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The Reflection

A unique story: Dungeons & Dragons takes different approach to new premade

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A drawing depicting one of the player characters of one of the games played to get the information in the article, drawing by Austin Miller.

Dungeons and Dragons’ newest premade story, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, is a fine shakeup from the standard dungeon-crawling storylines that are normally either action-packed or mystery-laden. The story takes place in the city of Waterdeep, inspired by Victorian Era London, where the playable characters, through their cunning, charisma and just sheer luck, obtain an estate and defeat one of the main antagonists.

The story features four possible main antagonists: Manshoon, a clone of a mad wizard; Jarlaxle, a Dark Elf sailor; the Cassalanters, two noble siblings who worship devils; and Xanathar, a Beholder crime lord known for his bouts of implied insanity.

The unique aspect of this premade is the fact that the most important stats in it are charisma and dexterity, followed by intelligence, wisdom, constitution and lastly strength, as opposed to the standard balanced out stories Wizards of the Coast usually publishes. This leads to bards, clerics, rouges and, provided your DM allows it, artificer being the most useful classes. That being said, the story does provide the occasional opportunity for the paladins, fighters or barbarians of the group to shine, such as the occasional brawl, but, as a whole, playing the classes purely for their in game performances not being at the level that they usually are. So, if a player is dead set on one of those classes, the suggestion is to play them character based, meaning more roleplay focused. Wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, mystics, and monks are as they are in other books, able to be played as either character based or in game based. Finally, rangers and druids are in a weird place in this book. They lack access to the wild areas they flourish in, and their characters are basically fish out of water in a big city like Waterdeep.

As for races, nothing much has been altered do to the setting, with perhaps only two major differences: Tieflings and Half-Orcs now do not suffer as much persecution as they normally would. While this statement might not be true for every game, as different dungeon masters will vary in how they play this out, Tieflings and Half-Orcs are more common a sight in a big city like Waterdeep, people are more accustomed to them and so less xenophobic of them. That being said, most nonplayer characters will still be put off by them, so keep that in mind.

Another notable point of difference in this story is crime enforcement. If a player breaks a law in this book, it legitimately feels like they have broken the law. As a reference, consider Storm King’s Fury. If  players breaks a law of the town in that book (say, is caught stealing from a shop), they will usually only be fined and forced to return the stolen property, maybe hit once or twice if they attempt to resist. But in Waterdeep, if players do that, the city guard will find them and get the stolen goods back. If  players even attempts to fight back, they are imprisoned and possibly sentenced to execution, and then their only option is to convince the prison to let them go, post bail, or die.

The final difference that sets Dragon Heist apart from other premade stories is that it isn’t based around the idea of physical combat. Instead, it is based on the idea of psychological battles and outperforming your antagonists, both socially and cunningly. For example, of the potential main antagonists mentioned above, only Jarlaxle’s chapter doesn’t mention something along the lines of “It is very unlikely that the player characters will be able to defeat them,” instead saying that, if he is killed, he will be raised from the dead in 10 days. This leads to a campaign where players should not employ a kick the door in strategy, but instead calculate each and every move they and their enemies make, as well as have a few backup plans.

Overall, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is a fresh and unique premade story, which flips the usual formula for premades on its head and offers dungeons masters a lot of choices when running the story to make it feel like their own.


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