I’m thinking about taking a turn as DM after one of my current games wraps up next week. When we start, the various players will have had 0-4 sessions of experience with 5e, though some have played other RPGs. We’d probably play every other week over the summer, so about 8 weeks, but with the potential for most players to continue into the new year.
With where I’m at right now, I’d rather use a published adventure so I can focus on running the game over writing it. The one my FLGS has on the shelf is Curse of Strahd, but I’ve heard (vaguely) that it may not be the best for new or almost-new players. However, I don’t have much to go on when looking for alternatives, though I know I want something with atmosphere, descriptive adjectives, and alternatives to violence, not just a list of encounters with monster statistics and traps. Ideally something like 25% of dilemmas and questions require some creativity and roleplaying, not just a big stick, while 25% require violence and the remainder could be either depending on how the PC’s act.
Question: How should I go about choosing an adventure for a group of new players? What qualities should I look for, and how can I tell if a published adventure has them? Should I restrict myself to official WotC adventures on the presumption that they have the best writing and playtesting, or is there a way to identify third-party adventures with a similar (or higher) level of polish and quality?
(Once I actually have the adventure in front of me, I have sufficient experience running other games, playing 5e, and poring over the rules that I’m pretty confident about everything else. For example I’m happy to improvise, and if necessary give story XP, if the PCs go off script and bypass an encounter that I was counting on to prepare them for the next one, so I’m not expecting the writers to have thought of everything.)
Note: If this goes well I’m likely to do it again, so in the spirit of the Stack I’m asking how to fish, i.e. tools or heuristics to help identify what I want from what’s out there.