Back in June, D&D held the Stream of Many Eyes event to promote their next storyline which is set in Waterdeep, the Forgotten Realms’ City of Splendor. Part 1 of Dungeon & Dragons’ new fall’s storyline is finally here! Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, is available at your friendly local gaming story today and everywhere else on September 18th. Part 2, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage will be coming out in November as part two of this storyline, taking players from levels 6 to 20.
What is Waterdeep: Dragon Heist?
This 224 page tabletop RPG adventure for characters of levels 1 to 5, provides a treasure hunt set in an urban environment. In Waterdeep, gold coins are called dragons, and your players will be on the hunt to find half million of them hidden somewhere in the city. The adventure is set against a backdrop of escalating tensions between two factions, the shadowy Zhentarim and the criminal Xanathar guild.
“Waterdeep Dragon Heist takes D&D back to civilization in an environment which encourages a lot of roleplaying,” according to Chris Perkins, the Lead Designer for the book. “A lot of the inspiration was from things like Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job in a city environment. Where the goal of the adventure is to try and find a trove of treasure and keep it out of the hands of villains.”
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist will be an urban treasure hunt requiring players to “use diplomacy, intrigue, stealth, and their wits to follow clues and solve puzzles.”
A splendid treasure trove is yours for the taking in this adventure for the world’s greatest roleplaying game
Famed explorer Volothamp Geddarm needs you to complete a simple quest. Thus begins a mad romp through the wards of Waterdeep as you uncover a villainous plot involving some of the city’s most influential figures.
A grand urban caper awaits you. Pit your skill and bravado against villains the likes of which you’ve never faced before, and let the dragon hunt begin!
Price: US$49.95 | CA$65.95
Release Date: 18 September, 2018
Format: Hardcover with foldout map of Waterdeep
What You Need to Play
- Copies of the fifth edition Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide
- A copy of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
- Dice and character sheets
- The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is recommended, but not required.
What Does the Book Include?
This book provides a Dungeon Master with material to run a group of 4-6 players though a Dungeons & Dragons adventure from levels 1 to 5. Here is what you’ll find within its 224 pages.
While not as good as the Dramatis Personae that was were provided with Storm King’s Thunder, this one-page guide is still handy for figuring out how to say some of those tougher names.
The introduction covers everything you’d expect, providing an overview and notes on how to run the adventure. Like Curse of Strahd, this adventure is designed to be replayable and you’ll need to choose one of four villains before you start. Who you choose will change many things in the adventure from what season the adventure takes place in, what encounters your players will face and even which lair they have to infiltrate. As was seen in Storm King’s Thunder, we get some extra help here with adventure flowcharts to help provide an visual overview of the adventure structure. One of my favorite things in the entire book is an illustration of the Yawning Portal which acts as an NPC map (check out #85 Matt Mercer who consulted on this book).
I’ll go into detail on chapters 1-8 further below, but the majority of the book is the adventure itself, taking up 140+ pages.
- Chapter 1: A Friend in Need
- Chapter 2: Trollskull Alley
- Chapter 3: Fireball
- Chapter 4: Dragon Season
- Chapter 5: Spring Madness
- Chapter 6: Hell of a Summer
- Chapter 7: Maestro’s Fall
- Chapter 8: Winter Wizardry
Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion
Chapter 9 provides a visitor’s guide (written by Volothhamp Geddarm) for both DMs and players to get up to speed on Waterdeep. This enchiridion offers details your players will need to survive and keep out of trouble in the city. You’ll also find greatly expanded details for the city versus what was provided in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, with half a page dedicated to each ward of the city. Finally, no book on Waterdeep would be complete with a look at it’s splendors and you’ll find details on amenities, the Griffon Cavalry, the Walking Statues, and various celebrations. If you are looking for a detailed guide to Waterdeep, you’ll be disappointed with the guide being only 25 pages long.
Appendices & More
- Appendix A: Magic Items
Four pages of magic items to support the adventure. The items include such novelties as the uncommon Paper Bird, but most are tied into the plot such as the Stone of Golorr.
