In 2017 I embarked on a mission to help Dungeon Masters streamline the process for picking your next D&D adventure. It worked around 5 basic questions for DMs to consider:
- Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?
- How easy is it to DM with the material given?
- What’s the best bit?
- What’s the worst bit?
- What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?
Back then there were only five campaigns to choose from. Simple. Now, however, it’s 2020 and WotC have released a further five more campaigns in the last three years, making the decision-making process that much harder. So, how exactly do you pick your next D&D adventure? I’m glad you asked…
Your Next D&D Adventure
To date there are 10 main campaigns you can choose from for your next D&D adventure:
Tyranny of Dragons, Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss, Curse of Strahd, Storm King’s Thunder, Tomb of Annihilation, Dragon Heist , Dungeon of the Mad Mage, Descent Into Avernus, and Rime of the Frostmaiden.
With so many to choose from it can be overwhelming to say the least for DMs to make a decision. Hopefully a quick summary of the highlight and lowlights of each one will ease the process.
Tyranny of Dragons
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? Tyranny of Dragons is a combination of two sequential campaigns which were the first to be released for 5th edition. This revised version fixes a lot of the problems with the first publishing and would make an excellent choice for your next D&D adventure. The story is a classic. A cult is trying to bring back Tiamat, queen of evil dragons, and it’s up to the heroes to foil the plot.
2. How easy is it to DM with the material given? Far easier now they’ve fixed a lot of the mistakes and missteps of the first printing. The first half is a straight forward linear quest, and by the time you get to the second half you’ll be familiar enough that running the campaign to the end will be both straight forward and fun.
3. What’s the best bit? Both the first and final acts are the most fun. It begins with a blue dragon attacking a town and concludes with a dramatic battle with Tiamat herself.
4. What’s the worst bit? There’s a bit too much traveling, and bit too much sitting in meetings.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? The stat block for Tiamat is one that will come back again and again if you want her too. There’s also the chromatic dragon masks and the map of a floating castle which would work well in any homebrew campaign.
Overall GeekDad rating 7.5/10
Princes of the Apocalypse
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? Princes of the Apocalypse is probably the dullest of 5th edition so far. It 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. Only choose this for your next D&D adventure if you’ve already played everything else.
2. How easy is it to DM with the material given? Perhaps, because it is very monotonous, this is by far the easiest of the 5th edition campaigns so far to DM. However, with a bit of cleverness on the part of the dungeon master and a willingness to spend some time taking the module apart and putting it back together again, it can be quite fun. We played this as a sequel to Lost Mines of Phandelver and it worked really well.
3. 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.
4. What’s the worst bit? Too many cultists.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? There are loads of cool weapons and maps in this book that can be repurposed. The stat blocks for the Princes of Elemental evil are pretty decent too.
Overall GeekDad rating 4/10
Out of the Abyss
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? Out of the Abyss has some big set pieces that deliver jaw-to-the-floor epic moments for your players, but it can be a slog to get to those. The characters begin as prisoners trapped in the Underdark, and spend the first half of the story with nothing, no equipment or food or anything, just trying to survive and escape. Heavily inspired by Alice in Wonderland, this was 5th edition’s first attempt at horror and it didn’t always work.
2. 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. I enjoyed running this campaign, but wouldn’t pick it for my first adventure.
3. What’s the best bit? Aside from encountering Demogorgon, Orcus, 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.
4. What’s the worst bit? The second half of the book suffers from the need to get your players to want to go back to the area they just spent seven chapters escaping from. It’s a hard sell.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? There’s loads 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 next D&D adventure. There are numerous NPC stat blocks, magical items, and the stats of demon lords including: Demogorgon, Jubilex, Graz’zt, Orcus, and Baphomet.
Overall GeekDad rating 6/10
Curse of Strahd (ReVamped)
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. There were some problematic elements in the original Curse of Strahd campaign book that this ReVamped edition has attempted to put right.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. What’s the worst bit? Strahd is too easy to defeat. For the big bad of this campaign, most heroes will coast through the final encounter, making it a bit of an anti-climax.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? The pull-out full-color map of Castle Ravenloft is spectacular, but other than that there’s not as much additional bits to this campaign as you get with some other adventures.
