War of the Burning Sky
The Free Citystate of Gate Pass lies in a rocky mountain pass that runs east to west between Ragesia and Shahalesti. Sheer cliffs mark its northern and southern borders, and fortifications built up over centuries have made the city highly defensible, allowing it to avoid being annexed by either of the nations that surround it.
Though the city’s borders to north and south are tightly limited — less than a mile wide at the widest point — the mountain pass is nearly twenty miles long, giving the city a lot of room to grow eastward and westward. The older districts of the city lie in the center of the pass, with different eras of development sprawling out gradually in both directions.
Additionally, various small farms and ranches dot the mountains around the city proper, though these people are generally hostile to foreigners and relatively well-armed. Gate Pass has only been conquered once, and its citizens managed to drive out the invaders and regain their freedom, so many of the farmers and ranchers view themselves as the first line of defense for their city.
Traditions and Culture
The city’s architecture tends to multistory buildings with bridges between roofs, creating thousands of “gateways” along roads and alleys. Even in poorer districts, buildings are usually at least two stories tall. Many merchants, made wealthy from the traffic that passes through the city, own vast ranges of adjacent buildings, all of them connected with high bridges. An expression of the city — “a coin for every gate” — both refers to the wealth of the city, and serves as a warning to visitors to avoid poorer areas where buildings lie unconnected.
A broad, twenty-foot wide thoroughfare called the Emelk Way runs the length of the city, interrupted only by the district walls every half mile or so. The city’s natural landscape rises in the center to a broad hill called Summer’s Bluff. The rest of the city consists of various districts of skilled workers, common housing, warehouses and businesses, and slums. Each district has representation in the city government. By city ordinance, every fourth district must contain a park at least a quarter mile to a side, though entrance to these typically requires payment of a few coppers.
The city grew outward from its central districts, with a new district and new outer wall springing up every decade or so. Because of this, it is possible to see the changing styles of construction and defense over the centuries of the city’s existence, like reading the rings of a tree. In older districts, built before the development of the city’s underground sewer system, countless reservoirs and aqueducts rise above the rooftops, designed to catch rainwater and direct sewage to dumps outside the city. The current sewers flow into an underground river before being swept into endless, uncharted caves.
In the past few decades, clerics have blessed the gates of new districts in expensive rituals, and a tradition has developed for respected citizens to be buried in the sanctified ground near the gate of their district. Most graveyards, however, lie outside the city, either fenced in atop hills, or in gated crypts.
Districts, Walls, and Gates
The city is segmented into dozens of districts, each about a half-mile in length, separated by 30-foot-high walls (Climb DC 20) that stretch from north to south, 6 feet thick at the top. The tops of the walls sport metal grates sticking out sideways 5 feet in each direction, making it difficult (Climb DC 25) to make it over them. City ordinance forbids any rooftop within 10 feet of a wall, though the city has a few stories about industrious thieves using massive ladders to traverse the city for twilight heists carried out in the wealthier districts.
In a few districts are found smaller walled areas populated predominantly by a single race. Most common of these ghettos are those of the elves, who tend to shun outsiders. Elvish ghettos are renowned for having no visible entrances through their walls — all the doors are secret, which elves can intuitively notice.
Each district wall has a gate, a pair of reinforced wooden doors (hardness 8; hp 45; Break DC 35) each 20 feet high and 8 feet wide, which remain open during the day but close at sunset. A small steel access door can be opened to allow individuals to pass through at night, but vehicles and beasts of burden are almost never allowed through between sunset and dawn. A small guardhouse, large enough to comfortably hold eight soldiers, overlooks the gate with arrow slits and murder holes. More guards typically watch the ground level by day.
Passing between districts is relatively easy if one takes the main thoroughfare during the day, though guards are known to perform random inspections. The High District, in the center of the city, is much more heavily guarded: typically twice the usual number of guards is on hand, and those guards have orders to randomly inspect someone every few minutes (especially those who look like outsiders).
The northern and southern borders of the city typically have walls built from the natural cliffs, averaging 40 feet tall. Each district on the edge of the city usually has a gate either to the north or south, and a wide swath of clear land on the outer side of the wall makes the approach easy to see. These walls are only a token defense, since a devoted military press could easily overwhelm them, but normally the city relies on the fact that approaching the city through the mountains is slow and treacherous.
Only a handful of districts have gates that lead to actual roads, and most of these are used for deliveries by farmers and miners. Each day groups of Gate Pass soldiers patrol the northern and southern borders, looking for signs of illegal passage and occasionally apprehending criminals who try to hide in the craggy hills.
Most traffic passes through the easternmost and westernmost districts, which have major gates that lead out of the city to Shahalesti and Ragesia respectively. These gates are much more heavily guarded: the exits have two sets of doors with a wide kill zone between them, and city taxes pay for a variety of magical defenses on the gates.
City History and Myths
Gate Pass has the distinction of being the only city to successfully drive out occupation by the Ragesian Empire. Forty years ago, Emperor Coaltongue defeated the city’s army, set up a military government, and erected a 90-foot-tall statue of himself in the grand square on Summer’s Bluff before moving on to his next conquest. For two years, citizens waged an insurgency against the occupying army, until finally Coaltongue decided the city wasn’t worth the loss of men.