- Appendix B: Monsters and NPCs
Dragon Heist provides 28 pages of Monsters and NPCs. The majority of the entries are for NPCs, with some just pointing to the entires in the Monster Manual. You’ll find some reprints (Bard, Swashbuckler, etc) from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, but the majority of the named NPCs are new and have their own stat blocks. There are a few monsters such as the Gazer, Walking Statue and Xanathar (extra notes to add to the Beholder), but most of the monsters are from the Monster Manual.
- Appendix C: Handouts
In the handouts, you’ll find some ‘friendly faces’ NPCs from Yawning Portal, the Code Legal to throw the book at your players if they step out of line, and a Key for the Yawning Portal illustration (see above) to figure out who is who in the tavern.
- Map: Two-sided fold out map of Waterdeep, with a player’s side and a Dungeon Master side with additional markers.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a treasure hunt set against a living, breathing city where a turf war in the criminal underground has spilled out into the streets, threatening peace throughout the city. You and your players don’t have to jump right in right away, but will get caught up in all of this soon enough.
– SPOILERS AHEAD! –
Dagult Neverember was ousted from his position as Open Lord of Waterdeep, but not before he embezzled half a million gold dragons. Neverember hid the dragons in a secret vault protected by a powerful guardian. The only problem is that Stone of Golorr was stolen, an intelligent magic item where Neverember stored the location of the vault before it erased its location from his mind. The stone was passed around and around, until it finally ended up with the Xanathar. The adventure begins with the stone disappearing during a meeting of the Xanthar Guild and the Zhentarim to negotiate an alliance. In response, Xanathar attacked the Zhents, assuming they were the thieves, but who really stole the Stone of Golorr?
Choosing a Villain
When you run Dragon Heist, you get to choose who the main villain is from the very start. Who you choose as your villain will determine which season of the year the story takes place as well as which antagonists your players will face off against as the adventure progresses. Your players will be trying to thwart the evil plans of powerful villains with challenge ratings of 10 to 15. Who you didn’t choose factors in as well, since they could either help or hinder the PCs.
- Xanathar (Spring) is a paranoid beholder crime lord who wants his magic stone back and is looking to wipe out anyone he thinks is a Zhentarim operative in his guild. Xanathar’s lair is a dungeon found under Skullport.
- The Cassalanters (Summer) are a married noble couple and secret devil worshippers who want to buy back the souls of their children. Their lair is their estate, Cassalanter Manor.
- Jarlaxle Baerne (Fall) is the secret lord of Luskan and is looking to use the treasure to buy his city’s way into the Lord’s Alliance. His lair can be found on a ship used as the headquarters for his traveling carnival.
- Manshoon (Winter) is actually a clone of the wizard Manshoon. He wants the treasure to become the Open Lord of the city and hopes to take control of the Zhentarim. His lair is pair of wizard towers.
All of the villains share one thing in common, they are seeking the dragon hoard and it’s the job of your PCs to keep that from happening.
Any good adventure starts in a tavern and this adventure starts in the famous Yawning Portal. The Yawning Portal is full of familiar faces such as the innkeeper Durnan. To start the adventure, each player selects one NPC from a provided handout for their character to be on friendly terms with.
Chapter 1 starts with a bar brawl that is out to prove that nowhere is safe from the conflict between the Zhentarim and the Xanthar Guild. From there, the chapter provides an introductory adventure where Volo provides a quest where the PCs are asked to rescue a friend of his named Floon. This straight forward rescue mission acts to familiarize the players with the city and involves a mistaken identity. The quest also acts to bring the PCs into the conflict going on in the background of the adventure between the Zhents and Xanathars. As a reward, the PCs are given an old tavern by Volo to use as a base of operations.
Chapter 2, has the characters exploring their new home, Trollskull Manor and neighboring buildings and alley. They will also need to deal with a poltergeist who is haunting their base. As the chapter continues, the PCs can accept missions offered by various factions. The five factions are back, but we also have Force Grey, Bregan D’Aerthe and the Xanathar Guild thrown into the mix. During this chapter, the PCs can choose to fix up their base and get it up and running as a working tavern and whatever else they want to do in the city.
The Core Adventure
Time has passed and the players should now be adjusted to city life and ready for things to get exciting.
