I've run quite a few campaigns across different systems, genres, settings, and time periods and I've talked about a lot of them here. Over the past week I've been cleaning up the library and the wheels start turning whenever I start going back through the books in depth. Because of that I thought I would post a little bit about some of the campaigns I haven't run but would like to, and why. First up: Waterdeep!
|One of the first FR supplements after the box|
It's the big city of the Forgotten Realms; the Greyhawk; the Lankhmar; the New York! It's a big, busy, potentially dangerous place. It's always been one of the more detailed areas of the Realms because it's one of the regions where Ed Greenwood actually ran games. It sits on top of a megadungeon, the infamous "Undermountain". It has intrigue with all of the guilds and with the rulers of the city being masked with secret identities - an interesting approach to local government.
|I thought this was a pretty solid one-volume rundown of the city|
It's also been the subject of focused supporting material in multiple editions of the game from the original module type booklet up above to the boxed sets of 2nd Edition to the hardcover book of 3rd edition. There's certainly no lack of material to explore. Beyond the books there is of course plenty of online material as well.
|The maps are insane! This could easily cover a wall of a room.|
|These could cover the other wall of the game room|
...and below! I think most people are aware of the massive poster maps of the dungeon levels for Undermountain as well. They're pretty cool and inspirational again for the sheer size and scope, especially of what you could do.
|If you don't feel like Undermountain there are always the ... well, you know.|
I've never really run a fantasy big city game but looking back through these books and boxes really flips the switch. You could run it as a total sandbox as there's all kinds of space, power groups, smaller dungeons, the mega dungeon - there's no real limit here. I can also see plenty of plots to flesh out and use as the spine of an ongoing campaign. Long term goals for old-school characters in a D&D game might include carving out a barony in the wilderness somewhere - here you could aim to become one of the lords of Waterdeep instead!
Now it is the Realms so there's plenty of gods and powerful NPC's running around and Waterseep tends to be an area of focus for big events but so are big cities in fiction and in the real world so a lot of the trappings of the Realms that some see as a negative make a ton of sense here, moreso than most places - it's the big leagues! If you can make it here you can make it anywhere! I'd say it's a feature not a bug.
The main thing to keep in mind is that despite the history and popularity of the area quite a bit of it is only broadly described. There's plenty of room to carve out a neighborhood or three of your own design. Your players will get to know familiar NPC's, organizations, leaders, enemies, and eventually be experts on the region.
I also think it would be a great area to try running multiple simultaneous campaigns - one group might be mainly focused on Undermountain while another gets involved in politics. There are a ton of other options and they're all in a small enough area that the opportunities for crossovers are numerous.
There's also a lot of interesting stuff near the city so if your players get tired of urban adventures they can head outside for a special two-part episode in the High Forest or the Serpent Hills. That said my main focus would be the city itself. Kind of the opposite of the West Marches Mantra - here the adventure is in the city. Outside is where new characters and new threats come from, but it's not where you go adventuring.
So while I've never run or played in this kind of game It looks like a lot of fun to run and play. A lot of my focus in recent years has been in shorter, limited campaigns like the Savage Worlds plot points or the Pathfinder Adventure paths. This is one of those long term no particular end in sight type of games I have not run in quite a while. It's on the short list for the next D&D type campaign I run.