Set within the Forgotten Realms, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist brings players back to the Sword Coast, perhaps one of the greatest and well-known settings within Dungeons and Dragons. Brought together by the likes of the famous explorer and loremaster Volothamp Geddarm, characters in Dragon Heist are caught in the middle of a grand conspiracy involving some of the most famous names in the Forgotten Realms, the events of which threaten the future of Waterdeep and the greater region of the Sword Coast. A publication that brings to bear multiple villains in an introductory adventure that boasts unrivaled variety that makes each of its four possible adventure paths feel original and refreshing.
SUMMARY AND SYNOPSIS
A recently assembled party of adventurers is drawn into a race against time to retrieve a hidden cache of half a million gold coins, referred to as dragons, before the mysterious and nefarious villains can reach the treasure first. Players will explore the city of Waterdeep, having to contest with the ongoing gang war between two powerful factions, and dance amidst the neverending struggle between the nobility seeking power and influence. Characters will have to think with more than their fists, as words are more powerful than blades, and who you know is more valuable than which spells you know, as they strive to deny the villain their prize and emerge as heroes of Waterdeep. Depending on the season, players will find themselves contested by different villains, as Waterdeep: Dragon Heist offers an adventure rife with enemies and friends alike for those who look for them.
RUNNING THE ADVENTURE
As is the intent with each module, or published adventure, from the Wizards of the Coast, Dragon Heist has the flexibility of being an adventure that can be run as written, with no additions or modification, or expanded upon to the fullest extent of the Dungeon Master’s creativity. And in my opinion, it holds the most potential in the latter. The book contains a vast majority of what is required to run the adventure, such as narration for the party, relevant background information, experience and milestone breakdowns for character progression, along with details for NPCs, monsters, and magic items. I have found only limited access to the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual are necessary, and Dragon Heist is thorough in its ability to be run without needing multiple resources. Within the published adventure, there is the freedom (and I would say encouragement) to utilize the expanded information to better fill out the world and setting within Waterdeep. Leaning into resources like Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion (Chapter 9, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist) and details from the alternate storylines and villain lore allows the Dungeon Master to incorporate multiple aspects into the adventure beyond the seasonal narrative of a single villain.
Dragon Heist offers a surprising amount of variety, especially for one of the smaller adventure modules published by Wizards. Without diminishing the module by any means, the adventure is relatively simple, and yet provides wonderful diversity in all that it holds. Depending on the season during which the adventure takes place, the players will face one of four possible villains. Each of these villains have their own different goals regarding the cache of dragons, different resources, and will offer widely contrasting challenges to anyone working to deny them their treasure. Adding to the variety, each season also comes with its own challenges, such as heat waves in the summer or freezing temperatures in the winter. Resources like Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion can also help provide information regarding Waterdeep during the year to make each season feel unique, such as referencing holidays and celebrations.
One of the brilliant aspects of the module is how they make each seasonal adventure feel different and unique without it being written as four separate adventures. The heart of the adventure and that variety is found within an encounter chain as the adventure begins to push towards its climax as the stakes are revealed and raised for the players. The narration and objectives of each encounter change with the season, but the heart of each one largely remains the same. The encounters span from combat, to skill challenges, rooftop chases, or solely problem solving and roleplay. Each season and villain modify the series of encounters and restructure them to fit a specific narrative for that villain and season. When the players are presented with the crux of the adventure, they see that there is a single objective. Their task, whether through their own discovery or with the help of allies, is to deny the villain access to the cache of dragons. At that point, the adventurers have multiple courses of action to accomplish their goal, and their creativity and ingenuity will be challenged in their attempts to emerge victorious.
Dungeon Masters should expect to be well versed in the adventure before running it. At the bare minimum, having read the current and next section in the module would suffice for most game sessions, giving the Dungeon Master an idea of what the current events are and the events that should and/or need to happen next. My recommendation is to read the entire adventure as you plan to run it ahead of time. Understanding the core chapters, the encounter chain, and details regarding the specific villain chosen for your adventure are key, especially since the story is designed to accommodate taking multiple avenues. If you, the Dungeon Master, know the events that are supposed to happen through the course of the full story, you can better understand how to drive the story in that direction, as well as begin to plan to redirect the players if they get sidetracked or stalled. It also allows for preparing contingencies and responses to unexpected events, since you can better anticipate knowing the direction and potential destinations of the adventure. A comprehensive read through the adventure introduces the main resource of Dragon Heist: the array of characters within the city who are relevant to the City of Splendors, the players, and the campaign as a whole. Thoroughly reading about the villains (each given their own chapter) and different factions (each with their own section) within the city gives the Dungeon Master opportunities to understand their actions, motivations, and ways in which the players can challenge them or disrupt their operations. There are allies in the city who can help the adventurers when they get in trouble or if the campaign stalls and the players need assistance. Enemies and rivals beyond the main villain add a layer of complexity to the setting or give additional challenge if the party is finding easy success. NPCs such as shopkeepers, merchants, and suppliers continue to help flesh out the city and can provide resources for adventurers for coin or favors. Reading through the full adventure, even if you don’t plan to use it, gives the broad scope of a larger campaign, which then gives a Dungeon Master the discretion to decide what to include and what to exclude. Remember, it’s always better to know more and use less, than to be caught unprepared and flatfooted.
