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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