Population: 1,347,840 (humans 64%, dwarves 10%, elves 10%, halflings 5%, half-elves 5%, gnomes 3%, half-orcs 2%) (City of Waterdeep, Metropolis, 132,661)
Government: Oligarchy (the Lords of Waterdeep, anonymous meritocratic rulers)
Religions: All, especially Deneir, Mystra, and Oghma
Imports: Grain, livestock, leather, ore, timber, and exotic goods from all lands
Exports: Ale, arms, cloth, furnishings, leather goods, pottery, refined metals, and all other sorts of finished goods
Waterdeep is the major cosmopolitan power of Faerûn. It benefits from an excellent harbor, wise rule, a tolerant spirit, and a powerful magical tradition that generally produces stronger good wizards than evil wizards. Waterdeep contains at least one of nearly everything, but it's not a melting pot -- instead, it's like a gem grinder, smoothing individuals' rough edges so that their talents shine brighter.
The city's nickname, the City of Splendors, is never said sarcastically. People know that Waterdeep is a marvel and that life is better, or at least more bizarre, there. If Waterdhavians have one notable fault, it's a tendency to think that there is nothing new under the sun, and they treat the entire sum of human and nonhuman experience as their potential cultural heritage. This fault is not always a bad thing.
Life and Society
The City of Splendors is undeniably a place where things happen, an important center of trade and change. Waterdhavians merely accept this as a fact and never think on why or how it became so. The astute see that Waterdeep is a city of wealth where the rich gather to trade, and in trading with others generate wealth with a swiftness unknown in backcountry Faerûn. The coins are the fire under the cauldron.
The cauldron itself, and the spoons that stir it, are the local powers locked in an endless struggle for supremacy, striving against each other in ways large and small. These are the guilds, nobles, trading costers, mercenary bands, city authorities, criminal organizations, individual citizens seeking daily sustenance, and newcomers seeking fortunes.
Some folk find life in Waterdeep to be a wine they can't stop drinking. Powers of all sorts, from cults and trade cabals to wizards' organizations and foreign rulers, find it expedient to have spies and even assassins active in Waterdeep at all times. Although the City of Splendors has plenty of room for anyone with coin to spend, it is also the place where every private moment may be seen or overheard by someone else. Many Waterdhavians rent secret rooms or establish false identities to avoid their enemies' ears.
Without some attention to the organizations that hold Waterdeep together, discussion of its various geographical features and landmarks misses the forest for all the trees.
City Watch: One of two armed bodies maintained by the city from Castle Waterdeep, the Watch functions as a police force. Watchfolk dress in green, black, and gold uniforms. They are well trained and well equipped with leather armor, clubs, and short swords. They would rather talk problems over than use force of arms, but if fighting is required, they use horns to summon reinforcements.
City Guard: Like the City Watch, the Guard is headquartered in Castle Waterdeep. Unlike the Watch, the Guard is made up of professional soldiers responsible for defending the city, protecting the gates, and guarding important citizens and locations. Guards wear scale or chain shirts and carry short swords and shortbows.
Guilds: Once upon a time, the merchants' and craftsfolks' guilds ruled the city. Waterdeep barely survived the strife. These days, the guilds focus on the commercial and professional enterprises they handle best and (usually) leave the politicking to the Lords. Waterdeep's thieves' guild, the Xanathar's Guild, has been driven into Skullport, far beneath the city.
Lords' Alliance: The Lords of Waterdeep oversee a council composed of themselves and the lords of other merchant powers of the Sword Coast, as well as those inland cities whose interests closely match Waterdeep's.
Lords of Waterdeep: A council of sixteen members who keep their identities secret rules Waterdeep. The Lords appear in public only when masked and magically protected from divinations and other forms of magic. Piergeiron the Paladinson (LG male human Pal15 of Tyr), Warden of Waterdeep and Commander of the Watch, is the only Open Lord (unmasked), and his palace in the center of Castle Ward is the seat of government. Speculation on the identity of the other lords is a sporting pastime in Waterdeep. All that is certain is that they are competent and fair rulers, which is more than most cities could hope for, much less other cities whose rulers wear masks.
Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors: All wizards and sorcerers must join this semiguild in order to practice magic in Waterdeep. Membership costs 40 gp, with no yearly dues. Members can purchase rare magical components and some magic items at the Tower of the Order, the headquarters of the guild.
Major Geographical Features
Waterdeep commands the countryside for thirty or forty miles about, but the city itself is the chief feature. Waterdeep is divided into several major sections known as " wards," each of which contains innumerable businesses, residences, or other buildings.
Castle Ward: Castle Ward, at the center of the city, includes Mount Waterdeep, its castle, the Palace of Waterdeep (occupied by Piergeiron), and the homes of some prosperous Waterdhavians.
Dock Ward: Compared to the rest of the city, Dock Ward is dirty, smelly, clumsily built, and dangerous. In the words of Elminster himself, Dock Ward is a "riotous, nigh-perpetual brawl that covers entire acres, interrupted only by small buildings, intermittent trade businesses, an errant dog or two, and a few brave watchguards (who manage to keep the chaos from spreading beyond the docks), the whole lot wallowing in the stench of rotting fish."
North Ward: North Ward is primarily the home of the wealthy middle class, lesser nobles, and well-to-do merchants.
Sea Ward: The wealthiest ward of the city, Sea Ward is home to noble families. It features broad streets, wondrous statues, bright and expensive shops, and its own arena, the Field of Triumph.
Southern Ward: Also known as Caravan City, the Southern Ward serves as the staging, loading, and unloading zone for caravans passing through the southern gates into the city. "South," as it is known to locals, is well patrolled by the City Watch and accustomed to providing newcomers to the city with lodging, information, food, and entertainment.
Trades Ward: Waterdeep's commercial section never truly closes, and work stops only during festivals. By night, candles, lanterns, oil lamps, and continual flames keep Trades Ward's streets and shops glowing, with staff who sleep by day to sell to those who shop by night. The city's major guilds have their headquarters in Trades Ward, near the businesses they work for or own.
Adventure awaits around every corner in Waterdeep's streets, or a short ride away in the Ardeep Forest or Sword Mountains.
Castle Waterdeep: High on Mount Waterdeep, this great fortress bristles with mighty catapults that repel invaders who attack through the harbor. The most recent victims of the castle's bombardment were the sahuagin that attacked in 1369 DR. Both the City Guard and the City Watch are headquartered in Castle Waterdeep.
City of the Dead: A huge cemetery, the City of the Dead is open to the public during the day and sealed off and patrolled at night. Citizens and strangers who want their deeds to go unobserved operate in the shadows of the tombs. The graves themselves benefit from various levels of magical protection -- some tombs are actually doorways into magical planes, pocket dimensions that cannot support life but serve as burial zones for unlimited numbers of honored nobles and fondly remembered commoners.
New Olamn: One of Faerûn's few bardic colleges, New Olamn occupies the site of former mountaintop villas on Mount Waterdeep. With luck, this newly reopened incarnation of the college will rival the schools in Silverymoon.
Undermountain: Before the founding of Waterdeep, a wizard settled on the slopes of Mount Waterdeep with seven apprentices. None know the origins of Halaster Blackcloak, the Mad Wizard, but he's said to have devised many spells now widely known. Halaster summoned and bound creatures from other planes to build his tower.
Halaster's creatures -- some of whom hunted humans by night -- dug extensive storage tunnels beneath his abode. At length, their tunnels broke into the large, grand Underhalls, old dwarven delvings of the long-vanished Melairkyn clan. Halaster eradicated the drow infesting the halls and moved entirely into the subterranean ways, leaving behind his tower. His curious apprentices, abandoned on the surface, explored the underground lair but found only traps baited with powerful magic (and enigmatic messages hinting that " true power" awaited them below). One by one, as their courage and capabilities allowed, the seven descended in search of their master. They found a strange, dangerous labyrinth where Halaster stored his treasures, experiments, victuals and necessities, magic items, and servants -- kept safe (he thought) from spying, theft, and attack.
