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Quests from the Infinite Staircase review - a worthwhile climb

I'm not rushing to run every adventure in Quests from the Infinite Staircase, but most make great picks for Dungeons and Dragons DMs.

Our Verdict

Perfect for old-school, combat dungeon-crawl lovers, or active DMs hungry for new content to play through in the transition between 5e and One DnD, Quests from the Infinite Staircase is a strong - if brief - anthology bursting with brilliant, bizarre ideas. Just be prepared for areas where your DM will need to work overtime to tie up frustrating narrative loose ends, or fill apparent gaps in the adventure.

Reasons to buy
  • Strong encounter design
  • Varied and unique adventures
  • Excellent setting chapter
Reasons to avoid
  • Narrative writing is lacking in places
  • Some dungeons feel generic

Wizards of the Coast’s last major Dungeons and Dragons release before the new version of DnD lands in September, Quests from the Infinite Staircase aims to prime the pump for One DnD (or 5.5e, or whatever nickname you prefer) by serving up cannily reinvented, vintage 1980s dungeon crawls. Its adventures may feel a little thin at times, but at others it filled this humble DM with delight. This review should help you decide if it’s right for your party.

Before we open the first door on the Infinite Staircase, a bit of housekeeping. My copy of the book was kindly provided by Wizards of the Coast, and my thoughts are based on a thorough readthrough. I also did some limited playtesting of the book’s early adventures, though I’m still scheduling further games (and will update this review if they significantly change my opinion of the product).

What is Quests from the Infinite Staircase?

Quests from the Infinite Staircase is a 224-page anthology of six standalone Dungeons and Dragons adventures. These are all adapted from classic ‘80s D&D adventures, so many (though not all) feature large amounts of combat and dungeon-crawling.

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What’s inside Quests from the Infinite Staircase?

Quests from the Infinite Staircase is split into seven chapters – one introducing its setting and main faces, and then the six complete adventures, as follows:

  • Chapter One: The Infinite Staircase
  • Chapter Two: The Lost City
  • Chapter Three: When a Star Falls
  • Chapter Four: Beyond the Crystal Cave
  • Chapter Five: Pharaoh
  • Chapter Six: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
  • Chapter Seven: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

The book also includes two appendixes, which feature nine new DnD magic items and 14 new monsters (some with sub-types). Before I give my detailed thoughts on how this collection plays as a whole, let’s take a tour through the six adventures, shall we?

Quests for the Infinite Staircase art of a door on the Infinite Staircase

Chapter One: The Infinite Staircase

This chapter outlines The Infinite Staircase, an optional DnD setting that ties the book’s adventures together. It establishes how the Infinite Staircase works, and it introduces the noble genie Nafas as a potential quest-giver for players.

Chapter Two: The Lost City

The Lost City was originally designed by Tom Moldvay in 1982. It takes place in a desert ziggurat populated by strange masked factions and cults, as well as more than a few traps and monsters. There is a mix of dungeon-crawling and social gameplay. This updated version spans levels one to four, and it features optional extra content that players could explore at higher levels.

Chapter Three: When a Star Falls

When a Star Falls was first released by UK TSR in 1984, and this updated version takes players from levels four to six. In this adventure, the players must investigate the whereabouts of a fallen star in order to save a sage – and their ability to predict the future. The adventure has sandbox elements, and it provides a mix of combat, exploration, dungeon-crawling, and social roleplay.

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Chapter Four: Beyond the Crystal Cave

Adapted from an adventure published by UK TSR in 1983, Beyond the Crystal Cave is an adventure that spans levels six to seven. It takes place in a tranquil garden in the Feywild, where the players will search for a missing pair of star-crossed lovers. This adventure mainly offers social gameplay, with minimal opportunities for combat.

