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Volo's Guide to Waterdeep (2e)

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Well met, traveler!

You hold in your hands an amusing and insightful guide to Waterdeep—the metropolis of the North, the City of Splendors. This handy pouch-sized tome presents Volo's choice of the finest, most spectacular, and least known (but most desired) information about the people, customs, and locations in Waterdeep, ranked with a handy coin, dagger, pipe, and tankard ratings system.

Discover the following:

  • What it's like to attend a private party hosted by Waterdhavian nobles
  • Where Waterdeep's ghosts walk
  • Legends and clues about famous, as-yet-uncovered treasures
  • What fare a typical Waterdhavian menu offers you
  • The best moon-kissed spots to meet Waterdhavians of the opposite sex
  • Waterdeep's best shops and craftsmen
  • The best places to dine, stay, see—and, of course, avoid!

Suitible for all levels of play.

Special Note: This volume of the Volo's Guides, intended for travelers from beyond the borders of Faerûn, contains notes and commentary by the famous archmage and sage Elminster.

*****

Product History

Volo's Guide to Waterdeep (1992), by Ed Greenwood (writing as Volothamp Geddarm and Elminster the Sage), is the first guidebook in Volo's famous series of in-depth, in-character looks at important parts of the Forgotten Realms. It was released in January 1993.

About the Cover. Volo, as depicted on Robh Ruppel's cover, is a nearly photographic likeness of Clyde Caldwell, who also did quite a bit of cover work for TSR.

Introducing the Volo Guides. In the early 90s, a new idea appeared simultaneously at several different roleplaying companies, creating game books that were written as if they were real-world sources from within the gaming settings. The first two of note were Chaosium's King of Sartar (1992), which depicted the future history of Glorantha through several unreliable sources; and TSR's own Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue (1992), a listing of funny stuff for adventurers to buy. The Volo Guides would follow this same trend, offering up in-character looks at the world of the Forgotten Realms.

Author Ed Greenwood enjoyed writing these books in part because he got to use an unreliable narrator. He says that this allowed him to create details without worrying about contradicting the readers' own campaigns; those DMs could just say, "Volo was wrong." He even makes a nod to this fact when he has Elminster state, in his preface to the book, "I must warn ye. Khelben and his lady Laeral laughed to tears on several occasions while reading this work—and as I can find little amusing in it, I can only conclude they found hilarious errors!"

The use of an in-world narrator also offered Greenwood another advantage: when he had too much material to cover in a single Volo Guide, he could skip over some topics by saying simply that Volo had been kicked out of whatever locale Greenwood had decided not to write about.

It should be noted that not quite all of the Guides are written in-character this way. In particular, each book has a "Folk" appendix which gives some AD&D stats for characters of the area. Later books also include a short appendix that discusses the mechanics of the "Magic" of the area.

Greenwood says that the Volo Guides are among his favorite Realms releases because they "impart some of the richness and color of the Realms." He'd still be writing them constantly for the Realms if he could.

A Unique Format (at the Time). The Volo Guides are also notable for their digest size, which was largely unknown in the industry at the time—although it also had been premiered in Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue and King of Sartar. Greenwood says that he was told the format wasn't a hit with retailers.

Digest-sized games became much more common in the 2000s, primarily due to the indie revolution in gaming. They were of course very common back in the 70s, too.

Not that Volo! Volothamp Geddarm, the author of the Volo Guides, was mentioned for the first time in Forgotten Realms Adventures (1990). The listing of spells in that book is led off with the statement:

The spells presented here are those which are in general use, or at least those that the magical population at large is aware of. This awareness is in part due to a pamphlet published early this year entitled "Volo's Guide to All Things Magical" in which the author revealed a large number of long-forgotten spells to the general populace. Soon after its release, Volo was confronted by some powerful mages who would have preferred the spells to remain forgotten, and the sage is now reported to have shifted his effort to writing travel guides.

The idea of Volo always getting in trouble for what he writes is a long-running joke that carries through all the Guides. The supposedly suppressed Volo's Guide to All Things Magical (1996) was another long-running joke that finally appeared in a substantially different form as the fifth-and-a-half Volo Guide.

However, Volothamp Geddarm shouldn't be confused with Marco Volo, the star of the Marco Volo adventures (1994). Apparently, Marcus Wands took the name "Marco Volo" purposefully to cause confusion with Volothamp because Volothamp was a natural patsy given how often he gets in trouble.

About the Maps. The Volo Guides are full of maps: maps of Waterdeep itself in this volume, and maps of the countryside in other volumes. These maps were all created by Ed Greenwood, drawn by hand. He'd photocopy the existing master maps, blow them up, and then frame and cut out smaller areas for use in the Volo Guides. He'd detail those smaller areas, by photocopying standard TSR map symbols and pasting them onto the maps, or by hand drawing new symbols. When TSR received these maps, they'd prepare a camera-ready copy.

