Night’s Dark Terror (1986): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 1

Night’s Dark Terror (1986) is Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher for levels 2-4.

B10 Night’s Dark Terror contents

Lost Mine of Phandelver (2014) rates number 3 on this list of great adventures for introducing D&D’s most compelling elements in a mix that gives players freedom to roam and dungeon masters an easy scenario to run.

Night’s Dark Terror ranks number 1 because it succeeds on all those counts, plus it adds innovative episodes, poster maps and counters, and more flavor of the fantastic. Make that “flavour,” because Night’s Dark Terror came from TSR UK.

The similarities between adventures were by design. D&D Creative Director Mike Mearls calls Night’s Dark Terror one of the best D&D adventures ever made. It inspired Lost Mine of Phandelver.

When TSR decided to support the D&D Expert Set (1981, 1983) with an adventure, the TSR UK team of Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher drew the assignment. Since the Basic Set introduced players to dungeon adventures, the new adventure needed to introduce the wilderness.

“As a team we brainstormed the plot outline, and carved up the work between us,” Phil Gallagher said in an interview. “Jim worked especially hard to coordinate the adventure elements, Graeme and I obsessed over the language and grammar, I took charge of the lay-out and design, and we all wrote stuff and swapped it back and forth between us.

“We felt we could create something unique—a Basic-Expert crossover with an open-ended structure, different from the rather linear dungeon crawls that were around at that time.”

The team succeeded. In a product history, Shannon Appelcline describes the achievement. “To date, most wilderness adventures had either been largely freeform hex crawls, like X1: The Isle of Dread (1981), or else tight railroads, like N2: The Forest Oracle (1984). Instead, Night’s Dark Terror deftly combines fixed locales and ongoing events with a multi-episodic structure. The result allows for a lot of sandbox play while still supporting a strong narrative—a very difficult mix in roleplaying adventures and one that’s seldom been matched.”

The adventure starts strong with a widely-imitated episode where the characters defend a freehold against a goblin attack. The events of the siege make the night of terror.

After the first episode, the adventure’s scope expands. “The PCs then explore more than 20,000 square miles (52,000 km2) of wilderness, with eighteen locations, including a number of mini-dungeons, a ruined city, a riverside village, a frontier town, and a lost valley, with the minions of the Iron Ring slavers waiting for the PCs at every step,” writes Gus L.

Even with a grand scope, players will always see options for their next move. “The entire adventure is laid out not as a linear progression, but rather as a huge area where many bits of information are gathered, and many different clues and hints lead to the same climax.”

Unique, fantastic elements give the adventure a sense of wonder uncommon at low levels. Among many touches, I like the shapechanging horse who becomes a patron and the goblin lair built in stone trees in a forest petrified by magic.

On release, Night’s Dark Terror seemed to attract little interest in game stores. Perhaps the title misled potential buyers by suggesting a horror scenario. Also, in the United States, D&D fans tended to spurn basic D&D material in favor of Advanced content. But over time, the adventure’s reputation spread. Before the adventure became available as a PDF, copies fetched hundreds of dollars.

Still, reviewers took notice. In his 1991 book Heroic Worlds, Lawrence Schick describes Night’s Dark Terror as an “outstanding wilderness scenario.” In a review for White Dwarf issue 78, Graeme Davis writes that he can’t imagine a better module to match with the Expert Set box. In a Dragon 124, reviewer Ken Rolston calls this “the best-illustrated and best-designed module I’ve ever seen—and the adventure and campaign material is every bit as remarkable as the graphic presentation. A classic.” Agreed.

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Red Hand of Doom (2006): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 2

Red Hand of Doom (2006) is a 3.5 edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Richard Baker and James Jacobs for levels 6-12.

Red Hand of Doom pits the characters against an overwhelming horde of hobgoblins and monstrous allies loyal to Tiamat. In an interview promoting the adventure, Rich Baker describes the concept. “My initial vision was to make my best swing at a challenge that comes in countless fantasy novels: The Army of Evil is trying to conquer everything. A lot of adventures use the orc horde as a backdrop and motivation, but then make the heroes go off and do ‘standard’ dungeon-delving to find the McGuffin that will then defeat the horde. I wanted to create and adventure that cast the heroes in the role of ‘captains of good,’ doing things that directly affected the course of the war.”

While engaging, this plot could mire characters in a series of battles against more and tougher hobgoblins. Few players would enjoy such a grind, so the design sets the heroes in a variety of missions that span the threatened region.

