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I have been running Dungeon of The Mad Mage for my D&D group for about a year and a half of monthly sessions. To mix things up a bit and get them some extra XP for my sixth PC, I have added a little side quest to their Mad Mage delve. I’m calling it: the Nightmare King’s Realm, and it will consist of three “levels” accessed via three different levels of Under mountain.
These side quest levels are inserted as a game within the game. Each player created a new PC for their Mad Mage character to play. Too meta? Eh, even down the rabbit hole, it is still the player playing a PC. No need to overthink it. This is a chance to try something new or something you have not been able to play in a while. Massive dungeons can also feel stagnant, so this changes the game in a way that doesn’t disrupt the broader storyline.
When asking about a specific magic item, one of my PCs was told of a realm that could provide you with any item you might dream. The catch was if you do not complete all three levels before a year and a day passes, then you will never leave. Your body disappears forever, and you become part of the game.
Curious, and wanting those magic items, the party traded for the key allowing them access to this mystical realm. The door to the first level was said to be on the dungeon’s third floor. As they approached the base of the stairs leading down, a glow drew them down a corridor.
At the base of the stairs, a tunnel comes into sight as Ashe draws near. You follow it a short distance to what appears to be a dead-end, but as you approach, an arched door shimmers into existence, glowing with a malevolent purple light. A detailed jungle carving glowing a sickly green takes up most of the door, with a plaque in the center engraved with words. The carving details appear almost lifelike, as though a jungle wilderness opens incongruously before you through the end of this subterranean tunnel. While there is no door handle, a metal panel with a keyhole matching the metal of the key given to you is set where a handle should be. Above the plaque, stylized lettering carved into the door reads: Welcome to Omu. The Forbidden City stands sentinel.
Stepping closer, you can make out the words engraved upon the plaque.
Withdrawing the key from your pocket, you look at your party one last time to receive their nods and shrugs of acceptance. You insert the key and turn it, hearing a faint click. The glow from the door flares, and your world turns black.
For the fun part… I’m running pieces from Tomb of Annihilation and Tomb of Horrors for these levels. There will also be no death saves. If your PC drops to zero hit points, they die. As this is a game within a game, there are respawn mechanics. I am not sharing those here though. some of this my players have to figure out as they go, and a couple of them read my blog posts.
Time passing in this game will also be different. Playtime and their actions in-game will translate to time passing in Mad Mage and tie back to the “year and a day” timeframe. There will be no rations or water needed, but some conditions will last specific in-game durations.
They will need to defeat enemies and monsters, solve puzzles, and find the keys to escape the level. If at first, they don’t succeed? Try, try again. Just don’t die too much. If certain conditions are met, it will not only be these PCs to suffer. They could end up killing their Mad Mage characters as well.