More than 100 writers, illustrators, editors and other assistants were involved with Uncaged: Volume 1. It is an anthology of adventures for D&D 5e an available at the DMs Guild.
It’s not cheap, costing £11.52 (US$14.95) for the PDF or £27.70 for the hardback, but you do get 239 pages, and it is already a Platinum best seller at the DMs Guild after it was published in March of this year. At the time of writing, only 0.6% of all books at DMs Guild have reached Platinum status and only 0.24% have done better.
If you suspect you’ve more chance of experiencing Uncaged as a player rather than a DM, then you may not want to read this review.
There’s a theme to this anthology. Broadly speaking the theme is mythological monsters. You know; harpies, Medusa and mermaids. We’re not limited to European mythology, and there are monsters from all around the world in this supplement. Uncaged narrows the theme down further. These 25 adventures all involve female monsters and all, in some way, subvert the tropes that have formed around them.
Tropes aren’t a bad thing, not always. Tropes develop over time as authors return to what worked well before. However, in a tabletop gaming sense, tropes are often easily spotted by players who then recognise the pattern and risk having the mystery ruined. You might even call them lazy and unoriginal. Uncaged is protected from that. The adventures in this collection are thoughtfully provocative. They might catch players around. They’ll undoubtedly make players think.
Uncaged’s desire to bust tropes and make people think is a big plus for the supplement. The fact that Uncaged is anthology is another boon. Dozens of different people have written and contributed to each of these scenarios, and so each one is fresh and original. We don’t have to worry about the author falling back into their favourite techniques and styles because we don’t have a single author writing the drama.
Where Uncaged is consistent and predictable is with the presentation of the adventures. These stories are divided into tier 1 (low level), tier 2, tier 3 and tier 4 (high level) chapters. Each scenario begins with its title and author. Then we’re told what the focus creature is, what the recommend PC levels are and whether there are any content warnings you should consider before running.
I’ve had a player who was deathly scared of spiders. He was freaked out anything arachnid to such an extent that putting a scary spider into the game was an act of maliciousness and disruption. Good DMs tend to avoid both. I think it’s a good idea that Uncaged takes a tiny amount of space for each adventure to think ahead and warn readers of any potential emotional pit traps. The supplement errs on the safe side, warning of such threats as forest fires and corpses.
Levels in Uncaged: Volume 1
Some adventures are designed for a particular level of heroes. For example, Kat Kruger’s “A Wild Hunt” near the start of the book suits Level 2 adventures. Other adventures have a range, for example, D.B. Donlon’s “Death’s Agents” is recommended for levels 2 to 4.
I fancy Uncaged as a valuable addition to any DM’s back of tricks, a download or book to have nearby, in case the PCs do something unexpected. However, for those adventures that could be matched to a range of levels you need to have read and thought about them in advance and have a good idea of how your players might react. The broadest range is Lysa Chen’s “Legend of the White Snake” which suits characters of levels 11 to 16. There’s a big difference between five level 11 heroes and five level 16 heroes, but I’ve read Legend of the White Snake carefully now, recognise the paths people could take through it and understand why the scope is so broad.
There’s a scenario for every level of hero except level 9. I’ve plotted them on this graph so you can quickly see. Uncaged skews towards lower levels, appropriately so in my opinion, and where an adventure is suitable for levels 2, 3 and 4, then I’ve added it to the graph below in column 2, 3 and 4.
Monsters in Uncaged: Vol 1
The theme of this collection is female mythological monsters. There are nine that come from the Monster Manual (you don’t need any bestiary beyond that core book). They are;
- Night Hag
Nicely, there are more ‘new’ monsters than there are creatures your players might already have read up on. Whenever Uncaged introduces a new monster they, of course, provide the stat blocks. Here’s my abridged list of the newcomers;
- Banshee (non-standard)
- Dryad (non-standard)
- Elder Sea Hag
- Porcelain Golem
- Sphinx (non-standard)
- Worg Puppy
None of these 25 adventures wasted my time. I found something in each of them; either that provoked some thought, that I could steal for elsewhere or, as was often the case, was an adventure that I could happily drop in as a short notice scenario if I needed too.
I was especially thankful for the consistent layout and structure for each adventure. After finding a level/monster match that suited I could read the summary pitch for the scenario and then, if needs be, skip to read the likely conclusions (often more than one) of the adventure to see if it would fit my world and style.
The art in the supplement is strong too and part of the anthology. There were styles I prefer over others, but I don’t think there was any illustration that let the side down.
Volume 2 of Uncaged is due out next month. It’ll be worth a look.