Top Ten Adventures From Dungeon Magazine (And They’re All Free!)

In honor of a Dungeons & Dragons movie being released that isn’t terrible (Honor Among Thieves – not perfect, overall fun, go see it to encourage more of that), we thought we would point out some free stuff that you can go grab for your own tabletop adventuring. Enjoy!

What was Dungeon Magazine?

TSR was the original home of Dungeons & Dragons, and throughout their history they maintained two periodicals appropriately named respectively Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine. The Dungeon variety especially warms my heart because it’s practically entirely free on the internet now, and because of the liveliness of its Letters section where some of the most creative and insightful people who ever braved a dungeon debated and tossed ideas about. It ran from 1986 to the end of its print run in 2007 and ceasing altogether in 2013.

I’ve written before here about the important explorations and inspirational content of letters columns. In that case it was the early pioneers of science and speculative fiction in periodicals like Amazing Stories and Planet Stories where those dudes not only helped shape the genre itself, but went on to change the world later in life. And they were largely driven by the ideas and fascinations they found in those magazines. With Dungeon Magazine, it feels much the same to me perusing those missives for recommended modules, suggestions on how to improve storytelling and engagement, and especially to hear what elements attracted them (and which didn’t).

What kind of things did Dungeon Magazine include?

Anybody at all could submit their own adventure modules, in essentially whatever D&D setting they liked. Even Spelljammer makes its appearances, which if you’ve been around here at Grailrunner for any length of time you’ll know is dear to our hearts! Go see this if you don’t know what I mean. Seriously, just grab an adventure that hooks you, clarify any stats you need to for whichever version of the game you’re playing, and go to town!

How did you pick these as the top ten?

Personal preferences abound here – I like a strong narrative element with some kind of twist or innovation, particularly interesting elements to interact with or strong NPC characterization. Locations with some solid, novel development are intriguing to me. Twists on established lore are a plus! I can’t imagine I would ever just play one of these as written, so the inspiration for me was to steal cool ideas for my own adventures, as any good dungeon master should. Extra attention was given to dungeons mentioned more than once in the letters column.

Shall we begin?

#10 The Lady Rose by Steven Kurtz in Dungeon Issue 34

In this adventure, you and your companions have sailed to the trading port of Sandbar to find the elven crafts and wine of which you’ve heard such stories. Unfortunately, the port is in ashes when you arrive, still hot and smoking from the marauding attacks of a “tall black warship of alien design”, that had laid waste to the town in “a hail of destructive magic and incendiary missiles”. The magic-using baron in charge of the town asks for your help bringing these marauders to justice, as through divination he’s learned they are a few miles away in port for repairs.

What’s great about it?

Although the module explains in detail who the attackers are, why they did it, along with everything you need to know about the captain and crew, the mystery and intrigue of their identities and motives fascinates me imagining myself as player. I especially like the blend of nautical adventure and spellcasting, and the stages of this adventure highlight that. The story advances to a climactic boarding of the warship, which seals the deal for me, particularly with the line among the instructions to the Dungeon Master (which I don’t really think is a spoiler here): “If the PCs can somehow manage to capture the Dama Rosa intact, they will have acquired a priceless treasure.”

Now that’s an idea!

#9 Palace In The Sky by Martin & John Szinger in Dungeon 16

Livestock and people have gone missing in the night near the city you’re visiting, leaving traces of the footprints of giants. Strangely though, the footprints begin and end abruptly defying all logic. A fortnight ago, an elven hero tried to bring the mystery to light but died soon afterwards. His enigmatic message sent by pigeon read only “Seek the palace in the sky.”

What’s great about it?

A cloud island to explore with its landing dock, and areas of the cloud called “insubstantial cloudstuff” where you might fall entirely through should you misstep. A detailed cloud castle and dungeon peopled with marauding giants. You have to navigate all that, but the module warns in the beginning that it “isn’t a simple hack-and-slay expedition. It also involves diplomacy and wit; if the PCs attack everything in sight, they may be destroyed.”

I’m a bit of a sucker for airships and floating adventures. This one had me at “palace in the sky”.