Overall GeekDad rating 8/10
Storm King’s Thunder
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? Giants are vying for power in the Forgotten Realms, and Storm King’s Thunder 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.
2. How easy is it to DM with the material given? A well-written and organized adventure book, this campaign is one of the easiest to run from the book and would be an excellent next D&D adventure for an inexperienced DM. The hardest section is some exploration in chapter 3, but otherwise all the information you need is right there.
3. What’s the best bit? Any opportunity players get to infiltrate a giant’s lair. From a cload castle to a lava-filled mine, these giants really know how to build their nests.
4. What’s the worst bit? The adventure hooks the book provides to get the story started 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.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? There are plenty of magical items, monsters, and NPCs here, as well as the lair for five giant lords and a really cool chair.
Overall GeekDad rating 7/10
Tomb of Annihilation
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? There’s a tropical island complete with jungles, volcanoes, pirates, ancient monuments, and strange native inhabitants that ends with the world’s most deadly dungeon. What’s not to like?
2. How easy is it to DM with the material given? It’s not easy. New DMs are likely to be a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content here—at 200-plus pages, this is a hefty tome.
3. What’s the best bit? Highlights of Tomb of Annihilation include encounters with a zombie-spewing undead tyrannosaurus rex, goblin “Batiri battle stack” warriors that ride into fights on each other’s shoulders, dinosaur racing in Port Nyanzaru, bargaining with Ras Nsi in the Yuan-ti temple, and interactions with the nine trickster gods of Omu.
4. What’s the worst bit? The beginning of the story is the weakest part and seems a little forced. DMs will have to come up with imaginative ways to get their players’ buy-in into the story. For a book that is brim full of interesting ideas and innovative encounters, this seems a little short-sighted.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? This book is so full of content that it could fill two or three campaigns with ease. There is no way your players will be able to explore every jungle location or meet every interesting NPC in one play through, so anything that doesn’t fit into one story can be transposed into another. With that in mind, this book seems more like a campaign setting than just a linear story, and it comes with a large pull-out hex map of the entire island of Chult.
Overall GeekDad Rating 7/10
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? If you like a city adventure with lots of roleplay, intrigue, and more villains that is strictly necessary for a level 1-5 campaign then Dragon Heist is ideal for your next D&D adventure. It’s a great romp through a famous city and it all ends with a very cool battle in an underground vault.
2. How easy is it to DM with the material given? It’s relatively straightforward. Everything is laid out well and there are lots of easy to navigate DM choices. The hardest part is keeping track of which of the 1,000 NPCs your players have upset the most.
3. What’s the best bit? The city of Waterdeep is the shining star of the campaign, there’s so much for your players to see and do that the difficulty will be moving on to the next campaign once they reach level 5.
4. What’s the worst bit? Some people just don’t like city campaigns. There’s no world ending threat, no army of undead zombies, and no giants wanting to take over the world, no obvious big bad villain players can hate for a year before murdering with great satisfaction. Also, it can be a struggle to keep your players interested in chasing an imaginary stone around an imaginary city, when every step they take somebody beats them to the chase.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? There’s a lot here that can be utilized later, the whole city of Waterdeep for a start, as it’s unlikely that your players will be able to explore every area in the book. What’s more, this campaign plays out differently depending on which season you pick at the start, so in theory you could play the whole thing three more times and get a different result every time.
GeekDad rating 8.5/10
Dungeon of the Mad Mage
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? Unless you’re all very specifically interested in Halaster Blackcloak and his lair in Undermountian, then probably not. But then you’re not doing this for the story—you’re doing it for the XP, and there is a lot of XP at stake.
2. How easy is it to DM with the material given? It is hard. There’s so much going on, and the story poses so many questions, but the book isn’t exactly forthcoming with all the answers.
