Times are tough for everyone, money’s tight and it might not be the best time for you personally to invest your hard earned gold in gaming products. Why the sad face? I’ll let you in on a little secret: you don’t need to spend money to play some good ol’ fashioned DnD. That’s right! The basic rules are freely available online, you can also get your character sheets for free, and as I’ll show you, even professionally written adventures (with art!) are available free of charge too. Can you hear all those clap emojis?
A lot of the products we will talk about here are intended originally for Adventurer’s League (AL)–this is Wizards of the Coast’s (WoTC) way of playing the game in an organised fashion without needing to find your own DM and build your own group. These adventures are perfectly appropriate for your home games however, and by the nature of AL’s drop-in playstyle and potential for groups of mixed level, these adventures actually include more guidance on how to balance and adjust encounters than other, full sized adventures do.
On to our list, I’ve divided these adventures into sections, to better find and choose which ones you’d like to play:
This short adventure ties directly to Curse of Strahd, which is intended to start at 3rd level. It allows your party to start at 1st level, leveling up to 3rd by the end ready to jump straight into Strahd’s clutches. Death House pits the players against the titular home of mystery and a horrific past, fighting for their freedom in a tense low level story.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Encounters Version)
This is actually the first three chapters of the full Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, available for free with guidance on how to play it in the Encounter play program, designed for game stores by WotC. Intended for three to seven 1st-3rd level characters, the party is pitted against the Cult of the Dragon and has to determine their nefarious goals before it’s too late. Should your players enjoy this, you can continue with chapter 4 of the full adventure, like a video game’s free demo!
Adventures Part of The Tyranny of Dragons Storyline Season for AL
Shadows over the Moonsea
Designed for characters of 1st or 2nd level, this adventure has the players answering the call of the high priest of the death god, Kelemvor. With coastal settlements being attacked and rumours that a ghost ship is to blame, the high priest wants the party to investigate, and put a stop to these attacks before this supposed ghost ship finds its way to the city of Phlan.
The Scroll Thief
Designed for 1st or 2nd level characters, this adventure sees the players called upon for aid by a knight of the Black Fist. There has been a string of strange thefts in Scholar’s Square in the city of Phlan, the party is hired to put a stop to it before more books go missing, or worse crimes occur.
Tyranny in Phlan
For characters level 5-10, a familiar knight of the Black Fist sets about recruiting the party for some discreet sleuthing… Well, as discreet as sleuthing gets. As a deal is cinched and the coin changes hands, a much larger and more menacing threat swoops upon the town of Phlan. Part one of Under Emerald Claws; if you enjoy this adventure, you can play the conclusion, Pool of Radiance Resurgent,by picking it up from the DM’s Guild, unfortunately not for free, but pretty cheap!
Dues for the Dead
Returning to Phlan (it’s a busy place, it seems) with adventurers of levels 1st through 4th, this time the high priest of Kelemvor is advertising a need for adventurers. The graveyard tended to by the priests has recently seen a resurgence in undead, something disturbing that hasn’t happened in many years. The party must delve into the graveyard’s catacombs and discover what plot is being brewed beneath Phlan. Rest assured, they are likely to make it out of there one way or another… either as triumphant adventurers or more undead.
Outlaws of the Iron Route
An adventure for characters of levels 1-4, Phlan is once again in danger as its main supply artery is under attack. Two rival bandit groups wage a bloody war for the sole right to plunder the merchants that travel the Iron Route, will the party be able to stop them? Will Phlan ever be safe?
Taking place in the Sea District of Waterdeep, the Winter’s Splendor adventure is for characters of between 1st and 4th level, estimated to take two hours (perhaps longer if you play it after your own Midwinter feast). The Midwinter Gala is in full swing at the Cassalanter Villa, but the mood soon turns sour when the guest singer is suddenly attacked! Players will have to flex their minds, not just their sword arms to solve this predicament and unravel the fiendish plot afoot. At least you finally get to wear your fancy shoes!
