Tales from the Yawning Portal features seven iconic adventures and dungeons collected from the 40+ year history of Dungeons and Dragons. Updated for the fifth edition of the game we are treated with some of the most famous titles out there, not only from the early days but with many picked from the pages of years recently past as well. Another nice little touch is adding in details of the Yawning Portal itself in the introduction for GMs to use in their campaigns.
I love the idea of this book, it holds so much use for just about any Game Master out there. If you are a beginner, the wealth of resources provided to you by having all of these adventures close at hand is simply fantastic. It provides you something to run for your group if you find you aren’t up to crafting one on your own. If, rather, you feel like taking your first crack at adventure design, how could you do worse than some of the most famous quests ever built? Experienced GMs will likely use this book to run some of these iconic games for fun or pull ideas from the pages. Either way, this book has some serious use!
The book itself is as gorgeous and well crafted as always. Binding seems solid and the artwork excellent. I especially like that though the book maintains a cohesive look there are dozens of little touches to each adventure to mark their uniqueness. It’ll look really nice on the shelf next to my other 5e products, and will certainly shine behind the screen.
Let’s dive into what adventures have been chosen shall we? The book prints the adventures in the ideal order you’d want, by character level. You’ll soon see that if you were to play these adventures from one end to the other you’d have a nice character progression!
Chapter 1 – The Sunless Citadel – by Bruce Cordell, published in 2000. Original Edition, 3rd.
A buried citadel brings the dangers of blighted nature and your more typical monsters in this dungeon run for players of 1st level in anticipation of advancing to 3rd. Looking through this one I can see that this would be a great starter adventure for new GMs and new players alike. As cool as everything leading up to it is, I think the best part of this adventure lands on the climactic battle. I don’t want to reveal much, but the final challenge is really where it’s at.
Chapter 2 – The Forge of Fury – by Richard Baker, published in 2000. Original Edition, 3rd.
The Forge of Fury was originally designed to be a direct sequel to The Sunless Citadel so it’s no surprise that it works best for characters starting at 3rd level, it should take them to the 5th level. You could easily slide this adventure into any campaign though. Once more the players will find themselves in some ruins, this time an old Dwarven Stronghold. As you’d imagine, it’s brimming with dangerous monsters just waiting to get a piece of the PCs. That’s not where the adventure ends though, they’ll find themselves deeper and deeper into the goings on and the earth itself. The last fight is about as iconic as it gets!
Chapter 3 – The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan – by Harold Johnson & Jeff R. Leason, published in 1980. Original Edition, 1st.
Let’s do the Time Warp folks! Hailing from before I was born we have an adventure that gets off to a thunderous start, quickly pitting the PCs against its foes. One of the coolest aspects of this adventure comes from its homage to Mayan and Aztec imagery & design. From all accounts the authors went to great lengths to study the cultures before producing the story-line. The result is really immersive and feels very different from your traditional crawl. I really love this one and plan to run it for my group first chance I get! Oh, and this one is geared toward PCs of 5th level and will take them to, or near, 8th level.
Chapter 4 – White Plume Mountain – by Lawrence Schick, published 1979. Original Edition, 1st.
White Plume Mountain is one of the better known adventures from the early days. The concept is pretty excellent, there’s a village near a volcano and superstitious chatter abounds! People near the volcano tend to disappear as well. Now some highly valued magical weapons have disappeared and White Plume Mountain seems to be mixed up in the whole ordeal. Hosting some great baddies to fight, plenty of magic items to grab, and intriguing rooms inside a volcano, this adventure is a great place to delve into! As expected this adventure runs best for characters of 8th level and will likely end up around 9th-10th level.
Chapter 5 – Dead in Thay – by Scott Fitzgerald, published 2014. Original Edition 5th.
Technically Dead in Thay was crafted during the playtest period leading into 5th Edition, but now its been fully developed. This adventure is a sprawling dungeon that pits the adventurers against some truly renown evildoers in the Forgotten Realms, the Red Wizards of Thay. The Red Wizards have obtained ownership of a dungeon, known as The Doomvault, that frankly grants them access to too much power. It has tipped the scales too much in their favor and they need to be stopped. This is an all out dungeon crawl of epic proportions for PCs beginning at 9th level and should end with them at 11th. It’ll take time though, this place is huge, easily the largest dungeon in the book!
Chapter 6 – Against the Giants – by Gary Gygax, published 1981. Original Edition AD&D
Written by Gygax himself, Against the Giants was originally a compilation of adventures written that pre-date the official release of Dungeons and Dragons. The concept begins simple enough, giants roam the civilized lands antagonizing the populace. The PCs are tasked with removing the threat. As high level adventurers now, 11th level or higher, they are to be considered some of the “go to” folks for handling such a menace. I really like the fact that this adventure hold so many named enemies who can harry the adventurers later if not dealt with in full when first encountered. You get a taste of a lot of giants and their strongholds here, truly a feat to take them all out! This adventure would fit nicely into Storm King’s Thunder if you can find a place for it.
Chapter 7 – Tomb of Horrors – by Gary Gygax, published 1978. Original Edition OD&D
We knew it would make the cut. Even some who have never played a game of D&D in their lives know a thing or two about this one. It’s even iconic enough to have earned a place in the book Ready Player One as one of the first big pop culture references. To hear Gary Gygax say it, Tomb of Horrors is an adventure for players who crave a mental challenge. It doesn’t feature a ton of baddies but it makes up for that with trap after trap, and puzzle after puzzle. Personally, I’ve never seen the appeal, but you can bet I’m going to read over the 5th edition version to see if I can suss out what makes this dungeon tick. This is the penultimate adventure of the book though and were your players to play them all back to back (and a decent GM would easily find a way to connect them all) your PCs will likely enter this dungeon at around level 15 or higher and end at level… well they probably won’t survive it to be honest.
The book rounds itself off with some pretty good appendixes. There are certain magic items and monsters found within the pages of this book that can’t be found elsewhere, so it’s obviously nice to have some extra space to store those. If I’m being honest I would love to have every magic item and every monster referenced in each adventure located at the end of each chapter they are found in, but I get the idea of not creating extra bulk for the printers. The new items and monsters are some really cool treats too.
As I said before this book is really useful and would make an excellent addition to an aspiring GM, or even an old hat’s bookshelf. Each adventure is really well laid out and the updates help it fit really finely into this new age of Dungeons and Dragons. I hope to see more inventive additions to this line of books!