Reading Waterdeep and the North

Cover to Water Deep and the North, a Beholder crime lord and his crew.

From the intro:

So read on; and walk the streets of Waterdeep the Great, Crown of the North, with (of course) the standard warning: keep weapon to hand and eyes attentive…

Keyser the Eye Tyrant

The 13 year old boy in me looks as this cover and considers it awesome. After reading the book itself, this teenage boy loves that Keyser Soze lives in the sewers of Waterdeep and is an Eye Tyrant with a solid crew. Shit, the Eye Tyrant criminal even has a book-keeper with a network of snitches, a one-eyed dwarf , a merc thug for some muscle and a purty Drow whose specialty is extortion.

Then I grow up just a bit. Um, is the dusky gal in the bikkini getting the guys a slice of pot roast while they consider the scroll? There is something menacing about her, at least…I guess. Maybe the meat is to feed the Intellect Devourers? Do they eat meat when they’re not devouring…minds?

Shit.

In the most pollyanna, charitable reading I can muster, she isn’t paying attention because as the highest level of the Eye Tyrant criminal’s counselors, she already knows the answer to what the men are pondering and is watching them struggle because in her mind its fun to watch stupid people struggle.

Yeah, while on the bus today, I was carrying Waterdeep & and North on top of The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting and shifted my books so the hardcover was the one visible.

Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting cover

Keyser Soze’s Beholder avatar lives under Waterdeep with his crew. There is no Thieves’ Guild, as they were driven south to Amn years ago but this Eye Tyrant is making a go of it. I love that as play begins, there is a criminal rising to power, even as the players rise.

I don’t see any mention of Skullport, that is mentioned in the 3E hardcover. Was this added later, any Realms scholars know where Skullport popped up? I’m not sure I dig Skullport. It is almost too easy an out, as if Waterdeep is so pristine that any crime or badness has to be relegated to another place that is deep underground where no one can see it and only bad people go. Eh, not my thing for urban fantasy settings.

The Nobles

The list of nobles has some names, where they make their coin and a little pic with their coat of arms. It is adorable, something the GM can peruse and get a little inspiration.

Here’s a few sentences out of Waterdeep & the North that make me sit up and get the highlighter out:

One note: many noble families gained great wealth through slave trade. Many years ago, they were given the choice of freeing all slaves and ceasing such trade, or becoming outcast. All renounced slavery (although some rumors to the contrary regularly make the rounds about former slaving families with connections in the far South).

And a few sentences down we get this:

Most noble families have fifteen or so members of direct blood resident in Waterdeep. One or all of these may alos own extensive holdings elsewhere in the Realms and other residences in the City.

I feel like that is Greenwood telling me that some families very likely still profit from slavery, they just do it away from the Northlands, away from prying eyes. That is interesting.

Here’s another bit that invoked a reaction:

…but it is strongly recommended that no PC be a noble (at least at the start of play) in any campaign set in Waterdeep – and if one must have PC cavaliers, that they be from elsewhere in the Realms, not of those noble born families (unless the relationship is distant). Most nobles spend their adult lives in an endless round of parties, intrigue, dabbling in this or that special interest, and partying again. Nasty, unpleasant adventures are things that (thankfully) happen to somebody else, and can be laughed at over a party, half a year later!

Oh man, how I disagree. As the Notorious B.I.G. said, “Mo money, mo problems.”

You’ve got this society of nobles who live in the most glorious city in the world. They can sample every delight the Realms can offer, buying and trading, running amok in an oligarchy where the major lords are masked. Some of the lords at the parties mentioned made their fortunes in slaving and still have distant relatives abroad who still send over coin made through trafficking in human misery. Yeah, most nobles won’t adventure but player characters were never supposed to be most people.

Do we not play commoners because most commoners are too worried about their trade or when the crop is going to be harvested to go out and kill monsters?

Thugs and Muggings

There are parts where it is quite evident that Dungeon Masters need to be prepared in case their players decide to flat-out mug an N.P.C.  Just little throwaway sentences about security in noble villas and what to do if the players decide to shake-down Mirt the Moneylender (a former mercenary captain who I simply must burn up).

There is an odd aside for Mirt.  They mention that he took in a younger girl and protects her ferociously.  Wait, let’s look at that text, its creepy:

Mirt’s constant companion is the young fighter Asper, whom he once rescued as an infant from a sacked city, and whom he regards as his little girl despite her now-matured beauty.

He’s like her adopted dad, dudes.  Don’t be creepy, gaming book.  Please?  Creepier still, in the 3E book, he’s married to her.  C’mon, gaming, let me love you.  Make this easy on me, wontcha?

The Adventures

There are 7 and they are pretty useless.  I’d rather they cut them all down to a few sentences each and just had a few dozen inspiring hooks.

The Guilds

I skipped this upon the first read and was ready to pan the whole chapter (written in much smaller font) but upon reading it over for the express purpose of panning it here, I really liked it.  The information on the Guilds gives a bunch of really cool little details about Waterdeep, from the boys and girls who serve as lamplighters to the upstanding member of the Stablemaster and Farriers’ Guild, Jhalathan Ilzoond, who tamed a griffon and can be seen riding it above the city from time to time.  I’d like the guilds section to have more sights, sounds and smells, more little details of the city through the eyes of their crafts-folk.

An Overall Sense

The supplement is charming. It leaves one with the sense that this city is a shining bastion of seething humanity amidst an untamed wilderness filled with orc, undead that glare with the weight of long dead civilizations and portals from ages past to gods-knows-where. The lords of the city are masked, the nobles are painfully rich and the common-folk are jaded, where it takes epic magic to make the newest member of the Dungsweeper’s Guild even blink and every culture in all of the worlds are considered part of the culture of Waterdeep (except for Orcs, they’re evil and by evil, I mean Evil).

