As a dungeon master, crafting a story from scratch on the regular can prove punishing. Step in, the official Dungeons and Dragons 5E campaign books. These beautifully illustrated tomes contain all the crucial narrative points, monsters and maps you’ll need to create an amazing long-form adventure.
The top D and D 5E campaigns cover a vast range of settings and themes. Enjoy seedy urban hijinx and conspiracy in campaign Waterdeep: Dragonheist, unyielding dread and folk-horror nasties in Curse of Strahd or the vast jungles and dinosaurs of Tomb of Annihilation.
The scope here is a testament to the versatility of the Dungeons and Dragons system as a whole. And as all campaigns are designed as sandboxes, you can adjust as best suits your table.
Of all these innumerable worlds, here are our some of our favourites.
1. Curse of Strahd
You are trapped in the land of grey mists and sunless skies, overseen by pointy-toothed blood boy Strahd - who is all-powerful and, as Gothic tropes dictate, utterly bonkers. This is not your typical high-fantasy adventure. In Curse of Strahd, the villain has already won.
Ultimately, you’ll be tasked with taking down the vampire lord. Unfortunately, everything else also wants to kill you. The wolves, the hags, the hordes of bats – this campaign has all the folk-horror spooky trappings you need.
You’ll scour icy mountains, raid strange temples and, if you survive long enough, storm the dark master’s castle Ravenloft. Thematically, it deals with powerlessness and trauma. Barovia has been irreparably scarred by Strahd, and what you do will determine its fragile fate.
The Curse of Strahd campaign also has a curious randomisation element, in that aspects of it are generated via the suitably spooky Tarroka deck (available separately to the main book), which foreshadows the upcoming events.
And while Barovia is pretty damn unforgiving, the threat of near-constant death is part of what makes it so compelling to play. One for fans of horror, looking for terrors.
Buy Curse of Strahd at Amazon.
2. Out of the Abyss
Like a twisted Alice in Wonderland, this one takes you on a psychedelic adventure deep down into the Underdark - a series of tunnels that literally span continents. Here, it’s eternally dark (you’ll navigate mostly using glowing fungi), and horrifying cults based around bonkers spider Goddess Lolth abound.
That said, it’s a thriving place full of cities, trade networks and infrastructure. Just don’t expect to get engaged in witty monologues with friendly caterpillars.
You start out as prisoners, before making your way on an Apocalypse Now-style voyage of terror as you delve deeper and deeper down. This campaign even has its very own Demigorgon.
Fans of the Dungeons and Dragons book series Legend of Drizzt, about a certain heroic but oh-so-tormented dark elf, will recognise the uber-goth races available immediately.
Although be warned, this is a tough one for beginner DMs - as it requires a lot of prep, even by Dungeons and Dragons standards. If you like things weird and kind of dark, Out of the Abyss is the campaign for you.
Buy Out of the Abyss at Amazon.
3. Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus
Perhaps the most heavy metal Dungeons and Dragons campaign ever, the recently released Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus literally takes you to the Nine Hells and back. Set during the infamous Blood Wars, it features diabolical foes, fiery skies and er, Hell Wasps. Think Mad Max meets the Underworld.
Plus adorable tiny golden elephants that pump out “radiant sparkles of positive energy”. Not to mention the mighty Infernal Machines: big bad motorcycles powered by the souls of the damned.
An unusually long campaign, it follows players from 1 to 13, and is one bulky book. Definitely one for fans of Baldur’s Gate - the campaign serves as a prequel to the upcoming video game Baldur’s Gate III - or who enjoy exploring a hellscape saturated with lurid ultra-violence.
Buy Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus at Amazon.
4. Storm King’s Thunder
High fantasy has always been a staple with Dungeons & Dragons, and if that’s your happy place, this campaign set in the iciest regions of the Forgotten Realms is ideal for you.
In it, mighty giants have arisen and are terrorising civilisation. In response, the small folk are gathering together in pursuit of rune magic - the ancient weapon that allowed the giants to beat the dragons long ago. It’s got everything from kraken wizards to enchanted fantasy groves, and the giants themselves - of which there are multiple types - make formidable foes.
On top of this, it’s a bulky but immensely detailed campaign book that provides a real cornucopia of outcomes - which players being presented with multiple ways to conclude a quest. One of those rare campaigns that avoids railroading, but is also detailed enough to be relatively straightforward to run. Try this one out if you players want a full-fledged fantasy experience.
Buy Storm King's Thunder at Amazon.
5. Tales from the Yawning Portal
This campaign collection contains seven of the deadliest dungeons to have emerged over the last 30 years of Dungeons & Dragons history.
Among these is a fifth edition adaptation of infamous Total Party Kill machine Tomb of Horrors. In it, you descend down into a labyrinthine crypt packed full of foul beasties and terrible traps. Somewhere, an eons-old Demilich lurks. Yawning Portal is the book for those who fancy a dungeon crawl.
And what dungeons these are.
In adventure Sunless Citadel, explore a long-abandoned fortress which contains an apple that can grant eternal life, or steal it. Vanquish orcs in a long-abandoned dwarven fortress beneath a mountain in The Forge of Fury.
