D&D Waterdeep Dragon Heist Session Zero
Last night was the first session in our new Waterdeep Dragon Heist campaign and we began with a Session Zero.
After the conclusion of Curse of Strahd, our group decided to change things up a little. Our DM in that campaign was keen to play as a character in this one, so I will be taking the reins for now. Lucky for me it’s much shorter than Curse of Strahd and not so complex, and therefore hopefully shouldn’t last 80 or more sessions like the last campaign did.
An added complication is that I have recently become a father for the second time. So, having just about managed to manipulate number-one-child into a sensible routine, we have ruined it all by adding another unpredictable sick-and-poop monster into the mix. This may not be conducive to running a weekly D&D session.
What’s a Session Zero?
Session Zero is the game you play before the campaign proper begins, where you focus on building your characters and setting the scene for the adventure to come. In our last campaign we held our Session Zero in a pub. We all felt this was a tradition that we really should uphold. But, due to the aforementioned life decisions, going to a pub no longer falls into the category of “things that I still do.” So, with heavy hearts and thankful livers, we turned to Skype for our Dragon Heist Session Zero.
Dungeon Masters often talk about the importance of a strong Session Zero to set the tone and expectations of a campaign and I was keen to emulate that in ours. Sometimes a Session Zero doesn’t actually involve any gameplay at all, but for our Dragon Heist Session Zero, once we had our adventuring party set out, I wanted to run a small encounter, just so they could get a feel for their new characters in combat, and so that I could get used to DMing again.
I had found an appropriate one-shot from Kobold Press Prepared and decided to use it to test them out. But first, we needed to find out who our party would be.
In order to run the campaign I need the Waterdeep Dragon Heist campaign book, Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide. There are also some really useful and well-compiled guides to Dragon Heist available on the DMsGuild from Valeur RPG that I will be using for reference.
For this campaign we are experimenting with the D&D Beyond toolset for keeping track of characters. I have also set up a Trello board which I will be updating regularly throughout the campaign to help track NPCs, quests, and general info.
Below is a screenshot of the Trello board I created for our Dragon Heist Session Zero.
Describing the campaign
To make sure they created characters that would fit into the story, I first needed to describe the campaign and what they should expect. Here’s my attempt at summarizing the storyline:
Waterdeep Dragon Heist is a city-based adventure with a focus on roleplay and investigation over combat. Characters go on a grand tour of one of D&D’s most famous and interesting cities in search of treasure and lost artifacts and get the opportunity to become a real part of the city, rising in rank and renown through Waterdeep’s key factions.
Also, knowing my players’ penchant for getting into trouble, I decided to share what Chris Perkins has to say about this in his foreword to the campaign: “Clever heroes will respect the city’s rules. Those who get on the city’s bad side are in for a rough ride.”
What they know about Waterdeep
As part of our Dragon Heist Session Zero, I wanted to make sure my players understood their role in the city. For this campaign it looks like it will be helpful for at least one of the players to have some familiarity with the setting, so I decided that one of the characters would have to be from Waterdeep.
The campaign book comes with an excellent pull out map with both DM and player notes. I made sure one of my players had a copy of this, as well as the information provided in chapter 9 of the book, Volo’s Enchiridion. This would allow some ease of navigation, as well as taking the onus away from me for suggesting where they go and what the party does next and what they can discover about Waterdeep.
At the beginning of the campaign the DM must choose one of four villains to be the main antagonist of the story; their choice affects when in the year the narrative is set. Our campaign begins at the beginning of summer, the day of the Trolltide festival. In our Dragon Heist Session Zero I made sure the players understood the time of year, what this means for the environment, and to expect lots of festivals, but not who their future nemesis was going to be. I’ll keep that for a surprise later in the campaign.
My players each had an idea of the characters they wanted to build, and with the information and potential backgrounds I provided via Trello this is what they came up with:
Alan Crabpopper, Human Ranger – a private investigator and low level thug with a crude sense of humor.
Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – estranged son from a noble family, House Rasznor.
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – a charlatan and gambling fanatic who cheated his way into his draconic bloodline.
Arvene Galanodel, Half-Elf Cleric – avaricious trickery-domain priestess of Tymora, ex-city guard.
I wanted the characters to know each other and have spent some time in each other’s company prior to the adventure, rather than starting with, “You meet in in a tavern.” They decided they were a recently started investigations company, who had met while escaping the Waterdeep City Guards following a riot. This seemed to fit in nicely with the overall theme of the campaign and, hopefully, having them familiar with each other from the start will avoid too much player versus player conflict.
The Impregnable Fortress of Dib
Having set up the characters and prepped the adventure, it was time to test them out. Here’s how the level one adventurers fared in their first encounter in our Dragon Heist Session Zero:
Alan had been approached by a concerned local regarding a mysterious abandoned cart in the South Ward of the city. There had been rumor of goblin activity and abductions. This sounded like a job for the ABI [Alan’s Bureau of Investigators].
Their investigation quickly led to an abandoned, derelict wagon. It had been transformed to look like some kind of junk fortress. Signs of goblin work were apparent. Sure enough, as soon as they knocked on the door the goblins revealed themselves.
Three crossbows pointed out at the party through concealed holes in the wagon. Dugg ran up to one and tried to wrestle it free. He felt the tension on the goblin end of the crossbow go limp and the goblin inside the cart swore loudly as one of the other crossbows was fired at Arvene.
“Right, that’s it!” said Little Joe as he let loose a Firebolt at the cart. It caught fire instantly and more swearing came from the goblins inside. Two portholes opened up in the side of the wagon and the three goblins came piling out snarling and gnashing their teeth.
Combat was quick and easy, and after three rounds the goblins had been dealt with and the party victorious in their first fight. The wagon was burnt to a crisp.
I made sure each party member was able to test out their abilities and get a feel for their character. There were a couple of Firebolts from the sorcerer, a Sacred Flame from the cleric, some shortsword action from the fighter. And the ranger hid behind a wall.
Thankfully, the goblins were pretty useless in their attacks and only managed to hit Dugg and Alan once each. This was just as well, as being 1st level, none of the heroes had more than 12 hit points, and it also allowed Arvene to try out some healing.
After the fight, one of the goblins tried to run away and managed to get free. Although he did take an arrow to the back of the leg as he fled that should leave him with an easily identifiable limp. As he ran he dropped a hessian sack with a few silver coins, three human hands, and a rotten apple in it. Maybe later in the campaign this goblin will show up again, looking for his booty and complaining how the heroes razed his home to the ground and killed his friends…
I was using something similar to the Lazy Dungeon Master method for this session, having recently studied Sly Flourish’s Session Zero for Tomb of Annihilation. This method is described in more detail in the recently Kickstarted Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, which is the ideal tool for DMs looking to streamline their campaign and session preparation time. I will definitely be using these techniques as the campaign progresses.
We all found D&D Beyond to be a great resource for character creation. None of us have explored this option before, so it took a bit of getting used to, but once we knew what we were doing, creating characters was much quicker and easier than with the old-fashioned pen and paper method. Although perhaps not as fun as rolling dice and sifting through pages and pages of reference books.
Overall I felt that our Dragon Heist Session Zero went pretty well. It just left me with one final thought: Why do Sorcerers always end up being played by frustrated pyromaniacs?