Looking for a good 1st-level adventure…

I picked up the D&D 3.5 Player’s Handbook this afternoon.

I’d like to run my oldest two kids through a quick 1st-level adventure. Something along the lines of “go check out the spooky ruins outside of town, where we think the bandits are hiding out.” Ideally said adventure will allow for plenty of skill checks — spot, search, decipher, track, survival, use rope, etc. I don’t want the game to be unnecessarily complex, but I DO want the kids (ages 11 and 8) to have fun deciding to DO things that involve lots of dice-rolling.

And yeah, it needs a few monsters that can be killed.

It would be especially nice if said adventure didn’t require me to break down and buy the Monster Manual or the Dungeon Master’s Guide just yet.

So… any pointers?


44 thoughts on “Looking for a good 1st-level adventure…”

  1. Noooooo! Howard, we’ve lost ye to the 3rd Edition heretics! Go play 2nd Edition!


    This page on the Wizards website has a bunch of adventures available for download, if you haven’t checked it out already.

    1. Having read the rulesets for both, the only appeal 2nd ed. has for me lies in two factors:

      1) Nostalgia.
      2) I have all the core books.

      Seriously, the new system is MUCH better, far more flexible, and seems (to me, anyway) to bring the focus back into roleplaying and “game,” rather than endless tables which must be consulted during play.


      1. Having played all editions of D&D except Chainmail and Expert, I can safely say that D&D 3.x bring the focus squarely onto Miniatures Battles. Characterization tends to be lost in the name of Character Advancement. 2nd Edition AD&D was in my opinion the most role-playing-friendly D&D system, even if some folks never did get the hang of THAC0. 🙂

        Characters advance much more quickly if you use the provided XP rules (which you don’t have, they’re in the DMG), which has you spending a fair amount of time in the early levels gaining new and nifty abilities and feats and skills… rather than fleshing out your personality by using the abilities and skills you already had in a solid role-playing environment. Now I’m certain that good game-mastering can take this into account (once you’re aware of it) and avoid that path, but the Rules As Written very much lead people into a Diablo2 gameplay style.

        1. I’d just like to make the point that there is no such thing as a “role-playing friendly” system. The mechanics of any system are literally just there to facilitate actions. Roleplaying has absolutely no connection to the system. One can roleplay without using dice or system mechanics at all, and in many of the games I play my group will do precisely that.

          Personally I prefer 3e and beyond as they actually allow true and varied skill useage. I have fond memories of 2nd edition, but whenever I re-read the rule books I realize that they are only because we had a lot of fun with RP back in the day and that the rules themselves are clunky, uneccessarily difficult, and outdated.

          1. there is no such thing as a “role-playing friendly” system

            I beg to differ. First, let me say that I understand and acknowledge the general point you are making about RP not being mechanics-based. Second, there ARE mechanics that encourage roleplay, and mechanics that dampen or even discourage roleplay.

            A great example of mechanics that encourage roleplay is the 7th Sea RPG. It has thrown out precise measurements in combat in favor of panache and style, and has additional rules designed to specifically encourage dramatic actions. “I leap up to the table, grab the chandelier, and swing over my dastardly opponent. I land behind him, grin, and kick him foward onto the table! (makes attack roll). I look at the spilled beer now on his shirt and comment ‘Drowning your sorrows in beer again, Roderick?’ (GM gives me a bonus drama die as the table bursts into laughter at the scene).”

            D&D 3.x, on the other hand, encourages precise measurement. “I move 20′, then tumble an additional 5′ (makes skill roll), to set up a +2 flanking bonus, which will activate my Sneak Attack ability once my teammate moves. Can I knock him down? Trip attack, causes an attack of opportunity, eh? Ok, nevermind, I use my Feat to feint (makes opposed skill roll), succeed, and get a free attack with Sneak Attack. (rolls damage).”

    1. That’s the one I was thinking of too. Shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt to 3.5 or even (gasp) GURPS (no cool dice 🙁 ).

    2. Yeah, that is the second module in the collected set I mentioned below I think. (I just bought the B1-9 pdf from their store. Now I wait and wait and wait for it to finish downloading over my dialup connection.)

  2. The first adventure I used (1st Edition since that’s what I have), they were hired to retreive an item stolen from a merchant during transit (to the merchant). Backstory: two thieves, who were not associated with the local Thieve’s Guild, had hired goblins (for a small amount of gold and lots of hard whiskey) to steal the item.

