5 DM Questions to Help Pick Your Next ‘D&D’ 5e Adventure

Reading Time: 9 minutes

If you are a new DM and have only recently stepped into the world of Dungeons & Dragons, you might be wondering exactly how to proceed. Sure, you’ve played through the starter set and your party has reached the dizzying heights of level five, but where do you go from here?

D&D 5e source books

To date Wizards of the Coast has released five major campaign stories for fifth edition, in addition to the three core rule books, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and the newly released Tales From the Yawning Portal. If you buy each of those you’ll need a small library to house them all, and while some people won’t be able to resist owning the complete set, there are no doubt others who will. But how do you choose which D&D fifth edition book to buy? Maybe the following five questions can help you.

  1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?
  2. How easy is it to DM with the material given?
  3. What’s the best bit?
  4. What’s the worst bit?
  5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?

Naturally, this article will contain spoilers.

Note: Rory Bristol provides an excellent review of Yawning Portal, so I’ll leave that discussion to him.

Tyranny of Dragons The two campaign books for Tyranny of Dragons are Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat.

D&D 5e Tyranny of Dragons source books

  1. Will I be interested in the story? And will my players have fun?

The campaign starts with an assault on the small town of Greenest and quickly turns into an investigation into an evil dragon cult. The first book focuses on finding out as much information as possible, and the second book focuses on taking down the cult. If you like your Dungeons & Dragons to be more focused on the latter than the former, then this story may well be for you. There are a lot of cultists to fight and at times this can get tedious. However, there are still some exciting moments for your players to get into.

  1. How easy is it to DM with the material given?

Hoard of the Dragon Queen is fairly straightforward to run, essentially you can pick it up and run it straight from the book with just the Monster Manual. This isn’t really the case with book two, Rise of Tiamat. It is difficult, and you really need to read through a number of times to decide what will or won’t work for you.

  1. What’s the best bit?

Getting to fight actual Tiamat. Although fairly complex, this battle is very dramatic and exciting.

  1. What’s the worst bit?

This is a close tie between the traveling section in book one, which required a lot of rather forced and confusing roleplay, which new players might struggle with, and the council sections in book two, which again are the more roleplay focused parts of the book.

  1. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?

Both books have some interesting monsters and NPCs that could be dropped into other campaigns, the foremost of which is the stat block for Tiamat, Queen of Dragons herself, although at a challenge rating of 30, there’s not many adventuring parties who will ever have a chance of defeating her. Neither book has many interesting magical items.

Elemental Evil Princes of the Apocalypse

D&D 5e pota cource book

  1. Will I be interested in the story? And will my players have fun?

This story sees the adventurers race to prevent four evil cults from raising their own elemental prince of disaster. If the previous campaign had more dragons than dungeons, then this one certainly has more dungeons. Although there is at least one dragon hidden in there if you look hard enough. Again, this book suffers from a cultist overload, and your players may get tired of fighting men in dark robes the whole time, but the huge subterranean dungeon complex is definitely the main attraction.

  1. How easy is it to DM with the material given?

This campaign, out of the five released so far, is arguably the easiest to run straight from the book. It doesn’t feel as sandbox-y as some of the others, but this does mean that your players might feel a bit railroaded as you guide them from one location to the next. If not, they may easily find themselves in an area way beyond their characters’ ability.

  1. What’s the best bit?

Definitely the four elemental nodes beneath the Temple of the Elder Elemental Eye. Both the Plunging Torrents and the Weeping Colossus present fun and exciting environments that players might not have experienced before. The maps by Mike Schley are fantastic.

  1. What’s the worst bit?

There are a LOT of cultists to fight in this story, and players may find themselves struggling with motivation to keep going.

  1. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?

This book’s appendices are packed full of additional goodies. These include a new playable race (the Genasi), 45 new elemental spells, some exciting magical items, as well as the stat blocks for four elemental myrmidons and the four Princes of Elemental Evil.

Rage of Demons Out of the Abyss

D&D 5e Out of the Abyss source book

  1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?

The characters begin as prisoners trapped in the Underdark, and spend the first half of the story with nothing, just trying to survive and escape. Then they are recruited to go back to halt the rise of the demon lords. Reviews are mixed as to whether your party will be so desperate to reach the surface that they refuse to return for the second half. However, the first seven chapters take you on an Alice in Wonderland inspired odyssey, full of unexpected twists and turns, with some out-of-this world locations and very challenging encounters.

  1. How easy is it to DM with the material given?

Chapters one through seven are fairly straightforward to prepare, but it all depends on how you run your sessions, give your players too much freedom of choice and you will quickly find yourself just as lost as your adventurers. It’s certainly worth doing your homework on the demon lords and madness rules well in advance of playing. I wouldn’t pick this adventure for your first time DMing, as there are a lot of NPCs to keep track of.

