Make 'Dragon Heist' Your Own

Supplements and ideas for your next sprawling urban campaign.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is one of the most exciting adventure modules for D&D 5e, dropping your Level 1 adventuring party into the heart of the ‘City of Splendors’. But how can you take this dense urban caper and make it your own?

illustration of dragons flying over a mountain

Waterdeep is one of the most well known cities in the Forgotten Realms, positively brimming with adventure and backed up with heaps and heaps of lore. In the book there is an entire appendix - “Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion” - which introduces the DM and adventurers to the city in a crash course that covers history, locations and getting around, and special events & points of interest.

All of this is extremely helpful to those new to Waterdeep, while simultaneously being completely overwhelming. Not only do you have to try to internalize some of this lore to have it ready at the table when you offer the occasional History check, but you probably also want to try to populate Waterdeep in a way that makes it feel as big as it’s described when your players are moving around the world.

Here are my tips for running Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, along with the most useful sources & supplements I’ve gone to along the way.

Buy the Right Sources

Before you can get started running your game, you need to acquire the right materials. But before you start shelling out that cold hard cash, you need to consider the game you plan to run.

dragon mini on game board

If you’re running the game in-person, then the adventure book is indispensible. Having that reference on-hand during the game is super useful. In my experience quickly flipping through the pages of the adventure book is much more effective even than swapping tabs and searching the text of a digital book.

If you’re running the game remotely, then the physical book is a luxury, not a necessity. Instead, you need to decide on one or more digital versions of the module. Your two options are:

Roll20 (or VTT)

In general, I would strongly suggest buying the VTT version of the adventure. On Roll20, purchasing the adventure gives you access to the entire text of the adventure plus:

These features add up to hours of prep time saved, meaning you have much more time to focus on the story you want to tell, or by enhancing your Roll20 game with additional maps & characters.

D&D Beyond

So if you’ve already decided to pick up the Roll20 Marketplace version for your remote game, or the physical book for your in-person game - then why would you turn to D&D Beyond?

The primary reason the D&D Beyond sources are valuable, is it opens up the possibility of sharing some content with your campaign. For certain campaigns, this can mean unique character backgrounds that let players customize their characters to this specific adventure.

In the case of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, there aren’t unique backgrounds to this adventure. There are, however, especially relevant backgrounds in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide:

Players looking for background options beyond those described in the Player’s Handbook can find several appropriate ones in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide: City Watch, cloistered scholar, courtier, faction agent, far traveler, inheritor, mercenary veteran, urban bounty hunter, and Waterdavian noble. If you have access to this book, consider making its background options available to your players’ characters.

So if you can avoid spending the extra dragons on the D&D Beyond source, it may be more worthwhile to invest in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, which will give you much more background and context relevant to the region and also give you those extra backgrounds.

Waterdeep: City Encounters

So you unfurl the poster map of Waterdeep to see the insane level of detail in this city and your brain is probably reeling as you imagine what to fill it with. You may have some ideas for a spare NPC or side quest, but figuring out hooks for this whole world is a daunting task.

children cheer on the griffon calvary flying above the streets of waterdeep

Enter Waterdeep: City Encounters, an amazing supplement for any Waterdeep-based campaign or Sword Coast adventure that includes the City of Splendors. Brought to you by an amazing team of authors & Guild Adepts on the Dungeon Masters Guild, this supplement offers over 100 encounters that are set throughout the city.

The module offers two flavors of encounters - a table of random encounters that change based on what ward your characters are currently exploring, and a dense set of location-based encounters.

This design means you can sprinkle random encounters throughout your campaign no matter where your characters are in the city, spicing up any possibly dull moments or just giving your players a sense of life happening in the background within the walls of Waterdeep. With the location-based encounters, you can make the city’s points of interest really stand out and be memorable to your players, or offer an opportunity to draw them into a larger plot or side quest.

If you’re worried about the encounters being too brief - the module offers a good balance. Some encounters are complete one-offs, but others connect to one another, and can unfurl larger plots that connect locations throughout the city. Some encounters also pull in notable Waterdavian characters that are also involved in Dragon Heist, offering opportunities to weave the two narratives together.

Overall, I think Waterdeep: City Encounters is a must-have supplement to Dragon Heist, or any Sword Coast-based adventure that might draw your characters here.

Blue Alley

This adventure can be seen as a prologue to the epic dungeon crawl that is Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. Despite that, Dragon Heist is actually somewhat light on dungeon-crawling. The structure is a bit more encounter-based, allowing your characters to explore and bounce around as they unfurl the plot.

blue alley cover

So if you’re looking for a way to spice up the side-quests for your characters and offer some extremely solid dungeon-crawling, you need to pick up Blue Alley on the DM’s Guild.

In Blue Alley, your adventurers are tempted with gold & glory by none other than Mirt - offering you an easy hook into Dragon Heist, especially if your characters have forged a connection with The Harpers. The dungeon offers an array of traps, puzzles, monsters, and treasures to unfold. It is unique and varied in its challenges, and should offer possibilities for further side-quest hooks if you want to get creative.

Blue Alley Map

If you want to spice up your dungeon-dive with some amazing improved maps, I also highly recommend the Blue Alley Map supplement as well. They are complete with beautiful lighting & improved assets to help spruce up your VTT version of the game.

Maps

If you’re running the game in-person, a grid board and wet erase markers are your absolute best friend. However if you’re running the game on a virtual table top and are looking for ways to expand on the maps included in the adventure, check out a few of these excellent mapping resources.

fantasy map

Dyson Logos

The sole map illustrator for Dragon Heist is Dyson Logos - a legendary RPG map-maker with hundreds of free maps and many more resources for patrons, plus full books of maps for sale online.

If you’re interesting in expanding on the existing maps in this module, his website is a great resource for random battle maps and maps to inspire fun side quests or mini-dungeons. A few sections on his website highlight some especially useful categories, including Inns and Taverns and Sewers, that blend easily into the urban setting.

Cze and Peku Maps

Another great D&D map-making site, Cze and Peku make beautiful maps for all sorts of games. From the Astral Sea to an encounter with an Elder being to a lovely day by the lake shore, they have drawn a map for any situation.

Simply searching by the ‘city’ keyword brings up dozens of amazing maps that would slot easily into Dragon Heist. And at ~$5 a map they can be an affordable way to expand your version of Waterdeep and add that level of immersion we’re all searching for.

Dice Grimorium

If you’re looking for a bank of free, full-color battle maps to have at the ready for any encounter, the Dice Grimorium free catalog is just that.

George works to create a new map each week, most of which he amazingly shares for free on his site and social media. In addition you can support him on Patreon and get additional tokens for each map (perfect for your VTT) and even the original PSD files in case you have map-customization aspirations.

Closing Thoughts

As a DM, you can never do enough preparation. I hope this guide has helped give you some resources, ideas, or inspiration for your next adventure to the City of Splendors. Don’t let this beautiful gem of the Sword Coast intimidate you, and make it into what you want.

d20 on table

As always, the act of DM’ing is more an art than a science. Remember to improvise. Remember to let your players lead. And remember to have fun!

Good luck out there! If you have thoughts, feedback, or suggestions for future posts - let me know on Twitter @ajkueterman.