5E High-Level Deep Dive into Undermountain - Advice Wanted

pukunui

Adventurer
Hi all,

I just finished running a campaign for one of my groups, and the guys have convinced me to run a high-level deep dive into Undermountain (Dungeon of the Mad Mage) as a placeholder till I’m ready to run Odyssey of the Dragonlords for them (which probably won’t be till early next year, given the printing’s been delayed).

The PCs will all be 15th level. Some will be survivors from a previous campaign that included ToA.

I’ll start with Vanrakdoom and Lady Moonstar’s quest to save the dragon.

I think I’ll just handwave them finding their way down that far so we can get straight to the action.

I’m not sure if we’ll make it all the way to Halaster. In fact, we probably won’t. Nevertheless, I would appreciate any advice people might have on running those lower levels of the dungeon.

Also, this will be my first time DMing for PCs above 14th level. (I’ve played a PC higher than that, though.) Any advice on that note would be appreciated as well.

Thanks in advance!

Cheers,
Jonathan
 
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jayoungr

Adventurer
I haven't run DotMM specifically, but I have run a campaign up to level 20. I think that late tier 3 and into tier 4 is where the differences between casual players and optimizers really become apparent. Magic items can make a big difference too. If your group is punching a bit above its weight class, definitely don't be afraid to add bit to the encounters. Mine finished off a lich in his lair (CR 22) at level 16, for instance.
 

Merifluous

Explorer
I'm about to run DotMM at high level too - I am weaving in that and storm kings thunder into one mega adventure. As for high level, be prepared for the PCs to just occasionally ruin some fights, don't worry about making encounters too hard (its really really hard to) unless they do a lot without a rest (which undermountain should be good for). I almost always use max hp for monsters. if you want to challenge then do max damage and/or keep adding monsters to the encounter. and as always just remember to keep it fun :)

I'm starting with Triobrand's graveyard and acturiadoom I think.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
If fights are too easy, don't rely too much on increasing the monsters' HP. This just makes the fight longer without making it more interesting. Goosing the to-hit bonus and number of attacks per round does better.
 

pogre

Adventurer
Just finished running it all the way through. To keep it challenging I had several of the levels set up as waves of creatures. Honestly, my group plowed through the dungeon, but even so, it was an absolute blast.

My group are not all optimizers, but they work together very well. They are certainly tactical when it comes to combat.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
Just finished running it all the way through. To keep it challenging I had several of the levels set up as waves of creatures. Honestly, my group plowed through the dungeon, but even so, it was an absolute blast.

My group are not all optimizers, but they work together very well. They are certainly tactical when it comes to combat.
Thanks for the advice. After reading through levels 17-19, I was rather put off. The whole Matrix-y concept of Alterdeep is really cool, but I don't think I've got the time or energy to pull off. Vanrakdoom just seems really dreary and boring, especially if the PCs find the sunblade (which just turns the whole thing into a cakewalk). I've never liked Spelljammer, so the ship on the ooze level doesn't appeal to me ... and so on.

Maybe if we were starting closer to the top rather than jumping in deep right from the start.

Instead, I've convinced my group to downgrade to 11th level so they can use the PCs that survived Tomb of Annihilation, and I'm going to run The Styes from Ghosts of Saltmarsh for them instead. As they are heading back to the Sword Coast from Chult, a storm will damage their ship and force them to put into port in the Styes, which I'll place somewhere along the Tethyrian coast, I think.
 

pogre

Adventurer
Maybe if we were starting closer to the top rather than jumping in deep right from the start.
Perhaps.

Instead, I've convinced my group to downgrade to 11th level so they can use the PCs that survived Tomb of Annihilation, and I'm going to run The Styes from Ghosts of Saltmarsh for them instead. As they are heading back to the Sword Coast from Chult, a storm will damage their ship and force them to put into port in the Styes, which I'll place somewhere along the Tethyrian coast, I think.
Seems like a reasonable choice. I don't know much about Styes, but if you think it will fit your style better - that's what matters. Have fun!
 

pukunui

Adventurer
I would nevertheless be interested to hear your thoughts about those lower levels, if you have any.

Seems like a reasonable choice. I don't know much about Styes, but if you think it will fit your style better - that's what matters. Have fun!
It was one of the bits of GoS that I got to provide playtest feedback on, and I have played through bits of it previously, so I am more familiar / comfortable with it than I am with any of the levels of DotMM. (Actually, Vanrakdoom was the level I was given to playtest for DotMM, and I recall complaining that it was too dreary and boring then too.)

Also, I think it might be a better fit time-wise for the gap between our just-finished campaign and the next one. If nothing else, it requires less work on my part!
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
So the first comment I would make is I REALLY don't like how DoMM says to gate the levels, or that they ignored the known "geography" of the levels and how they are connected. I would do a little research and re-introduce both "The Shaft" and the "Pit of Ghanadaur" (or one of their alternate names) for managing travel between the deeper levels. From Skull Port both of those are long vertical shafts that lead to the deeper levels.

Though I would assume that both are dangerous or controlled by some faction or another. 4E (?) had an adventure that mapped the Pit and the group that controlled it at that point in time. It's, imo, a good place to start for having the party earn or obtain passage to the deeper levels. Could be a roleplaying experience or a series of fights, and would give a good sense of immersion that though the deeper levels are accessible, their is a price to pay, or a power to exert to do so.

The next part, is I think you need to be careful how you populate them. To me, these should be lairs of some very cautious yet powerful groups. Groups ( or strong solos with servants) that each have their own interests or reasons.
 

pogre

Adventurer
I would nevertheless be interested to hear your thoughts about those lower levels, if you have any.
I guess for us, the unusual nature of the lower levels was a welcome change. The pirate was a fun roleplaying encounter, the Alterdeep was pretty much a sneak and smash level, and Vanrakdoom was a cool little historical mystery. So, for my group they enjoyed the different flavors of the various levels.

Plus, and this is key for my players, they love tactical combat. The nature of DotMM gave plenty of opportunities to set up interesting combat choices and terrain. It gave me a chance to use my miles and miles of Dwarven Forge, Hirst Arts, and other terrain. When my group won the last encounter it was bittersweet like the end of a season of your favorite TV show.

There were a few things in the adventure I glazed over - the unusual feature of Level 7 I just removed from the adventure. It would have just frustrated my players.

I absolutely see from others' points of view how the adventure would not work for their play-style. I also see how these levels might not be satisfying as stand-alone adventures.
 

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