Shahalesti and Ragesia, once allies, were approaching open war, and Coaltongue declared that he would withdraw from Gate Pass if the Lord of Shahalesti agreed to leave the city as a neutral buffer between their two nations. The elves agreed, the city celebrated its victory, and trade between the two nations began to flow.
The city still sports numerous indications of the occupation, and many citizens purchase busts or paintings of the aged emperor, as if both to mock the Ragesians for their failure and to respect Coaltongue’s wisdom in deciding to leave their city alone. Even the emperor’s statue remains; it is decorated and painted gaudily on various holidays.
Because of his name, Drakus Coaltongue is often associated with a myth that is native to Gate Pass and Ragesia, that of the Dragon and the Eagle. A series of myths tell of an ancient time when the lands that are now Ragesia and its neighbors were the domain of four elemental spirits — the Tidereaver Kraken, the Worldshaper Worm, the Flamebringer Dragon, and the Stormchaser Eagle, and these four beings are common motifs in the art and architecture of Gate Pass (as well as in Ragesia).
Organizations and Power Groups
The government of Gate Pass is a council of representatives from each of the districts, with a city governor chosen every ten years. Many different groups hold sway with the government, ranging from citizen groups to wealthy merchants to religious and military groups. One of the more colorful characters in the council is Erdan Menash, a former merchant and tailor who used to sell well-crafted but horribly unfashionable gear to adventurers, with the goal of making sure everyone knew he was the one sponsoring their heroism. His personal manor is painted vivid green, yellow, and purple.
The current governor is Merrick Hurt, a half-orc who has kept relationships with Ragesia warm in the past, though many worry he will be too agreeable to demands by the new ruler of Ragesia. Rumors say that he bitterly loathes elves and has a vast lexicon of insults for them, a vice that relatively few in the city worry about.
The religious community of Gate Pass is diverse, owing to the interaction of cultures flowing through the city. Eight major temples represent the religious core of the community, and though each religion has its own interests, they share common ground through the annual Festival of Dreams, during which the temples all briefly work to provide for the greater good. Numerous temples of smaller religions dot the city, and though they lack the same sway as the major eight, they still put a lot of effort into New Year’s festivities.
Shakur Biggs, head priest of a temple devoted to the god of revelry, is currently the master of ceremonies for this year’s festival. He was apparently planning to head a large musical performance, but his plans have been dampened by the threat of a hostile Ragesia.
While the Gate Pass military answers to the city council, their opinion carries great weight given how much attention the city pays to its defense. Unlike most militaries, they are not trained for large open field combat, but rather for the defense of the city, taking advantage of enclosed terrain. Commander Harmand Fletcher, a veteran of the rebellion against Ragesia, recently retired from leader of the armed forces, replaced by Brant Sawman, who if anything is almost more gruff and brooding than his predecessor.
A small unit of twenty griffon riders serve to patrol the far reaches of Gate Pass’s domain, but otherwise the city has little in the way of a cavalry tradition.
Gabal, a famed evoker who helped drive the Ragesians out forty years ago, maintains a school of war. This large cluster of squat towers connected by covered bridges and surrounded by a moat and fence is jokingly known as The Castle. Gabal’s students — easily identifiable by their red robes — are generally viewed as arrogant and hot-tempered, but their mentor forces them to sell their services for low prices, particularly in matters of defense and construction, and a handful of wizards serve in the city military.
Gabal is said to scorn magic-users who do not study spellbooks for their powers, and has a particular dislike for sorcerers, commonly saying he doesn’t trust people who have that much charisma. Charm is a personality flaw Gabal proudly lacks.
Everyone knows that thieves operate in the city, often with the aid of bribed councilmen who turn blind eyes. The thieves tend to prey on wealthy merchants, especially foreigners, and so many commoners view them favorably.
One particularly well-known rogue is a dashing scoundrel named Rantle. He came to fame because of an elaborate confidence game to steal from a female merchant. One night when his scam was near fruition, he was with the merchant when she was attacked by a trio of common thugs who intended to have their way with the woman. Rantle fought them off, then stayed around to protect her while the city guard arrived, even though he knew he would be recognized and arrested. Public support for his heroism got him pardoned, and many people have begun calling for him to join the city council.
Of course, the merchants of the city still don’t like being victimized. It is said the clientele of One-to-Go, a tavern in one of Gate Pass’s slums, is composed entirely of former thieves who have lost a hand as punishment for stealing.
Devoted to keeping the city of Gate Pass free from the rule of both Ragesia and Shahalesti, the resistance is composed of a huge variety of people from many of countries, since many nations have a vested interest in keeping the current balance of power. Mostly they work to bolster pride among the citizens of Gate Pass, though occasionally a spy is turned over to the authorities by unknown persons, and the resistance is credited with the capture.
Many farmers and ranchers who live in the mountains surrounding the city claim to have spoken to members of the resistance, who encouraged them to be prepared to fight to defend their lands.