Review: Tales from the Yawning Portal

It’s out! Tales from the Yawning Portal, D&D’s newest adventure supplement was released on March 24 in game shops and will be released on April 4th in other locations. As promised, the book consists of seven classic dungeons updated for 5e ranging from Against the Giants released in 1978 to Dead in Thay released in 2014. The dungeons can be run separately or strung together to form one long campaign. I’ve had a chance to thumb through it this weekend.

The supplement starts off with a nice overview and history of the seven dungeons. Here, we also learn where the book gets its title: The Yawning Portal is the name of an inn suggested as the headquarters for the players to rest between adventures and get their next dungeon quest. The inn itself sits on top of, and serves as an entrance to, a massive dungeon which, sadly, is not featured in the book.

The dungeons follow and each chapter has more or less the same structure: an overview of the adventure, suggested plot hooks and settings, and then room-by-room descriptions. Information is not repeated. Usually, I find this format cumbersome for open-world games, but it works well for dungeon crawls.  The maps are highly detailed and nicely drawn. However, many of them are quite small and there are no poster inserts included. Given their level of detail, DMs will want to pre-draw them. As a bonus, each chapter includes a nice blurb on the history of the publication.

The Sunless Citadel is the first dungeon and advances characters from first to third level. It’s billed as a great introduction to D&D for new players and DMs alike. The adventure has players exploring a subterranean fortress looking for a mysterious and magical fruit. There is a lot of variety and fun encounters, but like all the dungeons in this book, it is very much a kick-down-the-door and take the loot, with the overall plot being very loose.

The Forge of Fury brings characters third to fifth level. Sticking again to classic tropes, this adventure explores a multi-level ancient Dwarven dungeon reminiscent of Tolkien’s work. Don’t ask too many questions about why the monsters on each level don’t interact.

The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan is designed for 5th level characters. Although originally published in 1980, its setting is still unique for D&D and has players exploring a ruined temple influenced by Aztec/Mayan/Toltec mythology and society. Each room is packed with information and some descriptions go on for multiple pages.

White Plume Mountain is one of the most famous D&D adventures and has been modified here for 8th level players. Players make their way through a volcano dungeon to find three magical weapons. Filled with lots of challenges that basically amount to “roll above X number or take massive damage” and nonsensical monsters (you might even find the pitiful vampire that inspired the creation of the sinister Strahd), this adventure is more about nostalgia and kicking-in doors than anything else.

Dead in Thay is the newest dungeon in the book and takes players from 9th to 11th level. Players explore the Doomvault, a massive menagerie and laboratory run by evil wizards. The map for this one is gigantic and all squeezed onto one page. There are some bigger views of each sector, but you will probably still need a magnifying glass to see the detail.

Against the Giants is actually three mini-adventures which advance players from 11th to 14th level. There is kind of a three little pigs influence as any undefeated giants from one section will run to the next and DMs will have to do more legwork to change the dungeons to fit the players’ actions.

Tomb of Horrors caps the supplement. No suggested level is given except that parties should be large and well-prepared. The dangers here aren’t so much high-level monsters as tricky puzzles that will force players to use their own brains more than their characters’. Although this is one of the oldest adventures in D&D, this style of play will not suit everyone as there is little room for role-playing or even combat.

After all the dungeons, the book has two extensive appendixes of magic items and monsters. Thankfully, unlike other D&D adventure supplements, these are mainly stat blocks instead of descriptions, so DMs won’t find they’ve missed a crucial piece of lore when they flip to the appendix.

Conclusion

Overall, this is a fun supplement, especially if you are looking to replay, or play for the first time, classic dungeon crawls in 5e without having to do the conversion yourself. As is common with D&D adventure publications, there is a ton of information packed into prose-style paragraphs that can be hard to navigate as a DM. Information is not repeated and if you want to really absorb everything, you will need to read it closely. However, since each dungeon is self-contained, DMs can run these adventures with minimum prep. Tales of the Yawning Portal works well as either a supplement for a larger campaign, as mini-campaigns, or to run for a more casual group where players cannot make every session. Just don’t expect anything revolutionary.

 

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Random Vistanis

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been busy preparing for a Curse of Strahd campaign so I haven’t been posting here as much. Then I realized I should be sharing the resources I made! So here are some random Vistanis. They are grouped into family units/wagons. The point of these NPCs is to allow diversity without getting bogged down in details. Vistani tend to be Chaotic Neutral.


The Dalcas. Wagon is painted purple with green flowers.