  1. What’s the best bit?

Aside from encountering Demogorgon and the other demon lords, there are a number of ‘side treks’ in this book that are a lot of fun. One is a tomb containing a powerful, magical, emotional, sword. Another is a flooded dungeon filled with oozes and black puddings and a sentient gelatinous cube called Glabbagool.

  1. What’s the worst bit?

Some of the chapters provide too much information and detail. An inexperienced DM could find themselves slightly overwhelmed at times, not quite knowing where to go next or what to leave out.

  1. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?

There’s lots of great material should a party ever venture into the Underdark in the future, and some fantastic dungeons that could be easily translated into your own homebrew campaign. There are numerous NPC stat blocks, magical items and the stats of demon lords including: Demogorgon, Jubilex, Graz’zt, Orcus and Baphomet.

Curse of Strahd

D&D 5e Curse of Strahd DM

  1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?

Curse of Strahd is a classic gothic adventure, filled with werewolves, vampires, witches and hordes of undead beasts. If you like to terrify your players, making them fear for their characters’ sanity and survival, then this campaign is for you. This is by far the darkest fifth edition story available and players may need to have back up character sheets ready from the start. Having said that, there is a lot of fun to be had by both players and DM.

  1. How easy is it to DM with the material given?

A lot of planning will be required to get this campaign right. The sandbox nature of the story means that you will have to decide where and when a lot of the important things in the campaign happen prior to starting it. Again, there are a lot of NPCs to keep track of and this is a big task for an inexperienced DM.

  1. What’s the best bit?

The tone and narrative of Curse of Strahd are the real ‘stars of the show’. Highlights include numerous encounters with Strahd, having PCs’ fortunes read by Madame Eva that genuinely affect the story, and meeting vampire hunter extraordinaire Rudolf Van Richten.

  1. What’s the worst bit?

From the DM’s perspective this has got to be the sheer amount of planning and preparation required. Unless you’re very experienced and comfortable having your players dictate where they go and when, you may also struggle running this campaign. From the player’s point of view, there’s no real ‘bad bit’, the story is fun and the NPCs are all well written.

  1. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?

There are numerous stat blocks for NPCs, including Van Richten and Strahd. As well as some new gothic horror style monsters, and a couple of interesting magical weapons. But the real pièce de résistance is the pull-out full-color map of Castle Ravenloft. This is spectacular, I was very nearly tempted to frame the map and put it on my study wall. So much love and care has clearly gone into creating this map, the detail is stunning.

Storm King’s Thunder

D&D 5e SKT DM

  1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?

Giants are vying for power in the Forgotten Realms, and this book sees the player characters caught up in a Shakespearean power struggle to return a sense of order to the world. This story is filled with intrigue and diplomacy and at times favors roleplay over combat, but when it does happen, the combat can be epic. Dungeons and dragons can be found in equal measure, although the emphasis is on the many races of giant in the Forgotten Realms.

  1. How easy is it to DM with the material given?

Many reviewers have suggested that this is the best written and most well organized campaign book so far, and I would agree, in part. However, there is still a fair amount of planning required. At first read through, it might seem a little daunting, especially chapter three. But once you have the general idea of the story, and know where your players are headed, it is possible to run this story using just the book and the Monster Manual.

  1. What’s the best bit?

Besides encounters with the Krakken Society and meeting an oracle in The Eye of the All Father in the Valley of Khedrun, the best bits of this campaign are when your PCs infiltrate a giant lord’s lair. My favorite of these is Ironslag, the fire giants’ domain, but this is closely followed by the cloud giant’s floating castle.

  1. What’s the worst bit?

Some of the writing is a little weak, and the adventure hooks the book provides are uninspiring. Each time you meet an NPC, it can be difficult to find a reason for the heroes to care about what happens to them using just the material provided.

  1. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?

Storm King’s Thunder has lots of magical items, monsters and NPCs, as well as a huge array of intricately designed maps which could fill numerous future campaigns. What’s more, the book provides the lair for five giant lords, but your players will only need to explore one or two, and there are plenty of encounters and locations that it simply wouldn’t be possible to use in a single play though.

Overall

Each time WotC brings out a new campaign book, they make substantial improvements on the last, but no matter what you decide, each has its own merits and none is altogether bad. (Although given the choice I wouldn’t run Tyranny of Dragons again.)

Ask your players what type of story they would like to be a part of. For an extended dungeon crawl choose Princes of the Apocalypse. For a survival story pick Out of the Abyss. For gothic horror it’s Curse of Strahd. And for anything else choose Storm King’s Thunder. Whatever you do pick, remember it’s down to you and your group to make the real magic happen. These books only provide so much, and in my experience, the most memorable moments are the ones that you don’t plan and that no campaign book can suggest.

D&D 5e all source books DM etc.

Note: Since this article was published WotC has released Tomb of Annihilation, an excellent romp through zombie and dinosaur infested jungles. You can read all about it here.

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