A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the most well-regarded adventures in the hobby, and it reminded me how much I love running campaigns. My last, Dungeon of the Mad Mage, was epic: it ended in May and lasted the best part of a year. Before that, I ran a 20-level homebrew campaign in lockdown, and before that, Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd (among other things).
We’ve just welcomed a new wyrmling to the world, and I’m in no rush to start something new—yet. But at some point in 2024, it would be cool to get back in the DM chair and kick off a new campaign.
What follows, then, are seven possible options that I have been thinking about for some time. If you have run or played in these adventures, and you have thoughts about them (positive or negative), please let me know in the comments below.
And if you’re one of the people I play with: you know how to reach me with your thoughts!
1. Ghosts of Saltmarsh (2019)
In my last post, Teos Abadía and Scott Fitzgerald Gray both highlighted the original Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, and Ghosts of Saltmarsh is its spiritual successor in much the same way as Curse of Strahd is to I6: Ravenloft.
The premise: seven adventures dotted around the coastal town of Saltmarsh, most of them with some kind of seafaring element.
Pros: this is a highly regarded adaptation of several classic adventures with plenty of sandbox potential on the side. I like the way it ties in the adventures from Tales from the Yawning Portal and drip-feeds adventure hooks for your own homebrew material. The random encounter tables are also great.
Cons: beyond the first three adventures, I wonder if the structure breaks down a bit and becomes disconnected. Isle of the Abbey is meant to be something of a weak spot.
2. Red Hand of Doom (2006)
I’ve been meaning to run this for years. James Jacobs and Richard Baker are two of my favourite designers, yet this adventure somehow passed me by when it came out in 2006—odd, given how into D&D I was at the time. It’s seen something of a revival in the last few years, probably thanks to Matt Colville’s videos on the subject.
The premise: a powerful hobgoblin army threatens to invade the peaceful frontier region of Elsir Vale. The PCs must thwart the invasion by spying, uncovering the hobgoblins’ plans, rallying allies, and ultimately facing off against the leaders. The adventure has been praised for its strategic depth and sense of freedom, with handy design notes from Jacobs and Baker.
Pros: the variety of missions available looks really fun, with nice, compact dungeons and a cool non-linear plot. More than maybe any adventure I’ve seen, Red Hand of Doom feels like a guide rather than a railroad, where the DM is encouraged to hold onto the reins loosely. I imagine everyone who plays this will have their own unique experience.
Cons: adapting from 3.5 to 5e can be a bit of a pain, not least because this was late 3.5 when the game was moving into its ‘my precious encounters’ phase where tactical complexity was everything (see also, 4th edition). I’m not sure this will appeal to all my players. The setting is also a bit generic, but I guess this can be a strength, too.
3. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (2001)
Another adventure I’ve been meaning to run for ages. The title, the cover art, the legacy of Gygax’s original adventure . . . This was probably the biggest official WotC adventure of the 3rd edition era, with enough material to take character from 4th to 14th level.
I finally got my hands on a physical copy at the end of last year and have really enjoyed flicking through it when I have the chance. (Fun fact: my first experience of 5e was a one-shot of the moat house back in 2015.)
The premise: the adventure starts in the much-loved village of Hommlet, and this is probably the most sandboxy part of the adventure. At some point they will stumble upon a cult (is this a spoiler?) and have to take them on in a series of well-developed dungeon sites.
Pros: there are some really fun dungeon sites here, and the subtle Lovecraftian vibe is awesome. There’s a lot of content—definitely enough to keep us going. And the final boss is awesome.
Cons: there’s a lot of dungeon-crawling, and I’m not sure how varied some of it is. I also have questions about railroading and player motivation. It feels a bit linear in places. And again, like Red Hand of Doom, converting from 3rd to 5th edition could be a bit of a pain.
4. Tomb of Annihilation (2017)
I ran Tomb of Annihilation (online, on Fantasy Grounds) back in 2019. It was fun! I’ve moved to London since then and joined a different group, and none of them are familiar with the adventure. Of all the options on the list, this might be the easiest for me to run.
