Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
Wizards RPG Team
I’m always looking for an opportunity to lure tabletop gaming neophytes into the addicting world of chucking dice and chugging carbonated drinks well into the wee hours of the morning. When Waterdeep: Dragon Heist came across my desk, I nearly crit my pants. This Dungeons & Dragons adventure book is designed for players level one through five, so it should be perfect for bringing in a group of noobs and getting them hooked—er, letting them get a taste for the game. Beware, the road ahead holds a few spoilers for adventurers making their way through the winding streets.
Waterdeep takes place in its namesake city, a quaint metropolis of 100,000 people, nestled along the Sword Coast on the western reaches of Faerȗn. Thanks to the included “Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion,” penned by renowned in-game adventurer Volothamp Geddarm, the city is incredibly fleshed out. The descriptions of the city quarters, history and holidays add a rich backdrop in which to run the adventure, and if a Dungeon Master were inclined, he or she would find it ripe material for homebrew adventures. Waterdeep even outlines taxes and exchange rates within the city. Spoiler alert: A player’s coin is worth exactly what it was when they came in, it’s just shaped funny now.
The tome itself is gorgeous, which is on par for D&D fifth edition books. While it is text-heavy, it’s never boring (looking at you, Vampire: The Masquerade), and almost every one of the 220 plus pages contain some gem that could find its way into a session. There are plenty of allusions to the greater game world to keep veterans and loremongers interested, and there are enough adventure-specific goodies and gear to keep the DM drooling a little. It’s all delivered through solid, clear writing, accessible to a wide audience without being condescending or jumping too far into esoteric minutia. The artwork and character sketches are masterful vignettes alive with motion which do well in bringing the location and the non-player characters to life.
In Waterdeep, as with any D&D adventure, not everything on the surface is what it seems. The players quickly discover that two underworld factions are on the cusp of an all-out street war, and even the well-equipped City Watch is having a rough time keeping the peace. The Xanathar Guild have set themselves against the Zentharim (Who picks these names?) in a bloody race to find and open a vault that contains hundreds of thousands of gold coins, called dragons. It’s like the Sharks and the Jets, but with way less dancing and a shitload more short swords and Magic Missile spells.
Even with a bar brawl kicking off the adventure, followed immediately by a surprise troll attack from the dungeon entrance below, my players found the “you’re in a bustling tavern” opening a little cliché. I tried to keep them on-track for the first chapter of the adventure, reading them every pop-out box and piece of flavor text I came across, filling in from Volothamp’s guide when I could. But alas, efforts to keep the story moving forward came across as railroaded, leaving little room for improvisation and character exploration.
Subsequent chapters of Waterdeep open the city wide to the players, and they’re even given their own home base to work from. In Trollskull Alley, of all places—of course. The opportunity to join some of the factions outlined in the book gives them ample chance to run around town, soak in all the sights and gain another few levels in the meantime. Unless your level two, half-elf hunter decides to “stay home and fletch arrows.” In which case, a second, off-script surprise troll attack may happen—which it did.
A good deal of the trouble my players experienced early-game stemmed from the sheer size and thoroughness of the city lore. With a place so compelling and beautiful, it’s hard to get a group to sit in a darkened tavern corner long enough to incite the action. Some of that burden belongs to me as a slipshod DM with a day job, but in the future, I’m still keen on running my brand new players through The Lost Mines of Phandelver to let them get a feel for the world. Waterdeep is definitely more suited as an adventure for seasoned players looking to make a fresh start in a familiar setting.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is available now from your friendly, local game store (or online, I guess, if you like to kill local business) and the follow up adventure for levels 5–20, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, is out Nov. 20.