Waterdeep Dragon Heist is an beginner adventure for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. It is designed for PC levels 1 – 5 and is complete urban adventure with a few dungeon crawls. There is a fair amount of investigation and a lot of roleplay. This is not a Hack and Slash adventure. The main antagonists and most NPCs are all several levels higher than the players. Your players will have to use stealth, guile and their wits to defeat them, not brawn.
A unique feature of the adventure is that you can choose from 4 potential candidates for the main villain. You also get to choose what season of the year the adventure takes place; creating a distinct atmosphere for your playthrough. Technically, each villain is attached to a particular season but you can alter that to best suit your campaign.
I like the seasonal aspect of the module but I didn’t want to limit myself to just one. I want my players to experience a full year of adventure in this amazing metropolis. I altered the adventure to allow my players to go up against all four villians at different times, one for each season. There is even the possibility that a previous villain may become an ally to the party. I will include any alterations in case you would like to play the adventure in a similar fashion.
In my campaign, this adventure follows the same group that played through The Lost Mine of Phandelver. As such, my players are already at 5th level at the start of the adventure. I had to modify all of the combat encounters upward in order to challenge my players. This also allows for the possibility that they may decide to take on some of the high-level villains directly in combat. We shall see how that plays out.
In addition to playing through Waterdeep: Dragon Heist as a year-long campaign, I have incorporated the adventures that are included in the Tales From the Yawning Portal campaign book. This book present a series of Funhouse Dungeons that span the entire timeline of D&D. You can follow along with these adventures in my Tales From the Yawning Portal Campaign Resources Page.
What follows is a our complete experience playing Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. There are six sections:
The Campaign Diaries – The continuing story of the Saviors of Phandalin, as they spend a year in the grandest city of Faerun, The City of Splendors, Waterdeep. Along the way, they earn a few more titles, open a tavern, get charged with kidnapping and murder, incite a war, and invent popcorn. Oh, and they stumble into the biggest heist Waterdeep has ever seen.
The Charts – Waterdeep: Dragon Heist provides a ton of information that is basically thrown at the DMs. Sadly there is little organization to this info and it is easy to forget or miss crucial details. I’ve compiled all of the charts and graphs that are based upon the written source material that I use to to keep the adventure as neat and concise as a sprawling urban adventure can be.
How to Run a Waterdeep Campaign – Running a huge urban adventure is one of the greatest challenges for any DM. To do it successfully, you need a ton of extra materials and information not included in the base adventure. Hopefully, these resources can help you run your own magical metropolis. There are also separate articles about running the various villains and factions that are particular to this adventure.
The Maps – All the maps I used to run Waterdeep Dragon Heist, including custom maps and battle mats. The Player Maps have all hidden locations, traps, and secret areas removed. They are great to hand out to your players without revealing what nasty secrets you have in store for them.
The Handouts – The adventure does not present any handouts for the players. I use handouts all the time to seed future adventure hooks, remind players of current quest objective, and to enhance the reality of my world. I usually print them using a variety of construction and specialty papers cut to fit my printer. The Handouts can be printed as is or used as a starting point for your own creative spin.
The Ageless One – Interwoven with this adventure is my own homebrewed storyline involving an apocalyptic prophesy, the corruption of one of the player characters, and the creation of the Second Sundering, all centered around something called The Ageless One. I’ve put all the details involving this storyline here.
If there is anything else that you think I should have here to help you run your own campaign, please leave a comment.
Session 1 – Enroute to Waterdeep, the Savoirs get lost in a toxic swamp, and almost die immdiately when the DM forgets to nerf the badguys.
Session 2 – Still stuck in the mud, the players stumble onto a demon Lizard King doing demonic things. They help him get home to hell.
Session 3 – Our heroes finally make it to Waterdeep. But they have hard time getting in when a gaggle of invisible trolls try to crash the gates.
Session 4 – Now dubbed The Defenders of Trollgate, the group finds the Yawning Portal, the only inn in town, and almost get eaten by a plant.
Session 5 – That scamp, Volo, sends our heroes on a wide goose chase. They get caught in a gang war, and then rescue the wrong guy.
Session 6 – The Saviors infiltrate a Xanathar hideout, find their quarry, but then seriously underestimate a mind flayer.
Session 7 – Now they own a haunted tavern. They attend a noble party that gets crashed by a man and his miniature giant space hampster.
Session 8 – The Saviors are back in town. We turn the session into CSI: Waterdeep following a deadly explosion in Trollskull Alley.