The premise: a ‘death curse’ is plaguing the world, and the source of it is somewhere in Chult. The adventurers need to brave the jungle, explore ancient ruins, find the source of the death curse, and defeat it. If you’ve ever wanted to fight a zombie T-rex, this is the adventure for you.
Pros: I’ve run it before! Which, with the challenges of a wyrmling, is a big plus. It feels very different to many other 5e adventures, and I love the humour of the setting. The final dungeon is really fun, and I like the focus on puzzles over combat, combat, combat.
Cons: I’ve run it before! And I worry if this is a bit of a missed opportunity, or if I would get a bit bored running it again. Some of the issues in the original module are hard to fix: the hexcrawl is too big, the final dungeon too deadly, and the mechanics of the death curse need work.
5. The Wild Beyond the Witchlight (2021)
I picked this up in April, thinking I might be able to run it between Mad Mage and the arrival of Wyrmling—which, in hindsight, was probably a bit naïve. Personally, I think DMs need to do a quite a bit of a prep with a module before they run them, and I still don’t feel 100-percent ready to run Witchlight. But: having dismissed it initially as a bit weird and whimsical, I’ve started to appreciate the brilliance of it.
The premise: a magical carnival (which, by the way, is a fantastic start to a campaign) transports the party to a fairytale realm where they embark on a quest to thwart an evil archfey. More than that is probably spoiling.
Pros: my group is currently playing through Curse of Strahd in my absence, and Witchlight follows a similar structure but with a very, VERY different tone. This might be the perfect campaign for spring and summer. I really like the focus on storytelling and roleplay, particularly how you can play the whole adventure without any combat at all.
Cons: the whimsy of the setting isn’t for everyone, and it’s very different to ‘vanilla D&D’ in some ways. I’m not sure how fun it will be for players who like combat. And is it a bit . . . short?
6. Forbidden Lands, Raven’s Purge (2018)
This is probably the wild card of the list. I’ve written about Forbidden Lands before, and I would love to give the system a proper go.
The premise: in some ways, there isn’t one—it’s a very open game. In essence, for hundreds of years the Ravenlands were under the effect of a demonic curse called ‘the Bloodmist’, which has now inexplicably lifted. In the background there’s a story about magical elven rubies and a legendary crown, but the party can roam far and wide without necessarily pursuing the main storyline.
Pros: in some ways, Forbidden Lands is the most ‘low prep’ of all the options here. While Raven’s Purge is a prewritten campaign, it’s very loose, and you can have a lot of fun just wandering the Ravenlands and generating encounters and dungeon sites on the fly. I really love the mechanics of the game and its dark fantasy setting.
Cons: I don’t think any of my players have played Forbidden Lands, so there’s a learning curve there. It doesn’t have the digital support of D&D (eg, D&D Beyond), and we would probably need to buy a few more copies of the rulebooks, perhaps some more dice. I don’t know whether everyone would lean into the focus on survival and exploration, or the brutality of combat. I’m also not sure how much I care for stronghold building as a mini game, but you never know, it might be fun!
7. Something homebrew!
Another wild card really. This might involve:
- Eberron (my favourite campaign setting, and this is probably true for the rest of the group)
- a homebrew megadungeon like Paths of the Nexus
- a return to the Silver Marches, my favourite part of the Forgotten Realms
- a homebrew D&D setting, perhaps starting with Adventures in Hawk’s Rest and building out from there
- the Cypher System (review)
- 13th Age (review)
- something else!
Pros: maximum creative freedom! Worldbuilding is an itch I keep wanting to scratch, and something homebrew gives me the chance to do this. It’s also a good way to move away from the shittiness of Hasbro–WotC, which seems to be on a self-destructive mission to complete ruin its reputation in the TTRPG space.
Cons: maximum creative workload! Running a game is complicated enough without making up a new world at the same time! Learning a new system is potentially quite a big undertaking, and I think D&D is kind of ‘comfort food’ as far as my group is concerned.
Which of these adventures would YOU want to play or run? What experiences have you had with them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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