What is your favourite published adventure of all time?
I put this question to as many industry heavyweights as I could: writers, game designers, YouTubers, even a few cartographers. I wanted to see what their favourite adventures were and why. These are the responses I got back, which I’m delighted to share with you.
- Teos Abadía (the Alpha Stream)
- Justin Alexander
- Keith Baker
- MT Black
- Matt Colville
- Monte Cook
- Dungeon Craft (‘Professor Dungeon Master’)
- Will Doyle
- Scott Fitzgerald Gray
- Luke Gygax (yes, THAT Gygax, and his response is fantastic)
- James Introcaso
- Robin D Laws
- Shawn Merwin
- Baron de Ropp (Dungeon Masterpiece)
- Mike Shea (Sly Flourish)
- Owen KC Stephens
- B David Walters
PS: There were many more creators I contacted – hopefully they will get in touch after seeing this post! If they do, I will update the article.
PPS: Creators, if you are unhappy with the images I’ve used for you, please get in touch!
Teos Abadía: various!
Teos Abadía is a Colombian-American freelance author and developer working with Wizards of the Coast, Penny Arcade, MCDM, Hasbro, and others. Teos was a primary author on the Acquisitions Incorporated D&D book and on the vast Dungeon of Doom and Caverns Deep adventures for Dwarven Forge. Board game work includes the recent HeroQuest game relaunch. Teos shares knowledge and advocates for a healthier RPG industry as cohost of the Mastering Dungeons podcast, on his blog at Alphastream.org, and on Success in RPGs—a YouTube series helping creators identify what success in the RPG industry is like … and the concrete steps we can take towards achieving it.
This is a fascinating question. It’s hard to pick a single adventure. Do I go with the best design by today’s standards? The most fun? The one that blew my mind for being a first? The classic that fills me with nostalgia, even though there are better options today?
If I look to the classics and nostalgia, Pharaoh from AD&D brought the most fun across the years and influences me constantly. Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is the timeless classic, an adventure so sound it could be written today or ten years from now and folks would praise it.
If I look to 5E, I can’t say enough about all the design accomplishments of the incredible Defiance in Phlan. When it comes to having a tall order of a job… just write an adventure that is actually five mini adventures that can be self-contained but also connected, each representing one of the five D&D factions, and each runs in as low as 30 min to an hour? No one had done anything like that and Shawn just nailed it. It’s pinnacle-level work. I’m always in awe of that.
But if I have to pick something I want more people to be aware of, it’s the incredible work being done by Eclipse Phase. This is an RPG about transhumanity, where you can download your mind into a body “sleeve,” gates let us travel to distant solar systems, and one might find aliens… including the ones that attacked Earth and left. Eclipse Phase absolutely nails, time and time again, what a sci-fi and far-future adventure should be like. Where other sci-fi games at best emulate Alien and at worst port a “clean out the dungeon, rats in basement” story from fantasy, EP blows your mind with surprising sci-fi experiences. Here are a few examples. Ego Hunter is an incredible convention adventure. Each player receives the same pregen, as you all awake to find you are copies of the original you. This is illegal. As you ponder this, a newscast says police are hunting you for a murder you just committed. The GM turns to you and asks, so, what do you do? Amazing.
Then there is Continuity, where your ship restores you from backup. Why? Well, the first version of your group went out to explore a derelict spacecraft and is now on the way back… but not responding to the computer. The computer senses life on the returning shuttle, but asks you to deal with whatever you have become? Also, the computer has to shut down now as it feels infected. Superb.
In another convention adventure we were strapped onto rockets by the military, as this was the only way to get to a spaceship fast enough to stop it from crashing into a sun and destroying a solar system. The military is low on funds, so the rockets come from a private company and in exchange you must promote the rockets and other tech to the live cameras filming you.
