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Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Fronts - Manshoon and the Zhentarim

A breakdown of the Zhentarim front during Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. What do they want? Who is involved? How do they operate?
The Zhentarim emerge from the forest.

The Goal

In its most simple terms, the goal of Manshoon—and the Black Network by proxy—is control. He wishes to run Waterdeep as he sees fit, which includes assuming the title of the Open Lord and replacing the City Watch with his own force. [1]

However, like many players in the Great Game of Waterdeep, Manshoon’s ambitions have multiple layers. These include suppressing any dissent among his ranks, removing competing interests from the board once they have outlived their usefulness, and exacting revenge upon Halaster Blackcloak deep in Undermountain.

The Plan

Unlike Jarlaxle, whose plans intertwine with one another, Manshoon’s paths to success are more clearly defined.

Primary Goal: Power and Control

His hubris—or that of his predecessor?—has led Manshoon to believe that he can simply buy his way to power. He believes that everyone has a price and that the 500,000 gold dragons are more than sufficient to cover the tab [pg 6].

In normal circumstances, achieving power would be a much more difficult task than he anticipated. However, a trio of circumstances has positioned him advantageously...

  • The escalation of the war with the Xanatharians has forced the dark side of Waterdeep into the realm of the everyman. As violence continues to escalate between the two (incited by Xanathar’s betrayal of Manshoon) the population, and in turn, the Masked Lords, will become more upset with the current government’s ability to maintain order. This will create cracks in the system, allowing Manshoon the daylight he needs to manipulate whomever he needs.
  • He already has two Masked Lords under his thumb by means of blackmail [pg 160-161].
  • Corylus Thann, a bigot, has used the Zhentarim to carry out his hatred of non-humans. This exposed him to Manshoon’s blackmail as it would hurt the established family’s standing among the other noble houses.
  • Jelenn Urmbrusk fell on hard times after a number of bad investments ruined her money-lending business. This, coupled with increased competition from the Cassalanters, caused her to turn to the Zhentarim for coin. They agreed to keep her loans secret in exchange for her influenctial role within the Masked Lords.

The arrival of the Luskans provided a scapegoat for many of the criminal acts his followers carry out. There is a long-standing tension between Luskan and Waterdeep. In his letter to Laeral, Jarlaxle heavily criticizes Neverember’s residual impact on the city, but he also closes with:

Why let Neverember get away with his crimes against Luskan and Waterdeep? Can we be allies, if not friends?
  • The crimes that he is referencing tie back to another noble house aligned with Asmodeus, the Margasters. Neverember facilitated the sale of an old ruin called Thornhold for about 1 million gold pieces, utilizing the administrative services of the Margasters. This provided an opportunity for Asmodeus, who placed the Margasters under full demonic possession. The family then led a demon army to Luskan, resulting in its complete destruction. Because of Neverember’s involvement in the original sale, surviving Luskans hold great disdain towards Waterdeep.
  • Fun Fact: It is likely that half of the sale price is also the 500,000 gold dragons in the vault
  • Conversely, Waterdavians perceive Luskans as nothing more than thieves and pirates. Before the Spellplague, the city served as a port town where unsavory types would come to sell their stolen goods and find work. [4]
  • Manshoon exploits this history to direct any accusations towards the Luskan entertainers who have arrived for the festival season—a convenient target.

Secondary Goal: Suppressing Dissent and Removing Competition

What Manshoon hates more than anything are those who challenge his rule. In Waterdeep, this opposition comes in three forms.

  1. The Doom Raiders and their leader, Davil, have created a fracture in the Zhentarim ranks within the city. While the vast majority (~80%) still remain loyal to the Black Network, there is a growing population aligning with the Doom Raiders. Manshoon uses his silver tongue to manipulate Skeemo Weirdbottle, a trusted member and leader of the Doom Raiders, aiming to turn them upon themselves and watch as they tear each other apart.
  2. The Blackstaff, a powerful individual, is a serious concern for Manshoon. She will not shy away from a fight. However, if he can remove her from her position—or, better yet, procure the Blackstaff itself—he would be unstoppable. To do this, he would need to put extreme pressure on the city. Understanding the power of Agharion’s Staff and the protection it offers, Manshoon hopes to use it to force Laeral to remove Vajra from her station and hand over the Blackstaff.
  3. While he may have a tenuous relationship with the Cassalanters (see the Auxiliary Goal), Manshoon recognizes them as a substantial threat. They control much of the money movement and influence throughout the noble class and are supported by the demons of Asmodeus. The longer he works with them, the more information he gathers to eventually expose their devil worship and turn the city against them.

Auxiliary Goal: Revenge on Halaster

After the Manshoon Wars, Manshoon—this version of him—escaped to Undermountain. He took some time to allow his trail to go cold before he began to craft his return. While his goal of ruling Waterdeep was within reach, he was well aware of a very real threat beneath the city, a threat manifested in the form of the Mad Mage, Halaster Blackcloak.

Watching the mage creep ever closer to madness, Manshoon saw his opportunity and challenged Halaster to a duel. Manshoon barely escaped with his life, and Halaster, amused by the encounter, took Manshoon’s severed arm as a trophy.

Manshoon fled the dungeon and came up through the Crypt of the Seven, and met Mirklav, where he remained until he could properly heal. Realizing that he could manipulate the necromancer, Manshoon began raising an army of the undead, supplementing the ranks with both the victims of the gang war and the sacrifices to Asmodeus (Cassalanters).

With Waterdeep's resources behind him and an unflinching army at his command, Undermountain would become his next target.

