Princes of the Apocalypse
Rising from the shores of its deep harbor to ring the great mountain standing tall out of the Sea of Swords is Waterdeep, the City of Splendors and the Crown of the North. To all of Faerun, this great metropolis stands as the pinnacle of what a great city might be, in wealth, influence, and stability. Here, the citizens work, the nobles sneer, and the great masked lords plot and scheme, all while merchants dance between them to collect their coins and continue profiting as best they can. Waterdeep’s shops and merchants offer goods of every sort from every corner of Toril, and even the rarest of items can be procured, given sufficient coin and patience. Adventurers lacking one or the other can very easily find all manner of employment, from simple escorting of caravans, to guarding nobility, to investigating a ruin or rumor of monsters anywhere in the North.
Though it has stood for hundreds of years, Waterdeep is only now returning to its status of a century and a half ago. The recent disruptions began when the gods walked the Realms and slew each other before the eyes of mortals, until they walked back to their divine domains through the very streets of Waterdeep itself. Decades later, more deities began dying off, magic failed, and all manner of catastrophes started altering the very nature of the city. Lord Neverember wasted the city’s navy and then, instead of rebuilding it, hired sailors out of Mintarn (and profited from the endeavor).
Now, the City of Splendors is on the mend. The harbor has been cleared of the broken ships that made up the former district of Mistshore, and Waterdeep again has its own navy. The city’s Guard (its army), Watch (police force), Navy, and it famous Griffon Cavalry are all being reformed, but all of that might be a matter of years in the settling. A plague chased most residents out of the Warrens and Downshadow, and living or digging below the city’s surface has been deemed illegal except by those authorized by the lords to do so. Somehow, even the air seems fresher. In the words of one wise moon elf matron (whose status as my aunt has positively no bearing on her wisdom), “Waterdeep is back to where it was when I was a lass.”
Perhaps most surprising of the newest developments is the return of Laeral Silverhand to Waterdeep. Long thought dead, she reemerged only recently, and swiftly rallied the masked lords to support her supplanting of Dagult Neverember as Open Lord of Waterdeep. Very few remember Lady Laeral from her previous time in the city, but those elves who have been living in there for the last century claim she is more reserved than she once was. The new Open Lord doesn’t speak of her family- any mention of her children, her late husband (the fabled Blackstaff, Khelben Arunsun), or any of her famed sisters is cause for her to cut short whatever conversation may be in progress at the time. Her relationship with the current Blackstaff, Vajra Safahr, is cordial, but the two are seldom seen in one-on-one conversation, and most think that Lady Laeral has little to learn from a mage who isn’t nearly her equal.
As always, the Open Lord is selected and supported by several masked lords, who bear masks, robes, and amulets to disguise themselves when publicly sitting in judgment or council, and who make policies for Waterdeep. Every Waterdhavian has suspicions as to whether this or that influential citizen is or isn’t a lord of the city, and some are willing to make their beliefs public, but few who are confronted in such a way have ever claimed to be a lord, and none of those have also produced proof of that assertion.
Not hidden at all are the other lords of the city — the nobles of Waterdeep, whose high-nosed behavior and heavy-handed spending establish fashion in the city, which in turn creates trends all across the North for clothing, weaponry, favored trinkets, music, and any other preference that can be changed at a whim by those with enough coin to afford the expense. More than seventy-five noble families call Waterdeep home, representing between them all manner of business interests, rivalries, and internal strife.
Being a noble carries with it a great deal of advantage. Operating from one’s place at the head of the economic and social hierarchy, a noble can easily lift a mediocre craftperson out of obscurity, dash the hopes of a wealthy merchant of ever securing another contract within the city, or provide the backing an ambitious adventuring band needs to find fame and great wealth. The only true competition nobles face is from one another. Such rivalries are the source of much gossip and intrigue as the nobles of Waterdeep always try to maintain at least a veneer of civility in their squabbles.
Although they seldom agree on much, one matter that all the noble houses see the same way is that their status should not be tainted by newcomers, and certainly not by anyone so brightcoin as to purchase one’s way to a noble title. When during Lord Neverember’s tenure it became legal for impoverished houses to sell their titles, and thus allow others to become noble, many leaders of the old-blood houses were apoplectic, particularly after some purchasers lost all their coin and sold their titles again within a season or two. Open Lord Laeral Silverhand has, to the relief of those leaders, seen the folly of this decision, and gathered enough support among the Lords of Waterdeep to not only reverse it, but to restore titles and lands to noble families who lost them through folly. The change has won her much support among the nobles. Now Zhents and Thayans and Balduri an merchants have coin enough to buy property within the city, if they choose, but that is no reason to award them noble titles and legal rights, instead of merely a mansion, for doing so.