Let’s face it, the list of adventure modules for fifth edition is only getting bigger, and it’s only getting harder to keep track of them all. We are already at, what eighteen adventure books? That’s a lot to choose from when considering your next game. So let’s see which adventures are worth playing at your table!
Today we’re gonna take a look at sixteen of the official adventure books for Dungeons & Dragons, and we’ll give them each a rating between 1 and 5 stars. 5 is the best, of course, but a 1 doesn’t mean that the adventure is garbage. It just means you’ll have to work a bit more to make the adventure really shine.
We’ll be leaving out the Stranger Things starter set and the Rick and Morty book, because, honestly, none of us have played them. If you have, let us know what you think about them down in the comments!
This list is completely subjective, so if you have any objections, feel free to tell me in the comments what rating you would give all the books.
We’ve also got an announcement later on in the video, so be sure to stick around.
With that said, let’s dive in!
Lost Mine of Phandelver
On July 15th, 2014, we were graced with the Starter Set for 5th edition. In it, we are given the adventure: Lost Mine of Phandelver!
This adventure takes us to the town of Phandalin and its surrounding area, where your players will avoid deadly goblin ambushes, brush up against thuggish ruffians, and delve into ancient ruins. Your party will be roped into this adventure by way of a simple escort quest, but after a little snafu with some of the locals, they will find that this adventure is a real sandbox treat—and I don’t mean the kind that cats leave behind. The town of Phandalin and the land of Phandelver are rife with adventure, and your players will be free to tackle all that is presented to them in any order they choose.
This is a classic D&D adventure, hitting up the usual fantasy tropes, but that is not a bad thing. In fact, that is this adventure’s greatest strength. Lost Mine of Phandelver doesn’t complicate things with large political schemes and world ending destruction: it’s simply a sandbox to dump your players in, and then observe which adventure hooks they latch themselves onto. This is a great adventure for both new and experienced players.
You’re almost guaranteed to have a good time with this one, but because it was developed while fifth edition was in its infancy, the adventure suffers a bit from unbalanced encounters and improperly explained mechanics. I would give this adventure a solid 4 out of 5 stars.
Tyranny of Dragons
Knocking out two adventures in one, we have the Tyranny of Dragons series, consisting of Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat, released on August 19th and November 4th, 2014. This campaign truly does put the dragons in Dungeons & Dragons, as your players will be tasked with fighting not only dragon cultists, but many dragons themselves.
From humble beginnings of helping a town in trouble, your characters will rise to epic scales of play where they rally the forces of the Sword Coast to battle an evil cult at a temple risen from the very earth itself.
This is a more linear adventure, with your players being driven from one location to the next and doing what they need to do there. If a high-octane tour-of-the-world style of adventure is your thing, Tyranny of Dragons might be a good fit for you.
There has been a lot of criticism of this adventure, however, with some of the middle parts lagging and lacking in meaningful characters. We’re going to give this 2 out of 5 stars.
Princes of the Apocalypse
Released on April 7th, 2015, Princes of the Apocalypse has your players tasked with fighting cultists. Now before you say “But the last adventure had cultists,” make no mistake: Princes of the Apocalypse vastly differs in the fact that there are four different cult groups, each linked to a particular element of the world, and each with their own unique agents, monsters, motifs, and mega dungeons to interact with.
These four elemental cults have invaded the Dessarin Valley, a sandbox area that your players will get to know and love as they search for a delegation whose disappearance has caught the attention of the factions in the area. It’s not only the search for the missing delegation, but a love of the valley area and its people that will propel characters forward to stop the evil cults before they bring about an elemental apocalypse.
This is another adventure which takes low level nobodies and raises them up to be the big, damned heroes. The interplay with the cults working with or against each other sets an interesting backdrop as the party uncovers the real threat that lies underneath each of the cult’s bases, and the fights with the true big bads of this campaign will be ones you will not forget anytime soon.
This isn’t an adventure module that you can pick up and run piecemeal, and have a good time. You’ll need to do quite a bit of prep work and read through the entire module first, and even then some of the payoff for fighting the cults can be a bit lackluster. We’re gonna give this one 2.5 stars out of 5.