Session 9 – The Saviors hunt for the Man with the Golden Arm, they fly a griffon, and meet the most colorful rogue in the Realms. Almost.
Session 10 – The Gralhund Villa Massacre. The Saviors break into an evil noble’s villa but end up having to rescue them instead.
Session 11 – Still hunting the metallic murderer, the Saviors blow up a warehouse, watch a parade, and open the Trollskull Tavern.
Session 12 – We reveal the main villain, but the players don’t know it. One character takes a dark turn, but the players don’t know that either.
Session 13 – Our heroes break bread with the main villain of this season, Jaraxle Baenre, but the players are completely out to lunch.
Session 14 – Our heroes finally catch the murderous metal man, but they are still no closer to finding the hidden fortune of gold.
These first items are items are actually handouts that I give out to all my players. Prior to every campaign, I give my players a folder for their character. The two pockets hold their character sheets, spell cards, handouts, and other PC related items. The center binder holds four important handouts/charts. For more details about any of these handouts, check out my Dungeon Master Resources Page.
Rules FOUR PAGE – A brief Rules synopsis that includes info on Adventuring and Combat basics to help new players learn and veteran players remember some the of the core rules of D&D.
Critical Hit-Fumble Table – Although this is included in the Rules FOUR Page, some have asked for this expanded Critical Hit / Fumble chart spearately. My players love this chart since it allows them the chance to completely obliterate an enemy at the risk of falling flat on their face or stabbing an ally.
Equipment List – All the basic equipment commonly available for purchase. While it can be fun to role play the shopping spree, usually it’s just easier for players to look it up and tell me what they bought. Plus, it keeps the murder-hobos from killing your shopkeeps. Obviously, prices can be adjusted, based upon the availability of the item and the quality of the shop.
Sword Coast Codex – The Lost Mine of Phandelver (as well as most of the published adventures) takes place in the official D&D setting, The Forgotten Realms. This two-page Overview gives your players the common knowledge that a person living in the Realms would know. Basic Geography, Known Factions, Currency, Major Gods, the Standard Calendar, and a Brief History of the World are included. I’ve removed any reference to a specific date, so that you can set the start of your campaign whenever you want.
Up next are all the charts and tables for the DM eyes only. No peeking, you conniving, cheating, double-crossing, lily-livered, dice-fudging, min-maxed, hobo-murdering, meta-gaming PCs!
Party Character Stats – I keep all the important character stats on this Cheat Sheet. You can see it attached to my DM screen above. It helps me plan encounters and keep things balanced, especially when running things on the fly.
Dragon Heist NPC Roster – There are over 200 named NPCs listed in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist from the 2nd most-powerful wizard in the world to the lowliest street urchin, some have detailed backstories while other have a just name and a vague description of their ethnicity. Depending upon which main villain you choose, some don’t even appear in your story at all. But all of them will become lost in the shuffle of your notes if you’re not careful. This list give you every NPC in the adventure, including what faction they belong to, when in the adventure you first find them, their occupation, class or monster level, alignment, race, ethnicity, and gender. Characters printed in bold are major NPCs who have numerous encounters with the players. For more information regarding the ethnic races, see my article below. Also there are numerous NPCs who are encountered while in disguise which are indicated by italics.
Dragon Heist Monsters Stats – The thing I miss most about OSR modules is the Monster Stat sheet included in the back. This puts all of the relevant combat data for every creature in the adventure all in one place. No more forgetting a special ability, or hunting through the book for a single stat, or flipping back and forth when running combat with two or more monsters. In this adventure, there are over 120 monsters and NPC classes, including 25 unique NPCs. Keeping track of them all is a nightmare. Until now.
For those of you who prefer to write their own lists, here are links to clean, blank versions of all these charts. If you prefer to type your own, I recreated them using Microsoft Excel.
How to Run a Waterdeep Campaign
Waterdeep is an enourmous city and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the logistic of running a sandbox campaign is such a vast setting. I posted an extensive article about tips, tricks, and advice about running Waterdeep or another large fantasy urban area. You can read the full article here: How to Run a Fantasy City. And I’ve included several accessories and PDF files that I used to manage all the minutia.
One of the big selling points about Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is the modular, mix-and-match design that allows the DM to choose one of four main villains and which season the adventure takes place in. But which villain to pick? What if you want to run more than one? What do you do when you realize that most of the villain’s plan are pretty lame?
