Freegate is given prominent billing as a major port city of Akados and the Old Hyperborean Empire, but alas, the Frogs have not yet had the chance to tell us much of anything about it (*cue The Lost Lands Campaign Setting hype*). Consequently, as my players were hot on the trail of the wizard Sorten and the stolen Shagaspondium under Kayden's command (see Sword of Air), their journey to Sorten's tower through Freegate required some free thinking of my own. To that end, here is the constantly evolving version of Freegate that I've developed for my home campaign, in the hopes it might prove a useful resource - or even just homebrew inspiration - for other Frog fans as well. I'll continue to update over the coming weeks as my players explore ever more of the city in preparation for their assault on Sorten:
Freegate, or Porta Libera in its native tongue, is an ancient Hyperborean city, formerly a major colonial stronghold in Central Akados. Though its power and political importance have dwindled in the centuries since the Empire's recession, Freegate remains a wealthy and culturally rich city-state on the Gulf of Akados, serving as the major port for Bard's Gate and the Forest Kingdoms and a vital trading partner to Endhome and the Sundered Kingdoms of the south.
Proud of their heritage and cultural legacy, the people of Freegate are staunch traditionalists, maintaining the same Borean laws and linguistic legacies as well as its art and architecture - not to mention its fashion. While this has given it a strong sense of identity and political stability, it has also contributed to its cultural stagnancy, as the city has been overshadowed in Akados by thriving centers of progress and innovation such as Bard's Gate.
Freegate Harbor (Image): http://i.imgur.com/j9Fnc40.jpg
Freegate as a physical place is a wonder to behold. Overlooking a massive cove which forms a circle in the cliff face along the Gulf Coast, the first thing any visitor notices of Freegate is the enormous bronze Colossus that stands astride the cliffs and greets all ships entering the sluicegates of the enclosed harbor. The Colossus holds aloft a scroll in his right hand, positioned directly above the Temple of Hecate, and a spear in his left, which points down at the harbor below as if to threaten any who would attempt to invade Freegate by sea. Local legend holds that, notwithstanding Freegate's lack of walled defenses to overland attacks, the Colossus itself will stride forth with life and fury to defend the city of the ancients.
Historic Freegate (Image): http://i.imgur.com/vhrTMKj.jpg
Above the harbor cove, a second marvel comes into view: the Rafters, a wooden city-within-a-city built level upon vertical level flush with the sheer cliff face rising up from the waters. Children frolic along flat roof-tops heedless of the heady height as sailors drag cargo up the flights of wooden stairs to the city proper above, and beggars ply their trade below. Atop the cliffs sits Historic Freegate, a lush and greenery-filled city of ancient marble architecture, domed roofs, and massive columns intermingled with dense buildings of more modern construction stretching out along the coastal cliff tops and in-land for more than a mile in every direction.
Player Map (Includes Colossus): http://i.imgur.com/yYSHX9g.png
Freegate is a rigidly classist city of lower-class partial citizens (Vulgars) and middle-to-upper-class full citizens (Magnars). Its government is an electoral peerage of Councillors selected on a ten year term basis by the Magnars. The current Legata, a prime minister of sorts within the Council and the chief prosecutor for the city's legal system, is one Aestus Carmina (the family name is listed first in Freegate), a cunning, firm - some would say harsh - and regal woman whose family sacrificed much over generations to elevate one of their House. She commands the Praetors, an elite city guard tasked with enforcing the will of the counsel and the city's sacred tenets, chief among which is that no public worship is permitted of any non-Hyperborean deity.
DM Map (Sans Colossus): http://i.imgur.com/8h3xcLP.jpg
Though long stable and possessed of a rigidly enforced peace - the wearing of weapons or wielding of arcane power are fiercely regulated within the city limits - Freegate has of late been pushed to the brink of chaos by the rise of several subversive factions. The Temple of Hecate, through their close relationship with the old Imperial leadership and their scrupulous monopoly over the performance of the mystic arts within the city, have long been a force of stability and a central facet of civic life in Freegate, serving as public officiants and arbiters in connection with the Council. Their favor, however, has waned as the popularity of certain countercultures and cults have flourished.
