Fashionably Late in Dragon Heist
I ended up liking Waterdeep: Dragon Heist more than I expected, but it was hard to get over the feeling that much of the story was powered by what Zero Punctuation‘s Yahtzee Crosshaw termed “fashionably late syndrome.”
Games or stories suffer from FLS when their plot is kept on ticking over by having the heroes arrive just too late to achieve their goal, over and over again. The person they were chasing happened to slip out a few minutes ago, the sacrificial dagger just plunged into the victim and the battle already happened, and now they have to clear things up and uncover the next lead!
This is a pretty common storytelling tool and isn’t a problem on its own. The heroes can’t be everywhere at once, and sometimes they’re going to show up once the major drama of the moment has reduced down to embers. However, it feels like Dragon Heist relies on it just a little too much, turning excitement at new information to explore into frustration.
If we’re using the Autumn path of the story, the adventurers are drawn into the quest for the Stone of Golorr – a magical artefact that can open a vault containing half a million gold coins – when a mechanical spy drops a fireball outside their home. If everything goes pretty much as the book expects, than along the way to actually retrieving the stone they’ll:
- Arrive at Gralhund Villa, only to find a pile of bodies and a missing stone
- Locate the agent that was given the stone, but there’s blood everywhere and the stone’s gone
- Find the stone, but it’s a fake
- Find the stone, but it’s stolen before they get there
- Find the stone, but it probably gets chucked into the harbour
The fake probably doesn’t count, but by my count that’s a worrying amount of times that the adventurers will arrive at an encounter just too late to do what they actually went there to do. This isn’t the worst path for this kind of thing either – the stone always ends up getting bounced around between agents, monsters and particularly clever rats (well, a rat familiar).
Depending on how your gaming nights play out you can easily have several sessions in a row end up with the party being no closer to getting their hands on the stone.
And that’s draining. Nobody expects to succeed every time, but running into dead ends and piled corpses where you were expecting chatty NPCs can seriously suck the wind out of your sails.
On Time Tips
Dragon Heist isn’t a particularly chunky book to begin with, so hacking away at the main story can feel a little painful. However, this is honestly the best solution I was able to come up with when running the game myself.
Heading down the same Autumnal path, I just cut the false stone route and added in a random urban complication. It slowed the party down just as much as the alternative, but still allowed them to feel as though they were making progress.
It’s a rough way to shore up some of the – admittedly few – things about the book that I don’t like, but it proved fairly effective. Plus it gave me a chance to break out more time with the wonderful Drow mastermind Jarlaxle, which is never a bad thing.