Chapter 3 opens up with a blast, as an explosion tears through Trollskull Alley. One causualty of the fireball, was its target, a Lord Neverember spy who has stolen the Stone of Golorr. Whoever is responsible for the fireball spell, now has the Stone of Golorr, the key to finding the treasure. The blast and subsequent investigation bring the players into the main adventure and conflict with some secondary villains, ending with a bloody confrontation at a noble estate.
Chapter 4 has the players begin a race to find the gold before your villain does. The encounters and the order in which they occur are based on which villain you selected. The encounters will have the players jumping from location to location around the city, hunting down a nimblewright who has run off with the stone. After completing a chain of encounters, the PCs should discover the location of the treasure vault and face off against its gold dragon guardian. If all goes well, the PCs will keep the gold away from your chosen villain and even pocket a sizable portion of the “dragons” themselves.
Chapters 5 to 8 provide lairs for each villain, which can be used at any time during Chapter 4 and are designed for PCs that reach level 5. The PCs can’t really face off against the villains directly and will need to disrupt their operations, gather information and team up with allies before facing them directly. Even then, it would be highly unlikely (or even impossible) for your player to defeat the villain in a straight up boss fight.
If you chose Xanathar as your villain, Chapter 5: Spring Madness provides information on Xanathar Guild operations and details of Xanathar’s lair, a dungeon found under Skullport. Xanathar is a beholder and could easily kill your PCs, but they can exploit his mental state by enraging him, disrupt the guild’s chain of command or even destroy his lair.
If you chose the Cassalanters as your villains, Chapter 6: Hell of a Summer details their villa, Cassalanter Manor. Facing off against the pair is both deadly and has the added risk of being considered assault or attempted murder of respected nobility. These villains will require finesse and information gathering.
If you chose Jarlaxle as your villain, Chapter 7: Maestro’s Fall will provide details of his operations and lair, the Sea Maidens Faire, the base of his traveling carnival. Facing off against Jarlaxle and his crew will result in defeat, but PCs can disrupt his operations or even team up with him to secure the gold treasure.
If you choose Manshoon as your villain, Chapter 8: Winter Wizardry will provide you with information on the clone of Manshoon‘s operations and details for Kolat Towers, which he is hiding in. Manshoon is a powerful wizard, but he has many enemies and exposing him to authorities is a strategy your players can use.
– END OF SPOILERS –
As always, the art and layout in this book are excellent with quite a few double page spreads. The artwork provides nice touches such as the same street location illustrated for each season. We even get a simple map style (see above), that even us lowly amateurs Dungeon Masters can attempt to mimic.
As a straight up source book for Waterdeep, there are better options from previous editions (see 2005’s City of Splendors: Waterdeep), but this book provides plenty of ideas and crunch to run a city with varied locations, factions, encounters, chases, and even rules to run a tavern.
From the bar brawl at the start to the showdown at the end, this is a well-paced adventure that isn’t afraid to let slower moments in as well. Dragon Heist is a more of a treasure hunt than a typical heist you would find in Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job. This adventure is a solid and replayable event-driven urban adventure for characters of levels 1 to 5, but whether it is for you depends on what you and your group are looking for.
Avoid this adventure if…
- Your group just wants to kick down doors and kill monsters without worrying about annoying laws and people who enforce them.
- Your group loves exploring wilderness hex by hex to find that lost crypt and battle random monsters.
- Your group wants to face off against higher level threats in epic showdowns.
- Your group finds town boring and is always looking to escape into the wilds where adventure happens.
- You are looking for a highly detailed Waterdeep source book with tons of people and places.
Buy this adventure if…
- Your group likes the social aspect of the game and enjoy having their actions (good or bad) matter.
- Your group is looking to play in an urban adventure set against the backdrop of a living, breathing city on the brink of a street war (think Gangs of New York).
- Your group likes to use diplomacy, stealth and investigation to get things done.
- Your group likes to carefully prepare and plan out what they want to do next.
- Your group enjoys intrigue and facing villains that can’t be simply defeated in combat.
- Your group enjoys downtime and would like to set-up a home base, run a tavern, join guilds and interact with factions.
If you liked most of what you read in the ‘buy this adventure‘ list above, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Dragon Heist.