There’s a tavern with a vast dungeon, Undermountain, beneath it, through a well-like shaft in the common room and yes, the bartender is a retired adventurer, dammit.

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15 thoughts on “Reading Waterdeep and the North

  1. Fascinating read. I think this was one of the supplements I kept when I cleared out my old stuff while moving house. Will have to go back and reread it sometime.

    I think Skullport appeared in Undermountain, and then got a expanded treatment in Dragon.

    I think I’m still most fond of that first FR grey box – a thousand glimpses into this strange, chaotic place that felt romantic, sweeping, and – somehow – welcoming.

    • Thanks for the Skullport info.

      I totally missed that gray boxed set, just flew right by me because at 13 years old, Darkwalker on Moonshae and the Crystal Shard just didn’t move me.

      I am finding a real charm to this era of D&D setting supplement.

      • I somehow blundered on the Grey Box without having read any FR novels. It was my first glimpse at the Realms. I think I got lucky. It’s interesting how much your first exposure to a setting defines your feelings towards it. he Grey Box was before all the overt “deities dabbling in the lives of people” stuff, and before the wizard-bloat set in. To this day my prevailing image of the Realms isn’t one of wizards and dabbling gods, or super-detailed cities. It’s this:

        A dude on a lonely moor of cold grey stones, with just a spear, a shield and a steed to rely on.

        There’s some real gems published around then. Like WatN, they ain’t perfect but there’s something charming and fascinating about a lot of them.

        Have you come across first Basic D&D Gazetteer: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos? It must have been released at a similar time, and gives you 64 shit-hot pages of fantasy Poland. Well worth a look if you can get a copy – much harder since WotC stopped selling all their old pdfs.

    • I know! That pic has been in front of me dozens of times in the past few decades and I have never noticed, never even fucking questioned it. I just accepted the pot roast.

      That is crazy.

      When people start discussions about sexism in fantasy art, my only reply from now on will be, “Pot roast.”

      • I love how the guy on the left is clearly upset by the appearance of a large book in his previously-simple life, and is now thinking “Words iz hard.”

        • The cover is everything that is right and wrong about D&D fantasy art, without a doubt.

          For some reason the pot roast reminds me of those last lines in Charlie Murphy True Hollywood Stories on the Chappelle Show, the one about playing bastetball against Prince and the Revolution.

          “What happened after that?”

          “After that, after the game, he took us back to his place…and made us pancakes.”

      • I think she’s trying to poison them. Lure them into her web and murder them. Nasty, nasty drow.

        That version isn’t much better than serving them a meal, though. It likely comes from women-fearing misogynist nerd fantasy.

      • While you can’t have a Drow without entering the thorny realm of D&D’s weird gender questions* it looks to me she’s just getting herself a slice of the pot roast that’s there for the meeting, but has shifter her attention to whatever is in the book they’re talking about. All the figures’ gazes are focused toward the book. Try to imagine what the pose would look like if she and the half-orc on the left were switched in places. It only looks weird because of the standard issue Drow spider motif bathing suit – ah, those weird gender questions again.

        * “Look at what she’s wearing!”
        “That’s just how all Drow women dress.”
        “The women ALL dress like that?!”
        “Yes, but they’re a matriarchal society.”
        “Oh; What are they like?”
        “They’re all Sadomasochistic demon worshippers.”
        (etc.)

  2. “Most nobles spend their adult lives in an endless round of parties, intrigue, dabbling in this or that special interest, and partying again. Nasty, unpleasant adventures are things that (thankfully) happen to somebody else, and can be laughed at over a party, half a year later!”

    Passages like that are probably par of the origin of “We know the way of the world and the way of the world is but a game” impression I had.

    I imagine Greenwood was calling “hands off” on the WD nobility to keep them as an element for PCs to interact with and to facilitate adventures with them where he might see novice GMs falling into a “trap” of politics as usual with one’s peers rather than doing things the “hard way” (i.e. “The D&D way.”) as outsiders. Not the best way, nor the only way.

    If you have a certain kind of polite society, anyone who’s willing to get their own hands dirty can become an outsider pretty swiftly. If profiteering from the slave trade leads to being decisively stripped from the peerage, so too might popular PC activities such as profiteering from grave robbing, mercenary work, etc.

    Maybe the oligarchs need the masks in part because if some of them are former adventurers, they each have a long list of disqualifiers that would prevent their name from being trusted with that prestige and power, but there are those who were willing to work around even such major issues so that the city might benefit from their abilities.

    • I hear ya, Cole. There are plenty of reasons for nobles not to adventure. But there are plenty of reasons for everyone to NOT venture into the hole in the ground where the fire-breathing monster lives, surrounded by a labyrinth of other monsters.

      Nice reasoning for the masked lords. I love that tidbit, built our whole campaign around it.

  3. I never got into Forgotten Realms – I remember as a kid, seeing the ads in comic books and it looked like an awesome world from that.

    But when I finally got around to looking at it when I was older, it felt like there was too much “And here’s Kyrgimikislaneshikstan, with 2,237,831 inhabitants”, etc. kind of stuff going on.

    The 3E one that really sketched me out was “The Shattered Gates of Slaughterguard”, where the bad guys where the Drow and the evil human nobles, whose only crime, that I could see, was miscegenation between the two races.

      • It was it’s own little adventure setting. They were trying out a new format- the adventure came in booklets packed together in a small folder. Some were handouts to the players with local lore and common knowledge, others were GM only stuff, adventure keys, and naturally, maps. It had a smart bit at the beginning giving a list of good reasons characters might find themselves in the area.

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