Realmslore07/20/2005


The City Watch of Waterdeep, Part One



Know Thy Watch

Waterdeep has both a standing army (the City Guard) and a police force (the City Watch). Though they often work together, the average Waterdhavian or visitor to the city will most often come into contact with watch street patrols, and see the Guard only at city gates, manning the walls or boarding ships for harbor inspections, and overhead on griffonback.

Down the years, watch patrols have exhibited a variety of ranks, uniforms, and strengths, because the watch experiments continually with tactics, equipment, and ways of achieving two impossibly conflicting aims: to sometimes catch miscreants by surprising them with persons they don't identify as watch officers; and to usually reassure citizens and enable them to cry for ready aid by allowing them to readily identify watch officers from afar, on sight, due to distinctive uniforms (and at night, distinctive lanterns and the like).

Patrols pass along main streets once between bells, and vary their routes often. Dockside, "red-light," and known frequent-theft areas receive around five patrols per bell, as do known "bad" taverns and inns. Temples are policed lightly, because clergy are assumed to police their own grounds and buildings. (The term "hour" is unknown in the Realms, but temple bells strike more or less in unison, an hour apart.) Watch patrols are on foot but can call horsedrawn watch prison carts to carry off prisoners or confiscated goods.

All watch patrols are armed and carry more than one "watch horn." These nonmagical signal horns are used to blow various -- and slightly altered, from time to time -- patterns of calls, to do one of the following:

  • Summon watch reinforcements
  • Summon City Guard aid
  • Summon Watchful Order aid
  • Summon "duty healers" (priests lent by various city temples)
  • Proclaim that an alert or search is now ended
  • Proclaim that someone has been found
  • Warn fellow watch members away from a dangerous spot or delicate situation

To outsiders, "watchmen" (a term that some use for both genders, so a shopkeeper may be heard saying: "And then the lady watchman come running, sir, and strike me blind if she didn't . . .") come in three sorts: "patrolman" (male) or "patroljan" (female), "captain" (any officer controlling a patrol) and "commander" (any officer of higher rank). Many folk call every watch member "officer," just to be safe.

Watch members actually hold these ranks, from lowest to highest: blade, sword or "armar" (equivalent to a sergeant), swordcaptain (patrol leader), rorden (in charge of a watchpost or barracks, or either five or six patrols), orsar (envoy to guilds, citizen groups, noble families; also serves as prisoner escorts and in honor guards), guardsword (duty head for shifts patrolling the city docks and gates), commander ("officer of the shift"), and watchlord (the administrative and disciplinary heads of the watch, usually three or four officers who hold special titles personally bestowed on them by Piergeiron). The Captain of the Watch holds sway over all of these.

The watch also has special offices (such as jailer, armorer, and horsemaster) that are held in addition to ranks.

"Civilar" is a term applied to all ranks from swordcaptains up through orsar.

Swordcaptains and higher always wear uniforms or (rarely) armor with uniform tabards, and any watch member may wear helms, gauntlets, and leather armor if they (or a superior officer) deems it necessary. A watch member doesn't have the right to order an inferior watch member not to wear armor.

Rank badges take the form of tabards; thanks to widespread counterfeiting, pins are no longer used except on ceremonial occasions. By rank, these badges are as follows (all are encircled by an oval line sculpted into a rolling wave at the bottom and the peak of Mount Waterdeep at the top):

  • Blade: diagonal slash (lower left to upper right)
  • Sword: diagonal slash (upper left to lower right)
  • Swordcaptain: X shape (crossed diagonal slashes)
  • Rorden: horizontal dagger (hilt on left)
  • Orsar: vertical open human right hand, fingers uppermost and palm showing
  • Guardsword: two horizontal swords, upper one with hilt right, lower one with hilt left
  • All higher ranks: two staring eyes, horizontal sword beneath them (hilt on left)

Members of the watch enjoy a wide but legally undefined immunity from most Waterdhavian laws while exercising their duties. They can appeal any sentence uttered against them by any Black Robe (magistrate) to the Lords of Waterdeep, which in practice means Piergeiron -- who has been very lenient with watch members of long service and good character.

On the other hand, watch members hate "bad" watch members and will hound a suspected bad apple until they flee the city, agree to all investigations, or clearly establish their innocence. Watch members found guilty of crimes or misbehavior are often fined by the watch as well as punished under law. Conversely, distinguished service often earns handsome retirement bonuses from the Lords (sometimes even outlying land or in-city buildings).

Most Waterdhavians grumble at the watch, but obey them, because the watch is seen as fair (if often thick-headed) and helpful as well as jack-booted. (They'll unhesitatingly search for missing children, safeguard broken-open shops or scared persons, and so on.)

Persons arrested by the watch are often taken to holding cells in the city wall towers, but the main lockup is a level of ironbar cells in the "dungeons" of Castle Waterdeep, with dangerous prisoners being handed over to the Guard for imprisonment in caverns inside Mount Waterdeep.

Read about salutes, forms of address, and more in next week's article.

About the Author

Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, sf, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .

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