3rd Party Review: Top 5 5e Adventures
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
It's an amazing time to play Dungeons & Dragons. Over the last year and a half, the number of people playing our favorite pastime has exploded and with it, lots of new 3rd party publishers are putting out new material for 5e.
The ocean of new content is fantastic for game night but without a compass, you're bound to get lost at sea. We're here to help sort through the clutter to give you our five favorite gems. For this blog, we are just considering publications of 50 pages or less that contain a single, self-contained adventure.
*Disclaimer: We have not been paid for any of these endorsements. As an avid DM myself, these are simply adventures that I've discovered, played, ran myself, and had a blast. I think you'll like them too.
#5 - Watchers in the Dark (Arcane Library)
Written by the prolific Kelsey Dionne, this 5e adventure features a falling meteor that contains an object that is half artifact, half alien intelligence. These adventures are super easy to run, contain full color art and maps, and are often bundled together for bargain bin prices. This adventure has some very cool twists and a few Ankheg variants, a sadly underused D&D monster in my opinion. It contains both horror and mystery elements as the players get closer to discovering why the creatures near the crater have been behaving so strangely. If you're unprepared for game night, this is a very cool adventure to throw at your players and requires blissfully little prep on your end. My one complaint is these are only available in PDF form at the moment and I'm an old-school analog guy myself.
Favorite Part: The Warrens - the players eventually travel underground into the Ankheg warrens that is absolutely ringing with an Aliens "entering-the-hive horror-infused vibe" that I absolutely love.
#4 - The Frozen Labyrinth (Midnight Tower)
Available as a single adventure or as part of a larger collection funded through Kickstarter called Rise of the Ice Dragons Trilogy, this module contains a lot for the price. A thoughtfully designed tavern complete with NPC owner, menus, and nearby shop containing original adventuring gear. It includes an adventure flowchart, making planning and preparing the adventure super easy. And as the title suggests, it includes a frozen version of a classic D&D trope - the labyrinth. The design and and encounters are very cool and this adventure can easily be included in arctic and frozen north campaigns such as Icewind Dale.
Favorite Part: Artwork - The maps and artwork in this adventure are numerous, full color, and beautifully made.
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#3 - The Fallen Temple (Goodman Games)
Part of their Fifth Edition Fantasy series, this adventure features a an NPC guide with a secret agenda leading the party to an ancient ice temple. This entire series is great, loaded with adventures that are great for dropping into most campaigns. I could just as easily have recommended other in the series that I love including Glitterdoom, Beneath the Keep, Secrets of Mistcutter Isle. I chose this one because of the trove of content including no fewer than 9 original monsters, four new magic items, and a new spell. The NPC has a dark secret and the dynamic between him, the party, and the main "monster," the Black Yeti, is very memorable. And every encounter in this adventures feels fresh and well-written.
Favorite Part: Sled Chase - The adventure starts out with a detailed map and mechanics for running a chase scene where the party is fleeing the Black Yeti. Very cool.
#2 - Assault on Blacktooth Ridge (Troll Lord Games)
Set in the Troll Lord Games' Aihrde campaign setting, Assault on Blacktooth Ridge is more than a single adventure. This 46 page module could easily be the basis for a 2-6 session arc. In my humble opinion, this is a brilliant example of concise worldbuilding. The opening section outlines the town of Botkinburg complete with maps, detailed and nuanced NPCs, and points of interest within the town. There is political intrigue and complex dynamics at play here. The setting itself is an old-school sword-and-sorcery low magic world rich with wilderness and forgotten ruins from an ancient empire. In addition to the central dungeon - which is massive in its own right - this module is absolutely bursting with random tables and side quests. This is truly a well-developed world filled with interesting encounters for the party. Moreover, this adventure is party of a linked adventure series. If you like it, the party can keep going further into this world. Otherwise, you can drop it into your own homebrew setting. My only complaint about the adventure is the black-and-white interior that contains scant art. It's an old-school style still popular with many gamers, but not one I'm fond of.
Favorite Part: Political Intrigue - The goblin raiders in the area are not operating on their own volition. The scheming noblemen in this land set the stage for some fun roleplaying and intrigue if the players choose to pursue it.
#1 - Necropolis of the Mailed Fist (Kobold Press)
I first played this back at GenCon in 2019. It's structured as a "tournament adventure," meant to be run as a competitive one-shot, complete with a scoring system based on what the party accomplishes. This adventure is a grueling, unforgiving dungeon crawl filled with puzzles, original monsters, and punishing traps that can kill an adventure in a single hit. However, the adventure includes guidance on how to adjust the adventure to better fit into into a standard campaign. The adventure includes a memorable showdown with a Mithral Dragon, a modified version of a monster from Kobold Press' invaluable Tome of Beasts. I had an absolute blast playing this at GenCon. My group was absolutely trounced by the Mithral Dragon but it was an epic battle and there were tons of memorable moments leading up to that. The adventure is filled with full color art, original monsters, new magic items, pregen characters (it's optimized for an 8th level party) and "lineage traits" to help your characters have a chance in this Death Trap Dungeon. The adventure is written for Kobold Press's Midgard campaign setting but can easily be adapted to your homebrew world.
Favorite Part: Flooded Catacombs - a flooded catacomb loaded with monsters, icy water, puzzles, and stonework just waiting to collapse on the party. I've lifted this particular section into numerous dungeons that I've run and it's always made for a memorable encounter.
Honorable Mention - Tomb of the Delian Order (Matt Colville)
As you may already know from my last blog post, I'm a big fan of Matt Colville. Much of what I know about being a DM, I learned from his Running the Game series. In the very first episode, Matt creates an adventure - complete with a map, monsters, puzzles, and secret areas - in twelve minutes flat. The resulting adventure is basically how I have began every single campaign I've run in the last four years. The adventure is extremely simple yet complex enough to be engaging. It completely lacks any sort of lore and so it is incredibly simple to lift it into any campaign. It is hands down the one adventure I run when I encounter a group of people who are interested in D&D but have never played before. I make little tweaks each time and usually come up with an NPC that the goblins have captured in room 4. I've probably run this one adventure a dozen times and it has hooked new players consistently every time. When the adventure is over, if the players had fun and want to keep going, the NPC basically dovetails this adventure into whatever campaign I have in mind. The only reason this is an Honorable Mention is because it is so barebones and not even really a published adventure. All the material is available for free in the description of the YouTube channel. If you are at a complete loss for what to run on game night, just populate this dungeon with whatever monsters you think are cool and level-appropriate for your party.
What's your favorite 3rd party adventure? Let me know in the comments!
- Shane Collins