Dungeons & Dragonss has, in recent years, veered away from its classic wargaming ways, with social interaction becoming more accentuated in Fifth Edition campaigns. Nonetheless, combat and dungeon crawling are still iconic and fundamental elements of the game, reflecting its history, legacy, and even name.
As such, published 5th campaigns usually contain at least one dungeon that players can fight through and sneak through. Some campaigns emphasize dungeon crawling more than others, with some even consisting entirely or mostly of dungeons, but they remain a constant presence in 5th contents. However, some go beyond the standard kick-in-the-door fare and are one of the best parts of their campaigns.
ten Castle Ravenloft is never safe
Countryside Curse of Strahd is an extension of the classic Ravenloft module. Although the Barovia Valley is much more fleshed out, the castle itself remains the centerpiece of the campaign. The PCs will likely have to survive it several times before the final confrontation with Strahd von Zarovich, and it’s never an easy experience.
Ravenloft Castle is expansive, far larger than any group could hope to fully explore in a single excursion. Additionally, the threat of random encounters is constant, and the list does not take party level into account. On an unlucky throw, players can come face-to-face with Strahd himself at any time in his castle.
9 The Sunless Citadel is a classic
The book Tales from the Gaping Portal is an anthology of adventures from older editions of the game, choosing those that are particularly notorious or beloved by players. His first adventure is The Sunless Citadela dungeon crawl for level 1 characters that tasks them with venturing into the ruins of a dragon cult’s fortress to find the healing fruit from the Tree of Gulthias.
Low-level dungeons are often accused of being unimaginative or disappointing in an effort to not be too threatening to new characters. However, The Sunless Citadel avoids this, pitting players against goblins and kobolds with multiple paths ahead of them, culminating in a confrontation with the Druid Belak. It’s well balanced, fast and never boring.
8 Undermountain is a dungeon campaign
The next step above a dungeon is a so-called “megadungeon”, which contains several floors, each of which is at least as large as a full-fledged dungeon. Sub-mountain, of Waterdeep: Mad Mage Dungeons, goes even further and offers the content of an entire campaign.
Although geographically similar, the floors of Undermountain are radically different from each other. It has attractions like the crime town of Skullport, a floor inhabited by Mind Flayers, and two levels at war with each other. This megadungeon shows the versatility of dungeon crawling and how it can encompass an entire campaign in its own right without becoming tedious.
seven Emperor of the Waves is a floating dungeon with a twist
Although the term dungeon connotes abandoned crypts and the lower levels of castles, almost anything can be a dungeon. It simply needs to be enclosed, usually with traps, enemies, or both. One of the best examples is the Emperor of the Waves, a ship adrift of the Ghosts of Saltmarsh adventure Recovery operation.
The ship is beyond save, so player characters are tasked with boarding to retrieve a safe for a once powerful merchant. After slowly making their way through the spiders and cultists of Lolth, players will have to leave much faster, as a giant octopus begins to tear the ship apart. The result is one of the most unique and dynamic dungeons of all 5th.
6 The burn of the sun is a real fortress
Many dungeons are abandoned or dilapidated, inhabited only by monsters or scavengers. However, this is not the case for Sunblight, found in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. Rather than being a gaping ruin of holes and easily accessible, Sunblight is maintained like a fortress by its Duergar people, who dislike visitors.
Notably, it has only one well-guarded entrance. Much of Sunblight’s fun is in the player characters hatching a plan to bypass, storm, or infiltrate its defenses, something many dungeons don’t require of players. Once inside, it’s a more mundane dungeon, but still with plenty for players to do.
5 White Plume Mountain is wacky, weird, fun
One of the most beloved dungeon crawls included in Tales from the Gaping Portal, White Plume Mountain is a deliberately unusual dungeon crawl. Rather than taking advantage of a natural location and the threats that would logically inhabit it, the dungeon instead has its interior entirely artificial, giving everything that comes through the party a free pass.
The dungeon has activities as varied as battling in a precarious bubble above boiling mud, being given riddles by a Sphinx who hates his job, and tending to a menagerie of bizarre creatures. A mix of fights and puzzles, all served with good humor and without worrying about maintaining a serious atmosphere, the dungeon is unique and offers a lot of fun.
4 Netherdeep’s presentation is second to none
The final dungeon of any campaign strives to be the best, most epic, and climax in the story. The pressure only increases if the entire campaign is named after this dungeon. Under all this tension, the Netherdeep, the last dungeon of Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeepmanages to meet expectations.
Besides its varied content and proper epic build, what sets the Netherdeep apart from other 5th dungeons is how well presented it is. The map is immensely detailed, with descriptions that appeal to all five senses and draw players into the story. Even if it didn’t develop perfectly until the campaign finale, the dungeon would be a feat for its writing alone.
3 The Amber Temple is optional, but an interesting experience
One of the best kept secrets of Curse of Strahd is the Temple of Amber. Only a handful of NPCs know of its existence, and to reach it, players must follow a long and dangerous mountain road that seems like nowhere. It is only after this long journey that the PCs reach the Temple of Amber, one of the best dungeons in the campaign.
Although much smaller than Castle Ravenloft, the Temple is no less dangerous. However, if players can brave its Arcanaloth, Death Slaad, Amber Golems, and frequent Flameskull attacks, the rewards are worth it. In addition to magic items and the ability to gain strange and eldritch powers, players can also learn invaluable knowledge about the setting and several key NPCs.
2 The Forge of Fury pits players against intelligent threats
The Forge of Fury is one of the adventures of Tales from the Gaping Portal, intended for third-tier characters. He plunged into the ruined forge of the blacksmith dwarf Durgeddin the Black to hunt his mythical forged blades. However, the forge is not abandoned; instead, it serves as home to several groups of orcs, goblins, and other monsters.
The dungeon is a key example of doing a lot with a little. His enemies aren’t particularly complex or created for the mod. Instead, they’re basic enemies who have made their lair in the dungeon and are written as smart combatants and terrain users. The result is a difficult, fair dungeon and a suitable challenge for any game.
1 Tomb of the Nine Gods Iterates on an Infamous Classic
Little J&D dungeons are more infamous than The Tomb of Horrors. Deliberately designed to challenge experienced players, the tomb is full of traps, cruel tricks, and encounters designed to kill player characters en masse. The Tomb of the Nine Gods, the last dungeon of Tomb of Annihilationis inspired by this dungeon, but makes it more fair and fun.
It is by no means easy. The Tomb of the Nine Gods is still full of traps that pose significant threats to life and limb, more than can be found in almost any other 5th dungeon. Plus, its top floor is an infamous gauntlet of boss encounters, each of which is a serious challenge. However, it also contains loot and the Nine Gods, which can empower characters to keep things fair.
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