    It was quite sucessful (and I never expected them to throw the whisky bottles down the chimney as a diversionary tactic …).

  3. Not sure if you’ve played 3(.5), so a couple general pointers:

    An important note is that 3(.5) was designed around a more concrete battle system than 1st and 2nd ed. Rules now exist for things like flanking, cover, line of sight and movement distances, so it’s important to have a map of the area. Depending how rigid you want to be, you can use a piece of graph paper (preferably a big one so you can use miniatures on it) or just free form the area on something like butcher paper to give a rough feel for the layout – double points for using colorful markers.

    For the quest you’re describing, I’d keep a bookmark in Chapter 4: Skills, as it provides a variety of suggested difficulty levels for mundane skill checks (climb, spot, etc). Depending on what characters your kids are going to play, I’d jot down the important details about whatever spells they might have access to. Also would be a good idea to give them static feats – Weapon Focus, Weapon Finesse, Improved Initiative… probably not something they have to make judgement calls on all the time like Power Attack.

    Lastly, if you need something not in the Player’s Handbook, feel free to check the online System Reference Documents.

    1. Also, I’m a big fan of making your own adventures, and I generally don’t spend much time doing it.

      1. Come up with a basic plot: Two men let all the farmers’ sheep out, and some were not recovered. Players need to find out who, why, and stop them from doing so.

      2. Figure out major locations/plot points: The town is a small farming hamlet called Grisram. The two men are hiding in a nearby forest (only a couple miles north-west of town), and took a half-dozen of the sheep with them when they let them go.

      3. Come up with a backstory to the quest: The two men are rangers, and felt that the farmers were being cruel to the animals. Alternatively, if you don’t want a quest with moral dilemma, consider if the men were simply out to pull a prank and it went too far.

      4. Decide some hints to get players on the right track: One of the farmers saw the men sneaking away, there’s a trail of blood from one of the rangers getting bit by a guard dog, etc.

      5. Make up some names for key people (because players inevitably ask, and it looks really bad when you’re stumbling trying to come up with one).

      6. Plan a couple major encounters: Players run into a stray goblin in the forest who caught one of the wandering sheep. Players stumble across rangers’ camp and have to fight them at a disadvantage (rangers retreat to treehouses, use bows).

      7. Make everything else up as you go!

      I find that I can never truly anticipate what characters are going to do, so instead of putting my effort into creating contingency plans, I direct my energy towards envisioning the situation and having a clear picture of it in my head so that I can smoothly adjust situations according to what I think would be best.

      When you get a pre-bought adventure, they often don’t mention details that would bring an NPC to life, especially motives. As a result, when players deviate from a pre-bought adventure, you need to figure out how the NPCs would react without knowledge of what they’re trying to do. With an adventure you create, you have a firm idea in your mind of what they’re trying to accomplish, and so their course of action is obvious.

  4. Second attempt. Don’t know if it can help, but I still have a boxful of old RPG stuff, including some of the DnD campaigns, like ‘Doc’s Island’. I also have a couple of ‘family and friends’ games – the “have your own mystery to solve” type.

  5. Ten Pointers from a random DM:

    1. The SRDs are a great reasource, they do lack, however, the XP reward tables and a random loot generation tables, you have to get the DMG for that. (You can use an alternative method for giving XP, for instance, adventure based that can buypass this, and simply customize the loot.)

    2. If there is going to be less than 4 players, consider adding in NPCs to help the party, ESPECIALLY if they lack a cleric.

    3. For first timers, and especially kids, have them use some of the simpler classes that focus on simple combat styles. Fighters, Rangers and Paladins are good for this as you simply have to do some math to figure out the attack bonuses and then simply roll dice and have fun.

    4. Keep them away from Sorcerer and Wizards. At low levels these classes are difficult and frustrating to play. If one insists on playing an arcanist, steer them towards Sorcerers, as the bookeeping is significantly easier.

    5. NPCs with class levels are a good enemy to fight. You can customize them more for the type of encounter you want. Provided its harder to create random encounters with them, but they can be excellent challenges.

    6. Come up with two plots. One an overarching plot that gives the campaign continuity, while the second is the plot for the specific session you run.

    7. As others have said, get a map, do a layout, and have counters to keep track of things. They’re slightly expensive, but consider buying a tablet of paper that is ruled with 1″x1″ squares, they make a perfect battle grid and you can draw on them for the maps. Also, draw you maps ahead of time in some form, just to keep things going smoothly when you play.

