Dungeons & Dragons’ impressive legacy stretches back to the very earliest days of pen and paper RPGs, and in many ways Tales From the Yawning Portal is a love letter to that history – a love letter that delights in dropping players into spiked pits.
Wizards of the Coast have put out several campaign books to support the fifth edition of the game, but so far these have all been lengthy affairs designed to keep a group going for months – if not years – at a time. This title mixes things up with updated versions of seven classic adventures drawn from past versions of the game, including a handful of infamous dungeons that have become part of gaming folklore such as White Plume Mountain and Tomb of Horrors.
Each adventure has been cleaned up and given a fresh lick of paint, but in all the important areas they still hold true to their original design and old-school sensibilities. Whereas most modern campaigns are posed as sprawling cinematic affairs, Tales From the Yawning Portal offers up an array of complex dungeons crawls complete with traps, treasure and wandering monsters.
Another aspect of classic design that could surprise gamers raised with the relatively forgiving editions of recent years is just how lethal the adventures can be. Even though the divisive ‘save-or-die’ mechanics have mostly been disposed of, the margin for error can be razor-thin in places.
Whether this counts as a positive or a negative will vary from group to group, but newer players could feel a little disheartened if they aren’t warned in advance.
Though none are quite campaign-length, each adventure will probably last a group several long sessions of old-school Dungeons & Dragons fun. Even if you don’t plan to run the dungeons in their original format, fans of the game may wish to pick up a copy anyway, simply to look over the art, maps and ingenious traps.
If you’ve been rolling dice since the 70s this loving rework may cover old ground for you, but it does so with both style and respect. For more recent converts to the genre it represents a great way to experience an old-school dungeon crawl, though the style and lethality may take some getting used to.