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

  1. Pingback: Red Hand of Doom (2006): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 2 | DMDavid

  2. The greatest adventure since 1985 came out in 1986. Hmmmm…

    • Terry Kandel says:

      2nd edition The Falcon series set in Greyhawk were excellent modules to DM . The Advanced D&D modules the Dentinal and the Gauntlet were exceptional as was Needle . The against the Giants series were amazing to play as was the temple of Elemental Evil . Just ran my group through the Mines excellent 5e module . Just a few of my favorites guess I’ve been playing a long time now . Started in 1977 in high school. We are getting ready to start a new group of characters now and play Dragon Heist Waterdeep .

      • JustDave says:

        I really wish there was a print on demand of this. It’s been a favorite of mine since we played it a few years back. Top notch adventure.

    • C Behrens says:

      And? Yes it means that in his opinion, nothing since 1985 surpassed this. It does not matter if it came out in 1985 or 2015.

  3. Thomas Pham says:

    Where’s the list? It just says what number 3 and number 1 are.

  4. froth says:

    A classic to be sure. I enjoyed this blog series!

  5. OS_DM says:

    I was thinking oh my god you’re not going to have this one. DmDavid is officially awesome in my books.

    The farmstead but is in the back of the temple of elemental evil 5e as a side quest would you believe it (slaps head)!

  6. Karl Rodriguez says:

    Haha! Running this now as a prequel to Isle of Dread (nominally using 5e rules with OSR procedural) .

  7. stripeshulka says:

    Both Red Hand of Doom and Night’s Dark Terror eventually spin into adventures that can often lead the players to wonder “why are we doing this again?” Yet both of them are extremely memorable for how they begin — with the characters as heroic underdogs in Lord of the Rings style massive battles. And as a result they’re ranked 1 and 2 on your list, which I have no problem with because they are both well-loved modules. I just really hope Wizards of the Coast pays attention to your list because I think this current creative team could knock it out of the park with a Red Hand of Doom/Night’s Dark Terror/Test of the Warlords/Bloodstone Pass-inspired military adventure.

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