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D&D 5E Dungeon of the Mad Mage: Adventure or Setting Book?


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jgsugden

Legend
DotMM in 5E is an updated version of the Old Dungeon that compacts the amount of content of the old dungeon versions from prior editions into a much smaller space. Modern audiences are (for the most part correctly) thought to have less of an attention span and will be less interested in finding a majestic empty ruin ... and instead want their next combat fix.

However, it is still a megadungeon and that is different than an adventure. While you have light threads of storylines, the dungeon is mostly there to be explored. The point is, really, that there is little point to exploring it other than to explore. As the megadungeon can be mostly bypassed, or explored in random orders, it is hard to have sequential storytelling in it that doesn't get hashed up by the party.

Regardless, even for a Megadungeon, I find the 5E version a bit flat. The minimal storylines are not engaging, the combats are pretty vanilla, and the environment, while changing from level to level, does not create evocative combat situations. It was very much less exciting than I expected it would be - and I am enjoying the product less than I enjoyed prior delves into Undermountain decades ago. However, when given the chance between Megadungeon or campaign with a storyline, I much prefer a storyfocused adventure.

I believe there to be better 'Megadungeon' products out there for 5E. Rappan Athuk, for example, has a lot of fans.
 

pukunui

Legend
My group is enjoying it just fine, but we're still in the fairly early days, having only fully explored the first two levels and parts of levels 3 and 4. I did tell them at the start that I wouldn't force them to play through the whole thing if we start to get bored partway through. That said, for now at least, we are enjoying having a break from the usual story-driven campaigns.
 


pukunui

Legend
I guess it's a setting book, because there's not enough adventure there for exploration or interaction without a DM fleshing it out.
I haven't felt the need to flesh much out yet. As I said above, I have so far only run the first few levels, though.

That said, as a setting book, I don't think it does a good job with Skullport, which is presented as a mostly empty shadow of its former villainous self. If my players go there, I will have to do some fleshing out there. There may also be later levels that require more fleshing out.
 

Retreater

Legend
I haven't felt the need to flesh much out yet. As I said above, I have so far only run the first few levels, though.
It could've just been bad luck when I was running it, but my group had a couple sessions in a row without anything happening: no traps, no combats, no interesting features or terrain, no history. Nothing but empty rooms. I think they found a 50' x 50' room with an empty waterskin in it after hours of play.

I ended up blocking off paths just to funnel them to something entertaining.
 

pukunui

Legend
It could've just been bad luck when I was running it, but my group had a couple sessions in a row without anything happening: no traps, no combats, no interesting features or terrain, no history. Nothing but empty rooms. I think they found a 50' x 50' room with an empty waterskin in it after hours of play.

I ended up blocking off paths just to funnel them to something entertaining.
I haven't come across anything like that myself yet. Do you happen to remember what level you were on at the time?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Is it possible Dungeon of the Mad Mage was mis-marketed as an adventure when it should have been sold as an Underdark setting book? We've been playing through and running it as a straight dungeon adventure and it just wasn't working - even bringing in the cool story hooks on each level. The battles just don't have a lot of meaning, and the rewards were too few. SO the last couple sessions we decided to ignore the "defeat the level, gain a level" advice the book gives and instead just played it like a sandbox setting, and it seems to work MUCH better that way. We've pulled all the focus off of the "explore the levels" like it encourages you to do, and wove our own stories around the denizens and their lives.

It almost seems like that was the real intent of the book and somehow it got lost in the "adventure" marketing approach. Anyone else have a similar experience?
When I looked at it I decided not to run it as a continuous adventure. Instead I just pull out any reference to Halaster/Undermountain and run the levels as individual dungeons spread out around the world.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think DotMM was simply designed for a one-shot vibe out of infamous Yawning Portal, which was the main attraction. Wanna run a game but don't have any ideas or burned through your library of modules? Have the party strut into the Ol' YP and knock out a level for fun and prizes.

I've used it once in a campaign and the puzzle aspect was fun for my players since I don't bother with them in my home brew stuff (unless you're talking about the macro stuff in terms of what's happening in the world). But it was weird to draw or manage the maps on the table, as this was back in the days when we could breathe around one another.

All that said, I can't imagine focusing on the entire dungeon as a complete campaign. I would be bored out of my skull and I think my players would eventually resent the slog.
Y'know what? I was going to give a big answer here, but, I think I'll start a thread instead. D&D General - Ars Megadungeon
 

Retreater

Legend
I haven't come across anything like that myself yet. Do you happen to remember what level you were on at the time?
Level 1. The players revolted before going any deeper.
There were a few places where it was interesting - but there was a stretch of a few sessions with nothing.
 

pukunui

Legend
Level 1. The players revolted before going any deeper.
There were a few places where it was interesting - but there was a stretch of a few sessions with nothing.
Yeah, see, my group didn't really have any trouble with level 1. They understood that it's the most "picked over" level, being the easiest to access. I think I just narrated through a lot of it. There certainly is more there than just an empty waterskin, but I can understood how some people might find it too empty for their liking.
 

jgsugden

Legend
My advice, should you not find it enjoyable, as is, but wish to continue in it:

1.) Add some storyline to it. Look at some of the connecting tissue between levels and flesh it out to give you more of a continuous hook.
For example, there are drow in various locations in the upper levels. You can connect them better, and give them a plot they are undertaking within Waterdeep itself, giving the PCs a reason to leave the dungeon and thwart the plan before returning.

2.) Just eliminate combats that don't seem interesting for your group. There are a lot of combats in this dungeon that are just there with no real significance. There is no great treasure to be found, nothing interesting about the environment, no secondary challenge to be won - just an easy combat against a forgetable foe. You can also add a secondary element to these combats to make them more interesting (such as a chance to rescue the remains of another adventuring party that is about to be killed off, or stopping a monster from devouring something valuable the PCs might want to recover, or having an enemy trigger a trap that provides an extra challenge in the combat), but there are so many encounters in the first few levels that are bland that it would be a lot of work to upgrade all of them.

3.) Skip levels. Read a level ahead. If it doesn't catch your interest, remove it and take the essential elements in it and move it to another level. You can advance the PCs a little faster in the other levels to let them stay on target for milestone advancement.
 



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