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D&D 5E Waterdeep: Dragon Heist - Which Season is the Best Story Arc? [Spoilers]

Matthew Jones

First Post
I've seen a fair amount of discussion about which villain is the most fun for players but I haven't seen any discussion of which story arc is the most fun to play.
The events in Chapter 4 each drive a separate encounter chain, reusing the same set of locations in a different order and with different encounters.
Which set makes for the most cohesive, interesting, and thrilling story? Which has the best pacing?
 

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pukunui

Legend
I think Spring is the least interesting. I really struggled to choose a season, though, as they all have cool elements. I eventually settled on Autumn. Jarlaxle is cool and is not overtly evil, and his chain has a distinct James Bond vibe to it, right down to the Sean Connery-inspired Zardoz character and the secret submarine

Summer, I think, makes the best use of the urchins, but it has too much of a catch-22 ending.
 



Matthew Jones

First Post
Summer has the railroad-y trip to the courthouse after the characters are arbitrarily arrested. That's a problem to me. What if the characters do not anger the locals during the chase? The pacing is decent but I would need to edit the courthouse and replace with another location.

I like Spring, just for the inclusion of the fairy dragon that tries to blackmail the group into giving him treasure so he can go on being part Santa and part Tooth Fairy. Plus, the tie to the theater is a nice echo of the start of the module with the tavern.

Autumn has a decent story arc but Jaraxle is far too cheesy. I don't think I could stand to run him. He was designed to appeal to a different demographic than my group and I'd have to cheat too much to keep him viable. If I were running this for my kids rather than a group that's been playing since the 70s, I'd consider using Autumn.

Winter is interesting but I'm not certain that the meta-plot hangs together. I'd want to talk to someone that ran this option to see if their players managed to pull the threads together.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
I favor Spring (Xanathar) or Winter (Manshoon) because their respective encounter chains both avoid the courthouse, as the Summer and Autumn entanglements at that location seem muddy and not really fully conceived.
 

pukunui

Legend
What if the characters do not anger the locals during the chase?
You could make it so the Cassalanters' doppelganger minion arranges to have them arrested on trumped up charges. That's how I initially read that scene anyway, although looking at it again, it isn't entirely clear, as it just says the PCs are arrested for their "conduct" during the street chase.

But I think it would make more sense that the Cassalanters (or at least their minions) are using their connections and privilege to throw the PCs off their trail by having them arrested. It seems less arbitrary that way, don't you think?
 

Matthew Jones

First Post
That is a good idea for making the Courthouse visit in the summer seem a little more natural. I do like the Cassalanters as the main villain as they are the only villain choice that is not already well-known to the players, plus the moral dilemma regarding their motivation will be fun to watch.
 

Tiles

Explorer
It all starts with the Xanathar and the Xents with knowledge of the stone , and my players randomly picked the Castlanders . So basically within two sessions I have all the villains active and am picking my favorite bits and pieces to build a single story. So far it’s been great to plan and play.
 

Aiden_Keller_

First Post
I favor Spring (Xanathar) or Winter (Manshoon) because their respective encounter chains both avoid the courthouse, as the Summer and Autumn entanglements at that location seem muddy and not really fully conceived.

I agree...but if I ran it different from how the book reads I would make the entire campaign take the entire year...involve all villains...and all seasons....
 

MockingBird

Explorer
I doubt I ever run this adventure. I dont think my players would stay focused on a combat light adventure, but I could be wrong. Regardless I'll more than likely buy it because it has peaked my curiosity and interest. Should be a good read and source material for Waterdeep when they visit.
 

practicalm

Explorer
I agree...but if I ran it different from how the book reads I would make the entire campaign take the entire year...involve all villains...and all seasons....

I also ran it with all villains in the Summer.

The whole chase scene is ridiculous as there are many ways a group of 3rd level characters can mess with the moving of the Stone and I did something completely different and much more like a It's a Mad Mad World movie where every group was grabbing and moving the McGuffin around with illusions, fake stones, misdirection, invisible imp familiars, and more.

