That darn Volo!
Designed by Chris Perkins, James Haeck, James Introcaso, Adam Lee and Matt Sernet with story consultation from Critical Role’s Matt Mercer, the adventure is a high-quality romp through the streets of the City of Splendors itself.
The book starts strong: There’s a handy pronunciation guide, an adventure outline and an adventure flow chart, followed by some information on character creation and guilds.
With that out of the way, the adventure begins.
At the Yawning Portal
The text already assumes the party knows each other and is hanging out inside the famous tavern, The Yawning Portal. There’s a fantastic picture of the Yawning Portal and its denizens, providing a bit more atmosphere than we’ve seen in previous adventure paths. As the party is enjoying their beverages, a fight between the Zhentarim and Xanathar’s thugs breaks out. During the fracas, the adventurers meet Volo, who gives them a quest. We won’t spoil the details, but this acts as the catalyst for the entire adventure.
The book is separated into the main part of the adventure — chapters one through four — with the final part of the adventure determined by which villain the DM chooses for the adventure. Each villain is tied to a particular season and comes with its own set of challenges for both players and DMs. The most refreshing aspect of the villain role is that the players aren’t supposed to kill the villain as the main quest objective, nor is the villain out to destroy the players (most of the time, anyway).
Where chapter one starts off strong, with a brawl and a fun 12-room “dungeon,” it ends with the players receiving a deed to a place called Trollskull Alley. The former tavern is haunted and acts as a headquarters for the group. This chapter offers an opportunity for the players to explore Waterdeep a bit, join various city factions and learn more about the locals. The characters here are where the chapter shines — a rakshasa detective who can find any weapon, for instance — and players can even purchase spells or fix up Trollskull Alley and open it for business if they wish. This is less of a sandbox then most adventures, but transitions easily into the next section.
Chapter three begins with a Fireball spell exploding near the tavern. This leads into a police procedural style investigation into who cast the spell, leading to a slightly longer dungeon crawl and into the fourth part of the adventure, Dragon Season. This is where the adventure gets interesting. The chapter is separated into a series of encounters. Depending on the DM’s choice of villain and season in which to run the adventure, the chain of encounters changes and tells a different story each time.
The rest of the book details encounters with each of the four villains and their lairs, providing further adventure and context for the story. The writing here is top notch and the plot is full of twists that will engage players for the duration of the campaign. Another neat aspect of this adventure is the story can stand alone or lead directly into an exploration of Undermountain in the next book.
The book is filled with wonderful cartography, fantastic illustrations and numerous helpful features that we hope appear in upcoming titles as well.
Volo’s new guide to Waterdeep
Following the events of the story and the season/villain descriptions, the book leads into a visitors guide to the city. Written in the inimitable voice of Volo, the section covers history, legal code, survival, taxes, coins, the city watch, guilds and wards in great detail. It reminds me of a heavily condensed Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep from 2nd Edition. It’s a fun bit of useful fluff that can only add more role-playing opportunities to your game.
Rounding out the proceedings are an appendix of magic items, a very useful appendix of monsters & NPCs and finally, a section for player handouts. The DM can copy these and distribute them to the players. Not only do we have friendly faces from the Yawning Portal, but there is also a replica of the legal code of Waterdeep and several maps.
In the back of the book is a well drawn, fantastic fold out map of the city with two sides — one for the players and one for the DM.
Final verdict: Dragon Heist
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a worthy addition to any Dungeons & Dragons library. If you’ve been in a bit of a role-playing slump or experienced D&D burnout (as I have recently), it may be just the thing you need to get you back into the game.