The content in this column is part of the pdf version of my Guide to Tales From the Yawning Portal:
This book is a collection of 7 adventures. They were originally made for previous editions (with different rules). These have all been updated to the 5th edition rules.
Famous: Some of these adventures are very famous in D&D circles. White Plume Mountain is known as a “funhouse” dungeon, a place full of weird and wacky rooms. The Tomb of Horrors is a dungeon full of traps (and almost no monsters at all) designed to kill almost anyone. Gary Gygax himself made this dungeon and it is meant to be the ultimate challenge.
Start with Sunless Citadel: If you are going to start a group, you’ll want to use the Sunless Citadel first. That’s for brand new, 1st level characters. This adventure came out right when 3rd edition was released. 3rd edition was really popular at the time, and a lot of people played it.
It’s a good dungeon for new players and DMs, because it was designed for them. It starts out a bit basic, and grows in complexity as you go on. You begin by entering a dungeon that’s inhabited by feuding kobolds and goblins. At the bottom of the place is a druid and a tree tainted by the blood of a vampire.
I wrote a guide to this book, and I prepared the adventure as best as I could for you. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you need to look up monsters and stuff beforehand. If you look up everything at the table, everybody will get bored. It is important to be prepared. You want people have fun, not fall asleep or wander away.
You might want to get a piece of paper or something and write down stats for a kobold, goblin, and a twig blight. Also, write down what some spells that are in the adventure do. That way, when you’re running the game, all you have to do is look at that sheet and you can just keep right on going with no break in the pacing.
Also remember that every DM makes mistakes every single session. It’s no big deal. Just roll with it. It doesn’t matter, all that matters is that everyone has fun.
Keeping the Game Moving: If your players are new, certain things can slow the game down. Make sure everybody knows their plus to hit, how much damage they do, their spell attack bonus and the DC for their spells. It gets real old when the same player keeps having to figure out their bonus to hit and it drags the game down.
Setting up the Adventure: Check out the hooks on page 10. You might want to talk with your players before the game to see if they have any ideas as far as their character’s backstory. The missing adventurers could be relatives or mentors to a character. A character might need the magic apple to heal a sick loved one who is going to die soon without it.
If there’s a player that is into vampires, you could play up the story of Gulthias and work that in. What might be cool is to say that if you make a stake out of the wood of the Gulthias Tree, maybe it does special things to vampires. Normally a stake paralyzes them, maybe this obliterates them or turns them into petrified wood or something. Or maybe a character knew Gulthias and through the tree they can get something from Gulthias that they need, like a drop of blood or the answer to a riddle, or the location of a lost family heirloom/magic item.
Meepo is an opportunity for you to showcase your style – your brand of D&D. Every DM does something different. Sometimes he’s a traitor, sometimes he’s a coward, sometimes he’s a brave but weak ally. You might want to put some thought into how you want to run Meepo. That’s the cool thing about being a DM, you’re like a director of a movie. Tim Burton would portray Meepo very differently than Quentin Tarantino or Michael Bay. You get to to do whatever you want.
Pacing: This is a big dungeon. It might get boring. Do not be afraid to junk rooms or move things along. If exploring a certain section is becoming a drag, make some of the rooms empty and get to the end of it. There’s no “right” way to run a dungeon. The authors expect you to change it, so don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong. It’s impossible to do it wrong. You can change it however you like.
If you can, set it up a bit in advance. While you’re running whatever you’re running before forge, slip in some mentions of the legendary black dragon Nightscale, have someone find one of those ancient dwarven weapons crated by Durgeddin. Maybe you can have the group go to Oakhurst and fight some orc raiders who actually came from the forge.
It’s always good to plant seeds ahead of time if possible. If the group has been hearing about Nightscale the dragon and how terrifying she is, they will be much more pumped up when they actually realize that they are going to have to fight her at the end.
Warn the Players: I also recommend telling your players before they start that the monsters in this place don’t act like monsters in a video game. The whole dungeon will attack them at once if the group isn’t careful. We are specifically telling them this because the very beginning part of this dungeon has a very involved encounter with the orcs, who have a detailed strategy on how they handle intruders. If the group is not careful, they are going to get their asses kicked.
That beginning part is not easy. They’ll need to be quiet, cautious and smart. They probably won’t survive if they just barge in. It’s fair to give them a warning, especially if they are new and don’t understand how the game works. The monsters can do whatever they want just like the characters can. The monsters aren’t tethered to a room.