As time passed and Waterdeep grew around the mountain's base, expeditions of armed adventurers into Halaster's stronghold grew numerous. He roamed planes to collect monsters and moved his operations deeper into the endless Underdark. Undermountain became known as a place of horrors, the lair of terrible monsters. Halaster himself grew old, mighty, and insane.
The warrior Durnan (NG male human Ftr18) and others who explored Undermountain spoke of its riches, hazards, and vast passages. Many who were desperate for wealth, bored, or escaping pursuit went down the shafts in Durnan's inn, the Yawning Portal. Some returned, now rich for life, and greed kept the adventurous coming. Some in Waterdeep whisper that the Lords still sentence defiant criminals to Undermountain, to die or find their own ways free.
Halaster, it is said, still roams the dozen levels and twice that many sublevels of Undermountain, watching from the walls. The Lords of Waterdeep turn a deaf ear to reports of entire temples below them (notably the Promenade of Eilistraee) and even an entire lawless trading community in the depths, Skullport. Sea caves are connected via great sling-hoists to the waters of Undermountain, allowing sea captains to smuggle cargoes to and from the drow and darker beings who dwell in wicked Skullport. The Lords forbid slavery in Waterdeep, but do not interfere when unsavory folk are smuggled out or down by this route.
Elminster described Undermountain best: "The most famous battlefield in which to earn a reputation as a veteran adventurer -- and the largest known grave of heroes in Faerûn."
Skullport (Large Town, 2,123): The dark twin to Waterdeep's light soul, Skullport is a subterranean city connected to both Undermountain and a great sea in the Underdark. Skullport is tolerated, barely, by the Lords of Waterdeep, because the madness and chaos it houses might otherwise rise to the surface and destroy the City of Splendors. Agents of Waterdeep monitor the city's buried twin and sometimes carry out missions here, but they generally refrain from acting unless Skullport's denizens plot against the city above.
The sprawling, bustling City of Splendors, the most energetic and eclectic trading center of modern Faerûn, began as a good harbor along the storm-clawed Sword Coast, where ports for ships are sparse. An arm of Mount Waterdeep sheltered a bay where deep water came almost right up to shore.
Of the long history of this place, much has been lost. It is known that by -1088 DR, annual spring and fall trade had begun at the site. Tribes slowly settled and farmed the cleared land, and inevitably fought over it. The wizard Halaster arrived, built his tower, and abandoned it for Undermountain.
The local tribes were conquered and united by Ulbaerag Bloodhand, who was in turn defeated by Nimoar the Reaver in 882 DR. Nimoar built a permanent hold inside a wooden palisade, where the north end of present-day Waterdeep stands, and the hold withstood both pirate and tribal raids. Before his death in 936 DR, Nimoar led his warriors in the First Trollwar, scouring the lands east and north of the growing city of trolls and orcs. Later " War Lords of the Hold" fought and fell in the decade-long Second Trollwar.
In 952 DR, the wizard Ahghairon became special advisor to the War Lord of Waterdeep. His magic led to the decisive defeat of the trolls. The Free City of Waterdeep grew in size and wealth, and under the wise guidance of Ahghairon, Castle Waterdeep (then just a simple keep) was built. Over decades, the wealth and growth of Waterdeep made its rulers proud. Such a one was Raurlor, who dreamed of founding an "Empire of the North," with Waterdeep as its capital and himself on its throne.
