By Scott Schweinfurth
Adventurers gather at the Yawning Portal Inn and Tavern. Volothamp Geddarm, the famous explorer, has a quest for the adventurers—one that entangles them in a bitter conflict between two nefarious organizations. If the adventurers complete his quest, Volo will reward them handsomely. But the real prize lies hidden somewhere in the City of Splendors, waiting to be claimed.
“Waterdeep: Dragon Heist” is a Dungeons and Dragons adventure where the characters get caught up in the rumors surrounding a hidden vault of gold somewhere in the city. Everything starts with a simple rescue mission, but that draws the characters into a conflict where they have to do their best to understand what’s happening all while seeming to always be one step behind the villain’s plans.
One of the main selling points of this book is the replay-ability. The book offers 4 different antagonists, all with their own schemes and plans to get their hands on the fortune buried somewhere nearby. Players could go through this 4 times and not have the exact same experience. However, the issue with that is where the branch point is: about three-quarters of the way in. So if you did play through this multiple times, you would have the exact same events happen 75% of the time you played. Now this isn’t to say that you would have the same experience, as the way characters respond to the situations is going to be different, but that ends up putting the burden on the players to react differently to the same thing they’ve already experienced. This idea of multiple endings is pretty cool, but may not be executed in the best way.
One other thing I didn’t particularly care for was that the last quarter of this (already fairly thin book, compared to other Dungeons and Dragons published adventures) was a guide book written from the perspective of a tourist’s guide. It was pretty cool that something existed where I could hypothetically give it to the players and they could learn more about the wonderful city their adventure took place in, but since it was permanently a part of my book this became a problem. Do I trust the players with my book (where they could turn a few pages and read all the problems they were about to encounter)? Do I risk damaging the spine in an attempt to copy it? I saw that Wizards of the Coast finally put the entire thing online as a PDF for sale, but that would mean I have to buy something I already own.
You may be thinking, with those last two complaints, that I didn’t enjoy this adventure, but I truly did (and so did my players). With a high emphasis on role-playing rather than combat, this was a welcome change that stands out as a breath of fresh air (especially as it was released between “Tomb of Annihilation” and “Dungeon of the Mad Mage”, both heavy dungeon crawls). The story the characters go through is a really good one, where they struggle to understand the series of events they’ve been caught in the middle of. Characters will be working off of limited information to try and make the best decisions and foil the villain’s plans. It feels like there’s a larger world with events going on and the characters are only barely aware of and becomes something of an underdog story, one where with perseverance and determination, the underdogs will topple (or at the very least disrupt) one of this major cities biggest ne’er-do-well.
Ultimately, I feel there is a fantastic story here that succeeds in spite of its gimmick.
I would rate this game 4 out of 5 hands.