Curse of Strahd
Introductions are always the first and best way to get to know people and places. And, of course, one’s introduction to Waterdeep colors how one sees the City of Splendors forevermore. For me, Waterdeep and her vistas will always be dominated by Mount Waterdeep and a fond memory of an alighting griffon silhouetted against the reddened skies of the setting sun.
—Open Lord Piergeiron Paladinson Year of the Shield (1367 DR)
The City of Splendors remains what it has been for centuries: a bustling, crowded, busy mercantile crossroads where coin is king, tolerance for outlanders of other races and habits is high (as long as they trade fairly), and folk play hard and work even harder, their lives proceeding at the fastest pace possible. Gossip is the grease that helps the daily lives of most Waterdhavians along in their endless striving to make ever more money. Wealth brings respect, respect earns influence, and influence is power.
Waterdeep today is a bustling center of commerce filled with around-the-clock stinks and noises, rumbling wagons south of Castle Waterdeep, and walled splendor to the north of the castle. The city is often swept by fads and fashions, and is dominated by wealth, trading, and constant chatter about the latest news of events everywhere in the world (as well as rumors planted so as to sway public opinion and investment).
Streets of Waterdeep
Street plans and even building footprints of Waterdeep remain almost identical with those of a century ago. To prevent ambitious wealthy North Ward folk and cutthroat merchants in South Ward from “overbuilding” the adjacent edifices of rivals, the Lords of Waterdeep enacted strict limits on building changes. Buildings are still torn down or fall down and are replaced, but new structures have to adhere very closely to the outer wall outlines of those they replace. They are subject to palace oversight as to height, out-thrusting balconies, and the like. So the old maps are still pretty accurate—if you ignore the specific internal layouts of nobles’ villas.
The city gates are customarily opened at dawn and closed at dusk. The streets are lit at night by trios of city lamplighters. Wagon traffic is common (except in the Sea Ward and the North Ward), so pedestrians are encouraged to be watchful and yield to galloping horses and coaches whizzing about the city.
The Year of the Silent Death (1395 DR) saw the Putrescent Anathema unleashed from Stump Bog northeast of the city to spread sickness and pestilence throughout the region. The temple-farm of Goldenfields was hit particularly hard by the Plaguebringer’s Blight. The loss of Waterdeep’s primary supply of grain coupled with the swift spread of disease devastated the city’s citizenry, primarily the poor, who died in the thousands.
Since that time, Goldenfields has recovered under the leadership of Mother Jamandra Anuvien and expanded greatly. Goldenfields is now heavily fortified; in effect, it has become a small walled kingdom. For years, it has been a stable, peaceful breadbasket to surrounding lands, friendly to but independent of Waterdeep.
Waterdhavians are largely a tolerant and law-abiding people. Visitors to the city are often surprised to learn that racial tensions are largely absent in the City of Splendors. This is no more apparent than in the selection of the city’s quasi-independent Magisters (“Black Robes”). This quorum of city judges recently welcomed a tiefling into its ranks with the appointment of Kylynne Silmerhelve.
For the purposes of governance and security, Waterdeep is divided into a system of wards or civic districts. Each of the seven official wards is briefly discussed below.
Castle Ward lies in the heart of Waterdeep, wrapping around the eastern slopes of Mount Waterdeep. This ward is home to the city’s administrative buildings and buildings of state. Deliberately putting on a show of force, City Watch and Guard patrols are heavy in Castle Ward.
The ward’s most prominent landmarks include Ahghairon’s Tower, Blackstaff Tower, Castle Waterdeep, the Lords’ Palace, the Market, the Cynosure, and New Olamn.
Dock Ward is Waterdeep’s oldest and most colorful ward. The harbor is very much a working place, full of sweating, cursing dockworkers and sailors loading and unloading vessels. Carts groan hastily between warehouses all over the southern half of the city and Dock Ward, carrying goods to and from the ships. Dock Ward is also notorious as a lawless, brawling place of drunks, smugglers, and fell magic.