In 1032 DR, Raurlor raised an army to conquer anyone who dared stand in his path. Ahghairon defied him in public assembly. The enraged Raurlor attacked the wizard with his sword -- but Ahghairon transformed Raurlor's blade into a serpent, which bit and slew the Warlord of Waterdeep. Ahghairon then took the throne and proclaimed himself first Lord of Waterdeep. Ahghairon decreed that he would rule as an equal with masked Lords of unknown identity, gathered from Waterdhavians of all walks of life.
Ahghairon brought order to Waterdeep, founding the City Guard and City Watch. He ruled for two hundred years, during which time the city grew in size and prosperity. The city wards were established in 1035 DR, and the city's guilds in 1248 DR. The city expanded its walls several times, and the flow of wealth never ceased nor shrank, year by year.
In 1256 DR, Ahghairon's longevity magic failed, and he died. A ruling Council of Guildmasters governed until the Guildwars of 1262, in which all but two Guildmasters perished. Those two nobles proclaimed themselves the Two Lords Magister. During their rule, the Shadow Thieves established themselves in the city. Graft and corruption were rife, and public safety could only be purchased in the form of combative bodyguards.
Two long-hidden Lords, Baeron and Shilarn, emerged in 1273 DR and slew the Two Lords Magister. They established the present system of justice, with magisters who serve as judges. The Shadow Thieves were outlawed, Baeron proclaimed himself the Open Lord of Waterdeep, and Waterdeep's official permanent taxed population reached one hundred thousand.
Three years later, Baeron and Shilarn had a daughter, Lhestyn, who was to become one of the greatest Lords of Waterdeep. In that same year, the city reached its present boundaries, and the ranks of the Lords were increased to sixteen. Operating as the Masked Lady, Lhestyn later infiltrated and exposed the Shadow Thieves still operating in the city, breaking their power.
In 1302 DR, the adventurers Mirt and Durnan emerged from Undermountain as rich men. Tales of their adventures spread, luring others who followed their trail down to riches or death. Six years later, Baeron and Shilarn died. Lhestyn became Open Lord in her father's place, and the Palace of Waterdeep was built.
Upon Lhestyn's death in 1314 DR, her chosen successor, Piergeiron, became Open Lord. His rule continues to the present day, though he has been grooming his daughter, Aleena Paladinstar (LG female human Ftr3/Wiz12) to succeed him. Khelben Arunsun and his lady Laeral Silverhand of the Seven Sisters are local heroes. Waterdeep has survived deities battling in the streets, the destruction of Myrkul, and the ascension of Cyric and the new Mystra. Through it all, the city has rolled on, ever busy and ever a source of excitement, vigor, new ventures, gossip, and adventure.
Plots and Rumors
Waterdeep is the beginning and end of a thousand plots and schemes across the North.
Missing: The heroes are retained by an elven noble named Saeval Baelythin to find his nephew Nuvruil, an ambitious young mage. Lord Saeval has heard that his nephew was last known to be in Waterdeep, and he wants the heroes to deliver a vital message to him. On arriving in Waterdeep, though, the heroes learn that Nuvruil and his company of adventurers descended into the Undermountain a tenday past and have not been seen or heard of since. Finding Nuvruil in the Undermountain is a daunting task, to say the least, but if the young elven lord is injured or trapped, the heroes may be his only hope.
Return from Exile: For almost a century the Shadow Thieves have been banished from Waterdeep, but rumors persist of a new guild rising in the Trades Ward. Clever and resourceful rogues with potent magical assistance are pilfering the city's shops, terrifying the merchant princes, and assassinating city officials who prove too inquisitive. The city folk whisper that the Shadow Thieves are back, that the Xanathar's Guild has returned from the Undermountain, or that some new guild altogether is rising to take their place. The City Watch seems compromised by the new guild, so agents of the Open Lord are quietly arranging for adventurers to run the guild to ground and expose their operations.
Go to the May Realmswatch main page for more of information about geography in the new Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting or the Forgotten Realms main news page for more articles and news about the Forgotten Realms game setting.