And in Xenovore we play xenoarcheologists unearthing an incredible find (and yeah, it has some Alien movie aspects). The wrinkle is this is filmed for reality TV, and some of the team members have secret backgrounds that just might cause the already tenuous situation to quickly get out of hand. Incredible fun.
When it comes to thinking boldly and originally, I would recommend Eclipse Phase scenarios to adventure writers. Incredible concepts that directly create fantastic experiences.
Justin Alexander is an ENnie Award–winning author and game designer. He’s the RPG Developer at Atlas Games and has previously worked with Fantasy Flight Games, Modiphius, Goodman Games, Steve Jackson Games, Dream Pod 9, and many others. In addition to more than 200 published books, articles, and reviews, he’s the co-creator of the Infinity roleplaying game and the second edition of Magical Kitties Save the Day. His latest book, So You Want to Be a Game Master, is reviewed here.
The Masks of Nyarlathotep by Larry DiTillio and Lynn Willis was so shockingly revolutionary in its design and ahead of its time in 1984, that forty years later most of the industry is still incapable of replicating its success.
When I first read Masks of Nyarlathotep, it was like a key turned in my mind. As I explored this new paradigm of adventure, I developed what would eventually become node-based scenario design.
Everything else I’ve done as a GM and RPG designer has really flowed from that point. To exaggerate only slightly: Before Masks of Nyarlathotep, you could either design a dungeon or you could design a plot. After Masks, RPGs had taken their first step into a wider world.
Keith Baker: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
Keith is the creator of the Eberron campaign setting along with the games Gloom, Illimat, and Phoenix: Dawn Command.
I was a child when I encountered Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, but it still sticks with me. Aside from being a giant adventure with an entire extra book full of inspiring illustrations, I loved the juxtaposition of genres – dropping an unsuspecting group of fantasy adventurers into a “dungeon” that was actually a crashed spaceship filled with robots and alien creatures. As a DM, I enjoyed trying to present the scenario through the eyes of the people of the world . . . yes, WE all knew that thing was a robot, but how would their characters perceive it? And I’ll never forget the adorably illustrated “Bunny on a Stump”. It’s not a direct line from Barrier Peaks to Eberron, but it certainly has some roots in that untraditional fantasy experience.
M.T. Black is a freelance tabletop game designer with many best-selling titles to his credit, including Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Marvelous Magic, and Blue Alley. His indie-published titles have sold over 100,000 copies.
My selection is G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief by Gary Gygax. It was the first standalone adventure that TSR published, and its format has influenced just about every D&D adventure since. Although only 8 pages long, it presents a surprisingly well-detailed location that players can approach in countless ways. The adventure is definitely more than a monster-bash, and encourages strategy, problem-solving, and diplomacy. I’ve run this several times, and each one has been a rousing success. It’s a classic in the truest sense of the word.
Matt is a writer, YouTuber, and game designer. He runs MCDM, the company behind Flee, Mortals!, Strongholds & Followers, Kingdoms & Warfare, ARCADIA, the Talent, the Beastheart, the Illrigger, and more. They are currently working on their own RPG.
There isn’t an brief answer. It’s to do with the scale of it, the first part does a good job of implementing a sandbox, and the sheer amount of stuff they put in that box, all the handouts you find as you delve. It’s not flawless, but what is? Night Below has something magical all adventures should aspire to. When the GM opens it and sees what all is inside, they think “Holy shit!” and they instantly want to read it all and run it immediately. A lot of adventures feel like homework. Not Night Below.
Monte Cook: The Court of Ardor
Monte has worked on hundreds of products, including as a co-designer of D&D 3rd Edition, and designer of HeroClix, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Ptolus, Arcana Evolved, Numenera, and so much more, including a number of Planescape products, Call of Cthulhu d20, Monte Cook’s World of Darkness, a whole bunch of d20 stuff, and – going way back – products for Rolemaster and Champions.