“The heroes face crucial tests in rallying allies, helping the local rules to determine strategy, spying on the Red Hand horde and scouting its movements, and directly confronting the bad guys on the battlefield. Some of that involves old-fashioned dungeon-delving, but a lot of the adventure takes heroes back and forth across the landscape, doing a hundred different things to stop the Red Hand march,” James Jacobs explains. “The PCs will find themselves in small towns and sprawling cities at either end of the adventure, and in between they’ll visit pastoral valleys, tangled forests, rugged mountains, and monster-infested swamps.”

Red Hand of Doom avoids serving a programed series of encounters where any failure derails the plot. Reviewer Jukka Särkijärvi writes, “In Red Hand of Doom, it’s fully possible for the party to royally screw up. There are many options open for the player characters and the writer have accounted for all the likely scenarios.” The adventure creates a sense of urgency as player race to evacuate a town, or cut off an invading force, or break down a road block.

The adventure doesn’t defy every expectation. “The first parts of Red Hand of Doom are the combat-heaviest D&D material I’ve played through, and they never once got boring,” Särkijärvi writes. “Each combat had a clear reason for being there, interesting enemies, and some tactical depth.”

Instead of pitting players against tougher and tougher flavors of hobgoblin, the adventure swaps in undead, hell hounds, giants, and other creatures. “Whenever we had the chance, we mixed things up by adding non-humanoid foes,” James Jacobs says.

The designers wrote Red Hand of Doom after Wizards of the Coast released two massive dungeon crawls in City of the Spider Queen and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. From those releases, Jacobs took a lesson: “Don’t succumb to the lure of the enormous dungeon. They may be fun to design, but dungeons with 100 rooms are a bear to adventure through. I tried to keep the dungeons in Red Hand of Doom fairly small and took pains to give each of them a unique theme, feel, and flavor.”

The book benefits from a series of designers’ notes. “These notes are intended not only to provide advice on how to run a particularly tough encounter, but to explain why we made some of the decisions we made,” Jacobs says.

The notes also help DMs run the adventure. “We decided to open up the design a bit and make an adventure that was friendlier and a little less work for the DM to run,” Baker says.

“In addition, they provide an insight into how adventures are designed, and should hopefully help DMs to design their own adventures.”

Ron Whitaker from the Escapist describes Red Hand of Doom this way: “The party can use guerilla tactics, spy on the advancing horde, venture into a lich’s lair to deprive the horde of its undead minions, and finally take on the horde itself, with the preparatory actions coming back to aid or haunt them. It’s a superb adventure, and one that any D&D fan should play.”

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Lost Mine of Phandelver (2014): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 3

Lost Mine of Phandelver (2014) is fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Richard Baker and Chris Perkins for levels 1-5.

Adventures created to introduce new dungeon masters to D&D must be simple to run. Sunless Citadel offered DMs an easy recipe by sticking to the dungeon, but Lost Mine of Phandelver brings a more ambitious design and succeeds brilliantly. The adventure rates so highly because it allows players freedom to roam while offering enough structure and guidance to ensure that a new DM succeeds.

For new players, the adventure serves D&D’s expected and favorite ingredients. To longtime fans like Mike “Sly Florish” Shea, the elements may be familiar, but superb execution makes the adventure a winner. “Even years after its release, Phandelver remains one of the most popular D&D adventures for 5e and is my personal favorite.”

The adventure takes place in and around the town of Phandalin. This setting introduces more of D&D than a dungeon crawl can offer. Alex Lucard describes the scope. “There’s a mix of straightforward dungeon crawls, fetch quests and even sandbox-style mini-adventures, so DMs and players alike get a sampling of various adventure tropes. It’s very well done!”

Merric Blackman explains the design. “Phandelver has a directed storyline, where you’re investigating the kidnapping of a dwarf and the secret of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, and a sandbox feel where many of the characters you meet have their own goals and can send you on missions not directly related to the main quest. This isn’t a linear quest: after the initial encounter, you can choose which way to proceed through the storyline. There’s enough clues and direction so that you’ll rarely feel lost.”

The individual encounters invite more approaches than combat, so players get chances to win friends and outsmart foes.

“Phandelver is a great adventure full of opportunities for you to relax, play loose, and let the story evolve from the choices of the players and the actions of the characters,” writes Mike Shea.

“Overall I have to say Lost Mine of Phandelver is fantastic,” writes Alex Lucard. “Not only is it a great way to introduce new gamers to Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s a very solid campaign in its own right.”