I’ve put together a separate post that discusses each villain, their plan, and their season. I give some ideas on how to make each evil scheme more villainous. I discuss changing the seasons to better fit your campaign. And I give you some ideas about how to incorporate all four villains into one giant year-long campaign that will truly turn your players into Heroes of the North. Here is the link: Waterdeep: Dragon Heist – The Villains
VOLO’S GUIDE TO WATERDEEP
If at all possible, I would pick up a copy of “Waterdeep and the North” & “Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep”. Both are chock full of information about the City of Splendors and are invaluable for filling in the details of this incredible city. Granted both of these products are set in the 2nd edition year of D&D (1358DR), but most buildings and people can be dropped into your game without any changes and your players will never know. If I were to get just one book, I would get Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep. It is a phenomenal read and details the more customary places that the players will go; shops, inns, taverns, back alleys, and such. In contrast, Waterdeep and the North has a lot of info on the guilds, noble families, and the government of the city. Both are available from DriveThru RPG (link below) for less than $10 each and both come with one of the best maps created for the city. I use these all the time running my campaign. Here is the link: DriveThru RPG
THE WATERDEEP DIRECTORY
A good directory is the first step to organizing the city. Instead of having to read a boring list each time the players want to buy a sword, you can have the players find it themselves. Plus, they’ll feel like a native when they know the address of every tavern in town better than you do. Each address in the directory is keyed to the locations found on the map that comes with both Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep & FR1 Waterdeep and the North. This is another reason to pick up a copy of those book. The number of the address is the map location. Waterdeep Directory
To take full advantage of Dragon Heist’s rich seasonal atmosphere you need to have a good calendar to work out a timeline and schedule special events while incorporating the unique festivals and holidays celebrated in Waterdeep and the Forgotten Realms. I often schedule to have a minor event occur during one of the various holidays. For example, my players attended a noble party during Trolltide and later broke up a villanous plot that would have occurred during Dragondown. First, this makes the minor event more memorable, and second it allows you to incorporate the unique favor of the city into the encounter and not just as some trivial detail, tacked on by the lore-loving DM. But for a major event, I might consider placing it on an empty day in the calendar. Who knows, someday your heroes might create their own holiday. Faerun Calendar
Waterdeep has popluation of about 100,000 people, from nearly invincible fighters and wizards down to the lowest beggar and street urchin and everyone in between. In Dragon Heist, the players have the chance to deal directly with hundreds of them; all with names, backstories, goals, and secrets. Now if you have a hard time keeping track of them, imagine how your players will feel. It is easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated with the sheer number of NPCs in this adventure. Here is the link to help you manage all these NPCs. Dragon Heist NPC Roster. But first, let’s examine something that is barely touched on in the Player’s Handbook: The ethnic races of humans.
Whenever an NPC is listed in any adventure, their ethnic race is listed. For the demi-humans this is never an issue. There are only a couple of subsets for the dwarves, elves, halflings and such, and it is often clear what the differnce is. One can read about or even guess the distinction between a high elf, a wood elf, and a dark elf. But with humans, not so much. For example, Meloon Wardragon, a powerful NPC and possible ally or enemy of the players, is a Chondathan male. What is that? Where is that? Is this important? Following is a list of all the major ethnic human groups found in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. They are listed in order of occurrance and I’ve included the Forgotten Realms land from which they come, and my own (I’m certain, racist and euro-centric) ideas of a real world conterpart to help decribe their appearance and culture.
- Illuskan – Predominant group of the Sword Coast, where Waterdeep is set. Name comes from the northern city, Luskan. Luskan was once called Illuskan, hence the confusing name. Real-world – Northern Europe, Breton, Denmark, Scandinavia.
- Chodanthan – Largest geographic group, majority of lands in central Faerun; Cormyr, Sembia, Dalelands, and Zhentarim. Chondath, is a southern country that no one’s heard of . Your classic medieval European land of France and England.
- Tethyrian – South of the Sword Coast, countries of Tethyr and Amn, which is often listed as its own ethnic group. A melting pot of cultures and people similar to the lands of the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Spain, and Moors of North Africa.
- Lantanese – There are no Lantanese NPCs in the book, but they are mentioned often as inventors of Nimblewrights and Drow firearms. Lantan is an island nation off the coast of Tethyr. They resemble the people of Ireland and Scotland.
- Calishite – One of the smallest lands, Calimsham is a desert land attached to, but isolated from Tethyr on the southwest coast of mainland Faerun. Its people and culture are derived from Egyptian legends and Tales of the Arabian Nights.
