Pulling off a Dragon Heist in Waterdeep: The Review
  • Pulling Off a Dragon Heist in Waterdeep: The Review


    Since the majority of official D&D adventures have been set in dungeons (or the equivalent) and wilderness areas, making the latest hardcover adventure, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, a city-based adventure is a breath of fresh air. It's also a great chance to give the Sword Coast's most cosmopolitan city some 5th Edition attention.



    In Waterdeep: Dragon Heist – no spoilers – a half a million gold coins, which are called “dragons” in Waterdeep have been stolen from the city and hidden. It's up to the players to find the stash before the villain can and use it for nefarious means. As with Curse of Strahd, there are options to vary the story, though in W: DH the options change the villain, time of year and encounter chains.

    Before the players can follow the money, the adventure for first to fifth level characters starts in a traditional place – a tavern. The legendary Yawning Portal is a nice connection between anyone who ran Tales of the Yawning Portal and/or might run the follow-up adventure coming November 2 to WPN stores and November 13 in wide release – Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. The Yawning Portal's claim to fame is the giant well-like opening in the center of the common room that leads down to the first level of Undermountain, the massive complex that lies beneath Waterdeep (the Mad Mage's dungeon).

    At the Yawning Portal tavern, the players meet the legendary (as he's quick to tell them) Volothamp Geddarm – “Volo” to his fans. The famed author has a job for the players,which serves as a good introduction to Waterdeep and a chance for them to explore the city and earn a little bit of a reputation. After that task is accomplished, there's a bit of an interlude where the players can gain some downtime while building relationships and contacts within the city. They can also be recruited by various organizations, individually or as a group, which can affect the adventure and their resources.

    Then the main plot attracts the players' attention (trust me, they can't miss it), and they learn about the missing money. (I'm avoiding actual spoilers so the article is safe for those unsure as to whether they want to play W: DH.) Depending upon the villain selected before the campaign started, the time of year is also set, but the book notes that if, while playing, it makes sense to switch the main villain, the DM should do so while keeping the original time of year.

    As a DM who has been running the 5th Edition hardcover adventures since Hoard of the Dragon Queen, I can't wait to finish Tomb of Annihilation and start W: DH. I really liked the revised version of Chult (though I have some quibbles), but the ticking clock aspect of it was at odds with the obvious interest in exploring the island. Once we finish the official story, I'll probably use Chult in a future homebrew adventure. But I'm a sucker for city-based campaigns in a fantasy setting and this one is put together much better than Pathfinder's Council of Thieves, in which some chapters – and even maps if you compare the book to the map pack – contradicted it each other.

    City-based adventures, especially when the city in question has a vigorous City Watch, can deter murder hobo tendencies in players. W: DH has plenty of opportunity for action and combat, but wholesale, casual carnage should be off the menu.

    What I especially like about W: DH:

    • The pronunciation guide for NPC names (to avoid arguments)
    • Adventure and encounter flow charts (for easy reference and to make it simple for DMs to quickly find the plot thread again if the players go off the rails)
    • Lots of opportunities for role-playing and investigation
    • Factions can really make a difference in this adventure and players can be recruited during the adventure
    • Opportunities for players to put down roots in Waterdeep and have their actions motivated by that
    • The big, full-color, two-sided map of Waterdeep with one side for players and the other for the DM (though I wish the book had a smaller version of the DM map so we can check DM-only material while players are examining their side)
    • Building maps in the book that can be reused
    • The NPC map of the Yawning Portal is charming, especially Matt Mercer's cameo

    And, of course, I like the story. Having a choice of four villains not only provides replay-ability (to a degree) but allows the DM to cater to their players' interests or combine it with their own material more.

    My only complaint – and it's a very minor one – is that the W: DH is less of an Ocean's 11 or The Italian Job heist then an investigation where players are racing against the bad guys. In the heist movies cited while promoting W: DH the characters know who has the money. They just need to figure out a scheme to steal it. W: DH is more like a Western where someone buried a treasure and then died, forcing characters to find and interpret the location clues before someone else does. It's fun regardless but involves a slightly different sensibility that might be relevant as people make characters.