My favorite is a very old Middle Earth Role Playing adventure called The Court of Ardor by my old friend Terry Amthor, who sadly passed away a bit ago. I’ll admit that it has little to do with Tolkien, but as a fantasy adventure, it’s amazing. It’s got multiple factions of interesting (and powerful) NPCs, an epic quest, betrayals, ancient prophecies, identity shenanigans with not one but two sets of twins, tons of amazing magical treasures, and about a dozen weird and imaginative fortresses in the coolest fantasy locations with great maps and art.
Dungeon Craft: Ravenloft and Keep on the Borderlands
Professor Dungeon Master runs a popular YouTube channel about independent roleplaying games.
Ravenloft and Keep on the Borderlands. Keep introduced sandbox play to a generation. Ravenloft showed us RPGs could tell stories. It redefined the game.
Will Doyle: ‘Night of Blood’
Will Doyle is the co-designer and cartographer behind many of Dungeons & Dragons most popular 5th edition adventure books, from Tomb of Annihilation through to The Wild Beyond the Witchlight. He has also created dozens of adventures for the Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League and DMs Guild. Outside of tabletop, Will works as a creative director in the UK video games industry.
My favourite published adventure is “Night of Blood”, which is a short adventure written by Jim Bambra for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It’s the perfect intro to the setting – on a dark and stormy night, the adventurers are drawn to the warm lights of a coaching inn, but they soon learn it’s not quite as welcoming as it looks. It’s a dead simple setup, playable in one sitting, which throws the players right into the action with lots of opportunities for creepy roleplay. As a standalone intro for a game setting, I rank it right up there with The Haunting for Call of Cthulhu (which is very nearly my favourite). Both scenarios are available for free:
Night of Blood – https://cubicle7games.com/night-of-blood-pdf
The Haunting – https://www.chaosium.com/cthulhu-quickstart
Scott Fitzgerald Gray: Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
Scott Fitzgerald Gray (9th-level layabout, vindictive good) is a writer of fantasy and speculative fiction, a fiction editor, a story editor, and an editor and designer of roleplaying games – all of which means he finally has the job he really wanted when he was sixteen. More info on him and his work can be found here.
“Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” for 1e AD&D. Part of that is nostalgia, because when I first ran it, it marked a transition point where I finally started to figure out what I was doing as a DM. But that adventure and its sequels (“Danger at Dunwater” and “The Final Enemy”) were among the very first examples – and remain among the very best examples – of adventures built around a strong spine of a cohesive, compelling story, while still affording the players and characters full agency within the story. Even forty years later, very few adventures thread that needle as well as “Saltmarsh” does.
Luke Gygax is the son of Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax and literally grew up rolling d20s at the table with the game designers that founded the TTRPG industry. He has authored several role-playing game accessories over his lifetime including The Lost City of Gaxmoor, Legion of Gold (GW1) with his father, Gary Gygax, The Trouble at Loch Jineeva with Jeff Talanian, The Blighted Lands series with James M. Ward, as well as an official Call of Cthulu RPG module, The Dread From Geneva Lake with Skeeter Green. Luke is currently working on the Oculus of Senrahbah series with Matt Everhart, a 5e compatible adventure in his World of Okkorim setting.
My favorite adventure is the classic TSR module S4, The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, by my Dad (Gary Gygax). This is a great scenario for many reasons from the iconic cover art by Erol Otus, 32 pages of new creatures, spells and magic items, and the pinnacle of subterranean dungeon delving that was the center of Dungeons & Dragons in 1982. However for me the most important thing is I played through every encounter in the entire module with my Dad. I was about ten years old and I couldn’t wait to get home to play Melf and go on solo adventures exploring those caverns. I spent more than 100 hours with my Dad playing D&D, shaking dice, fighting off fearsome monsters, solving puzzles, and creating stories together – bonding. Those memories are something magical I get to carry with me for life. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
James Introcaso: The Dracula Dossier
James Introcaso is the lead designer at MCDM, the lead designer of Roll20’s Burn Bryte RPG, writer of the Gold-ENnie-winning blog, World Builder Blog, author of multiple best-selling products for the Dungeon Master’s Guild and DriveThruRPG, and coauthor of seven official Dungeons & Dragons books.
