Waterdeep: Dragon Heist: is Wizards of the Coast feature adventure product of 2018 designed to run as a long campaign from level 1 to level 5.
Low level adventures provide players with a level of tension and gameplay which is very different.
At low level characters have less powers available to them. This makes escaping difficult situations very challenging and the probability of death during combat is much higher. Consequently, the other pillars of play (social and exploration) comprise a greater part of the adventure. This reflects the playstyle of Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer: Dungeon Master for Critical Role: the principal design consultant for this book. Mr Mercers playstyle is decidedly theatrical (and indeed so is the playstyle of entire Critical Role cast when it comes to story) and this shines through the book.
Dragon Heist is a mystery campaign based in the largest and most noble of cities on the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting: Waterdeep.
Waterdeep is a refined cultured city of some 1 million souls ruled over by the open and masked lords who are by-enlarge benign rulers and have created a lawful and functioning metropolis for its citizens.
This is a good choice for a city adventure as the size of the city provides for a multitude of locations and opportunities for a world-building Dungeon Master to insert their own creations within the world. The cities goodness means players can’t draw swords and use magic indiscriminately without consequence. This reinforces the need for social interaction to advance, which is important to solving a mystery as at low level players don’t have access to the spell “Speak with Dead” to get answers from the recently vanquished.
The adventure is of short to medium length compared to other campaign books produced by Wizards of the Coast. This is a good thing as not all groups want to play the year or years long campaign or a really short dungeon such as the Sunless Citadel from the adventure book Tales of the Yawning Portal. For people wishing a longer campaign there is both enough material and scope within the adventure for a Dungeon Master who wishes a longer campaign to achieve it without too much effort.
During the marketing campaign much was said about the replay-ability of Dragon Heist due to it having four villains for the DM to choose one from. While there are four villains the interconnecting components are linear and a modest amount of work is required to replace these sections if you wish to run the adventure again.
With the book being 224 pages in length – less than the 256 pages adventure books printed at this time had, there was room to provide an alternate opening sequence and/or guidance / tools to help the Dungeon Master replace various components of the original adventure with less effort.
This is a minor fault as the adventure itself is a wonderfully enjoyable romp. The art is excellent but the maps suffer if you are a virtual tabletop player as they are line art without colour. That said they are very clear and a DM who needs quickly hand draw a location on a battle map will be able to do with ease.
Other nice features of this adventure are the move away from the typical dungeon and a storyline that is devoid of a “save the world” plot.
While there is one storyline with that contains potential for the players to dragged into a Batman-esq “My City adventure” the likelihood is that Players will stay the rag-tag bunch of fame and fortune hunters that many players crave as it a divergence from their real lives.
This adventure is suited to DMs with a little experience under their belt and DMs that wish to play up the social / theatrical side of Dungeons and Dragons. If social is not your style of play the book has plenty to offer including Volo’s Enchiridion which shows how a relatively detailed city guide can be presented without going over the top.
If you are in the market for a 5e adventure book – this one should be near the top of your purchase list.