13 Adventures for Your First D&D Night
The world of RPG books and modules can be hard to wrap your head around. Sure, you want to play D&D because that’s the brand name, but which edition? There are at least 5-7 official ones now. Not to mention these other D&D clones with esoteric names like Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea or Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, especially when you just want to grab a couple friends and roll some dice.
Frankly, there’s a lot of dreck to sort through. And many of the best products are massive tomes that might require more time to digest than you have. So we’ve listed some the adventures for low-level (possibly first time) players that don’t take multiple sessions. Now you’ll note that none of the original D&D modules are listed–some of them are still great, but few, in my opinion, are easy places to enter with minimal prep. And most of them were written for a less broad audience than is likely to play today.
Okay before we get started…Remember that of course all opinions are subjective and we haven’t played everything. If we left something off you think would be great, list it in the comments.
All prices listed are for the .pdf
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
This system has a fearsome reputation, mainly due to founder James Raggi’s contrarian temperament. But the truth is that Lotfp is pretty slick–both skills as d6 pips and the encumbrance system are quite easily grasped by newcomers. It also has some really good adventures for beginners.
20 pages / Free!
The starter adventure in the now obsolete Lamentations Ref Book. This does take some planning but it’s a great introduction for new players and new characters. With not a lot of combat, the central hook of the mystery gets everyone invested. If you enjoy John Carpenter’s The Thing, this adventure might be for you.
16 pages / 6 USD
A deadly adventure that might turn off some newcomers with the unforgiving lethality. But as referee it’s fun to play the Wizard and the players do have quite a fun time exploring the titular tower. For fans of Cube and Cube 2: Hypercube.
64 pages / 7.99 USD
This module reminded us all how important atmosphere is and without DFD, Lamentations as we know likely would not exist. It’s a lot of fun to run and a lot of fun to play. As the big daddy of Lamentations, you can watch people run this on youtube to get a sense of it. It can be played as a one-shot but is probably better over two sessions. For fans of Evil Dead or Cabin in the Woods.
13 pages / 5 USD
Zzarchov Kowolski knows how to write an adventure! I don’t want to spoil it too much, but its simplicity belies the darkness that rots at the core. For fans of fairy tales but, like, before they were bowdlerized and there was still lots of murder and boinking and such.
Knight Owl Publishing
I’m including three of our modules and, yes, it’s a little shameless. But hear me out. Wind taught the high school D&D afterschool club and plays “D&D” with his young children. I’ve been teaching RPGs to people around the world and running games (sometimes up to 12 people) who have never seen a character sheet or heard of a non-6 sided die before. So we’ve both thought a lot about what assumptions underlie most adventures, and how to best adjust those to newcomers.
52 pages / 5 USD
Subverting those Tolkienian tropes, this is a fun sandbox you can pick up and run without much prep. Sure, there’s dwarfs and elves but it’s the moral underpinning moral that lurks beneath the surface where a lot of the tension comes up. The ehical questions raised in this adventure concerning race, vulnerability, and moral equivalence add a bit more mental wtf-ery than just “Orcs! Slay them!” For fans of Hobbit fan-fiction as written by Foucault or Zizek.
112 pages / 10 USD
It’s a bit cheeky calling this a one-shot, as in its current form you’d have to drop a bit out from the first two Acts. But two of my playtests we did it in one session and it was fine! This is a good introductory adventure because it explains why a boatload of strangers would join together but also introduces some tension that especially first-time players seem to dig. For fans of Michael Moorcock and Blue Öyster Cult, of course.
26 pages / 5 USD
Our newest adventure, this is another I ran in playtests with first level characters and I’m happy to report that not all characters died. This is an adventure for those who are tired of orcs and goblins and want a little decision making apart from “which weapon will I kill this troll with.” For fans of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Brisco County, Jr.
Dungeon Crawl Classics
Now DCC does things a little differently. The core book is something like 17 times bigger than the Lamentations core book, despite both systems largely being the same. The real draw to DCC is that as a beginning you play several characters, most of whom are expected to die. This is a double-edged sword; for it is great fun, but many first-time players cling to their characters and are loathe to see them die.
16 pages, 6.99 USD
This is probably the quintessential DCC funnel; it feels like an appendix N story as much as any adventure possibly could. This one will take a few characters though, ’cause it’s lethal, even avoiding the lurking Lovecraftian monstrosities. For fans of Howard, Moorcock, Leiber, etc.
16 pages, 6.99 USD
An unusual adventure in all the right ways, this bit of science fantasy mashes stone age barbarians up against high technology. Why choose between robots and dinosaurs when you can have both? Plus the Time Mechanics are great fun. For fans of Adventure Time or Ringo Starr’s Caveman.
8 pages / PWYW (2.50 USD suggested)
Quite possibly the world’s smallest sandbox! I’ve ran this multiple times and each time it turns out differently. Kowolski is a genius at creating settings and he gives you just enough info here for a great 2-3 hour session. For fans of Agatha Christie or The Incredible Hulk tv show.
30 pages / 5 USD
This one sets an eerie tone right away and never backs down. For fans of True Blood, Metallica or the first season of American Detective.
2 USD / 24 pages
This is your classic high fantasy adventure with an evil forest fighting the PCs. The layout and art are both very nice and this is an underrated gem of an adventure quite reasonably priced. Has new spells and monsters too. For fans of big fantasy novels.
52 pages / Free!
Search for the cowardly Achilles on an island with all kinds of different elements clashing against each other. Now you couldn’t comprehensibly explore this hex crawl in just one night, but even a compressed version would be super fun. I think it would require a little more prep than most of the other items on this list, but not anything excessive. For fans of the Illiad if it had been written by Chuck Palahniuk.
So there are you are! 13 modules, which range from 0-10 dollars, all imminently suited to bring friends to the gaming table for the first time. Let us know what you think in the comments.