Base of Operations

The Zhentarim's bases of operations

Kolat Tower - Primary

Trade Ward, Adventurer’s Quarter - Dragon Heist, p.148

Once owned by the Kolat brothers, this structure has fallen into complete disrepair since their parting. If the structure's aesthetics weren't discouraging enough for Waterdavians, the forcefield surrounding the property ensures privacy. The entrance to Manshoon’s Extra-dimensional Sanctum resides at the top of the second tower.


Castle Ward, East Mount Waterdeep - Dragon Heist, p.79

Once a laboratory of one of Manshoon’s apprentices, this structure has since been converted into a temple of Bane. A teleportation circle in the cellar provides a connection to Kolat Tower.

Black Site

Trade Ward, Court of the White Bull - Dragon Heist, p.64

A forgotten structure deep in the Trade Ward, this building serves as an interrogation site for the Zhentarim.

Crypt of the Seven

City of the Dead - Grave Concerns - Waterdeep Faction Adventure

Manshoon leverages the forgotten crypts - and entry-point to Undermountain - to build his undead army, run by Mirklav the Mad where bodies are transported here to be reanimated by the necromancer.


The Zhentarim, as an organization, is well-known throughout the city. While they do have a brutish, shakedown style which they employ on shopkeepers, merchants, and others, they are also perceived as a useful tool by many ruling Waterdavians. This utility may manifest in using the organization to keep the Open Lord and the government from having to dirty their hands. [3]

However, this dynamic provides ample opportunity for the Zhentarim, especially with Manshoon at the helm, to employ blackmail, exploitation, and other similar tactics—Manshoon’s specialty.

It may be helpful to conceptualize the organization in two parts:

  1. The first is the ‘known’ Zhentarim: These individuals are the thugs that come to mind when envisioning a beating or a shopkeeper being strong-armed.
  2. The second would be the ‘shadow’ Zhentarim: This faction spacializes in leverage, primarily gathering information and 'favors' that could be advantageous to the organization in the future.


These members are mentioned by name in the source adventure.

ManshoonKolat Towers - Extra-dimensional SanctumLeader
Urstul FloxinGralhund Villa or the Extra-dimensional SanctumRumored leader of a renegade Zhent faction. Is staying at the Gralhund Villa. After the Masacre he moves to the Extra-dimensional Sanctum in Kolat Towers (pg. 41, 159)
Skeemo WeirdbottleWeirdbottle's Concoctions - Trade WardMaster of Magic. He is a member of the Doom Raiders who has aligned himself with the Black Network as a double agent. (pg. 40, 199)
Bashek OrtallisKolat TowersHuman male Zhentarim enforcer working for Urstul. He has a tattoo of a winged snake on his right forearm. He is killed by the fireball. (pg. 44, 46)
Wern MakgaveKolat TowersHuman male Zhentarim enforcer working for Urstul. He is killed in the fireball. (pg. 44, 46)
ThrakkusA dragonborne butcher (and berserker) in the Field Ward. Thrakkus cuts up the dead and turns them into chopped meat. (pg. 57, 89)
Avareen WindriverBlack Site - Trade Ward, Court of the White BullA female human spy working at the Black Site. (pg. 64)
Zorbog JyarkothBlack Site - Trade Ward, Court of the White BullA male human thug working at the Black Site.
Vevette BlackwaterBlack Site - Trade Ward, Court of the White BullLieutenant. Oversees the Black Site. (pg. 64)
Agorn FuocoKolat Towers - Extra-dimensional SanctumA bard with ties to Mistshore. He is in a relationship with Amath Sercent. He currently stays in the Extra-dimensional Sanctum. (pg. 67, 68, 159)
Amath SercentYellowspireShe is romantically linked to Agorn Fuoco and is a priest of Bane. She is currently converting an old tower into a temple of Bane. (pg. 67, 79)
Samara StrongbonesXanathar's LairA halfing spy who was captured by the Xanatharians. She is now being forced to fight in the Blood Arena. (pg. 104)
Sidra RomeirKolat Towers - Dining RoomShe is playing cards int he dining room at Kolat Towers. She wears a teleportation ring. She is also responsible for the transportation of dead bodies to either Mirklav or Thrakkus. (pg. 89, 149)
Manafret CherryportKolat Towers - KitchenLoves to cook and spends almost all of his time in the kitchens. (pg. 149)
Havia QuicknifeA halfling martial arts adept. (pg. 160)
Mookie PlushA halfling martial arts adept. (pg. 160)
Yorn the TerrorKolat TowersA half-orc thug who values his well-being above all else. He manages the thugs in the main portion of the tower. (pg. 150)
Ered PaynoKolat Towers - Summoning ChamberManshoon's apprentice. Spends his time in Manshoon's summoning chamber, keeping a barlgura unconscious. (pg. 153)
Havi TermockKolat Towers - Summoning ChamberManshoon's apprentice. Spends her time in Manshoon's summoning chamber, keeping a barlgura unconscious. (pg. 153)
Savara FirethornKolat Towers - Summoning ChamberManshoon's apprentice. Spends her time in Manshoon's summoning chamber, keeping a barlgura unconscious. (pg. 153)
Kaevja CynavernKolat Towers - Extra-dimensional SanctumWatches the entrance to the Extra-dimensional sanctum. (pg. 158)
Mirklav the MadCrypt of the SevenA necromancer residing at the bottom of the Crypt of the Seven.


1. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist - page 6 (Amazon)

2. Hero by R.A. Salvatore (Amazon)

3. Lord of Darkness (Amazon)

4. Volo's Guide to the North - page 111 (Amazon)

5. Grave Concerns - Waterdeep Faction Adventure (Drivethru RPG)