Review: Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Is an Amazing Introduction to 'Dungeons & Dragons'

Dungeons & Dragons has provided newcomers with a perfect introduction in the form of their newest adventure.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a unique urban-themed treasure hunt that puts a group of characters on the hunt for a massive hoard of gold within the city. The new Dungeons & Dragons adventure, one of two planned for release this year, takes a different approach to building a D&D campaign. Not only is it clearly the first chapter in a larger saga (one that will be wrapped up in November's Dungeon of the Mad Mage), it also pits the adventurers against one of four high-powered villains that your party has no chance of defeating on your own.

Instead of giving players a "big bad" to hunt, they're instead in a race to collect a secret stash of 500,000 dragons, the golden currency of Waterdeep. A disgraced politician hid the gold within the city before his exile, and eventually the party learns of its existence...and that someone else is searching for it. Which villain the party faces is determined by which season the adventure takes place in, although players can encounter all four villains during their search for the gold treasure.

Dragon Heist is a great introduction for newcomers, as it provides a huge setting ripe for exploration and tons of activities that don't involve wanton violence. Waterdeep is a city of laws and the punishment for breaking those rules can be harsh. Not only will this break new players of any "murder hobo" tendencies, it also encourages players to find inventive solutions to the problems they'll encounter.

The strength of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is its four variant storylines, each of which have wildly different themes and motivations. Depending on which season the party chooses at the outset, players can face off against secret devil worshippers, roguish drow anti-heroes, or mad beholders. Each of the villains have complex motivations for wanting the gold, and players might find themselves sympathizing or even cooperating with the villains depending on how the events unfold.

I'm especially a fan of the Cassalanters, two nobles trying to worm their way out of a dark bargain, but for a somewhat noble reason. The Cassalanters are one of the best villains I've seen in an official D&D adventure in quite some time, and DMs should be salivating at the heartrending choice the players will need to make when they learn the reason why the Cassalanters want the gold.

The book is also filled with tons of information, all designed to make Waterdeep come to life. DMs will appreciate the resources contained in Dragon Heist, as the book has tons of meaty NPCs to throw in front of their players. It seems like so many of the characters in Dragon Heist have story hooks built into them, giving players plenty of distractions while they search for their gold.

There are a couple of weaknesses in Dragon Heist that might leave some veteran players disappointed or underwhelmed. Despite its title, Dragon Heist is more of a treasure hunt than a heist. The story is more National Treasure than Ocean's 11, and some might feel misled based on how the book was promoted. Of course, if players really want to turn Dragon Heist into a "heist," the easiest way is to simply design a scenario in which the bad guys get the gold first and then the players steal it from them after it leaves the vault in which it's hidden.

In addition, players might be disappointed to learn that the first 3/4ths of the adventure (Chapters 1 - 3, to be precise) doesn't have much variation, even with the different possible villains. A skilled DM can probably morph Dragon Heist into something with a bit more variation in order to use this storyline multiple times, but ultimately, Dragon Heist won't be enjoyed by many players a second or third time.

Also, while I personally love the idea of pitting low-level adventurers against high level antagonists, some players might find that the adventure takes away a bit of their agency. A group of Level 4 adventurers won't have a chance of killing a mad beholder or Jarlaxle, nor do they stand a chance of surviving a fight against the ultimate guardian of the gold hoard. If you have players that ultimately want to wrap their story with an epic battle that ends with their enemy's death, Dragon Heist might not be the storyline for them.

Another controversial feature in Dragon Heist are the hand-drawn maps used for the various encounters. Previous adventurers have used highly stylized color maps, but Dragon Heist uses distinctive black and white maps hand drawn by Dyson Logos. Personally, I loved the maps (especially as I tend to hand draw maps for encounters myself), but I saw a lot of complaints from players who use digital tools when playing Dungeons & Dragons. The maps seemed to be a jarring change for some, but honestly, it comes down to personal taste. I appreciated the maps and will likely find them more useful than maps from other adventures.

Dragon Heist is geared for the new adventurer, but players looking for a more fearsome challenge won't have to wait very long. Dungeons & Dragons will release a follow-up adventure, Dungeon of the Mad Mage, that will send players into the infamous Undermountain dungeon that sprawls under the city. Ultimately, Dragon Heist is a very meaty opening chapter for an even grander adventure that players/DMs can continue in November...or with their own plot.

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While some fans were hoping for a more ambitious or experimental storyline, Dragon Heist is one of the stronger adventures released by Dungeons & Dragons in recent years. On its own, Dragon Heist looks to be about as fun as Curse of Strahd or Tomb of Annihilation, two of the game's most popular adventure. When coupled with the upcoming Dungeon of the Mad Mage, this could turn into D&D's best Fifth Edition adventure yet.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is available at local game stores in the US now. It will be available at all book retailers beginning September 18th.