The main reason I liked Summer was how the one NPC figured out where the vault was by research and deduction and so I used that NPC as someone who was working behind the scenes to get the players to bring the stone to the NPCs.
It also added another side to the crazy which appealed to my chaos. (I think with the 4 main villains, the non-Manshoon Zhent, the Waterdeep Lords, and the NPC, I got to 7 and I had a few minor players as well.)

I also liked the catch-22 of the main Summer villain (Cassalanters) because I was able to play him as someone who was trying to buy his way out of the deal he made without letting the players learn of the full price of the deal. It made him sympathetic for a few sessions until they dug around the for the truth.
 

Bagpuss

Adventurer
I doubt I ever run this adventure. I dont think my players would stay focused on a combat light adventure, but I could be wrong.

Having the just read the few chapters I wouldn't say it was combat light, while there is certainly investigation it isn't without the physical conflict. Just your players might want to think twice about deadly force on some occasions as the penalties for murder even with justification are pretty severe (exile/3 hard labour), but assault is much lighter (a tenday, flogging or a fine). However a lot of the time they will be able to plead self defense, just if they keep leaving blood on the streets they might get a reputation with the City Watch. They certainly should pick a fight with the Watch, even if they think they can win.

Regardless I'll more than likely buy it because it has peaked my curiosity and interest. Should be a good read and source material for Waterdeep when they visit.

Yeah there is about 25 pages of Volo's Waterdeep Enchiridion, which covers things like coinage, taxes, entrance to the city, laws, customs, various districts, landmarks, etc.

Plus lot of the other stuff in the adventure is readily useable for other things, even if you decide to run the adventure itself.
 
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collin

Explorer
It depends on what you are going for. The Cassalanters scenario is the most serious and darkest of the 4. The Autumn scenario with Jarlaxle is the probably the least serious and just plain fun. Xanathar and Manshoon are in between.

And, for what's worth, if you a choose a scenario and don't like something about it (like the courthouse scene) then change it. You're the DM so you set the tone and govern what takes place or doesn't.
 

Aiden_Keller_

First Post
The whole chase scene is ridiculous as there are many ways a group of 3rd level characters can mess with the moving of the Stone and I did something completely different and much more like a It's a Mad Mad World movie where every group was grabbing and moving the McGuffin around with illusions, fake stones, misdirection, invisible imp familiars, and more.

I also liked the catch-22 of the main Summer villain (Cassalanters) because I was able to play him as someone who was trying to buy his way out of the deal he made without letting the players learn of the full price of the deal. It made him sympathetic for a few sessions until they dug around the for the truth.

It really is ridiculous...VERY hard to pull off well...

Love the movie reference....that is also how I see the campaign...not so much a Heist (Ocean 11)....but more like a mad scramble!

The Cassalanters could EASILY become a villain the characters show sympathy towards!
 

Hina Hanta

Villager
Summer has the railroad-y trip to the courthouse after the characters are arbitrarily arrested. That's a problem to me. What if the characters do not anger the locals during the chase? The pacing is decent but I would need to edit the courthouse and replace with another location.

I like Spring, just for the inclusion of the fairy dragon that tries to blackmail the group into giving him treasure so he can go on being part Santa and part Tooth Fairy. Plus, the tie to the theater is a nice echo of the start of the module with the tavern.

Autumn has a decent story arc but Jaraxle is far too cheesy. I don't think I could stand to run him. He was designed to appeal to a different demographic than my group and I'd have to cheat too much to keep him viable. If I were running this for my kids rather than a group that's been playing since the 70s, I'd consider using Autumn.

Winter is interesting but I'm not certain that the meta-plot hangs together. I'd want to talk to someone that ran this option to see if their players managed to pull the threads together.
There are plenty of reasons they could be arrested at that point. Murdering a citizen with justification is punishable by exile up to 5 years or hard labor up to 3 years or damages up to 1,000 gp paid to the victim's kin. Even just disturbing the peace, fine up to 25 gp and edict. Even if they only fought members of criminal factions with no deaths there would be cause for at least some formalities. Take them to the courthouse until a magister has a chance to see them, give them a slap on the wrist, and let them go. Or it could just be a dirty guard captain bribed by one of the enemy factions to take care of the party. Bring them in on bogus charges. There are plenty of ways to make it work, but you can replace any of the encounters as you see fit.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I doubt I ever run this adventure. I dont think my players would stay focused on a combat light adventure, but I could be wrong. Regardless I'll more than likely buy it because it has peaked my curiosity and interest. Should be a good read and source material for Waterdeep when they visit.

