Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tales from the Yawning Portal 5 (Dead in Thay)

Tales from the Yawning Portal Part 5 (Dead in Thay)

Hey Game fans, we’re back with another look at the brand new hardcover adventure compilation Tales from the Yawning Portal.  We’re going to break down each one of these adventures and take a look at the adventure as it’s presented and compare it to its original presentation from a previous version of dungeons and Dragons.  Our quest continues with the Dead in Thay.

Dead in Thay

In brief, Dead in Thay was originally written by Scott Fitzgerald Gray.  It’s a dungeon crawl in the style of Tomb of Horrors or Undermountain, with traps and active defenders that are tailor made to kill adventurers dead.   This adventure focuses on the discovery of a vault of necromantic power called the Doomvault, which is being actively guarded by the Lich Szass Tam’s minions.  The characters have a very straightforward goal:  Get in, cause as much damage as possible, find and destroy the Phylactery Vault, and hopefully escape with their lives.  
It features artwork by Eric Belisle, Sam Carr, Tyler Jacobson, Miles Johnston, and Mark Winters.  Originally published in 2014 as part of the Encounters series, Dead In Thay  is a part of several series, and is a crossover point for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, and D and D Next (which would turn into Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition).  At 107 pages, it’s a heavy adventure that features an assortment of clever designs, fiendish traps, and powerful monsters.  This is also the newest adventure featured in this collection, and the only 4th Edition module featured in this collection.  (The only edition not represented is 2nd edition).    
This adventure looks at the dungeon as a fortress, and treats it as such.  The characters will have to breach the location, accomplish their objectives, and hopefully destroy the facility (while a more practical goal is escaping with most of the party intact).  Time is short, and the characters have a finite window to be able to get in, do their jobs and get out.

Those of you interested in picking this one up can pick it up at DM’s Guild for about $17.99 in its
Digital format

Tales of Dead in Thay
This iteration of Dead in Thay is the fifth adventure in the Tales from the Yawning Portal. The original version of this adventure was presented as a part of the D &D organized play Encounters program. It’s the largest dungeon in this book with 13 maps and encounter areas that sprawl across 55 pages of the book.  It’s a rich area that requires critical thinking and some long term planning to successfully execute.  Some of the adventure areas require the characters to have specific items in order to access, and without them those areas are other much harder to deal with or are completely inaccessible.Tales from the Yawning Portal showcases some of the best dungeons in the history of the game, and Dead in Thay exemplifies the concept and the delivery of this premise.  
There are traps, tricks monsters and secrets that riddle this dungeon and it is definitely a marathon, this adventure will take multiple sessions to play through and rushing it is going to get you murdered straight up . This adventure is intended for 9th level characters (and if you’re playing this book in sequence, the characters should be that level at the conclusion of White Plume Mountain.)  The adventure proper starts as the characters are prepared to enter the Doomvault by a rebel Red Wizard.  She discusses the dungeon with the characters and provides them with a map.  Once the players are ready to continue, the characters are transported into the dungeon.


The Doomvault is a mega dungeon in the truest sense of the world.  There are sprawling encounter areas that are basically minidungeons of their own, and the characters have to manage causing damage and not alerting the entire dungeon to their presence.  There are specific defenses that need to be compromised before the characters can enter secure areas.  The doomvault itself was built to test the energies of the Chosen of the Gods, and the energies inside have strange properties that can cause a variety of problems for adventurers.  The party has to infiltrate the complex and somehow gain access to the phylactery vault where Szass Tam guards the Phylacteries of his lich minions.  Destroying this facility can strike a serious blow against the lich and give the rebel red wizards a chance to take back their country.  


This is an adventure for 9th level characters, and will take them to 11th level upon its completion.  This adventure is a long dungeon crawl, and is going to take multiple sessions to get through.  With that in mind, take your time and enjoy the adventure.  This adventure focuses on exploring the environment and confronting challenges.  The adventurers are going to have to strike a balance between causing property damage and managing their resources.  There aren’t a lot of ways out of this dungeon once the characters are in, and finding spots to rest and recover are few and far between.  This is the first adventure in this book where that’s a serious issue, as the Dungeon is an active military camp that has patrols, guards and traps in abundance.  