Merric Blackman rates the module this way: “This is an extremely well-designed and well-written adventure. It’s fun to play and run, and offers a lot of scope to the players and DM to make it their own, while still being accessible to newcomers.”

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Curse of Strahd (2016): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 4

Curse of Strahd (2016) is a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure for levels 1-10 by Chris Perkins with Adam Lee, Richard Whitters, and Jeremy Crawford.

Fifth-edition hardcover adventures like Tomb of Annihilation pull inspiration from a catalog of classic modules. Curse of Strahd just draws from just one: Ravenloft (1983) by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Ravenloft’s 32 pages spawned a campaign setting, so it easily brings enough inspiration to fill a hardcover. Ravenloft ranked second on Dungeon magazine’s list of the 30 greatest adventures, beaten only by a compilation of 7 adventures.

Curse of Strahd captures everything we loved in I6 Ravenloft, and expands it into a full campaign,” writes Mike “Sly Fourish” Shea. “Of all of the published campaigns, this one is the most solid, with a clear motivation and excellent locations.”

While Ravenloft mainly stayed in a castle, Curse of Strahd gives players the freedom to roam the cursed land of Barovia. Most of the fifth-edition hardcovers aspire to play as a sandbox, but only Curse really succeeds as one. Credit a foundation borrowed from Ravenloft. To defeat Strahd, characters must collect 3 artifacts. Early on, the party gains clues to the items’ locations. This structure gives players a goal and a sense of direction.

Curse of Strahd borrows another brilliant device from Ravenloft. A card reading from Barovia’s version of a tarot deck reveals the location of the magic items and the roles of key non-player characters. This gives the story a random element that feels vital.

Although Curse of Strahd features a strong design, the vampire Strahd and the fearful gloom of his domain make the adventure’s best parts.

Strahd’s history sometimes makes him seem relatable—or even capable of redemption. But that lie just makes him more horrifying. Tracy Hickman calls Strahd “a selfish beast forever lurking behind the mask of tragic romance, the illusion of redemption that was only ever camouflage for his prey.”

The adventure never lets characters forget Strahd’s threat. “Stahd isn’t a villain who remains out of sight until the final scene. Far from it—he travels as he desires to any place in his realm. The characters can and should meet him multiple times before the final encounter,” the text explains. “When Strahd wants to terrorize the characters, he pays them a visit, either under cloak of night or beneath overcast skies. If they’re indoors, he tries to charm or goad a character into inviting him inside.”

Strahd’s presence taints his land with dread. “Many of the locations and towns seem to be quite ordinary or mundane at first glance…until you dig deeper,” explains Tyler Biddle. “The imagery is at times hauntingly beautiful and tragically grotesque. Barovia’s characters as well as its horrors will stay with you long after you’ve left the table.”

Wary of making the adventure too gloomy, the authors added notes of twisted humor. No player will forget Blinsky’s toys.

“Creepiness abounds, with locations and characters who just drip gothic horror,” Chris Stevenson writes. “Groups that hate being ‘railroaded’ will love the sandbox nature of Barovia. Curse of Strahd is the best 5E campaign book yet.”

After playing the adventure, the author of the Mindlands blog summarizes the experience. “Curse of Strahd is the best published adventure that I’ve ever played in. The atmosphere is fantastic, the locations, non-player characters, and villains are interesting, tragic and funny.”

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Dead Gods (1997): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 5

Dead Gods (1997) is a second-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Monte Cook for levels 6-9.

Dead Gods boasts more than the best title of any D&D adventure, it features the most audacious storytelling. To start, the book includes two scenarios. “Although the two adventures stand on their own, they can also be linked together. ‘Out of the Darkness’ and ‘Into the Light’ feature different characters, locations and storylines, but they both revolve around the same themes: the death and resurrection of gods.” The book includes a flowchart showing where to best cut between adventures. “By weaving the two plots together, the dungeon master gives the players a periodic change of pace and tone that allows each adventure to echo the primary theme of Dead Gods.” Also, the text includes interludes that reveal events behind the scenes to “help the DM better understand what’s going on as the story progresses.”

On top of the ambitious woven narrative, Dead Gods includes a chapter where the characters use magic to peer into the distant past, and then create temporary characters to play out those past events.

The narrative stunts might suggest a novelist forcing a story into the wrong medium, but Dead Gods plays as well as it reads.

“All too often, D&D adventures miss out on the sort of teeth-gritting, edge of your seat action that defines the world,” says EN World reviewer Alan Kohler. “This Planescape adventure by Monte Cook brings that spirit of adventure in a race against time to prevent the resurrection of a demon lord.”

