The best D&D campaigns – Polygon

This is one of the greatest games to ever be made. Dungeons & Dragons has generated countless settings across multiple editions over the last 45 years. It can be difficult to create a new world or a storyline. Wizards of the Coast offers many beautiful sourcebooks with all the maps and monsters you will need.

From the gothic horror of Strahd von Zarovich’s beloved Barovia to the deadly jungles of the Chultan peninsula, the scope of D&D is nearly immeasurable, offering something for every kind of player. But since the latest edition’s launch in 2014, there is an awful lot to sift through. You won’t go from zero to Matt Mercer overnight, but these professionally designed adventures are a fantastic way to get started.

Here are the best 5th edition D&D campaigns you can play right now, both online and in person.

Saltmarsh ghosts

An elf, a halfling, and a human repel a watery boarder from a small skiff.

Image by Greg Rutkovski/Wizards of the Coast

This campaign is about the sea. Saltmarsh ghosts combines the popular adventures from the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons, with upgrades to include 5th edition rules and mechanics. Saltmarsh ghostsThere are many options depending on the length of your campaign. The campaign can be viewed in a single, one-shot format or all seven. The backdrop of the story is sea. Saltmarsh ghostsFeatures seven campaigns full of pirates, fearsome fish people and krakens for naval battle.

There’s a real breadth of adventure to experience. Players can explore a haunted house, spy on lizardfolk, or claim a cursed island for a mariner’s guild. The emphasis is on seafaring so there are many excellent rules to help you navigate the seas and make your way through unusual situations. It’s also fairly modular. You can use these adventures to start your own homebrew campaign or set the stage for a group already in place to go off in a different direction. This is for both players as well as DMs. Saltmarsh ghostsIt combines strong storytelling with unique combat settings to create memorable experiences for all skill levels.

Tomb of Annihilation

Acererak stands before the sphere of annihilation.

Image by Ben Oliver/Wizards of the Coast

The island of Chult is nestled in lush jungles. Tomb of AnnihilationIt is a beautiful place for adventurers who wish to bring Indiana Jones-style exploration into their campaigns. In terms of story, you’ll be searching for the origin of a mysterious death curse that is said to come from the vast jungle. You’ll encounter snake people, zombie dinosaurs, and the time-traveling, dimension-hopping arch lich Acererak — the legendary creator of D&D’s deadliest dungeon, the Tomb of Horrors.

Tomb of Annihilation is a solid all-rounder, as it’s got a little something for everyone with plenty of freedom to mix things up for DMs and players. Whether you want to play up the madcap adventure or lean into the cursed exotic island vibe, it’s a great choice.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist

A hooded figure stands before a dark elf in a lavish purple hat. A beholder looms in the background.

Tyler Jacobson/Wizards of the Coast

Akin to Terry Pratchett’s setting of Ankh Morpork, Waterdeep: Dragon HeistThis is an excellent campaign, even though it’s a smaller offering than the other. It’s neither high fantasy nor horror, but more of an urban journey through the streets of the famed city of Waterdeep. Inspired by movie heists, the city of Waterdeep is rife with corruption, so there’s a wealth of factions and villains for you to encounter throughout.

WaterdeepIt has a more relaxed tone and emphasizes role-playing over senseless killing. So the stakes are much lower, since you aren’t saving the world — well, at least not at the beginning. WaterdeepThis is the ideal place to start a campaign or for someone looking for something lighter after a long, intense one.

Phandelver’s Lost Mines

A party stands within a ruined keep, a massive green dragon rounding the corner to confront them.

Image: Jaime Jones/Wizards of the Coast

If you’re a brand-new player or DM, Lost Mine of PhandelverThere is also a mini-campaign that can be used in conjunction with the 5th edition Starter Set. It features everything you need to dip your toes into Dungeons & Dragons while balancing the role-play with engaging encounters. Admittedly, it’s a very generic adventure that features your typical goblins and dragons and one feisty owlbear. However, it gives you an incredible sense of how the world is.

NPCs, quests and even a mini-dungeon complete the package. From a DM’s perspective, it’s easy enough to use the Lost Mine of PhandelverIt can be used as the foundation of a longer campaign. This campaign is ideal for those who want to give Dungeons & Dragons a try but don’t want to invest too much if they find it unsuitable for them.

Storm King’s Thunder

Giants, like Greek gods of old, stand in the mists as lightning streaks behind them.

Tyler Jacobson/Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons & Dragons and high fantasy often go in tandem, and if that is something you want to preserve, then Storm King’s ThunderThe Forgotten Realms’ most chilling regions are the setting for a titanic battle. In the Campaign, they encounter terrifying giants who seek to devastate the civilisation around them. In response to such chaos, a small party bands together to search for rune magic — an ancient weapon that allowed the giants to thwart the dragons many years ago. Slarkreth is an ancient, powerful kraken wizard, who seeks to make the giants weaker.

It’s even better: Storm King’s ThunderThe campaign book is extremely detailed and offers a variety of options for players to choose from in order to fulfill a quest. With this approach, the campaign avoids railroading but remains detailed enough to be simple enough to run as a DM, whether they’re experienced or new to the franchise. Storm King’s ThunderIt is highly recommended if you desire a complete fantasy experience and the freedom to choose how you will approach it.

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