Adventure Breakdown

Dead in Thay is unique in this collection in that it is a mega dungeon composed of smaller dungeons.  Each one has a specific role to play in the dungeon’s overall purpose and is occupied by different creatures.  .  The ultimate goal is to find access to the Phylactery Vaults and wreak as much damage as possible inside there, but the characters are going to have to navigate their way around a host of hazards and other complicated problems to meet that goal.  There are a 11 mini dungeons that make up this complex, and clearing out one area is no guarantee that it will remain clear, and the guards will be out looking for the intruders.  Think before smashing, in most cases.  

Dead in Thay

This adventure starts with the characters teleporting into one of the mini dungeons that make up the Doomvault.  The characters will have to deal with the encounters in the area they arrive in and figure out where to go from there.  This adventure gives the DM some options on where to start the adventure, so there isn’t a set starting point inside the dungeon for characters to have an idea what to expect.  

The Setup

This dungeons was constructed to allow the Red Wizards to explore the powers of the Chosen of the Gods, and as such isn’t technically part of the larger world.  It’s a purpose built magical laboratory with all the bells and whistles you’d expect for evil wizards to include in their secret fortress and is full of undead, outsiders, and a host of arcane spell casters.  One of the things to remember about this place is that the people who run it have Intelligence as their primary stat, and they are very aware of changes in the dungeon and are reactive to the news of intruders.  These aren’t dumb guards and barely functional protection.  Plan accordingly, and if you’re DMing this, you have a lot of prep work to do with this dungeon.  The dungeon can be approached in a variety of directions, so we’re going to present the Mini dungeons in the order  they appear in the Book.  Buckle in, there are 11 of these.  

The Abyssal Prisons

The Abyssal Prisons were originally designed to summon and bind extra planar creatures for a variety of ugly and evil wizardly things.  The current occupants have converted it into a prison to trap and weaken the will of fiends and other evil extra planar creatures.  This area is designed to weaken extra planar creatures and uses a variety of magical effects to accomplish that task.  There are a lot of potential problems navigating this area, but there are alternatives to fighting if the characters have the right outlook and willingness to communicate.  

Blood Pens

This region is a combination nursery, house of horrors and kennel all rolled up into a singular package.  Anything that you would want to create, alter, augment or otherwise tinker with a magical beast can be found in this region, and there are a ton of fights that can escalate quickly.  The undead minions are more than capable of keeping an eye on the beasts and animals in their care, and the wizards that roam this area are a particularly black hearted group.

The Master’s Domain

This region is the center of the Red Wizard’s authority and power within the Doomvault.  This region houses several red wizards, their apprentices, and their works in progress.  Also of consideration in this area is the headquarters of the Dread Legion, and they are a unique series of challenges on their own.  As one would expect in a dungeon controlled by powerful wizards, this region is full of interesting magical effects and traps.  Caution is advised.  

The Far Realm Cysts

The Far Realm is a conceptual place outside the context of planes of existence and home to bizarre abominations and life forms that defy comprehension.   This region of the dungeon is home to several such creatures and their presence has altered the dungeon around them in unexpected ways.  The chambers of this region are oddly shaped, and characters would be advised to remember that up and down are subjective to gravity, and the Far Realm (and its denizens) are not subject to something as quaint as the laws of nature.  

The Forest of Slaughter

This region is the answer to the question, what would a zoo for evil wizards look like?  With a variety of magical beasts living in naturalish surroundings, the Forest of Slaughter contains a Thayan Menagerie.  The fauna is vicious, and most of the Flora is magically ensorcelled to create a host of ugly problems for intruders.  While there are fewer red wizards in this region than most others, there are still some very dangerous monsters roaming about, and running from one enclosure to the next is likely to turn out very poorly.  

