Tactics of Dragon Heist: Vajra Safahr

This article contains major spoilers for the D&D 5e adventure Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. If you are, or will be a player in that adventure DO NOT read further without your DM’s explicit permission.

Vajra Safahr is the highest ranking wizard in the city of Waterdeep. Her main priority is to protect Waterdeep, which has a large influence on her battle tactics. Vajra’s Intelligence is high enough that she can know an opponent’s class, AC, and ability scores just by observing them for a couple seconds. She also has high Charisma and Dexterity, marking her as a ranged spellslinger that may negotiate before combat begins.

Like Manshoon and his simulacrum, Vajra has proficiency in Arcana and History, meaning that she knows the exact effects of almost every spell and magic item, and also knows the capabilities of most powerful organization NPCs in Waterdeep. She has proficiency in Intelligence and Wisdom saving throws and is relatively weak in physical saves. Taking out spellcasters that are targeting physical abilities is one of her top priorities.

Vajra’s main combat oriented abilities are her spellcasting and the Blackstaff, a legendary magic item with the capabilities of a Staff of Power, and a couple of unique features. Lets analyze the features of the Blackstaff first:

  • Master of Enchantment gives Vajra a chance of saving a spell slot when she casts Geas or Power Word Stun.
  • Dispel Magic lets her undo any magical effect that she can touch with her staff. In combat, Vajra prefers to keep her distance from melee fighting, so this feature will most likely only be used if a spell directly affects her. Out of combat, she could use Dispel Magic to nullify magical disguises or wards such as Glibness and Nondetection when questioning criminals (A great example of this use of the staff is shown in Running the Shipwright’s Ball on thealexandrian.net)
  • Drain Magic is very useful when Vajra is forced into a melee confrontation with a Cleric or Eldritch Knight.
  • Khelben Arsun and the other powerful wizards trapped inside the Blackstaff give advice to Vajra during social interaction, but they don’t affect combat very much.
  • The AC, spell attack, and saving throw bonus are passive features that don’t change Varja’s combat tactics at all.

Before we begin analyzing , lets discuss some general principles for how she uses her spells:

  1. Never cast a single-target saving throw spell against a target that has more than a +3 bonus in the relavant saving throw: Vajra doesn’t want to waste a spell slot on an opponent that succeeds on a saving throw. Because of this, she won’t cast spells against opponents that have more than a 1/3 chance of succeeding their saving throw, which with her spell save DC means they must have less than a+3 bonus¹
  2. Vajra can only have one concentration spell active at a time, make sure it’s the best one for the situation: 12 of Vajra’s spells require concentration, but she can only use one at a time. In my opinion, Bigby’s Hand is the most versatile of these spells. I compared every other concentration spell against that one to determine what situations each spell is best for.

Now, lets analyze Vajra’s spells, starting with the ones that don’t need concentration, then moving on to the ones that do:

Spells that don’t require concentration

  • Light, Mage Hand, Message and Prestidigitation are weak cantrips with little to no combat utility.
  • Detect Magic and Identify also serve no purpose in combat, and have limited utility in other parts of the game. Due to her high Intelligence Arcana proficiency, Vajra could figure out anything either of these spells could tell her with just a few seconds of observation.
  • Fire Bolt is a good damaging spell to use in combination with Misty Step or Bigby’s Hand when nothing else is necessary
  • Mage Armor is a low level defensive spell with a duration of 8 hours. Unless Vajra really needs all her first level slots for something else, she casts this every morning so she’s always protected.
  • Thunderwave could be used to get melee opponents away from Vajra if she ran out of spell slots for Misty Step.
  • Magic Missle, which is cast using the Blackstaff, is excellent at breaking an opponent’s concentration.
  • Misty Step is used to get away from melee characters and outrun pursuers when making an escape.
  • Counterspell is used for shutting down enemy spells, especially those that force Vajra to make Dexterity or Constitution saves. It can be boosted up to 5th level if necessary to ensure that the spell fails.
  • Sending is extremely useful outside of combat for instructing Force Grey operatives who are on the other side of the city.
  • Fire Shield damages any opponent that is able to hit Vajra with a melee attack. If possible, she casts it a couple minutes before combat begins, but it isn’t worth her action once combat has started.
  • Geas is a non-combat spell that makes untrustworthy characters more likely to follow Vajra’s instructions. Due to the Blackstaff’s Master of Enchantment feature, she has an 80% chance of regaining the spell slot she uses to cast it.
  • Forcecage will be used to split up enemy forces that have at least 5 characters of level 5+ or CR 3+, as long as she can trap at least 2 characters who can’t teleport inside the cage or box.¹ Forcecage can also be used to immobilize opponents that only pose a minor threat while she fetches the City Watch or prevent opponents from pursuing if she needs to flee.
  • Chain Lightning, Cone of Cold, Fireball, Prismatic Spray and Lightning Bolt are area of effect damaging spells. Chain Lightning and Prismatic Spray are cast with Vajra’s spell slots and the other three are cast using the Blackstaff When Vajra is going up against 4 opponents, Chain Lightning comes out on top in terms of damage and for anything more, Prismatic Spray is the best. However, Vajra would rather save her 7th level slot for Forcecage, so she’ll use Cone of Cold, Fireball or Lightning Bolt instead of Prismatic Spray if she can get at least 5 enemies within the spell’s area of effect.
  • Power Word Stun is used to stun a powerful opponent with low Constitution. It’s an Enchantment spell, so the Blackstaff’s Master of Enchantment feature give Vajra a 65% chance of keeping her 8th level spell slot after she casts this spell.
  • Imprisonment has a 1 minute casting time, making it useless during combat. In my opinion, if Vajra captures an opponent powerful enough to make this spell necessary to contain them, she’d be better off killing them to remove the chance that they get released. Granted, I don’t know much about Vajra’s personality outside what it mentions in Dragon Heist. If you have some insight as to why she’d use this spell, please leave a comment.