Pacing: This dungeon is really big and it is likely that it will start to drag and feel stale/boring. Do what you have to do to move past it. Get rid of boring encounters altogether if you think it’s going to make the game suck. The point of the game is to have fun. Bottom line, the players aren’t going to want to play anymore if it’s really boring. Nothing in this book is written in stone, DMs change stuff all the time.
Rivers: The trickiest part of this adventure is the fast-flowing rivers. The explanation is spread out over a few pages and it can be a little difficult understanding how everything fits together. Make sure you get a good handle on that and jot down some notes beforehand if you need to. That river goes from bad to worse and it is very deadly. You want to make sure you run it right, because if a character dies, you don’t want it to be because you forgot something or made a mistake.
White Plume Mountain: This is just an epic adventure. If you can, plant legends about the artifacts well ahead of time. Blackrazor in particular is just a ridiculously cool weapon. They’re all extremely powerful. Maybe the ancestor of a character had Blackrazor and eventually got their own soul sucked out.
Maybe a character is the descendant of Keraptis, the bad guy who made this dungeon. Snarla the werewolf wizard has always stuck out as a memorable NPC. Maybe the group knew Snarla before she became a werewolf. You could work that into a prior adventure, where in the end she becomes a werewolf and runs off with Burket (page 101) to the mountain.
Dead in Thay: There’s actually an adventure that sets up Dead in Thay. It’s Scourge of the Sword Coast for D&D Next, which is the playtest version of 5th edition. You might have to change a few things, but it had some cool stuff in it.
Dead in Thay is really big. You might want to streamline it a bit and have the glyph keys take the group to the areas you want to run.
Against the Giants: This is really high level, so I would assume you don’t need much advice on this. I think that part of the key to bringing this to life is to make sure you emphasize that the giants are "giant." Their footsteps shake everything, the door handles are way up in the air, just getting onto one of their chairs requires a climb check and maybe a rope and grappling hook. Even their loot is gigantic.
Killing them means their massive body falls to the ground, causes a big tremor and kicks up dust. You could say that the group needs to make a DC 10 acrobatics check when a giant dies to see if they fall prone. Also, there’s a chance the dead giant falls on a hero, right?! That would do damage! Dex save DC 10. Fail: 7 damage and restrained? Need a DC 10 escape check to free themselves?
That could add a lot to the game, but make sure that you don’t use it against them. Keep it fair and random. This is meant to impress upon them the “giantness” of the giants, not a weapon to use against them. It’s just something to add to the fun and danger. The uniqueness of battling a giant. The scale of what they’re doing is enormous (ho, ho) and thus they are that much more heroic and impressive when they defeat the giants.
Tomb of Horrors: Technically you could run this for characters of any level. But low level characters have absolutely no chance whatsoever of defeating Acererak. They could, however, get pretty far into the tomb just by being clever and cautious. The thing about this dungeon is that it’s somewhat random and arbitrary. In some cases, you can’t figure out the “rules” of the room because there are no rules. This is a cruel place that messes with your head.
Not For Everyone: Also.. I can’t stress this enough. There are a lot of players who will not enjoy this adventure. There are plenty of D&D players who really hate the lethality and cruelty of this place. To some people, it feels like it’s the DM vs. the players, which is never a fair battle because the DM can do whatever they want. Some players just do not handle it well when their character dies or they suffer some kind of horrid setback (like losing ALL OF YOUR ITEMS and appearing naked at the start of the dungeon).
Nobody wants to lose all their magic items, that does suck. So generally, sending characters who have clawed their way up to 12th level or whatever aren’t a good choice to send here unless the player is cool with it. They need to know that their beloved character is probably going to have horrible, horrible things happen to them.
Some players will love it. Some will hate it. Make sure you know before you decide to run this, because one unhappy player will ruin the entire session. Everybody has to know what they’re getting into and they should definitely be allowed to make up a character to go in rather than use their normal one.
You could have each player make 3 characters, so that way if one dies, they can bring in another one. Or, maybe you could have it where an NPC owes them a wish. That way, if something terrible happens to the group, they can use the wish to undo it and wash their hands of the tomb (or courageously decide to return without the safety net of the wish spell!).
Making a Yawning Portal Campaign
Let’s put all this stuff in Undermountain! I mean, why not, the entrance to Undermountain is in the Yawning Portal, right? The one tricky thing here is that it seems a bit unfeasible to put the giant lairs down there. You could, but it doesn’t feel right. The glacial rift in a dungeon underground? We’ll work around it.