Those who are daring or foolish enough to want to delve beneath the brackish water of the harbor are advised that the City Guard keeps a close watch for smugglers and for items dropped for later recovery.
Notable landmarks of Dock Ward include Cookhouse Hall, Shippers’ Hall, and the Full Sails tavern, headquarters of the Most Diligent League of Sail-Makers & Cordwainers.
Field Ward is a rather crowded area, newly built over, between the North Trollwall (the old inner north city wall) and the outer north city wall (still anchored by Northgate). It was once the caravan camping fields. Neither wall has been torn down, leaving Field Ward fenced off.
This district is home to folk of all walks of life who lacked coin enough to hire lodgings or own buildings in old Waterdeep, but who first arrived as the ravages of the Spellplague began. It is a slum in some places, and a struggling middle-class area in others. The Ward is a noisy, lively area that’s home to poor (and a few wealthy) elves, half-bloods of all sorts (and anyone who has a deformity or visible taint), and dwarves who are determined to get the respect they are sure they deserve.
Home of the Wealthy
Waterdeep’s quietest ward is also one of its wealthiest. North Ward is home to most of the middle class and lesser noble families. This ward has few notable landmarks other than the Cliffwatch, and it all but shuts down at dusk. This placid reputation belies the intrigue and scheming that goes on behind closed doors, and the volumes of smuggled goods that lie in cellars beneath the city streets.
The only widely known landmark of North Ward is the Gentle Mermaid, whose fame as a gambling hall has spread up and down the Sword Coast.
Waterdeep’s most affluent ward is notable for the many-spired, grand homes of the nobility, the gleaming edifices of the city’s leading temples, and the imposing towers of its premier wizards. Lashed by sea storms, Sea Ward was traditionally deserted in the winter; the nobles preferred to weather the cold months in estates farther south. This practice has been largely abandoned over the last century, however, as strife erupted across the Sword Coast.
Notable landmarks of Sea Ward include the Field of Triumph, the lush Heroes’ Garden, and the Sea’s Edge Beach. Waterdeep’s largest temple, the House of Heroes dedicated to Tempus, stands just north of the Field of Triumph.
South Ward lies in the southeastern corner of Waterdeep, bounded by Trades Ward to the north and Dock Ward to the west. Caravan City, as this oft-forgotten ward is sometimes known, is a homely, friendly, busy, and largely poor area of Waterdeep. South Ward is dominated by large, tall, old warehouses made of stone, mud brick, or timber. Crowded among them are three- and four-floor tenements, most with shops at street level.
Notable landmarks of South Ward include Caravan Court, Waymoot, and Metalmasters’ Hall, headquarters of the Most Careful Order of Skilled Smiths & Metalforgers.
Center of Commerce
Trades Ward lies in the eastern half of Waterdeep, encircling the western and southern walls of the City of the Dead. Given over almost entirely to commerce, Trades Ward lacks the feeling of community found in the more residential wards, but retains the hustle and bustle of a marketplace throughout the day and night. Notable landmarks of Trades Ward include the Court of the White Bull and Virgin’s Square. The towering Plinth stands no longer, having collapsed during the chaos of the Spellplague.
Over the last century, Deepwater Harbor has become badly polluted, its waters brown and stinking. The north shore of the former Naval Harbor became a beaching ground (and then a scuttling yard) for damaged or age-rotted ships. Over the years, these hulks piled up one atop another, spreading out from the shore at the foot of Coin Alley for a long way into the harbor to form the Mistshore. This area is a permanent slum of sagging, ramshackle woodwork atop the heap of sunken ships, where the most disfigured, diseased, spellscarred, and monstrous of Waterdeep’s inhabitants dwell.
The Mistshore is the darkest and wildest neighborhood in Waterdeep, where open violence and lawlessness is frequent and the Watch patrols seldom (and then only at double strength or more). Drunken and beaten-up inhabitants can often be seen sprawled or draped over the rotting riggings that line the winding “streets.”
