Review: Wizards of the Coast – Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (Dungeons & Dragons)

Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage
Dungeon of the Mad Mage is an epic fantasy adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, written by … and published by Wizards of the Coast.
By Dave Pierson

Learn more about Dungeon of the Mad Mage here
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The super dungeon has arrived! Continuing our Waterdeep exploration, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage is our next installment, designed to take our PC’s from level 5 to 20. Where Waterdeep: Dragon Heist had our adventurers working through political intrigue above ground, Dungeon of the Mad Mage has our PC’s exploring through 23 levels of Undermountain, an ancient dungeon found under Mount Waterdeep. Undermountain itself started as a mine and dwelling of dwarves that formed an alliance with elves. In the centuries after the dwarves were driven out, it became the home of drow, duergar, powerful wizards, criminal groups, and convicted felons. Enough denizens to keep our PC’s busy!

The Dungeon of the Mad Mage book itself is rather large to fit details about all 23 levels as it weighs in at over 300 pages, well above Wizard’s of the Coat’s recent Dungeons and Dragons supplements. 90% of the book is the dungeon itself, with only a few pages of a bestiary and no other appendices for us DM’s to use. Also, no box text! No big descriptions to read to our players to help set the mood; no big speeches ready for the NPCs they may encounter. The information is presented in the overall presentation, just not called out, making it easier to find. I’m personally on the fence with this, as I’ve been able to move away from using box text myself, relying on my own experience to drive my word choices. However, I know many that use the box text religiously, and are probably really missing this option.

Many of the dungeon levels in Dungeon of the Mad Mage feature multiple factions, and there’s a little bit of a connection between the levels. In addition, clearing the dungeon will take some time, and there are discussions presented of the ways in which the levels may change after/if they are ‘cleared’ by the PCs. This may require the PCs to go up and down between levels, but a series of level-locked gates will allow some skipping around.

While each level is mostly freestanding, there are some thematic components between the levels. Everything here is controlled by Halaster Blackcloak, the mighty mage who has been living in Undermountain since before Waterdeep was a city. The PCs will see his spies, see statues of him, see simulacra of him, see construct versions of him, etc., etc. He also put many of the more noteworthy occupants of the dungeon in the dungeon, although for most of them this backstory will be invisible to the players. Anytime there’s some random out-of-place thing that may or may not make much sense, it is chalked up to Halaster being crazy.

Ultimately, I can’t see relying on Dungeon of the Mad Mage as the only book for a “campaign” involving the groups I play with. Yes, there are some great standalone dungeon ideas that I want to incorporate. However, I see the groups I play with wanting more plot and cohesion, which just isn’t present in this book. With that being said, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage is still a great resource for DM’s who are in need of throwing together a dungeon crawl for their PC’s on the fly.

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