It's not combat-light, it's just railroady as hell, and honestly we found it intolerable when running through it. Scenes are in order, and basically if you are not doing something drastic (and usually stupid) during a scene, it does not matter for the rest of the adventure. Whatever season you are running, this module needs A LOT of work to make it feel palatable. FWIW, we played Autumn, but I don't get the impression that the other seasons are less bad out of the box. And the idea that you will only use 1/4 of the material sold if you play the campaign as sold makes it really low value for money. Probably much better to hack it up and serve as a source of inspiration for WD based adventures...
 

Hussar

Legend
I played Autumn as well. Now, my group was VERY much the wrong group for this adventure, so, it didn't go over all that well.

It works a lot better if you let it grow more organically - don't force stuff. Let the players wander around, poking into the various bits and bobs in Waterdeep for a while and try to make the city actually matter. But, again, you need a lot of player buy in here.

There are a TON of extra resources on DM's Guild now as well that will really, really flesh things out.

BTW, the whole 1/4 of the material gets used is not really fair. You actually use almost all of the adventure. The first three chapters are the same regardless of season. Once you hit chapter 4 and the plot thickens, so to speak, all the seasons use the same encounters, just with minor variations and a different order. And the conclusion will be the same regardless of season.

But, I do agree with @Lyxen here that to make this adventure really pop, you should sit down and do a LOT of work. This module does not work particularly well out of the box. At least, it didn't for me. Then again, in my group, after spending two or three sessions getting the mansion, dealing with repairing it and making it theirs, the only feedback I got was that the mansion is close to a sewer access. :( Totally took all the wind out of my sails and frankly, I did skip over more than a few encounters to just get the thing over with.

My advice to anyone running this is to make ABSOLUTELY sure everyone is bought into it. If you've got a Kick-in-the-Door group that isn't really interested in setting or plot, this module will be terrible to play.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I played Autumn as well. Now, my group was VERY much the wrong group for this adventure, so, it didn't go over all that well.

It works a lot better if you let it grow more organically - don't force stuff. Let the players wander around, poking into the various bits and bobs in Waterdeep for a while and try to make the city actually matter. But, again, you need a lot of player buy in here.

There are a TON of extra resources on DM's Guild now as well that will really, really flesh things out.

BTW, the whole 1/4 of the material gets used is not really fair. You actually use almost all of the adventure. The first three chapters are the same regardless of season. Once you hit chapter 4 and the plot thickens, so to speak, all the seasons use the same encounters, just with minor variations and a different order. And the conclusion will be the same regardless of season.

But, I do agree with @Lyxen here that to make this adventure really pop, you should sit down and do a LOT of work. This module does not work particularly well out of the box. At least, it didn't for me. Then again, in my group, after spending two or three sessions getting the mansion, dealing with repairing it and making it theirs, the only feedback I got was that the mansion is close to a sewer access. :( Totally took all the wind out of my sails and frankly, I did skip over more than a few encounters to just get the thing over with.

My advice to anyone running this is to make ABSOLUTELY sure everyone is bought into it. If you've got a Kick-in-the-Door group that isn't really interested in setting or plot, this module will be terrible to play.

Same for me, the mansion was an absolute, total disappointment. First, in terms of "lair building", it's extremely poor and limited and, once more, totally railroaded if played out of the box.

And second, our groups, and in particular the group that played that campaign, is totally the opposite of kick-in-the-door, but what really got us down even more than the "mansion" was the fact that we could not really do any other intrigue than the ones listed in the scenes, or if we did, it amounted to exactly nothing since it was not foreseen to be picked up in the latter scenes. There is exactly ONE intrigue, and you'd better follow it.

For me, by far the very worst of all WotC published adventures for 5e. Be warned, and really do your homework, a LOT of it.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
Spring and Xanathar I feel works the best if you are going into Undermountain after. As There is a high chance of conflict with Xanathar related issues there.
 

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