This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Twenty One on 3rd June 2020.
Ostron: You know Libby doesn’t like people taking books from the annex. It had Lennon wandering around in a confused stupor for an entire day when he forgot to bring back an atlas.
Ryu: How could you tell?
Ostron: Honestly only because I saw Libby hit him with an eye ray.
Lennon: Hey is that from the annex? You know Libby-
Ryu: Yes, I heard, don’t worry; this isn’t one of Libby’s books. It’s my list for our trip to Neverwinter!
Ostron: Luskan silk skirt, decorative water clock…oh this is a shopping list.
Ryu: Something like that.
Lennon: Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate had stores all over the place, you didn’t make big shopping lists for them.
Ryu: Oh my goodness you two have no idea.
Baldur’s Gate is one of the physically largest and most defensible cities on the Sword Coast, and Waterdeep is probably the center of most major goings-on in the area, but if you want to flash cash and live the high life, Neverwinter is where it’s at. Volo himself is on record as saying Neverwinter is “the most cosmopolitan and the most civilized city in all of Faerûn.”
Through the years the city was generally kept very stable and it’s harbor almost never freezes, so it’s been able to make trade deals with a lot of different locations on the sword coast and across to other continents and lands in the Forgotten Realms. This focus on making deals with far-flung lands means there’s generally a high tolerance for other people’s cultures and especially their money.
Officially there are two stories of how the settlement got its name; either an elf named Halueth Never faced off against an army there and believed he would die (the winter of Never) but was rescued by humans and decided to settle there, or it refers to the fact that the unnaturally warm climate keeps the harbor liquid and the flowers blooming almost all the time.
Either way, the city attracted a lot of people from different areas and races and eventually they started showing up so they could show off their building prowess, mechanical genius, and artistic talent. The skill of the city’s craftsmen was so well known the phrase “by the clocks of neverwinter” passed into common use to denote something that was extremely exact.
Unfortunately the city has had some rough patches recently. It used to be run by Nasher Alagondar, a retired adventurer who was supported by the city’s wizard council and rejected being king until the whole populace basically forced it on him. He worked hard to maintain the city’s trade and prosperity, and encouraged learning, leading to the establishment of the Neverwinter Academy, the closest thing to a liberal arts college on the Sword Coast.
But after his reign everything fell apart, literally. First, a plague called the Wailing Death killed a large number of people before it could be cured, then the Githyanki attacked because some idiot decided keeping a shiny silver sword in the city was a good idea. The spellplague did a number on the city as it did everywhere else, but then the coup de grace hit when nearby Mount Hotenow erupted, literally destroying a large part of the city.
Following that, a charming fellow by the name of Dagult Neverember decided all the trade and alliances Neverwinter had organized shouldn’t go to waste. At the time he was the Open Lord of Waterdeep and used his influence to assume control of most of the operation of Neverwinter from afar. Eventually Waterdeep got testy about that and exiled him from his position as Open Lord in favor of Silverhand, so he settled in Neverwinter permanently, overseeing the rebuilding of the city with a slightly heavier and harsher outlook than the previous royal family.
Despite that, by this point Neverwinter has mostly regained its status as a center of cosmopolitan hustle and bustle with renowned craftsman and trade. However, it exists under Neverember’s heavy hand preventing nobles or guilds from gaining much power, and is enforced by The Neverwinter Guard, mostly mercenaries and volunteer fighters directly under Neverember’s control.
The city is also a little more stratified than it was before and there are sharp differences between the city’s five districts. The City Core is where Neverwinter Castle sits, along with the main headquarters of most guilds and commerce organizations and the halls of justice. Blacklake District is for the nobles and richest merchants and is physically separated from the rest of the city by a stretch of fenced off land called “no-man’s land.” Contrasting that is Beggars’ Nest, where mostly poor inhabitants of the city live and pray that the inhabitants of the Neverdead graveyard next to it don’t get restless or hungry, as has been known to happen. The Docks is where all of the criminal organizations happily ply their trade until they get caught, which is when they’re sent to The Peninsula, an area mostly known for housing the city’s prison.
Beyond the lore, Neverwinter is another location a lot of D&D players have probably heard of, again thanks to video games. Like Baldur’s Gate, it was present in the earliest incarnations of the Forgotten Realms back in 1st edition, but wasn’t given much notice. That is until it became the focus of the game considered the first graphical MMORPG; The Neverwinter MMO hosted on AOL, based on 2nd edition rules. The game gained popularity and eventually a full game, Neverwinter Nights, was released by BioWare in 2002. The game was so successful and popular that it continued to receive updates from 2002 all the way through to 2016.
The second game only increased the city’s notoriety because it was the focus of a media blitz by Wizards of the Coast. Along with the the release of the game, Wizards released a 4th edition campaign guide specifically focused on the city, and they commissioned a series of books in the Driz’zt saga specifically focusing on the destruction of the city and Lord Neverember’s bid to control and rebuild it, events that are now all canon.
So far Neverwinter hasn’t featured much in 5th edition, though it got some attention for the Storm King’s Thunder module. We’ll have to see what else is in store for the “Jewel of the North”.
Ryu: Back up, what was that about stricter security?
Ostron: The Neverwinter Guard? Yeah, they all work for Neverember because he doesn’t want help from Waterdeep.
Ryu: But they’re still mercs, right?
Lennon: Yeah, why?
Ryu: Nothing, just have to re-figure how much gold I’ll need to bring. We ready to go?
Ostron: We should probably clear out the messages in the scrying pool before we head off.
Ryu: Okay, I’ll meet you guys in there. Need to grab some more brib-ahh bauble money. For trinkets. That I’m totally going to buy from the stores. Anyway, shoo. Go talk to listeners.