The Dracula Dossier for Night’s Black Agents. It’s a super expansive game that allows for a lot of flexibility on the part of both the Director and the players. DRAC IS BACK, BABY!
Robin D. Laws: ‘The Case of the Editor’s Envelope’
Robin D. Laws designed the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, including such games as The Esoterrorists and Ashen Stars. Among his other acclaimed RPG credits are Feng Shui, HeroQuest, and Hillfolk.
The Case of the Editor’s Envelope (Crimefighters, David Cook, Dragon 47.) I just remember it being super fun in play.
Shawn Merwin: Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle
There was an old Top Secret adventure called Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle. It was the first non-D&D RPG adventure I ever read, even before I knew what Top Secret was. It blew my mind and taught me there were games other than D&D, and that this hobby had so much potential.
Baron de Ropp: Cavern of Thracia
Baron de Ropp hosts Dungeon Masterpiece on YouTube, is a pro DM, armchair historian, and certified Geopolitical Analyst with Stratfor Global Intelligence & FAU, which he “wastes” analysing fantasy worldbuilding. Baron has played RPGs since 1996.
Caverns of Thracia is hands down my favorite adventure. The flow of the dungeon loops back on itself, each loop does it’s own slice of environmental storytelling to breadcrumb a complete story of what all is going on in the dungeon as the players explore, Most of the various magic items and gear sprinkled around the dungeon are all designed for the adventure and are therefore surprising for players to discover, and the dungeon truly feels alive. It’s a wonderful play experience, and the adamantium standard of what dungeon design should look like. My only critiques are that the random encounter tables are complex to the point of silliness, and that the module could stand to be a slight bit less wordy, but compared to 5e published content by WotC, it’s an absolute breeze to prep.
Mike Shea (Sly Flourish): I6 Ravenloft
Mike is the writer for the website Sly Flourish and the author of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the Lazy DM’s Workbook, The Lazy DM’s Companion, Fantastic Adventures, Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot, and a number of other books.
My favorite adventure is I6 Ravenloft. The theme is fantastic, it’s totally replayable, it’s well-written and managed to pack the mother of all vampire castles into a scant 32 pages. I just ran it recently using Shadowdark RPG and it was a perfect match:
Owen has served as co-creator of the Star Wars Saga Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo, the Freeport and Pathfinder developer for Green Ronin Publishing, a consultant and developer for Rite Publishing, and is the the owner and publisher of Rogue Genius Games (with stores on DriveThruRPG and Open Gaming Store).
It’s an offbeat choice. Bar none, my favorite published ttRPG adventure is Star Sugar Heartlove!!! by Eleanor Ferron, for Starfinder. It’s rare for scifi adventures too take advantage of the concept of pop culture in an action scenario, and this does it very, very well. There’s a reason you sometimes see people wearing “Strawberry Machine Cake” t-shirts at conventions, and this adventure is it. I could build an entire RPG off this scenario, but part of its brilliance is characters can dip a toe in, then move on to traditional adventures.
B. Dave Walters is the writer of Dungeons & Dragons for IDW Publishing as well as for his work on the shows Vampire: The Masquerade: L.A. By Night, Shield of Tomorrow, and Where the Wall Meets the Sky. He is the co-host of Ask Your Black Geek Friend and a founding member of The Uncommon Trust.
It was the first single boxed campaign I remember that went from low level to high level (10th was pretty high in those days). It also had a STORY, like a logically unfolding narrative that brought you in and increased the stakes to a satisfying payoff in a time where most D&D games were either 1. whatever the DM thought up on the way over, or 2. one-night dungeon crawls you had to scrape and scheme to survive. Before that, there were plenty of scenarios, but Night Below was the first proper ADVENTURE I ever experienced.
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