I won’t be reviewing this adventure because I’m planning to play through it which is a shame because it sounds like a damn good read. I decided not to write reviews for ToA or a complete Yawning Portal because I have a hard time reading the descriptions for a dungeon. They’re very technical and I have trouble really understanding them until I’m actually preparing to run them which might be never. Typically I just read the plot and skip the encounters. The reviews are looking damn good though and I’m definitely looking forward to picking this one up.
I like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter more than Waterdeep and I’m not sure why that is. Especially since they are, you know, fictitious. It’s like the Gate and Neverwinter remind me of Philadelphia and Boston, while Waterdeep reminds me of New York. I think it’s because Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter have both gotten great sourcebooks in the last 8 years but Waterdeep has not. It feels bizarre that we’re getting this detailed Waterdeep book 4 years into a D&D edition that has so heavily focused on the Sword Coast section of the Forgotten Realms. But it seems like a good thing that 5E had a chance to ferment for a few years before they did this.
At first I looked askance at the idea of charging the full $50 hardcover price for a level 1 through 5 adventure. I knew it was 256 pages but also, how do you spend that long on a level 1-5 campaign? Storm King’s Thunder has a Level 1-5 section taking up 17 pages, Phandelver is maybe double that. I kind of assumed that a substantial portion of the book was a long overdue 5E Waterdeep sourcebook and it sounds like that is the case. I do wonder how long our group is going to spend on Dragon Heist. Based on the twitter buzz it really does seem like your PCs are encouraged to wallow around and enjoy themselves. One would normally think a “heist” would be on a timetable but I think that was called out as a problem in Tomb of Annihilation. Putting the PCs on a literal deadline just meant they couldn’t enjoy the wonders of Port Nyanzaru or explore Chult at the optimal low levels to do so.
I’ve found in 5E that players ought to be 3rd Level within one and a half sessions. From 3rd to about 10th level you really get into that Goldilocks sweet spot. From 10th Level onward it gets very difficult to challenge the PCs but 1st & 2nd levels characters have so many limitations they sometimes just don’t feel like competent adventurers. I have this dread sense that we’re going to be level 1 and 2 for 2/5ths of the adventure and that’s just not how 5E works best guys. The game starts at level 3, most of the interesting class defining choices kick in at level 3. That doesn’t really apply to me since I’m playing The Cleric where Domain is level 1, but the channel divinity is level 2.
I have actually come up with a hook for my character, my Aasimar Knowledge Cleric. When making a character, you always want to ask yourself, why is this person here? Why don’t they go home and make an honest living without having orcs swing axes at their heads? Why are they camping out with 3-6 other chuckeheads in some goddamn tomb when they could be anywhere else? My thinking is that this character is one of the deity Savras’s many “eyes” for lack of a better word throughout the multiverse. They are tasked with seeing and learning all. This being has been tasked with learning Waterdeep. That’s it. “Define Waterdeep.” They’re learning all the people, places, things, and anything else in the city. There are then the secondary goals of attracting followers to the Deity and compensating the city through good works.
This gives my character a reason to talk to every NPC, check out every tavern and guildhall, and pickup every hook the DM is laying down with the goal of defining Waterdeep which is a great pairing for the unofficial Waterdeep sourcebook. The character is almost like a droid or replicant in its kind of “intelligent but socially inexperienced” nature. It’s sort of like Ford Prefect crossed with a Missionary. It’s definitely a fish out of water character which I seem to gravitate to. Mechanically, I’d be planning to go Knowledge Cleric all the way. I’ll spread out my stats and plan to prepare Enhance Ability so this character can theoretically be good at any skill, at least a couple times per day. With the Aasimar +2 Charisma this might be better expressed as a Lore Bard, but I really want that Divine angle. Tando would’ve been better as a Bard or Swashbuckler too but Mastermind felt right for him and Cleric feels the same way for Savitri.
Sometimes it’s helpful to think about your character in relation to other fictional characters. For example, Nymeros the Triton Barbarian has a lot in common with Drax the Destroyer. When I think about roleplaying that character I can think, what would Aquatic Drax do? Obviously you don’t want to lean on that too heavily but it can be helpful in a pinch. For this character I can think of three inspirations. First, Brainiac from the Superman series. For me, I tend to think of the Warner Brothers Animated Series first. In that canon, Brainiac seeks to gather all the knowledge of a given planet and then destroys it. This is perhaps a benevolent version of that character. For that reason the second inspiration is Geno, the living doll from Super Mario RPG. In that GREAT video game for SNES, the bad guy lands in the Mushroom Kingdom but he blows through heaven on his way there. So the Heavens send this spirit to help Mario fix things and it inhabits this action figure/doll named Geno. These two characters also speak to another thing, when I started this I really wanted to play a non-male character and it seems to make sense that this character is non-binary or agender. Again, this is very much not the 5E Aasimar but it’s much closer to the 4E Deva in terms of lore. Last character I thought of was Dax from Star Trek Deep Space Nine. This speaks to the Deva Lore that they are continuously reincarnated and have past lives that they remember in flashes and whispers.
I think this’ll be a lot of fun and I can sort of playtest the concept the next game when we wrap up The Tortle Package.