is that I don't find the central premise
there been more support for deviating from the
very compelling and the modules, being written by
"correct" storyline, I think the DL could have
a variety of authors, are somewhat uneven in
become true classics. As it is, DL1 represents a
quality. In addition, there are moments of heavy-
path not taken, as well as one of the key moments
handedness, such as the necessity of the PCs to
when D&D lost its soul.
be captured, that I think militate against the series'
real virtues. I don't object to their inclusion in a top
30 list and rank 20 seems about right for them.

26. City of Skulls, 1993 (WGR6)

21. Dark Tower, 1980 (from Judges Guild) I never owned any of the Carl Sargent era
Greyhawk modules, so I can't comment on this
one, which I believe is about the empire of Iuz.
The sole entry in this list that wasn't produced by
TSR, I don't have any problem with its presence,
since this is a classic module by Paul Jaquays and
deserves to be recognized as such. However, I
happen to think there are many other Judges Guild 27. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, 1981 (U1)
modules even more deserving of being here, such
as Caverns of Thracia and Tegel Manor (among Like most of the TSR UK modules, this one was
others). Were I to make my own top 30, you can be excellent, being another great starting module that
sure quite a few JG adventures would bump many combines a fascinating little town with adventuring
of the entries in this somewhat myopic list. locales and adventure hooks. The rest of the U
Murder at Baulder's Gate
Q series
B series Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits (10-14)
H1 Bloodstone Pass (13-17)
B1 In search of the Unknown (1-3) H2 The Mines of Bloodstone (16-18)
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (1-3) D&D4 Revenge of the Giants
H3 The Bloodstone Wars (17-20)
B4 Lost City (1-3) H4 The Trone of Bloodstone (18-100)
S series
S1 Tomb of Horrors (10-14)
T series S2 White Plume Mountain (5-10)
T1 The Village of Hommlet (1) S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (8-12)
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (6-10) I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City
T2-4 Tomb of Elemental Evil (1-8)

X series A1-4: Scourge of the Slavelords


A series: X1 Isle of Dread (3-7)
X2 Castle Amber (3-6) S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
Scourge of the Slavelords
A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity (4-7) WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun
A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade (4-7) N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God (1-3)
A3 Assault on the Aeirie of the Slave Lords (4-7)
A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords (4-7) U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (1-3)


Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits
U2 Danger at Dunwater (1-4)
GDQ1-7 U3 The Final Enemy (3-5)
Queen of the Spiders
(supermodule: G1-3 + D1-3 + Q1)
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City (4-7) Lich-Queens Beloved

G series: I3-5 Desert of Desolation (5-10) Dead Gods


Against the Giants, The Liberation
I6 Ravenloft (5-7)
of Geoff I10 Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill (8-
The Gates of Firestorm Peak
G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (8+) 10)
G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (8+) The Forge of Fury
G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (8+) WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (5-10)

D series Die Vecna Die! (10-13)


D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (9-14) WGA4 Vecna Lives! (12-15)
D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa (9-14)
D3 Vault of the Drow (10-14)