Ok so with my last theory article about the art of GMing, I thought it was about time I created a top 10 list on the subject of RPG’s. Top 10 Modules seemed like a good choice and while I understand that new generations of players might froth at the mouth with a list that insults them by putting old school modules on a pedestal, the fact remains that as an old school player for the most part the modern age of D&D has been largely disappointing. But don’t fret too much, some new-ish stuff made the list as well! Enjoy the list.
Oh and I’m doing this backwards from now on so we are starting at number 10 and working our way down 🙂
10) Queen of Spiders
The Queen of Spiders is actually a module series and it is the only module on this list I have never personally run, but rather participated as a player which kind of makes it both unique for this list and of a different perspective than the others.
I think my favorite aspect of this module was of course the introduction of Dark Elves or The Drow if you will. I recall this being my first experience encountering them and unlike today where we are quite familiar with the species, back then they were truly unique and GM’s weren’t exactly sure how to envision them resulting in some pretty fun interpretations. I had a really great DM who cave the Drow a less sinister and more “Moriarty” vibe, kind of that super intelligent type of villain. It imprinted this module in my mind for all time and I just knew it had to be on this list.
This module featured a compelling story that escalated upwards from start to the most climatic and unexpectedly epic ending, it featured lots of tough fights, lots of dungeon crawling and exploring and plenty of unique role-playing opportunities and problems to solve. These modules are definitely among my most memorable campaigns I experienced as a player and unlike many modules on this list, it has been converted to several modern D&D systems. I had the pleasure of playing both the 1st edition and 3rd edition versions. Both were excellent.
9) Keep on the Borderlands
Nothing says classic D&D to me like Keep on the Borderlands. To this day their is a copy of this module among my collection of books and while I don’t think its a particularly extraordinary module even for its time, what it lacked as a module, it made up in the purity of its D&D’ness. It is the essence of classic D&D game-play and has served as an introduction to D&D for just about every group of players I have ever DM’ed for.
While it was a simple cliche it did feature a sort of open endness that I think Gygax was trying to convey, a sort of mini campaign module rather than a linear story. The idea was that you would explore the keep, areas around the keep and ultimately find your way to the Caves of Chaos. Each area with its classic D&D moves like Giant Spiders, Mad Hermits and those lovable Kolbolts.
More than anything though Keep on the Borderlands is a great introduction to being a DM as its easy to run, offers plenty of workable NPC characters all the while keeping things nice and simple. Great module that has created many great memories, worthy of finding a place on this list.
8) The Tomb of Horrors
There are a lot of reasons to love a module as either a GM or a player but for me personally The Tomb of Horrors is the module I pull out when it’s time for a campaign to end. When characters have become so powerful that there really seems like there is no way to challenge them anymore. In comes Tomb of Horrors, sure to challenge any player no matter how god like they become. The truth is that, there has never been a more sure fire way to ensure a painfully and horrific end for an adventure party then this largely mean spirited, but wonderfully designed module.
Now of course to the players this is the ultimate challenge, if you can simply survive it and walk out with treasure you have done well, if you can reach any level of success beyond that as far as I’m concerned you have won D&D. Pulling it out and setting it on the table lets the players know that, this is the big show, it’s time to put on your big boy pants and most importantly to hug your character sheet one last time.
My groups in the past that I have run this game for have always taken it in the spirit for which it is intended, it’s a challenge, it’s the end of a campaign and everyone simply looks forward to discovering the horrible way their characters meets their maker.
One other thing, as it is a great challenge to be a player in this module, it is also the ultimate challenge for a DM to run. Its an absolute blast to see how this massive dungeon crawl is connected and intertwined, it requires a high level of understanding of the module and for the sadistic GM who loves a challenge, its just pure joy.
7) Dragonlance Series (Dragons of …)
In D&D there are several very famous and recognizable names, Weis and Hickman are among perhaps the most recognizable after Gygax. The Dragons of Novels are among my favorite and of course to be able to re-create the story in an a D&D module series using unique characters creates an opportunity for an epic campaign, and epic is exactly what Dragonlance is all about. There are tons of modules to this series that will take you through the entire storyline, it would be hard to pick a favorite, but as a whole it’s an absolute blast even if you have read the novels and know the story. It’s a little like watching Star Wars, there is a comfort to the story that supersedes the need for something new. It sort of taps into that inner child.
For me personally however it was always an adventure series that introduced us in great detail to the Dragonlance setting which was a kind of cross between being more down to earth middle ages Europe with a extremely high fantasy twist, full of Tolkien epic level storytelling. Of course the core of the story is a great war that involves Dragons giving players an opportunity to face the ultimate in D&D enemies. There is something magical about knowing at a early humble beginning of an adventure that to finish it you will need to fight dragons.
Absolutely love this series and if you have a group of players that don’t know the story, its really a must run campaign!
6) Hollowfaust: The City of Necromancers
I remember when 3rd edition was first released very clearly because the era of D&D being first in line at game tables had come and gone. White Wolfs World of Darkness was front and center, everyone was playing Vampires and the company itself was jam packed with amazing writers who where creating stories unlike anything we had ever seen before. It was very dark, there was a sense of dread to everything put out by White Wolf, in a sense, they evolved the genre of RPG to include adult themes and the timing was perfect as all of us old school RPG’ers were quite a bit older then in the days of D&D.
