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


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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.
I'd like to explore this. For many editions of D&D and lots of other RGPS there were plenty of non-Adventure Path adventures put out. So it was completely possible to run adventure-eposodic, but not at all sandbox. I've played with multiple DMs who did this.

But really, your comment brought me to a different place - could there be a call for uber-arc products, that's separated from individual adventures? Actual seeds to be built on that provide an arc, lots of ways to tie in other adventures, sample NPCs and pertanent things for NPCs to do to help tie things in, suggested foes and locations, some set pieces for various Acts, rumors, information and lore, and a big finale run. Designed so that DMs can run whatever adventure modules they want, from homebrew to 3pp to official. Something to layer on top of existing adventures.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
I'd like to explore this. For many editions of D&D and lots of other RGPS there were plenty of non-Adventure Path adventures put out. So it was completely possible to run adventure-eposodic, but not at all sandbox. I've played with multiple DMs who did this.

But really, your comment brought me to a different place - could there be a call for uber-arc products, that's separated from individual adventures? Actual seeds to be built on that provide an arc, lots of ways to tie in other adventures, sample NPCs and pertanent things for NPCs to do to help tie things in, suggested foes and locations, some set pieces for various Acts, rumors, information and lore, and a big finale run. Designed so that DMs can run whatever adventure modules they want, from homebrew to 3pp to official. Something to layer on top of existing adventures.

The setting books they've been putting out lately are kind of this. Explorer's Guide to Wildemount in particular comes quite close to what you're describing. Bunch of locations with adventure hooks, seeds, NPCs with statblocks, factions, lore, information, plus 4 possible starting adventures each of which end with suggested hooks for continuing. Each location has different adventure hooks/seeds depending on what tier the characters are when they get there. Could use a few more maps but otherwise it's more or less what you are describing.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I'd like to explore this. For many editions of D&D and lots of other RGPS there were plenty of non-Adventure Path adventures put out. So it was completely possible to run adventure-eposodic, but not at all sandbox. I've played with multiple DMs who did this.

Of course. This was the default mode for us as well for many many years. I'm actually not sure when the first campaign appeared, probably around T1 into the Temple of Elemental Evil, or Maybe the Slave Lords. But GDQ was fantastic.

But really, your comment brought me to a different place - could there be a call for uber-arc products, that's separated from individual adventures? Actual seeds to be built on that provide an arc, lots of ways to tie in other adventures, sample NPCs and pertanent things for NPCs to do to help tie things in, suggested foes and locations, some set pieces for various Acts, rumors, information and lore, and a big finale run. Designed so that DMs can run whatever adventure modules they want, from homebrew to 3pp to official. Something to layer on top of existing adventures.

Hmmm, it's an idea, but I see some difficulties. For me, AP are great if you get the foreshadowing of the future well integrated in the modules. So basically, it would mean re-introducing the uber-arc elements back into the modules in a way that makes sense. Possibly not impossible, but will the modules be as good as modules created around the uber-arc ?
 

I'm actually not sure when the first campaign appeared, probably around T1 into the Temple of Elemental Evil, or Maybe the Slave Lords. But GDQ was fantastic.
Probably Against the Giants -> Queen of the Demonweb Pits. But none of these where planned as a campaign, they where modules that spawned sequel modules. The first planned-from-the-start as a campaign would be Dragonlance.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Probably Against the Giants -> Queen of the Demonweb Pits. But none of these where planned as a campaign, they where modules that spawned sequel modules. The first planned-from-the-start as a campaign would be Dragonlance.

I think you're right about GDQ, but I disagree about the "not campaign". I can't prove it about G1/G2. but in G3, clearly, the trail right up to D3 is there, there is clearly an arc.
 

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.
Wish I would have thought of using the Deck of Many Things. Much more fun than the Stone.
 

Hussar

Legend
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 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.
Heh. To be fair, Dragon Heist, at least the adventure part, is about 32 pages long and it's not like a single line is a complex flowchart. :D

But, yeah, I totally agree with everything you said here.
 

Hussar

Legend
There is another point to remember. People get very, very bent out of shape about how AP's are railroading.

