Thursday, 25 October 2018

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Review

Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

  • Lots of full colour art as we've come to expect.
  • A different feel from the adventures that came before it.
  • The search for the half million dragon treasure is a very cool setup and is easy to run with.
  • The character of Waterdeep comes up in the adventure, with festivals and locations described. It's really like a mini-guide to Waterdeep, and the Enchiridion section written in world by Volo really helps add to the feel as well as give players a good rundown of what their players might know.
  • An assortment of villains to choose from for your run, and even the season affecting play. Don't like one of the villains? No problem! You got other choices.

Could Go Either Way:
  • Many of the maps are in a black and white style. If you liked the full colour maps in other books, you may be disappointed. If you prefer a more classic style, you'll love this.
  • The adventure takes place in Waterdeep, where the rule of law is strong and things far more powerful than level 5 lurk. This means that players can easily bite off more than they can chew by upsetting the wrong person, or have the full force of the law come down on them. For those players who like intrigue and navigating sticky situations this will probably go over well, but those that like more freedom may find it constricting. If you like adventures set in an urban environment, this is par for the course.
  • The book goes from levels 1-5, and the next book (Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage) covers levels 5-20. If you like low level play like I do, this will be exactly what you wanted. Otherwise, you may prefer an adventure that ends with a more powerful party.
  • For each choice of villain there is a different flow to part of the adventure. This is provided in flow chart form, and each of these events has a different version depending on the choice of villain. This allows for great variation and would help make a second playthrough more interesting. However, most groups don't touch the same adventure twice. The added complexity makes it harder to understand and run. I'd recommend 2 read throughs at least for this section: 1 to figure out which villain you want to run, and one so you don't get confused between the different setups.
  • Like the flow, the lairs of all 4 villains are provided here. Since you'll be picking one of the four, there is a good chance many others won't be used. They may come up if your players decide to steal from one lair to finance their fight against another villain, or have a side conflict with them. Like the other option, this allows greater variation. It also helps to build up Waterdeep and makes it easier to use the other villains in adventures of your own design, or to improvise. What if your players also decide to pick a fight with Xanathar? Well, we got maps for that. However, it does add the potential for more dead pages in your playthrough.
  • The adventure is around 224 pages long, including many 2 page spread illustrations, the Volo's Waterdeep Enchiridion, and the monsters section. This is around what we've become used to for adventures in this edition, but these additions mean that the meat of the adventure is not as much as the page count would suggest. It doesn't feel like a steal, but doesn't feel like getting robbed either, especially since previous adventures are roughly the same length. I would've liked to see more value making it closer to a steal. The value equation changes if you can get the book cheaper than the suggested retail price, which isn't very hard if you look.
  • A few of the monsters in the book are from previous books and eat into the page count if you already have them. A necessary evil since needing every book would be unreasonable, but be aware.
  • You'll need the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide to run the adventure (no more supplement PDFs)*
  • No PDF version*
  • No included grids*

* Denotes nitpicking.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Cover
The cover of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.


Half a million gold coins are hidden somewhere in Waterdeep. That's the premise for Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, a new adventure for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons that takes characters from levels 1 to 5. At the time of writing my players have played through levels 1 and 2, and just leveled up to 3. My opinion is that it's a solid adventure with an interesting touch not present in other adventures in this edition: picking the villain. However, that touch comes with a caveat. I think this is one of those adventures where the “could go either way” will determine if it's an adventure you'll enjoy or not. Without further a due, let's jump into the specifics. I mean, I'm already this late.

The Adventure

New Player Options

There's really nothing here besides loot. Hey, I like loot and don't like broken player options, but be aware going into this one. It's really about the adventure.

New Monsters

There's about 18 pages dedicated to monsters and NPCs. This sounds pretty good on the surface, but it's not quite the whole story. If you have Volo's Guide To Monsters, you'll already have some of the creatures listed here such as the “wizard's apprentice”. Many others are NPCs. Of course they're necessary, but they aren't as reusable as brand new creatures. This is further compounded by the amount of text describing the NPCs in the adventure. This is great for those running the adventure, but again isn't reusable. The nimblewright makes an appearance, and I love these things even though they aren't undead. Otherwise, we have the “Walking Statues of Waterdeep”. It also makes sense that an adventure focused more on intrigue and finding a hidden treasure in an urban area wouldn't have many unique monsters. Just don't expect a mini monster manual out of this one.

What You Need to Play

This is another one of those adventures where you'll need the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Gude. I think you can get by without the Player's Handbook and by using the SRD/basic rules, but the other two would require more creativity. It would also be hard unless you know what the adventure refers to. I think you could cobble together most of the creatures from the SRD, preview pages from when the Monster Manual was released, and the PDFs from adventures when they'd provide the monsters needed on the website. However, I cannot recommend such an exercise and most of the people I've run into playing D&D 5e have the core books at the very least.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Tower Picture
One of my favourite images from this one. I always had a soft spot for the landscape shots.

The Adventure Itself

A half million gold coin stash is a great hook for an adventure. Whether you are the most evil character or most good that kind of money just lying for the taking is a great motivator. And as a great motivator, it's a great way to attract interesting villains. Even if you don't use the book, it's a good enough idea to think about.

