Maddeningly Good: Dungeon of the Mad Mage ReviewNovember 23, 2018
In previous articles on the world’s most famous roleplaying game, it was noted that Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons has a far different feel to it than the Third and Fourth Editions of the game; and that, as noted here, is by design. Instead of churning out content monthly to a small, but dedicated fan base, they became more selective, putting their focus on a limited number of products at a time.
(This review does NOT contain content spoilers for Dungeon of the Mad Mage)
The decision to limit releases had two main effects: first, it put less of a strain on the bank accounts of players, as many feel like they need to buy every book to keep up, and second, the quality is consistently higher, because the D&D team can have their best people on every book.
What they’ve done is taken a game system that almost completely became about crunching numbers and optimizing characters and brought its core focus back to building heroes and telling stories…and Wizard’s Waterdeep series has the latter in spades.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist was a splendid beginning to the series (our review here), and served as an introduction to the City of Splendors for those not familiar with the setting. It was a fast paced adventure that offered players the opportunity to explore Waterdeep’s most famous city, and served as a foreshadowing (from the very first encounter) of what was to come.
Dragon Heist was a ton of fun, but given that it only took characters from level 1 through 5, it was clearly an appetizer to a much heartier meal.
Welcome to the Dungeon
And Dungeon of the Mad Mage is just that: an absolute buffet of deadly traps, unique challenges, loathsome monsters, and enough action to keep even the most seasoned adventurers (and adventurers is a word to describe you, noble player) occupied for hours and hours.
More than a dozen levels of the dungeon await those brave enough seek glory in its depths, each with its own characteristics: no two levels are alike, and each will call upon a different set of skills, forcing adventurers to keep on their toes.
Much like Dragon Heist, Dungeon of the Mad Mage is heavily story driven, so no two games will be alike.
The opportunity for branching paths, side quests, and skipping levels entirely because of player decisions, is intrinsic to the adventure. So while most may run the campaign once for their group, for those that run games an organized play setting such as Dungeons and Dragons Adventurer’s League, the experience will be more enjoyable because it will be vastly different every time.
Run it from cover to cover, or just use an encounter or two
Dungeon of the Mad Mage is designed for characters level 5 to level 20, but because each level is unique, a dash of DM power could see individual levels or parts of levels taken from the book and included as material for a home brew Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
That’s perhaps the magic of Dungeon of the Mad Mage: while it could serve as a platform to drive characters from level 5 to level 20 on its own, it could also serve as a resource for DMs because the component parts are strong enough on their own to find a place at any gaming table.
In fact, the delightfully complex development of the town of Skullport could serve as inspiration for a swarthy scoundrelesque campaign all on its own! (It’s worth reading: skip to page 303 to get the scoop on Skullport.)
One thing that the Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons development team does well is not retreading old ground, so the overall flavour of Dungeon of the Mad Mage is old school dungeon crawl, a stark contrast to the expansive and pulpy jungle adventure of last year’s hardcover, Tomb of Annihilation.
Dungeon of the Mad Mage is definitely worth picking up if you’re a DM, whether you plan to run the adventure from cover to cover, or just steal a few great ideas and call them your own.
Images courtesy of Wizards of the Coast and used with permission
Dungeon Screen image courtesy of Amazon.com
A copy of Dungeon of the Mad Mage was provided for review