That race spans the planes, starting in Sigil and visiting such fantastic locations as a walking wizard’s tower, the plane-spanning tree Yggdrasil, a fortress floating in the negative material plane, a traveling circus on Pandemonium, and the Vault of the Drow. The climax brings the party to the astral plane where they battle atop the 4-mile-long corpse of the demon lord to stop the creature’s resurrection. Does any other adventure imagine such a grand scope?

Within a tight plot, the adventure works to allow choices and account for the players actions. “Monte Cook did a wonderful job with this, and not only lays the material before the DM’s eyes, but explains his thinking in virtually every part and gives the DM ways to change things without ruining continuity,” Lucias Meyer explains in an an RPG.net review. “This was the most fun my group ever had and is still a campaign we talk about. A must for any Planescape fan.”

Dead Gods was amazing and it solidified for me a love for Planescape that has never faded,” Mitchell Wallerstedt says of his play experience. “It was probably over 15 years ago that we played through it and I’m still waiting for more.”

Dead Gods ranked 14 on Dungeon magazine’s 2004 list of 30 greatest adventures.

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Madness at Gardmore Abbey (2011): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 6

Madness at Gardmore Abbey (2011) is a fourth-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure by James Wyatt with Creighton Broadhurst and Steve Townshend for levels 6-8.

Fourth edition’s early scenarios lavished attention on combat encounters strung into linear adventures designed to ensure no one missed a battle. But towards the end of the edition’s run, the D&D team wanted to grant players more freedom.

Madness at Gardmore Abbey combines the best qualities of fourth edition’s encounter design with a sandbox. “Gardmore Abbey is all about choices,” writes Mike “Sly Flourish” Shea. “It’s a large sandbox of adventure locations, villains, and a single powerful thread that binds them all together.”

That thread comes from the scattered cards of a Deck of Many Things, perhaps the most irresistible artifact in D&D. The adventure includes a real deck. “The Deck is interesting both in real life and in game, and one of the biggest reasons why Madness at Gardmore Abbey is awesome,” writes the Learning DM. Madness borrows the brilliant trick of drawing cards to determine aspects of the adventure from Ravenloft by Tracy and Laura Hickman, .

The adventure encourages choices by focusing on patrons, rivals, and the layout of the abbey. By scattering patrons who offer quests, the adventure gives the characters a steady sense of purpose.

The encounter design shines too. In a product history, Shannon Appelcline writes, “When Wyatt wrote out his order for the encounters, he told his designers that he didn’t want a ‘combat slog,’ but instead a ‘mix of combat, roleplaying, and skill challenges.’ Thus, Madness is one of the most varied of all the fourth-edtion adventures, even within the constraints of individual encounters.

Steve Townshend says that after he wrote up an encounter, he’d then go back and apply the ‘Lowell Kempf’ test, named after the longest-running player in his D&D campaign—who would often ignore the ‘direct’ solutions to problems, and instead look for the ‘interesting’ ones. Thus, Gardmore Abbey is filled with encounters that could be solved in many ways—not just with combat.”

Madness at Gardmore Abbey comes in a box packed with goodies, including the deck, battlemaps, tokens, and 4 adventure booklets.

Mike Shea calls Gardmore Abbey a “wonderful sandbox.” The Learning DM writes, “As it stands, Madness at Gardmore Abbey is the final pinnacle of adventure design in fourth edition, and I believe it deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest adventures in D&D’s rich history. Easily the best fourth-edition adventure.”

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Vault of the Dracolich (2013): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 7

Vault of the Dracolich is a D&D Next adventure By Mike Shea, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, and Teos Abadia for level 4 characters.

The Living Greyhawk organized-play campaign pioneered a popular new way to play Dungeons & Dragons at conventions. In Battle Interactives, multiple tables could join together in the same adventure. The effect of actions, successes, and failures at tables could ripple to others in the interactive.

To fuel excitement for D&D’s upcoming fifth edition, the D&D team planned a gameday for stores. Vault of the Dracolich co-designer Teos Abadia explains, “Wizards of the Coast wanted to see whether a gameday could be transformed from the typical adventure format into a very exciting event: a hybrid between a battle interactive and Lair Assault.” The event proved a huge success.

“The project’s approach was a new one for Wizards,” Abadia writes. “We designers were all freelancers acting as a team, instead of writing and submitting our work separately to WotC for them to put together. Mike was the author, I was the developer, and Scott the editor (and first draft cartographer). As a result, we all collaborated heavily and all took turns scheming, writing, developing, and editing.”

