One of Waterdeep's many guilds is the Most Diligent League of Sail-makers and Cordwainers (listed in the introduction to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, p. 13). What is a cordwainer in this context?

Merriam-Webster defines a cordwainer as a shoemaker, or a worker in Cordovan leather (archaic). Wikipedia has an article on cordwainers in the shoemaker sense.

But Waterdeep already has an Order of Cobblers and Corvisers, and a League of Skinners and Tanners. Cordwainers are in a guild together with sail-makers, so it stands to reason that they would have some sort of connection to sail making.

Any D&D/Forgotten Realms source is acceptable.


A mistake

My guess is that the author thought cordwainer was a synonym for ropemaker - a cord is a thin rope and the author mistakenly thought that cordwainer was a maker of cords rather than (leather) shoes. Inconceivable. If so, it’s a lesson to always check the dictionary before using unfamiliar words.

Given that sailmakers use canvas from hemp to make sails for ships, whereas cordwainers use leather from Córdoba to make shoes - and ships don’t have feet - there seems to be no sensible reason why they are together.

Historically, there is a distinction between cordwainers and cobblers. Cordwainers made shoes from new leather, cobblers repaired shoes and made new shoes from recycled leather. This distinction was so deep that they formed different guilds.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ And Corvisers was pretty much a synonym for Cordwainers. On the other hand, Ropewalkers can mean both acrobats and rope makers, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ropewalk \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    May 31 '20 at 21:57
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ You are probably correct. If you like, you can add that the 2e boxed set City of Splendors indeed talks about only sails and ropes in the detailed description of The Most Diligent League of Sail-makers and Cordwainers. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Jun 1 '20 at 0:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ: I'd suggest leaving that as your own answer, including the relevant quotes/paraphrasing. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 1 '20 at 1:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot: I think "roper" is/was much more common than "ropewalker" for the sense of someone who makes ropes. In fact, "ropewalker" doesn't appear in that Wikipedia article, and the OED entry for "rope-walker" only has the sense of "acrobat". \$\endgroup\$ Jun 1 '20 at 15:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelSeifert Sure, but in D&D a roper is something totally different. I am absolutely certain I would not want a roper involved in sailmaking. Well... unless it was a really smart one, then hundred-foot "arm" span might be useful... Hrmmm... \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Jun 2 '20 at 20:00

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