  • Stanimir: 50 year old man with beard and light blue eyes. Father of Damia and Ratka. He works with Madam Eva to bring adventurers into Barovia, hoping they will somehow lift the Curse.
  • Damia: 18 year old woman with feathers braided in her hair. She does not know if she believes her father that one day adventurers will break the Curse. She is fond of birds and can sing to them. She and her brother don’t get along.
  • Ratka: 18 year old man and Damia’s twin. He has a pierced nose and dark, curly hair. He and his sister got along well until she told him she doesn’t believe the Curse can be lifted. He believes this to be blasphemy.
  • Rosa: 50 year old wife to Stanimir. Good cook. Daughter of Pyotr Sala. Recently, she’s been riding in her father’s wagon as he is very old and needs more help.

The Funars. Wagon is painted in dark pink and yellow stripes.

  • Bela: 26 year old woman. She is fat and loves jewelry. She even specializes in trading jewelry for the trope – usually setting up a small table when they are in lands outside Barovia. She and Lee got married at age 16 and have been in love ever since. They quickly (some say too quickly) had a baby.
  • Lee: 28 year old man. He is very skinny, hates exercise, and doesn’t even like wine. He is very kind, though, and attentive to his children. Sometimes other Vistanti secretly refer to this couple as “The Prats,” but neither Bela nor Lee know this.
  • Baby Karol: 6 month old boy, constantly drooling.
  • Tara: 10 year old girl. She doesn’t show much interest in jewelry making and instead plays the flute. She’s unusually good and often warms up crowds with her sweet music.

Continue reading “Random Vistanis”

Lunar Calendar

I was recently looking for a Lunar Calendar for use in a Curse of Strahd campaign I’m going to run soon, but couldn’t find any that suited the needs of a fantasy campaign. Most real lunar calendars either do not truly follow the phases of the moon or are difficult to use as the a lunar cycle is not consistent. I have tried to solve those problems with the following calendar. There are 12 months with 28 days each. There are no need for weeks since the moon’s half, full and new phases serve as natural holidays and the gibbous and crescent phases serve as workdays. As I was making this for Barovia where the first the month is the Full Moon, unlike most real lunar calendars which have months starting on the New Moon, the First Quarter would occur last and vice-versa. So, I’ve renamed the First and Last Quarter the Right and Left Halves. The suggested season and month names are also meant for Barovia, but feel free to change them.

Corresponding Real Month

Fantasy Lunar Moon

Season

April

Pink Moon

Spring

May

Flower Moon

Spring

June

Dragon Moon

Summer

July

Bat Moon

Summer

August

Wine Moon

Summer

September

Harvest Moon

Autumn

October

Hunter’s Moon

Autumn

November

Ghost Moon

Winter

December

Cold Moon

Winter

January

Wolf Moon

Winter

February

Snow Moon

Winter

March

Raven Moon

Winter/Spring

Day of Month

Moon Phase

% Illuminated

1

Full

100%

2

Waning Gibbous

93%

3

Waning Gibbous

86%

4

Waning Gibbous

79%

5

Waning Gibbous

72%

6

Waning Gibbous

65%

7

Waning Gibbous

58%

8

Left Half

50%

9

Waning Crescent

43%

10

Waning Crescent

36%

11

Waning Crescent

29%

12

Waning Crescent

22%

13

Waning Crescent

15%

14

Waning Crescent

1 – 7%

15

New

0%

16

Waxing Crescent

7%

17

Waxing Crescent

14%

18

Waxing Crescent

21%

19

Waxing Crescent

28%

20

Waxing Crescent

35%

21

Waxing Crescent

42%

22

Right Half

50%

23

Waxing Gibbous

57%

24

Waxing Gibbous

64%

25

Waxing Gibbous

71%

26

Waxing Gibbous

78%

27

Waxing Gibbous

85%

28

Waxing Gibbous

92%

Charting the Underworld

Today’s inspiration is a campaign idea. Enjoy!

After death, the souls of the departed must find their way across the Underworld to reach the Heavenly Realms. Monstrous beasts, cruel demons, and unnatural hazards riddle the Underworld and claim many of these souls, snuffing them out of existence forever.

For generations, people have had to endure that their beloved may have never reached the promised lands, but perished in the jaws of a dire crocodile or been burned by a demon. Most spent their lives sacrificing to the gods, hoping they will guide them to safety.

When a goat herder accidentally found an entrance to the Underworld in the remote Green Mountains, King Ovin knew he could change all that. He hired teams of adventurers to chart the Underworld and publish the findings in a guidebook all could use to reach safety. Unfortunately, the dangers of the Underworld do not limit themselves to the dead, and three teams have already fail to return, save for a lone adventurer, too traumatized to be of much use. The King has had to search ever wider and up the reward to find any adventurers brave enough, or stupid enough, to face the Underworld.

