As a new dungeon master picking a campaign of the right difficulty level can be daunting. If you’re running a game for new players, the last thing a new player needs is a DM who’s going to make the game seem more complicated as they try to figure out how the campaign they’re trying to run works. This article will help you pick the right adventure by outlining five easy to run adventures perfect for beginner Dungeon Masters!
Our Top Picks
For those who just want to know what our top picks for a campaign is here they are:
- #1: Storm King’s Thunder (Best Choice for Beginners)
- #2: Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (Best Mystery)
- #3: Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden (Best Dark Theme)
- #4: Tales of the Yawning Portal (Best Short Campaigns Compilation)
- #5: Out of the Abyss (Best Horror)
- Bonus Challenge: Curse of Strahd (Best Open World)
Why run a Published Campaign?
Running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign can be difficult, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. There are so many things to keep track of, and there’s a lot of pressure to make sure that you provide an exciting story and everyone has fun. Coming up with the story hook, world lore, NPCs, items, and figuring out how to connect individual adventures up into an epic campaign is a lot of work.
Thankfully there are some official premade campaigns that make it easier to learn how to DM. These cut out a lot of the prep work and teach you how to DM, starting easy and upping the complexity as you go along. They also give players a great adventure they won’t soon forget!
What to Look For When Picking a Campaign
To help you pick a campaign that is both fun and easy to run, as well as matching the style of game you want, you should consider the following:
- How complex is the campaign to run?
- How interesting is the world setting and storyline?
- Are there great locations, fights, or NPCs?
- Does it have an easy introduction that will get the game moving quickly?
- Is the campaign structure linear or sandbox?
The Best Adventures for a Beginner
#1 Storm King’s Thunder (Best Choice for Beginners)
Storm King’s Thunder sees the players caught up in a struggle attempting to restore order to a land inhabited by giants, and provides a vast world rife with danger and intrigue for players to explore. It takes out some of the challenges for a DM that is usually found in running a vast world, while still providing a great setting for players that want something exciting.
The story has a focus on giant races which give plenty of opportunity for players to roleplay. There isn’t a huge focus on combat, but when the combat situations do occur they are exciting enough to be an exciting experience for players.
Storm King’s Thunder is a well-written and organized campaign and is an adventure that is easy for novice DMs to run. There is an intro section that takes players from level 1 to 5, and it is a well-organized book that provides all the information a DM would need to run the game.
However, where Storm King’s Thunder falls is that the plot’s hook lacks the spark needed to draw players’ interest and doesn’t provide any compelling character arcs for your adventurers. If you’re the type of DM that struggles to inspire your players to get moving, then this may be a bit of a struggle.
To make up for this the DM is provided with plenty of monsters, magic items, and NPCs to enhance the game, so the setting has tons of personality. Also, the players get to play through the lair of the five giant lords, which is a pretty epic dungeon setting.
If you’re new to Dungeons and Dragons and want an easy start, but still want an adventure with some depth to it then Storm King’s Thunder is a perfect choice.
- Provides a rich setting and interesting locations
- There’s plenty of depth without being overwhelming
- Gets players going on an adventure right away
- The adventure hook isn’t great, it can be hard to keep players following the intended story
- Is a linear campaign, so you may feel like as the DM you are telling a story rather than creating it
#2 Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (Best Mystery)
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is an ideal campaign for new dungeon masters to start with, as the game world has a lot of depth and content while not being too hard to run.
Unfortunately, there won’t be any stealing from dragons as this adventure is actually about investigating a heist that happened five years ago. But if you’re looking for an adventure with some mystery, lots of roleplaying, and interaction then this is an ideal pick.
The story is set in the city of Waterdeep which is expansive and has many different areas that your players can explore. The players may fall in love with the city so much they want to stay even after the campaign is over. But not to worry, the city of Waterdeep is a major setting in the Forgotten Realms (one of the main settings in Dungeons & Dragons) so it’s a great option to use as a base for further adventures.
Sometimes people get a little antsy playing through an adventure focused on mystery and intrigue. This type of campaign doesn’t have the normal dungeons to crawl through or hordes of monsters to kill, and that can be tough for players who play D&D for the dungeon experience.
The layout is very well done so it’s easy to understand what goes on in different parts of Waterdeep, which helps when you’re trying to guide your players on where they should go next. This short adventure can be finished in just 5 levels (plus side quests). It’s ideal if you are just testing out the waters and don’t want to commit to a long adventure that will take hundreds of hours.
Note that Dungeon of the Mad Mage is made as a follow-up to Dragon Heist, but we recommend you keep Dragon Heist as a stand-alone experience, as Dungeon of the Mad Mage is quite hard to run.
- Short adventure makes it easy to run
- Intriguing plot
- Well laid out book
- Not actually about stealing from dragons
- Lack of dungeon crawling and fighting
- A short adventure for the price
#3 Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden (Best Dark Theme)
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is a dark story set in an isolated, cold setting that captures the feeling of constant fear and hidden lurking dangers.
In the first part of the story you have ten towns under threat and there’s a bunch of quests that you can do in pretty much any order to help out these towns. This type of environment offers players the feeling of freedom, as well as allowing Dungeon Masters to put their imagination to use.
The quests that are introduced at the start of the story build up the backstory required for the next part of the campaign, which is more linear and leads players towards the ending, an ultimate climactic fight with a frost god.
