4 Overlooked Classic TSR Modules You Should Run

As gamers we have a great shared history of classic adventures. Everyone’s heard of the Temple of Elemental Evil and the Keep on the Borderlands. (In fact, it is thought Keep on the Borderlands may be the most played adventure of all time). However, TSR released hundreds of adventures for D&D and AD&D. Some are justly famed, but others never garnered the recognition they deserved.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

Here are four such overlooked gems. If you don’t have a copy, it’s worth tracking down a copy or PDF.

B5: Horror on the Hill

For my money, this is the best early Basic adventure. While I love B2 Keep on the Borderlands, this adventure has a range or better designed, more cohesive challenges and situations. It features extensive overland travel, a ruined monastery and three dungeons levels. Each of these five areas has their own set of unique challenges and creatures. Goblins inhabit the upper dungeon level, the next level – in which the party might get dumped by the goblins if they are not careful – is full of scavengers while kobolds and a dragon lurk in the lowest level. Because it is very likely the party will get trapped in the lower two levels, the adventure changes (well, it did in my campaign) suddenly from “kill the goblins, loot their stuff” to “we are trapped; how do we get out?”

B5

N4: Treasure Hunt

This AD&D module is for characters levels 0-1 and starts with the party in chains on a pirate slaver ship. The ship sinks during a ferocious storm and the party are washed ashore on a remote island. From there, they must escape the last of their captors, defeat the various warring factions on the island and escape before a vengeful goddess destroys the island. Included with the module are rules for both 0-level characters and converting those characters into “proper” 1st-level adventurers.

N4_Treasure_Hunt

UK4: When A Star Falls

One of my all-time favourite modules, When a Star Falls is for characters levels 3-5. I’ve run this AD&D module several times over the last 30 years, and even included it in my expanded Temple of Elemental Evil campaign. The adventure focuses on the power struggles of the sages living in the Tower of the Heavens. A shooting star – an omen of power – sets events in motion that culminate in a power struggle, with the unwitting PCs proving pivotal to the outcome. As well as lots of  opportunities for combat, the adventure features extensive roleplaying encounters and wilderness travel. When a Star Falls also includes one of my favourite new monsters – the memory web. When the PCs slay the creature it bombards them with the memories of others it has slain, which propels them into the adventure. This is one of the best, most memorable adventure hooks I’ve ever come across.

250px-UK4_TSR9120_When_A_Star_Falls

X12: Skarda’s Mirror

I’ve never run this Expert module (for characters level 5-8) , but I plan to in the not too distant future. I love the set-up — a retired adventurer has a magic item that is not what it seems, and the magic items holds a terrible secret. The item — a mirror — is actually an artefact that allows access to a demiplane. The demiplane is now the home of a mad wizard and his small army. Trapped inside, he is intent on escaping and using his forces to wrest control of the PCs’ home kingdom from its rightful king. The start of the adventure sees the party drawn into the mirror and into conflict with the mad wizard. Of course, disaster is in the offing – the demiplane is old and the magics maintaining are beginning to breakdown — and the mad wizard escapes back into the world with his servants. The adventure climaxes with the party escaping the demiplane and fighting in the royal palace to protect the king from an ignoble death!

X12

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What Do You Think?

Do you think I missed an old classic module from my list? Tell me what it is in the comments below, and add to Ebay’s profits!

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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60 thoughts on “4 Overlooked Classic TSR Modules You Should Run

  1. First choice for me would be N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God…

    It’s an absolute classic in my opinion… great set-up as the PCs enter a village where the residents are a bit ‘off’… and then builds with slow reveals to a great climax.

    I have run this several times and it’s always been a blast. Although it’s default setting is the Gran March in Greyhawk, it really could fit anywhere in any setting.

    Second choice for me would be The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh…

    And I agree on Night’s Dark Terror, as my third choice.

  2. I have all but the last one…..and given that they are all gems I shall be tracking that down in hard copy too.

  3. I didn’t play many basic D&D adventures – just B1 & B2 – I need to check out B5. My recommendation would be for the excellent UK2 & UK3, The Sentinel and The Gauntlet.

    • I have to agree with this recommendation. Both the Sentinel and the Gauntlet are great modules. I really liked the idea of the good artifacts mission to defeat its nemesis. I actually found that all of the UK modules had that extra level of depth, character and substance than some of their US TSR peers.

      Other modules I have fun running include Drums on Fire Mountain (which is the South Pacific themed island adventure), the War Rafts of Kron (my first underwater adventure) and the Veiled society.

  4. The U Series as a whole is often overlooked, but I was pleased to see several comments mentioning U1 “The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh”! That adventure is by far my favorite. The setup is excellent and a great challenge. Players must investigate the haunted house. Sounds simple enough, but with the help of a great DM this adventure goes from creepy to awesome within one room/combat. Those who know the adventure probably know the one I am talking about. The whole series is like a mini-campaign unto itself, but sadly U2 was not very good. The finale in U3 is epic – and you’ll never want to adventure underwater ever again (as either DM or player).

    • I’ve been lucky enough to play in, but not, GM that series. It is excellent. The only thing that could have made it better would be a write-up of Saltmarsh. (I think this turned up in the 3.5 DMG II some years ago, though.)

  5. Often overlooked is the amazing 1983 TSR publication (might be that it can be difficult to find) L2 The Assassin’s Knot. Geared towards 6-10 players, levels 2 to 5 it is the sequel to The Secret of Bone Hill and always one of my favorites as a DM.

    The interesting thing with L2 is that it contains no Dungeon! Heroes are tasked with solving a murder mystery in the Village of Garrotten, the longer they take, the more tragedy strikes the small Village.

    This is a gem of a module and a personal favorite. I have used it a few times through the past 25 years and my players always enjoy it.

