D&D 5eThunder RIft

Using D&D’s Thunder Rift Setting for 5e

thunder rift map

There’s been lots of excitement about old settings lately getting released for 5th edition. This week, we have a guest post from Mark Compton looking at the Thunder Rift setting.

While stumbling through the internet a few years back, I happened upon Tribality. More specifically I happened upon Shawn Ellsworth’s article about running a Nentir Vale campaign for 5th Edition. I was fascinated by the fact someone had taken a little-known campaign setting from a previous edition and provided a guide to convert it. Which reminded me of Thunder Rift.

Created in 1992 for 1st Edition by Colin McComb, Thunder Rift was an attempt to create a self-contained local with lots of room for adventures. TSR released several “adventure packs” which were all adventures set within the Rift. Thunder Rift has everything: marshes, hills, swamps, and a vast woodland forest. It’s a giant sandbox that was designed for beginning players and Dungeon Masters to play in.

Thunder Rift, as a setting, is a self-contained valley surrounded on all sides by sheer cliffs nearly half a mile high. There are only a few known exits out of the valley to the rest of the known world. The most wonderful part about Thunder Rift, is you can set it in any “Known World” you wish to. Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or a world of your own creation. It is much like Nentir Vale, in that it is a setting where there are very few settlements surrounded by a vast wilderness for players to explore, and for DMs to create new dungeons. Hordes of Goblins, Kobolds and Orcs roam the various hills. A band of bandits have a hidden base somewhere in the north of the valley.


Thunder Rift is a great resource because:

  • It is a location that has been lost in the annuals of gamer time and memory. Very rarely do I meet players who have heard of it, meaning you can take the basic elements and then add your own.
  • The 1st Edition Basic D&D rule set is very compatible with the current 5th Edition rule set.
  • There were several Adventure Packs that were designed to be played in Thunder Rift, practically an entire adventure path.
  • Everything you need to start is there, all laid out and described in detail, and yet still giving you as the DM room to shape it to your will.


So, hopefully I’ve piqued your interest in the Thunder Rift setting. Now let’s take a look at what is available out there to help you run your campaign. Most of these items can be found online at places like Drivethrurpg, RPGG, Amazon and various other sites.

  1. TSR 9357 Thunder Rift: This is the “core” book that lays out the Valley for the DM. The descriptions of the various parts of Thunder rift are general, leaving room for a DM to expand and make it their own. If you manage to get hands on a copy of the physical book, it contains a huge fold out map of the Rift.
  2. Dragon Quest Game: This is or was a board game developed for the Basic D&D game, but the books can be used without the actual board and pieces. It provides three separate adventures all set in Thunder Rift.
  3. The Goblin’s Lair Game: Another board game designed for the D&D Basic Game. Like Dragon Quest, it is a board game, but the three adventure books inside of it could be used as standalone Table Top RPG adventures.
  4. TSR 9434 The Knight of the Newts (Level 1-3): An adventure set in the Black Swamp of Thunder Rift where the players are tasked to solve the mystery of a missing keep.
  5. Dungeon Magazine #41: Contains an adventure set in Thunder Rift called “A way with Words” (Levels 1-3). The adventure has a few battle sections but focuses on Role-Play as the players are tasked with helping a Gnome find a lost tome.
  6. TSR 9350 Assault on Raven’s Ruin (Levels 2-3): Adventures explore the ruins of the master thief Raven who disappeared roughly two years ago.
  7. TSR 9387 Sword and Shield (Levels 1-3): The players are invited to participate in the Black Knight’s tournament, the only question is “Why?”
  8. TSR 9342 Quest for the Silver Sword (Levels 2-3): Snow covers the village of Torlynn on what is the hottest day of the year. The Burgomaster of the town has but one hope to save his village, are the players up to the task?
  9. TSR 9435 Rage of the Rakasta (Levels 2-4): It’s the adventuring party against a group of Samurai cat men.
  10. TSR 9436 In the Phantom’s Wake (Levels 3-5): A mystical portal brings a cursed ship to Thunder Rift. What secrets will the ship reveal, what does the magical astrolabe hold, will the party ever break the curse?
  11. The Haunted Tower Game: The last of the three board games designed for Basic D&D containing three adventures set in Thunder Rift, Vampires and other undead await your party within the tower walls.
  12. Dungeons & Dragons DM Screen: Contains the adventure “Escape from Thunder Rift” in which the players discover a gate between the rift and the outside world. This adventure was designed to take players and the DM from Thunder rift, into a larger campaign world.

Of course, any adventure you as a DM can come up with can be set anywhere within Thunder Rift.


Like Nentir Vale, Thunder Rift is a world unto itself. It contains pretty much any terrain type an adventuring party (and Rangers) would want: barren rocky hills, sweeping grassland, mountains, lakes, rivers, swamps and forests. Only through exploration would anyone be able to learn about all the Rift has to offer. But exploration is dangerous and perilous. Take one wrong step, and you could find yourself at the bottom of the unexplained chasm in the Southern Grasslands.

In the end, Thunder Rift makes for an excellent setting for starting players and DMs alike, and allows you to build upon the general descriptions as you see fit to make it a world all your own.