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. These same fortifications, unfortunately, make it difficult for anyone to sneak out of the city without going through any of the numerous gates that give the city its name.
Common Races: Human, orc, elf, half-orc, half-elf; Uncommon Races: dwarf, gnome.
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 defence 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 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 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 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 centre 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 defence, 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 defences on the gates.