Under Xylarthen’s Tower is a standout dungeon in my opinion. It has 6 keyed floors with stairs that lead to the 7th and 8th floors and a hole that supposedly goes to level 15! While I generally prefer complete works, having keyed extensions points are great for adding campaign flavor in the back half of the dungeon.
The starting rumors provide several great impotences for exploration, or even an entire campaign, however a lack of wandering monster tables is a big drawback.
This dungeon features one of my "dungeon must haves." Multiple disconnected parts of the same floor. There is a staircase on the 1st floor that leads to the 4th floor and has rooms on the 2nd and 3rd. This side path, if the party finds it first, leads them deep into the dungeon’s depths, and acts as a shortcut out once they delve deeper into the dungeon. Several shortcuts exist, and all are useful if mapped properly.
There’s a great reference to using the Hand of Vecna in room 9, that’s funny, but entirely unlikely to happen. Such instances are a treat for DMs who can often find themselves reading page after page of dry prose when prereading a dungeon. There’s also some great rooms with bespoke mechanics such as 1-10’s gas vent and 3-13’s dangerous ants, as well as unique puzzles, such as a treasure that can only be obtained with the combined effort of a human, an elf, a halfling and a dwarf.
Room descriptions are simple but evocative, providing a little bit of flavor here and there without there being boxed text for every room.
Room 3-7 has a treasure map, a greatly underutilized treasure in my opinion, and one that lets you tie this dungeon into your campaign however you desire. This treasure map is deep within the compound of the hobgoblins, which are a faction that can be reasoned with, and possibly even become allies of the party if negotiations go well. As an aside, the hobgoblin queen has a harem of twinks, she knows what she’s about. There are other factions throughout, but none quite as widespread as the the hobgoblins.
A minor annoyance of this dungeon is it’s room numbering. Rooms are numbered somewhat haphazardly after the 1st floor. For example, a party entering level 2 will likely enter room 6, 7 or 8 as the first room, with 1-5 requiring passing through room 6 or rooms 8 and 9. This isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but it does add a bit of cognitive load to the DM. There’s also the issue of the medusa in 5-26 being clearly a fetish of the author, but at least she has some agency.
As an added bonus, there’s a system for quickly generating characters of higher levels that is convenient and had reasonable odds of providing the player with a potion and in rare cases a magical item. I’d improve the odds of the magical item at my tables (maybe a d12 instead of a d20) since most dungeons should have a handful, so an adventurer of 2nd level is likely to have encountered at least one. There’s also design notes after each chapter, which I love.
All of this dungeon is incredibly well written, and I would highly recommend it as a tentpole. The quick generation rules produce characters that average between level 3 and 4, which is a great start if this is going to be played as a tournament dungeon, but campaigning adventurers can happily start this dungeon at level 1.
Next Week: Megadungeon of the Mad Arch-Mage Gary Stu
Next week we’ll be looking at "modern" adventure. Jeff Rients’s Megadungeon of the Mad Arch-Mage Gary Stu.