Selected Passages on Waterdeep's Legal System

Adapted from FR1 - Waterdeep and the North, by Ed Greenwood


Waterdeep is presently governed by an unknown number of Lords of Waterdeep (probably more than a dozen and less than a score), who are seen by the general populace only when sitting in the Lord's Court, identities concealed by identical masks and robes. It is rare indeed for more than seven Lords to sit in Court on a given occasion.

This democratic council has a largely secret membership. Everyone knows that Piergeiron "the Paladinson", Warden of Waterdeep (= commander of the City Guard), Overmaster of the Guilds, and Commander of the Watch is a Lord of Waterdeep. The paladin sits openly in his golden-spired palace conducting the City's diplomatic and legal business. Amoung the citizens, it is generally agreed that the archmage Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun is also of the Lords (perhaps chief amoung them), but no who one knows the identities of the other Lords for certain has made them public knowledge. One hears the names Mirt, Larissa, and Texter.

The penalty for impersonating a Lord is death; on the spot, without delay, with speak with the dead magics employed later to find out why, as time permits. The Lords all know each other, and Piergeiron can demand that they unmask to him at any time (refusal is itself a capital offense).


Waterdhavians are, by and large, a law-abiding people - when so many of the City's inhabitants earn their living by trade, respect for property is high, and support for a strong, objective police force even more so. The wearing of weapons is allowed in the city, as is using them in clear self-defense, but duels are allowed only in specific places (such as the various open courtyards in the southern part of the City), and must be marshalled by an officer of the Watch or a Magister. A duel must be for reasons of a specific, unprovoked injury, allowed by the Magister; simply killing citizens because you covet their money or don't like their faces is not sanctioned. Lords, Magisters, Guard and Watch members, and Heralds (even visiting ones) are exempt from challenges, and the Lords usually forbid any duellings involving the heads of the Guilds, noble houses or priesthoods, too, although rank-and-file members of all of these organizations can and do duel, sometimes with great enthusiasm. Duels are seldom to the death; more often, they are to yield or first blood, whichever first occurs; and clerics usually attend to heal (upon payment of temple donations) the loser, and sometimes the winner too.

If a Watch patrol makes an arrest, two of its four members must accompany an accused to a Magister immediately, the other two remaining on patrol, or if necessary assisting or protecting victims or abandoned property. If a vendor is arrested, the two Watchmen who remain must guard his goods and conduct business for him to the best of their abilities, although they are not responsible for lost business or losses to monies or property in the arrested person's absence. One officer will be with each half of a split patrol, never staying together while their two subordinates go elsewhere together.

In cases of great danger to Watch officers (such as an angry mage wielding wand, rod, or staff, or a fighter attacking with an apparently magical blade), the Watch will slay to defend themselves and employ speak with the dead later to determine guilt or innocence. Innocent parties are always raised at the City's expense, if possible. Watch officers who must kill in the line of duty are never charged, nor held financially responsible, for the deaths they bring about. An officer who kills often without clear cause will be dismissed.

Much of the laws of Waterdeep remain unwritten, within the "reasonable discretion" of the Magisters (and ultimately, of the Lords who may overrule them), and therefore cannot all be set down here. A summary of sentences, the "Code Legal", is provided below.


Crimes and their corresponding sentences, as administered by the Lords and Magisters of Waterdeep can be summarized as set forth below. This system is known as the "Code Legal", and is only a basis for sentencing, not absolute rules. Note that both Lords and Magisters are free to determine absolutely guilt and innocence, and set any lesser sentence they consider fitting (or none at all) if a crime is deemed justified or largely harmless and unintentional.

A single act can result in multiple charges, under one or more of the four "Plaints". Magisterial justice may be appealed to the Lords by anyone, but such appeals must be within nine days of the initial sentencing, and noncitizens of Waterdeep must persuade a citizen of the City to appeal on their behalf.

The four plaints are the four different classes of aggrieved parties; that is, those who are injured by a crime. They are Crimes Against the Lords, Crimes Against the City, Crimes Against the Gods, and Crimes Against Citizens. Under each Plaint are four classes or crimes. These four types of offenses are Severe, Serious, Lesser, and Minor.

The sentences have been set forth below in a chart to save space. After the letter that denotes a type of punishment, an amount (of time or money) usually follows. The commercial nature of the City, with its emphasis on mercantile trade and property, is clearly reflected in these "typical" punishments. The City is empowered to seize and sell the property of a convict to realize the money needed to satisfy the payment of fines or damages, without the consent of a convict. The family, clan, guild, or business partners of a convict are never liable for the payment of a convict's fines or damages, unless they can be proven to have aided, abetted, ordered, or coerced a convict into the criminal activity in question.

Temples and priesthoods are not permitted to pass or carry out sentences under the Third Plaint; only officers of the City may do so.

Convicted beings may owe fines to the City and pay as they can over time, but only upon permission of a Lord or Magister, who will typically demand at least a partial payment immediately.