During the adventure, bands of heroes infiltrate a temple of the Cult of the Dragon to recover an ancient elven staff from the dracolich, Detchroyaster. Merric Blackman describes the setup. “Vault has a number of different groups investigating different parts of the dungeon at the same time. So, from one to seven tables can play at the same time, with a DM at each table, and one further person would act as the event’s coordinator, making sure everything worked smoothly and triggering the big events that affected several tables at once.”

“The lair of the Dracolich is large enough that it accompanies four sections, ranging from a Lizardmen commune to a temple of the dead god Bhaal,” writes Alex Lucard. “Each of the four locations offers a very different experience, so if you decide to run all four parts as a mini campaign or a single party, things won’t feel repetitive.”

The adventure encourages interaction between tables. Shannon Appelcline writes, “The coordinator moves about, threatening adventurers when the dracolich tracks them down; tables briefly come together and then separate, exchanging resources and coordinating plans. Even compared with similar adventures created for organized play, Dracolich stands out for the amount interaction possible between parties. Its game-store-sized scale lets everyone share the same dungeon.

“Groups that rely solely on one strategy, whether sneakiness or smacking monsters, will probably have some difficulty. The adventure is exceptionally well-designed, and various creative approaches are required for PCs to move through the complex safely. Enemies may be defeated, fooled, or co-opted with role-playing; regardless, it will take canny and aware players to succeed.”

In an RPG.net review, Vestige describes play. “There’s a breakneck rush through the dungeon to reach the staff, and then a massive climactic battle with even more to do than there are players. That’s a solid formula for a memorable day of D&D.”

In his account of running the adventure during a game day, Merric Blackman calls the experience “fantastic” and the scenario “something quite special.”

In a post, co-author Mike Shea offers advice for converting the adventure to fifth edition.

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Sunless Citadel (2000): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 8

Sunless Citadel (2000) is a third-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Bruce Cordell for levels 1-3.

When Dungeons & Dragons started, creating an introductory adventure must have been easy. The adventure setting could stick close to the mundane: back alleys and caverns. New characters lack magic and abilities likely to derail an author’s plans. Choose goblins, kobolds, or bandits. Sprinkle in rats and overgrown bugs. Done.

Twenty-five years into D&D’s history, when Bruce Cordell penned the adventure that introduced third edition to new and returning players, he faced a more demanding audience. His Sunless Citadel rates as the 8th greatest adventure since 1985. In a dungeon crawl, the adventure serves the monsters, treasures, and even the dragon that new players expect from D&D. Plus dungeon delves make an easy start for new DMs.

But Sunless Citadel serves much more than D&D comfort food. The adventure includes sweet and spicy ingredients. Start with a deeply evocative location: a castle dropped into a rift by some cataclysm. Add a lost dragon wyrmling, a tainted tree at the heart of the ruin, and an evil druid with a plan. That plan adds a story element that gives characters a goal larger than looting, plus a climactic final battle. In addition to the usual low-level foes, Cordell adds a fresh humanoid monster.

While many dungeons exhaust players with fights while neglecting interaction, Sunless Citadel encourages players to ally with the kobold faction and with one of D&Ds most beloved non-player characters. “One of the surprise folk heroes of The Sunless Citadel was the hapless and pitiful kobold Meepo,” Shannon Appelcline writes in a product history. Meepo brings a compelling personality and often becomes a party mascot or guide. “Gradually the name Meepo became recognizable in D&D canon.”

Tales from the Yawning Portal updates Sunless Citadel for fifth edition.

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Tomb of Annihilation (2017): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 9

Tomb of Annihilation (2017) is a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Chris Perkins, Will Doyle, and Steve Winter for levels 1-11.

Chris Perkins approach to adventure design seems to start with a collision of classic influences. Out of the Abyss mixes the Underdark with Alice In Wonderland. Storm King’s Thunder crosses Gary Gygax’s classic giant modules with King Lear. And Tomb of Annihilation mixes the dinosaurs and lost world of Isle of Dread, with the overgrown jungle ruins of Dwellers of the Forbidden City, with a deathtrap dungeon inspired by Tomb of Horrors. Every one of those influences appears on the Dungeon magazine list of 30 greatest adventures, and the mix plays better than any of them.

The story lands characters in tropical jungle land of Chult, a place with dinosaurs, volcanoes, pirates, and, well, frost giants. The players work to stop a world-spanning curse that blocks resurrection magic and wastes away anyone who returned from the dead.