Chapter Five: Pharaoh

Pharaoh is an updated version of the 1980 adventure of the same name, first designed by Tracy and Laura Hickman. It involves a unique dungeon crawl, where the players must uncover a dead pharaoh’s secret tomb in order to put his ghost to rest. The adventure spans levels seven to nine.

Chapter Six: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is a levels nine to 11 adventure based on Gary Gygax’s original from 1982. In this adventure, players must retrieve a treasure from the abandoned lair of Iggwilv (also known as the witch Tasha). This adventure is a traditional dungeon crawl with lots of options for combat and fewer options for social roleplay.

Chapter Seven: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks spans levels 11 to 13, and it’s based on another adventure written by Gary Gygax in 1980. This adventure takes place on a crashed spaceship. As players explore, they’ll be helped (or hindered) by the supercomputer that controls the ship.

DnD Quests from the Infinite Staircase art of a warrior fending off ghouls

How does it read? How does it play?

These adventures may be 40 years old, but their updated versions will still appeal to modern D&D players. Wizards of the Coast has made clear efforts to offer players varied gameplay, and their tweaks have improved the balance and storytelling elements of these old-school dungeons.

Wizards of the Coast has a great track record when it comes to adding quirky, memorable details to adventures. The Lost City features cultists who crawl on all fours like a dog or buzz like a bumblebee, while Pharaoh breaks up its dungeon crawl by introducing a character obsessed with spoons. Robot boxing matches share page space with leprechaun pranks – the anthology has a delightful weirdness to it.

The encounters presented also feel like they’ve been spat out of a well-oiled machine. Pharaoh features traps and tricks that actually made me excited to dungeon crawl again, while Beyond the Crystal Cave can be completed without a single combat encounter. Many adventures are open-ended and flexible enough to reward different approaches (or even DnD alignments).

I’m also a big fan of Nafas and his Infinite Staircase. Nafas wants to grant wishes, and the Infinite Staircase can take you literally anywhere to make that happen on his behalf. This sets up an infinite possible number of plot hooks and adventures. Chapter one fleshes out Nafas and his world just enough to give you somewhere interesting to explore between adventures.

DnD Quests from the Infinite Staircase art of Nafas the genie

That being said, this magical door isn’t open and shut – I have my issues with some minor features. From a narrative perspective, some of the writing feels hit-and-miss.

Pharaoh has a fantastic (and unproblematic) hook to get you raiding an ancient tomb, while many empty rooms in The Lost City made me question why I was bothering to explore at all. When a Star Falls begins in a memorable way, but Beyond the Crystal Cave feels a little directionless. For every adventure that got me psyched up to go exploring, there was another that made me ask ‘why is my character doing this in the first place?’.

Basically, I’ve got plenty of extra writing to do in my Dungeon Master prep. This is pretty standard for Wizards’ DnD books, which often struggle to cram everything into 200-odd pages, but it’s still a mark against a book’s perfect record.

Nafas makes a great link for these adventures, but I’m still not planning to run them back-to-back. Quests from the Infinite Staircase isn’t all story-less dungeon exploration, but there is a lot of it. A campaign of this could get repetitive, and playing these adventures in order highlights how generic the weaker of the bunch can be.

DnD Quests from the Infinite Staircase art of three combat robots

Who is it for? Who isn’t it for?

Like most adventure books, Quests from the Infinite Staircase is designed for Dungeon Masters. Players need not pick up a copy unless they plan to bully their DM into running the anthology.

While variety is one of the book’s strong points, the anthology will still go down better with fans of old-school D&D gameplay, which focuses heavily on combat and the problem-solving that comes with exploring dungeons. Players who want a deep story or more freeform social roleplay will find it less appealing.

If you’re planning to test the new One DnD rulebooks as soon as they release, this also might be the book for you. Unlike older anthologies, Quests from the Infinite Staircase has been designed with the new rules in mind. It’s also the only adventure content we’ll be getting from Wizards until the new rules are fully published, so it’s the book best suited to early games with the new ‘edition-ish’.

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