D&D 5E Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Post-Mortem (Spoilers)

TheSword

Legend
Obviously this whole thing is subjective. But I'm mainly responding to your claim that you "can't understand" why "anyone" thinks they can run the adventure as written. In fact, assuming that you can run the adventure you paid $50 for pretty much as written is a perfectly natural assumption and one that I guarantee the majority of purchasers - who are casual gamers and not dedicated ENWorld posters, pro DMs, or DMs with 20+ years of experience, definitely make.
Nah. Hard disagree.

Money is irrelevant. I have no idea why people keep quoting $50

If it was a failure as is being suggested then the reviews would accredit it such. They don’t.

So some people don’t like it. 🤷🏻‍♂️ You can’t be all things to all people.
 

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Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
Nah. Hard disagree.

Money is irrelevant. I have no idea why people keep quoting $50

If it was a failure as is being suggested then the reviews would accredit it such. They don’t.

So some people don’t like it. 🤷🏻‍♂️ You can’t be all things to all people.
Money is NOT irrelevant if you don’t have a lot of it and have to think very carefully about what for a lot of people is a substantial luxury entertainment purchase. If you are not in that position, good for you. But hand-waving it is a privilege.
 

TheSword

Legend
Money is NOT irrelevant if you don’t have a lot of it and have to think very carefully about what for a lot of people is a substantial luxury entertainment purchase. If you are not in that position, good for you. But hand-waving it is a privilege.
Not really. Because 4 people playing a campaign like this for 40 hours plus makes the cost $0.35 per hour per person. And therefore the cheapest entertainment you’re likely to see in any decade. If you can’t afford $0.35 per hour, then you have a whole different set of problems, of which deciding which adventure to play is surely the least of them.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
Not really. Because 4 people playing a campaign like this for 40 hours plus makes the cost $0.35 per hour per person. And therefore the cheapest entertainment you’re likely to see in any decade. If you can’t afford $0.35 per hour, then you have a whole different set of problems, of which deciding which adventure to play is surely the least of them.

That assumes anybody but the DM is paying, which is very seldom the case, and also that you’re somehow buying the book on layaway.
 

TheSword

Legend
That assumes anybody but the DM is paying, which is very seldom the case, and also that you’re somehow buying the book on layaway.

If the DM isn’t sharing the cost that’s their problem. I don’t buy my friends dinner then complain that I can’t afford it. 🤷🏻‍♂️
 

Retreater

Legend
In my 30+ years of GMing, I think I've had players purchase the following for me...
1) Gifted me a subscription upgrade to Roll20 as a thanks for running online games.
2) Bought me a digital copy of Dragon Heist on Roll20 because he really wanted to play it.
3) Gave me a dragon mini that I could paint and display to commemorate a memorable encounter.
All of these purchases have been in the approximate past 2 years.

The expenses that no player has given me...
1) Countless rulebooks that I've purchased to find the system they'd like
2) Miniatures to represent their characters.
3) Adventure modules (of which I'm sure I've purchased hundreds - maybe thousands if you could PDFs)
4) Dice, gaming mats, pencils, paper, gaming table, and other accoutrements
5) Paid for convention attendance or registration for events (though I have chipped in for others)

I am a DM, and as foolish as it sounds, I take it seriously. I do not ask my players to provide any of this stuff, only their attention, involvement, and desire to play the game. I love the game and entertaining my friends.
So when I buy an adventure module, whether it's a $10 PDF, $40 Roll20 module, $50 hardcover, or whatever, I'm investing my time and potentially my friends' involvement in that adventure for sometimes 6 months (or more). I give it a lot of headspace - reading, planning, etc.
It's more than money to me. It's not just buying a novel or going to watch a movie.
The designers ask for our imaginations, to live in these worlds, to interact and care about the characters in a way deeper than you do at the cinema.
I have a feeling if you're on this board that you agree with me. I hope you do, anyway.
 

I'm 35 sessions (about 70 hours) into my version of Dragon Heist. I used the Alexandrian Remix as inspiration, changed some of the factions, and replaced the Stone of Golorr with the Deck of Many Things. The result is arguably the best campaign I have ever run. It's thematically focused, has a variety of gameplay, and is always unpredictable. Lots of fun. I expect we'll wrap it up before session 50 with the characters just about 10th level.
 

