Elminster's Guide to the Realms
The High Flagon
by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #302)
The High Flagon stands about two miles outside the north gate of Waterdeep, on the east side of Long Road, which runs to Rassalantar and on up the valley of the Dessarin to Triboar.
In construction, the Flagon is a typical country gambling house, gaudy where it isn't rustic, but lacking the luxury (and haughty airs) of a city gambling establishment. Like most country gaming houses, the Watch stays away, leaving policing of the establishment to a private force of hired guards. Brawls, prostitution, and shady business meetings are the norm, and both drinks and food are overpriced.
WHAT MEETS THE EYE
The Flagon is a rambling, many-gabled wooden structure that resembles an old house. Owned over the years by a variety of people with very different tastes who all built additions onto the existing structure, the resulting building is a riot of wings, bay windows, and turrets, with a roofed-over porch running along the front and around to the side (to give some relief from the muddy yard and cover in wet weather when one needs to dash to the stables that lie behind the Flagon).
Fire-barrels of water stand everywhere, inside and out ("handy for drownings," as one merchant sourly commented), and the rooms are dingy, though they strain for an air of luxury with many cheap tapestries hung on the walls and black-painted tables and chairs. None of the furniture matches, but they've been made to look as if they do - uniform arched wooden backs having been attached to the chairs and circular or oval tabletops of roughly the same size attached to all the tables.
The Flagon's yard is fenced to keep out thieves, and hired mercenaries patrol all areas of the Flagon, including the stables. There are over thirty "house hands" on duty during the evenings and half that by day, most of them warriors of 1st or 2nd level.
A patron entering the Flagon will see two guards flanking the outer doors, pass through a lobby to a gleaming copper-sheathed inner double door flanked by another two guards, and then enter the dim interior where a gowned hostess awaits (with two guards of her own) to guide the patron to whichever table he desires. All three guard posts have alarm-gongs; striking one rings a central gong in the kitchens, where the owner then swiftly sends out reinforcements.
LIFE IN THE FLAGON
The Flagon is owned by the Harbright family, all of whom tend to be handsome. They are of middling height, seldom run to fat, and have strong features, including hair that goes silver at the temples as they age. One of the elder uncles of the family, Drengar (LN male human Exp6/Rog1), has taken his family away from daily work and life in Waterdeep (largely - and vainly - to protect his daughters from corruption and early marriage to undesirables). He now runs the Flagon, which is rapidly proving far more prosperous than the steady family textile business.
Drengar, who is addressed as "Master" by his staff, is stern but fair, and well regarded by all who work for him. Two shifts (dawn to dusk and vice versa) work the Flagon. The total roster of Flagon employees consists of twenty kitchen staff (Harbrights and local women), three exceptionally beautiful female hostesses, sixteen "tablemasters" (attractive men and women of Waterdeep who administer the games and provide cards, dice, markers, and banking services), twenty-odd stable hands (the Flagon boards mounts and stores coaches for some city folk as well as tending to guests' horses), and forty-six guards.
Travelers setting forth from Waterdeep often arrange to meet at the Flagon (to join a caravan or form a large armed group for travel safety), and this practice is becoming more popular with laborers and merchants of middling fortunes - especially since the game of High Dragon started gaining popularity and Drengar Harbright started "sweetening the winner's pot" with cash prizes.
By day, the Flagon is quiet, sporting only a handful of die-hard gamblers and other folk who desire to meet and do business in private (for 3 sp, one can rent a private, secure room until dusk).
The same rooms, with spartan furnishings and no services but a chamberpot, a blanket, and a bowl of wash-water, can be rented for the night for 2 gp each, but don't expect much quiet. The Flagon staff neither advertises nor encourages rental of their rooms as overnight accommodations for travelers.
It is possible to eavesdrop on the goings-on in many of the Flagon's upper rooms by the use of spy-passages with peepholes, but Harbright doesn't advertise this fact - the extra coin some might pay to "listen in" isn't worth the loss of business (or revenge that might be taken) once word gets around.
House rules at the Flagon include expulsion for those who willfully and repeatedly taunt, cheat, start a fight, draw a weapon, or cause a death.
Fire is the chief fear, and anyone caught deliberately starting or aiding in any conflagration (throwing a lit lamp, for instance, or any act that spills or breaks a lit lamp or lantern) is beaten and expelled. Use of magic is also forbidden in the Flagon. Those caught using magic to cheat are quickly expelled from the Flagon and banned from returning, while the use of dangerous or violent magic is rewarded with a beating and confiscation of all personal property on hand, or death (depending on the severity of the offense and how dangerous or influential the offender).
