Review: Wizards of the Coast – Dungeons of Dread (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons)


Dungeons of Dread
Dungeons of Dread is a Premium Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons release of the “S-Series” adventures written by Gary Gygax and Lawrence Schick, published by Wizards of the Coast.
By Lord Mhor

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I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons since 1977, so the re-release by Wizards of the Coast of all the old favorites fills my heart with joy. Until recently, only the retro-clones allowed newer players to experience old-school RPG tropes. Now, everyone can have a good look at the history of these rules in fancy new packaging.

Dungeons of Dread is the complete “S-Series” of four original modules beautifully arrayed in a high-end book. It is appealing both to ancient grognards who seek a trip down Memory Lane and to newer players who wish to experience the history of this hobby in a classy fashion.


Lawrence Schick has provided a nice forward to Dungeons of Dread that gives an excellent overview and history of these four compiled modules. Having gone through this entire book with great enthusiasm, I’ll now provide a quick executive view of each module:

S1: Tomb of Horrors is designed to kill the adventurers outright. A foul demi-lich named Acerak has decided to go dormant for a few centuries and has constructed a dungeon designed to specifically protect its treasures and itself against intrusion. That being said, the villain has put forth many worthwhile challenges, primarily designed to get the adventurers deeper into the dungeon where their souls will be devoured and their equipment added to the already impressive assortment of treasures therein. This is more of a trick and trap dungeon than a wandering monster run, and it is truly deadly. Gary Gygax really put a lot of thought into this one!

S2: White Plume Mountain is all about challenging obstacles placed in front of the adventurers to amuse a mad wizard. This was originally written to persuade Gary Gygax to hire Lawrence Schick as a game designer, and it succeeded admirably. White Plume Mountain is less focused on death traps than Tomb of Horrors, with a broad spectrum of challenges that will make the players earn their victories. These first two modules require a lot of thought to achieve success, so players focused on hacking and slashing may be frustrated as their characters die grisly deaths. For those who wish a mental challenge, however, this is an excellent environment.

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is where things start to become quite weird. This module is a fusion of Gamma World science fiction with Greyhawk high fantasy. Much of the magic available for plunder is actually extremely high-tech gear, so you can imagine what medieval fantasy characters might suffer while attempting to figure out the various gadgets. The treasure is one of the more dangerous aspects of this module, in addition to a host of alien life forms that have been trapped in the dungeon for a very long time. Lawrence Schick describes it in the forward as “Gary in full-on funhouse mode,” and he’s quite correct.

S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is practically a campaign in itself, complete with wilderness maps and an extensive bestiary. The previous three modules are essentially stand-alone and can be dropped anywhere. This one has more depth and (excusing a minor lesson in history) may have been intended as part of a greater campaign in the World of Greyhawk, directly after T1: The Village of Hommlet and T1-T4: The Temple of Elemental Evil, and right before WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. WG3 was originally to be the designation of Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, but this module ended up with code S4. Enough history! It is quite capable of standing alone and has a great variety of challenges to amuse even the most jaded players. There are great treasures hidden in caverns at the end of an epic journey, and getting there is at least half of the fun!


If the mere idea of “Old School” role-playing fills you with dread, leave now or be forever corrupted! Should you have the slightest interest in the venerable history of this fine hobby, buy this book and experience a mad romp through the history of high fantasy gaming with some very amusing twists. Wizards of the Coast has gone to great trouble to release the AD&D Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual, and Unearthed Arcana, complete with gold foil edges, so that you can fully immerse yourself in a historic RPG experience. Even if you choose to avoid AD&D as a game system, there are so many good ideas between these covers that it’s worth picking up this deluxe tome.

Sadly, Dungeons of Dread does not have gold edges on the pages, but the rest of the fine production quality of the re-released core books is present herein. You are guaranteed to have a very long and entertaining experience while carving your way through all these modules. I respectfully suggest that you make up a large number of player characters in your spare time, because the casualties will be considerable and the demise of the assorted characters will be quite colorful.


Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
This book is beautiful. The binding is high-quality with a beautiful textured cover and evocative art. The text is clear and the contrast is perfect. All the art inside is well-rendered and better than the originals due to the improved print technology. The only flaw I caught was a slight pagination issue in the Table of Contents. The page references for everything past the S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth are off by two pages. The bright side is that this doesn’t make a bit of difference, beyond a possible raised eyebrow from those who seek perfection.

Storyline: 10 out of 10
It is necessary to accept that strange storylines abound in this book. Between a demi-lich protecting its prerogatives, a mad wizard, a translocated section of starship, and a wilderness romp through Greyhawk that descends into strange caverns, there are going to be ideas that will both delight and vex any particular player. There’s something here for everyone, so enjoy!

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
I’ve personally picked up all these re-released AD&D books, so I can’t be trusted to be entirely objective. That being said, I’m using this book! Whether you crave “Old School” AD&D or simply want to port ideas over to Savage Worlds or another system, you will find a plethora of material and many great concepts that are no longer common in RPG circles. Throw the contents at your players, as written or as dissected to your satisfaction. Play with this and have fun!

Overall: 9 out of 10
This book is firmly targeted at those who seek nostalgia and ideas from the early generations of D&D. It is a set of classic AD&D adventures that have stood the test of time, but it also has relevance to newer players as part of a campaign by Wizards of the Coast to generate excitement for the upcoming release of D&D Next (or whatever they’ll end up calling the new incarnation). I consider this a vital part of RPG history, reprinted with high quality and good intent, and I’m proud to have this entire line of releases on my gaming shelf. There are those who might not be interested in the particular feel of this material, but I believe the greater gaming audience can benefit from enjoying this book and the core rulebooks as brought back by Wizards of the Coast.

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  1. KEslinger says:

    Great review! I own the original modules from this series and have yet to pick up any of the new re-releases in the new hardcover bound collection booklets. This may be my first.

    • Lord Mhor says:

      The full set of AD&D re-released core books is really amazing. Most of my originals had fallen apart from over-use over the years, so it was really nice to be able to pick up these beauties! They’re well worth the expense.

  2. doug cornelius says:

    What level and size party is recommended for the different modules?

    • Lord Mhor says:

      Great question!

      Tomb of Horrors, page 13-14, has a complete character matrix. The table has basic stats for 20 characters, with each character having from 6 to 14 levels in one or more classes. It is suggested in the module that players can run two characters each, up to 6 players. Only one character each should be run by each player if the number of players is greater than 6. If players use their own characters, the levels should be similar to that in the table on page 13. Make lots of characters, because the mortality rate will absolutely be high in this dungeon.

      White Plume Mountain is designed for character levels 5-10, with the party being composed of 4-10 characters. Suggested ratio is 40% fighters, 30% magic users, 2)% clerics, 10% thieves. Beyond that, anything goes!

      Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is insane, and most of the characters in the party will probably be blown up trying to figure out the high-tech devices. There is a Character Roster on page 84, much as Tomb of Horrors, with 15 character stat sets, mostly with single character classes, that range from levels 4-13. Suggested range is 10-15 characters, mostly with levels between 5th and 10th.

      The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is intended for character levels 6-10. There’s an extensive overland adventure before reaching the caverns. The module indicates that the original tournament had a mix of characters as follows: Half-elven fighter4/magic-user 5/thief5, Elven fighter4/magic-user 9, Halfling thief 9, Human fighter 8, Human cleric 7, Dwarf fighter 6. Flexibility is good for this module. There’s a warning to expect extremely high casualties, so make lots of characters and get really good at playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons before even attempting it!

  3. walkertg42 says:

    FYI Wizards have posted cartoon walkthroughs of 3 these dungeons. (SPOILERS):

  4. Lord Mhor says:

    The WoC site second image redirects to itself. I dug up the third page for Barrier Peaks here:

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