Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tales from the Yawning Portal

Tales from the Yawning Portal is a new collection of classic D&D adventures updated to the Fifth Edition rules. The seven adventures include:
  • The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury, originally written for Third Edition; 
  • The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, White Plume Mountain, Against the Giants, and Tomb of Horrors, originally written for first edition AD&D; and 
  • Dead in Thay, a mega-dungeon written during the development of the Fifth Edition rules.
These adventures are not linked in any way except for the first two (The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury), and that only tenuously. They are also chosen from multiple D&D worlds: the first edition adventures default to Greyhawk, while Dead in Thay is steeped in the Forgotten Realms. However, they were chosen in part because they provide a range of levels of play, from 1st to 11th and beyond, and thus can be run in order as a campaign if the DM wishes to do so.

I bought this book because I intend to run more 5E for my kids (who are 13 and 11). Our Phandelver game has been on hold for a while due to scheduling issues. We intend to resume that sometime in the near future, but I've been looking for something to run when we can't get that group together. I'm already running a full-time campaign with a homebrewed setting ("Time of the Tarrasque," using Pathfinder), so don't have the time and energy to craft my own adventures for a second such game. That's where a book of canned adventures is invaluable. This collection promises to provide us with enough material to keep my kids busy for the next couple years or more.

The adventures seem to be solid, if a bit grueling in places--Dead in Thay has over 100 numbered encounter areas, and uses something on the order of a third of the Monster Manual, plus much of the book's appendix of new creatures. I haven't played or run a ton of 5E yet, and I want to keep my kids continually excited and surprised as they play, so that kind of variety is just what I'm looking for.

I only have one real beef with Tales from the Yawning Portal at this time: the maps are too darn small. Some of them (like the first level of The Sunless Citadel, below) should have been given a full page, but weren't. And others (most notably Dead in Thay) cover so too much territory that even a full page isn't enough space. When a 5-foot square is only a millimeter across, there's no way a DM can read that during play without serious eye strain! Also, some of the older adventures retain their original map scale of one square equals 10 feet, despite the fact that 5-foot squares have been the standard since Third Edition. To mitigate both issues, I have been copying the maps onto graph paper in order to have copies that I can reference during play. This is also giving me the opportunity to simplify the maps somewhat so that I can more easily reproduce them on the battle map during game. Some of these maps would be absolutely gorgeous if presented at a more reasonable size, but in many cases that just makes them harder to render on a battle grid.

I have just today finished reading the last couple of adventures (Against the Giants and The Tomb of Horrors). But my wife and kids have already created their new 1st-level characters and are raring to go. We hope to start The Sunless Citadel sometime within the next few weeks.

Our heroes (L-R): Raven Flare, tiefling rogue; Sir Dain, dwarf paladin (NPC); Xuri, dragonkin sorcerer; and Kalitni, human ranger.

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