A Death (instant)
B Death (upon conviction)
C Exile or Ban Against Future Entry
D Mutilation (loss of offending extremities, branding)
E Enforced Hard Labor
F Imprisonment (dungeon)
G Imprisonment (light work in Castle compound)
H Fine (payable to the City)
I Damages (payable to injured party)
J Edict Against Convicted (public pronouncement forbidding convicted to do something; e.g. continue in present business, repeat circumstances that led to an offense, etc.)

The First Plaint: Crimes Against the Lords

  • Treason (including Assault Upon a Lord): A
  • Impersonation of a Lord: A
  • Impersonation of a Magister: B after flogging
  • Forgery of an Official Document: B or C (permantent) plus D
  • Assault Upon a Magister: B or F (10 years) after flogging

  • Theft, Vandalism, or Arson Against the Palace or any part of the City Walls: E (as justice demands) plus H (cost of repairs plus 2,000gp)
  • Impersonation of a Guardsman or Officer of the Watch: F (as justice demands) plus H (5,000gp) and flogging
  • Repetition of any Lesser or Minor Offense Against this Plaint: E or F (1 month) and/or H (up to 1,000gp)
  • Willful Disobedience of any Edict Uttered Against One By a Lord: H (up to 1,000gp) and/or C (up to 5 years)

  • Unlawful Observation or Copying of an Official Document: F (3 weeks) plus H (300gp)
  • Assault Upon a City Officer Who is Acting In the Line Of Duty: F (1 week) plus H (as justice demands; usually based on ability to pay; flogging if unable to pay anything)

  • Blasphemy Against Lord, Magister, or any City Officer: G (4 days) plus H (20gp)

The Second Plaint: Crimes Against The City

  • Poisoning of Water (City Wells; includes attempted blockage or attempts to control public access, or charge fees for such access): A
  • Murder: B or E (10-15 years)
  • Spying, Sabotage: B or C (permanent) plus H (costs of repairs plus 2,000 - 5,000gp) or F (up to 10 years) and I, and J

  • Fraud: C (permanent) and I (as justice demands) or F (up to 10 years) and I, and J
  • Fencing Stolen Goods: G (up to 2 years) and H (typically twice the price the goods were sold for) and J
  • Unlawful Duelling (Manslaughter): C (up to 5 years) and I (to family, typically 1,000gp) or E (up to 3 years) and I
  • Murder With Justification: C (up to 5 years) or E (up to 3 years)
  • Repetition of Any Lesser or Minor Offense Against This Plaint: F (1 month) and H (up to 1,000gp) and J
  • Bribery of a City Officer or Official (attempted or apprehended): C (up to 20 years) and confiscation of all property except one weapon, one week's rations, and clothes worn by the offender

  • Unlawful Entry Into the Harbor (1 charge per vessel per occasion): C (1 year) and H (500gp)
  • Unlawful Duelling (apprehended; i.e. no fatality): G (1 week) and H (100gp) and J

  • Bribery: G (1 week) and/or H (ammount of bribe or attempted bribe)
  • Unlawful Flight Intrusion (into City airspace, of intelligent being flying by means of an aerial mount or magic): H (300gp) and J (in peacetime; in wartime, sentence can be A)
  • Blasphemy Against Foreign Ambasadors: G (up to 1 week), H (50gp) and J
  • Vagrancy: F (overnight)
  • Littering (includes Relief of Human Wastes in Public): F (overnight) and H (2 sp to 1gp based on ability to pay) and J
  • Brandishing a Weapon Dangerously or Threateningly Without Due Cause (note: being in a brawl is not "due cause" unless one is menaced with a weapon): F (overnight) and H (1gp)
  • Dangerous Operation of a Coach, Wagon, Litter or other Conveyance (including Airborne): H (5-50gp as justice demands; note that this will be in addition to the sentence for any charges placed under The Fourth Plaint)
The Third Plaint: Crimes Against The Gods

  • Defiling of a Holy Place (Temple Burglary, Temple Arson, or Temple Vandalism): C (5 years) and I (as justice demands) or E (up to 5 years) and F or G (up to 3 years) and I

  • Theft of Temple Goods or Offerings (includes spoilage or consumption of same): F (up to 1 month) and I (double the estimated value of goods) and J
  • Tomb-Robbing (or Unlawful Entry and/or Vandalism of a Tomb): G (up to 1 week) and I (costs of repairs and replacements plus up to 500gp, payable to whoever maintains the tomb - temple, guild, City or family) and J
  • Repetition of Any Lesser or Minor Offense Against This Plaint: G (up to 1 week) and H (up to 1,000gp) and J

  • Assault Upon a Priest or Lay Worshipper: I (of up to 500gp; payable to temple and usually based on ability to pay) and J (in addition to charges placed under the Fourth Plaint arising from such an assault)

  • Public Blasphemy of a God or Priesthood: I (up to 10gp, based on ability to pay) and J
  • Drunkenness (and Disorderly Conduct) at Worship: I (up to 5gp, based on ability to pay) and J

