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Which pre-written D&D modules do you consider to be classic, and why?

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I'm a bit dubious about the question (subjective, no real answer, gonna be a lot of people posting lists of their opinions) but either way, why the [osr] and [odd] tags? Some people consider Sunless Citadel to be a classic. –  Bryant Aug 31 '10 at 14:11
I don't think there is any way this question is valid. It's completely subjective and provides no value. –  C. Ross Aug 31 '10 at 14:22
I think there can be "an answer"...certain adventures have been around long enough and are iconic enough that they should be considered classics. It's up to those who answer the question to provide the reasons why, rather than just submitting a list of their favorites. Description of "why" a module should be considered classic has to be included in any list such as this. –  Badmike Aug 31 '10 at 15:17
@Jeff: check out the osr tag description. I assume you thought it was a typo. –  yhw42 Mar 22 '11 at 15:20
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closed as not constructive by Pat Ludwig Mar 20 '12 at 13:18

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12 Answers

Obviously any of the modules that were first published could be considered classics because D&D was more of a shared experience in the late 70s and early 80s. Unlike today with the plethora of choices available, back in the day there were only a handful of published D&D modules to choose from, and players/DMs often compared their success (or lack of) in certain modules. As a result, certain "bits" of these became standard for use in future publications by DMs throughout the years. If you can name a character, treasure, or location from a module and have the majority of people around you (old schoolers or not) nod and smile at the familiarity to the subject, I think that should be considered "classic". Below is a list that is taken almost exclusively from the early days of the hobby:

  1. S1 Tomb of Horrors by Gary Gygax: The first "killer" dungeon, with the classic series tricks/traps that often led to TPKs. The final encounter with the virtually impossible to destroy Acererak the demi-lich is considered a classic. The evidence this is a classic is in the many, many reprints and remakes for this product...it was reprinted in the Silver Anniversary boxed set, a sequel (Return to the Tomb of Horrors), and remakes for later editions (including just recently a 4E version) and Hackmaster.

  2. S2 White Plume Mountain by Lawrence Schick: Probably the first "fun house" dungeon, where unusual and unique monsters and set ups are used to prevent the characters from acquiring three unique weapons of power. Not a lot of logic to the setups, which mostly exist to test character's problem solving ability or tactical chops. Probably the most iconic item to come out of this adventure is Blackrazor, a super-powerful sword resembling Elric's Stormbringer, that was meant to be found and returned to it's owner but often instead ended up being appropriated by the party members (to the ruin of many a DM dungeon who let this happen!) This is apparently a very well-loved module, back in the day it went through many printings, was also reprinted in the silver anniversary box set, and also had a sequel (Return to White Plume Mountain) and a Hackmaster remake.

  3. B2 Keep on the Borderlands by Gary Gygax: The first published "sandbox" type setting, which featured a base (the Keep) and a large area of untamed wilderness, including the now-classic "Caves of Chaos" where many different sorts of monsters lived in caverns within close proximity. It was the perfect setting for fledgling adventurers to cut their teach on such D&D mainstays as kobolds, orcs, goblins, as well as wilderness adventuring, and best of all, learning to RUN AWAY when the hornet's nest of the Caves is kicked over and all the monsters come boiling out!!! There is no "right" way to explore this setting, which led to it's reputation as a fun little replayable setting. To this day, this adventure is considered one of the most iconic introductory scenarios to Dungeons & Dragons, its inclusion in one of the early D&D boxed sets means it has probably been played more than any D&D scenario in history! It also appeared in the silver anniversary boxed set, had a sequel (Return to the Keep on the Borderlands) and a Hackmaster remake, as well as being remade for new editions of the game.

  4. G1-3 Against the Giants by Gary Gygax: The first published series for AD&D, these three modules were adapted from tournament scenarios run at Gencon, and have become classics over the years (reprints in the silver anniversary set, sequel, Hackmaster remake, later editions) of the "Hack n Slash" model of D&D gaming. Each adventure features a giant's lair (Hill, Frost, and Fire respectively), with a thin plot holding the three together (but which would later lead into the classic "D" series as the power behind the evil giants is discovered)...but lets face it. The fun and excitement of these adventures was in battling giants...LOTS of giants...and their allies and servants (which included dragons, trolls, an evil dwarf, Cloud and Stone giants) and of course the then-mysterious dark elf drow that would later become a major creature in the TSR universe. Each module feature combat, lots of it, with the classic Sutherland maps it was a popular combination. Lots of iconic characters and interesting little details made this one of the most popular series of all time...each module holds an encounter or monster that old school DMs and players fondly remember (my favorites from the modules are the evil temple in the lower level of G1, the frozen adventurer cave in G2, and the dwarf Ombi in G3).

