Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a fantastic introductory adventure for Dungeons & Dragons 5e in which players can explore the Forgotten Realms’ most famous city, run their own tavern, tangle with mad beholders, and generally get into trouble as they blunder through a complex tapestry of deadly faction conflict like an NBA player walking through a hallway full of spiderwebs.
Heck, they might even get rich. But is this the right D&D 5e book for you?
- Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a starter adventure for D&D 5e that takes players from 1st to 5th level, at which point players are expected to begin Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage.
- The adventure is a prolonged treasure hunt set in a single location: the massive city of Waterdeep. The second half of the book also serves as a guide to the city, including its factions, traditions, locations, and legal system.
- The adventure is modular with the DM free to choose one of four different antagonists, each of whom brings a different feeling to the adventure.
- Oh, and I should probably make it clear up front: Yes, there is a dragon in this adventure. No, you don’t get to steal it. “Dragons” are a denomination of currency used in Waterdeep.
What Is Waterdeep: Dragon Heist?
Published in 2018, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is an adventure book for D&D 5e that transports players to the city of Waterdeep on the Sword Coast. There the players will become embroiled in a city-wide hunt for a cache of stolen gold “dragons” and cross paths with several powerful factions in the process.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is designed to take PCs from 1st level to 4th or 5th level, at which point the adventure feeds into the much larger sequel Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. The second half of the book also serves as a setting guide to the city of Waterdeep, including its customs, festivals, districts (known as Wards), and legal system.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist — Adventure Summary
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist always begins the same way: in Waterdeep, the “City of Splendors,” Dagult Neverember, the previous Open Lord of Waterdeep, has stolen a huge cache of “Dragons” (the Waterdehavian currency, not the big scaly monsters — although the adventure has them too) and hidden them inside a vault somewhere in the city.
He’s also magically wiped his own memory, placing knowledge of the vault’s location inside a magic item that is also somewhere in the city. Now, several of Waterdeep’s most powerful factions, including the Xanathar Guild and the Zhentarim, are on the hunt alongside the player characters. In short, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is an urban treasure hunt.
However, it’s not the same treasure hunt every time.
Chapters 1-4 detail the four major sections of the adventure’s plot…
Chapter One, “A Friend in Need,” opens in the famous Yawning Portal tavern, which sits over one of the entrances to the infamous megadungeon Undermountain (a central feature of this adventure’s sequel: Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage) where the PCs meet Volothamp Geddarm (in-fiction author of Volo’s Guide to Monsters) and get caught in the middle of a bar fight between members of the Zhentarim and the Xanathar Guild.
By the end of this section, the PCs have gotten on the wrong side of at least one of Waterdeep’s major criminal factions, (hopefully) made a few useful alliances, and been gifted the deed to their very own tavern: Trollskull Manor.
Chapter Two, “Trollskull Alley,” is where the adventure opens up a bit — and by that I mean “turns into an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Waterdeep.” Now that the players are owners of their very own tavern, they can spend some time integrating into Waterdhavian society, which means joining one or more of the various guilds, factions, and criminal gangs throughout the city.
In addition to doing small quests to prove their worth to various guilds, forging important alliances, and meeting colorful NPCs, the main purpose of chapter 2 is to make the PCs feel like they’re actually a part of their little neighborhood. This, in turn, makes what happens next all the more devastating.
Chapter Three, “Fireball,” starts with the detonation of a powerful spell right next to the players’ tavern. It takes out a whole building, even killing a few people the PCs have come to know and maybe even like.
It transpires that the fireball was cast by an assassin working for the adventure’s main antagonist, and tracking them down really sets off the adventure’s treasure-hunting section.
Chapter Four, “Dragon Season,” is a series of eight short, tightly knit encounters that range from chases and duels to tense negotiations as the players draw closer to the location of the vault. Once inside the vault, they need to negotiate with (if they’re very stupid — I mean brave) a gold dragon for possession of the stash and then get ambushed by their antagonists on the way out, at which point the adventure can go very, very badly if it turns out the PCs didn’t take the time in Chapter Two to join any guilds or forge any alliances to come and help them.
Assuming things don’t end in a horrible TPK, the adventure concludes with the PCs returning (most of) the gold to the city, at which point they’re free to explore further, continue to face off against their antagonist faction, or jump into Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage.
Chapters Five-Eight, the Seasons of Waterdeep, deal with the most interesting part of this adventure: the villains. In a surprising amount of modularity and customizability for a 5e module (which are usually long, plodding, and about as flexible as a porcelain cup), Waterdeep: Dragon Heist can be played a total of four different ways.
You can run the adventure in spring, summer, autumn, or winter. Each season pits the players against a different villain, each of whom wants the cache of dragons for a slightly different reason.
There are Xanathar the Beholder and the guild it commands; a faction of the Zhentarim (a clandestine mercenary and mercantile organization) led by a clone of an evil wizard called Manshoon; a drow called Jarlaxle Baenre and the Bregan D’aerthe mercenary company; and a husband and wife duo whose family, House Cassalanter, have all ended up pledging their souls to the archdevil Asmodeus and want to buy their way out of the bargain. This last option is by far my favorite.
Chapter Nine, “Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion,” is a general guide to the city of Waterdeep, including a whole host of important and useful information for running adventures in the city. It includes different festival days (important since the adventure takes place at a particular time of year), advice on social customs (basically “don’t piss off the aristocracy”), and an introduction to the Waterdhavian legal system (again, basically “don’t piss off the aristocracy”).
Should I Run Waterdeep: Dragon Heist?
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a remarkably interesting adventure that feels quite unique among other 5e books of the same time period. Rather than trekking all over the Forgotten Realms (like you do in Storm KIng’s Thunder) or beyond (like in Tomb of Annihilation), Waterdeep: Dragon Heist keeps its story contained to a single location.
Also, while there are other single-location adventures out there, they mostly center on exploring a particular space such as a dungeon. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, on the other hand, is all about faction diplomacy and a party of adventurers pursuing clues, infiltrating guild headquarters, and having chases over rooftops — something that really makes this adventure feel unique.
If that sounds good to you and you think it’ll sound good to your gaming group as well, then this adventure is going to be a firm favorite. This book does a great job of making Waterdeep feel fully fleshed out and alive as well as having a lot of replayability in terms of the modular antagonists. If you think D&D should be more about journeying to far-off lands to plunder ancient riches from long-buried temples, there are better options out there for you.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.