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I'm running Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and curious as to how much of an open secret Xanathar's Guild is.

If someone has lived in Waterdeep for 20 years, a year, 2 months, a tenday, how much are they likely to know about Xanathar, Xanathar's Guild, and ruffians with eye tattoos?

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Xanathar's Guild is well known among criminals, but the identity of Xanathar is a closely guarded secret.

Xanathar is detailed in Dungeon #206, in an article titled "The Xanathar: Beholder Crime Lord of Waterdeep". It quotes a thief working in Waterdeep, who says:

I don't know if the Xanathar really exists, but as long as I'm working in Waterdeep, I make sure he gets his cut.

— Termerin, cat burglar

According to this article, many believe Xanathar is fictional, or that if there was ever a real Xanathar he has long since been assassinated or died of old age. The fact that Xanathar is a beholder, let alone that he even really exists, has been a closely guarded secret for more than a century.

The guild itself is highly secretive, to the point that many consider it a rumour; it's described as something "whispered in the shadows of Waterdeep". It's entirely possible for an ordinary person to doubt the guild's existence, and it's possible that they have never even heard of it. Even those involved with criminal enterprises might have only a vague idea of just what the Xanathar's Guild is and who works for them.

The article goes on to say:

One of the keys to the lasting success of the Xanathar is anonymity. The fewer people who know the guild leader is a beholder, the better. Thus it has four lieutenants who carry out its daily operations in Waterdeep: Kal'dir, Quid, Sial Sapphire, and Draak. On occasion they have masqueraded as the Xanathar, their identities magically protected when undertaking the role.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Perfect. Is the full article available anywhere online? \$\endgroup\$ – StuperUser Nov 8 '18 at 14:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ WotC sells it on DriveThruRPG, and Archive.org also has a copy. You can also check the list of sources at the Forgotten Realms Wiki's article on Xanathar for more relevant sources. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Nov 8 '18 at 14:39
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This is discussed in 5th-edition sources.

Volo's Guide to Monsters (2016) and Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (2018) supplement, and in some cases update, the information from Dungeon #206 (2012) that Quadratic Wizard provided in their answer.

The first two paragraphs of the passage quoted below discuss what Xanathar Guild members know about their leader, while the third paragraph discusses what Waterdhavians in general know.

What Others Know

The organization's grunt-level employees—thieves, slavers, and ordinary thugs—work for the Xanathar Guild because it pays well. They don't necessarily know their leader is a beholder; they just know the boss is powerful, dangerous, and doesn’t tolerate mistakes. Although previous Xanathars carefully guarded the facts of their true nature and allowed only a handful of their lieutenants to know the truth, the current Xanathar treats the matter more like an open secret. All of its lieutenants, as well as many mid-level members of the guild that the Xanathar trusts, know that the guild is run by a beholder.

Most of the guild's low-ranking members have an idea that the boss isn't human, especially given how long the Xanathar has been in power (they aren't aware that several beholders have held the job). Most believe their leader is a member of a long-lived race, perhaps a dwarf or an elf. Some think the truth is more monstrous, and that the Xanathar is a drow or perhaps a dragon in humanoid form.

The people of Waterdeep are generally aware that there are one or more guilds controlling criminal activity in the city. Rumors occasionally surface about a monstrous crime lord, such as a demon or a dragon, that guides its organization from the shadows. Most common folk dismiss these rumors and the fools who circulate them, asserting that the Lords of Waterdeep would never allow such creatures to roam the city.

Volo's Guide to Monsters, chapter 1, section "Beholders: Bad Dreams Come True," subsection "The Xanathar Guild"

The current Xanathar doesn't guard its identity as closely as its predecessors did; consequently, more guild members than before know that the Xanathar is a beholder. However, among the lower levels of the guild, the Xanathar's nature is still not well known:

Among low-ranking guild members, rampant speculation goes on about the true nature of Xanathar. Few have any inkling that their boss is a beholder, and fewer still have seen or spoken to the eye tyrant.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, introduction, section "Xanathar Guild"

It is worth noting that when the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure begins, the Xanathar Guild and the Zhentarim have begun fighting openly in the streets of Waterdeep, a fact hammered home more than once in the adventure's first chapter. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that many Waterdhavians who were not previously aware of the guild's existence have recently been made aware.

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