First Session: So let’s start off with the group at level one. They are in Waterdeep. It’s entirely up to them if they know each other or not. All that matters is that it’s night time and they happen to be in the same general vicinity.
Suddenly, shouts and explosions. Waterdeep is under attack! The red wizards have gated in to the city and seem to be going after certain targets. So we’ll start off a bit like Hoard of the Dragon Queen started – the heroes are in a settlement under siege.
The most difficult thing here is that they’re going to rub elbows with high level bad guys that they have no chance of defeating. We’ll have to be real careful. The true purpose of this is for the players to get a look at all of the bad guys they are going to have to kill in this campaign. We are going to build anticipation so that the group will be extremely excited when they finally get to try to take them down.
1. Twig Blights: The group sees a bark-skinned guy (let’s make this Karakas the Ranger, who is on page 21). The bark-skinned guy orders some twig blights to swarm a lone guard of Waterdeep. The guard has no chance without help. Hopefully the group helps, if not the blights are coming for them next, anyway. If possible, Karakas runs away.
2. Black Dragon: With that done, and hopefully with the guard saved, the group hears the flapping of wings over the screams and clatter ringing throughout the city. There is a black dragon, Nightscale, swooping down toward them! It’s not going for them, it breathes acid on a building. The building partially collapses. The group hears the cries of those still trapped inside. They can try and rescue them before the place collapses completely.
3. Centaur Mummy: With that done, they see a surreal sight. The centaur mummy from Tamoachan is leading a few zombies (the zombies from page 73) toward a band of brave but skill-less citizens trying to protect their city. We should have the mummy touch one of them, so the group can get a look at the mummy rot effect. The group can take down the zombies, they’re just zombies. The mummy has bigger fish to fry and rides off down a street.
4. Wight Wielding Blackrazor: On a rooftop, the group can see a wight wielding Blackrazor (the wielder’s soul has been drained, Blackrazor controls the wight). Guards are coming at Blackrazor, but they’re getting cut down left and right. We want to play up the ridiculous badassery of Blackrazor here.
The group is safe, and they can use range attacks or clever ideas here to help the guards. They could try to knock Blackrazor off the roof, or collapse a portion of the roof. Actually, it might be really cool if the heroes see that the building that Blackrazor is on has a bunch of barrels of elemental fire in it. The store sells magic unguents or residuum or something. They can blow the whole building up with a fire spell or flaming arrow. Blackrazor’s fate is unknown. That would be fun.
5. Red Wizard: At that point, the group’s luck runs out. Tarul Var, the red wizard, come upon the group. He is clearly one of the people in charge of this assault, calmly issuing orders to sub-ordinates. He tells one of them to “Tell the giants to attack.”
Nearby, an old woman is holding the symbol of her god, praying for aid. Tarul Var looks down at her..
The group could hide and observe. If they don’t, Tarul (stats on page 244) can address them. The group is no match for this guy. He can counterspell and paralyze like crazy. He might paralyze one character and then detect thoughts on them, curious.
Whatever happens, suddenly, a shaft of light appears and from it steps a deva. Lumalia (page 153) shows up, answering the woman’s prayer. Lumalia starts kicking ass and urges the group to help, either get the woman to safety or take some some shots at the red wizards.
6. Giants: Whatever the group does, the giants are outside the city and they rush the walls and chuck boulders. A massive boulder hits a building that collapses, kicking up dust everywhere. Any characters who look for her see that Lumalia is down and the wizards have her. She’s gonna be a statue in room 92, page 152.
7. Acererak: Before the group can do anything else, another heroic figure appears – Elminster the legendary wizard. He tells the red wizards to unhand the deva. Tarul Var craps his pants. The group is more than welcome to stand with Elminster and maybe get some shots in or nasty words. But what they don’t know is that this attack is all about drawing out powerful individuals, so that they can be put in the shrines (dead in thay, temples of extraction page 155).
The group can catch their breath, and hear cries from a nearby building – the Yawning Portal. There’s some twig blights in there, twig blighting it up. The group can run in and save the town drunks, earning the appreciation of the owner, the mysterious Durnan (page 6).
As a reward for their help, Durnan can offer the group a room to stay in for free. Let's make it a cool suite kind of thing to maybe entice the group to accept the offer. There’s a few wounded citizens that could use healing. The group can interact with the NPCs here and realize that they can live here if they so desire. They’ll see the well and we’ve got our setup for the campaign.