Random Encounter Table for the Underworld

Inspired by Ancient Egyptian mythology of the Underworld, today’s inspiration is a random encounter table:

Roll Encounter
1 A group of hostile undead mindlessly attacks the PCs.
2 A dirty river filled with hippos or crocodiles who might be hostile.
3 Shadows unpeel themselves from their hiding spots.
4 A pack of roving Hell hounds attack.
5 A group of souls living in rotten structures. They are determined to stay here instead of moving on to the next phase.
6 A lost pet soul wanders across the PCs path looking for its master.
7 A friendly traveler hails the PCs. She’s here on a mission to recover some rare Underworld plants for her research.
8 A group of fading souls meander aimlessly. They will soon vanish if nothing is done.
9 An angel, its wings chained and broken, pleads the PCs for help.
10 A solitary door covered in ancient runes.
11 A temple with a group of strange creatures performing some kind of sacrifice.
12 A small woods in which the trees seem to fade in and out of existence.
13 A broken machine in scattered pieces, its gnome owner sits nearby trying to fit two back together.
14 A crashed boat, its captain dead at the wheel.
15 A Glabrezu offers the PCs a deal.
16 New souls arriving. Most begin to silently make their way across the Underworld. Some don’t seem to realize they are dead and rush about confused.
17 Giant boils rupture out of the ground. Some of them pop, releasing a noxious slime.
18 Gold, honey, and fruits suddenly appear, reflecting sacrifices made on the material plane.
19 The ground becomes soft and gives way into a cavern.
20 A group of manes eating souls.

Squirrel Hog

Today a combination animal for use with Dungeon World


Squirrel Hogs combine the mass and aggression of hogs, the agility and speed of squirrels, and the intelligence of both to create a terrifying beast housed in an adorable body. Not only is it pleasantly plump, but it sports a bushy, corked tail.

A mad wizard designed the Squirrel Hog to serve as a more agile and intelligent attack dog.  However, the animals turned out too strong-willed. They constantly escaped from their cages, and did not respond to conditioning. So, in a fit of frustration from the waste of hundreds of hours, the good doctor released them into the wild. The Squirrel Hogs proceeded to wreak havoc on the land: tearing up fields, stripping orchards bare, and eating up entire storerooms of food.

Today, villages take extreme measures to prevent the roving Squirrel Hog packs from destroying their livelihood. They build high fences, moats and spiked pits around fields. They cover trees in netting laced with metal. They employ round-the-clock patrols and everyone carries a boar spear with them in case of an attack. Travelers to the forests must be especially wary as mother Squirrel Hogs and their offspring live in tree nests and attack anyone who gets too close. Several mother hogs will often make nests in a close group of trees and come to each others’ aid, dropping onto perceived threats in one giant mass of clawing, tusked, biting bodies.

Instinct: To eat

Tags: Organized, Group, Intelligent

10 HP, 1 armor

D6 +2 (Teeth and claws, close)

Special Moves

  • Leap farther than you thought it could
  • Climb something very fast
  • Clever girls

 

 

 

Wisdom Tree City

Wisdom Tree City has always existed, nestled on an island where two mighty rivers pour into the ocean. Every hundred years or so the Goddess Weeps, as the natives say. The two rivers swell, merge into one, and overrun the city. After they retreat, they leave behind a thick sand burying everything except the peak of the great magical library, The Wisdom Tree. The citizens return and rebuild. The library grows taller. Probably no one would bother settling here if it weren’t for its position of a great port, a natural magic aura, the library, and the mines.

The Wisdom Tree stands in the middle of the city, its roof so high it seems to scrape the sky. Underground, floor upon floor descends so deep that no one knows where it ends. Side passageways split off from the main tower and meander through the city’s sand-filled ruins like the roots of a tree. The library’s ancient magic prevents any mud from leaking through and keeps the air circulating at the perfect temperature.

Mine tunnels built by prospectors also twist through the ruins. Every miner hopes to find valuable artifacts from forgotten times, but few do. Most arrive in the city poorly equipped and many perish digging through the ruins. In the upper mine tunnels, petty thieves, transients, and the desperate take up residence in the relatively safety. More sinister criminals live in the mid-tunnels, planning heists and waiting to prey on lost miners. Only the bravest dare venture to the deepest levels where unknown monsters lurk in the dark, and the most valuable artifacts wait.

But by far the most popular attraction for common folk is the Aquatic Arena, a giant stadium built in the middle of the bay where teams compete in impressive water battles. No expense is spared. Warriors clash on top of exotic sea monsters captured from the Far Seas. Gnomes command huge whirling machinery, slicing through the choppy waves  to tear apart their opponents. Wizards using the latest magical discoveries dart across the arena, easily passing from the sky to under the water, painting the battle with the bursts of spells. Continue reading “Wisdom Tree City”