Our spoiler-filled review of Tales From the Yawning Portal
If you’ve been wanting to slaughter your new D&D players in the old-school Tomb of Horrors, now’s your chance.
And there’s no need to convert classic dungeons to the latest Dungeons & Dragons edition. Tales From the Yawning Portal does that for you.
All in all, it’s a pretty slick book that updates some classic adventures and, for the first time in D&D 5e, gives Dungeon Masters shorter, dungeon-delving adventures to run rather than campaigns that last 10 or more player levels.
The book offers a variety of adventures that reach all the way back to 1975. They range from the 1st level Sunless Citadel through the “high level” Tomb of Horrors. There are short pieces, the 14-page White Plume Mountain, and long dungeon crawls, the 56-page Against the Giants.
If you need an adventure to run, Tales From the Yawning Portal has it.
It’s extremely adaptable to whatever you’re running, and every module has advice on how to place it in your world, whether you’re running Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk.
The premise of the book and it’s somewhat wonky title is the Waterdeep tavern, The Yawning Portal, where colorful adventurers share stories of their times slaying dragons, raiding dungeons and bringing home loot.
The book spends four pages setting up The Yawning Portal and its owner, Durnan. There are a few adventure hooks, such as the standard strange individual who enters the bar and recruits adventurers to retrieve an artifact from one of the dungeons.
But otherwise, the further 240 pages are simply the seven adventurers one after the other with a few appendices detailing the magic items and monsters contained therein.
And there aren’t any embellishments.
They didn’t “improve” upon Tomb of Horrors to make it bigger or scarier. But that’s the thing: The didn’t need to make it bigger or scarier.
(Buy Tales From the Yawning Portal on Amazon.)
The classic dungeon crawl has simply been converted to 5th edition. It’s still only 17 pages in the book, and it’s map is still a standard poster map.
It’s treacherous enough as it is.
Think of it as a remastering. Like a classic album is retouched here and there for modern stereos, these classics were updated to the 5th edition ruleset and given some updated presentation.
As for the maps, I’ve compared the maps from the original adventures and those in the new book, and they’re exactly the same.
Maps from The Forge of Fury, for example, are the exact same layouts as they were in the original just updated, colored and far more detailed. And the maps for Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan come straight from its 4th edition version, which was published in Dungeon magazine.
Each adventure stands on its own, so you can run these as one-off adventures or drop the modules into whatever campaign you’re already running. (Since most of the published D&D 5e hardcovers run from levels 1 to 10, it’s nice that about half of the modules in the book are for higher level characters.)
The modules are presented in the book by level.
The first is The Sunless Citadel, which is known for being a great introductory adventure for new players as well as those DMing for the first time. A twisted druid has taken up residence in a fortress that was swallowed up by the earth. The druid has allowed the vile creatures and evil forces to prosper.
The adventure takes players to the village of Oakhurst then to the fortress, which has become infested with kobolds and goblins. Eventually, characters find the Twilight Grove, where the evil druid has been lurking.
For 3rd level characters, The Forge of Fury presents a somewhat lengthier dungeon crawl. Long ago, dwarves founded the Khundrukar stronghold underneath a mountain, but orc raiders devastated the dwarven defenses. Adventurers come to find dwarven weapons, and find a host of monsters occupying the former stronghold.
The adventure takes players through five separate levels of dungeon filled with orcs, a brutal ogre, troglodytes, gricks, lizards, duergar, oozes, a roper, a host of traps and Nightscale, a young black dragon lurking deep underground.
If you’re into raiding ruined underground temples dedicated to vampiric gods, raid The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. Hidden under a toppled city and a pyramid, the 5th level adventure is a basic dungeon raid with three small levels and an expansive lower dungeon. It’s full of traps and puzzles as well as a massive amount of treasures, a giant slug god, lightning eels, wights, zombies and wild animals. It’s a trip.
The shortest dungeon in the book is White Plume Mountain, but it’s not exactly a short play. The classic adventure is a thinking man’s dungeon. Players won’t be able to hack and slash their way through or fake their way around traps and magic.