- Pencheska: She is an entertainer that really likes to drink. The truth – she’s one of the succubus spies who report to Acererak (Pencheska’s in room 5, page 120). We’re going to try to keep her deal secret for a long time, so play it cool. If the group figures it out, good for them! There’s another succubus spy elsewhere in the city. She is Idalla, the dark-haired woman from room 49 on page 56.
- Endroth Knag: Member of the city watch being pressured to retire. He ponders unresolved cases as he sips ale.
- The White Lady: An elderly elf wearing plain white robes. She comes in every night and whispers cryptic statements over and over.
- Brother Sepulcher: A bald priest who wears grey robes and long, white gloves who likes to stare at a skull he keeps with him. He worships Jergal, the exarch of proper burials. Brother Sepulcher likes to record the name and description of each person who enters Undermountain.
- Old Stannoc: An elderly halfling who is a gambler and odds maker. He tries to evaluate each adventurer before they go down so he can set proper odds.
Karakas the Ranger (pg 21), Talgyn (pg 25), Sharwyn (pg 30, stats pg 242), Sir Braford (pg 30, stats pg 243)
They went into the Yawning Portal well a week ago and haven’t been heard from since. We changed Karakas, so have it where the group does not find his body or his stuff on page 21.
Next Day: The next day, the city is in extreme disarray. The group learns that the bad guys specifically targeted the Harpers (a vast, secret organization of good guys). They killed as many Harpers as possible.
The heroes don’t know this, but Idalla and Pencheska, the succubus spies, have spent the last year identifying as many harpers and harper strongholds that they could. The bad guys want to kill all the heroes to draw out the most powerful heroes so they can stick them in those shrines in the temple of extraction (we’re getting rid of the Chosen and doing this instead).
Meeting: All adventuring types of the city are gathered together. The giant army must be defeated. Durnan knows more than most (he’s practically immortal). He knows the real problem is down in Undermountain, not out in the giant lairs. Their lairs aren’t too far from Waterdeep. It’s assumed that the red wizards are operating from there as well. If the group goes to the gathering, they are not accepted as part of the giant-slaying force. If you want, have Acquisitions Inc be there, ready to lead the charge.
The point here is to answer the question of “why are we dealing with this rather than higher level heroes in the city?” All NPC heroes of level 3 and higher are out hunting the giant army or are following orders to guard and protect the city. Nobody is going to indulge Durnan’s wacky ideas. And anyway, Durnan knows the deal. He knows the group can do it, that’s how this adventuring thing works.
Durnan's Story: Durnan tells the heroes that he once went down into Undermountain (he was in there for two years). He faced off with Acererak – he tried to get into Acererak’s tomb alongside his friend Mirt. Durnan says that the tomb was like hell. They entered a hallway full of horrible traps. They came into a series of rooms where darts kept flying at them. They had no choice but to flee. Let’s have Durnan show the group his scars. His chest is covered with over a dozen holes/scars.
We’re saying here that the Tomb of Horrors is so deadly that Durnan and Mirt only made it through the first area, and then they had to run away. That way, when the group gets there, they’ll say: “This is that hallway. Oh no.” And they’ll be looking for the darts, which is good because that area is really brutal and they deserve a warning.
Black Gates: Durnan explains that Undermountain operates through glyphs and glyph keys. These are from Dead in Thay, we’ll use them throughout the whole campaign. We’ll put black gates in every dungeon in this book. This is how Acererak and Tarul Var communicate and coordinate with their allies.
Durnan urges the group to go down below. He offers up some of his old gear – an ancient +1 sword (with the seal of Durgeddin from forge of fury on it), maybe some dust of disappearance or something, and two potions of healing. He tells them that he has a friend in Downshadow who can help them.
The group goes down below. The patrons cheer and bet on whether the group will survive. The group is free to bet on themselves.
this issue of Dungeon magazine.
Let’s stick an NPC linked to each dungeon here so the group can get clues and learn a little about them if they want.
- (Sunless Citadel) Bianca: A woman who was a thrall of the vampire Gulthias and misses him. She’s crazy, creepy and spaced out. She still has the fang marks on her neck and she wears gothic clothes.