    8. Feel free to fudge dice rolls, in fact, I suggest you do it often when playing with your kids so they don’t get to frustrated by combat. DnD involves a lot of hits and many creatures can litterally one-shot PCs early on.

    9. Feel free to create your own world, in fact, ignore the vast majority of WoTC pre-made worlds and go ahead and create your own. Remember to start small and locally, and build outwards as needed.

    10. Remember: its just a game. Have fun above all else.

    1. Highly, highly seconding the ‘don’t let them play a wizard or sorcerer’ thing. While wizards and sorcerers are extremely fun at the higher levels, they are extremely underpowered early on. They are also extremely fragile. In a game with four people, the rest of the party can pick up the slack for the wizard/sorcerer, but in a game with only two members, there are going to be issues.

      Also, a lot of the suggestions for campaigns and stuff have forgotten one very important thing – first level characters are fragile. Extremely fragile. If you’re giving your NPCs longbows and the like, it’s entirely possible you could kill someone with one shot. Now, if you like to fudge rolls a lot, that’s fine – but if you’re like me and really dislike constantly having to ‘fake’ it to make it easier for your players, you should consider what you’ve equipped your monsters with. Maybe instead of a longsword, the ranger is carrying a dagger and a sling. Or the goblins have clubs instead of spears. Simple changes like this can make it much easier for a small group to survive without you necessarily needing to say ‘oop, nevermind that roll, he misses you’.

      Also, watch AC carefully. Combat in D&D can often turn into a ten minute long series of ‘I miss him… well, he misses you. Okay, I swing again and miss. He swings at you and misses.’ I had a lot of issues dealing with this, but I finally implimented the ‘cool’ bonus, which is extremely simple: If what you’re doing is really freaking nifty, and well described and well roleplayed, I’m giving you a bonus of some sort. Maybe your attack deals extra damage, or you get a bonus to hit, or your AC is better for a round. It made combat a lot more fun. This doesn’t really work for people new to the game, but what does is making sure your enemies have A) low dexterity scores and B) bad armor. Don’t throw creatures with AC 15-16 against players who have +3 to hit. On the other hand, don’t allow your players to have AC 20 when the best monsters you can reasonably throw at them have +1 or 2 to hit. Many people make the mistake of giving their players good armor, and then have to send higher level monsters at the players to hit them – in a low level game this is what kills a lot of players. If an ogre is the only monster that can hit your players, when he does hit them, they’re probably going down and staying down.

      And again, seconding Rurouni… if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right!

  6. I’ve never liked pre-made campaigns because most of them aren’t flexible enough in the things that characters can really do. They sort of depend on the party running through all the pre-made hoops, and my group was fairly creative when it came to creating entire new hoops to jump through. I imagine that this could be especially true with younger inexperienced players, who most likely won’t react predictably.

    I’d probably do something about livestock having gone missing, and the town council sending the heroes out to investigate a haunted farmstead/ruins/tower, which would turn out to be the base for a band of goblins.

    Classwise, you may want to avoid rogue and mage for the kids. They’ve got both the most complex combat styles, and they’ve only got about 4-6 health, so even a goblin could conceivably one-shot them. This means that the DM’s got to be real careful about what they fight, he has to have bigger character running guard duty, or he has to fudge some rolls. This is why I like to start games with 2nd-3rd level characters, because you get a -lot- more leeway in what they can survive, so you get a lot more options about what you can do. They’ve conceivably adventured enough to actually own a sword/shield/armour. Spellcasters get more than 1-2 spells a day. You can always up the difficulty of a game, but it’s fairly hard to downgrade it once you’ve gotten the plot moving.

    I’d probably set this sort of quest up with a Ranger and a Cleric. Rangers are good warrior types for this sort of thing, because they’re good at all the spotting and searching without having to worry about flanking and all the rogue skills. They’ve got good health, and they can have the fighter attack bonus progression. Clerics are good spellcasters for newbies because they can actually hit things melee, they can wear armour, and they have enough health so that a freak dagger slash won’t kill them. They can also dual as a fighter well if the person decides they’d like to change.

    You can make monsters pretty easily, so there’s no -need- to buy a MM, and most of the things in the DMG can just be house-ruled, like falling rules. Don’t be afraid to make those house rules liberally. There’s no reason why Ranger can’t be a favoured class for elves, or any matter of small things.