Hussar

Legend
Which is the meaning that they are selling it with.

First time DM wants to run, they pick up a module or adventure and run it. That's been true since Basic D&D days. Good DMs could and would customize them, but there has never been a general expectation that running a module straight would be an failure, that it was only intended as a starter kit to customize.

Never.


No, they are marketing it like they intend. WotC is guilty of just putting out some bad product at times.
Just to be stupidly pedantic - Keep on the Borderlands absolutely was intended as a starter kit to customise.

I wonder if that might explain some of the difference in approach here. Early, 1e and 2e modules especially, absolutely expected DM's to modify and flesh them out. To the point of deliberately leaving areas blank or giving suggestions for what the DM might do to flesh it out.

I'd almost argue that it's the Adventure Path modules that have been presented as complete and containing everything needed to run them. Which is something kinda new in modules.
 

Retreater

Legend
Just to be stupidly pedantic - Keep on the Borderlands absolutely was intended as a starter kit to customise.
Well, as someone who has just recently prepped an OSE version of B1: In Search of the Unknown, I would completely agree with that. However, those were like two of the very first adventures for Basic D&D - and the tradition of "fill out this dungeon to learn how to be a DM" more or less ended 40 years ago.

I'd almost argue that it's the Adventure Path modules that have been presented as complete and containing everything needed to run them. Which is something kinda new in modules.
I know there were semantics on here (maybe another post, but in another Post-Mortem anyway) in which someone was saying "Adventure Paths" don't apply to the mega-campaign adventures by WotC. I'd say that it's been the norm for the entirety of Pathfinder's existence and basically all of 5e - so pretty much the last decade.

Again, if they presented these as campaign "toolboxes" for creating a mystery investigation (or a hexcrawl, etc.) I don't think I'd have as big of an issue. However, I'm trying to imagine myself as a 13 year-old trying to DM my friends in their first game. I'd be at a complete loss with many of these adventures - not to mention terribly overwhelmed by a 200+ page hardcover adventure (to go along with the three core books).
Definitely need more 32 page adventures, or at least more straightforward things that don't have complex flowcharts, etc.
 

cfmcdonald

Explorer
Just to be stupidly pedantic - Keep on the Borderlands absolutely was intended as a starter kit to customise.

I wonder if that might explain some of the difference in approach here. Early, 1e and 2e modules especially, absolutely expected DM's to modify and flesh them out. To the point of deliberately leaving areas blank or giving suggestions for what the DM might do to flesh it out.

I'd almost argue that it's the Adventure Path modules that have been presented as complete and containing everything needed to run them. Which is something kinda new in modules.
Here's the copy on the front of B2, emphasis mine:
"This module includes a cover folder with maps and a complete description booklet to form a ready-made scenario for DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® Basic Set. It has been specially designed for use by beginning Dungeon Masters so that they may begin play with a minimum of preparations."

There have been a handful of "fill-in-the-blank" modules (B1, Ruins of Undermountain), but IMO the vast majority have been intended to be ready-to-play as written, and this is by no means something new.

Of course all modules require some degree of "fleshing out." Every possible action the player's might take can't be anticipated in advance. That's very different from completely rewriting them or pulling bits and pieces from them as inspiration.

The notion that Dragon Heist is not meant to be played as written- I just don't get it? I mean it is notorious for its railroading. Is this some kind of trick by the author? When they say "don't let the PCs get the MacGuffin whatever you do" they really mean "do whatever you want! It's a freeform sandbox for you to make your own!"
 

A question I often wonder, if I wasn't on forums and such, watching YouTube videos, etc., would my perspective of these adventures be different? Would I be able to tell Dragon Heist was a "bad" adventure? Do I really need tips and tutorials to run the adventures?
So I look at some of the adventures I've DMed:
1) Curse of Strahd - no real advice taken from the Internet (with the exception of some interpersonal issues, but nothing about the adventure itself) - ran great.
2) Princes of the Apocalypse - no advice taken from the Internet - ran fine
3) Storm King's Thunder - no advice taken from the Internet - ran poorly
4) Dragon Heist - lots of advice taken from the Internet - ran poorly
5) Dungeon of the Mad Mage - no advice taken from the Internet - ran poorly
6) Rime of the Frost Maiden - lots of advice - ran poorly
7) Tomb of Annihilation - no advice - ran great
8) Out of the Abyss - no advice - ran ... average?