Mountainside is the name given to the new homes and streets that are slowly climbing Mount Waterdeep, in particular its north and northeast faces. A street known as the Rise climbs north out of Fetlock Court and switchbacks as it ascends the mountain. The Rise is lined by tall, narrow, manybalconied houses that typically have four or five floors. Because it costs so much to build on the windswept rock of the mountain, only wealthy folk build their stylish houses here, which is one of the reasons Mountainside hasn’t grown faster.
Events stemming from the Spellplague left a statue lying on its side on Mount Waterdeep, alongside the first doubling back of the Ride. A row of five luxurious stone manors, complete with balconies and hanging gardens (locally known as Downgiant Row), were built up out of the statue.
Undercliff is by far the largest and most open new part of Waterdeep. It sprawls over the meadows east of the plateau occupied by the old city, under the cliff that still forms its eastern edge. Undercliff is large, rather lawless, and still growing; it’s home to every sort of new arrival (for the last fifty years or so). Undercliff is the most fluid neighborhood of Waterdeep, where people move frequently, shanties often collapse or are torn down or torched, and change rules.
Increasingly, dwarves dwelling in Field Ward who have made enough coin are seeking to buy houses in Mountainside, and on the cliff face above Undercliff, so they can tunnel out larger abodes at will. Their diggings have already breached some sewers and cellarsin the city. Their activities are beginning to attract the attention of the Masked Lords, who are now sending down hired adventurers to patrol the uppermost levels of Undermountain to stop the illicit delvings.
This district underlies a portion of northern Dock Ward and a large part of Castle Ward. It consists of 5-foot-ceilinged rooms and suites opening off a few winding street tunnels. Home to many gnomes and halflings, the area is seeing an increasing number of dwarves (though any who can’t get along with gnomes and halflings are firmly expelled). The district is in the process of expanding to the east, under the City of the Dead, to come out on the face of the cliff and into buildings there. Several of the new tunnels leading east from the present area of the district have collapsed and fallen down into Undercliff as a result, though none have done so recently.
These new tunnels of the Warrens have disturbed some of the oldest burial sites in the City of the Dead. Despite the diggers taking care to return a breached tomb to its former state, some say the tunnels have become haunted. Indeed, many report eerie whispered words, apparitions, and noncorporeal images of all sorts. At first this was assumed to be the talk of “uppity gnomes” until such images began manifesting to several creatures at once. Most such encounters are merely frightening or spooky rather than physically dangerous. Then again, persistent rumors speak of halflings, gnomes, and even dwarves losing time, sometimes just hours, but other times whole days. According to one old gnome, the disturbed spirits are possessing the memory-challenged victims, and goading them into actions intended to avenge longago slights or accomplished long-unfinished business.
While this assertion seems like the height of hysterical hand-waving to the majority, a few halflingtraders have started to walk the Warrens alone, seeking just such apparitions, hoping to question them in order to learn the misdeeds, secrets, and past peccadilloes of eminent Waterdhavian families, to see if this can be turned to some advantage.
Waterdeep’s armed forces traditionally included the City Watch, which played the role of police force; the City Guard, which defended the city from external land-based threats; the City Navy, which guarded against sea-based threats; and the Griffon Cavalry, which patrolled the skies above Waterdeep.
Today, Waterdeep’s navy has been scuttled, and the city relies on warships from Mintarn for defense. The Guard is now part of the Watch, serving as a permanent bodyguard for the Open Lord and the Palace. The famed Griffon Cavalry was dissolved years ago after the griffons perished in various battles and were never replaced. Aside from sharing facilities and personnel with the Guard, the City Watch of Waterdeep is much as it was a century ago. Watch patrols pass along main streets once between bells, varying their routes often. It’s rare for a patrol to have fewer than eight Watchmen. All Watch patrols are armed and carry horns to summon reinforcements.
Waterdeep enjoys an often-noted golemwork clock called the Timehands. Timehands is installed in the tallest tower of the Lords’ Palace. It possesses three continually turning dials, facing north, east, and south. The clock was built by several guilds of Waterdeep, working—and squabbling— together, and was finished in 1445 DR. The clock has bells that strike the hours, beginning with a “pay heed” chord, followed by a deep bell tolling the hours by number.
