Review: Uncaged Volume 1

Twitter is a constant convention. Conventions are places for those with similar interests to come together, trade on-goings, and spawn new ideas and possible projects. The Dungeons & Dragons base is not exempt from this as Ashley Warren has shown with her D&D fifth edition module anthology project, Uncaged

Stemming from an idea about “mythology-themed one-shot adventures” this project unfurled itself rather quickly (Uncaged, p. 2). Using the hashtag #UncagedAnthology to propagate awareness both for the project and its participants, it seems that this will spawn more than a single volume, seeing four total. Furthermore, this venue is helping get new blood into the DMsGuild. While none of this is unique to this sort of project, it is how “each original adventure subverts tropes around a female mythological creature or monster” that distinguish the full series.

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Cover by Samantha Darcy

Weighing in at 238 pages, Uncaged Volume 1 contains a total of 25 “one-session module(s) that can be completed between 1 to 5 hours.” The document separates them by the common four tiers of player (see Dungeon Master’s Guide page 36-38). All in all it has 14 Tier 1, seven Tier 2, four Tier 3, and a single Tier 4 entry. In regards to original monsters, they are scattered throughout and come to a total of 20 separate ones. Another keen element are the dozen or so maps, many hand drawn, and geared towards being player handouts.

There is a substantial amount of art too. The original cover art is fantastic, a substantial amount of original art is inside, with some public domain imagery alongside Dungeon Masters Guild Creator Resources, and even a few exquisite photos. At the same time, the layouts are unique, utilizing design reminiscent of the ancient world, a consistently apparent theme give the basis of the project.

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Seeing as this is such a substantial volume, I will be doing mini reviews of the various modules. Obviously I have not played any of these, but will give my impression or a hot take, if you will.

TIER 1

“Maid in Waterdeep” by Bianca BickfordThis adventure is directly inspired by The Little Mermaid but set in Forgotten Realms and with substantial twists. An element of this entry that I have not seen before is “Changing the Adventure for Younger Players,” making some of the content more suitable. The adventure has a chase, social, interaction, and a dramatic rescue, making it fun for all ages.

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Original interior art by Hla Rosa

“Cry of the Sea” by Alicia FurnessAnother sea oriented adventure, this one focusing on sirens (including an original stat block too) and ecology, while dealing with issues of sexism. An exquisite blend of exploration and combat leads the characters through to the reveal. The module offers great open ended conclusions for further intriguing adventures.

“From the Forest They Fled” by Alison HuangBeing someone and having players directly affected by forest fires, this adventure hits home (literally had a player leave mid game due to this very reason). The ethical quandary in this module is something I strive for in my games, where there is no clear right answer.

“Lai of the Sea Hag” by Maryśka ConnollyA fast paced story, leads the players through a newer island city with a covered history. The premise of this adventure is excellent, but feels underutilized and oversimplified for a one-shot.

“The Weeping Woman” by Kristina Sisto Kindel: The folk lore of La Llorona is one I grew up with, so this particular adventure is of distinct interest for me. Use of the banshee is a good approach, as I have read a few articles linking the two mythologies. The mood set by this module is well done along with the incorporation of Mexican folklore (see Island of the Dolls), but it feels a bit narrow.

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Art by Liz Gist

“Lost Children, Found Family” by Catherine EvansLamia have undergone a few changes over editions of D&D, but the return to the half lion version is what this story deals with. A great political plot line in this adventure, but it is written in a minimalist style. I really like the debate mechanic of “resolution points” presented here, I could see that being used heavily.

“A Wild Hunt” by Kat KrugerAnother mythology from my childhood, the kumiho, was one I encountered from my friend’s mom. I really like how fleshed out and descriptive this short adventure is presented. Good dynamics in regards to the encounters, not cut and dry. One of my favorites in this volume.

“Death’s Agents” by D.B. DonlonA direct and unashamed take on a story from Greek mythology, this is a blink and you will miss it brief story. Much like its source material, it can be a great way to get mortal entwined with the dealings of the gods. Reminds me of something out of the Historical Reference series from AD&D 2nd edition.

“The Tale of Sepha & Adé” by Kelly DaytonAnother piece taken from the Greeks, this one molds the tale of Persephone and Hades into one using the Underdark and drow. I like this approach to keeping it mortal, especially at lower levels (3rd in this case). The role-playing cues are top-notch too!

“The Banshee’s Tale” by Annabeth LennonA solid romp through the crypts, this combat heavy module is satisfying. A great backstory, I think this one is apt for starting out Dungeon Masters.

“Swamped” by Jessica RossDrawing on Gullah legends, this hag oriented story could be plugged into all sorts of campaigns. The variety of endings are this adventure’s best strength.

