For years, I’ve been trying to wrangle together an IRL D&D group in SLC that meets regularly. It’s really only taken this long because I prefer to play with people I know and in the comfort of a friend’s home rather than at a gaming store with strangers. I’m not against Adventurer’s League-style play—it just hasn’t interested me very much. But for the past two weeks, I’ve had 7 or 8 players, mostly newbies, to introduce to the hobby and teach how to get their best playing experience. It hasn’t been easy, but so far it’s been mostly successful. In an ideal world, I’d run a group of 3-5 players instead, but I’d rather have too many than too few. If my players are reading this, know that I’m going to try to keep these campaign diaries as spoiler-free as possible, but any text that looks like this: “Minsc and Boo send their regards, for goodness“ is better left unseen.
So far, the 1st-level party, in alphabetical order, consists of:
- Anel, the Half-Elf Druid
- Bishop Paddock, the Trickery Domain Cleric
- Desir, the Half-Orc Warlock and her bobcat, Gizmo
- Dim the Drow Light Domain Cleric
- Finesse, the Human Fighter
- Link, the Green Dragonborn Barbarian
- Lorelai the Halfling Rogue
- Sancho, the Human Fighter
We have a good mix of spellcasters and brawlers as well as the one rogue, so I’m pretty happy with the party balance. I haven’t run into any problems with having too many PC’s yet, but I imagine I will have to increase the difficulty of some encounters down the line. What the party lacks in tactics they should make up for with sheer numbers. I’m running Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, which, until the sequel just came out, was the latest adventure module from Wizards of the Coast. Dragon Heist has four possible main villains, and our campaign is set in the winter season (those of you who have read the adventure will know what that means). It’s still a long ways off, but I don’t think this group is the type that would enjoy being thrown into a massive dungeon crawl like Dungeon of the Mad Mage. So I’m still working on what we’ll do next in the event that we actually finish Dragon Heist. DMsGuild has some adventure options from independent writers for groups that want to continue to play in Waterdeep after Dragon Heist, but I may just come up with my own material after this campaign.
The party has followed the adventure to the letter so far, which I’m thankful for. One of my main concerns with running Dragon Heist is that Waterdeep is huge and has hundreds of NPC’s. I’ve made a concerted effort to learn as much as I can about Waterdeep in just a few weeks. This has mostly involved forcing myself to stare at Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion in the back of the book until I internalize the material. I don’t have much prior knowledge or experience with Waterdeep, so it’s difficult for me to absorb the history and lore of such a rich and diverse setting all at once. But I think presenting the City of Splendors as convincingly as possible is key to running this kind of adventure. Dragon Heist has its share of dungeons (not counting Undermountain), but it’s mainly about faction relationships, investigation, and political intrigue. I’ve given the players short summaries of the setting, but getting them up to speed and invested in Faerûn is a challenge all its own.
I also bought Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep, but I haven’t found cause to use it yet. It doesn’t help that the book is 25 years old and assumes a different point in the Forgotten Realms timeline (before the Spellplague, yadda yadda yadda). I think it will pay off in the future when I’m starving for more details. I have relied heavily on another secondary resource, however: A Friend in Need by Valeur RPG. It’s a short document of condensed notes on the first part of the module with some added suggestions for encounters and how to run each section. Any DM could create such a document for themselves, but it’s well worth $2 to pay someone else to create the notes for me. I will absolutely purchase the rest of Valeur RPG’s helpful Dragon Heist products as we go.
Aside from giving each player some brief setting notes, I’ve also reviewed each player’s character sheet for accuracy, bought them each a color-coded folder for all their documents, created a Facebook page and group for the campaign, created Facebook events for each session, posted a couple of relevant Matt Colville videos, and provided them all with a copy of the Code Legal of Waterdeep, which essentially tells them how much trouble they’ll get in if they break the law. I also had to buy a new Plano tackle box to store my minis in as well as a marker board for tracking initiative. I’m making extensive use of my DM Binder, which is where all my personal notes and handouts go. I had a couple of the players keep track of initiative for me during the game, and that gave me some more bandwidth to keep combat interesting.
I think just about every DM would be worried their party will jump straight into Undermountain after being introduced to the entrance in the Yawning Portal, but Dragon Heist does a good job of dissuading them from that suicide mission by attacking the tavern with a troll and some stirges that climb up the well. The encounter also serves as a good introduction for Durnan the barkeep, who’s already one of my favorite characters in Waterdeep. After learning the basics of combat through dispatching the monsters and a few bandits, the party accepted Volo’s quest to find his friend Floon. The trickery cleric saw it as a good opportunity to play Volo in a game of cards, and I used that encounter to give them a copy of Volo’s Guide to Monsters in-game. I’ve decided the book gives the user advantage on Nature (Int) checks to determine the characteristics of monsters if they have ample time to study the tome, which I think will lead to some fun interactions.
From there, the party took a short rest, bought an Unbreakable Cage from the Old Xoblob Shop (same rules as the Unbreakable Arrow from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything except it’s a small cage), did some detective work at The Skewered Dragon inn, and kicked down the door of a warehouse where four Kenku have just ambushed them. So far, so good. We’ve gotten through about half of the first part of Dragon Heist without much trouble. The city really opens up after the second part, though, so I’m looking forward to letting the players be more independent in their exploration and decide what they’re most interested in doing. There’s an overwhelming amount of possibilities between the factions and the 40+ guilds, but I think I’ll be able to manage as long as I know what the players want to do next a few days before each session.
Overall, I like Dragon Heist so far and hope we get to play through a lot more of it. I probably wouldn’t recommend it for first-time DM’s, unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge of Waterdeep already, as it calls for a lot of improvisation and study (see the Starter Box for a better point of entry). But for new players, I think it works really well, because the city has clear boundaries and more than enough play space for many, many sessions. If your group is more interested in slaughtering everything in their way and getting as rich as possible, you may want to just roll 5th-level characters and skip to Dungeon of the Mad Mage, but I’m really excited about running a more story-focused campaign with some interesting twists and turns. The next session is scheduled for tomorrow night, and I’m planning on finishing the first part of Dragon Heist with enough time left to set up Part 2. I’ll try to post another Campaign Diary before the weekend.
Until then, thanks for reading, and feel free to hit me up with comments or questions.