I've had players though, that are perfectly happy, I daresay happiest, when the DM is leading them by the nose. They are simply not interested in being the slightest bit proactive in how the campaign runs. The DM wheels up the plot wagon, spoon feeds the players, and then players then run through that.

It's not a rare thing either. I've seen lots of players who are perfectly content with this. I've also seen lots of players that, when confronted with a shopping list of choices, sit there and stare at me baffled, as if to say, "You're the DM, you tell US what to do and we'll happily do it." So long as whatever is presented isn't too different than what was presented before, they're content.

I think it's a mistake sometimes in these discussions, to presume that players are all highly proactive, deeply immersive players who want to take control of the game and tell their own stories. There are a LOT of players out there that have zero interest in shaping or creating their own stories. They just want to get in the car, and watch the scenery so to speak.

For those players, lockstep railroads where the only choices are basically, do we turn left or right at the fork in the dungeon, are happy players.
 


Retreater

Legend
There is another point to remember. People get very, very bent out of shape about how AP's are railroading.

I've had players though, that are perfectly happy, I daresay happiest, when the DM is leading them by the nose. They are simply not interested in being the slightest bit proactive in how the campaign runs. The DM wheels up the plot wagon, spoon feeds the players, and then players then run through that.
Unrelated to WotC's adventures or 5e, I'm currently running "The Enemy Within" for the group featured in my Curse of Strahd and Rime of the Frostmaiden Post-Mortems. They have certainly been feeling railroaded and have openly complained to me that "nothing they do matters." At least the first part of "The Enemy Within" ("The Enemy in Shadows" is the first book) is probably the most railroaded campaign adventure I've seen - though Masks of Nyarlahotep is close.
So this begs the question, is it possible to have an epic, pre-planned adventure that isn't railroaded? You can have certain story beats, but when that story requires certain things to happen in a certain order, that's when it becomes a railroad.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
Unrelated to WotC's adventures or 5e, I'm currently running "The Enemy Within" for the group featured in my Curse of Strahd and Rime of the Frostmaiden Post-Mortems. They have certainly been feeling railroaded and have openly complained to me that "nothing they do matters." At least the first part of "The Enemy Within" ("The Enemy in Shadows" is the first book) is probably the most railroaded campaign adventure I've seen - though Masks of Nyarlahotep is close.
So this begs the question, is it possible to have an epic, pre-planned adventure that isn't railroaded? You can have certain story beats, but when that story requires certain things to happen in a certain order, that's when it becomes a railroad.
I find Curse of Strahd to be quite free. Literally the only thing that is set in stone is “If you ever want to leave Barovia, Strahd must die.” Everything else that happens between the players arriving in Barovia and that moment is determined by player choice (especially if you don’t use Death House, which is pretty railroady but fun).
 

Hussar

Legend
There is another aspect to pay attention to as well.

What do people actually mean when they call something a railroad?

Take our Dragon Heist adventure. Sure, the opening adventure is pretty linear - but, it's the introduction adventure, so that usually gets a pass. It's pretty hard to plop down in a wide open sandbox right out of the chute. You need to ground the players a little bit into the setting.

Then there's clearing out and setting up the Trollskull Manor. Now, this isn't a railroad. This is very open. There's no fixed schedule for what needs to be done, no particular order or in fact no particular reason to do any specific task. Add to that the tasks from the various factions, which are all a la carte, and this is a very wide open section of the adventure that can last quite a while.

Then once that's settled, we have the meat of the season's adventure starting with the explosion outside the Trollskull Manor. Yup, pretty linear, although, it's possible to shortcut (my group certainly did) various tasks and each task has multiple potential resolutions. It's linear, but, not particularly railroady.

Then you have the finale with the dragon. Bog standard dungeon crawl, more or less.

Is this a railroad? Not really, IMO. Parts of it are linear, and parts are very wide open. For my group, the wide open parts were the ones that failed and failed rather hard. They absolutely wanted rails.

