Waterdeep Dragon Heist: Spell lists for the City Watch

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the goals of the Waterdeep City Watch and the methods they’d use to accomplish their objectives. Their main purpose is to catch criminals and bring them in for trial, which suggests that they should use very different magic than the general purpose wizard presented in the player’s handbook (who seems to rely on spells that kill its opponents). However, except for Barnibus Blastwind, a post-crime scene investigator that doesn’t actually assist in catching criminals; Dragon Heist doesn’t give us statblocks, or spell lists, for mages that work with the City Watch.

Closest thing I could find to what a City Watch mage would look like. Taken from pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/human-man-face-view-bart-hat-1411499/

This article aims to provide a specialized spell list that you can use for mages in the Waterdeep City Watch, specifically those in response teams (like Graulhund Villa) or regular patrols. Although it’s created with Waterdeep in mind, this spell list would work quite well for magical police police in almost any D&D city. When creating the spell lists, I’ll assume a 9th level wizard with 4 cantrips and 12 spells, just like the mage in the back of the Monster Manual. If you want your mages to be lower level, you can choose spells from these lists of the level that you need.

A mage on a City Watch patrol or response team has 4 main responsibilities: Prevent escape, find criminals who temporarily escaped, neutralize magic that criminals might have, and magically report any urgent news to the Watch captain. They may prepare one or two damaging spells for the worst case scenario, but in general, they’ll try to keep suspects unharmed.

Prevent Escape

To stop criminals from getting away, a City Watch mage needs spells that can forcibly slow them down or cause them to stop moving. Each spell has a slightly different effect; but in general, immobilization spells can be split into two broad categories.

Indiscriminate spells such as Hypnotic Pattern, Slow, Sleep, Wall of Force, and Web affect everyone in an area. They’re useful for detaining large numbers of suspects, but could negatively affect bystanders or other watch officers. This can be mitigated by only using these spells before other Watch officers engage.

In my opinion, Hypnotic Pattern is the most useful of these spells because it has the furthest range, largest area of effect, and allows other Watch officers to enter the area and detain suspects immediately after its cast. However, there’s a chance that a criminal will succeed its saving throw and escape despite this spell. The second most useful is Wall of Force, which doesn’t require a saving throw but has a smaller area of effect and prevents other Watch officers from entering the area. The third most useful is Sleep, which is excellent for detaining low level criminals who aren’t worth a 3rd level slot.

Discriminate spells such as Bigby’s Hand, Compulsion, Hold Person, Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere, Polymorph and Suggestion affect fewer targets, but give the mage more control over who these targets are. They are useful when the mage is facing relatively few criminals and other Watch officers have already engaged.

Of these spells, I think Suggestion and Hold Person are the most useful. Suggestion is useful due to its versatility and extremely long duration: If the mage can make it sound reasonable, Suggestion can force a suspect to comply with all demands for 8 Hours!! Hold Person is great because it can be boosted to affect multiple targets, and paralyzation makes it super easy for other officers to bind a suspect. However, since Hold Person allows a saving throw every round to break free, you can’t expect suspects to remain paralyzed for long. The third most useful is Bigby’s Hand, which can grapple a single target and make it nearly impossible for them to escape. The fourth is Compulsion, which can make targets walk straight to officers waiting to detain them. However, neither of these spells makes it any easier to handcuff a target once you have them where you want them, which is why they aren’t as good as Suggestion and Hold Person.

Find Criminals

If a suspect successfully hides from the City Watch, it is the mage’s responsibility to find them before they lose the trail. There are relatively few spells that can help with this objective: It basically boils down to using Arcane Eye, or Find Familiar to quickly search the area and Locate Creature or Locate Object to magically sense where a suspect, or something on its person, is (Let’s face it: you’re not going to spend 10 minutes casting Scrying when you’re actively chasing down a criminal).

Right off the bat, it might seem like Locate Creature and Locate Object are the best of these spells. I mean, why search for a suspect when you can magically know where they are? However, this is overlooking a major limitation possessed by both of these spells: You can’t target anything or anyone you haven’t been within 30 feet of before. City Watch mages are unlikely to be well trained in hand to hand combat, so they’ll prefer to stay more than 30 feet away from armed suspects if possible. In most situations, they’ll be limited to quickening the search using Arcane Eye, Find Familiar, or both.

Neutralize Magic

This one is relatively simple, a Watch mage just needs Counterspell and Dispel Magic. Between Counterspell and Dispel Magic a mage will choose Counterspell because its better to neutralize magic right when it’s cast and criminals are unlikely to have already set up lingering spells. Detect Magic could be useful too, but isn’t the most important spell to be on the list

Report Urgent News

This one is also simple: always prepare Sending.

Contingency Measures

A City Watch mage might prepare a few spells to defend against or kill violent suspects in case of emergency.

Defense is relatively straightforward: prepare and cast Mage Armor when going into an area you know is dangerous, and use Shield if a suspect attacks you. Preparing more defensive spells takes away from a mage’s ability to perform its main responsibilities, and will only be useful in emergency situations that a mage will try to avoid (though it’s immobilization spells will give it a defensive edge).

When it comes to damaging spells, a City Watch mage is looking to meet 3 main criteria: mid to long range (60 feet or more), minimal destruction to the city (No Fireball), and single target (Don’t want to hurt innocents if you can avoid it). Based on these criteria, I think the best damage dealing spells for a City Watch mage are Magic Missile, and Blight. Chromatic Orb is almost as good, and they might prepare Shatter or a similar AoE spell as a last resort.

Based on all this analysis, I put together the following spell list of what I believe are the optimal spells for a City Watch mage.

Cantrips: Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation, Ray of Frost

1st level: Find Familiar, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Sleep

2nd level: Hold Person, Suggestion

3rd level: Counterspell, Hypnotic Pattern, Sending

4th level: Blight, Locate Creature

5th level: Wall of Force

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