    The book contains some fun Easter eggs. For example, a play mentioned loosely describes Strahd's backstory. Also, Volo mentions his upcoming book a few times – Volo's Guide to Spirits and Specters. Time will tell if that's a future D&D book release. (Please? Pretty please?)

    “Volo's Waterdeep Enchirdion” is a chapter after the adventure that provides background on the city, its various wards, law enforcement, holidays, currency, etc. It's a highly useful addition for those unfamiliar with Waterdeep as well as providing DM's easy access to key material. A DM could run the campaign purely with what's in the book or prior source material, such Volo's Guide to Waterdeep or City of Splendors: Waterdeep, can be integrated as long as the major players in the city – like the latest Blackstaff – are updated for the current era.

    Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a rollicking adventure that's different than the prior 5th Edition adventures. I really like how the D&D team keeps harkening back to classic locations and/or modules while handling them in new, fresh ways. W: DH is a terrific way of updating the City of Splendors.

    This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of ENWorld's User-Generated Content (UGC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
    Comments 38 Comments
    1. ddaley's Avatar
      ddaley -
      How much action is in this adventure? My group gets bored pretty quickly when there isn't enough action.
    1. Patrick McGill's Avatar
      Patrick McGill -
      A very nice review, and I one that I agree with for the most part.

      For me, however, there are multiple parts in the book that I wish were fleshed out much much more. The faction quests in particular, and some of the steps along the way of the investigation, are either completed with a single skill roll or left for the DM to figure out how much work they want to put into it. I'm not a fan of hand-waving things in the manner they suggest for these. Luckily there are already a good amount of material on the DM's Guild* to supplement this with. Still though, I feel like it would have only taken a few more pages to flesh this stuff out and provide some maps.

      I feel like out of all of the campaign books this will be the one requiring the most DM prep, and is the least playable out of the box. Despite this, I still place it very high in the rankings because what is there is really good and well thought out.
    1. jasper's Avatar
      jasper -
      One problem so far. You pick a villain. Which picks the season. But except weather in Chapter 4, no weather effects. I am planning on using the Waterdeep Encounters weather tables and preroll some effects for a couple of days. Also is me, it appears chapter 1-3 can be done in one day each.
    1. James Barkley's Avatar
      James Barkley -
      Quote Originally Posted by jasper View Post
      One problem so far. You pick a villain. Which picks the season. But except weather in Chapter 4, no weather effects. I am planning on using the Waterdeep Encounters weather tables and preroll some effects for a couple of days. Also is me, it appears chapter 1-3 can be done in one day each.

      That's because the majority of players only want to be level 1 for 1-2 days. Put more role-play effort if you want to stretch it out.
    1. Tiles's Avatar
      Tiles -
      I’d like to see a DM Guild adventure that actually has a heist-like finale, where a map is given the the players and they plan an assault on the treasure. The given ending falls a little flat and doesn’t give the advertised heist!
    1. HawaiiSteveO's Avatar
      HawaiiSteveO -
      The encounter chains by season is a really cool idea. It gives the adventure an episodic feel that could work very well, and also helps the DM - well done!

      As with ToA, I do think there is just too much in the book, and overall it could be shorter & tighter.
    1. collin's Avatar
      collin -
      I like what the review has to say about the overall theme and ambiance of the book being not so much Ocean's 11 or The Italian Job and more like an old western. I was thinking it reminded me more of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
    1. LordEntrails's Avatar
      LordEntrails -
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick McGill View Post
      ...
      For me, however, there are multiple parts in the book that I wish were fleshed out much much more. ...
      Quote Originally Posted by HawaiiSteveO View Post
      ...
      As with ToA, I do think there is just too much in the book, and overall it could be shorter & tighter.
      *lol* Too much for some, too little for others. I guess that means that maybe WotC got the amount of content/detail right?
    1. HawaiiSteveO's Avatar
      HawaiiSteveO -
      Quote Originally Posted by LordEntrails View Post
      *lol* Too much for some, too little for others. I guess that means that maybe WotC got the amount of content/detail right?

      Not necessarily. I agree with other post, it could have had better details provided on certain portions. It could also have been a tighter / shorter book overall. Chapter 4 is pretty tight, 5-8 not so much.

