Taking the experience of D&D and switching it to an urban setting creates a radically different type of adventure. It requires a steady hand, keen eyes and ears, and clever wits to navigate such a setting.
Waterdeep Dragon Heist takes adventurers to the Forgotten Realms’ City of Splendors, Waterdeep.
In an adventure filled with intrigue, secrets, and some of the most legendary names from D&D lore, things are always more than they may seem.
If the party wishes to succeed, they’ll need to keep their wits about them and navigate the city’s dark underbelly.
Welcome to the vipers’ nest, adventurers!
This is the Tabletop Joab review of Waterdeep Dragon Heist for D&D 5e!
Overview – Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
We’ll begin this review with a spoiler-free overview. Specifically, we’ll look at what Waterdeep Dragon Heist is, what it’s not, and who this adventure is for.
I’ll call attention to the portion of this review that moves into spoiler territory. As an adventure full of mystery and intrigue, I would strongly recommend against reading beyond that point if you’re a player.
With that said, let’s get into the overview!
What is Waterdeep: Dragon Heist?
Waterdeep Dragon Heist is an urban adventure for D&D 5e that takes players to the large, bustling city of Waterdeep. Filled with intrigue, mystery, and a Who’s-Who cast of famous (and infamous) NPCs from D&D’s history, the core promise of this adventure is a big one!
This adventure is an urban caper that relies on the cleverness and resourcefulness of the party. What begins as a simple quest quickly escalates into a whirlwind of deception, schemes, and intrigue.
The Macguffin that moves the story forward is the legendary Stone of Golorr. This item is the key to finding and accessing the fabled cache of half a million dragons (gold pieces).
As numerous influential villains begin moving to claim the stone, the party finds themselves swept up in an effort to beat them to the punch.
They will need to navigate the agendas and tensions of certain factions on their adventure. Meanwhile, they will need to also operate within the law of Waterdeep or carefully choose when and how to operate outside of it.
A full playthrough of Waterdeep Dragon Heist will generally take around 10 to 12 sessions, so you can get around 40-50 hours of play. The adventure is intended to take characters from level 1 to 5 which makes it an excellent kickoff to a campaign.
If you want more playtime in Waterdeep Dragon Heist, the city of Waterdeep makes a great setting for introducing homebrew elements that let your group explore more of the city.
What Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Is Not
Waterdeep Dragon Heist is not your typical adventure for D&D 5e. While it is fantastically designed, this type of adventure just isn’t for everyone.
Groups that prefer dungeon crawls with tons of combat and terrifying monsters would be better suited to this adventure’s follow-up, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage.
Funny enough, it’s also important to mention that the heist mentioned in the title is not what the players will be doing. If you go in expecting Ocean’s Eleven, you’ll be disappointed.
While it is possible that they can claim the huge treasury for themselves, it’s not a particularly likely outcome. Rather, the party is more preventing the heist (or potentially assisting with it) depending on which faction they join and allegiances they end up taking.
There is no shortage of ways to engage with the story in Waterdeep Dragon Heist, but many of the key points tend to bottleneck.
By all means, exploration of Waterdeep is encouraged for groups that want to see what the City of Splendors has to offer. But certain story progressions will rely on a certain level of railroading or at least a flashing neon sign that says “the fun is this way.”
Some groups may not mind that or even like it, but others may not respond well to these bottlenecks.
If your group is the latter, you’ll have some extra work to do weaving the story and nudging them towards that bottleneck without hampering their own goals and choices.
Who Is Waterdeep: Dragon Heist For?
Waterdeep Dragon Heist works best for groups that want a game filled with intrigue and urban exploration in a living and fully realized game world. There is combat in Waterdeep Dragon Heist though the focus is much more on the intrigue.
If your group is full of newer D&D players, Waterdeep Dragon Heist can be a great introduction to the game. They’ll get to explore how TTRPGs work in an excellently designed adventure with plenty of people and things to interact with.
Even better, the events of the adventure leave the group in an excellent position to have more adventures though with a base in Waterdeep!