  5. T1 The Village of Hommlet by Gary Gygax: The first example of a D&D setting that could be used as a base by characters, and the introduction to several concepts that would populate D&D modules for years to come, as well as iconic characters and settings (The Moathouse may have, over the decades, become the single most iconic setting in D&D history). The setup is the characters wander into a "sleepy" little village (home to The Inn of the Welcome Wench as well as a church, general store, druid's grove, and tower being constructed by two higher-level adventurers). Of course, not is all as it seems, as evil lies just underneath the surface of the seemingly normal town, and just outside of town in the long-destroyed moathouse where an evil army once laired, evil skulks once again (led by Lareth the Beautiful, a classic character that has appeared again and again over the years). This setting was intended as a lead-in to further adventures (T2, T3, T4) leading into a final confrontation at the Temple of Elemental Evil. Later, after a few years, Frank Mentzer eventually finished up Gary's notes and the supermodule T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil was published. However, for my money, the first of the series was the best, a great example of a fantasy (not realistic) village setting that could be used as a base for characters investigating the area.

Without including extensive details, I'd also say U1 The Secret of Saltmarsh, Caverns of Thracia, D1-2 Descent into the Depths, Dark Tower, I1 The Forgotten City, I6 Ravenloft, L1 Secret of Bone Hill, N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, and X1 Isle of Dread should be considered "classic" D&D modules, although obviously everyone's list would be different.

BTW, for anyone interested, Dungeon Magazine #116 contained a list of the top 25 modules ever published for D&D, compiled by a all-star group of writers and designers.

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+1 Keep on the Borderlands. First module I ever played. And still one of the best ever. –  BBlake Sep 5 '10 at 3:32
+1 Caverns of Thracia, the Judges Guild module written and illustrated by Paul Jaquays. It's been called "[the best-designed module ever published][1]" and my group found it to be challenging, exciting, intriguing, and surprising for over 20 sessions of play. It might not have been as well-known as many, but it deserves more acclaim. [1]: grognardia.blogspot.com/2008/12/… –  Tavis Allison Dec 8 '10 at 20:35
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I6 - Ravenloft

This Hickman tag-team module has to be on the list for me, for two main reasons.

Firstly it was the first adventure module I ever ran that had a well thougt out and dynamic big bad end guy. The vampire Strahd didn't just sit in the final room waiting for the PCs to come kill him. He had his own motives, goals and timetable.

Much of where he could be found and his goals were determined in-game with a tarot reading from a gypsy, so the adventure often played out differently when re-run.

Secondly it had the most amazing maps for it's time. David Sutherland's maps were just breathtaking, we'd never seen their like before. Castle Ravenloft to this day is still a fantastic map to look at.

Castle Ravenloft Map

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I'd put down The Temple of Elemental Evil. Written by Gygax and Mentzer, wikipedia says it was ranked the 4th greatest Dungeons & Dragons adventure of all time by Dungeon magazine in 2004.

My party had a great time!

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Tomb of Horrors

its still inspiring character death related rage in people, surely a good sign.

I also had a fair ammount of love for Ravenloft, including the following

House of Strahd (RM4?)

  • Changing goals and missions and a nifty fortune telling mechanic makes this one stick out.

Vecna Reborn and Death Ascendant are also top notch I think (if you enjoy metaplot)

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Night's Dark Terror (coded as B10 or B/X1 depending which side of the Atlantic you're on, and another of the UK modules mentioned above in connection with Saltmarsh) deserves a mention in any thread of this sort. It's a massive sandbox spanning the length and breadth of northeastern Karameikos, full of memorable encounters and pulp-fantasy goodness. My group had an absolute blast the one time I ran it and I'd like to do it again someday.

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Well, obviously there's a lot of things that could be considered "classics"!

Three favorites I would point out are the Slavers Series (Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, etc), Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and White Plume Mountain. The Slave Lords series is great because of the continuity. It came with pregens (I seem to remember the female dwarf fighter and a human fighter named "Ogre" who had an 18 strength), and a really great storyline.

Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan was one of the first tournament modules- and it had some truly challenging room-puzzles. The premise is that three PCs are trapped in a dungeon they've fallen into while escaping.. something else, and have to find their way out. Amazing puzzles and South American flavor all the way through, including one trick at the very end, with the bat-god Camazotz, that opens the escape route.

Finally White Plume Mountain is a classic module because of it's magical locales-- it had some truly fantastic features and monsters, a sphinx behind a forcefield, a room with lava being held back by force.. But then it also had three amazing magical weapons; Wave, Whelm, and Blackrazor (which was the D&D equivalent of Stormbringer). Those were definitely my favorites.

