Tabletop Traveler – Review: Waterdeep- Dragon Heist from Wizards of the Coast
Flipping through the pages of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist I found a few interesting things. First of all, this adventure is nothing like the previous adventures that Wizards of the Coast has published. Instead of incredibly sweeping set piece dungeons, you’ll find smaller but meaningful encounters on the streets of Waterdeep. The npc’s throughout the story look thought out with motivations and depth. The details of the potential paths a party can take through the adventure are wide spread and each one has been given love and care. This gives the adventure tons of potential to be different for every group playing it.
Wizards of the Coast has finally done something that they haven’t done since the Lost Mines of Phandelver with the 5e Starter Set, and that is create an adventure explicitly for only a fraction of a character’s potential lifespan opposed to the majority. While one can argue Hoard of the Dragon Queen fulfils this benchmark, Fifth Edition’s freshman foray into adventures was rocky at best without DM intervention and really only shines when combined with its counterpart, Rise of Tiamat, which serves as a direct sequel to the story. Curse of Strahd also came close to this benchmark, but is so setting and genre specific I tend not to consider it as closely when examining the pre-made adventures Wizards has published. (Not to discredit it in any way though. I just think the feel and tone of it makes it a very specific type of adventure.)
What I liked about it
You’ll hear me say this time and time again about most leveled roleplaying games that I play, low levels are my favorites. As an adventure that runs levels 1 to 5, I was incredibly intrigued with Dragon Heist. From the beginning the adventure seems to stress that it will be different with every group that plays it and there are ways to tailor the adventure to your group from the beginning. The final villain you face is even variable and decides parts of when your adventure is set. At the same time, I don’t feel like I’m losing out on content with this book if I decide to go with one villain and not the rest. Taking the information on the other villains and tying them into the story still is easy enough, and their encounters and details can be modified for use in a homebrewed continuation of the story.
In a lot of ways the book doubles as a guide to an urban campaign in Waterdeep. The city has a lot of character and overall feels alive. Interesting NPCs and encounters that can be pulled out for most urban settings with little tweaking make the adventure a valuable tool for a GM not even running the adventure as written.
As an overall fan of a lot of older Forgotten Realms literature and lore it was nice to see some big faces represented. Some of the Villain options and even Volo of Guide to Monsters fame is present. This adventure feels like a good way to satisfy anyone looking for cameos and what not in their games from the lore. This obviously isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I feel like the villains are written strong enough where even being introduced to them for the first time will let players be enthralled by these larger than life personalities.
What I didn’t like about it
One thing I think this adventure should stress is that certain characters will do better than others. While it’s certainly possible for druids or rangers to be played in the adventure, nearly the entire thing takes place within a city. Certain classes or spells and abilities will see little to no use within the stone walls of Waterdeep. On the other hand, rogues and bards with skills that lend themselves well to being around people, and the urban setting will excel in the chaos of the city.
Other issues I have are my normal issues with premade adventures. Being that it’s Waterdeep specifically, the adventure is tied to the Forgotten Realms setting. This means a lot of the concepts are specific to the Forgotten Realms, and while converting it to another setting is possible, it definitely takes some extra work. This isn’t that surprising though as all the official pre-made fifth edition adventures have been structured this way.
Finally, the biggest let down of the adventure is no sweeping heist dungeon. The vault exists, and there are some interesting encounters within it, but it doesn’t feel like a high stakes heist from what I’ve read. I was expecting some grand final quest to get the gold and get out, but instead the finality comes more from defeating the villain. I was promised a big Ocean’s 11 style heist but I feel the adventure falls short there. I think in the end they just decided to go a different direction with the overall feel of the adventure, which while disappointing, is understandable.
I’d recommend Waterdeep Dragon Heist to a friend for sure. The overall feel and structure of the adventure is solid and another unique addition to Wizards growing library. However, I think knowing about the adventure’s quirks and design beforehand is valuable information if your group runs certain types of games and won’t take well to some of the nuances of Dragon Heist. At the same time the book is a wonderful guide to Waterdeep and adds some interesting ideas for urban adventures as a whole.