First Impressions – Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage
  • First Impressions – Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage


    Calling Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage the “dungeon to end all dungeons” would be a mistake but clearly Wizards of the Coast is aiming for fans of such things. While it's big, it's not the biggest dungeon ever produced. It is, however, the biggest ever produced for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and Undermountain is considered the largest, deepest Forgotten Realms dungeon.



    My full review will delve into the book more thoroughly. This is my first look at it, and I have to say I'm intrigued despite not being a fan of dungeon adventures (Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Storm King's Thunder and Curse of Strahd are more my speed).

    The Appendix doesn't have as many new or adventure-specific creatures as prior adventures and no special items. It does come with Elder Rune “cards” and Secret “cards” that can be photocopied or – if the book is purchased from D&D Beyond, printed on paper for delivery and easy reference.

    Despite trying to seem difficult, the dungeon has two options for saving characters from sudden death. That's not to say the adventure is easy – I still need to do the deep-dive reading. But between Jhesiyra Kestellharp trying to keep them within their challenge levels and “Alterdeep,” it's easy for GMs to spare the lives of characters that would otherwise die, which surprises me.

    Dungeon of the Mad Mage is for characters of levels 5-20 – higher than prior adventures. It features 23 levels of traps, creatures and danger below Waterdeep to be played solo or after Waterdeep: Dragons Heist.

    Each level has its own flair and the backstory of the dungeon explains Halaster's history and why some of the levels have radically different environments. Additionally, Skullport, the city beneath the city of Waterdeep, gets its own chapter.

    Level 2 involves the Xanathar Guild and Zhentarium so it can connect quite well to the events in Dragons Heist. The constant thread of madness among those in Undermountain could also connect to Rage of Demons if a GM wished to tweak both adventures.



    Wyllowwood is a forest below ground with temperate forests created by Halaster to appease a moon elf druid. Interestingly, it's also the home of a neutral good green dragon. Yes, you read that correctly. A new creature, werebats, are also associated with this level.

    Undermountain also features a castle, albeit one that's one-twelfth the size of a normal fortification. Other levels involve oozes, mind flayers, swamps, mazes, githyanki, drow and duergur enclaves and much, much more.

    Thankfully for GMs, each chapter also has a similar layout addressing first what dwells there, then a summary of its denizens, exploring the level, with maps, and an aftermath that provides additional hooks. Orderly, predictable layouts make life easier for busy GMs because you know where to find things.

    Speaking of hooks, if Durnan isn't enough of hook to draw characters into Undermountain, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage provides other characters and enticements. Generally though, in my experience, when you put players in the Yawning Portal, someone wants to go below to seek adventure so it's not very difficult.

    I really like the hooks in the Secrets deck. I wish they had provided far more of those, though you could create your own.

    The Runestone Cavern level is really intriguing. And despite the name, Arcturiadoom isn't an ice world, which would have been fun with the fire giants visiting there. Instead it's named after a lich who lives in Undermountain.

    The adventure culminates in a face-off with Halaster, of course, the titular “mad mage.” The opening of the book explains an interesting out for Halaster. I'm still undecided as to whether it's inspired or a cheat.

    That's just my first impressions from a quick skim through of the book. A more in-depth examination of Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage will follow soon.