What is the revelation from this? I don't know. Maybe that a great adventure is going to run great (for me) without any external sources, but no external sources is going to make something "bad" run well.
I don't really think the module matters that much, apart from how into the story and themes you are. When you are in the zone even the clumsiest writing and scrappiest maps became awesome, and when you are not you can turn the most brilliant writing into bantha fodder.
 

First time DM wants to run, they pick up a module or adventure and run it. That's been true since Basic D&D days.
In the olden days a module was a map of some caves with some monsters and treasure scattered around. It's pretty much impossible to go wrong with that (and is still a good place to start for new DMs). But once you start adding things like story, plot, and characters it becomes impossible for a written adventure to cover every eventuality.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
In the olden days a module was a map of some caves with some monsters and treasure scattered around. It's pretty much impossible to go wrong with that (and is still a good place to start for new DMs). But once you start adding things like story, plot, and characters it becomes impossible for a written adventure to cover every eventuality.

Actually, it's not impossible to do a good job of that with simple techniques. In a cave with a non-trivial labyrinth, there are some paths but after that the players are free to go to visit them in any order they want. You can absolutely design intrigue scenarios that way. I usually do that, and it's a technique that we perfected for LARPs (one out of many that we used when designing 2-3 days events for up to 250 people, free to go wherever they want on the site) and called the bumper plot.

The principle is that you have a series of "bumpers", usually NPCs but it can also be information site. They can be fixed or mobile, and they can react to some characters and not others. And they can sometimes react to one other. And you just let the PCs loose in that environment. Depending on the order of encounters and their choices, they can have very different adventures, but it's still fairly controlled because they need information to progress anyway. It is bounded and complete, and it will have at least a solution. Especially on TTRPG when you can easily take shortcuts and make some encounters happen (in a LARP, it's a bit more complicated because you need to track the progress of the PCs and maybe help them now and then when travel time across the site and the luck of finding the right people means that it could take a very long time).

It's not that hard to create such a scenario, and it's one of my favourite techniques especially when I'm pressed for time, I just create a few interesting NPCs with some information and let the players loose. Arguably, it requires more improvisation capability on the DM's part, but some of the best adventures are that way, especially city ones. I have been re-reading the Assassin's Knot, and it's build more or less that way, for example.
 

Actually, it's not impossible to do a good job of that with simple techniques. In a cave with a non-trivial labyrinth, there are some paths but after that the players are free to go to visit them in any order they want. You can absolutely design intrigue scenarios that way. I usually do that, and it's a technique that we perfected for LARPs (one out of many that we used when designing 2-3 days events for up to 250 people, free to go wherever they want on the site) and called the bumper plot.

The principle is that you have a series of "bumpers", usually NPCs but it can also be information site. They can be fixed or mobile, and they can react to some characters and not others. And they can sometimes react to one other. And you just let the PCs loose in that environment. Depending on the order of encounters and their choices, they can have very different adventures, but it's still fairly controlled because they need information to progress anyway. It is bounded and complete, and it will have at least a solution. Especially on TTRPG when you can easily take shortcuts and make some encounters happen (in a LARP, it's a bit more complicated because you need to track the progress of the PCs and maybe help them now and then when travel time across the site and the luck of finding the right people means that it could take a very long time).

It's not that hard to create such a scenario, and it's one of my favourite techniques especially when I'm pressed for time, I just create a few interesting NPCs with some information and let the players loose. Arguably, it requires more improvisation capability on the DM's part, but some of the best adventures are that way, especially city ones. I have been re-reading the Assassin's Knot, and it's build more or less that way, for example.
Can you extend that from a single dungeon to a 10 level "Adventure Path" though?

My personal view is "Adventure Paths" are the worst thing that ever happened to the game. Short modules work fine because there are a limited number of directions things can go in, but once you start trying to string them together to tell an epic story it turns into a railroad for inexperienced DMs, or "throw the book away" for experienced ones.
 

