(5e) Rats of Waterdeep

By Lysa Chen, Will Doyle
Self Published
Levels 1

Solve a brutal crime on the mean streets of Waterdeep in this madcap companion adventure for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything!

This 29 page city adventure is fun. Modeled on a Noir novel, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but never falls over the line in to humor or sillyness. It walks up and leans over it, waving its arms to not fall over it, but stays firmly planted while looking over its shoulder and giving the finger to the hardcare serious adventures behind it. Pretty well organized and written, I’d be happy to run this, and it’s good enough that I’ll look up the authors others works. Also: One of my vices is city adventures, so, be warned.

The docks are quarantined, there’s a plague. The watch has a message from someone inside that says they know what’s behind it. The party gets to escort the detective in … only to find the informant dead and the detectie most likely compromised.

There’s a touch of noir in this. It’s a mystery, the party escorts a detective. He’s new to the squad and wears a fedora and trenchcoat and doesn’t understand why the rest of the watch detectives just wear the city uniform. There’s a crime lord with a henchman, jilted lovers in the form of the Rat King and the Lady of Plagues, bored secretaries causing trouble … a lot of fun shit to roleplay with.

In this case the crime lord is Waterdeeps on Beholder Bob, and his lacky Mind Flayer. He meets the party after they find the first body, is bored, and sends his thugs after them while he floats away, bored and distracted, with his lacky. I bitch a lot about forced fights and so on, but, if you’re gonna do it then having your 1sts meets a behold and a mind flayer and get a chance to talk before thugging it up is absolutely one way fun way to do it. Plus, he disintegrates the detective you’re escorting if the party get lippy. NPC removed! Yeah! Fun! Yeah! This is almost a DCC aventure! Well, no, but still, closer than most!

It’s got a nice map/adventure flowchart up front explaining the area and the adventure and how the hooks and clues work together. PERFECT for a nice overview. It uses bullet points to convey information. PERFECT for scanning and locating information and breaking it up.

The elements are great. For example, at the apothecary-with-something-to-hide the secretary is trying to get rid of the players using the usual bored clerk gimmicks. The roleplaying notes for the NPC’s are good … pretty nice.

Oh, and the usual “lets explain everything in a diary?” bullshit? It’s handled through a player handout. Players LOVE handouts AND it doesn’t overstay its welcome by droning on. Great!

And, and, if you CATCH the plague you will turn in to a rat! You get features, like beady red eyes, or whiskers, for each save you miss in the adventure. FUN!

And there’s a town newspaper handout!

And on the down side …

The bullets are good, as are the NPC notes, but they do get a bit long at times. A little bolding, or a sentence or sentence and half less would be better, as would a more direct writing style. You’re conveying information to the DM who is scanning during play … it has to be terse … while remaining evocative. Cut the bs.

Certain details are abstracted. We’re told the plague goes by many names, including Rat Pox. Well, fuck, the fact that you named that one means rats are important. A few more naes mixed in would have been fun.

Finally, the two main characters are the Rat King and the Lady of Plagues. They are demihumans. B O R I N G. Think of how much more fun it would have been if they were straight out Petty Gods?!?!?! A REAL rat kind and a minor god plague?!?! FUN! And fun friends to make!

I’m clearly a fan of this. I like city adventures, this one is fun in the way I like adventures to be fun. Not humor, not silly, but with some nods to those elements. It’s not Sliced Bread quality, but it’s solid enough.

This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is broken. I has sads.

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15 Responses to (5e) Rats of Waterdeep

  1. night arrant says:

    i would really love if you would do a list of best d&d or related city adventures. also, are you planning on reviewing dragon heist?

    • Canila Acolide says:

      +1 for Dragon Heist!
      Also, this adventure here seems like it would be a perfect fit for Chapter 2 of Dragon Heist… and since it’s Bryce-approved, there is a very high chance of me getting it!
      Thanks Bryce!

  2. Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

    Sounds like this should be tagged “best of”?

  3. Jacob72 says:

    This sounds great, and from your review there’s even a few ideas to pinch there. I’m thinking that this would work very well in a Lankhmar setting.

  4. Gus L. says:

    I don’t know if I trust this one – it sounds pretty hokey, but not in a good weird gonzo way.

    Plus Forgotten Realms. It may be I just really hate Forgotten Realms, I also distrust city adventures ever since those stupid folding buildings.

    Why hasn’t Waterdeep conquered its entire region? It’s a mercantile oligarchy – why hasn’t it made peace with the Beholder and given it a seat at the table in exchange for annihilating whatever the other nearby city state is (or alternatively why hasn’t the other nearby city state given a Red Dragon the same deal and burnt Waterdeep to cinders). The whole setting is way to cute, but not in an actually cute way. It’s all positivism, rationalism and the scientific method without grappling with the actual effects of such things on a fantasy world of medieval city states… 15th century Italy was not a nice place. Waterdeep should be getting all merchantilist or even colonialist up in there, not having a Beholder gang problem…organized crime is not organized crime in a mercantile oligarchy, it’s business and governance.

    I am also of course a crotchety fellow.

    • Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

      Getting all Hobbes vs. Locke on us Gus? And yes, you are definitely a crotchety fellow.

      • Gus L. says:

        I’d say Hobbes, Locke, and the Ol’ Machiavelli (or Makaveli – because Tupac might have something to add to) can tell us a lot about why Forgotten Realms is crap.

        I feel a bit bad because I don’t know that this adventure is crap, I tend to trust Bryce on these things, but I have trouble suspending my disbelief for Greenwood. This is only because the one Greenwood book I remember trying to read was incoherent except for its far too long tentacle porn scene.

    • night arrant says:

      there is good explanation why waterdeep is not using beholder lord. it is monster. of course setting itself forgets this so why wouldn’t we?

      • Gus L. says:

        Mercantile colonialism is also a monster – I hardly think Xanthar (who is sociable enough to have a guild after all) is as much a sinister schemer Jean Baptist Colbert. He’s certainly less scary then any East India Company.

        • YouDontMessWithTheJeff says:

          Gus outlines a definite problem with FR and Waterdeep in particular. I mean, a problem for some of us lol. Obviously not a problem for Wotc as they helped mold the setting into what it is today. I’m a FR fan but a fan of early days FR when it was not so bloated and left plenty of room for making it your own. If I ever get to run FR again, it will be using the original 1987 boxed set and will definitely not be what many know today as the Forgotten Realms. As an aside, in my next D&D world that I am creating (at a pace that would make a snail seem fast) I am toying with the idea of creating an entity inspired by the East India Company

          • The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

            Who really gives a fuck if Waterdeep doesn’t behave like a real mercantile oligarchy? This is D&D not a history lesson. On the other hand, if you want Waterdeep to behave like a mercantile oligarchy, there’s nothing stopping anyone from playing it that way. It’s not like WotC is going to send you a cease and desist for what you create at your own table but to expect WotC, or post Gygax-TSR before that, to create their official setting as a real world analog is unrealistic.

  5. Anders H says:

    I was not expecting much based on the title of this. Good to see that good adventures are made for mainstream FR DMs too.

  6. unholyfather says:

    This making your ‘best’ list really surprised me. I read it and mildly hated it. The whole thing felt corny and had little in the way of interesting runnable encounters or dynamic locations. The encounter with Xanathar couldn’t be more cheesy and forced. It left me with none of that “ooh i can’t wait to run this” feeling i get from thumbing through a good module.
    I’ve discovered a LOT of really great content through your generally awesome reviews, but this one fell flat for me.

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