Though the process certainly sounds laborious, at one point Greenwood is reputed to have produced 40 or 50 minimaps within a week—while also holding down a day job with a horrendous commute!

Expanding the Realms. By 1992, Waterdeep was already one of the best-detailed areas of the Realms. This was in part because Greenwood had lots of background material on it, as it had served as the home base for a longtime adventuring company in one of the author's home campaigns (with other campaigns being located in Cormyr and the Dalelands). Greenwood first touched upon Waterdeep in Dragon #62 (June 1982), where it was idly mentioned in his first "Pages from the Mages" article as somewhere that a magical book had been sold, then stolen.

After developing the Realms as a campaign world starting in 1987, TSR also opted to heavily support Waterdeep. FR1: "Waterdeep and the North" (1987) is said to remain the "definitive guide to features of Waterdeep." In fact, because of Volo's notable untrustworthiness, Elminster the Sage highlights that book's continued usefulness in Dragon #190 (February 1993): "When he read the many parchment rolls Volo gave him, Elminster told me not to throw away the sourcebook we’'d compiled together [FR1 Waterdeep and the North] quite yet."

Other Waterdeep sources published prior to Volo's Guide to Waterdeep include the City System box (1988), FRE3: "Waterdeep" (1989), the Knight of the Living Dead Catacombs gamebook (1989), and The Ruins of Undermountain box (1991).

The nearby Sword Coast had also already received good attention in adventures like N5: "Under Illefarn" (1987) and FRQ2: "Hordes of Dragonspear" (1992). Despite all that, Volo's Guide to Waterdeep is so full of details of individual neighborhoods and establishments in the City of Splendors that it clearly expanded what was already known of the area.

About the Creators. Ed Greenwood is the creator of the Forgotten Realms and the alter-ego of both Volothamp Geddarm and Elminster the Sage. His Volo's Guide series ran five books, from 1992-96. It got a Magical supplement that last year, then returned a few years later for an encore with Volo's Guide to Baldur's Gate II (2000).

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons

Well met, traveler!

You hold in your hands an amusing and insightful guide to Waterdeep—the metropolis of the North, the City of Splendors. This handy pouch-sized tome presents Volo's choice of the finest, most spectacular, and least known (but most desired) information about the people, customs, and locations in Waterdeep, ranked with a handy coin, dagger, pipe, and tankard ratings system.

Discover the following:

  • What it's like to attend a private party hosted by Waterdhavian nobles
  • Where Waterdeep's ghosts walk
  • Legends and clues about famous, as-yet-uncovered treasures
  • What fare a typical Waterdhavian menu offers you
  • The best moon-kissed spots to meet Waterdhavians of the opposite sex
  • Waterdeep's best shops and craftsmen
  • The best places to dine, stay, see—and, of course, avoid!

Suitible for all levels of play.

Special Note: This volume of the Volo's Guides, intended for travelers from beyond the borders of Faerûn, contains notes and commentary by the famous archmage and sage Elminster.

*****

Product History

Volo's Guide to Waterdeep (1992), by Ed Greenwood (writing as Volothamp Geddarm and Elminster the Sage), is the first guidebook in Volo's famous series of in-depth, in-character looks at important parts of the Forgotten Realms. It was released in January 1993.

About the Cover. Volo, as depicted on Robh Ruppel's cover, is a nearly photographic likeness of Clyde Caldwell, who also did quite a bit of cover work for TSR.

Introducing the Volo Guides. In the early 90s, a new idea appeared simultaneously at several different roleplaying companies, creating game books that were written as if they were real-world sources from within the gaming settings. The first two of note were Chaosium's King of Sartar (1992), which depicted the future history of Glorantha through several unreliable sources; and TSR's own Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue (1992), a listing of funny stuff for adventurers to buy. The Volo Guides would follow this same trend, offering up in-character looks at the world of the Forgotten Realms.

Author Ed Greenwood enjoyed writing these books in part because he got to use an unreliable narrator. He says that this allowed him to create details without worrying about contradicting the readers' own campaigns; those DMs could just say, "Volo was wrong." He even makes a nod to this fact when he has Elminster state, in his preface to the book, "I must warn ye. Khelben and his lady Laeral laughed to tears on several occasions while reading this work—and as I can find little amusing in it, I can only conclude they found hilarious errors!"

The use of an in-world narrator also offered Greenwood another advantage: when he had too much material to cover in a single Volo Guide, he could skip over some topics by saying simply that Volo had been kicked out of whatever locale Greenwood had decided not to write about.

It should be noted that not quite all of the Guides are written in-character this way. In particular, each book has a "Folk" appendix which gives some AD&D stats for characters of the area. Later books also include a short appendix that discusses the mechanics of the "Magic" of the area.