    This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!!
    Comments 44 Comments
    1. SMHWorlds's Avatar
      SMHWorlds -
      Is there a direct connection between Dragon Heist and Mad Mage or just something tangential?
    1. collin's Avatar
      collin -
      Quote Originally Posted by SMHWorlds View Post
      Is there a direct connection between Dragon Heist and Mad Mage or just something tangential?
      There is not a direct connection to WDH. You can connect the 2 if you desire (easiest would be using the Spring scenario with Xanathar from WDH), but Mad Mage is not a direct sequel to Dragon Heist.
    1. BRW Games's Avatar
      BRW Games -
      How large are the individual levels, roughly?
    1. Loren the GM's Avatar
      Loren the GM -
      The only ties between the two books are a few crossover characters (a couple of the Familiar Faces in the Yawning Portal - specifically Obaya Uday, Threestrings, and Volo for starting quests, and then a couple of later quests that involve Durnan and Jalester). Aside from that, there is no other direct ties. Quests do not carry over between the books at all, and while Skullport has connections to Xanathar, there are no quests or information that tie the books together regarding that.
    1. Loren the GM's Avatar
      Loren the GM -
      Dungeon levels range from roughly 600-1000 feet vertically and 500-800 feet wide (in 10 foot squares). They vary somewhat because some have different types of layouts (for instance level 7 has some vertical elements instead of being huge and sprawling). But overall most are pretty massive levels. The maps are very simple with little detail (less so even then Dragon Heist, but the simplicity is effective at creating a fairly easy to parse maze of tunnels and rooms), so your mileage will vary on how your group interacts with maps and whether you like the design.
    1. jimmytheccomic's Avatar
      jimmytheccomic -
      So, I finished running "Eyes of the Storm Thief" after 2 1/2 years last year, so I don't see my group doing another Mega-Dungeon anytime soon. I would be interested in buying this book for drop in dungeons, though- how well would this book work as a dungeon resource? Are all the dungeons linked together, or could each level work as it's own thing with minimal adjustments?
    1. Patrick McGill's Avatar
      Patrick McGill -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimmytheccomic View Post
      So, I finished running "Eyes of the Storm Thief" after 2 1/2 years last year, so I don't see my group doing another Mega-Dungeon anytime soon. I would be interested in buying this book for drop in dungeons, though- how well would this book work as a dungeon resource? Are all the dungeons linked together, or could each level work as it's own thing with minimal adjustments?
      You could definitely, each level is basically its own dungeon with its own themes and usually own self contained situations.

      Though on the other hand every level has huge halaster elements and the whole megadungeon is disjointed and crazy
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Skimming though. Barely started digging in.
      One thought is that is that, as each dungeon level pretty much stands alone, you can just grab a level appropriate level and reapropriate it as an independent dungeon.
    1. Charles Rampant's Avatar
      Charles Rampant -
      Has anyone picked up the map pack? I'm very curious about it. From what I understand, the maps in the book are 10 foot squares; is the map pack in 5 foot, for table use? I'd be entirely ready to pay money for an entire dungeon's worth of pre-made battlemaps, but I'm not interested if it's just a bunch of maps that can't be used at the table. Thanks for any insight people can offer

      As to the book itself, I'm not normally one for big dungeons. I tend to get restless and bored after a few weeks. However I am wondering if this one would avoid the issue. It sounds like it has enough variety between levels and enough rival groups with opportunity for conversation and politics to avoid just an endless grind of door kicking and orc killing. Those who have picked it up, would you agree with that?
    1. Olaf the Stout -
      Quote Originally Posted by Charles Rampant View Post
      Has anyone picked up the map pack? I'm very curious about it. From what I understand, the maps in the book are 10 foot squares; is the map pack in 5 foot, for table use? I'd be entirely ready to pay money for an entire dungeon's worth of pre-made battlemaps, but I'm not interested if it's just a bunch of maps that can't be used at the table. Thanks for any insight people can offer

      As to the book itself, I'm not normally one for big dungeons. I tend to get restless and bored after a few weeks. However I am wondering if this one would avoid the issue. It sounds like it has enough variety between levels and enough rival groups with opportunity for conversation and politics to avoid just an endless grind of door kicking and orc killing. Those who have picked it up, would you agree with that?
      Yep, I too am very keen to know whether the map packs are worth it, or if I'm just paying for a loose-leaf reprint of the maps in the book.
    1. Faenor's Avatar
      Faenor -
      My store didn't have the books, but did have the map packs. So I have seen the map packs maps, but not the book maps. The map packs maps are standard page size, glossy, and 1 sq = 10. The pack also comes with perforated sheets of the cards. Not sturdy laminated, but you could probably use dry erase on them.
    1. Charles Rampant's Avatar
      Charles Rampant -
      That sounds pretty useless, sadly.
    1. SkidAce's Avatar
      SkidAce -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimmytheccomic View Post
      So, I finished running "Eyes of the Storm Thief" after 2 1/2 years last year, so I don't see my group doing another Mega-Dungeon anytime soon.
      I googled that, but all I found was a novel.

