This January, Tales of a GM is proud to host the RPG Blog Carnival. In keeping with the season, the theme for this month is Gates & Portals. This essay is my third contribution to the January Carnival
- My first article explored the portalwrights and their Collegium of Planar Travel
- Next was an essay introducing the Demon of the Gate
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This contribution to the Blog Carnival is also number eight in an irregular series where I brainstorm a location from an interesting image.
This awesome image is Two men by a gate in the mountains, by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858).
Rugged Far Vale lies deep in a mountain range, on the very edge of civilisation. It is home to several fortified towns.
Whiteford, Beorhtburgh and Blackwatch are little more than watchtowers, surround by a cluster of stone houses. Far Delving protects the best mine in Far Vale, and is home to a large number of dwarves and other subterranean folk.
The largest settlement in the valley is the town of Fargate, located at the foot of Eagle Pass. A large castle stands on a spur of rock, guarding the Pass and the King’s Road. Fargate Castle holds a sizeable detachment of Road Wardens, who maintain order. Baron Fargate also commands a detachment of the elite King’s Rangers, who patrol the high pass and scout for trouble throughout the nearby mountains.
During the summer months, a steady stream of merchants, heroes and pilgrims travel through Far Vale and over Eagle Pass. The market at Fargate is alive with commerce, and visitors from strange lands. During winter, however, Far Vale is often cut off from the kingdom, and sometimes raided by mountain tribes. The people of Far Vale then focus on mining, hunting for furs and felling timber. All of which stockpiles trade goods ready for the summer merchants.
The King’s Road snakes up Eagle pass, culminating in the Bronze Gate. The Gate marks the very limit of the King’s authority, but the Rangers often patrol deep into the wilds.
At the narrowest point of Eagle Pass stands a sturdy bronze fence, stretching from one sheer wall of rock to another. This tall fence is made of thick shafts of bronze, cast in the foundries below Far Delving. The fence is enchanted to remain warm through the winter, preventing snow from piling up around it and allowing raiders to cross the fence by walking atop the deep drifts.
A sliding Bronze Gate allows traffic to pass. The opening in the fence is barely wide enough for a laden wagon to pass through. During the summer, a patrol of Road Wardens are stationed here to keep traffic flowing steadily. A small network of caves have been tunnelled into the side of the mountain to serve as quarters for the patrol.
Wardens guarding the Gate are armed with crossbows and long pikes. The Wardens are trained to use the pikes to reach between the bronze railings and attack raiders beyond. It is rumoured that additional magicks protect the fence.
Operating the Gate
The Bronze Gate slides horizontally along rails. The Gate is held closed by a series of counter weights sunk into the floor of Eagle Pass. The presence of these weights allow a lone Road Warden to throw a lever and close the heavy Gate in mere seconds. Anyone struck by the closing Gate will be thrown clear with broken bones, if they are lucky.
The Captain of the Gate carries several large spikes to wedge the gate in times of war. The Bronze Gate is closed every night, but usually only wedged shut during the winter months, or if the Rangers believe raiders are nearby.
Four Road Wardens are needed to operate the large winch which pulls open the Gate and resets the counter weights. This winch is hidden within a chamber inside the cliff, with only the heavy chains reaching out into the pass. It can take many minutes to open the Bronze Gate fully.
The Scroll of Hiroshige
The illustration accompanying this article makes a suitable Player handout. It pictures a slightly stylised view of the Bronze Gate in the foreground, and Hiroshige captured the railings forming the fence. The remainder of the picture suggest two ways to use the Scroll of Hiroshige in your game.
The first use involves the second gate pictured towards the top right of the Scroll. Instantly we have a treasure map, of sorts. This second gate could be the entrance to a lost dungeon, or perhaps a portal to another realm entirely. The writings on the Scroll are therefore instructions to find, or possibly activate, the second gate.
Alternatively, the Scroll could be the report of a secret agent working undercover in Fargate. Now the text contains clues to the identity of the agent, or perhaps instructions on how to negate the magical wards placed on the Bronze Gate. The second gate may represent a secret route into Far Vale, one which avoids the Bronze Gate entirely.
Here are three plots featuring the Bronze Gate to run in your game:
- The Heroes are exploring the mountains when they stumble upon a large tribe of raiders. Riders from the tribe immediately pursue the outnumbered Heroes, who must flee to the Bronze Gate. Night is falling, and the Gate will soon be closed. Can the Heroes evade their pursuers and race up the mountain to safety?
- The Rangers order the Bronze Gate closed at the height of summer. Raiders must be kept out of the kingdom. Yet, many merchants and valuable cargoes are stranded on the far side of the Gate. Vital medicines, a precious spell component or close friend of the Heroes are trapped on the wrong side of the Gate. Can the Heroes persuade the Captain to open the Gate? Or should they brave the fence’s magical wards to retrieve their goal?
- A zealous Road Warden captured the Scroll of Hiroshige on a courier. Do the raiders have a spy in the Baron’s staff? What do the symbols mean, and who is the spy? The Baron hires the Heroes, as competent outsiders, to solve the riddle and capture the spy before anything worse happens.
The Bronze Gate of Far Vale is a suitable location for any kingdom frontier. Border zones are a great source of conflict, which can drive a campaign for many sessions. Using Hiroshige’s painting as a handout adds another layer to the utility of the location.
How would you use the Bronze Gate in your campaign? What else lurks in Far Vale? How would you use the illustration as a handout? Share your thoughts with fellow GMs in the comments below.
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