Foremost amongst these cults, the Children of Dis have achieved fanatical following amongst the lower-class Vulgars and the numerous poor of the city in recent months. This doomsday cult follows former Magnar philosopher turned priest of Dis Pater ("Dark Father," the Liberan avatar of Orcus), Lagnus Mavinius, with a zeal bordering on fervor. Lagnus himself does not directly advocate violence, though he teaches the coming of Dis Pater as an apocalyptic inevitability foretelling a new world order that will bring down the oppressors of the earth and raise up the weak. Many Magnars worry such heretical and revolutionary prophesies will lead to far more direct conflict should the cult of Orcus continue to gain resurgent traction throughout Akados. Throughout the city, Vulgars in ashes and sack cloth run rampant, screaming doom in the streets:
Upon arriving, the party is likely to see scores of the Children of Dis departing the city with each dawn, naked and chained to logs and stones they drag behind them on their prilgrimage to Rappan Athuk. Many bear the mace and skull of Orcus engraved into their flesh or tattooed upon their forehead. They chant in alternation "Memento'mo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris," and " Remember man, that dust you are and to dust you shall return."
In stark opposition to the Children of Dis stand the equally heretical Court of Ravens, a secretive society of mixed Magnar and Vulgar membership who seek to hoard power both political and in the form of ancient secrets, ultimately with the goal of unifying Akados against the coming return of the Old Ones. Their name is derived from the two Ravens of Odin, long-dead Allfather, who - after the Allfather's sacrifice to save a remnant of life through Ragnarok - taught the survivors the secrets that kept humanity alive through the first apocalypse of frost and flame. The Brothers and Sisters of the Raven Court have drawn the ire of the Seers of Hecate in particular, fiercely jealous as they are of their hold on spells and once-lost knowledge in the annals of Freegate. Due to their outlaw status, the enigmatic leader of the Freegate Ravens, who goes by "Ave," conducts most of the cult's activities from her headquarters in a docked galleon in Freegate harbor. Ave is an oracle of some great skill, and should the party find favor with the Ravens she may offer to read the threads of their fate through her Tarokka cards. She warns them, however, that though such knowledge can be powerful, once a person's future is read it becomes all the harder to change without incurring the wrath of the Fates.
"It is said that there is only one thing more dangerous than choosing a side in Liberan politics, and that is not choosing a side."
If the party arrives in the city under the instruction of Kayden and in pursuit of Sorten and the Shagaspondium, Kayden will have instructed an enterprising young Vulgar by the name of Paezo to meet up with them. Paezo is a charming youth whose disarming enthusiasm and eagerness to please would hardly let on that he is, more than a mere tour guide, a remarkably knowledgeable "purveyor of information" and "facilitator" for some of the more powerful forces in Liberan politics. Paezo will offer to lead the party to their prepared quarters at Elysium, a fabulously opulent establishment in the beautiful Artisans' District of the city. There he will, over the course of a lavish feast in a quiet private dining chamber, introduce the party to the contacts who will be assisting them in stealing the Shagaspondium back from Sorten while avoiding death at the hands of such a powerful mage. The DM can use these NPCs as desired to supplement the party based on the challenge level of the Tower relative to the party level. Keep in mind that an antagonistic encounter with Sorten and her forces is almost certain to end in death for even a high level party. Knowing this, the players are much more likely to develop an assault plan based on subterfuge, trickery, or diplomacy rather than open combat. The latter route, of course, may open up an opportunity for the party to converse with Sorten and discover some of the discrepancies in her account of the story versus Kayden's.
Gaiden Rem, a wiry, middle-aged man wearing spectacles and a dusty out-of-fashion suit, is an accomplished infiltration expert who specializes in the disarming of magical traps, glyphs, and wards. Madeira Colvell is a deadly Spellbreaker, a specialized mage assassin, who may be accompanied by her two apprentices Vella and Webb. Esterem Vidal, perhaps the most vital piece for any plan based on stealth, is a Cloaker, a mage specializing in subterfuge and the suppression of scrying, magical detection efforts, and the like. The shaky, neurotic, and secretive Esterem wears a rather enormous hat that he often pulls down to obscure his features and has a habit of muttering to himself. Expelled from the Endhome Academy of Wizardry as a result of his addiction to a powerful magical substance and his theft of lab materials to support his habit, Esterem has kept in touch with Kayden (a visiting professor of necromancy at the Academy) over the years, who has continued to supply Esterem with the substance and various other spell components in exchange for his talented services. Esterem's skittish behavior should tip the party off to his possible status as a liability should anything go wrong in the course of the infiltration.