One of the interesting aspects of the adventure is that the Dungeon Master can pick their villains. Prefer a villain trying to buy entry into the Lord's Alliance? Great. Evil family trying to get out of an infernal contract? It's an option. I really like adventures that allow for differences and can even be replayed later. Players often don't replay adventures, but it's more likely that a Dungeon Master will run one twice. Having something that can be changed goes a long way in keeping me interested in those cases. However, the flow is quite a bit more complicated than Ravenloft and it's fortune telling. The entire flow of chapter 4 of 5 changes depending on what villain you choose. It's really 4 version of each encounter in a different order, and as such I think it requires at least 2 reads. One to figure out which one you like, and a second to stop you from mixing them up. Oh, and there are also some faction specific mini missions that are included depending on your players too, and they often interact with big NPCs in Waterdeep.

The adventure takes players from levels 1-5, and as such it has a bit of a different feel from those adventures that have a larger level range. It helps make Waterdeep, and the situations feel dangerous. I believe I said it before, but my personal preference is for lower level play. It feels dangerous, and there's plenty of room for players to grow as well as bite off more than they can chew.

However, it brings some deadliness with that level range. For example, your players can run across a intellect devourer and mind flayer at level 1. Now, the mind flayer is trying to run away, but it's still not the easiest of fights for the party to come out unscathed. Anyone who knows of Waterdeep or read Xanathar's Guide to Everything also knows of Xanathar. Having a beholder and its minions running around in a level 1-5 campaign leaves a lot of room for things to go horribly for a party, and saying that the odds of winning against a beholder at level 5 is low is an understatement. New players may not be as cautious with these things and expect things to be better balanced for them.

It's not just creatures that they have to deal with though, it's also Waterdeep. Their is a massive map and a lot of pages devoted to building the city, it's areas, and even giving the players an inn within it. I absolutely love this element of the adventure. Having them own and manage an inn gives them some personal investment and it does feature in some sequences. It's also a godsend for improvisation if your players are into it. I'd love to see more stuff like this in the future, perhaps involving keeps and underground lairs. Waterdeep has laws, and has law enforcement. Interacting and dealing with this complicating factor is part of the adventure and often part of adventuring in cities in general. However, I've seen quite a few players in my time who didn't like this kind of adventure because they found it restrictive. Sure, they could murder someone to try to get what they want, but they also know there will be serious consequences to punish them for it. Your players should understand that getting arrested for breaking the law is a real possibility. There is a nice page detailing some basic legal stuff. I like this for two reasons. It gives players an understanding of the laws they are going to be interacting with, and it also makes it clear from the beginning that this is one of those adventures where law enforcement exists and does their job. This kind of play is handled best when players know what they are getting into.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Map
The style of map I mentioned. Not bad, but different and has less colour.

The Art and Book Build Quality

I am happy to say that my copy was flawless build quality wise. There were no quality issues, and the binding was great. It feels good, and looks good. I would still recommend my usual checks when picking out a book though just in case. Flip through the book quickly to look for stuck pages (could be improperly cut or images damaged), and check the binding.
The art is what we've come to expect from this edition, keeping a similar style and quantity. The quantity of art has been a consistent high of this edition. That said, the cover isn't my favourite in this edition. Rise of Tiamat still holds that slot for me. I would have liked to see more realistically styled art since it is my preference. Some landscape shots like that would've gone over very well with me. They have some landscape shots that I really liked, but I want more. Especially so when we are talking about a grand city. I do have to note that there are a lot more black and white styled maps in this book. They are good, and if you prefer that style you'll love it. However, if you are used to the coloured style we've seen more commonly it may be a low point for you.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Foldout
One of the two page spreads in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. I hope to see more like this in the future.


It's the usual price we've come to expect. Suggested $49.95 USD or $64.95 CAD, but you can keep your eyes out for a deal.

What I felt was Missing

I think this is one of the adventures that would greatly benefit from a printable version of the Dungeon Master map and player maps of Waterdeep. I want a version I can keep on my side and mark up while my players use the massive foldup map. I also think it wouldn't have hurt to have a code to redeem a digital copy of Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion. Some people prefer to read on a screen and add notes in a pdf and the option would be a good bonus that wouldn't cost Wizards of the Coast much to implement. Then again, they are donating the money to Extra Life.

Free Stuff

Nothing to see here. It's too bad, since I think they could've included a few things free electronically on their website such as the player and Dungeon Master maps I mentioned earlier.


This is one of those adventures that the “could go either way” elements will be the deciding factor. None of it is outright bad in my opinion, but I can see how the threat of law enforcement can make it more restrictive than a player might want, for example. A small village in the middle of nowhere might be more flexible and even allow the party to convince the circle of elders to get away with something. Like most adventures in this edition, it is one where planning time will be needed for the Dungeon Master to get their hand on the pulse of the adventure. You won't be running this one out of the box. You need to read over it a couple of times at least. Like other adventures like Curse of Strahd, you will greatly benefit by knowing the layout and character of Waterdeep. A good part of the book is exploring and interacting with the city. You could run this with a first time group and Dungeon Master, but it will be harder than Mines of Phandelver. If you love the concept, it could really click and lead to amazing results. My group had a ton of fun running the first 2 levels, and I think many others will too. If you saw my “could go either way” section and thought it sounds awesome, you probably will enjoy it. If you didn't, it'll look less attractive.