Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
Anyone looking to begin a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign will no doubt have heard about Wizards of the Coasts’ latest offering Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. First announced by Chris Perkins in the Stream of Many Eyes and following much hype and social media interest, it’s finally here for Dungeon Masters around world to get their hands on.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist promises a fun-filled treasure hunt where the players go in search of a lost stash of gold coins, or, as they’re called in Waterdeep, Dragons. But is this all worth the investment and will it be the right campaign for your D&D group?
When exploring the previous seven books to try to assist in the decision-making process, I used a framework of 5 simple questions a DM might ask and I’ll do the same here:
- Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?
- How easy is it to DM with the material given?
- What’s the best bit?
- What’s the worst bit?
- What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?
Naturally, this article will contain spoilers.
1. Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist takes place in Waterdeep (surprise, surprise!), the fabled City of Splendors, and sees players get caught up in a treasure-hunting caper worthy of cinema’s greatest adventures. It begins with a bar fight and events quickly spiral outward from there, taking players on a grand tour of one of D&D’s most famous and interesting cities in search of secret artifacts and a missing treasure hoard hidden somewhere in the city.
Along the way, they get to own and run a bar, interact with some famous people and places from D&D’s vast pantheon of heroes and locations, and join one of Faerûn’s numerous adventuring factions. With a focus on roleplay and exploration over pure combat encounters, this campaign will see players become a real part of the city, rising in rank and renown through Waterdeep’s key factions. The foreword from Chris Perkins states that “Clever heroes will respect the city’s rules. Those who get on the city’s bad side are in for a rough ride” and this seems like sage advice, especially considering the lower level characters that this campaign is directed towards will soon be taken down by a contingent of city guards, or mindflayers, or a beholder. So if your group regularly takes the murder-hobo approach, this might not be the campaign for them.
2. How easy is it to run with the material given?
More so than some of the previous campaigns (yes, I’m looking at you Storm Kings Thunder and Curse of Strahd), this book looks and feels like it was designed with new players and Dungeon Masters in mind. There are clear parallels with the 5th Edition Starter Set, which itself is vastly underappreciated, and so it would be a perfect starting place for new DMs. As long as you have a copy of the DMs Guide, Monster Manual, and Player’s Handbook, then you’re ready to go.
The layout and presentation of the book helps make it easier too. The chapters are detailed, but not too detailed, and the flowcharts that detail the story are precise and well-considered. The first four chapters cover the main narrative of the campaign with the second half of the book focusing on villains’ lairs, side quests, and a walking guide through Waterdeep, excerpts of which would make excellent handouts for your players during gaming sessions.
There are some areas in this campaign that will require a bit of careful consideration prior to playing, and it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the chase rules from the DMG before getting too deep into the campaign.
3. What’s the best bit?
This campaign includes a fantastic, detailed map of Waterdeep that is already framed and on the wall in my office. Other highlights include a whole chapter dedicated to Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion, a walking tour that guides you through the streets of the city from the perspective of the famous Volothamp ‘Volo’ Geddarm. As well as this, potential encounters with the giant walking statues of Waterdeep, four engaging and fearsome villains (including Xanathar the beholder!) and two actual dragons make for some pretty entertaining and interesting moments.
However, the “best bit” of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is the attention to detail when it comes to the setting and the way the seasons affect this. At the offset you must choose whether your adventure takes place in Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter. Not only will the choice you make decide which of the four villains becomes the story’s antagonist, it also greatly affects the ways in which NPCs the local populace of Waterdeep act. And it’s all there written down for you in the campaign guide in easy to follow sections. Summer makes people lazy and lethargic; in Winter snow builds up around the city and few people venture outside. And so on.
4. What’s the worst bit?
While we know that this is will be expanded upon in the upcoming Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, it still feels a bit like getting short-changed when you pay the full price of a campaign book and can only take your characters up to level five. While I understand the reasoning behind this—the second book looks like it will be the first to take players up to level 20—there seems like there is still a whole lot of room to build on the enemies and characters and locations in this campaign and it would be nice to be able to do that without having to fork out all over again.
5. What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?
There is so much in this book that can be utilized later. The whole city of Waterdeep for a start; it’s unlikely that your players will be able to explore every area mentioned in Volo’s Enchiridion, so I foresee that section in the book coming in very handy later. There is also the usual collection of new magic items, maps, and trinkets which you can use in your home games. I am particularly looking forward to seeing how my players use Smokepowder and I definitely have a rogue who could have fun with the Bracer of Flying Daggers.
As well as this, there are numerous new and unique monsters and NPCs included. Although if you’ve already purchased Volo’s Guide to Monsters or Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, some of these will be doubled up. One of the most exciting additions to 5th Edition is the inclusion of the Drow Gunslinger. Gunslingers have always been a popular class and enemy in tabletop games—Percy from Critical Role is one of the most notable—and the presence of this NPC perhaps hints at the desire to let players take up this class in the not too distant future.
Waterdeep Dragon Heist is the 7th campaign book WotC have released for 5th edition and does what all the previous ones did well and gets rid of all the rest. A city-based adventure that sees players go from 1st to 5th level, this is perfect for both those new to the hobby and looking for a way in and experienced players and DMs looking for a different style of adventure from those previously released.
As with any new Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Dungeon Masters, players, and fans can pick up more than just the new campaign book. Dragon Heist Dice, maps pack, Dragon Heist DM Screen, and Icons of the Realms minis are also available.
Fellow Geek Dad Rory would like to chime in with his favorite feature of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist:
One of my first experiences with Dungeons & Dragons was in Waterdeep. The history, the lore, and the huge population meant that I could find anyone I wanted. Even someone like me. Never have I felt this more powerfully than when I first turned to page 172 of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. The following quote appears as block text and cannot be missed. For accessibility, I’m including the full text instead of an image.
A Wondrous People
Whenever you find yourself in a bustling city, you’re likely to spot a wonderful variety of folk. You hear words in languages utterly foreign to you and you smell dishes both delectable and strange. Waterdeep is the ultimate city of such delights, and before long, the alien thing becomes familiar to you, and the stranger becomes your friend.
The people of Waterdeep are among the greatest of its splendors. Fashion, comportment, love—these things are practiced with an art and a zest in the city uncommon elsewhere. Visit a festhall or festival and see for yourself! And don’t miss the cross-dressing performers who regale audiences with humor and song. Fabulous—that word doesn’t begin to describe it, especially when they enhance the merriment with magic.
The city is also a haven for those who define for themselves what it means to be a man or a woman, those who transcend gender as the gods do, and those who redefine entirely who they are. What confidence! I never tire of witnessing it. I have seen folk in Waterdeep whose lives are more magical than the marvels possible with spell.
I cannot, with any known words, express how much this means to me and other people who do not fit the typical descriptions of gender identity. I cannot speak for the racial injustice in the world, nor that of immigration, but I can speak as a member of the queer community, and I want to thank Wizards for publishing this in a time which isn’t easy for trans and non-binary people. I have rarely felt so vulnerable, validated, and celebrated in my life. Thank you.