Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tales from the Yawning Portal Rant

My friends will likely hate me for ranting about this again, but here we go. Today Wizards announced their newest publication for April, an anthology of 7 classic adventures updated to 5E, Tales from the Yawning Portal. The infamous entrance to Undermountain is the framework for this collection of dungeons from "other worlds" if by other worlds they mean mainly one: Greyhawk.

Here is the lineup of adventures:

Against the Giants
Dead in Thay
Forge of Fury
Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
Sunless Citadel
Tomb of Horrors
White Plume Mountain

  • Now I am sure this book is going to be gorgeous; a must have for the adapted monsters and magic alone. Every book Wizards has put out for 5E has been marvelous in my opinion. My rant though is about the treatment of Greyhawk material yet again. Could this book just as easily be called Tales from the Green Dragon Inn? (Thanks Jayson) You bet. But no, Forgotten Realms is and always will be the D&D flagship for sales. So even though only one of these modules, Dead in Thay is a FR original, we must assume the bartender and patrons of the Yawning Portal must be so bored with their own classic dungeon the Ruins of Undermountain, that four out of seven of these "tales" (six out of nine if you count Against the Giants is a trilogy) comes out of Oerth. Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury are rightly generic and given they came out in 3E could fit anywhere.

  • Okay, what is wrong with some classic Greyhawk modules getting remade in 5E and stealthed into a Forgotten Realm covered book? I mean, something is better than nothing right? Not if you've been following the game for an appreciable amount of time. First, these same 3-4 adventures came out in 1E AD&D and have been revised for nearly every edition, including yes, 4th Edition. It's like Greyhawk is stuck in a perpetual loop. Someone aptly said on the ENWorld forums, Wizards is acting like George Lucas revising and reselling the same Star Wars. My bold prediction recently was Wizards would do Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, but I should've went with AtG, which I thought unlikely since giant themed Storm King's Thunder had just been released. In hindsight, I guess Barrier Peaks would've been too much work since no one has already updated it to this point.

  • What else is wrong with Greyhawk in a Forgotten Realms cover? Aspiring writers at WotC's own DM's Guild are probably salivating to get Greyhawk on the list of approved worlds along with FR and Ravenloft. Once that happens we won't have to worry about Wizards adapting anything Greyhawk, cause legions of fans will do the heavy lifting. Yet, I'm sure since Tales is nominally set in FR and is only referring to "other worlds" this won't qualify. Why hold back Greyhawk? Cause it's a gold mine for nostalgic pieces like Tales or easter egg material for books like Curse of Strahd. And people like me, sigh, will always bite.

  • This leads to my final point and that is misrepresentation. D&D worlds like Oerth and Faerun have always had a plane-hopping relationship but this has usually transpired in a go-between fashion, like Dragon Magazine's Wizards Three articles. or the Planescape setting, or Spelljammer. The cross-overs tended to not wholly subsume another world's content though. That said, this more direct instance still makes perfect sense to me, but I wonder in a conspiratorial manner, if the same could've passed the planning stages if the Green Dragon Inn was used to present a series of modules set in Faerun and Eberron instead. One could then say why use Greyhawk as a delivery, just publish a series of Faerun modules in one book and be done with it; why take the POV of another world? Tales is not explicitly a FR book, there is no mastheads for worlds anymore, just D&D. Yet burying Greyhawk content inside a FR themed cover still has the same effect of pushing the IP toward a generic pop-culture identity and the setting itself further into obscurity.

  • Update 06/19/2021: Four years later, Greyhawk sorta gets Ghosts of Saltmarsh. RL and FR have got other books. Wizards is about to announce two more books based on "classic" settings. If Spelljammer, Planescape or Dragonlance aren't picked in the very least, we riot!


    Ryan said...

    Or they could have gone farther back into lore and called the product "Tales of the World Serpent Inn".

    Mike Bridges said...

    That would've been an even better fit! Yes!

    Dyvers said...

    They're just a bag of dicks, Mike. /bitterness

    Zudrak (Michael G.) said...

    I thought I took umbrage in the late 80's when the Underdark and Oriental Adventures material originally destined for Oerth instead was set in Faerun. Back then, it was planned releases that changed places. It's worse now, because they're moving material that was already set in Greyhawk over. Blargh...

    Mike Bridges said...

    Well in this case it's still Greyhawk material, just presented from the POV of the Realms, which in a meta sense does Greyhawk fandom no use unless the material targets people to look into that setting much like Curse of Strahd celebrates Ravenloft. No, if they wanted to do a book on dungeons, Greyhawk can hold it's own in that department. Let me see them do a Best of the Realms compilation. Besides Undermountain, Dead in Thay was the best they could produce in the last 20+ years?