Review: Dungeon and Dragons – Tales from the Yawning Portal

Guess where I was for a year, Reactorites? Somewhere in the Underdark of Silicon Valley. But that is a tale for a different time. Dungeon & Dragons’ Tales from the Yawning Portal edged its way in the stores and homes of gamers back in the first week of April, diverting from a singular storyline and into an assortment of stories. Anchoring itself in the renowned Yawning Portal, a tavern built around one of the primary entrances to Undermountain. For those not in-the-know, Undermountain is a legendary D&D dungeon under Waterdeep. Throughout its accursed history, it has been dominated by many, and recently by Halaster Blackcloak, the Mad Mage. Over the decades, parties would venture into Undermountain as your standard dungeon-crawl. Adventures into Undermountain could span many months if you spent 8-hour sessions at once a week.

Let’s Clear Some Things First…

Unfortunately, you go nowhere into Undermountain. The Yawning Portal is just the iconic location that is being used to spur the other adventures in the book. Sorry.

Going through some factoids: Tales from the Yawning Portal is the book following Volo’s Guide to Monsters and follows the content release pattern of “story module” then “gaming module” and back to “story module”. This rotation has allowed players to have an opportunity to digest and provide feedback, giving the D&D Development teams the ability to improve on their product.

Tales from the Yawning Portal is a collection of popular adventures throughout the various editions in D&D history. All these adventures have been augmented to fit the setting and updated for 5th Edition. These adventures don’t have a direct connection to the Yawning Portal Tavern, however the section involving the Yawning Portal at the beginning of the book serves as a great toolkit to designing a home tavern for adventures to take place.

What It’s Not…

  • Full-sized Map Book. A common complaint that I share with many players is that a number of the maps used for these adventures are pretty small. When it comes to the design of the book, I can sympathize for the designer and editor to making sure things are sized appropriately. Unfortunately, the sacrifice towards composition have made things hard to see and not everyone has great eyesight to constantly discern grids. Some players have resorted to locating the original map artists and buying larger printouts from their respective websites.
  • Undermountain. I could easily imagine a cluster of adventures taking place in Undermountain, instead of it being a legend of the Yawning Portal. However, I understand the design purpose of using it as an iconic tavern in which to host future adventures… a kind of meta-narrative, where players come together in a home to start an adventure from within a tavern. Unfortunately, it is a bit misleading for veterans of the game.
  • Scaled properly. These adventures, if run together as a mega-story, need to be rescaled. There are several options to run parties from 1st level to 16th level, but offers no major challenges in the upper levels. This is fine for Dungeon Masters who are accustomed to homebrew, as more experience in running D&D often inspires methods of strategizing encounters to fit the party.

What It Does Well…

  • Nostalgic. What I appreciate of how these adventures were framed are through the reference boxes that sit at the bottom of the introduction pages. Outlining the adventure’s place in D&D history, the commentary offers a reference of where current fans can appreciate their origin and long-time fans can reminisce.
  • Loot balance. One of the policies for D&D 5e is the reduction of magic items in their distribution across adventures. Leaning more towards High Fantasy, where magic is scant but powerful, it is a departure from the original adventures’ loot tables that some may consider excessive. However, in older editions combat and power were typical to the D&D experience, leaving the narrative on the side. Dungeon Masters could always tweak, using homebrew material to heighten or mitigate aspects of the experience, but it wasn’t a directive based on the design of the official material.
  • Faithful. Despite the translation of previous editions to 5E, the adventures still offer the same impact that they were derived from. Several creatures that have yet to make a presence in 5E modules thus far have been showcased in the Appendix for reference. Damn Barghests are a pain in the ass! Ever fought some amidst the woods? That aside, Tomb of Horrors is an adventure I’ve spoken about with D&D veterans, and I’m happy to have been able to journey through it through the scope of this version.

This adventure module has been an inspiring jump through adventure design. Even with the mixed bag of illustration quality and gameplay balance, it still offers a diverse set for budding adventurers to experience.

Rating: 4/5 Atoms

If you don’t have this in your collection yet, many of the adventures held within this book are no longer in print. So throw this into the pile, it can help give you the fill you need between larger journeys!

Dimensions – 8.5 x 0.6 x 11.2 inches
Hardcover, 248 pages
Full color

Tales from the Yawning Portal is published by Wizards of the Coast. Check out this link for more information:
You can purchase now at your local retailer, or Amazon.

The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

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