Or in the wild White Plume Mountain, you scour the long lost lair of a mad wizard tyrant. As you’d imagine, that one’s a real funhouse of horrors and top-tier strange.
These adventures are light on theme and story but make for super fun dungeon delving. Your table will need to combine wit, brawn and - let’s face it - sheer luck, to make it out alive.
Buy Tales from the Yawning Portal at Amazon.
6. Ghosts of Saltmarsh
In this campaign, the sea is your foe. A series of excellent one-offs adapted into 5e from classic one-off nautical adventures from Dungeon magazine, Ghosts of Saltmarsh features seven campaigns jam-packed with pirates, high-seas hijinx and horrifying fish-people.
You can lead players from levels 1 to 12 using the adventures and starting area Saltmarsh fishing village, or play them as one-offs.
There’s a real range of adventures to be had here. Explore a haunted house in module Secret of Saltmarsh, spy on Lizardfolk in Danger at Dunwater and claim a cursed island for a local mariner’s guild in Isle of the Abbey.
Additionally, Ghosts of Saltmarsh features handy rules for nautical combat, boats and strange sea encounters. Two words: boat and kraken. These serve as excellent sandbox inspiration to take into your own written campaigns.
We especially love Salvage Operation: in which you investigate ghost ship Emperor of the Waves, which has been spotted adrift nearby after being missing for years.
Ever so modular, these adventures also provide ample opportunity to add your own storytelling flavor.
Buy Ghosts of Salt Marsh at Amazon.
7. Tomb of Annihilation
Do you like dinosaurs? Good. How about a zombie Tyrannosaurus Rex? Excellent. We’ve found the campaign for you. Set predominantly on the verdant and ever so deadly jungles of island Chult, Tomb of Annihilation holds plenty of exotic thrills for the right party.
Story-wise, you’ll be searching for the source of a mysterious death curse, said to sourced in those wild, vast jungles. Along the way, you’ll likely fight snake people, explore a carnivorous garden or two and maybe even race some dinosaurs.
It also features plenty of friendly Dungeons & Dragons faces, such as time-traveling dimension-hopping Arch Lich Asserac - made legend in Tomb of Horrors.
We’d say Tomb of Annihilation is a good all-rounder, as it’s got a little something for everyone, and plenty of opportunities to mix up themes: whether you want to play up the madcap Indiana Jones aspect or lean into the whole cursed island vibe.
Buy Tomb of Annhilation at Amazon.
8. Lost Mine of Phandelver
Ideal for both beginner players and DMs, Lost Mine of Phandelver is a mini campaign available with the fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons starter set. It features essentially everything you’ll need to get a feel for things, and balances roleplaying nicely with fun combat encounters. Story-wise, it’s a very typical fantasy adventure, containing goblins, a dragon and one very hungry owlbear.
There’s a village full of NPCs, plenty of quest hooks, a mini dungeon and big one complete with the adventure’s big bad. It’s also pretty easy to use the Lost Mine of Phandelver as a starting point for another longer campaign, as it transitions well into larger settings.
One word of advice: don’t use the pregenerated characters. Let your players make their own first-level characters (both the Player’s Handbook and the internet outline this well), and host it during a ‘Session 0’ where you can all help your other go through the process.
Buy Lost Mine of Phandelver as part of the D&D Starter Set at Amazon.
9. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
The seedy streets of Waterdeep are not too far off the filthy streets of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series’ Ankh Morpork. An excellent long campaign for complete beginners, although pretty short compared to the others, it’ll take you from levels one to five. Plus, the physical book features a beautiful, full-colour pull-out map of Waterdeep.
Story-wise, the villain you’ll play depends on which of the four seasons the players pick. Examples of possible baddies include a horde of beholders and some ultra-strange devil worshippers. Story-wise, it’s effectively a mad dash to get the missing gold before everyone else does.
Neither high-fantasy nor horror, it’s more of an urban trawl. It draws a lot of inspiration from heist films. As you’d expect, corruption is at the heart of Waterdeep, and there are a multitude of factions and villains for players to meet.
The tone is pretty light, and it provides plenty of entertaining roleplaying opportunities. Of all the campaigns, it’s one suited better to investigation then mindless killing, although there is plenty of killing to be had.
Also unlike basically every other campaign, the stakes aren’t that high. In this, you’re not saving the world. Well, not immediately.
It’s perfect for starting players, or a fun diversion for players coming out of a heavier campaign looking for something a little lighter.
Buy Waterdeep: Dragonheist Amazon.
10. Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage
The sequel to Dragon Heist, this adventure will take players from level five to 20(!) In this, they’ll descend into the Undermountain - where bonkers wizard Halaster Blackcloak resides. In his domain, he’s taken over a ton of creatures, and has also created an array of weird portals leading out in the multiverse and other Forgotten Realms locations.
So, this is effectively one gigantic dungeon crawl, and infinitely more hack ‘n’ slash then its predecessor. We’d recommend using it as a follow-up to Dragon Heist.
Tonally, Dungeon of the Mad Mage is a little all over the place, as such, it’s best treated as a mad-cap dungeon crawl.
Buy Waterdeep: Dragonheist Amazon.