NewbieDM Review: Tales from the Yawning Portal

Posted on April 25, 2017 by

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One of the biggest love/hate relationships I have with 5e D&D is their release schedule for adventures. One one hand, I love the fact that 5e is a healthy, vibrant game for WOTC due in large part to their measured releases, but by the same token, I hate the fact that I don’t have a Dragon/Dungeon magazine, or a large amounts of adventures to pick from. Sure, they’ll tell us that the DMs Guild is doing the heavy lifting there, and that those adventure ARE the official D&D adventures, but I want a shiny book in my hand that I can hold, leaf through, write margin notes on, and use at the table. I don’t want organized play adventures for my home game. They aren’t the same thing. On top of that, the adventures they do physically publish are large hardbound books, and not the short romps we’d get from a module or a Dungeon adventure.

And then they drop “Tales from the Yawning Portal” on us. An interesting book to say the least, but one that I’m not quite sure who it’s aimed at. Old players? New players?

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TftYP is a gorgeously produced, 248 page hardback updating seven “classic” D&D adventures from a few editions of the game to 5th edition.

  • The Sunless Citadel (3e)
  • The Forge of Fury (3e)
  • The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (1e)
  • White Plume Mountain (1e)
  • Dead in Thay (5e playtest)
  • Against the Giants (1e)
  • Tomb of Horrors (1e)

These adventures all have one thing in common: they are dungeon crawls. As old school as you can get. All of these adventures, (except for Dead in Thay which is set in the Forgotten Realms) were originally set in Greyhawk, the original D&D campaign setting, but it’s worth noting that for this update, each adventure gets a sidebar with suggestions on where to place it on each of the major D&D worlds… a nice touch for those DMs looking to add this to their campaigns. By the way, the adventures are not linked in any way, and the titular Yawning Portal has nothing to do with any of them…

Also, you’ll notice no 2e or 4e adventures on that list. Was there nothing worth reprinting from those editions? That’s a post for another day. But I digress… TftYP is a book filled with nostalgia for old-time D&D players, while giving new players a chance to experience what made those old stories so memorable–want to run a modern retelling of Tomb of Horrors? Check. Or maybe you want to play Dead in Thay for the first time, it’s a 5e-playtest megadungeon inspired by some of the very same dungeons in this book… The $25,000 question is… do players who came in with 5e want death traps and gotchas? I guess they won’t know until they get a taste of that…

There are a lot of things to like about this book. The art is one of those. New artwork graces these old adventures, all for the better. It’s fresh, modern, and inclusive. The 39 monsters and NPC’s included in the book are also pretty fantastic. The NPCs are making a repeat appearance after first debuting in Volo’s Guide to Monsters (I thought they were new to this book, but my twitter-bud James corrected me).  Along with the new creatures, 15 magical items make their 5e debut, all updated from these old adventures. I’d say that the monsters and items alone are reason to give this book a look. One way I think I’d use this book (obviously beyond its intended purpose of running the damn dungeons) is to take bits and pieces and use them in my own creations–the traps, dungeon locations and sections are incredibly useful to mine through and pop into my own dungeons. I may not be interested in running “Tamoachan”, but damn does that module have some neat traps and chambers.

What don’t I like? The lack of a poster map is a big one. Some of these maps are huge! The Tamoachan map is spread over two pages, and some of it even gets lost in the book’s fold! Shrinking these large maps down to fit on a 8.5×11 page is crappy, and not including a digital download of them more so. Yes, the artists offer them for sale, but come on WOTC, throw us a bone here with these maps. At least a pdf. Also, where are the handouts? For example, Tomb of Horrors originally included a bunch of player handouts… they were even included in the Dungeons of Dread reprint hardback from a few years ago… But not here, and they are missed–a noticeable omission.

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kind of weak… not gonna lie

So do I like the book? Yeah. I guess.

I’ve been asking for WOTC to release shorter adventures along with the hardbacks and their year long commitments, and I guess I got what I’ve been asking for–sort of? I don’t see myself running these as part of my campaign, but I do see me using a lot of it in my homebrew stuff.

Can you go home again? 5e proved you can. I don’t know that this product was necessary to keep you there, but I guess it’s a welcome add to the 5e library. I still want a true short adventures product, like a Dungeon magazine, or a softcover of small adventures like the type Kobold Press releases.

And while I ultimately recommend the product due to its high production value, the new monsters and magical items, and the inclusion of plenty of stuff to steal from, I warn new players and DM’s that these adventures are not the type of stuff you may be used to from 5e, as there’s some adversarial DM vs. PC stuff here that modern game design, and certainly 5e, discourages.

You have been warned…. now go take care of Acererak and that horrific tomb of his….

Full disclosure: The Amazon links above are linked to my Amazon Associates account. Wizards of the Coast supplied a complimentary copy of this product to facilitate this review.


If you would like to support NewbieDM.com, perhaps you’d consider visiting Amazon.com for your next rpg related purchase. Check out the following products:

World of Greyhawk AD&D Boxed Set

Menzoberranzan AD&D Boxed Set

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