Out of the Abyss
Out of the Abyss is an adventure like no other in this whole line up. Released September 15th, 2015, this adventure sees characters drawn into a world that hadn’t yet been seen in fifth edition.
In the first half of the adventure, characters are captured and dragged into the Underdark, the vast cave network that exists underneath Faerun. The party must escape and make their way back to the surface. The second half has your players journeying back into the Underdark and delving deeper than ever before in order to stop the rise of demonic forces!
The locations and creatures your players will get to explore and interact with are like none other on the surface world, making this adventure truly stand out on its own. The locations in the Underdark provide more than enough material to last several campaigns. This adventure is fantastic for any that want a true Underdark experience.
This adventure suffers from a bit of a bizarre structure and somewhat disjointed pieces. We’re gonna give it 3 out of 5 stars.
Curse of Strahd
Curse of Strahd is the gothic horror campaign of fifth edition. Sinking its fangs into us on March 15th 2016, this adventure sees your party swept into the mists of Ravenloft and plopped into the land of Barovia. There they will be not so humbly greeted by the master of the domain, one Count Strahd von Zarovich, the adventure’s main antagonist.
This close relationship your character will have with the namesake villain of this campaign makes this big bad evil guy unlike any other. The key to defeating Strahd is to scour the land for ancient artifacts that your players are shown through a mystic Tarokka card reading, reminiscent of a Tarot reading.
The lands of Borovia are miserable, and hopefully your players can make the land a better place, but that’s much easier said than done.
Curse of Strahd is the most popular module of the current edition, and for good reason. The setting pulls you in, the world is fleshed out, and the adventure’s antagonist is charismatic and ever-present.
This sandbox adventure tasks your players with fighting the evil of the land, however it is likely they themselves will court darkness to do so. This adventure is FANGtastic for people wanting an enclosed environment to work in.
This adventure gets an easy 5 out of 5 for its well sculpted world, deep lore, and just all around awesomeness.
Storm King’s Thunder
Storm King’s Thunder is a campaign sandbox on a scale unmatched by any other in this edition. Storming into the community on September 16th 2016, this continent-spanning adventure has your players pitted up against larger than life foes: giants!.
The society of giants is in turmoil, and each tribe is trying to climb its way to the top rank, much to the dismay of us little folk. Your players have the chance to fight, converse, or avoid the six different clans of giants as they try to bring peace to the Savage Frontier.
The variety in quests and locations to explore, and just sheer freedom for your players is astounding. For anyone that wishes to break free from the rails of a structured module, Storm King’s Thunder is a breath of fresh air. This adventure is made for those who want a grand adventure, but not the overbearing rush of needing to get things done.
With all of that, there are some difficulties in running the middle part of this module. There’s a lot there, but not much structure for the DM to go on. We’re going to award this adventure a 3.5 out of 5.
Tales from the Yawning Portal
On March 24th 2017, we were given Tales from the Yawning Portal, a true blast from the past. This book isn’t one big adventure, but a collection of adventures from previous editions of D&D—and one from the testing stages of the current one—each beautifully updated for modern play.
These adventures contain iconic dungeons that many have come to know and love. This book is a must buy for those that want self-contained adventures that they can run on their own, or tack onto an existing campaign. Each of these adventures are classics in their own right, and they show what makes Dungeons & Dragons so great.
If you want to tie everything in this book together as one campaign, you can, but it’ll take a lot of work. Additionally, for good or ill, some of these dungeons lack the narrative backbone that we’re used to seeing these days, and are really just a long string of encounters. But overall, it’s a fantastic book, and we’re giving this 4 out of 5 stars.
Tomb of Annihilation
Did you know there’s more to the Forgotten Realms than just the Sword Coast? Crazy, right?
Tomb of Annihilation takes us away from the Sword Coast, and down to the vibrant location of Chult, a sprawling jungle filled with pirates, zombies… and even dinosaurs. What more could you ask for? In this adventure, released on September 19th, 2017, characters will hack their way through the jungles of Chult to find the Soulmonger, a device which is catching and devouring the souls of everyone in the world that dies. This means that death is final in this game—there’s no resurrection for dead characters!
