Time again for a High Fidelity Top Five list.
On several occasions on this blog I have curmudgeonly stated my general antipathy (a word I learned from AD&D btw) to published adventures, but truth be told I do have some treasured favorites. Hold on a second...you kids, get off my lawn.
Of course, the following list is highly subjective—even more so than I would imagine the Top Five maps thread was—and instead of going only with more-objective markers I went with the ones that felt in my gut like great classics from my own play experience. You know the way you'd re-watch Repo Man and say that's a great movie (ok, ok most of you wouldn't be saying that about that movie in particular, but stand-in your timeless personal favorite and you get my point).
To keep the list manageable and focused I bracketed off a few criteria: 1. it must be from a fantasy-genre roleplaying game; 2. it must have been published before 1984; 3. it had to be commercially published; and 4. it had to be something I played or at least intended to play back in the day.
Again in reverse order...
Caverns of Thracia. Perhaps the single best campaign dungeon ever designed with lots of vertical and non-linear organization. The Greek theme was ho-hum for me at the time (though I'd certainly dig it better now), but the various factions gave it added vibrancy. Bonus points for an undead lord that wasn't human. (Slight demotion on the list as it's the one I never had a chance to play.)
Village of Hommlet. My second encounter (the first you'll find down the list) with a mini-setting coupled with an adventure. The moat house dungeon (an Easter Egg homage to the Siege of Bodenburg) was lacking, but it was the first adventure that challenged me to think about the NPC “whirly bits” of a sandbox. Factional motivations, town intrigue, heists/capers, all these things came into my game because of good old T1.
Snake Pipe Hollow. After years of playing through D&D this Runequest adventure blew me away. The cave system had both a deeper naturalistic feel to and an otherworldy Gloranthan vibe. The “monsters” all had personalities and motivations of their own, the surrounding wilderness area was interesting, and there were several hooks that provided replay value.
Vault of the Drow. Many others have noted that this was the highpoint of Gygax's florid, descriptive prose and I have to agree. It was only years later when reading Clark Ashton Smith that I felt the same vibe.
Keep on the Borderlands. By objective criteria, does this deserve to be number one? Not likely, the Caves of Chaos have been described as an unreal evil critter condo set-up. But there is simply no other published adventure that I both got more play out of and influenced and inspired my own homebrewing.
Honorable Mentions: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Castle Amber, The Lost City, Dwellers of the Forbidden City
So what's your top five list look like? I wait with bated breath.