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I'm looking for what to run for my next D&D campaign. The promotional material for Tales from the Yawning Portal says this:

Within this tome are seven of the deadliest dungeons from the history of Dungeons & Dragons[...] Enjoy, and remember to keep a few spare character sheets handy.

Is this representative of the contents, or just melodramatic advertising? Obviously, Tomb of Horrors is written as a PC-killer, but what about the rest? How does the difficulty (as measured by "odds of most/all PCs getting out alive") of the book overall compare to other published 5e adventures?

Reminder: per "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective", to answer this question, one would either need direct experience playing several adventures from TftYP as well as other published adventures, or pretty solid expert analysis of the dangers in TftYP in terms of DC, CR, etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is assessing one adventure OK, or do you need all of them for the answer to be OK? We are doing the giants adventure; I'll provide an answer when we are done if being able to report on one suffices for an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 14 '18 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Hmm... I think for me to accept an answer it would really need to speak to the overall tone of the book, but a partial answer about one adventure may help others in a similar situation to construct a good overall answer. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Jun 14 '18 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SirTechSpec The modules within that collection have vastly different writing and danger levels so it is important to note which type of answer you are seeking. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jun 14 '18 at 20:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth I assume there's some variation, and I would want a complete answer to account for that - "Tomb of Horrors is deadly but the rest are pretty reasonable", "They're all really hard except for these 2", etc. Basically, is there a point in me buying this book for an ongoing campaign with the same characters (as opposed to one-shots where characters are less well-devleoped and it doesn't matter as much if they die)? \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Jun 14 '18 at 20:09
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Short Answer: You can consider the adventures mostly ordered in terms of difficulty as well as character level, but not all of them are "the deadliest in history".

Tales from the Yawning Portal is an excellent book; a collection of some of the great adventures in the history of Dungeons and Dragons. You're looking at a source for seven adventures, all varying in difficulty and length. The promotional description may be a little generalized though. The better description is A collection of exciting and challenging adventures that gives DMs resources for one off adventures for all player levels. Sure, Tome of Horrors are only for DMs looking to eliminate player characters, but the others run differently, and each are challenging in their own way.

The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury are the lowest level, and (relatively) easiest adventures of the book. Citadel is a great one off specifically for 1st level characters. The Forge is perfect as an immediate run right after The Sunless Citadel. These are perfect for teaching new players or those with difficulty with traps on how to handle themselves properly in dungeon crawling. Deadly rating: Not so much. Average difficulty.

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is the next adventure in character level, but definitely takes a climb up in difficulty. Traps are devious. The treasure inside is a little sparse, and may not be worth the danger inside. Even if the players survive the adventure, there is a chance that the dungeon can trap them in, and force them to be new slaves for Tamoachan! Deadly rating: Deadly. Beware.

White Plume Mountain mellows out the challenge a bit, taking an expected challenge for its level range. If the party keeps a level head, the incredibly creative puzzles and environment encounters are not too overwhelming. They are definitely creative, and usually do not take a linear approach like standard traps. So if your players are not used to handling that, it will be difficult! Deadly rating: kinda deadly.

Dead in Thay is really a series of adventures in a super dungeon, and expect this one to compete with Against The Giants for the longest. This one is a collection of very creative "rooms" that all rolled up into a marathon of encounters that will drain your players of their spells and powers per day. Resource Management will be the silent killer in this one. Pay attention to the risk of character death in this place, because if certain conditions are not met, any resurrected character will find their souls trapped forever! Deadly rating: Deadly

Against the Giants is another one that really is multiple adventures. It is three different modules, that will send the players on a tour of the different types of Giants. All of the Giants are dangerous in their own way, so if the players do not adapt their tactics and evaluate their enemies, then they could find themselves in trouble against one type or another. The difficulty evens out for this one though, as it offers some separation between modules, which means a change to rest and recharge - something not readily offered in Dead in Thay Deadly rating: Not so much, Average.

Tomb of Horrors ... Evil. Just ruthless and pure hate. Run this if you promised your players that you would kill some of them. If your players have any trouble with handling traps or figuring out puzzles, it's all but guaranteed to be deadly. There's false entrances that may even be trapped that prevent the party from even entering! Inside, there's a seemingly innocent trap that levitates a player... into a chamber where their only real options are to starve or die of thirst, or run into another room to be assuredly chopped to bits. Then, there is another trap with a chance of being magically stripped of all of your possessions, and then teleported out of the dungeon entirely. Those are just two of the thirty-something encounters of this dungeon. 'Nuff said. Deadly rating: Over 9000. Side effects include: possible rash, intense weeping, may ruin friendships.

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Really Just Depends

My group just ran through White Plume Mountain with only having trouble in two rooms. All in all a group is supposed to be in the Dungeon for, maybe, 2 or 3 hours in game if they don't leave to take a long rest. With a fair chance of a random encounter every 10 minutes and a fair amount of the enemies being Resistant or Immune to damage of non-magical or non-silver.

I DMed as they tried to brave the Doomvault with a party of strictly Paladins. They would destroy 3 or 4 rooms and have nothing left. With over a 100 rooms and a need to conserve if you don't want to constantly take rests outside a dungeon that may replenish itself to DMs decression.

They aren't entierly difficult if there is a decent synergy to the groups that go in. Other wise a section that may in one that is meant to be blown through could become deadly to a party. Definitly use the small chart in The Dungeon Master's Guide for playing by tier on page 38 for Dungeons like White Plume and Doomvault if you plan on running one by itself. But a player should leave character off to the side just incase they meet an unfortunate death.

additional notes

I also DMed The Sunless Citadel. The main thing that makes this Dungeon deadly is the the Pitfalls scattered throughout the first floor. Though I did have a trouble player that caused a mob of goblinoids to chase the players to the Kobolds that are living there and cause a huge race war between them. This one does leave blanks in some details that is not explained, or that I couldn't find.

I also ran Forge of Fury. This may be the most fun my plays had in a while. While this may had been my 2nd time DMing I homebrewed the hell out of this. I added a 2nd big final enemy, changed a couple enemies, and bumped the player's starting level up one since it was just two of them. Added hints that aren't given to the players to what is to come at the end.

Make them your own

That's the big thing about these are is to make them your own. Change things up. Add enemies, change them up, play with the plot to suit what you think will be best. We still talk about the Mob of Goblins and some of the encounters in Forge of Fury cause they were memorable. You don't need to make a drawn out campaign with all the dungeons, but you don't need to do solely one shots with them. Like all published adventures you can make it your own and use it to how you see fit.

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