The Fourth Plaint: Crimes Against Citizens

  • Arson (of Ship, Structure, or Stored Property): E (up to 3 months) and I (value lost plus up to 500gp), and/or C (up to 10 years) and I
  • Rape: D and I (up to 2,000gp) or E (up to 5 years) and I, or F (up to 10 years) and I
  • Assault Resulting in Mutilation or Crippling: D and I (up to 2,000gp) or E (up to 3 years) and I
  • Magical Assault: H (up to 1,000gp) and I (up to 2,000gp) and J
  • Forgery (not including official City documents): C (up to 20 years) and D and confiscation of all property except one weapon, one week's rations, and clothes worn by the offender at the time of sentencing`
  • Slavery: C (up to 10 years) and flogging if shackling, cruelty, whipping, branding, or physical indignities are observed

  • Robbery: E (up to 1 month) and I (value of goods lost plus up to 500gp)
  • Burglary: F (up to 3 months) and I (value of goods lost plus up to 500gp)
  • Theft or Killing of Livestock: I (double cost of lost stock)
  • Repetition of Any Lesser or Minor Offense Against This Plaint: F (up to 1 week) and I (double normal), or G (up to 2 weeks) and I (double normal)
  • Usury: I (City recovers excess over legal rates, returns to injured party)

  • Damage to Property: I (value of goods lost plus up to 500gp) and J
  • Assault (Wounding): I (cost of medical attention plus up to 500gp) and J
  • Assault on Livestock (non-fatal): I (cost of medical attention plus up to 500gp; maximum damages always apply if livestock's breeding capability is impaired)
  • Unlawful Hindrance of Business: I (up to 200gp) and J (this charge includes instances of blocking access to a place of business without permission of owner or a Magister; and trying to frighten, disgust, or drive away customers in or in front of another's shop)

  • Assault (without wounding or robbery): F (overnight) and I (up to 50gp)
  • Excessive Noise (interfering with sleep or business): I (up to 25gp) and J

Magisters and Lords have in the past made laws (edicts) specific to certain individuals (e.g. "Sibrin the Warrior may not enter the City of the Dead at any time, for any reason except his own final burial"), and will continue to do so.

Taxes and Fees

At present, the City collects no annual taxes, but raises its revenues by the charging of fees, as follows:

In times of trouble, direct taxes may be imposed:

All in all, Waterdhavians are lightly taxed and know it; they may grumble, but they never collectively revolt or refuse to pay.

Trials and Bribery

There is no bail in Waterdeep, although a Lord can dismiss charges at will. This is rarely done.

Bribery is the most frowned-upon crime amoung the general populace. Because of the ill it brings to one's reputation, no-one native to Waterdeep would ever attempt it, although they might - if very rich - bargain with the Lords to drop (severe) charges in return for forfeiture of a valuable property, vessel, or cargo.

There are no lawyers in Waterdeep, although there are a few "professional witnesses" who for a fee will state a case to their client's best advantage before a Black Robe.

Expulsion from the City is the fate of any of these who are caught swearing they saw something that did not in fact occur, or that they were not present to see. It is known that the City employs clerics, who remain hidden behind concealing tapestries, to cast detect lie magics at a signal from a Magister.

Sentences of death are usually carried out on the battlements of Castle Waterdeep if commoners or soldiers must die - for death in such cases is by hanging, usually at highsun (noon). Several massive, permanent wooden scaffolds are cantilevered out from the Castle walls on the south side. Nobles die by the sword; such beheadings are usually carried out in the Court of the White Bull, but may be carried out anywhere if an example to the citzenry of a particular neighborhood is intended.


Most Whaterdhavians are sentenced for debts of one sort or another - either debts to another citizen or outstanding debts owed to the City due to unpaid fees or taxes or fines imposed by a Black Robe or Lord which cannot be (or are not) paid within a specified period of time. Such "payoff" periods are set by the sentencer. Minor personal (private) debts are paid off by the offender, by having him work for the person he owes money to (Watch officers will check on attendence to, and diligence in, this enforced servitude) until service, at the going market rate, equals the debt owed.

Major debts may result in the City paying the person owed fromits own coffers, and the offender becoming an unpaid sewer, wall, or road repair worker until the debt is cleared.

In times of strife, such offenders have found themselves pressed into service as temporary soldiers, or rowers on a seagoing raker, on the understanding that they are free of debt if they survive to make it back to Waterdeep with their ship or military unit. Only the Lords can approve a recommendation by a Magister, senior Watch officer, or one of their number to seize property or goods of an offender to pay fines; this they do rarely - but, combined with exile from the City, it provides an effective last-resort method of removing persistent troublemakers.

Written contracts or a note-of-hand are required to prove to a Black Robe that a debt is owed, if a citizen wishes to bring a complaint before the Courts. All careful merchants will get and give written documents in their dealings.

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