Seasoned D&D players also have a lot to experience in Waterdeep Dragon Heist beyond just the adventure itself. They will no doubt recognize some of the biggest names in D&D lore while making their way through the adventure.
Waterdeep Dragon Heist works better with small or standard-size parties. It really shines with a party of 3 or 4 players, but it can still work fine with 2 or 5.
This adventure can be run with more than 5 players, but DMs will need a steady hand in balancing the adventure to do so.
Waterdeep Dragon Heist is best in the hands of an intermediate DM though newer DMs could do well if they really dedicate themselves to learning the setting and key NPCs.
It is, however, greatly accessible for players no matter how new they might be to the game.
Full Review of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
With the overview covered, we’re going to go deeper into what Waterdeep Dragon Heist specifically has to offer.
This is your SPOILER WARNING!
Players have no business reading beyond this point. We’re specifically covering things for DMs to know and be aware of with this adventure!
Cast your eyes upon the city that has truly earned its nickname as the City of Splendors!
Waterdeep is a massive city that is home to the greatest artists, merchants, warriors, and scholars in all the land. As an important part of the city’s social fabric, numerous guilds and factions have pronounced bases and presences there as well.
However, it is also home to some of the most diabolical and influential figures in all of D&D’s history. Each with their own ambitions, methods, and motivations, they stop at nothing to get what they want.
Related: The 8 Types of Power For Villains
Inevitably, the party is fated to run into at least one of these figures. After all, a score of half a million gold pieces is more than enough to get the full attention of some very powerful people.
The city of Waterdeep is fully realized in this adventure.
With maps, handouts of the city’s laws, and plenty of lore of the various factions, important figures, and city wards, you’ve got everything you need to bring this city to life at your table.
There is never a lack of things to see and do in this setting. As the party finds themselves joining up with specific factions, they will get unique quests and objectives all around the city related to that faction.
Seasons in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
There are four ways to experience Waterdeep Dragon Heist and each correlates to a different season.
The season you or your group choose affects certain events that happen in the city as well as who the main antagonist will be.
As the DM, you might choose a season that is most appealing or let fate decide with a roll of a d4. Personally, I like describing what the city is like in each season (information that’s in the book) and letting the group choose the aesthetic without realizing that they’re choosing much more!
I would recommend not telling your players who the main villain will be or mentioning that the villain is determined by the season. The mystery is a huge part of this adventure!
You can certainly incorporate the other villains if you’d like as figures in the backdrop or as a type of complication within the story!
|Victoro and Ammalia Cassalanter
|Fiends, Dark Themes
Adding to the theme of famous faces in this adventure, you’ve got some great options for villains!
Personally, I most enjoy the Xanathar and Cassalanter storylines in Spring and Summer, respectively.
However, I’m gearing up to run this adventure again for a new group and they chose Winter. So, I’m looking forward to their encounter with one of my favorite villains: Manshoon!
Waterdeep Dragon Heist effectively fits within 5 chapters.
The first four chapters see the party exploring Waterdeep and finding themselves swept up in the heist. These are the same (though with some minor differences) regardless of which season the story is taking place in.
The fifth chapter of the adventure sees the party going to the villain’s lair as determined by the season.
Let’s take a general overview of what each chapter offers.
Chapter 1: A Friend in Need
The legendary writer Volothamp Geddarm approaches the party in the Yawning Portal tavern with a quest.
Volo is worried about his friend, Floon, and promises the party a reward for rescuing him. As the gang war between two factions in Waterdeep, the Xanathar Guild and the Zhentarim, spreads, Volo fears that Floon has gotten himself in trouble.
Upon rescuing Floon and returning with him to the Yawning Portal, Volo gives the players their reward. While he may not have much money at the moment, he does have the deed to a manor that he is willing to give them instead.
Accepting Volo’s reward, the party gains a base of operations in Waterdeep and proceeds into chapter 2.
Chapter 2: Trollskull Alley
At the start of Chapter 2, the party has their very own home sweet home.
