What Do I Know About Reviews?–Uncaged Volume I (Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition)
Uncaged Volume I Volume I is an anthology of adventures from the Dungeon Masters Guild for Dungeons and Dragons 5thEdition. Anthologies are nothing new, but this particular anthology is dedicated to looking at traditionally feminine monsters from mythology in new ways. This was an exciting prospect for me, so I was very interested to pick this up and look through it.
What About This Volume
This review is based on the PDF of the product, which is a 239-page document. As of the time of this review, there is also a print on demand option for purchase through the Dungeon Masters Guild. There are five pages of biographies and acknowledgments, and about 13 pages of player maps for the various adventures. The producer’s note, forward, and introduction take up two more pages, with a single page table of content.
The rest of the book is filled with adventures. There are full page images between the tiers of play, and then the multi-page adventures with headers, sidebars, and boxed text start. Where original creatures appear in an adventure, the pages with those statistics will usually appear on the last few pages of the adventure.
The formatting and overall appearance of this book is not only one of the best-looking Dungeon Masters Guild products I have seen, but it’s really striking and impressive compared to most modern RPGs. The font, borders, and artwork used works very well to invoke the mythological feel of the anthology.
A Note on Format
While not all of the adventures have identical formats, many follow a few similar trends, and they are worth calling out before we dive into the product as a whole.
The header for most of the adventures not only calls out the title and the author, but also includes the mythological creature that is being featured, the level range for the adventure, and even content warnings. I would love for this to become more standard for adventures in general.
Often the adventures will have specific sections for conclusions. In cases where pivotal action or inaction from the PCs might have a dramatic effect, this section will often call out specifically what leads to which resolution. There is also a rewards section. In many cases this will call out how many XP various actions are worth, or if the adventure is assuming a different style of advancement. Many of the adventures that do provide XP rewards will call out actions that are not strictly combat, and there are often sections for treasure and story rewards as well.
The adventures then close out with author’s notes and an “about the author” section. I love the author’s notes section, because it removes any mystery the Dungeon Master might have about the theme of the adventure, and what the author hopes to bring across at the table. In fact, I think all of these sections together work so well for expressing clear intent, progression, and intentionality, that other D&Dauthors would do really well to use these adventures as templates for how to format adventures.
Tier I Adventures
The Tier I adventures (levels 1-4 if you don’t want to reference your D&D core rulebooks for a refresher) include adventures that feature the following creatures:
- Hades and Persephone (Represented by mortal NPCs)
Some of the creatures have multiple adventures that feature them, notably the banshee and hags. It’s worth noting that this section establishes the trend up front that some adventures are not set in an established D&D setting, while others default to the Forgotten Realms. The adventures vary in how they recast the mythological creature in question. It’s not always a simple “flip” of “this monster is usually dangerous, but it’s not in this adventure.” In some cases, the monsters aren’t malevolent, but in others, there may be a greater evil, and almost always there is a greater context to find out when it comes to origins and motivations.
I really like how all of these adventures flowed, with the possible exception of one that doesn’t really resolve so much as present two opposing forces and asks the PCs to choose, as the introduction to a larger campaign theme.
Tier 2 Adventures
The next section contains adventures for characters of levels 5-10, and features the following creatures:
While all of the adventures, to one degree or another, call back to mythological sources, the adventures here (and some later in the anthology) use the actual names of mythological characters. Since the stories can diverge based on player action, I can see specifically including these names to make sure that players see the story elements at play and where they diverge, but to some degree, knowing the myth involved may also give away some of the elements beforehand. I’m not really picking a side on the conventions used for some of these adventures, it’s just something I think may be worth considering ahead of time.
One of these adventures feels a bit linear, where much of the point is experiencing a journey and then participating in the final scene, and I think that kind of story can work, but I also think it is the kind of story you most need player buy-in to get to work well.
Another element that gets some play in this section is not just the idea that creatures may not be as malevolent or monstrous as they are assumed to be, but that even the worship of some deities may have more nuance that expressed elsewhere in-game material. While I think it is definitely worth expanding the expectation of players, I do think that the same players that are open minded about misjudging individual creatures may default back into terms of black and white where “evil” gods are concerned. This isn’t a problem with the adventures that play with this trope, so much as me thinking out loud about the degrees of assumptions that might build up with players over the years.
Tier 3 Adventures
The adventures in this section are for characters 11-16thlevel, and involve the following creatures:
- Pygmalion’s Statue
- Lady White Snake
I absolutely love the variables in play in the Lady White Snake adventure. Characters will always have similar relationships to one another, but who the villain is, and why, can shift between different playthroughs of the adventure, and I love that structure.
There is also another adventure in this section that has less of a beginning, middle, and end, and more of an “end of act one” feeling to it. It would be a good start for a campaign arc, and feels a little more resolved than the similar adventure I mentioned in the tier I adventures, but I think it may benefit from the DM providing some payoff to the situation left at the end.
Tier 4 Adventures
The final section is for adventurers 17-20th level, and features the following creature:
This adventure has a similar structure to one of the earlier adventures, where characters play through the adventure to gain context for a final scene, but in this case, their actions early on are less linear, and while they will eventually reach the conclusive end of the story, they have enough choices early on to change how everything resolves, and how much trouble the final scene is for them. I really like how the story is played out through the various rooms of the adventure.
An Open Door
The format is just so good for these adventures. The pacing and structure of the material in almost all of them is strong and clear. The way that the adventures introduce depth to traditionally feminine monsters varies and is done so well that it is both thought-provoking and unpredictable. There are so many adventures that deviate from D&D norms in just the right way, while still providing the experience that gamers would expect from playing adventurers in the game.
Looking for the Right Key
Not much in this anthology doesn’t land well, but there are a few adventures that, while thought-provoking, shouldn’t be self-contained for maximum impact, asking more of the DM than to just prepare and run the adventure. A few of the adventures have a narrative theme that has to be carefully maintained to avoid feeling too linear, so that players don’t forget the impact the final scenes should have. DMs may need to consider if using literal mythological names will give away too much of the plot in some instances.
Strongly Recommended–This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests.
Pick this book up. If you aren’t into D&D, but you are into mythology, you want this book. If you want to see the best way to structure adventures to make them clear and easy for a DM to follow, you want this book. If you want to see a super impressive looking product, with all the formatting and artwork in the right places, you want this book. If you want a book with a ton of adventures that will be good to slot into existing campaigns or for one-shots, you want this book. If you want a book that is going to retrain players to think about monsters as beings with histories, motivations, and context, and not just a guilt-free thing to drop to zero hit points, you want this book.
I’m really looking forward to future volumes, and I am sorely tempted to order the print on demand version of the book.