Timehands also sports an hour hand and a smaller hand that races around the each face denoting minutes. It is a masterful design, and some wonder if its parts, rumored to have come from Lantan before that nation’s drowning, can be replaced if they ever wear out.
The former Piergeiron’s Palace (a name it retains only in nostalgic memory and in minstrels’ poetic descriptions) is now the Lords’ Palace, or the Palace of Waterdeep. Physically, it’s largely unchanged, being a place of marble floors and high vaulted ceilings. It’s the seat of local government, with Magisters holding law court daily in the Lords’ Hall and the Hall of Justice. The Masked Lords meet often (usually at least once a tenday) in secret conclave and in Open Court. In Open Court, the Open Lord entertains deputations and debate from outland envoys and visiting trade delegations (who are housed in apartments in the Palace), as well as from local citizenry.
From the outside, Blackstaff Tower is a simple three-story stone tower surrounded by a curtain wall. Those who train within, however, learn that there are at least a dozen more sublevels reachable only by magic. It is also whispered that Blackstaff Tower is sentient, a statement never refuted by the presiding Blackstaff.
The Archmage of Waterdeep and current Mistress of Blackstaff Tower, Vajra Safhar, is a thin, small, dusky-skinned Tethyrian. Vajra assumed the role of Blackstaff earlier this year following the death of her popular predecessor and lover, Samark. The young Blackstaff dwells alone in Blackstaff Tower and commands what’s left of the Watchful Order of Magists & Protectors.
Waterdeep’s great fortress is a thick-walled stronghold, with pennants and banners flown from its many battlements. It frowns down on Castle Ward from the flanks of Mount Waterdeep. The castle walls rise 400 feet at their greatest height from the ground, and are 60 feet thick on average. Many protective spells have been placed on the walls over the centuries, and they have never been breached in battle.
City of the Dead
This walled enclosure on the eastern edge of Trades Ward is the general cemetery for the City of Splendors, and its size nearly makes it a ward in and of itself. Many citizens visit the City of the Dead’s parklike green lawns and white marble tombs during the day, for it is one of the few places dominated by greenery that the citizens of Waterdeep can share within the city walls. The grounds are offlimits after dusk, and the gates are locked.
The mountain is a bald, rough crag, topped by a lookout tower. Its seaward flanks have eleven gigantic triple-catapults for hurling loads of rock and burning material out to sea against attacking ships. The mountain is pierced by several sea caves, connected by tunnels of great antiquity now controlled and guarded by the City Guard, and used by the Lords in secretive operations.
Waterdeep’s sewers and waterways run beneath much of the city, forming a subterranean layer between the surface and the depths of Undermountain. The uppermost portions of the sewers are in fairly good repair, thanks to the efforts of the Cellarers’ & Plumbers’ Guild. The primary source of fresh water comes from several subterranean cisterns scattered through the tunnels under the city. The cisterns are filled by plentiful rain, and supplemented by pumps crafted by ancient dwarves to tap the extensive network of natural springs found beneath the city.
Waterdeep was spared many of the ravages experienced by other cities during the Spellplague. However, the event did introduce several lesser phenomena to the City of Splendors. Hundreds of glowing globes (floating, mobile spheres of continual radiance) now drift freely around Waterdeep. Although every mage and sage who has studied them insists the spheres of light aren’t sentient, they behave uncannily as if they are. They seem to become curious, and for a random time, follow certain beings who are moving about the city; they always seem drawn to any release or casting of magic; and they seem to become excited, gathering and rushing wildly about, if anyone tries to move or harness them by magical means.
A few of the fabled Walking Statues of Waterdeep went wild, striding across the city until they collapsed, toppled, or got wedged between buildings. Some were later quarried away into nothingness, but a few remain, forever frozen.
One invisible local change wrought by the Spellplague is all too familiar to local spellcasters: Detection and location magic no longer functions. Such spells feature in old tales but are unknown in life today.