When White Wolf announced that they were going to create a D&D setting, it was a very exciting moment and really brought us back to high fantasy D&D. What would a White Wolf D&D setting look like!? Well they gave us the wonderful Scarred Lands, without question one of my all time favorite D&D settings. Among some of the themes and concepts of Scarred Lands we got what really is without question one of my favorite places in any setting, Hollowfaust, The City of Necromancers.
Now while its technically a source book and not a module, the Hollowfaust source-book for Scarred Lands was jam packed with adventure ideas, hooks, locations and characters that were more then sufficient to run a very long and exciting campaign. It’s a page turner, one that will inspire you to run a type of D&D adventure no other module could ever really do.
Easily one of the most memorable D&D supplements of the 3rd edition era in what is without question one of the best and most creative D&D settings to be created. No surprise to me at all that it was created by brilliance of White Wolf Publishing who at the time was quite literally the center for creativity in the RPG market. This book is so good that even if you don’t like RPG’s but just like to read fantasy its worth getting and reading, its that good.
If Hollowfaust is one of the most memorable places in D&D, certainly Count Strahd Von Zarovich has got to be one of the most memorable villains in D&D. A rich, fleshed our character that brought a sense of renaissance to D&D, and really showed off how much more creative the game can be beyond the standard fantasy cliches. This module was all about the infamous vampire with whom the players must play a cat and mouse game, one left up to the a wide range of circumstances for which it was impossible to prepare for. I think really that’s what made the module so memorable for me, every time you faced Strahd it would be in unexpected circumstances that no matter how hard you tried to prepare for you never could be quite ready.
While certainly Strahd took center stage in this module, really this entire module is filled with vivid and imaginative writing that really inspire and give you a sense of place and time. The lands of Barovia, Castle Ravenloft and the rich history written into the main NPC’s of the story gave the entire thing almost a sense of proper literature. It inspired an entire setting that was created around it. In my humble opinion this was among the best ever written for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, a part of D&D history that no fantasy fan should miss. Its as valid and exciting today as it was way back then.
4) The Red Hand of Doom
In my humble opinion while the amount of material, in particular modules that where written for 3rd and 3.5 editions for D&D was enormous, there actually where very few that truly stood out from the crowd. The Red Hand of Doom was definitely among them and comes in at number 4 of my top favorites. There is no doubt my love for Richard Baker’s writing and style played a big part in my appreciation for this module, but it was in fact one of the most unique and challenging modules to come out of 3rd edition era.
The Red Hand of Doom was really much more then a module, it was really the basis for an entire campaign, one driven by concepts like mass combat, politics and open ended conflict. It certainly had a structure going from A to Z, but really it gave the players an enormous amount of freedom. It was one of those open play modules that really could and most likely did go just about anywhere for every group that ran it. It was generic enough to fit into any fantasy setting world, yet specific and unique enough to really inspire the imagination and set a strong sense of time and place.
Of course this in itself would not have been enough to catapult it this high on the list, it also boasted some wonderfully written characters and places, memorable not only for their personalities, but for how they where designed mechanically. Among my favorites was the Half-Dragon commander of the force that stood against you Azarr Kul, oh what a bastard he was. This is one of those modules that really had a bit of everything in just the right proportions to keep it fresh, thinky and fun to both run and play. More than any other module on this list, this is one that still very much begs to be played regardless of which D&D system you prefer.
3) Test of the Warlords
Ok into the top 3 now, this is definitely among the best of the best. For me, Test of the Warlords was an absolute must add to this list, I knew the moment I decided to make it. Test of the Warlords is a high level campaign adventure built around the concept of exploration and settling of a wild frontier. Players take on the roles of kingdom builders, working their way from humble explorers to kings of country. This is another end game module, one that will not only test the skills of the players but their ability to conceive and create a D&D empire of their own, one among a politically heated environment designed around some truly fantastic characters.
This was Game of Thrones before there was a Game of Thrones full of life and plenty of room for a GM to get creative. I have run this module as a campaign more times then I can count, its an absolute masterpiece in my eyes.
2) Temple of Elemental Evil
This shows up on a lot of top 10 lists and its no surprise to me. This classic master piece is without question the best module created during the TSR era. It really is the foundation for everything that D&D stands for and aspires to be. From the humble beginnings of would be adventure wet behind the ears to heroes of the realm facing gods themselves.
This is a module that covers the entire spectrum of fantasy adventure from mystery, horror, to dungeon crawls and politics. Players can approach this campaign from a uncanny amount of angles with its open ended experience, with new tests of courage around every corner.
Sure at this point perhaps its a walking, talking cliche, but D&D cliches were invented somewhere and there is no doubt in my that this module defined many of them. Absolutely love it, as valid today as the day it was written.
1) Morricks Mansion
Ok here we go, my top, favorite module of all time for D&D absolutely has to go to Morricks Mansion brought to you by the masters of darkness, White Wolf Publishing. Without a doubt one of the most creative story’s ever put to paper into a D&D module, its creepy mystery, fantastic back story and awesome NPC characters make this adventure absolutely pure joy to run. White Wolf really put their best foot forward with this one, yet oddly I rarely find it on anyone’s top 10 list.
If you really want to surprise the hell out of your players with a true master piece, this is one of those movie moment adventures that will more then deliver. Its certainly very different from your typical fantasy trope adventure and this definitely one of the core reasons why it sticks out in my mind, but more then that its about the fantastic back story that delivers on all pistons.
Pitch perfect must play module!