      • When was the last time you played with 10 players? Hell, where would you put them? In the Good Old Days, I used a table tennis table to play on and we just about had space for 10 players. Now, sadly, our brave band of 7 completely fill the gaming room. I don’t think we could stuff anyone else in.

  6. I dont see much written about them but I truly enjoyed the Ravenloft series. Masterfully written, and in the right hands can be an extremely engrossing campaign!

  7. XL-1 Quest for the Heartstone.
    One of my favorites cause it contained the stats for Warduke. Plus fighting Frost Giants is always fun.

      • I’m hoping he was trolling… As Quest for the Heartstone was a very poor effort written to try to help sell a range of plastic toys. The whole thing was very uninspiring.

        You’ve already had the recommendations from others of my own favourites. UK3, U1, N1 – the low level AD&D stuff from the early 80s was often inspired!

  8. Fighter’s Challenge 1 : supposed to be a solo adventure, but a great small group adventure : a lot of RP opportunities

  9. Ok….a couple of thoughts….B4 is a favourite….The Lost City. It had atmosphere and scope aplenty for a complete campaign if the PCs actually get to the underground city… UK6 (?) All that Glitters….i would also recommend for something with an exotic location and some neat twists. X2 Castle Amber is another favourite from days past. I ran it several times and always felt the back story of the degenerate family in a cursed mansion stood out as a concept at the time….which translated well in play.

  10. For those gamer’s who haven’t been around since the 80’s (can’t include myself there) what would you consider to be on the “classics” list? Did I miss that list somewhere?
    Obvious choices are the Slavers series (A1-4), Giants/Drow (GDQ), B2, X1, S1-S4 & T1-4. I would throw in the Desert of Desolation series (I2-4) and a few of the WG series and Dragonlance modules.

  11. I don’t remember the number of the module, but The Lost Caverns of Socanth (sp?) immediately comes to mind. That adventure was, for all intents and purposes, my initiation into D&D. Talk about baptism by fire… That module was freakin’ tough!

  12. Creighton,

    Those modules are all ones that I have overlooked. Now that I am firmly in the middle class, I have been slowly acquiring all the modules that escaped me in my youth. Perhaps these will now be on the list.

    One that you might have overlooked, but I would consider a more recent classic, is the Madness at Gardmore Abbey…converted to 1st/2nd edition AD&D. Our group has been playing it in our last 4 sessions of our bi-yearly game (friends come up from Florida to Minnesota for Christmas and summer vacations. I joined the game in 1998.) If the module was done in an earlier era, it would NOT be on the list as it would be one that everyone would have played.

    On a personal note; it is also one of 2 roleplaying experiences that got my wife into rpgs. It’s a hobby we now share, and she is even branching out on her own to try PF Society games and paint minis. Should you ever come across the fellow who worked on that adventure, give him a firm handshake, a knowing nod, my thanks, and tell him, “Well done.”

    David S.
    Minnesota, USA

    PS For an 80s classic… I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City. Journey through a jungle to find a mysterious lost city. Exploration in an exotic location -a must for those that enjoyed a Tarzan yarn in their youth.

  13. Thank goodness you restricted it to TSR modules, can you imagine how many you would have gotten otherwise? Even so someone mentioned The Caverns of Thracia (which was great), so I guess it is okay to bring up other judges guild stuff like Tegel Manor and Dark Tower.

  14. From the Shadows (RQ3) was one of my all time favorites. The look on the players faces when the start figuring stuff out is priceless.

  15. There are two adventures that have always been my favorites, and many people have already mentioned B10, Night’s Dark Terror. The other one is C3 The Lost Island of Castanamir, which details one of the most fun locations to explore I’ve ever read. The PCs, intending to approach the island, are instead shipwrecked on it, and must venture into Castanamir the Mad’s home for shelter. The spatial warping in the home is wonderful – I was reminded of it with the PAX East 2015 game of Acquisitions Incorporated, with all the moving rooms. That’s not exactly what’s happening with Castanamir, but it was reminiscent for me.

  16. UK4 – I’ve ran it in just about every system (1e, 2e, 3.x, C&C, and soon in 5e). Graeme Morris really knew how to write a good hook but not railroad.

    I agree that another of his adventures B10 Night’s Dark Terror is a perfect example of a module that allows the DM to make it their own.

  17. I’ve been working on a homebrewed version of Horror on the Hill on one of my streams. I LOVE this adventure. There’s something for everyone, and a brilliant way of getting a party together and testing them out.

  18. X4 Master of the Desert Nomads and it’s sequel X5 The Temple of Death, both by David Cook, with art by the immortal Timothy Truman in X5 are two of the best Expert level adventures ever published by TSR, in my opinion.

    Also often overlooked is I2 Tomb of the Lizard King, which is another favorite of mine along with I8 Ravager of Time.

  19. I used X12: Skarda’s Mirror as part of a campaign during my high school years in the early nineties at the end of the adventure the mirror took the characters to Ravenloft

  20. One of my favorites (alongside TOEE) is “The Vale of the Mage”. The ‘enemy’ party the players must deal with are a group of spellcasters with the exception of one who is actually a fighter pretending to be a mage (my favourite to DM.

  21. Hi Creighton,
    Great stuff as usual – brings back old memories and inspires new endeavours. If I can ask, how have you included When a Star Falls in your expanded Temple of Elemental Evil campaign? My players are nearly finished in the Moathouse Ruins, and I was thinking about giving them a small diversion before they start the actual ToEE, When a Star Falls sounds perfect.
    Thanks! 🙂

    • During the exploration of the temple’s upper levels the party found the poem/prophecy detailed on page 44 of the megamodules. They wanted to know more about it and I told them they’d heard about a certain Tower of the Heavens wherein dwelled many knowledgable sages. Off they trooped.

      😉