Paezo will recommend a plan for infiltration of Sorten's Tower that involves taking advantage of the upcoming Dionalia, a three-day festival of Dionysus consisting of wild revelry and abandon at which a number of Sorten's ordinary staff and guard are likely to be present for the sacred festivities (though Sorten herself, being an antisocial sort, is unlikely to attend). Whether the party utilizes this plan is of course entirely up to them, but if they agree to a version of it, Paezo will also recommend establishing a plausible alibi for the night of the party's assault on the Tower. He may offer any number of possibilities for this, such as joining the bolstered security force Legata Aestus is putting together in anticipation of the festival, or perhaps even something as outlandish as auditioning for the upcoming theatrical production at the Three Furies Theatre Troupe to be performed in the Old Ampitheatre on the first night of Dionalia. The director of the troupe, an eccentric half-elf of Bard's Gate by the name of Jora Parsham, may have far more political motives in putting on a subversive play (recounting the assassination of the first Freegate Legata, Ventius Telmar, leading to a popular uprising) than he lets on.
Suffice it to say, Freegate is a powder keg when the party arrives, and any party present during the Dionalia festival is likely to be caught up in the inevitable chaos when violence erupts between the various cultist and political factions. Depending on what friends and enemies they make, they may find themselves protecting the Legata against assassination, championing the charismatic Lagnus when he is sentenced to death for his religious teachings (despite that the party may find those teachings onerous), or inserting themselves into the power struggles in any number of possible ways.
Elysium itself, where the players are likely to be staying if in Kayden's employ (see above), is owned by the powerful Bastus family (the chief patron and matron of which are Cartem and Iulia) and operated by their son Onan Bastus, who has taken it upon himself to turn the dusty old establishment into perhaps the most resplendent inn and casino house in Akados (the most popular game in Elysium's lounge is Dead Man's Bluff, a variant of Liar's Dice that can be played with d4s using the Swindlestone rules). Onan himself wishes to branch out beyond running this particular family business and is interested in financing an expedition to Slumbering Tsar to reopen the tradeway along the Old North Road, which the player characters may be interested in joining either as participants (offering a hook out of Sword of Air and into The Slumbering Tsar Saga) or as investors.
Elysium's enormous exotic rear gardens and its flourishing hedges - combined with the establishment's utmost respect for guest discretion - render it an infamously popular location for surreptitious meetings and political machinations.
Plenty else is going on in this vibrant historical city at any given time. Verdan Raftus, famed artist and cartographer, is willing to provide the party with a series of maps to Freegate, various locales of Akados, and a number of ancient ruins (such as Rappan Athuk, the Dungeon of Graves) in exchange for the party's services in verifying and updating his dated geographic information. The six Seers of Hecate at her Temple, who keep a constant watchful eye over (and meddling hand in) virtually all the affairs of the city, will have a particular interest in anyone seeking Hecate's Sword of Air, not to mention anyone foolish enough to break their laws regarding the unlicensed casting of spells or incantations within their city domain. Elan Kanto's slave ring may well have shipping operations from Endhome into Freegate, as slavery in the guise of voluntary (and sometimes less so) indentured servitude is still legal in the Hyperborean city, with the majority of wealthy Magnar families having any number of slaves in their homes overseen by faithful servitors.
-Rumor Table (Other)-
The possibilities are, as always, endless. As I said, I will continue to provide more details of my Porta Libera as I continue to flesh it out - I already have several dozen other major locales and NPCs to add to the gazetteer above, as soon as I have the time - and I'm curious to hear any other homebrew takes on the ancient city of Freegate: Jewel of the Gulf.