At the end of the day, it really, really depends on the group. I think Dragon Heist's biggest problem is it really, really needs buy in from the players. If the players don't care about the setting this adventure will fail hard.
 

pukunui

Legend
@Hussar: The most egregiously railroady part of Dragon Heist is the chase section because the authors went out of their way to make it so the PCs could not affect the outcome. There's a whole sidebar dedicated to "If the PCs get the macguffin early, it makes them get rid of it and then makes them forget they even had it". If that's not railroading, then I don't know what is.
 
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TheSword

Legend
Unrelated to WotC's adventures or 5e, I'm currently running "The Enemy Within" for the group featured in my Curse of Strahd and Rime of the Frostmaiden Post-Mortems. They have certainly been feeling railroaded and have openly complained to me that "nothing they do matters." At least the first part of "The Enemy Within" ("The Enemy in Shadows" is the first book) is probably the most railroaded campaign adventure I've seen - though Masks of Nyarlahotep is close.
So as you know I’m also running it. How is it a railroad if you don’t mind me asking?

I mean the prologue gets the PCs to Bogenhafen in a pretty hamfisted way but really that’s just the set up of the campaign.

As for Bogenhafen the adventure fully predicts that the adventure could go pear shaped and details potential consequences of getting it wrong. Bogenhafen is one of those rare adventures where PCs failing is possible and described - also acknowledged in later sessions.

The adventure in the city is also pretty free-form. There are leads and clues but they don’t have to be followed and events transpire if the PCs don’t intervene.

Are you sure the PCs aren’t frustrated because there aren’t dungeons to ‘clear’ for the most part in this campaign? It is very different in adventure tone to D&d.
 
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Each time a campaign ends, I try to learn from it. This will be about my Waterdeep: Dragon Heist campaign.

Thanks for this, always interesting to hear how other groups go with an adventure. Out of interest, what was the party in terms of race/class.

My DM ran us through Waterdeep : DH when we were about level 14, a year into the campaign. (The over arching plot was Hoard of the Dragon Queen, after strarting with a mix of the starter and essentials set.)

So he definitely adjusted the monsters for our level, but other than that it still played pretty much to script as far as I know.

It worked for us. We‘d wanted to go to Waterdeep for a long time in the game. Which meant we were pretty invested when we got there. Also the general investigative based nature of the adventure was a nice change of pace from what we’d been doing previously.

Even though we had fun, I’d agree it was anti-climatic and there were elements that we weren’t interested in, but neither of those points mattered so much for us given it was a 6 or 7 session chapter of an ongoing campaign.
 


There is another point to remember. People get very, very bent out of shape about how AP's are railroading.

I've had players though, that are perfectly happy, I daresay happiest, when the DM is leading them by the nose. They are simply not interested in being the slightest bit proactive in how the campaign runs. The DM wheels up the plot wagon, spoon feeds the players, and then players then run through that.
Sure, players often like to be given direction "This way to the epic story ->" but they don't like to feel that there decisions don't matter. And eventually even the most biddable players are going to make a decision that the AP writer didn't anticipate. The longer the path, the more likely that becomes. An experienced DM will deal with that and create new content that reacts to the new timeline, but some DMs will try to force the party to follow WHAT IS WRITTEN DOWN.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I was inspired by the 4E adventure "Madness at Gardmore Abbey", which features the Deck of Many Things. In order to unlock the vault, each character will need to draw a card from the assembled deck. Can't wait to see what happens!

For me, honestly, that's the worst design ever. The Deck of Many Things is a relic of a past where basically this forces you to play russian roulette with your character to advance in the adventure. Absolutely hateful, I would stop playing the adventure at that point.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
So this begs the question, is it possible to have an epic, pre-planned adventure that isn't railroaded? You can have certain story beats, but when that story requires certain things to happen in a certain order, that's when it becomes a railroad.

I believe that, to be epic, a pre-planned adventure needs some level of railroading. But it's not a binary thing, it's a scale, and this allows adaptation to what the adventurers are doing. The real fault of WD-DH is not actually in the railroad, it's in the fact that it expressly tells the DM to ignore the results of what the PCs are doing. This is near the extreme end of railroading and what killed it for us.

But give us a bit more freedom and we will play along, as we like epic stories and, as long as there is no blatant disregard for our actions, we are perfectly happy to collaborate with the DM to live an epic adventure.
 

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