Nicholas the Gift-Giver’s Northern Palace
Not an adventure per se, more a fun holiday sidetrack for your players to explore, and for you to potentially build your own seasonal one-shot from. The PDF documents the layout of good ol’ Nick the Gift-Giver’s palace, complete with maps, flavour text, and whimsical NPCs. There’s also a couple of new magic items included, should your players need to harness the power of an ancient artifact to save the world in a single night. Don’t forget milk and cookies!
Wildemount Adventures (Critical Role’s Setting)
Published in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (EGtW), Frozen Sick is also available free of charge on DnD Beyond, and intended to take characters from 1st level to 3rd level. Players will have to discover what has turned a recently returned explorer to an ice statue, contended with criminal elements and long forgotten guardians in the process. Don’t let this one go!
Wildemount: Dark Star
Exclusive to DnD Beyond and written by James Haeck (co-author of EGtW), Wildemount: Dark Star is suitable for 4-5 characters of 7th level and intended to take one or two sessions to complete. The town of Galgard has long been protected by an artifact named the Dark Star, warding evil from their town. Near a millennium later the magic has started to fade, the townsfolk are beset by an ever increasing horde of zombies. With their fallen rising as part of the horde, their keeper locking himself away from his people, it’s down to the adventurers to determine why the Dark Star has failed and save the town.
A short adventure for characters of 5th level, Elfhunt takes place deep in the jungles of Chult. A Wood Elf mage has stolen valuable military secrets from Camp Highmore. The party is recruited on a hunt that will take them through the sweltering jungles and deep into the Feywild itself. Here’s hoping you remember to bring some bug repellent.
Grammy’s Country Apple Pie
A two hour one-shot designed for 1st to 4th level characters, heeding the call to action of an old and powerful wizard. What does such an experienced and esteemed mage ask of you? Well, he really wants an apple pie he had as a kid, but he needs your help recovering the recipe, so off to Grammy’s Bakery you go, what could go wrong?
Six Faces of Death
A higher level adventure, Six Faces of Death pits characters of 11th-13th against the inhabitants of a mysterious new island that has fallen from the sky off the Sword Coast. With a tyrant collecting power, an oddly nostalgic plague threatening the lands, and a mystery to be uncovered, the party has a tall order ahead of them as they set sail on this adventure.
The Barber of Silverymoon
Intended for characters of 4th to 6th level, The Barber of Silverymoon adventure was originally designed to show off new monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters. People are going missing in Silverymoon, either permanently or returning with odd behaviour and fantastic hair. It’s up to the party to discover what’s happening in time to save more people, perhaps with a break for a therapeutic leeching or two.
The Crypts of Kelemvor
Adapted from a quest in the Neverwinter online video game, The Crypts of Kelemvor adventure is for characters of 3rd to 5th level. The priests of Kelemvor need help (yes, again) recovering broken magic seals from their crypts in order to quell the undead rising below. To recover them, the party will have to go through a classic dungeon delve, with a few MMORPG twists, of course.
The Gribbits Detective Agency
The Gribbits Detective Agency adventure is for four 1st level adventurers, and takes place between session one and two of the Dragon Friends podcast–character sheets for the podcast’s stars are included! The shady and powerful Beggar King has vanished and his right-hand goblin, Gribbits ,isn’t happy about it. As a result, he’s recruiting the finest adventurers not much money will hire, and you’re a brand new and unblooded party. You’ll do just fine. Probably.
Rounding out our list is another tie in adventure, The Hangover: this time for 3rd level characters and connected to the Rat Queen’s comic and definitelyintended for more mature readers.After a night that starts with a good ol’ fashioned drinking and brawling tavern session goes awry, the Rat Queens find themselves waking up with aching heads, memory loss, and a big mess to clean up. Although meant for the comic characters, you can use any characters with this adventure; for best effect, however, the DM should decide which party member equates to each Rat Queen to make the humour work best.
A not so small mountain of short adventures and one-shots later! I hope you have an eager list of players to start sorting out what’s wrong with poor ol’ Phlan and the other exciting locations listed. If you’re interested in longer and more fleshed out adventures, then check out our complete list of 5E books, or if you’d rather run something original, check out this article for inspiration to get you started.