Concentration Spells

  • Bigby’s Hand is the most versatile concentration spell in Vajra’s arsenal. She can use it to deal an average of 18 damage as a bonus action, grapple melee-oriented opponents while dealing damage, or push snipers off buildings. If none of the conditions for her other concentration spells are met, this will always be what Vajra casts.
  • Web can be cast in a layer on the ground to restrain melee attackers and make it difficult for them to reach Vajra. To be worth her concentration, it must immobilize at least two melee enemies (assuming those enemies are either level 5+ or CR 3+) who would otherwise try and attack her.
  • Levitate and Ray of Enfeeblement, which are cast with the Blackstaff, are primarily useful to nullify melee attackers. However, Web and Bigby’s Hand fill the exact same role but do a better job of it.
  • Invisibility isn’t useful in the middle of combat but are great for making escapes.
  • Fly could be used to escape or to help a ranged ally shoot over cover and avoid attacks. Vajra will only cast this on an ally that deals more than 18 damage per round and only when she’s not in any danger of being attacked.
  • Banishment is used to temporarily take a particularly dangerous opponent out of the picture, and could be boosted to 5th level to banish two targets. Web is extremely effective at nullifying multiple melee opponents, so Vajra will only cast Banishment when she can target at least one ranged opponent. In addition, the targets of this spell must be able to deal more damage than all the melee opponents that would try to attack Vajra combined.
  • Stoneskin grants Vajra or an ally resistance against physical attacks. To be worth her concentration, she must expect the ally she casts it on to be attacked by 3 or more opponents at once. (this assumes that her attackers are 5th level PCs or CR 3 NPCs, if they are low level NPCs such as guards or thugs it takes 8 opponents) Vajra will stay out of melee combat, so she’ll only cast Stoneskin on herself if she’s being attacked by 3 or more martial ranged opponents (8 or more if they’re low level).
  • Telekinesis might be useful to round up low level criminals so she can imprison them in a Forcecage, but it isn’t be worth Vajra’s concentration if her opponents pose a serious threat.
  • Hold Monster, which is cast using 5 charges from the Blackstaff, is useful for immobilizing a dangerous opponent while simultaneously allowing melee oriented allies to deal more damage. For this spell to be worth her concentration, Vajra must have at least two melee oriented allies attacking that opponent each round.
  • Globe of Invulnerability protects Vajra from ranged spell attacks. It takes four 5th level casters spamming cantrips or two 3rd level spells being cast each round for this spell to be worth her concentration. Vajra can cast it using her 6th level spell slot, but she’ll usually save that slot for Chain Lightning and cast Globe of Invulnerability with the Blackstaff.
  • Antimagic Field nullifies all magic within 10 feet of Vajra, including her own spells. Since these spells are her main advantage in combat, Antimagic Field isn’t usually a good tactical play.

Now that we’ve completed Vajra’s spell list, we can analyze the tactics she’ll use in battle. Before combat begins, she warns her opponents to stand down, or there will be consequences. If they attack, but pose very little threat (would go unconscious in a round or less), she opens with Prismatic Spray or Chain Lightning if she wants to kill them. If she’d rather have them go to court, she traps them in a Forcecage and notifies the City Watch. This should be enough to win the fight, so if her opponents are still standing, she will proceed with more caution, following the tactics listed below.

If Vajra’s opponents are more threatening, she opens with a concentration spell, choosing Bigby’s Hand unless the specific conditions for one of her other spells are met.

In the second round, Vajra casts Power Word Stun if an opponent with a low Constitution saving throw bonus is significantly more dangerous than everyone else. If all her opponents are equally dangerous and there are at least 3 of them, she casts a damaging spell: Chain Lightning if she has 3–4 opponents, and Cone of Cold, Fireball, or Lightning Bolt if there are 5 or more.¹

In later rounds, Vajra works her way down her spell list, casting powerful spells such as Power Word Stun and Chain Lightning first, then moving onto weaker spells such as Firebolt and Magic Missile when she runs out of high level spell slots. She uses Counterspell to stop her opponents from creating dangerous magical effects, and Magic Missile to break their concentration if Counterspell fails.

If Vajra loses concentration, she casts another concentration spell, choosing whichever one is best for her current situation. If an opponent gets within melee range, Vajra uses Misty Step to get away from them and uses Bigby’s Hand(If active) to grapple them and prevent them from chasing her down again

If she doesn’t want to kill her opponents, Vajra orders them to surrender when the majority are seriously wounded (reduced to 40% HP or less). She then traps them in a Forcecage, and uses Sending to notify the City Watch.

Vajra flees when she’s seriously wounded (reduced to 49 HP or less), unless letting her enemies win the fight would result in the immediate destruction of Waterdeep. When she flees, she casts Forcecage to trap as many opponents as possible, disappears using Invisibility, and casts Misty Step as a bonus action on each turn to get away as fast as possible.

Want to be notified when I come out with new posts? Subscribe to my email list for a notification every time I come out with a new post



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store