As I was writing my last blog post about RPG books I love I found that I wanted to add a number of adventures to the list but then the list would quickly either become overrun by adventures or just too generally bloated because I wouldn’t be able to keep the list as short as I originally wanted. So after I finished that post I decided to write a follow-up featuring great adventures. Now there are an enormous number of truly fantastic adventures written for fantasy and Sci-Fi RPGs and I would have no hope of getting all the ones I love all in one blog post. So I’ve limited myself to just five. Maybe not the best five ever written, but five stand out adventures I love and why.
You may notice that despite being a game designer who pretty much specializes in Pathfinder there are no Pathfinder adventures on this list. The reason for that is two-fold. One, there are many Pathfinder adventures, and two; I wanted to focus on some that I have run multiple times but might be less well known.
WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOLLOW
Shackled City Adventure Path (D&D, Paizo) —
Okay Shackled City is probably the best-known adventure on this list and I’ve only run the whole thing once but it is a great adventure product. Shackled City hooked me from my first glimpse of Cauldron in Dungeon Magazine. It brought me back to Greyhawk, a campaign setting I never expected to be drawn back to. As the forerunner to the current Pathfinder APs it’s impossible to not at least mention this fantastic adventure path. Set in Cauldron, a city brazenly built in the caldera of a dormant volcano Shackled City is a complete campaign arc, following the heroes from their earliest adventures through the campaign’s ultimate challenges. It makes the PCs care about their hometown and the people in it, even their rivals. It also has one of the best villain introductions I have seen in an adventure product. The look on my player’s faces when they realized their first level PCs might be on the wrong end of a fight with a beholder was kinda awesome.
Cabin Fever (Cyberpunk 2020, Atlas Games) —
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the cyberpunk genre but there are some tropes that show up (maybe a little too) frequently. Occasionally it is nice to see those tropes subverted that’s where Cabin Fever steps in. Cabin Fever begins with a shady fixer hiring the PCs for an under the table for a heist on a mega-corporation. The target is on a ship due to arrive in the Night City Harbor. The PCs have some time to prep and plan but just as the PCs are about to begin their op everything goes sideways much earlier than normal. Before they have even had a chance to make a run at the ship, it explodes spewing acidic gas. Worse, the PC’s boat is damaged and they are forced to take shelter or die from gas exposure. At this point, the adventure gets a bit railroad-y because the plot assumes the PCs shelter in a specific bar. A GM can mitigate some of this by making the bar the only logical choice and leave it up to the PCs to “choose” their hole up point. So, what started as a standard cyberpunk story has just been turned into a locked room scenario. Here the adventure shines. The bar has an adequately detailed (albeit dull map) but in this close space, we have ample opportunities for roleplaying. The adventure details a number of NPCs each with their own personalities and motives. Typically, this adventure can be run in a single session and I’ve run it a few times. Once, I even tweaked it for use in a Werewolf game.
Hour of the Knife (AD&D Ravenloft, Wizards of the Coast) — Okay I warned you spoilers abound down here. I’m warning you again SPOILERS. This is an old 2nd ed AD&D adventure but I know more than a few GMs tap these older modules for modern use. Like with Cabin Fever the adventure does get a little railroad-y but largely it is a non-linear investigative adventure. What made this adventure so memorable for me was the twist: Doppelgangers. Not just using them as standard villains but player controlled doppelgangers that looked just like the PCs. I have run and recycled plot elements from this adventure a number of times with different groups. Hour of the Knife is a fun adventure that parallels tropes rarely seen at the table but common to TV and film.
Tatooine Manhunt (d6 Star Wars, West End Games) — Tatooine Manhunt is quite possibly my most frequently rerun adventure on this list. I admit to being duped by the original cover art. I really wanted a module that featured the bounty hunters of The Empire Strikes Back but I was only momentarily disappointed. This action packed adventure had all the beats you want from a Star Wars story. The basic plot revolved around the disappearance and presumed death of an Old Republic hero who turns out to be alive and well on (of all places) Tatooine. The mission to bring Adar Talon to join the Rebellion has been the foundational adventure for most of my Star Wars campaigns regardless of edition.
Skein of the Blackbone Bride (Numenera, Monte Cook Games) — I’m going to be as spoiler free as possible for this adventure because it is by far the most recent one on the list. Now Numenera has a lot in common with D&D but is a lot less combat focused. Instead, it focusses on discovery and exploration. Skein of the Blackbone Bride earns its place on this list for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is that crux of the adventure will likely lead to more self-discovery for the player characters than almost any other adventure I’ve read or run. Simply by asking players to make a choice on how they’re going to proceed after the adventure is over. I don’t want to give anything away so until you play it or read it you may just have to trust me.
I’m also placing this adventure on the list because of how it starts. Originally designed to be a convention event, it sets all the player character’s up as members of a group called the Slying Seskiis. All have worked together for some time and each has a nickname. All that is, except one, a new recruit trying to earn his or her name. The relationships assumed and reinforced in the first few “getting to know your tablemates” minutes of the game quickly established this as one of the best roleplaying adventures I’ve run. The intro was so solid that I made this one of the earliest adventures in my home Numenera campaign even going so far as to keep the PCs as members of the Seskiis through several different adventures.
Looking back on this list I may be revisiting some of these adventures again. Pillaging pieces and modifying them heavily for whatever campaign I’m running I happen to drag them out for.