The Ooze Grottos

This region focuses on the creation and augmentation of ooze monsters.  The Thayans are clever builders when it comes to making new and different forms of oozes, and these monsters are surprisingly capable of following instructions.  The Oozes come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and competencies for clearing out infestations of interloping adventurers.  These oozes aren’t something to crack jokes about, and this area should probably be cleared thoroughly, lest one of them manage to escape.

The Predator Pools

This region focuses on the red wizards aquatic army of beasts and intelligent monsters to threaten trade throughout the Sword Coast.  Remember, the red wizards have long occupied a place akin to mad scientists in the Forgotten Realms, and this region is the centerpiece in their attempts to breed water monsters and other mechanisms to cripple and destroy waterways.  This area can be dangerous to unprepared characters, but there are ways around most of the environmental hazards.

The Golem Laboratories

Speaking of Mad Scientist approaches to magic, this region focuses on research and construction of golem servants of varying types.  Golems are extremely dangerous opponents for characters of any level and these ones are directed by relatively irritated mad scientist wizards.  This region can result in heavy casualties, and if the alarm is raised, it’s probably going to go badly for everyone involved.  

The Temples of Extraction

This region is dedicated to extracting divine energy from a host of different “subjects” and studying how that energy can propel a mortal-ish being to godhood.  This is one of the oldest regions in the Doomvault and is where the original research on Chosen was conducted.  Now it’s been expanded and empowered to help Szass Tam reach his goal of Godhood.  This area is highly dangerous, and some of the imprisoned characters can be resources.  Some of them are batshit crazy.   

The Phylactery Vault

This region has fewer traps and guards than most, but it’s got a potential party wiping guardian that the characters will have to go through.  This is also the end goal of the adventure, and it presents the characters a means to strike at the heart of Szass Tam’s undead minions and hopefully strike a blow to liberate Thay.  This region is nearly impossible to access without picking up specific keys scattered around the Doomvault.  Once the characters have accomplished their goals, they will have to quickly escape the Doomvault before everything (mostly) comes crashing down around them.  


This adventure is an excellent resource for DMs looking to build their own intelligently designed and protected fortress.  The encounters are challenging without being intentionally overwhelming, and it encourages clever thinking and deductive reasoning.  The adventure also has something that none of the other adventures in this book possess.  If the characters are successful in disrupting the Phylactery Vault, they can influence the Forgotten Realms in a way that no other adventure in this book offers them the potential to do.  Being able to affect the course of events in Thay is a major plot point in the setting, and sticking it to Szass Tam is a very prickly bonus cactus.  


This adventure is a marathon, not a sprint.  It’s the biggest adventure in the collection, and it feels like it.  This adventure also puts the DM in control of a very powerful and well organized collection of villains, guards and random death traps that can feel like an easy win button for the DM if the players aren’t paying attention.  This adventure can be astonishingly lethal for the unprepared people and i would encourage everyone to take this adventure seriously.  The other problem with this adventure is that it has a LOT of moving parts and things to keep track of as the DM.  You’re going to want to read over this adventure several times, take notes, and prepare a lot of potential situations.  As the DM, you get to pick the starting location for the adventure, so pick a spot you like and build your prep work out from there.

Thoughts and Conclusions

I like this version of Dead in Thay.  As the newest of the adventures in this compilation, you can see the thoughts and ideas of older editions trickle out in this mega dungeon.  It’s an homage to places like Undermountain and The Tomb of Horrors while updating it with lessons learned from 30 some odd years of dungeon building.  It’s a wonderful synthesis of old school design and new school philosophy.  I would like to see more of these in the future.  

This is an excellent adventure.  It’s an escalation in dungeon survival (against incredibly intelligent designers and staffed with the best minions in the business) and characters that escape its clutches should count themselves lucky for the experience, and wiser for their tribulations.  Next week we’ll take a look at another classic, we’re going to oppose the Giants in Against the Giants. Grab your Copy of Tales from the Yawning Portal, and your friends.  There’s a pile of dungeons to explore.

Game On, Game Fans

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