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I’ve done a lot of lists on this blog. A lot of people have done lists of the greatest D&D mods*** ever. So, I’m going to do a list of my favorite D&D mods. One comes from 3rdEdition D&D (“3e”), but the rest come from 1st Edition D&D (“1e”). However, unlike most people, I’m not going to attempt to give you an objective analysis as to why these are the best mods. This is a purely subjective topic, and I’m not one to deny my lizard brain nature. I fully admit that the reason a mod is going to appear on this list is emotional in nature. Still, you should consider running them in whatever system you’re using. If for no other reason, you’ll witness the inspiration for your favorite adventures. In terms of the 1st Edition D&D (“1e”) mods on this list, these were the pioneers.
*** I once used the word, “mod,” for what others call adventure or module and received an odd amount of pushback. One person even accused me of lying that it’s what I called them growing up, as if there could possibly be a motivation for something like that. I grew up in Montgomery County, MD, and every single person I gamed with called it mod. We also occasionally used the terms adventure and module, but the point is that “mod” was the standard term. Your regional dialect, or even your specific gaming group, may have a different experience. I don’t care. I shouldn’t have had to write this aside, but if I didn’t, I might receive the same pushback over something that shouldn’t matter at all.
Sons of Gruumsh, by Christopher Perkins, 3(.5)e
I left RPGs in 1982 due to the Satanic Panic. I returned in 2005 during the days of 3e. The first homebrew campaign I ran started with an adaptation of this mod. For what it’s worth, several of the players told me they enjoyed it quite a bit. It was nothing groundbreaking, so my sentimental attachment can get it only so high on this list, but it was very good, and it was written by one of the best DMs in the business.
S2: White Plume Mountain, by Lawrence Schick, 1e
Starts with a puzzle, which we got right, and I’ve had to change ever since. Then you’re given three paths to take, each of which leads you to one of three magic weapons you’re tasked to retrieve. These three weapons have maintained their iconic status in every edition of D&D since. There are more puzzles, both direct and logical (easily modified for repeat players), and some iconic monsters. The mod was the first one I played or ran that made great use of hindering terrain. Acknowledging that aspect of the writing, I was particularly proud of my conversion of the kelpie encounter to 4th Edition D&D.
C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan, by Jeff R. Leason and Harold Goodman, 1e
D&D didn’t get me into mythology. Mythology got me into D&D. I wasn’t terribly familiar with Central American mythology, and even less familiar with other aspects of the culture. According to Jeff (who I spoke with through Facebook), Harold was the one that did research on the cultural aspects of the mod. He did a decent job, sprinkling in appropriate imagery and language. I used his work as a springboard to provide even more immersion. As I mentioned previously, I acquired sound files of Nahuatl phrases, both common and specifically used in the mod. I love this mod so much, I own two physical copies, one of each version. I’m always prepared to run it.
S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, by Lord Gary Gygax, 1e
I loved Star Trek. I loved D&D. If it weren’t for the next entry on my list, this would be my favorite adventure ever. It was hard for me to run as a kid because there are a lot of rooms to prepare, and it was essentially a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl, but what a “dungeon” it was. Malfunctioning androids and robots, strange natural creatures from other worlds, but also an intellect devourer, a mind flayer (with what effectively amounted to a phaser), and a bulette to keep it grounded in fantasy. Love it.
C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Allen Hammack, 1e
This is my favorite mod ever, in no small part because of the artwork of Jeff Dee, which always makes mods more memorable to me. However, the mod’s content stands on its own. As a competition mod, it was designed to kill off everyone to assure that there was a clear winner at the end of the adventure. Sure, there were hack-and-slash encounters amounting to nothing more than resource drains, but there were also puzzles, which I love. The tower itself had a clever theme, with each level (before the last) representing a different element: air, earth, fire, and water. The water level has a nice twist to it as well, and the earth level has one of my favorite monsters from mythology.
By the way, this arrived today.
It’s not in the best of shape, but you should expect that from something so old. Note, though that it was reasonably priced, and I haven’t found any coffee stains yet. Will this make it into the top 5? Probably not, but I hear it’s really good, and it’s next on my scheduled mods to run after Keep on the Borderlands.
There are a bunch of other mods I love, but I’m not going to make a top 50 list.
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