One of the best things about role-playing games is how easily they adapt to a group’s preferences. Dungeon and Dragons is, quite obviously, a system that can be used to focus on combat, puzzles, narrative, or whatever combination of those things the players’ wish.
Today we are looking at the Dungeon of the Mad Mage, a giant adventure book for D&D 5th edition that has players from level 5-20 exploring the mega-dungeon of Undermountain.
The book opens with a few pages worth of narrative to get the DM and players invested in exploring farther. It includes some history on the setting and a few possible adventure hooks to give the player characters some reason to go jump into some deep dark dungeon.
That said, Dungeon of the Mad Mage is extremely light on narrative. The majority of the book’s 300+ pages center around over twenty separate dungeon levels. If your group is looking for a narrative-focused campaign, this book is going to leave you wanting. But if you are fine heading into a dungeon because… well, treasure is valuable and killing things is fun… Dungeon of the Mad Mage has exactly the right level of story for you.
The rest of the book is made up of individual levels for the dungeon of Undermountain. Each level contains a map and descriptions of what or who lies in each and every room within the dungeon. You can expect to find 30 or more entries for every floor giving players plenty of options for routes to take as they wind their way throughout.
Being a gigantic dungeon crawl, the focus is heavily combat driven. You’ll encounter new enemies behind door after door, having to fight them off to continuing progressing. Once you complete a level you’ll likely just keep heading down deeper, however, there are a few places you can escape and make your way to Skullport to take a breather and rest up. It isn’t all hack-and-slash throughout, luckily. You will come across a few puzzles, traps, and mazes that will require brain over brawn.
While Dungeons and Dragons books are renown for their artwork, Dungeon of the Mad Mage is extremely sparse. What art exists is as good as you expect from a D&D product, but most of the pages are just filled with text from top to bottom.
The maps themselves value clarity over aesthetic. While some neat hand-drawn looking maps would undoubtedly bring a lot of style, the boring-yet-clean maps you’ll see in this book serve their purpose well. Each level is gigantic and keeping track of what is around every corner is difficult, but the maps do their best to keep all that information at your fingertips.
If your D&D group tends to tune out at the story and just wants to get on to the next adventure, Dungeon of the Mad Mage may be the perfect book for you. The amount of content here is amazing, and there is plenty here to run players through their last 15 levels quite easily.
Even if you aren’t running the book front to back, Dungeon of the Mad Mage can be a good resource for a DM to pull a dungeon level out of and run as part of another campaign. While the thin narrative in the book may be a disappointment to some, it certainly makes it easy for experienced dungeon masters to take any level they wish and fit it into whatever campaign they want if they just need a cool dungeon to explore.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A well-crafted mega-dungeon that will keep players busy for years.
• Over 300 pages, mostly dedicated to extremely large dungeon levels.
• Highly detailed maps that give DMs all the info they need.
• Any level and easily be co-opted for use in another campaign.
• Short on narrative.
• Lots of text and very little artwork.