STRENGTHS OF THE ADVENTURE
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a great introductory adventure, whether for new players, a new party, or a new Dungeon Master. The campaign is fully set within the city of Waterdeep, and having those boundaries for the adventure’s sandbox makes things much simpler for both the Dungeon Master and the players. The adventure is a linear story with multiple solutions, with the main objective becoming very clear at a certain point in the adventure. It provides access to players and Dungeon Masters to learn how to interact with the world of Faerun and the rules of Dungeons and Dragons. Compared to some adventures, there are relatively low stakes within Dragon Heist, new or inexperienced players are less likely to be punished, and there are ample opportunities for creative players to shine.
It is always important to understand what your players want before choosing an adventure. If they are expecting a combat-heavy campaign in the hack-and-slash style, they may be disappointed with the emphasis Dragon Heist puts on immersive storytelling. The adventure is set to take place over time, not within a short series of days, though it can be adapted in that way. The adventure can be adapted for a more rapid pace, however the heart of Dragon Heist is much more than that. With more time, the more of the setting comes to light, and the more invested in the city and its people the players can become.
One example of this is seen in the section of the adventure that provides the opportunity for prolonged downtime. If run well, this gives the party a chance to gain better insight into Waterdeep. Opportunities for scouting, prolonged investigations, the slow work of building contacts or alliances all add to the stakes of a planned heist, rather than the rapid bumbling of a burglary that is more likely a crime of opportunity. The more intentional they are, the more they can see a world where not everything is combat reliant (especially in a city where there can be serious legal repercussions for fighting), and introducing the nuances of factions jockeying for position and power, nobles in contention for influence and control, and would-be friends or enemies looking to gain the support of the party. Set to occur over multiple days up to several weeks, the downtime period gives a backdrop to the full campaign as supplemental missions add depth or force the party to choose their alliances and priorities.
Dragon Heist is an adventure that rewards creativity and problem solving over combat, the latter often resulting in serious consequences. The villains of the adventure are smarter, more powerful, have far more resources than the party, and fighting them face to face is unlikely to go well for the players. It emphasizes immersive storytelling over hack-and-slash adventuring. In this book, game rules take a back seat to character development, while ability score modifiers and skill proficiencies take precedence over combat bonuses.
AS A RESOURCE
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is written as an adventure, but acts as a great supplemental sourcebook or inspiration. While mechanics for factions and renown are offered in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, this adventure puts them into practice extremely well. It not only shows how multiple factions can operate and function, but gives viable rewards and benefits to faction work, incentives for gaining renown, and a list of missions to earn renown within each faction. The factions within Waterdeep are a great resource not only for expanding the setting of Waterdeep, but to the Forgotten Realms at large, or as inspiration for running factions within another setting or campaign.
The information regarding the city of Waterdeep is likewise thorough, highlighted in Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion in Chapter 9 of the module. It showcases a broad spread of information about the city, from it’s history, events, locations and wards, and details such as the Walking Statues all add to the deep lore surrounding the City of Splendors. Specifics regarding individuals such as Laeral Silverhand or the wizard Elmister, to groups such as the Zhentarim who have their hands in affairs both in and beyond Waterdeep, to events regarding the greater Sword Coast region and Faerun at large. For any adventure or campaign set within the Sword Coast, Dragon Heist provides an unparalleled look inside one of its largest cities, and any Dungeon Master creating within the Forgotten Realms would benefit from using it as a resource.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a valuable resource and excellent adventure module. It shines as a campaign for new or inexperienced players, or as an introductory foray into being a Dungeon Master, while being an opportunity for experienced players and Dungeon Masters to stretch their creativity within the framework of the module. As a resource, it offers an in depth guide to one of the most interesting and layered cities within the Sword Coast.
The adventure is a must have for Dungeon Masters as a module or resource for a campaign set in the Forgotten Realms, or as inspiration for expanding a diverse urban setting in a world of their own creation. I have found great value in using the campaign both as intended and as a starting point for further expansion, as well as a resource for worldbuilding for other stories and settings. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist brings the city of Waterdeep to life like never before, bringing challenge and intrigue to players in a module that finds itself flexible and adaptable while holding strong to its core as a wonderfully structured and written adventure.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is published by Wizards of the Coast.
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