“Demon’s Heart” by Masha Lepire: All I could think when I read this title. My love of power metal aside, this dramatic take on fiends is another great example of how to approach cosmic level D&D elements at lower levels. A whole campaign could be build around this series of encounters.

“Lost Gods” by Natalie WallaceThe first piece with the cover model herself, a medusa. This one aims for the moral dilemma to be a significant challenge to the players, which often watching them debate such things is to the delight of a Dungeon Master.

“The Secret of Shadow Grove” by Lynne M. MeyerI have a soft spot for hags, so another module using them is welcome. The subversion of the hag archetype in this adventure is one I utilized in my last campaign. It works, works well, and can manifest high levels of intrigue and quandary.

TIER 2

“Shadows and Talons” by Mellanie BlackAnother apt subversion, this one takes the mythology of harpies as presented in the Monster Manual and uncovers more. I really like working within the confines of the core D&D mythologies and finding new ways to explore them.

“The Guardian of the Forest” by Awkward BardPitting various mythological creatures against each other has formed the basis of my campaigns and this module does just that. Focusing on a medusa and a black dragon, this fun forest adventure could lead to some complexities ensuring a full campaign.

“A Family Reunion” by Jessica MarcrumThis is a take on a European folklore and one that is intriguing, despite short and thin. I really dig this story, but it seems too hasty for the complexity it exhibits.

“Maidens of the Weave” by Emily SmithDrow are even in here! Specifically driders. While the plot is simple, it allows for an exposition of drow culture that is not frequently examined or acknowledged; not to mention could be a good lead into an Underdark or extraplanar campaign.

“Appalling Morass” by Ma’at CrookThis module is detailed and feels like it could use about twice as much space to flesh itself out. I like how Crook places this within another adventure series they have published, not to mention how it explicitly spells out ways to use the three pillars of play (combat, social, exploration) within the context of this adventure.

“Heart of the Goddess” by Elise CretelNot to overlook another of the great mythologies of the ancient world, this Egyptian themed scenario. A sort of crash course on Egyptian mythology, this sees the players move through various riddles and exploration challenges as they face the tribulations of the gods in the afterlife.

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Original interior art by Johanna Taylor

Lauma by Johanna TaylorNot a module, but a creature and their lore, this forest hag could make an intriguing antagonist. A lurer of children, she believes she can take the best care of them…forever.

TIER 3

“Galateya’s Will” by Luciella Elisabeth ScarlettAnother take on Greek mythology, this time Pygmalion. What is swapped up in this rendition stems from a question of why Aphrodite granted Pygmalion his wish and that perhaps it was all a mistaken omen from the gods.

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Art by Kayla Cline

“Legend of the White Snake” by Lysa Chen: Here I go again…but seriously, this is by one of my favorite members of the D&D community. Set up as a “who to believe” social encounter, it relies heavily on how the players handle truth and lies to determine how the final encounter(s) play out. Also, very well written for its brevity.

“Madness of the Valkyries” by Asa Wheatley: The first Norse mythology based piece, deals with corrupted Valkyries and their descent into Midgard. This whole setup, as presented, could lead to a sweet and fun Norse based campaign, especially if you pay attention to the author’s early notes.

“Ghastly Grins” by Judy BlackThe dullahan is a favorite and my advice is to never pass the haunted moor at night. A full stat for this creature is included and I dig it! Not to spoil this, but if you know how I have handled the dullahan in my own campaigns, it is on par with this take. Ultimately this is a module about vying for power and utilizing dangerous means to do so.

TIER 4

“The Tale of Two Sphinxes” by Jessica L. WashburnAn intriguing themed puzzle dungeon worthy of its name, this module is lethal for a non-thinking party. Of all the short modules in this volume, this one makes best use of the limited space.

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As mentioned throughout the mini-reviews, some these modules are awfully short. As such, many come off and read like a DM’s notes. Personally, I would rather have fleshed out modules than more modules. That is not to say they are not usable or good, but it will certainly take a DM a bit more effort to get what they need at places and that is a worry I have for new DMs wanting to engage with this series. On a technical side, there are a few inconsistent formatting issues, but they are all manageable and easy to overlook.

Whether running the actual modules inside, getting inspiration for your own campaign, or just supporting up and coming authors, Uncaged Volume 1 delivers a ton of content to work with. While the quality varies, it never dips. All the art used aids the imagination, with some of being of the highest quality.

Uncaged Volume 1 releases Tuesday, March 12th on the DMsGuild.com for $14.95 with a subsequent three volumes coming in the months ahead.

Let me know what you think of this anthology on Twitter@OnlyPlayWizards