Though it’s not the longest part of the book, Dead in Thay is an absolutely massive dungeon crawl. Designed for D&D Next (remember when they playtested 5e?), the module depicts the massive Doomvault and its lich lords, who lead the Red Wizards of Thay.
In short, the goal is to raid the Doomvault, find the lich’s phylacteries and destroy them. The massive dungeon map is divided into themed sections including forests, pools and laboratories. It’s also full of magic gates and other devastating traps.
I don’t know how long this adventure takes to run, but I imagine it’s quite a lengthy delve.
Originally written by Gary Gygax himself in 1978, Against the Giants remains the giant-killing classic it always has been. The three linked adventures are mighty tests for even experienced players, and the text advises having at least four players of 11th level plus magic weapons plus plenty of experience playing the game.
Gygax wasn’t screwing around. That’s why he placed a load of giants in the hill giant’s great hall. This version includes 18 giants, eight ogres and a cave bear in that one room. Players have to be cautious or bold (and often both) raiding the seven levels of the three giant lairs presented.
(And how fun would this be to run after you’re through with Storm King’s Thunder?)
And then there’s Tomb of Horrors.
Somewhat frustratingly labeled for “higher level” players, the classic adventure is presented here in all its TPKing wonder.
(Does anyone know the appropriate level for Tomb? It’s a little annoying they don’t recommend a level. I get they’re trying to keep some of the legendary module’s mystery, but a little direction here would be nice. Edit: I posted an update on this at the bottom of the blog.)
It has the same map and same 30 or so areas as the original adventure. Beginning with probing the dungeon’s exterior to find and entrance and going all the way to Acerak’s ridiculously dangerous crypt, it’s all here.
(What I love about Tomb of Horrors is that it doesn’t seem that large or impossible on the surface. But it’s so wonderfully constructed to throw everything at the players. And after it all, the final chamber where Acerak rests seems nearly impossible since, if you remember, attacking him causes him to become more powerful. Even opening his tomb will probably slay half of your players.)
And, as always, players who make it through the vile and trap-filled demilich’s dungeon have the ultimate bragging rights.
Let me take a second to talk about the art in the book: It’s incredible and captures tons of the traps and memorable moments from the classic adventures. Some are updates but many are new pieces depicting monsters and rooms. It’s really cool.
At the end of the book is a little monster menagerie that includes 39 new monsters. Most of them, such as the giant ice toad, are pretty specific to the adventures in the book, but quite a few could be used elsewhere. The enchanter wizard, giant skeleton, malformed kraken, siren and sea lion will be fun to use elsewhere. And the book also includes stats on memorable D&D monsters such as barghests, leucrottas and vampiric mists.
In all, it’s a valuable book.
Whether you need something to drop into your campaign, you want to run White Plume Mountain again or you simply have been dying to kill off adventurers in the Tomb of Horrors, this book will be satisfying.
Update: I wondered about the level issue in Tomb of Horrors, so I reached out to Chris Sims. Sims is an award winning designer who works on D&D, Magic, Duel Masters and other projects, and he’s one of three people credited with converting Tales From the Yawning Portal’s adventures to 5th edition.
Here’s what he had to say:
@crit4brains Yawning Portal version? I’d guess 9th to 12th, but I haven’t seen the final text, so that opinion might be dated.
— Chris Sims (@ChrisSSims) April 5, 2017
He went on to add that they better be even higher to defeat the module’s demilich.
@crit4brains If they used a Monster Manual demilich after final development, though, then I’d say mid teens at least.
— Chris Sims (@ChrisSSims) April 5, 2017
So yeah, at least 9 to start, but probably 12 to 16 to actually defeat the demilich at the end of the dungeon.
Also on Twitter, Mike Mearls said he considered “higher level” to be 10+ and recommended levels 14 or higher to complete the dungeon.
Thank you, my good man, for a fun and helpful review. I want this book now! But Yawning Portal is in Waterdeep, not Neverwinter… unless this book has changed that …