      Is it a module?
    1. Matrix Sorcica's Avatar
      Matrix Sorcica -
      Quote Originally Posted by SkidAce View Post
      I googled that, but all I found was a novel.

      Is it a module?
      Eyes of the Stone Thief
    1. jimmytheccomic's Avatar
      jimmytheccomic -
      Quote Originally Posted by SkidAce View Post
      I googled that, but all I found was a novel.

      Is it a module?

      Eyes of the STONE Thief, rather, sorry for the typo! It's a MegaDungeon for 13th Age that I converted to 5e. We had a ing blast with it- I've been running for the same group for 20 years, and all put it as either their favorite or second favorite campaign. But, that said, it'll be hot minute before I go back to the MegaDungeon well!
    1. Matrix Sorcica's Avatar
      Matrix Sorcica -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimmytheccomic View Post
      Eyes of the STONE Thief, rather, sorry for the typo! It's a MegaDungeon for 13th Age that I converted to 5e. We had a ing blast with it- I've been running for the same group for 20 years, and all put it as either their favorite or second favorite campaign. But, that said, it'll be hot minute before I go back to the MegaDungeon well!
      Do you have some conversion notes you'd like to share?
    1. jimmytheccomic's Avatar
      jimmytheccomic -
      Quote Originally Posted by Matrix Sorcica View Post
      Do you have some conversion notes you'd like to share?

      I should have kept my notes better! I tend to use the same file sessions by session, I always just delete the week before and keep cranking ahead.

      I will say, putting it in Forgotten Realms was AWESOME, since making it the only Living Dungeon in the setting made it feel more special, and more dangerous. Also, for those of you that haven't read it, the Stone Thief essentially swallows Dungeons and adds it to it's own. So I used this as an opportunity to slide older modules in- there was an Underdark section, a chunk of Myth Drannor, etc. It was really cool, but it also made the campaign last 2 1/2 years, haha.

      Didn't mean to threadjack and take attention away from Mad Mage, though, sorry!
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimmytheccomic View Post
      I should have kept my notes better! I tend to use the same file sessions by session, I always just delete the week before and keep cranking ahead.

      I will say, putting it in Forgotten Realms was AWESOME, since making it the only Living Dungeon in the setting made it feel more special, and more dangerous. Also, for those of you that haven't read it, the Stone Thief essentially swallows Dungeons and adds it to it's own. So I used this as an opportunity to slide older modules in- there was an Underdark section, a chunk of Myth Drannor, etc. It was really cool, but it also made the campaign last 2 1/2 years, haha.

      Didn't mean to threadjack and take attention away from Mad Mage, though, sorry!
      It's written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan so I would expect something pretty good.
    1. Charlaquin's Avatar
      Charlaquin -
      Question for folks who have the book: Is the book a single adventure that takes characters from 5th-20th level, a series of self-contained adventures spanning 5th-20th level that all take place in Undermountain, a sandbox that includes challenges for characters ranging from 5th-20th level, or something in-between?
    1. Demetrios1453's Avatar
      Demetrios1453 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Charlaquin View Post
      Question for folks who have the book: Is the book a single adventure that takes characters from 5th-20th level, a series of self-contained adventures spanning 5th-20th level that all take place in Undermountain, a sandbox that includes challenges for characters ranging from 5th-20th level, or something in-between?
      Something in between. It could easily be run as a linked mega-campaign, or split into 23 separate dungeons to be run on their own. Basically, there are some links between levels, and there's the over-arching Halaster theme, but these aren't so vital that they couldn't be easily done away with and/or replaced.

      It reminds me very much of the giant strongholds in SKT, which were made for a particular campaign, and have links to it, but would be very simple to break out individually and be used on their own for something entirely different.
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