      In any case, I've only skimmed the whole thing and I'm curious to read more reactions in the days ahead.
    1. FitzTheRuke's Avatar
      FitzTheRuke -
      I've read it; I think it's pretty great and I can't wait to run it!
    1. FitzTheRuke's Avatar
      FitzTheRuke -
      Quote Originally Posted by ddaley View Post
      How much action is in this adventure? My group gets bored pretty quickly when there isn't enough action.
      It's got a lot of encounters. They can all be combats, if you like.
    1. gyor's Avatar
      gyor -
      If Spirits and Spectres is mentioned more then once then it's more then a throw away IC reference to a fictional Volo book, it's the next supplement, they wouldn't keep running with it if it wasn't supposed to be meaningful.
    1. ddaley's Avatar
      ddaley -
      Quote Originally Posted by FitzTheRuke View Post
      It's got a lot of encounters. They can all be combats, if you like.
      My group likes action and some interaction, but they aren't going to go commando on people who don't pose a threat. They play good characters for the most part and don't randomly attack people without cause.

      I'll probably pick this book up at some point, but being a city based adventure, I am worried it'll be too much talking for them.
    1. darjr's Avatar
      darjr -
      There is plenty of opportunity to have a lot of action. Some that are not combat persee or talking.
    1. FitzTheRuke's Avatar
      FitzTheRuke -
      Quote Originally Posted by ddaley View Post
      My group likes action and some interaction, but they aren't going to go commando on people who don't pose a threat. They play good characters for the most part and don't randomly attack people without cause.

      I'll probably pick this book up at some point, but being a city based adventure, I am worried it'll be too much talking for them.
      No, I mean they can fight as opposed to try to negotiate their way out. I'm not saying they'd go killing every random civilian who wants to talk to them!
    1. R_J_K75's Avatar
      R_J_K75 -
      I picked this up today at a game store near where I work. Nice place that I never even knew was there until I did a google search. Think I'll be stopping there on lunch once in awhile.

      I browsed the book, read complete parts here and there and my initial thought was that Id probably never run this straight through but will probably mine it for ideas and encounters, I may change my mind after reading it through. My main disappointment was that the cartography is very poor in my opinion, both the poster map and the interior maps. Other than that I dont regret the purchase, but unless I overlooked them I was wondering where Elminsters comments in the Volos guide section where.
    1. renbot -
      I ordered it because comments from the designers made it sound like it contained tips on how to run a city Adventure (i.e., any city adventure, not just this one). But I'm not seeing any of that in the reviews thus far. Are there any concrete suggestions or mechanics that would be applicable to other cities, or is it more a case of "reading this adventure would probably lead to some ideas that could be helpful in other City Adventures"?
    1. FitzTheRuke's Avatar
      FitzTheRuke -
      Quote Originally Posted by renbot View Post
      I ordered it because comments from the designers made it sound like it contained tips on how to run a city Adventure (i.e., any city adventure, not just this one). But I'm not seeing any of that in the reviews thus far. Are there any concrete suggestions or mechanics that would be applicable to other cities, or is it more a case of "reading this adventure would probably lead to some ideas that could be helpful in other City Adventures"?
      It's definitely more the latter. It could be very inspiring for a city adventure, and you could steal bits-and-pieces, but it's an Adventure, not a Sourcebook.
    1. thekarmikbob's Avatar
      thekarmikbob -
      Great review. WOTC continues to iterate and improve aspects of these magnum opus modules and I agree with most of your points. I think the depth of detail and content is great, and terrible. It gives solid examples to DM's about how to implement crazy ideas and use suggested systems within the core rules (faction anybody?), which helps DM's grow and I love that. But WOTC modules still are woefully inadequate in the game aids department. My biggest complaint is to run one of these you have to stuff your brain with 220 pages of content and keep it generally tied together. I would like to think to be a good DM & run such you didn't require an eidetic memory.
    1. Darren Richardson's Avatar
      Darren Richardson -
      "Volo's Guide to Spirits and Specters"

      Blasphemy!

      That's Van Richten's forte.....

      I hope Rudolph sues Volo for plagrism
    Comments Leave Comment