BELLY AND GULLET
A vast array of drinks can be had in the Flagon, all served in battered soft metal goblets (glass is too prone to breakage in a place where drinkers are so apt to become either excited or murderous). Prices are as follows: 3 sp per goblet of ale, small beer, herb cordial, beefsimmer broth, or stout, and 1 gp per goblet for all wines, zzar, and spirits (aside from a few rare and fine substances, which start at 7 gp per goblet and go up to whatever the proprietor thinks he can get away with).
Food offerings come without cutlery (to be eaten with one's fingers) and are limited to hot tarts, skewer-fowl, and fryplates. Savory tarts (usually rabbit or game fowl) are 3 sp each. Sweetberry tarts go for 2 sp each and are filled with gooseberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, or a mixture of any or all of these. Skewer-fowl are roasted whole fowl served on wooden skewers, and most tend to be chickens or ducks, often tough, ancient, domesticated birds that have been marinated in the wine-dregs. A fryplate is a small wooden plate containing a pair of small, thick oval slices of bread that have been fried in the drippings from the skewer-fowl, overlaid by four or five "frystrips" of peppery seasoned beef, venison, and hog.
GAMING AT THE FLAGON
The Flagon offers only card games. Until recently it also offered dice games and "live" games, but the numerous brawls that arose as a result of these games convinced Drengar to ban them at the Flagon. The most dominant game at the Flagon is High Dragon, although Archers and Swords are also popular games. It should be noted that some card games involve the use of dice in play, but these are hosted at the Flagon.
This 4-8 player game uses the same deck as High Dragon (described below), with the same card rankings. Each player is dealt a card face down (which they can't examine), and then 2 cards into their hand.
One player begins by "shooting an arrow" (presenting an attacking card to a target player of her choice). The defender shows a defending card, and the highest card wins.
If the attacker wins, she gets the defender's face-down card. She is then allowed to examine the card - other players are not - shuffle her hand, and choose either to keep the same card face down or replace it with a new card.
If the defender wins, the attacker withdraws the attacking card, and the defender becomes the archer, free to attack the same or another player by "shooting an arrow."
If attacking and defending cards are of the same rank, the attacker and defender exchange face-down cards without displaying them to other players.
The first player to have six face-down cards is the winner (hands must remain 2 cards in size, and only one face-down card is hazarded in battle; the others remain as booty, so this represents 5 wins over any losses). In multiple-player games, it's common to wager on the second, third, and even fourth winners as well as the first.
This three-player card game has recently soared in popularity, to the extent that fanciful and beautifully illustrated decks of cards are now being made for it and bought avidly by people from all walks of life.
High Dragon is played with three courts (suits) of cards: Blue Shield, Green Tree, and Silver Sword. In descending order, each suit has the following cards: King Dragon, Death Dragon, Queen Dragon, Young Dragon, Dragonslayer, Hero, Knight, Minstrel, Wandering Wizard, Warrior of the 11th, Warrior of the 10th, Warrior of the 9th, Warrior of the 8th, Warrior of the 7th, Warrior of the 6th, Warrior of the 5th, Squire, Knave, Stone, and Well.
The object of the game is to win "battles" (tricks) by playing the highest total card score into a battle. First, the deck is shuffled and a Silent Hand (dummy) is dealt face down and set aside, to be kept out of play for the game. Then, 7 cards are dealt face down to each player, for their examination, and the top remaining card of the deck is turned up to become the battle card. This card serves no other purpose in the game except to determine, by its own court, which is the ranking court for a particular battle (to break ties).
A battle begins with the dealer (or the winner of the last battle) playing a face-down card. Then the second and third players also play face-down cards. The first player then plays a second card face-up, followed by the second and third players. Only then are the face-down cards turned over to resolve the winner of the battle. The highest score wins, and when scores match, the player who played the most battle court cards wins; if there's still a tie, then the rank of battle court cards is referred to.
Following this, another card of the deck is turned over to reveal the new battle court, and another battle is played. After every two battles, all cards except the Silent Hand are collected, shuffled, and dealt out again.
Betting is permitted on each battle or on the majority winner of a "war" of 12 battles. If a war has a three-way tie, there's no winner, and another war is played. If there's a two-way tie, the loser drops out and the two remaining players continue with 9-card hands (and two 9-card Silent Hands), and battles become 3-card affairs: a card face down, then a card face up, and then the third card face down again.
This is a "quiet" bettors game, often used to pass the time in a friendly, non-wagering manner while gossip or business dealings are completed. It's played with two identical High Dragon decks and consists of various forms of solitaire (each player in a game of Smashcastle must play the same form of solitaire) in which players draw, play, and discard in unison - but their discards go to the other player.
Most of the solitaire games used in the Roaring Dragon, according to Elminster, are what we would call "Klondike" or "Can-can."
Wealthy Waterdhavian matrons often play Smashcastle with servants or when calling on each other by day, and it's apt to be sneered at by the younger crowd.
Elminster tell us that this card game is essentially euchre, with the addition of an Emperor card that outranks the Ace (known as a Throne or Castle card).