- (Forge of Fury) Shakla: A half-orc who abandoned the orcs in the forge of fury. She is quite happy in Downshadow
- (Tamoachan) Xiyatyl: A mysterious woman who claims that her parents, Cipactonal and Oxomoco, have been asleep for centuries and she is waiting for them to wake up. Then, it will be her turn to sleep. Her parents are the sleepers in room 22, page 75. We should have it where she plays Pelota (page 78) with the scamps and sad sacks of Downshadow. Any characters who take the time to learn the game and play a bit should get special bonuses once they get to room 29 of Tamoachan.
- (White Plume) Geddi: A dwarf with horrible burn scars. She once wielded Whelm, but it was taken from her by Nix and Nox, the efreeti of White Plume Mountain. She suffered permanent injuries and now spends her time beating people in drinking competitions. She is a direct descendant of Durgeddin and is the rightful owner of the Forge of Fury.
- (Dead in Thay) Bart the Beggar: Let's say that Bart was a red wizard who really didn't like the things that were happening in the Doomvault, so here he hides. Maybe he has a glyph key?
- (Against the Giants) Ruby: A powerful, red-haired half-giant. She’s an unwanted daughter of King Snurre. She also likes it in Downshadow and is the unofficial protector.
- (Tomb of Horrors) Adenian: An ancient elf who went into the tomb of horrors and has never gotten over it. He’s shellshocked still, muttering about a green devil face. When he trances, he has flashbacks. Every time the group visits him, he gives them another clue to the tomb of horrors. We’re going to use him to help the group get through that adventure. He should tell them that they NEED the gem of seeing from the gargoyle statue and he’ll hand them 10 gems. He'll also tell them to make sure to extinguish all fire near the adamantine doors and that healing the doors is the key, and do not approach the lava pit - there is nothing there but death. Add more, whatever things you think the group might need to know. It’s up to them to take this advice, but we want to give them a real chance to get through the tomb. It would suck for this campaign to end in a TPK and we want to help them in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. This way makes sense. Adenian survived the tomb. He can give them clues.
Shara Shaana, cleric of Amaunator. She can heal the group, maybe.
Izzy the Appraiser, an elderly gnome. He can appraise stuff and identify magic items.
Let’s say that the group has to pass through Downshadow to get to the Sunless Citadel.
Sunless Citadel: So the group goes to the sunless citadel, goes through all that stuff. Maybe you should change the white dragon wyrmling to a black dragon – it’s the spawn of Nightscale, of the forge of fury.
The heroes defeat the druid and the tree. They see a black gate down there. The druid has a glyph key. Durnan or Bart of Downshadow can explain how it works. It leads to the Forge of Fury.
Resting: I would say that when the group sleeps at the Yawning Portal after this, bark-skinned Karakas the Ranger tries to kill them in their sleep. How did he get up the well? Pencheska. The group won’t know this for a while, ideally.
The next day, the giants and Nightscale the black dragon attack Waterdeep again. Nightscale is here to take out to take out some straggler Harpers and to hopefully draw out another powerful hero that they can put in a shrine in the temple of extraction. It works.. this time they get Farideh the tiefling warlock, the star of the Brimstone Angels novels.
Durnan: If we can, let’s also show a clue that Durnan is really old and potentially really powerful. Maybe they notice him lifting something that only someone with giant-strength could lift.
Also, let’s establish that Pencheska is the one who operates the winch that raises and lowers people in the well. She just likes doing it. That’s true, but we’re setting it up for her to sabotage this thing later in the campaign.
We go through the forge of fury. Epic battle with Nightscale. When Nightscale dies, try not to mention her bones. We are hoping that the bad guys can make an undead dragon out of her. If the players mention her corpse at all, we should say that her hide has been mangled by their spells and blades and there’s no dragon parts left worth harvesting, except maybe the heart and eyes. The hide is too damaged to make armor out of.
Remember, if the group ever comes here again – the corpse is gone. The bad guys have stolen the remains of Nightscale. They’re animating her and making her the guardian of the Phylactery Vault.
Once the group has slain the dragon.. now they have the attention of the bad guys. The group also finds a deed that shows that Geddi of Downshadow is truly the rightful heir to the forge. If they give it to her, she gathers up dwarves from Waterdeep and starts the forge back up, perhaps making weapons and equipment for the group.
We find another glyph key and black gate. That one leads to strange caverns which ultimately lad to Tamoachan.