Trollskull Manor is a large four-story mansion/tavern where the party can do as they please. However, it just happens to also be haunted by the spirit of the tavern’s previous barkeeper.
If the party does not work to repair and renovate the building, the spirit throws tantrums by smashing plates, throwing chairs, and leaving cryptic messages.
This chapter is heavily meant to tie the party in with the adventure’s setting. Operating from their new home of Trollskull Manor, there are several hooks that the party can take.
The goal of this chapter is to make friends and contacts while also building a reputation.
Joining factions and taking missions within those factions is the primary focus of Waterdeep Dragon Heist’s second chapter. Missions vary based on what the faction does and each option presents opportunities for the party to meet some major movers and shakers in the city of Waterdeep.
Possible factions include:
- Bregan D’aerthe
- Emerald Enclave
- Force Grey
- Lords’ Alliance
- Order of the Gauntlet
If the party spends the time renovating and reopening the tavern in Trollskull Manor, they can also meet representatives of various guilds in Waterdeep. Guilds of innkeepers, brewers, butchers, and more will take an interest in the tavern’s reopening.
Should members of the party have an entrepreneurial streak, this can make for an interesting aspect of Waterdeep Dragon Heist. Balancing the expenses of running the tavern with the profits they earn from the tavern can make for a new source of income for the party.
Though it’s to be expected that the party will find themselves with a business rival or two if they start attracting more patrons to their tavern!
Chapter 3: Fireball!
Things kick off with a bang in chapter 3, or should I say a boom?
A fireball detonates near the party’s manor which sets off a rollercoaster of intrigue and investigation. Questioning witnesses and working either alongside or out of view of the city guards, the party get caught up in the titular heist and learn of the adventure’s MacGuffin: the Stone of Golorr.
There are several twists and turns in this chapter with plenty of unique points for characters’ decisions to directly affect how the situation plays out.
Even though I did give a spoiler warning for this part of the review, I’ll still be refraining from breaking down the entirety of the sticky situation that the party finds themselves in in this chapter.
Calling it “intrigue” is putting it very lightly and there are many ways that this chapter can play out!
The biggest thing to be aware of with this chapter is that there’s a major assumption that the party will investigate the incident. It’s not the end of the adventure if the party just decides to let the city guards handle it, but a huge chunk of this adventure gets lost if they do.
Chapter 4: Dragon Season
Depending on what season it is, chapter 4 will play out differently from group to group. As the chase for the Stone of Golorr and the treasure that it reveals intensifies, the party finds themselves working against the schemes of a particular villain (or villains).
The adventure’s villain/season determines where the Stone of Golorr is and which “encounter chain” to use.
There are also weather effects that add extra factors to the encounters. For example, characters will need to stay hydrated to deal with the summer heat or fight off the extreme cold of winter by making sure to bundle up!
Each of these encounter chains is made of eight encounters as the party hunts the Stone of Golorr and the Vault of Dragons.
This is an interesting design choice, but I think it works very well for Waterdeep Dragon Heist. There’s plenty for DMs to work with here if they want to mix up the encounter chain or the players need a little nudge in the right direction.
Acquiring the Stone of Golorr, the party is able to learn the location of the Vault of Dragons and the keys necessary to open it.
The friends and contacts that the party has made up to this point will come in handy with this chapter. Spending time early on to build a reputation within certain factions really pays off here.
It is entirely possible for this to be the end of the adventure. Whatever the party decides to do with the Vault of Dragons, there’s a way to wrap it up.
But let’s not leave any stone unturned…
Chapters 5-8: Villain Lairs
A big draw to Waterdeep Dragon Heist is the presence of some big-name villains. However, it is actually possible to run this entire adventure without encountering the villain!
So it takes a bit of DM creativity to make this work.
I’d recommend incentivizing the party to take action against the adventure’s villain following the Vault of Dragons. However, you might instead work a trip to the villain’s lair in before the party goes to the Vault of Dragons.
It’s just an exciting extra punch that lets you really experience the thrill of squaring up against a larger-than-life villain.