Is this some kind of trick by the author? When they say "don't let the PCs get the MacGuffin whatever you do" they really mean "do whatever you want! It's a freeform sandbox for you to make your own!"
It doesn't matter what the book says. The rules say, "If the players come up with something clever that the author hasn't thought of, then they get the McGuffin. Sort it out DM."
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Can you extend that from a single dungeon to a 10 level "Adventure Path" though?

Hmm, that's an interesting question, and I would tend to say "yes" since it's what I do in my campaigns. The trick there is to have recurring NPCs (and of course some non-recurring ones). Depending on the events and the location, you find some NPCs again, maybe with new information. If you look at the best AP published, this is exactly what they do, with recurring NPCs. And it's not the only trick in the book.

My personal view is "Adventure Paths" are the worst thing that ever happened to the game. Short modules work fine because there are a limited number of directions things can go in, but once you start trying to string them together to tell an epic story it turns into a railroad for inexperienced DMs, or "throw the book away" for experienced ones.

Well, it's a matter of taste. The alternative to having no AP is a large sandbox. Some groups prefer that and it's fine. But there are also a lot of people who like an epic storyline, which no sandbox can provide because you need some sort of uber-arc to do this.

And after that, it's a question of degree, I think the people running perfect sandboxes or complete railroads are very rare, it's always a compromise. Most of the people at our tables are extremely experienced, and still we very much enjoyed most of the AP that we played through. Our desire to have a great epic story with recurring NPCs that we loved and hated and could relate to completely overshadowed the fact that yes, there were mandatory points to get through. However, good AP (and there are quite a few out there) also provide very varying ways to get through these points, or even to ignore them, and so we never really felt constrained. Yes, in Jade Regent, we knew that we had to travel with the caravan to get to Tian Xia, but it was an epic journey, we made numerous choices during the way, had many great interactions with NPCs in the caravan and many surprises. After that, to each their own...
 

The alternative to having no AP is a large sandbox.
No, you can run a reactive epic story. You could do it in a print book if it was infinitely long to account for every action the players could possibly make. But in the absence of infinite books we have a human DM to create fresh plot whenever the players do something different to the book.
 

Retreater

Legend
No, you can run a reactive epic story. You could do it in a print book if it was infinitely long to account for every action the players could possibly make. But in the absence of infinite books we have a human DM to create fresh plot whenever the players do something different to the book.
I think there could be a middle ground. Here's what it would take, as I see it:
1) Smallish-focused chapters detailing specific adventure sites and other locations
2) A thematic unity to those chapters
3) A sort of nebulous and simple story to tie the sites together
4) Logic would dictate options for parties would go next (future chapters)

Sure, you can't predict everything a party might want to do. They might want to leave the North and charter a boat to the jungles of Chult, but that's on your group then (or on you to wrangle them back or to find another book to fit their interests).
And this is basically, in theory, I think what many of us expect from campaign adventures like Rime of the Frost Maiden or Dragon Heist. Usually when I have problems with a campaign adventure, it's because it fails to meet one or more of my expectations.

Rime had #1 and #2, but fell apart in #3 and #4. The story was not connected for most of the sites. There was no reason or logic to visit many of them, and the entire second half of the book had nothing (NOT A SINGLE THING) to do with the theme of the previous part of the book. It would be like publishing Dragon Heist and Dungeon of the Mad Mage in the same book, because they're both in Waterdeep.

Since this is a thread about Dragon Heist, where does it fail to meet my expectations? I think it's in #2 (the "switch-around-villains" concept means that the unifying theme of the adventure suffers) and #4 (if an adventure were truly logical, you wouldn't need railroads.)
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
No, you can run a reactive epic story. You could do it in a print book if it was infinitely long to account for every action the players could possibly make. But in the absence of infinite books we have a human DM to create fresh plot whenever the players do something different to the book.

An AP can be reactive, and we played most of them that way. Some have built in options, others you can improvise. But it has a story, and especially with the tiers progression, a good long story works if there is proper foreshadowing, albeit at the right level and the right time, and for that, unless you are a master of foreshadowing like Zelazny, you still need an idea of the uber-arc and where it's leading. It can still be reactive, but you at least know how things fit together. And it's an AP.
 

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