Back at the Inn: At the Yawning Portal, the group has a visitor. It is a beautiful, silver-haired woman named Elia. She is secretly a silver dragon named Otaaryliakkarnos. She works with the Council of Waterdeep, and she got word that the group took out Nightscale. She hated Nightscale, is impressed and wants to get a look at the heroes and see exactly what they are doing down in Undermountain.
But right when the heroes have made friends with her (or whatever), there is a ruckus. Yup, the bad guys are back. It is Blackrazor, Nix and Nox, and more of those tamoachan zombies. Elia assumes her dragon form to fight them off. Maybe the group takes out the zombies and fights a few terrifying rounds with Blackrazor. Then, once again, Acererak appears and draws the soul of the silver dragon. Mission accomplished – they are teleported away.
At this point, Bart of Downshadow is looking for the group. He wants to admit to them that he knows the plan of the red wizards. But before he can get to them, Pencheska kisses him and kills him. The group will find his shriveled corpse and can be told that he wanted to talk to them.
Tamoachan: Then we go through Tamoachan. In that room on page 91, if you sit on the throne, you have visions of the past. Let’s have it where the character who sits on it sees an ancestor, a hireling alongside Mirt and Durnan. This is over 1,000 years ago. The character watches them dig out an entrance to the tomb of horrors (one of the false ones). Then the vision is over.
At the end of Tamoachan, another glyph key, another black gate. Each black gate takes us down a level of Undermountain.
Durnan's Story: At this point, the group might question Durnan. He’s got quite a story. Maybe he spills the beans and confesses that he became immortal through a wish granted to him by an efreet (one of the trapped efreeti in Dead in Thay).
A messenger enters the Yawning Portal looking for the group. Their presence is requested right away at the town square or something. It turns out that a solar (angel) has come to Waterdeep looking for Lumalia, the deva. The group can explain what happened to her.
Recognition: At this point, there is a crowd and Waterdeep officials here. The ruler of Waterdeep, Lady Laerel Silverhand is here as well. She is very powerful in her own right. We have a discussion where Laeral realizes that the group is a bunch of badasses and that they are on the right track. So the whole city knows now that the group killed Nightscale and they might be the city’s best hope to end these attacks. The beautiful Idalla is nearby. She tries to catch the eye of one of the heroes. She’s the other succubus spy, and she knows that the group needs to die.
Suddenly… a portal opens up and a horde of bad guys pour through. It’s a chaotic melee in the square. Red Wizards everywhere, Nix and Nox, Blackrazor. The group can fight some wizards, or Blackrazor. Don’t worry too much if the group grabs Blackrazor. We can just have it injure and reject the wielder, but do it in a way where it is clear that Blackrazor could change its mind down the road.
White Plume Mountain: OK.. time for White Plume. It’s underground. In Undermountain. It’s an underground volcano, I guess. Who cares, it’s an awesome dungeon.
The group goes through White Plume Mountain. If the wight wasn’t destroyed, we can have it be in the room with Ctenmiir. The group loots the place and defeats the bad guys. Another glyph key, another black shrine.
Whelm: Whelm wants to defend the forge of fury. That’s what it did long ago. The group can hand it over to Geddi, or they can keep it. A character in the group gets Wave, the artifact nobody in my groups ever wanted.
As the group returns from their successful mission and are heading down the tunnel to the well that leads up to the Yawning Portal, they pass by a weird thing – a panther. It’s a famous panther, but they probably won’t know that.
Trap: The spies have laid a trap. Idalla is ethereal at the bottom of the well. Pencheska operates the winch and cranks the heroes up. But she’s pre-sabotaged it. Once the group is up 120 feet of the 140-foot well, the rope snaps. The heroes plummet and take 12d6 dmg, or none if someone has feather fall or a clever idea. The idea here is that they fall and then Idalla surprises those who are still conscious, and kisses them to death.
We have a failsafe here. The panther is owned by a fellow named Drizzt Do’Urden, the famous drow adventurer. If necessary, he emerges from the shadows and helps them fend off and defeat Idalla the succubus.
Drizzt: Drizzt wants to sit down with the group and go over what they know. He can commend the group on the work they’ve done. He’ll be incredibly alarmed if one of the group has Blackrazor, but hey it’s a cool item. Let’s have the panther, Guenhwyvar, befriend a hero, preferably a ranger or druid. It will provide a handy clue for them soon.
The group probably knows the deal by now. Acererak is going to snatch Drizzt. So let’s let them think that and do something goofy.
