Dungeons & Dragons has a long history and vast back catalog of adventures to enjoy, but many of the classics have fallen by the wayside because of newer editions’ focus on new content. Don’t get me wrong, that’s great, but there are so many classic, awesome experiences that newer players would have to learn old editions of the game to play. With the new edition on its way soon, the news has cropped up that Night’s Dark Terror, a classic adventure from the early days of D&D, will be reimagined for the game’s starter set. So if Wizards of the Coast is in the mood to bring back good old adventures for the new game, then here’s the ones they should use:
Desert of Desolation
With the Forgotten Realms as the new default, it’s going to be up to Wizards to remind players that the Realms is a diverse place with lots of interesting places to go – enter the Desert of Desolation series, already folded into the forgotten realms when it was published in 1987. The series was made up of three adventures: Pharoah, Oasis of the White Palm, and The Lost Tomb of Martek. Starting with a trap-laden crawl through an ancient pyramid-maze at the behest of a spirit that wants its tomb plundered, and ending in a journey across time and space to awaken the spirit of a thousand year old wizard, it’s hard to call these adventures anything but classic D&D. They even include some of the coolest artifact-style magic items ever to appear in an adventure – the three Star Gems, each with its own bizarre or amazing power. Oasis of the White Palm has an incredible maze of invisible traps – requiring careful planning and coordination on the players’ parts. Lost Tomb of Martek involves a harrowing nighttime journey on a bizarre boat that skims across a sea of glass – and terrifying worm-creatures that attack from below while you sail it.
The disembodied Hand and Eye of Vecna are hands down some of the most iconic artifacts in Dungeons & Dragons history. Granting power to you if you carve off your own body part and replace them with the Lich-God’s castoffs, they’re so powerful that they rarely saw play in the game as anything other than a plot device. Enter Vecna Lives, an adventure for very high level characters in second edition that opens with an elaborate cutscene, if you will. The players are given the character sheets for the Circle of Eight, the most powerful wizards in the world. Then Vecna returns from the dead (Again? This guy is a Lich already, so I dunno what the proper terminology is on that – but you understand) and kills them all.
Let me restate that: The first thing that happens in this game is that you kill the eight most powerful people in the world. Then the PCs have to fix it all. It’s one of the finest examples of the kind of high-stakes adventures that have always best defined high level D&D play, where failure by the players means the complete undoing of all that is good and just in reality. The adventure itself is fairly standard – though remarkably episodic for its time period, dealing with a romping journey through the whole of the world and planes beyond. It’s very much adventure fiction, but interspersed with an desperate, survival-horror feel as the players are stalked by the returned demi-god lich and his undead minions. This is the kind of epic storyline play that Wizards of the Coast is hard selling with the new edition, and this is the kind of story they should use for it.
The Lost City
Wandering in the desert, lost and dying of thirst, the characters come upon a pyramid rising from the dunes. Their only hope for survival is to take shelter there, which kicks off the exploration of the bizarre interior – eventually revealed to be the long-lost city of Cynidicea. The place is populated by subterranean human tribes that do little more than farm fungus, worship forgotten gods, and get really high on odd narcotics. With awesome politics between the strange cults of the lost city’s inhabitants, and the vast pyramid complex – not to mention the city buried beneath the dungeon – the dungeon was filled with intrigue and amazement. Not to mention the monster, Zargon, that the players slowly discover was the cause for the downfall of the city. As they become more powerful, they can eventually fight the cult that worships Zargon and kill the beast, giving the lost city another shot at its former glory.
So, yes: another from the “not your bog standard medieval European fantasy” category. Frankly, this is one of the strangest D&D modules ever published. So strange, in fact, that aside from its pyramid it’s hard to say where the heck the inspirations for this odd place even came from. Like a fine wine, The Lost City has only gotten more attractive with age.
Sorry, did I mention that everyone in Cynidicea wears goofy animal masks? Well, they do.
The Temple of Elemental Evil
Kicking off with The Village of Hommlet, one of the best introductory adventures of all time, and including more “but wait, they weren’t the true villains at all!” moments than anything else you’d ever want, there’s a reason that The Temple of Elemental Evil has been visited, remade, returned to, and made into a video game. Elemental Evil is a perfect module for kicking off a long adventure series, with a ramping up from small town-and-dungeon setup to the larger, more dangerous temple itself. As the danger behind the temple is revealed to be not just evil elemental lords, but an evil goddess, the stakes get higher and higher. Thankfully, the plot is well timed with the levels of the dungeon, giving a kind of flexible, level-based narrative that allows players to explore at their own stakes.
Dungeons & Dragons adventures are more plot-driven and storyline based than they’ve ever been before. To that end, what better way to pay tribute than to revive one of the most famous plotted adventures ever made? Ravenloft draws from the tradition of gothic fiction to give the story of a blighted place where the vampire Strahd von Zarovich rules through terror – but it turns out your characters aren’t there by chance. You’re part of Strahd’s plan. What part do your adventurers play? No spoilers, kids! Raveloft is also notable for the sheer amount of interesting action that can take place off-stage – if the players make bad choices, they may return to key locations and find that Strahd has wreaked chaos after them. The icing on the cake is that the original Ravenloft included some awesome twists, like a deck of cards that randomized the locations of plot elements and objects in the adventure. Even if you were playing Ravenloft for the second time, you didn’t know where the legendary Sunsword was hiding.
Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
What starts off as a routine expedition to discover the source of disturbances and reports of large metal monsters ends as a gonzo journey through the inside of a futuristic space ship crashed into a mountain. Remarkably, the science fiction elements like colored keycards and laser pistols fit quite well into the world of D&D – what’s a laser pistol if not a Wand of Scorching Ray with a handle? The whole thing is a weird exploration-driven romp through a spaceship, though it has a quite weak ending as originally written. Given some rewriting and expanding, Barrier Peaks could be a really great adventure to remind players of the new edition that D&D doesn’t have to be all serious all the time. Besides, it has vegepygmies. Who doesn’t love vegepygmies?
Queen of the Spiders
This is it. This is the grandparent, the big ancestor, of the giant cross-media events that D&D hinges on now. From the humble beginning fighting giants to uncovering a kingdom-spanning plot headed up by the demon queen of spiders, the “GDQ” series, as its come to be called, has some of the most famous adventures in D&D‘s history in it. Kicking off with the Against the Giants modules, where the players fight enemies that both outsize and outnumber them, and striding forward into the Underdark to cleanse entire cities of Dark Elves, these adventures present some of the most classic kinds of gameplay that D&D has to offer. Slowly uncovering the specifics of Lolth’s dark elves and their involvement, then taking the fight to the very heart of the abyss, was an experience that many will never forget – and a new generation of players deserves it too.
Want to go for the bonus points? There’s a semi-canonical historical effort that makes Temple of Elemental Evil the kickoff to this campaign. Go all in, and that’s a hell of a super-adventure waiting to happen.