Greenwood says that the Volo Guides are among his favorite Realms releases because they "impart some of the richness and color of the Realms." He'd still be writing them constantly for the Realms if he could.

A Unique Format (at the Time). The Volo Guides are also notable for their digest size, which was largely unknown in the industry at the time—although it also had been premiered in Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue and King of Sartar. Greenwood says that he was told the format wasn't a hit with retailers.

Digest-sized games became much more common in the 2000s, primarily due to the indie revolution in gaming. They were of course very common back in the 70s, too.

Not that Volo! Volothamp Geddarm, the author of the Volo Guides, was mentioned for the first time in Forgotten Realms Adventures (1990). The listing of spells in that book is led off with the statement:

The spells presented here are those which are in general use, or at least those that the magical population at large is aware of. This awareness is in part due to a pamphlet published early this year entitled "Volo's Guide to All Things Magical" in which the author revealed a large number of long-forgotten spells to the general populace. Soon after its release, Volo was confronted by some powerful mages who would have preferred the spells to remain forgotten, and the sage is now reported to have shifted his effort to writing travel guides.

The idea of Volo always getting in trouble for what he writes is a long-running joke that carries through all the Guides. The supposedly suppressed Volo's Guide to All Things Magical (1996) was another long-running joke that finally appeared in a substantially different form as the fifth-and-a-half Volo Guide.

However, Volothamp Geddarm shouldn't be confused with Marco Volo, the star of the Marco Volo adventures (1994). Apparently, Marcus Wands took the name "Marco Volo" purposefully to cause confusion with Volothamp because Volothamp was a natural patsy given how often he gets in trouble.

About the Maps. The Volo Guides are full of maps: maps of Waterdeep itself in this volume, and maps of the countryside in other volumes. These maps were all created by Ed Greenwood, drawn by hand. He'd photocopy the existing master maps, blow them up, and then frame and cut out smaller areas for use in the Volo Guides. He'd detail those smaller areas, by photocopying standard TSR map symbols and pasting them onto the maps, or by hand drawing new symbols. When TSR received these maps, they'd prepare a camera-ready copy.

Though the process certainly sounds laborious, at one point Greenwood is reputed to have produced 40 or 50 minimaps within a week—while also holding down a day job with a horrendous commute!

Expanding the Realms. By 1992, Waterdeep was already one of the best-detailed areas of the Realms. This was in part because Greenwood had lots of background material on it, as it had served as the home base for a longtime adventuring company in one of the author's home campaigns (with other campaigns being located in Cormyr and the Dalelands). Greenwood first touched upon Waterdeep in Dragon #62 (June 1982), where it was idly mentioned in his first "Pages from the Mages" article as somewhere that a magical book had been sold, then stolen.

After developing the Realms as a campaign world starting in 1987, TSR also opted to heavily support Waterdeep. FR1: "Waterdeep and the North" (1987) is said to remain the "definitive guide to features of Waterdeep." In fact, because of Volo's notable untrustworthiness, Elminster the Sage highlights that book's continued usefulness in Dragon #190 (February 1993): "When he read the many parchment rolls Volo gave him, Elminster told me not to throw away the sourcebook we’'d compiled together [FR1 Waterdeep and the North] quite yet."

Other Waterdeep sources published prior to Volo's Guide to Waterdeep include the City System box (1988), FRE3: "Waterdeep" (1989), the Knight of the Living Dead Catacombs gamebook (1989), and The Ruins of Undermountain box (1991).

The nearby Sword Coast had also already received good attention in adventures like N5: "Under Illefarn" (1987) and FRQ2: "Hordes of Dragonspear" (1992). Despite all that, Volo's Guide to Waterdeep is so full of details of individual neighborhoods and establishments in the City of Splendors that it clearly expanded what was already known of the area.

About the Creators. Ed Greenwood is the creator of the Forgotten Realms and the alter-ego of both Volothamp Geddarm and Elminster the Sage. His Volo's Guide series ran five books, from 1992-96. It got a Magical supplement that last year, then returned a few years later for an encore with Volo's Guide to Baldur's Gate II (2000).

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons—a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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-
July 29th, 2016
The Volo's Guide series has been lauded by many, and I have no quarrel with that, so this review is about the quality of the scan. I purchased and downloaded this at the end of July 2016, and I have to say that the quality of the scan was mediocre. [...]
-
August 10th, 2007
The Volo's guide's are really good. They don't have a lot of game stats in them so the can used with ease in a 3e game. Though they are written for DR 1368/9 so you might have to change a few things but overall they are great. [...]
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Product Information
Author(s)
Pages
240
Edition
1.0
ISBN
1-56076-335-3
Publisher Stock #
TSR 9379
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21.63 MB
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