Sylvanna: Let’s introduce Sylvanna, the rebel red wizard. She’s against what Tarul Var and Acererak are attempting. She meets with the group covertly in some dark location of Waterdeep. Unfortunately, she’s being watched. Portal opens, in comes the red wizards and that adult red dragon from the Hall of the Fire Giant King!
The roof gets blown off the place if necessary. The group is in an epic battle. They see something in the night sky flying towards them.. then, nearby, Acererak appears. Oh no, he’s going to get the soul of Drizzt! Wait, that thing in the sky is the Acquistions, Inc airship. Jim Darkmagic flings a bunch of autographed portraits and gets ready to launch spells. Acererak assumes Jim is a powerful wizard, sucks his soul, and the bad guys bail out. Acererak is soon after disappointed in Jim, but sticks him in a shrine anyway.
During the battle, let’s have Drizzt really get his butt kicked. The dragon breathes on him, all sorts of stuff. The rest of Acquisitions Inc, Drizzt and the group go back to the Yawning Portal. The Acq Inc guys talk about the giants a bit. They foreshadow Snurre and the Frost Giant Jarl.
Dead in Thay: Now it’s time for the big one. Dead in Thay. In our version, the Doomvault is acquiring souls for Acererak, not Szass Tam. Acererak is the one trying to become a god. Remember that Pencheska is not down here, so take her out of the room.
The group will have the chance to rescue Lumalia from her transformation into a statue. If they do, she’ll join them and become a trusted ally.
Wish: The heroes can free the efreet who made Durnan immortal. I say the efreet offers the group one wish as per the spell, with one additional choice: One of them can become immortal like Durnan. This doesn’t mean they can’t be hurt, it means they don’t age anymore. Let’s say that the efreet can only grant this wish once every 500 years, as per the orders of the Sultan of the City of Brass. The Sultan reviews all granted wishes issued by the efreeti and he’s already going to be angry that this efreet didn’t put a sinister twist when granting this wish, but will let it go because the red wizards dared to enslave a mighty genie.
The heroes get to rescue all the NPCS – Elminster, Farideh, Laerel Silverhand, Elia, and Jim Darkmagic. They’re all drained and weak, and they will be for some time.
The end is tricky. We can’t have Acererak die in the Phylactery Vault. He’s the bad guy at the end of the Tomb of Horrors. So in the final fight, we'll have the opponent be Nightscale, who has been made into an undead dragon!! Now we’re talking, right?! She could be a skeletal dragon, a ghost dragon, whatever.
The group might wonder why Acererak isn’t here. They’ll find out when they get back to the Yawning Portal.
Return to the Inn: When they get home, the heroes find the place to be trashed. A huge fight took place and there are dead bodies all over. Acererak finally realized the best time to steal NPC souls is when the group is busy in a dungeon. He attacked, maybe with the red dragon again.
The group spots Pencheska leaning over Drizzt’s body. What’s she doing? Kissing him! Draining his lifeforce! The group finally sees that she is a succubus spy. They need to stop her right now before Drizzt is dead forever.
After the fight, the group might wonder where Durnan is. He’s in one of Acererak’s gems. There are no more shrines because the group cleared the Doomvault. That means that Durnan is just an eternal prisoner in the gems of Acererak. The only way to save him is to take down Acererak.
So there’s two things left to do. Take down the giants and then go destroy Acererak for good. The group learns that the giants are the only ones with a glyph key to the Tomb of Horrors.
Against the Giants: We go through Against the Giants. We can change the notes from Eclavdra to Acererak if you want. We can just take the drow out of the final adventure – the dungeon’s way too big, anyway. Or, if you want, keep them in. Maybe they’re looking to finish what Acererak started.
The group kills the giants, kills Snurre, and finds the glyph key and a black gate in the lair of the red dragon.
Tomb of Horrors: The group can use any black gate to go to the tomb. When they’re ready, they go. They brave the tomb of horrors and hopefully destroy Acererak and shatter his gems. Hopefully with the clues Adenian was giving out, the group can survive the most deadly traps. They can rescue Durnan, go back to Waterdeep and be hailed as heroes.
Maybe this incident has spurred something in Durnan. He wants to wander again. He hands over ownership of the Yawning Portal to one or all of the heroes.
There you go! Remember, that's the initial plan. The group will do things that will adjust everything. You'll also have awesome ideas as the campaign goes on, so you can add those in. Remember that nothing is written in stone until it is said aloud at the game table.
Good luck! I hope your games go well.