- Chultan – Jungles of Chult is a huge peninsula in the deep south of Faerun. People and culture are based on the tribes of Central Africa. Chult’s largest tribe is called the Tabaxi, which is completely distinct from the player race of cat-people.
- Mulan – East past the Inner Sea, this group is another melting pot of races that get split into their own ethnic groups; Mulhorand, Thay, Chessenta, Turami, Rashemi. Real world – Eastern Mediterranean; Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Iran and Iraq.
- Damaran – Northern shore of the Inner Sea, between the Chodanthan and Mulan. Damaran consists of its namesake Damara, plus Impiltur, Aglarond and Vassa. I model these people on those of Northern Eurasia; Germany, Poland, and Russia.
- Chou – The Chou are located to the Far East in the setting of Kara-Tur. Most closely resembles mainland China. Many groups represent other oriental lands, like Kozakuran (Japan), Koryoan (Korea), Wanese (Okinawa), and Tabotan (Tibet).
- Halruaan – Far to the south, this land connects the Chult peninsula to the mainland. Heavily influenced by the Arabian people with a mix of Indian culture as well. India, the country, not Native American. The Native America people and culture of Faerun is called Maztica.
There are a few ethnicities that I might have missed, but this should answer most questions.
Dragon Heist make great use of a number of factions and organizations, including some new ones unique to the city. These groups provide a number of side quests that can add excitement, provide local color, and even get the story back on track. But dealing with all of them can be a logistical nightmare. To help manage them, I made a Faction Missions PDF. This sheet has all of the factions and their missions on one page. It lists the locations visited should you need to discreetly lead players to a particular part of town. It also lists the factions that are adversely affected by the mission if you want to avoid or maybe create conflict with that faction. I added alternative faction and location options for each mission shoud you need to change anything. Finally, I included all of the locations for each step in the various Chapter 4 Encounter Chains to keep track of where the players should be and allow you to assign a side quest should they get completely lost.
“The press is an invaluable institution, if one knows how to use it.” I use the newspapers to keep the players engaged with the overall story, reminding them of vital elements they may have forgotten, seed potential plot hooks, and present a world greater than just last week’s session. Issue #1 was given to the players after the took ownership of Trollskull Manor.
As always I’ll provide DM and player versions of all the official maps, and all of the battle maps I made during the adventure. But first you need a good map of the city. The first is the one I used in my campaign and all of the location numbers match up to the Waterdeep Directory that I gave my players. The second is a nicer map but all of the location numbers are changed. The locations are all the same though.
Following are all the maps I used during the “Road to Waterdeep” sessions (Sessions 1-3). These are not part of the official adventure presented in Waterdeep Dragon Heist. They follow my party’s adventures in the Mere of Dead Men, a deadly swamp on the only road between Neverwinter and Waterdeep. I present them as part of my campaign’s story and for anyone interested in using them
Okay, now we get into the adventure proper, starting with the Yawning Portal.
Sadly there are no official handouts in the adventure. So, here are a bunch of unofficial ones.
The Ageless One
I expect that by the time that we finally run through all four seasons of Dragon Heist, plus all the dungeons in Tales From the Yawning Portal, I expect my players to be up around the 12th – 14th level range. At this point, we will run through my homebrewed endgame campaign, but I’ve been planting the seeds for this adventure since the ending of the Lost Mine of Phandelver. But because my players tend to read my posts and this is an active campaign diary, I’ve had to be vague or outright lie about the details. But I will put all of the threads here in one place for those who care to read them.
The official year of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is 1492 DR, but I chose to set our adventures in 1479 DR for a very specific reason. As I mentioned the Sword Coast Codex, each year in the Forgotten Realms is given a pseudo-prophetic name. 1479 is called “The Year of the Ageless One”, but more impotrtantly 1480 DR is called “The Year of Deep Water Drifting”. Since we are doing a year long campaign in “Water Deep”, I just had to find a way to incorporate these elements. And when one of my players said he wanted his character to turn evil, I knew who my “Ageless One” was going to be.
This is still a work in progress. We have just completed Chapter 4 and are about to start the Summer adventure. As we continue through the module, I will add more material as it is created. Stay tuned.
And if you like these Resources pages, then check out the ones I’ve created for the other campaigns I’m running at the D&D Campaign Resources Page.
As always, it’s better to show than tell, and Game On!