Run this high stakes adventure if you want to give your players an Indiana Jones style epic journey in an exotic location. With a jungle to explore, colorful NPCs to meet, and a deathtrap dungeon to delve into, there is a little bit of something for everyone.
This module needs a little work for some groups to lower the difficulty, if you’re into that sort of thing. We’re gonna go ahead and award this one 4 out of 5 stars.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
Just under one year later on September 18th, 2018, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist sees your players wrapped up in a chase for a large amount of gold in one of the most iconic cities of the Sword Coast. Your characters are not alone, however, as there will be several other factions and individuals vying for the same prize.
The star of this show is the abundant number of NPCs your players will interact with, and the amount of social interaction available for your characters. The four major villains in the book provide the adventure with a unique twist. Each time you run Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, the villain you put in place will dictate the course of the campaign and will highlight the different styles of villainy that one can get up to in a city like Waterdeep.
This short yet sweet adventure earns a 3 out of 5, as some may not enjoy the railroady aspects of the linear story. Plus, you’re not actually trying to heist a dragon, so… points off for false advertising.
Dungeon of the Mad Mage
Dungeon of the Mad Mage is not a mega dungeon, it is the mega dungeon of fifth edition. Coming out just two months after Watdeep: Dragon Heist on November 13th 2018, this monstrous book details the 23 levels of Undermountain, the sprawling dungeon underneath the city of Waterdeep whose entrance resides within the famed Yawning Portal tavern. Of all the published adventures for fifth edition, this one will see your characters advance more than any other—they go from fifth level, all the way to 20th!
Each level of Undermountain provides something new. There are so many encounters and locations to explore that this book can keep your group busy for years to come. The master of the dungeon, Halaster is sure to make your players’ time in the dungeon memorable, for better or for worse!
If you and your group love the combat aspect of Dungeons & Dragons—and I mean love it—then this could be a great module for you. But if you’re more focused on exploring a narrative, there’s not a lot going on here. We’re going to give this adventure a 1.5 out of 5, not because it’s a bad adventure, but because I’m more of a storyteller, and if you were to actually run this thing whole, it could take freakin’ years to complete.
Dungeon Coach Plug
Before we move on with the next module, I want to point something out.
Modules aren’t meant to be strict blueprints. You aren’t meant to follow them to-the-letter with no deviations whatsoever. An adventure module, especially when it comes to storytelling, is just a loose guideline. It sets the stage for an adventure, and lets you know what can happen. Nothing is set in stone, and you’re free to change, add, and subtract as much as you see fit.
When you’re adding brand new things, you can draw from a variety of sources. One that I think is particularly worth your time comes from a buddy of mine, The Dungeon Coach. You might be familiar with him, and if you’re not… You should be.
DC, as I like to call him, is the king of homebrew, and he’s coming out with his very own book! Alkander’s Almanac of All Things, and it’s LIVE on Kickstarter TODAY, and there’s a link to it down below this video.
This book expands on the three pillars of adventure–combat, exploration, and social–by expanding on or adding news systems that you can drop right into your game.
- Want to spice up travel? Alkander’s gives you a new travel system.
- Sick of boring martial combat? There’s 20 new martial actions in here, along with new conditions, spells, and hundreds of ways to customize combat at your table.
- There’s even a bunch of systems that let you enhance social interactions and encourage roleplay from everyone at your table.
Dungeon Coach is a quickly growing channel, and that’s because he knows what he’s talking about. He’s taken all of that wisdom and bundled it together in this book so that you can lower the DC of your game, and raise up the fun.
Check out Alkander’s Almanac of All Things on Kickstarter, and let’s get this book funded!
Ghosts of Saltmarsh
Coming to shore on May 21st 2019, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is the second anthology book of fifth edition. It grabs several adventures from older editions, but also includes the location of Saltmarsh itself. This inclusion allows you to weave all the separate adventures into one big campaign, much more easily than we saw in Tales from the Yawning Portal.