#8 Thiondar’s Legacy by Steven Kurtz in Dungeon 30

You’re in the mighty city of Beryl, founded a thousand years ago with its great university, and now a hub of human and elven commerce. The arch-chancellor of the university recently died, and the city is rumbling with rumors and intrigue from the politics of naming his replacement. The half-elf chancellor of the College Of Antiquity reveals to you an ancient mystery signaled by a hidden map and scraps of phrases concealed in the padding of an old shield hanging on his wall. Perhaps you and your companions can follow the clues and discover what happened to elven king Thiondar so many years ago in a mysterious valley…

What’s great about it?

Many of the encounters can be deadly, and to simply bash your way through will get you killed. I really like that about this one. Some wit, a willingness to retreat, and finding clever things to do is the best way to approach the adventure. I especially appreciate the lore-heavy narrative elements hinted at in the beginning, then strung along as you follow the clues. That valley has some terrible and mighty magic and beasts awaiting you. Tread carefully…

#7 Jacob’s Well by Randy Maxwell in Dungeon 43

You are travelling alone in the frozen wilderness, looking for some kind of shelter from an oncoming winter storm. It’s going to be a bad one. When you stumble into an open glade and smell wood smoke, you think you’ve found a welcome place to hide out till the storm passes, a fortified trading post in the middle of nowhere called Jacob’s Well. There are a few other guests there, and as you will learn, one of them has brought a deadly affliction inside the fort that may consume you all…

What’s great about it?

It’s rare for an adventure module to be intentionally designed for a single player and a Dungeon Master, but this contributes to the intentional paranoia and claustrophobia engineered into this dark, creepy ride. It’s basically the movie, Aliens, set in a D&D wilderness. There’s advice in here on how to build a sense of dread and for jump-scares. Definitely a great adaptation of the movie trope to the game.

#6 The Styes by Richard Pett in Dungeon 121

You and your companions have arrived in the run-down port city called The Styes. Once a metropolis and marvelous ocean gateway, with dancing statues and impossible towers, constructed of marble on a man-made island, The Styes now lies practically in ruin. What’s left of the place is gripped in the fear of murders committed by a mystery figure they’ve dubbed The Lantern Man. In the hushed whispers among the alleyways, there are rumors of a Kraken and weird dreams centered on the weed-choked sea. Hopefully, you’ll survive long enough to puzzle out what nightmares are at work in this ruined place…

What’s great about it?

This is basically Cthulhu for D&D. That should be enough to say. Krakens can’t miss with me. Put a Kraken in the story, and I’m in. Add creepy murders, rumors of an underwater city, and a conspiracy of silence with the looming atmosphere of dread…this one is a slam dunk if any of that sounds cool to you.

#5 The Ghost Of Mistmoor by Leonard Wilson in Dungeon 35

You and your companions arrive at the lonely village of Mistmoor, drenched from weeks of rain in this part of the countryside hunting for dragons. A local family fell into ruin years before, and its current young scion is embroiled in debts for some indiscretions with a duke’s daughter. He’s desperately in need of unlocking the mystery of his inheritance, which vanished into history in a terrible tragic series of murders and suicide in the family manor. Let’s hope terrifying spectres and encounters in the middle of the night don’t spook you too much, because you’re going inside, where nightmares and abominations await you…

What’s great about it?

The encounters with various ghosts are well structured, triggered with the timing and mechanics. I like the backstories and defined nature of the ghosts especially, and the encounters are well integrated with the architecture. There is a genius mechanism here provided for the Dungeon Master to create a sense of dread and wild shock that I really don’t want to spoil. Check out pages 55 and 56 to see what I mean. It’s a great, fun spook-fest with plenty of atmosphere and would make for a great time at the table.

#4 Kingdom Of The Ghouls by Wolfgang Bauer in Dungeon 70

You and your companions are following rumors of the taking of mountain strongholds by terrifying creatures who have risen from beneath the earth. Hushed whispers from the few survivors tell of a mighty empire growing in The Underdark caverns, with vile beginnings from a spell gone bad years before that summoned a powerful ghoul named Doresain who stepped from the eldritch portal to either eat or convert the mages to his will. They’re coming to the surface now, to grow their dominions and to destroy anything in their way. You’ll need to be brave and bring torches. You’re going underground!

What’s great about it?

A region of deep caverns, of strange races, ancient civilizations, and lost magic. This one’s a keeper for atmosphere and for something different than your ordinary imperiled village or stone dungeon. I hope this isn’t a spoiler, but there are intentional opportunities among the encounters underground to ally with enemies of the wicked ghouls and form an army of your own. And I’m not sure you can make it out of there alive without an army! I consider the different locations provided, the details and architecture defined in this module, and the robust characterizations and NPCs herein as a master class in a good adventure module. You really should give this one a try!