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To me, the classic D&D adventures are all, in some sense "introductory" type adventures:

Keep on the Borderlands. For many years, this module was the first module that folks ever played through. For an entire generation of players, it set expectations as to what exactly they would be doing when they played this game.

Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. It, and its follow-on adventures, were alternate entry points to the game that showed how a completely different feeling could be achieved with only minor adjustments to presentation. The module presents an implied setting that is somehow "less American", and to many folks, this was attractive. It remains most probably my most favourite introduction to use for the game.

The Sunless Citadel. Bruce Cordell was probably tasked with "give us the new touchstone introductory adventure for this new edition". Sunless Citadel succeeds wonderfully. It's internally consistent, gives the players opportunities for politicking, investigation, tomb-robbery, bitter melee conflict, lurking undead, and so forth: all essential components for the game. It's rather cleverly designed to adapt to party composition: parties that are missing one of the fundamental classes can still get by in the Citadel, by avoiding this branch of the setting, or that branch. This paired with Richard Baker's excellent Forge of Fury is an excellent combination to start a campaign. My feelings about the remainder of the original 3e adventure path modules are not so charitable.

Perhaps one other thing that makes all three (four) of these adventures classic is their adaptability. I've used all of them with different editions of the rules than the ones they'd been originally intended to use, and they still came off very well. And I'm still using them to introduce new players and new campaigns.

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I don't recall anyone ever wanting to replay The Sunless Citadel. –  migo Mar 22 '11 at 19:06
+1 Saltmarsh! Is that in reprint/pdf somewhere? –  F. Randall Farmer Mar 22 '11 at 23:28
@FRandall -- there was a re-do of the Ux modules available on the internet somewhere for 3rd ed, but I'm not sure about the originals. –  Viktor Haag Mar 23 '11 at 14:12
@migo -- I'm not sure that any of these is easily replayable; while I've run every one of these several times, I'm not sure that there was any duplication of players in these groups. –  Viktor Haag Mar 23 '11 at 14:14
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The Desert of Desolation series - a compilation of the modules I3, I4, and I5 - is a fun "supermodule" that features plenty of sword'n'sorcery Egyptian style set pieces, locales, and flavour.

The phonetic translation puzzles are a lot of fun, and the shifting maze in the pyramid module provides plenty of old-school dungeon delving hijinks. Mummies, dopplegangers, and hordes of spiders and scorpions.

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I guess this depends on how far back you want to go. The Ruins of Undermountain is pretty classic, a lot of people are familiar with it.

I'm curious though about the tags, because I'm not aware of any modules period for OD&D

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BadMike gives an excellent description of G1-3, Against the Giants (Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King), but that is half of the story.

These lead to the "D" series Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Shrine of the Kuo-Toa and Vault of the Drow. To my knowledge, the Drow were first mentioned in the original AD&D 1st Edition monster manual as a sort of legendary, evil elf - it was only after the publishing of Vault of the Drow that they became an iconic race, and the Underdark.

All six modules were updated several times from the 1st edition origins in 1978, later to be referred to as the GDQ series.

If you define "classic" as "most memorable within a specific time framework that occurs in the past," then GDQ is the classic of the 1st Edition era.

But then - look outside of TSR within the same time frame, and you have publications such as City State of the Invincible Overlord from Judge's Guild - a huge, corrupt city state setting. CSIO provided a mostly ready to run campaign setting.

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I do agree that the D-series is also another classic; I deliberately limited myself to five choices, however (cheating by using G1-3 compilation as one choice!) for brevity's sake. I'm not as sold on D3, however...it's more a sandbox that the DM can work with than a finished adventure setting....but once again it surely was one of the touchstones that every old school player and DM could point to as having accomplished something by finishing! –  Badmike Apr 18 '11 at 18:59
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Along with the other Series S modules (S1 - Tomb of Horrors, S2 - White Plume Mountain), I submit for consideration:

S3 - Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

It was the first cross-genre module (that I know of, anyway), and a demonstration module for chunks of the prototype of Metamorphosis Alpha, the precursor to Gamma World. The gist of it is a UFO has crashed into a mountain and a group of adventurers investigates, exploring the ship's ruins and uncovering such things as a raygun and power armor while fighting aliens and robots.

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We finished "A Night Below" a couple of months ago. And now started "Return of the Tombe of horrors.". Both real classics and fun.

(We need a spoiler tag). Night Below starts with villagers disappearing and ends with the destruction of an evil artifact. There were some side quests. But in the end the party grew from level 5 to level 16.

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