Gate Pass lies in a rocky mountain pass running east to west between Ragesia and
Shahalesti. Sheer cliffs mark its northern and southern borders, and fortifications built over centuries have made the city highly defensible, making it difficult to be annexed by either nation that surrounds it. These same fortifications, likewise, make it equally difficult for anyone to leave without going through any of the numerous gates that give the city its name. 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. In addition to being home to dozens of gated estates for the city’s politicians and rich merchants, Summer’s Bluff is the site of the city’s grand square, where various annual holidays are celebrated.
The grand square can easily hold several thousand people, and it is dotted with dozens of small groves, statues, and ornamental gate arches, with staircases people can climb to get a better view. In the center of the grand square is a high stone dais, its surface carved in a massive relief that depicts several local legends.
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.
Orcs, Half-Orcs, and Humans in Gate Pass
Gate Pass freely accepts orcs as citizens, in stark contrast to most other human settlements, and many have adapted well to the civilized life that is so different from their tribal culture.
Gate Pass is also widely known as a haven for half-orcs, and many come to the city to
find their identity. In the formative years of the city, the half-orcs’ origins were hotly debated and both orcs and humans questioned their standing. For humans, half-orc signaled a lesser breed, and became a pejorative phrase. The orcs, however, saw an increase in their influence and power and elevated the odd race.
The divisions between all three races were wide, but in the earlier battles for Gate Pass, the halforcs fought and bled like the rest and the walls of prejudice fell quickly. Today, there is little prejudice and the half-orc population enjoys an equal stand amongst the humans and orcs.
Walls, Gates, and Districts
Gate Pass is divided into districts. Each district is about a half mile square with natural
stone walls to the north and south and inner walls to the east and west.
North and South Walls
The northern and southern borders of the city have walls built from the natural cliffs,
averaging 40 feet tall. A district usually has a small gate either to the north or south, and a
wide swath of clear land (about 30 feet) on the wall’s outer side which makes any approach by an individual easy to see. The walls are only a token defense, since a devoted military press could easily overwhelm them, but Gate Pass relies on the fact that reaching it 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.
East and West Walls
The Gate Pass inter-district walls are 30 feet tall, 6 feet thick, and made of hewn stone.
A small guardhouse, which extends outward over the gate, is large enough to
comfortably hold eight soldiers. The floor has murder holes and there are arrow slits along the outside walls. Stairs on the inside wall (the center-most side) lead to the upper barracks and a window that can be squeezed through allows a guard to see the area around the gate. 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 the 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 Pass Gates
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.
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.
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 profit from 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
and a few other locations, 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 thecouncil is Erdan Menash, a former merchant and tailor who used to sell well-crafted but ridiculous-looking 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 halforc 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 eladrin and that he 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.
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. Gate Pass’s military is trained in urban warfare and takes advantage of enclosed terrain.
Commander Harmand Fletcher, a veteran of the rebellion against Ragesia, recently retired as leader of the armed forces; his replacement, Brant Sawman, is if anything even more gruff and brooding than his predecessor. A small unit of twenty griffon riders patrols 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 — 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 and warlocks, 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, a dashing scoundrel named Rantle, came to
fame because of an elaborate confidence game. One night, when his scam was near fruition, he was with his mark, a merchant, when she was attacked by a trio of common thugs who intended to have their way with her. Rantle fought them off, and 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. 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.
Leska & The Inquisitors
Dressed in bear skins, their faces concealed by bear-skull masks, inquisitors are the feared blade of Ragesia, expert in cutting out those who resist its rule. They fervently serve Ragesia’s supreme inquisitor, an aged witch named Leska, who until recently was a loyal servant of the emperor. Now Leska desires to rule, and her inquisitors are her greatest weapon. Stories tell of inquisitors sent to hunt down disloyal mages who completely ignore powerful spells, or even turn spells against their casters. The few who have been captured by inquisitors and have lived to tell the tale recount being tortured, their wrists slashed by an inquisitor’s clawed gauntlets, then being left to a slow, cold death unless they betrayed their allies. Other rumors warn that inquisitors can devour souls, stealing a mage’s power before raising the slain mage as an undead follower. Inquisitors possess alternate class abilities.
Since Coaltongue’s rumored assassination, something has gone wrong with teleportation:
teleporting couriers appear ablaze and die fiery deaths. Spellcasters at the Lyceum Academy in Seaquen and at Gabal’s School of War are assiduously researching the mysterious cause of this problem, which they have dubbed the “Burning Sky.” The researchers believe that the Burning Sky is related to the unusual weather, which has taken a sudden and worrisome chill turn. Divinations regarding the weather seem to indicate that no spring is in sight for the Lands of the Burning Sky. Even without divinations, druids and others connected to the natural world sense something amiss with the coming winter, and the sky is filled with flocks of confused birds trying to flee a cold snap that is more severe than usual.