Red Sunsets, and Other Portents
Religion isn’t a major role in Waterdeep per se, but everyone still has their favored patron. The major acknowledged faiths include Churches of Gond, Lathander, Mystra, Oghma, Selune, Siamorphe, Sune, Tempus, Tymora, and Tyr, and recently the Church of Savras has had a rather major influx. However, pretty much every faith has a temple or two somewhere in the city, and the worship of Shar, Loviatar, Ibrandul, and Ghaunadaur in particular is a poorly hidden secret of the cities less savory elements.
Humans (especially Tethyrian, Illuskan, and Chondathan ethnicities) make up more than 60% of the city’s population, but almost every race, subrace, or ethnic group has some representatives in the city. Dwarves and Moon Elves each make up about 10% of the population, halflings and half-elves about 5% each, with gnomes, half-orcs, and others comprising the rest.
The city is highly tolerant and egalitarian, has a rich mercantile background, and speaks Chondathan (you all speak Chondathan as your native language; there is no Common). It is ruled by the Lords of Waterdeep, a council with 20 hidden members, and one Open Lord who
serves as the councils voice to the public. The Lord’s Court is chaired by Piergeiron Paladinson, the Open Lord of Waterdeep. The Lord’s Court is also attended by at least two Hidden Lords and two Magisters, and hears all severe crimes.
Twenty-six appointed black-robed Magisters conduct the Common Courts of Waterdeep; three are always on duty at any given time at the Palace. They are free to pass sentence instantly, without trial, but most are conditional on supporting evidence from witnesses. Six members of the city guard always attend each Magister, so they are always well guarded. Barristers are forbidden in the city, and there is no bail in the city. However, anyone may appeal to the Lord’s Court after receiving a Magister’s sentence (though most such appeals fail).
Weapons can be worn openly, and can be used in self defense, but brandishing weapons in other situations is a serious crime. Duels are somewhat legal, so long as they are marshaled by a member of the City Watch or by a Magister. Duels are rarely to the death, but even so
may not be issued to the Lords, Magisters, the city guard or watch members, Heralds, or to most heads of guilds, noble houses, or priesthoods.
Sentences tend to be quite severe (including death, exhile, mutilation, hard labor, or imprisonment in dungeons), though current lawlessness has made conviction of crimes more difficult. Because Waterdeep is so large (over 600,000 people during the summer months, and over 120,000 people during the rest of the year), almost anything is available for sale, and almost anything can be sold if you know where to go. Most illicit goods are bought and sold on the section of the city known as Skullport, though secrets and fenced minor valuables take place wherever there is a dark enough alley. Guilds are very powerful in the city, though, and no one merchant is likely to have anything outside his personal specialty. Most items
sell to the guilds for 40% to 60% the listed value in the PHB, DMG, (or whatever the calculated value is), though trade goods are exchangeable at full value.
Likewise, information is available on most subjects somewhere in the city. Between the Thieves Guild and Beggars Guild, most secrets of the city are known; the vast libraries of the nobles and merchants have information on the rest of Faerun, and almost any spell can be found in the Mage Guilds.
Though pretty much any merchant will accept pretty much any currency, the most common in the city is the official mintage. Harbor Moons (worth 50 GP in the city, 30 GP anywhere else), are mostly used for very large purchases. Taols are worth about 2 GP in the city, and pretty much nothing anywhere else; they are brass coins issued and honored by the Lord’s treasury. Suns (platinum coins), dragons (gold coins), shards (silver pieces), and nibs (copper pieces), are each worth about the usual amount.
The city itself is divided into six recognized wards, and two informal wards. They are the Castle Ward, the Dock Ward, the North Ward, the Sea Ward, the Southern Ward, and the Trades Ward, with the City of the Dead and Deepwater Harbor serving similar functions. Esharl’s school is located in the Southern Ward, near the borders of the Dock and Trade Wards. Most of your adolescent and adult lives have been spent more-or-less in this vicinity; you can assume you know most of the major, intermediate, and lesser structures of these three wards. The other wards will require a Knowledge (Local: Waterdeep), for any non-major building, excluding temples to your chosen deity.
In some ways, you are both big fish in small ponds, and small fish in very, very large ponds. Powers of every level dwell within and near the city, ranging from deformed level 1 commoners to deific level 35 wizards. I will give you clues if your approaching Stuff That Can Eat You And Not Even Need To Floss (ie, you stumble across a wizard’s spell book that has been utterly destroyed save for a 7th level spell, or the corpse of a monster far beyond your ECL, etc…). There is no shame in running from some places; the city lives and breathes beyond you, and part of your skill and challenge is finding your way around unfamiliar areas.