The story features some epic locations such as a great city full of secrets to explore. The players also get to have some epic battles, with fights against mechanical dragons, giants, and other new monsters that tie in well with the game’s lore.
Rime of the Frostmaiden is one of the newer official Dungeons and Dragons books, so is well laid out and offers tips throughout. It’s a book that offers everything you need to run a great adventure without having to do much work at all.
- Easy to run
- Includes both sandbox and linear components
- Epic locations and battles
- Lots of quests to run can be difficult to manage
- Need to stay organized with tracking what’s been explored
#4 Tales From the Yawning Portal (Best Short Campaigns Compilation)
Tales of the Yawning Portal is a different type of book, as rather than one long campaign this book contains seven classic adventures that are updated for 5e players.
Each of these adventures is a dungeon crawl that recaptures the feeling of what dungeons and dragons was like in the golden age of Dungeons & Dragons. Some are deadly, intense, and chaotic, but others manage to be just right for beginner dungeon masters.
The first adventure in this volume, The Sunless Citadel, is a particularly great introduction for new dungeon masters. A new DM can learn a lot from the design of this adventure and the inbuilt advice on how to run it.
The adventurers are sent to explore the remains of a sunken citadel where goblins and kobolds have infested the ruins. There are plenty of things to explore, with each of the areas, encounters, and fights feeling different. And like any great story, it ends with an epic boss battle.
The other adventures in this book are all targeted at different player levels and provide several options for DMs looking to fill gaps in their campaigns or just have them on hand as inspiration for future adventures. But be aware that these adventures are not made to go in order so if you want to do that you’ll need to use some imagination to string them together into a coherent plot.
The mix of adventures is great, with each one having a different feel. However, you can feel the age of some of them, with the dungeon crawls missing the narrative and interactions that we’ve come to expect in 5e. Some players think this feels dry and lacks character, while for others dungeon crawls is the main reason they play.
This book provides a good beginner adventure, and then a bunch of dungeon crawls that you can use when you’re a more seasoned DM. So if you want to experience some of the nostalgia of old-school Dungeons & Dragons then this is the perfect pick.
- Good beginner adventure
- A lot of adventures to choose from with a good mix of different play styles
- The nostalgia of an old school D&D experience
- Some players may find this book repetitive or lacking interaction
- Does not provide a single, cohesive storyline
- The difficulty of the adventures varies drastically
#5 Out of the Abyss (Best Horror)
Another decent option for new DMs is to pick the Out of the Abyss as their first campaign.
Out of the Abyss is like playing in an immersive horror film. It has big moments that will make your players scream and panic, but it can sometimes be slow to get to these moments. The characters can spend a lot of time trapped with no equipment just trying to survive.
This story was 5th edition’s first attempt at horror so it’s not the most polished, but the Underdark setting is pretty interesting with great monsters to fight such as the Demogorgon (recently made famous by Stranger Things) and other Demons.
This is a good choice because the book is broken up into chunks, and the adventure starts pretty linear which makes it fairly straightforward to prepare. Out of The Abyss is also easy to set in motion and get the players straight into the action, something many DMs have a difficult time doing initially.
Also included are a variety of “side quests” that can be easily incorporated into this adventure, and are fun, chaotic, and a little bit quirky.
So if you are looking to run something where the story is relatively linear Out of The Abyss is a good choice. It has an “adventure path” type feel that is still lots of fun while keeping the choices manageable for the DM.
- Linear style is simple to run
- Horror adventure is very immersive
- Quirky side quests are chaotic and entertaining
- The linear story can make players feel limited in their choices
- Horror adventure is not everyone’s cup of tea
- Being an older book means it does not have the best layout or DM guidance
Bonus Challenge – Curse of Strahd (Best Open World)
If you’re looking for something spooky that gives your players lots of freedom then Curse of Strahd is a great choice. It immerses players in the mind of their characters as they go through an eerie adventure, and encourages roleplaying to create an engaging experience at the table.
The Curse of Strahd takes characters from levels 1 through to 10 and takes place in the land of Barovia, which is ruled by an evil vampire named Strahd von Zarovich.
The location of the campaign is in a pocket dimension, which means that you can start from anywhere in the D&D multiverse (which is useful if you’re coming from another beginner campaign, such as The Lost Mines of Phandelver).
The best thing about this campaign is that it is constructed very much like an open-world video game. Players can explore the environment at their leisure, perusing its numerous side quests. But be aware that this type of sandbox-style adventure can be hard for a new DM to manage and requires a lot of prep work.
If you’re up for a challenge you’ll have hundreds of hours of fun with your friends exploring this dark realm, fighting monsters, solving puzzles, and uncovering secrets as you go along on your journey to defeat Strahd von Zarovich. If you’re the type of DM who wants some freedom and doesn’t mind a bit (or a lot) of preparation, this is the perfect adventure for you.
- Spooky adventure
- Sandbox style adventure gives players a feeling of freedom
- Easy to connect up to other adventures
- Can be too scary for young/sensitive players
- The sandbox environment is challenging to run
In this article, we have outlined 5 great campaigns suitable for a new Dungeon Master (plus a bonus one for those who want a challenge). If you’re just getting started our top pick is Storm King’s Thunder, as it provides a great story in an immersive world with a good balance of interaction and fighting. But each one of the campaigns has a different appeal and with the amount of variety available you’re bound to find one that’s perfect for you.