3. What’s the best bit? If you play Dungeon of the Mad Mage to its conclusion, your PCs actually have the chance of reaching level 20. This is a first for a WotC official release in 5th edition and I know there are players out there desperate for the opportunity to test out their high level Barbarians, Wizards, and Rogues on some official content.
4. What’s the worst bit? Like hundreds of adventurers before them, it would be quite easy for your players to simply get lost down in the never-ending dungeon, forget why they’re there, and give it up all together. I fear there may be a danger of dungeon-delving fatigue for any player or even Dungeon Master who isn’t truly serious about exploring the whole thing.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? All of it. Dungeon of the Mad Mage is both massive dungeon delve and treasure trove of inspiration. Each of the 23 levels could represent a whole dungeon in any other campaign, and there is nothing stopping you cutting and pasting them straight into your next homebrew adventure.
GeekDad rating 5/10
Descent into Avernus
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? If you and your players like a story that takes in vast, infernal themes, has plenty of cool quests, and features the Blood War between demons and devils, then Descent Into Avernus is the campaign for your next D&D adventure. It’s also got the added advantage of featuring Baldur’s Gate, one of the most interesting city locations in the Sword Coast.
2. How easy is it to DM with the material given? It is neither the easiest nor most difficult campaign to run. There will definitely be times when you read through the book scratching your head only to realize the answers was there in front of you the whole time. This would make an ideal second campaign or follow-up to one of the starter stories. There are lots of detailed text boxes and I find that those really help.
3. What’s the best bit? This is one of the first of the 5th edition campaigns to allow the players to experience different planes of existence. You actually get to send your players to hell. That is very cool. And there’s lots of exciting aspects to this that really add to its unique-ness. It definitely doesn’t feel like “just another Sword Coast adventure.”
4. What’s the worst bit? It is unavoidably likely to be a bit railroad-y, especially at the beginning. Unlike some of the previous campaigns where players can essentially explore an open world and do things in any order, there are story beats that have to happen at set times in the campaign for the narrative to work out.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? Descent into Avernus features 62 magical items, most of which would be perfectly suited to any campaign that touches on hellish themes. These include: infernal puzzle boxes, hellfire weapons, soul coins, and the legendary Sword of Zariel. Alongside the magical items, there are 4 infernal war machines, 38 monster stat blocks featured, and a glorious pull-out map of Avernus.
GeekDad rating 8.5/10
Rime of the Frostmaiden
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun? Embark on a terror fueled quest through the frost tundra of Icewind Dale. Rime of the Frostmaiden is a great choice for your next D&D adventure if you like battling against the elements to free the north from a tyrannical, albeit misunderstood, frost god.
2. How easy is it to DM with the material given? WotC has obviously learned from past mistakes and this is one of the easiest to run for Dungeon Masters. Everything you need is easy to find and with the Monster Manual at your side you’ll have everything you need.
3. What’s the best bit? It’s a close tie between saving Ten Towns from a giant mechanical dragon and entering a long lost magical city full of illicit arcane secrets. The setup is also really fun—you can help your players decide what their secrets and background will be and how that ties into the story. The paranoia and suspicion this builds between party members is what DMs live for.
4. What’s the worst bit? It’s quite lore heavy—so if your group isn’t so into the history and legends of the Forgotten Realms some of that might be a bit of a turn off.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns? There are 51 brand new monster stat blocks, 12 brand new magic items, and 3 new wizard spells to add to your arsenal. The Scroll of Tarrasque Summoning and Scroll of the Comet would both be excellent “break-in-case-of-emergency”-style items for DMs to have up their sleeves, or to give to players when you just want to cause as much chaos as possible.
GeekDad rating 7.5/10
So, after all that, are you actually any closer to choosing your next D&D adventure? Perhaps.
For my next D&D adventure I’m keen on taking my players to hell, so it’s Descent into Avernus for me. But if you’re less keen on devils and want more dungeons and/or dragons, I would recommend one of Tyranny of Dragons, Dragon Heist, or Rime of the Frostmaiden.
But to be honest, they’re all good.
Disclaimer: GeekDad has received a copy of many of these campaigns for review purposes.
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