“By far and away the ‘best bit’ of Tomb of Annihilation is the inclusion of some of the most fantastic and exotic locations seen in fifth edition so far,” writes Simon Yule for Geek Dad. “Most of these are stumbled upon as the party explores the thick jungles of Chult. They include the giant mud shrine at Dungrunglung, home of the frog-like grungs; the epic 300-foot-tall spire of Firefinger, patrolled by ferocious Pterafolk; the floating cave the Heart of Ubtao, complete with lich and zombie gorilla monsters; and the carnivorous garden of Nangalore.”

J.R. Zambrano from Bell of Lost Souls writes, “There’s a sense of adventure that pervades each of the book’s 5 Chapters. Everywhere you turn, there’s a cool location or a unique NPC or some sequence of events that makes you excited to get out there and play.”

Part of that flavor stems from the best, most evocative art of any D&D book. Pictures depicting the Port Nyanzaru street scene, the flametongue-wielding, snake-tailed villain Ras Nsi, and especially the overgrown first level of the tomb all make unforgettable calls to adventure.

The players’ quest leads to lost city, and then a multi-level deathtrap created by Acererak, the architect of the Tomb of Horrors. “Careful thinking, genuine puzzle-solving skills, and thorough trial-and-error exploration is something players will need to get through it all,” Jonbolds explains for Critical-Hits. “The dungeon beneath the city is a living environment with awesome links between areas requiring strategy and tactics from the players to overcome.”

Shawn Ellsworth reviewed the adventure for Tribality. “This is my favorite adventure to come out for this edition of D&D. Many of my favorite adventures have my players exploring deadly wilderness, searching ancient ruins full of puzzles and traps, and battling some mysterious lost people. If you are a fan of Indiana Jones, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, and Tomb Raider, this adventure brings a real pulp adventure feel to Dungeons & Dragons.”

“From beginning to end, this is a masterclass in adventure building,” writes J.R. Zambrano. “Tomb of Annihilation takes players into the forgotten lands of Chult and really brings it to life. If I had to pick the one thing this book does best: it captures the character of the setting.”

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The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 10

The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996) is a second-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Bruce Cordell for levels 5-8.

When TSR introduced the second-edition Player’s Option books, new designer Bruce Cordell drew the job of writing an adventure highlighting the supplements.

The Combat & Tactics supplement introduced the maps-and-minis, grid-based style of combat that would come to dominate third and fourth edition. For that, the adventure packages monster tokens, and vivid—almost psychedelic—battlemaps for key locations.

For characters upgraded with Skills & Powers, The Gates of Firestorm Keep brings tough combat challenges against organized duergar resistance.

After passing the duergar guarding the gate, the party can continue through more combat, or stealth, or an alliance with a duergar usurper. Reviewer Will Mistretta writes, “Firestorm Peak is strongly non-linear, with more than one way to tackle the dungeon’s challenges.”

Never content to build a dungeon around a mere ruin or hole in the ground, Cordell begins with a evocative premise: “Once a generation, they say, a strange comet appears in the sky overhead and the gates of Firestorm Peak swing open.” One player has the option of casting their character as the offspring of an adventurer who disappeared in the mountain 28 years ago.

The adventure starts as a tactical challenge, but it veers into fresh territory. “Anyone who’s been a gamer long enough reaches a stage where he or she begins to feel like it’s all been done,” John D. Rateliff says. “This adventure is evidence that fresh talent will always come along and do the familiar with so much verve and so many personal touches that it all seems new again.”

As the party delves deeper and starts unraveling the peak’s mystery, the story creeps into the weird territory of things we’re not meant to know. “It positively oozes freaky flavor,” writes Mistretta. “The alien life forms infesting the depths of the dungeon are truly unsettling in their aspect and the gradual transition from a classic Underdark romp to the heart of an otherworldly foulness is handled quite deftly.”

Firestorm Peak introduced the Far Realm, a Lovecraftian dimension of insanity and horror. “It got a lot of attention because it was evocative and focused on one of D&D’s influences that had long been neglected—the Cthulhu mythos,” Shannon Appelcline writes in his product history. “The Gates of Firestorm Peak was also the adventure that changed the way people thought about D&D aberrations. Beforehand, they were wizardly experiments gone wrong, but afterward they were more frequently associated with Lovecraftian monstrosities.”

The Gates of Firestorm Peak ranked 11 on Dungeon magazine’s 2004 list of 30 greatest adventures.

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