    1. Are you talking about the Campaign Settings or things like Temple of Elemental Evil and B1-9?

      In either case, I’ve found it really boils down to how good the DM is and how much effort they are willing to put into the game. Flexibility in a DM is really regardless of where they get their setting/adventures. I had one guy who wrote all of his own adventures and he was the second worst lead-you-by-the-nose DM I’ve ever met. (The worst is why I don’t play In Nomine.) On the other hand, two of the three best D&D campaigns I’ve ever played were set in official settings (Mystara and the Realms)

      On the other hand, if you know that the dm is only a good DM and they suggest Birthright, come up with a reason why not. It requires an excellent DM to pull off.

      The number of spells per day at first level is one of the best changes in the 3rd edition subsets. That, the streamlined combat, and dropping the level limits for demi-humans. (A little side note about level limits. They were in place to ballance the extra abilities that demi-humans got at first level. Problem is that the vast majority of campaigns never got to the level where a demi-human ran into the level limits so they didn’t do any important ballancing. In the new system, mostly, the human feat and skill bonus does a great job of keeping the no level adjustment races balanced.)

  7. Just last weekend, I finished my first ever D&D adventure. The DM ran the game off of a 1st level module booklet she’s had for almost twenty years, dating back to 1st ed (which made the conversion from that to modern 3.5 an interesting challenge). We discovered, shattering our poor DM’s sweet preteen memories of first playing that module, that it was unbelievably lame.

    She’s going to manufacture our next adventure herself.

    1. Some of those old modules were wonderful. Most of them were not. For some good solid fun, though a little bit on the lethal side, I’d suggest both Ravenlofts, Temple of Elemental Evil, and Tomb of Horrors. None of which are for low level characters (well ToEE is mostly), and the last two of which were rewriten for 3.0 and or 3.5. Tomb of Horrors was released for free on their web page

  8. I might suggest the hypertext D20 SRD. It has the monstrous manual I, an encounter calculator and the random treasure tables. The extra stuff (Epic and psionic stuff) is useless, but nice. I frequently use this page for my Eberron campaign.


  9. Ooh, there are a couple of wonderful “introduction to the rules of the game” adventures out there. Sadly they usually get packaged as 20 or 30 dollar boxed sets instead of free intro to D&D pdfs. (By wonderful, I mean straight forward, something that kids on the young end of the D&D set can get into, not deeply crafted political adventures with vibrant characters and an epic plot.) They are generally staged to introduce more and more facets of the game, and they come with throw away characters that you can use to intoduce new players to the game without the close enough to unlimited choices that you get in standard character creation.

    I miss the days when you could go to KB Toys and get the boxed sets from 3 years previous for 5 bucks. That was less than the price of the dice that came in the box.

  10. I bought the D&D Basic Game boxed set. It included enough of the rules to run the included adventure, pregenerated characters, nice cardboard plates of the dungeon and all the character and monster minis.

    My kids are younger than yours (the oldest is 9), but they still enjoyed fighting the monsters.

    I also got them each their own set of dice. They loved that, too.

    I’m going to have to check out these links myself to find another adventure for them to play. And I’m going to have to break down and buy the core rulebooks. Anyone else have a spare set they want to let go for cheap? btaggart at gmail dot com.

    1. Ooh, the one in the square box that comes with a bunch of minis? Sadly, I bought my sister the set that came out before that one. It had a bunch of round tokens (better than the cardboard standups they used to use at least) but I wish the new one had been out when I got it.

      1. That’s the one. For each mini, there is also a card with all the stats you need. On one side are the RPG stats, and on the other are the D&D Miniatures Game stats. The same goes for all the D&D Miniatures Game booster packs, too.

        1. Wait, did you buy the D&D Minis Basic Game or the D&D Basic Game? And if you bought the Basic Game, does it really come with D&D Minis stats for the included minis?

          I’ve been buying boosters and singles of the D&D minis game for my own campaign, and I love the stat cards. I don’t always use them, but they are great when they fit your needs.

          1. The D&D Basic Game (NOT the D&D Minis Starter). It includes a quick-start rulebook and basic rulebook, a full set of dice, a basic dungeon crawl adventure, several 12″x12″ interchangeable dungeon cards, several pregenerated characters, and a bunch of miniatures (for both the characters and monsters), including the stat cards. They are the same as the stat cards in the minis game sets, except that they are in black & white and have to be punched out of the back of the rulebook.

            For $25, it’s a great starter set, and gave me exactly what I needed to introduce my kids to the game.