The adventures themselves involve seashores and nautical themes, perfect for any that want a taste of salt in the air of your games. The adventures work well both as individual adventures and as a full-blown campaign.
The setting is great, and the adventures fun, but there is some odd dungeon design going on here and there. This adventure gets a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Dragon of Icespire Peak
On June 24th, 2019, Wizards came out with The Essentials Kit to rope new players into the hobby! This box included the adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak, where we return to Phandalin.
This time we are given more places to explore, new mechanics to work with, and a dragon to chase after. The dragon is a new arrival to the surrounding territory, and its presence is shaking things up in a foul way, as other monsters are now displaced and stirring up trouble.
This adventure works well for people who love sandboxes and lower stakes journeys. It also introduces us to a more modular design approach from Wizards, which we see in later adventures.
Much like Lost Mine of Phandelver, we give this adventure 4 out of 5 stars.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus
Coming out on September 17th, 2019, Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus gives your players a one-way ticket to hell. Unfortunately, hell really isn’t all that bad.
After some trouble in Baldur’s Gate, your party is tasked with diving into the first layer of hell, Avernus, to save a city that they’ve likely never been to or heard of. The city of Elturel is chained to the floor of hell, and is being dragged into the River Stix, after which its inhabitants will rise to reinforce the ranks of Zariel’s devil army.
If that isn’t enough, your players will make dark deals with devils, ride around in Mad Max like hell cars, and find themselves embroiled in the Blood War of devils and demons.
This adventure can be a lot of fun, but it suffers greatly from a disconnected first chapter and subsequent content that’s so linear, it makes an on-rails shooter look like an open world game. This adventure gets 2 stars out of 5.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
Going from extreme heat to extreme cold, we have Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, released on September 15th 2020. In this bone chilling adventure, characters find themselves North of the Spine of the World in the vicinity of Ten Towns, the only bastion of civilization in the frozen wastes.
That civilization is on the brink of collapse however, as they have been plunged into eternal darkness and winter by the frost goddess, Auril. Your players must stop her wicked ways, and in addition deal with all the other looming threats around the towns, most notably a duergar clan that plans to unleash destruction upon the towns. This adventure is dark in many ways and is a great time for those that wish to brave the frozen frontier.
I’m a big fan of Icewind Dale as an adventure setting, but unfortunately, the horror elements that were teased for this adventure never materialized. There’s also a lot of legwork to be done in order to tie all of the pieces of the adventure together in a way that makes sense. On the other hand, there are enough talking animals for this to be a Zootopia sequel.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden gets a chilly 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Last but certainly not least on the module line up is Candlekeep Mysteries, released on March 16th, 2021. This is another anthology book, containing seventeen different adventures, all of which originate in the famed Candlekeep libraries. Unlike the two previous anthologies, these are completely new adventures!
Each of the seventeen adventures were written by different authors, many recruited from DMsGuild.com leading to a great variety in content and delivery. They all have their own unique theme and setting, with many of them taking place all over the world. Each of the adventures can be run as one shots, or you could combine them all for one crazy campaign. Check this one out if you want to avoid major prep and just run a fun game. This community driven book earns a 4 out of 5, as you are bound to find adventures worth running, either alone or in your own campaigns.
Seven years of fifth edition has come and gone, and it’s been a heck of a ride! Despite the variances on our ratings, I have to say that none of the adventures released over the last seven years is objectively bad. I’m sure some of you will disagree with me, though. But according to Wizards of the Coast, over 40 million people play Dungeons & Dragons around the world. The way I see it, there’s something in each one of these adventures that speaks to one group or another.
There is undoubtedly something in them for you, whether you run the adventure as written in its entirety, you take your own creative liberties to bring it to life, or you just take bits and pieces to use in your homebrew games. And remember, if you’re homebrewing, check out Alkander’s Almanac of All Things from The Dungeon Coach on Kickstarter! There’s a link down below.
Given how big Dungeons & Dragons is these days, and how fast it’s growing, Wizards of the Coast is sure to keep coming out with more books for us. Between the adventures and the campaign settings, I don’t see us being short of game content, or inspiration, for a long time to come.