Whoever the villain of the adventure is has now taken an interest in dealing with the party of pesky adventurers. Whatever happened in the Vault of Dragons is just the beginning.
The fight is now going straight to the villain’s lair…
The villain that the party will be facing in this chapter entirely depends on the season. Whoever the villain is, the party is now taking the fight to their doorstep.
Depending on what factions the party has aligned themselves with, you should have no problem motivating the party to pull a fast one on the villain.
Whether you’re working these into the hunt for the Stone of Golorr or using them as a way to tie up some loose ends in the story, you won’t want to deprive your players of the chance to encounter the story’s villain.
Lore and NPCs
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: there’s an incredible amount of lore and NPCs that DMs need to know. (98 NPCs in total on the adventure’s pronunciation guide.)
It can be incredibly overwhelming at first, but it’s made much easier by reading it all well ahead of time and taking notes of what’s most important.
Before each chapter, look between the lore in the book and your notes to make sure you’ve got everything you need. Otherwise, you might miss important elements or (on the other side of that coin) end up flooding your players with an information dump.
Important DM Considerations
There are a ton of NPCs in Waterdeep Dragon Heist, many of which directly support and affect the story. If you are running Waterdeep Dragon Heist, you want to make it a point to keep your players at the center of the action.
If the players need help or don’t know what to do to advance the story, have NPCs point them in the right direction towards the story/action instead of bringing it to them. It’s much more fun to uncover plots of intrigue and story hooks than being force-fed by NPCs.
Aspects of Waterdeep Dragon Heist can be fairly railroad-y as there are clear and specific ways to advance the story. For some groups, this is a plus but it’s a minus for others.
Make sure that players “buy-in” and make characters who are eager to jump at the sign of adventure. Otherwise, you’ll quickly have to bust out the rails which can make certain story points feel ham-fisted.
As a DM, you’ll need some finesse in progressing the story while also empowering the party to make their own choices. However, that’s also true of nearly any pre-written adventure module.
If you spend the time ahead of the game learning the setting lore and plot points, you will have a much easier time. Learning key NPCs motivations will greatly help you make an engaging world and improvise when you need to.
Waterdeep is a bustling city and you want to portray that well to really bring out this adventure’s theme.
Is Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Worth Buying?
Waterdeep Dragon Heist is an excellent adventure for those who want an urban setting for their D&D game and enjoy hefty amounts of interaction, intrigue, and urban exploration.
Effectively having four different ways to experience this adventure depending on the season makes this a very replayable adventure. I’m about to be kicking off my third time running this adventure and it hasn’t gotten stale to me. Each group has really leaned into the setting and had a blast as a result.
Furthermore, this is the perfect length to fit into a 3-month or so campaign. Not everyone can dedicate a full year to an adventure, but Waterdeep Dragon Heist can be experienced fully over summer break!
Even before playing this adventure, I personally really enjoyed the lore and design that has gone into this book. With so much information about how to run a city as big as Waterdeep, it’s also helped me craft larger and more immersive cities in my own games.
It’s not every day that an adventure module also serves as a type of worldbuilding toolkit!
If the premise of this adventure sounds like it’s up your group’s alley, I would strongly recommend picking up Waterdeep Dragon Heist. Despite being shorter in length than other adventures, it’s still one of the best-designed adventures in D&D 5e to date!
Conclusion – Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Review
For an adventure that’s on the shorter side, there certainly is a lot to talk about with this one!
To be honest, I really didn’t expect this to be such a huge review. But I guess that just shows how much is packed into this adventure!
I was initially somewhat dismissive of this adventure when it came out, but it has absolutely grown on me over the years. It’s one that I keep coming back to time and time again now and has found itself among my favorite 5e adventures.
I’ve especially found it useful for groups that want to roleplay more but have a difficult time doing so. This is the perfect adventure to really engage with a different side of what makes D&D such a fun game!
Have some thoughts on Waterdeep Dragon Heist? Let’s talk in the comments!
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