          2. The first set (possibly the first two sets, I’m not sure) of the Minis game had black and white cards.

            I just checked my cards and I seem to have minis from three seperate sets with black and white cards.

            Heck, even before I knew they gave you D&D Minis style stat cards, I thought that set looked worth nearly the asking price (since I own the core rule books I’m still hesetant to buy it, but 16 nice minis and a set of dice comes pretty close to the cost, and I like having extra introductory type adventures around.

          3. First five I believe. I’m not entirely sure about that but up until GoL at least and that was number four. To my knowledge there have been to date five starter sets for D&D and D&D mini’s combined.

            The old yellow box which came out before 3.0 was fully launched including cardboard counters of all the monsters and NPC’s that you needed as well as a handy map.

            The new starter box which has Regdar and a black dragon on the cover and which includes several miniatures with the relevant D&D and D&D minis stats.

            There there are three starter boxes for the minis game, for each of the major rules-changes (Harbinger, Abberations and Wardrums). The most recent has a pair of decent maps in there or so I’ve been told.

          4. Yeah, the wardrums set does away with the terrain tiles. I don’t know which way I lean on that. And you are right about the black and white running theough Giants of Legend. I was just looking at couple pieces from that set and they all had B&W cards.

            The yellow box is what I was refering to. I’m sort of ambivalent about the counters vs miniatures aspect though. I like the miniatures a lot, but it is neat that with the counters they can include enough to cover all of the creatures from the adventures in the box. (And they can print more to go with issues of Dungeon magazine.)

          5. Well, I’ve been a wargamer for far longer than I’ve played RPG’s so miniatures were always a plus for me. Conveniently though, I bought the box in one shop in a mall and then found a wizards shop further down the mall with metal miniatures for all the PC’s in there. They were rather nice really. I’ve long since moved on from them but they’re still some of my favourite pieces due to their blobby, poorly-cast charms.

  11. Hum, I just thought of something. A number companies publish phamphlet adventures for very cheap and some of them publish PDF adventures for minimal amounts of money.

    Paizo.com (the company that publishes both Dragon and Dungeon magazine) has a bunch of old adventures for sale as PDFs at 4 bucks a pop. Best deal? B1-9 In search of Adventure, though there is a bit of adaptation needed to go from the original module to 3.5. A lot less work than writing your own, and they are a series of introductory adventures that can be fairly easily modified to fit the new rules.)

    Of a similar type are The Goblin’s Den, The Phantom’s Tower, and The Dragon’s Lair. Each is a series of 3 or 4 adventures that progress in level as you do them. I think the difficulty is in the order I listed them or maybe the phantoms one came third. I only owned the Goblin and Dragon boxes.)

  12. D&D stuff

    If you’re looking to run a long term game, I have a nice spreadsheet you can also use. It includes an XP calcuator, item listing (to keep track of unidentified stuff), an inititive sheet, and calendar sheed (for time and day). It’s not a wonder of modern programming, but when run from a laptop (assuming you have one) with an internet connection (ditto), you can use it with d20srd.org to make DMing much easier.

  13. I’ve just started my kids off on 1st ed (I plan on progressing them through 2nd ed and letting us all explore 3.0+ as they enter their teens and late teens, assuming it goes that far). I’m using “The Keep On The Borderlands,” but I’m having them play up to arriving at the Keep. It’s proven fairly challenging for them, yet very fun.

    Oldest – magic-user, because he likes Harry Potter. He pulled his spells at random and is now suffering from “I suck” syndrome. I’m trying to work him through that one.

    Middle Child – pirate, because he LOVES pirates. He’s really enthusiastic, but terribly sensitive about anyone getting hurt. Especially himself.

    Youngest – Fighter. Think Schlock with less inhibition. (He’s 3.)

  14. There is a starte for the new version of DnD that comes with a map, a basic rule book that includes monsters, and a mini module that uses the map. They’ve used it to demo the game at GenCon. You might want to ask around and see if anyone has it to loan or give away. Once you have the full books, it loses its value.


  15. Wow

    This is amazing. I’ve been a long-time Schlock fan, but never read the blog, but I just searched for “d20 first level adventure” since I will be starting a campaign for friends that have never played before (and I’ve never DM’d before), and this is where I get the most helpful information! Some of these comments don’t apply (my friends are 18-20, not 8-11) but there’s still a lot of good stuff in these comments. Even if I don’t get one of the adventures recommended here, I feel more confident in creating my own adventure.

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