#3 Ex Libris by Randy Maxwell in Dungeon 29

You and your companions have been hired by the Silvery Moon Vault Of Sages, to find the ruins of an old library and recover any magical tomes therein. Once a temple that fell in a terrifying schism years before overrun by a horde of undead, the library is believed to contain powerful books worth your risking your life there. And that’s very much what you’re doing. Zombies and snakes, giant snakes and centipedes, trapped spellbooks, and crawling claws are waiting in the shadows, though a much more sinister and bewildering threat than any of those beckons as well…a threat from the architecture of the ruined library itself!

What’s great about it?

This is a spoiler big-time, so if you’d care to remain surprised about it, skip this paragraph entirely. It’s pretty awesome, even as a Dungeon Master honestly, though a player could really his mind blown trying to puzzle this one out. Each room is an 80′ x 80′ square with a 20′ foot ceiling, and a starting configuration is provided for the DM. However, at regular intervals, the rooms shift. Mechanics for how to determine the room moves are provided, based on a D4 roll, and it’s silent to the players. They’re faced with trying to find a particular the pages of a particular book to gain control of this madness, which is complicated by the fact that certain creatures from the Nine Hells are bound into the pages of certain books to protect them. Honestly, this mechanic of room shifts is just amazing innovation! I give it third place just from the audacity and novelty of it.

#2 Salvage Operation by Mike Mearls in Dungeon 123

You and your companions have been hired by a down-on-his luck former trade captain whose flagship vessel, the mighty Emperor Of The Waves, which was lost in a storm (and actually turned into a temple by cultic orcs). Its loss ruined him, and he’s desperately hoping you can investigate and regain some of the magical items that were lost with the ship. It may be his only chance to regain his glory, a glory you might be able to share if you’re successful. You’ll be exploring ruined upper decks, slowly descending into the depths of the mighty ship in a nautical dungeon crawl where the compartments are flooded with seawater and infested with the undead. Yet time will become you biggest threat of them all.

What’s great about it?

Again – spoiler on this one. If you’d like to be surprised, you probably shouldn’t be reading some of this. This one’s an easy entry for my top 3 just because I’m enamored with the idea of a dungeon destroying itself slowly as the players race to escape. And once the players are down in the holds, deep in the dark lower levels where there is only cold seawater, choking weeds, and zombies, you realize the ship is sinking. One by one, the compartments flood leaving the players to desperately cast about for a way out. And that’s when the giant squid appears. Come on! That’s genius!

#1 Maure Castle by Robert Kuntz and Gary Gygax in Dungeon 112

Before you lies the enormous, deadly, bewildering Maure Castle. The promises of treasure lie within, but generations of treasure seekers and adventurers have stood where you’re standing and thought what you’re thinking. It’s a maddening, twisting beast of a castle full of images that come to life, attacking fish, an iron golem, cultic demon worshippers, and a lunatic mage. Yet it’s in the lowest levels of this mighty, megaplex of a castle where it is said dark secrets of power lie in the shadows, and where a resurrected demon-handed man searches for them. It’s best you find them first…

What’s great about it?

This one would be number one for the sheer history of it – the origins of Maure Castle lie in a pre-commercial campaign Kuntz and Gygax worked on before Dungeons & Dragons existed, and formed the seed for what became the Greyhawk setting. And Gygax – he’s devious and clever with traps and overall audacity in trying to kill the players. He must have been working overtime with this one. It’s just stuffed with weird encounters and lore and has enough to keep adventurers busy and scheming for session after session. In fact, the adventure takes up the entire issue!


That’s what I wanted to bring you today! It was a lot of fun digging through these, and I’m glad to have this list and the respective links in one place for my own reference. There are some amazing ideas in here! I can’t promise that I’ve reviewed every dungeon in this wonderful lost magazine, but these gems stood out for me on first pass.

I hope you enjoyed this, and that you get inspired for whatever creation you might be working on.

Till next time,

One thought on “Top Ten Adventures From Dungeon Magazine (And They’re All Free!)

  1. Pingback: “The Canyon Of Living And Dying” – Free New Salt Mystic Lore Card | Grailrunner Publishing

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