Enemies at the Gate

On February 1, 2005, Posted by , In Campaign Workbook, With No Comments

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For weary adventuring parties heavily laden with hard earned loot from a long expedition, there is no more welcome sight than the gates of their home city. Yet passage through the gates of a city is not just a fitting conclusion to a party’s most recent exploits, it can also launch them on а new adventure. As the player characters enter the city, you can sow the seeds of future plotlines and engage the party in interesting encounters.


The only certainties at a city gate are guards and taxes. Guards stationed at a city gate are not paid to think, but to keep out undesirables. A typical city guard force consists of low-level fighters or warriors, directed by a few more powerful officers. They wield their authority as a blunt instrument, using their position to get their way by bullying common townsfolk. In general, maintaining order takes priority over establishing justice. Guards will take immediate and decisive action to quell large-scale civil disturbances, such as riots and arson, while they turn a blind eye to most of the crimes committed against individual members of the city’s underclass.

In addition to controlling entry, a city’s gates serve as a convenient place to collect taxes. The most commonly levied taxes are import tariffs on goods intended for sale (including magic items, of course). Officials typically charge rates of five to ten percent of the sale price. If the city is in need of extra income, it may charge even higher tariffs, and the city’s government often becomes more creative in taxing travelers. Taxes could potentially be assessed for bringing mounts or other livestock into the city, or for bearing weapons or magic items. Rates for foreigners may significantly exceed those for locals. Taxes imposed for entry to a city are a great way to relieve player characters of excess cash, especially if the party has unusual equipment or plans to conduct any business that’s out of the ordinary.


  1. One of the PCs is mistaken for a wanted criminal by the city guard, either based оп а similar appearance or an identical name. The guards immediately attempt to apprehend the PC, using force if necessary. If captured, the unfortunate РС is held in custody until his real identity is proven or until the proper bribes are offered (or both). Of course, to prove his innocence it may be necessary for the remaining party members to capture the real criminal.
  2. While the party is outside the city waiting to go through the gates, a smuggler places some contraband in one of the PC’s packs, hoping that he or she unwittingly transports it into the city. If the guards discover the illegal item, the PC will have to do some fast talking—or quickly identify the actual smuggler—to avoid facing criminal charges. On the other hand, if the contraband is successfully carried into the city, the smuggler attempts to recover it later. This could result in the smuggler being mistaken for a common pickpocket or could escalate to an urban brawl between the party and the smuggler gang, depending on whether the smuggler attempts to act through stealth or force. The contraband items could also be valuable or intriguing in their own right, possibly leading to further adventures.
  3. Just as the party attempts to enter the city, a madman or an escaped convict dashes out through the gates, narrowly avoiding immediate capture by the guards. If the party aids the guards in capturing the escapee, they are suitably appreciative, and the party receives a warm welcome from the city authorities. Of course, the party might later discover that they have helped apprehend an innocent person who has been unjustly persecuted by the city’s rulers. If the party members aid the escapee in the initial encounter, they are immediately accosted by the city guard and charged with abetting a known criminal. Even a party that takes no action could potentially be made a scapegoat through an accusation of helping the escapee by impeding the guards’ pursuit.
  4. A recent war or a nearby border skirmish causes the city guards to attempt to conscript the PCs into military service. The conscription can only be avoided by demonstrating proof of important business in the city, paying exorbitant bribes, or prevailing over the guards in combat. If the party members are defeated or otherwise allow themselves to be conscripted, their valuables are confiscated and they are immediately shipped off to the front lines.
  5. The PCs are forced to register as foreigners and provide an excessive amount of detail about their plans in the city before they are allowed entry. If the party members appear to be engaged in any activity other than routine business, they are subjected to constant surveillance and harassment throughout their stay. In the event of any unusual crimes or civil disturbances, the city guard immediately makes the party the focus of the investigation.
  6. The party is mistaken for a group of visiting dignitaries. Unless the PCs immediately clear up the confusion, they are treated deferentially and escorted to luxurious lodgings, where they are informed that they will be granted an audience with the city’s ruler in a few hours. If the party members play along, they are subsequently taken to a private chamber for a meeting with high-ranking city officials who, after exchanging a few pleasantries, proceed to engage in negotiations about trade, border disputes, military conquest, or some similar topic. If they party members succeed in maintaining the guise of foreign diplomats—which should be quite difficult, since the negotiations involve extensive details—they may receive valuable political information or other state secrets. If the city officials discover the party’s true nature, however, they will undoubtedly charge the PCs with espionage. The longer the party has maintained the ruse, the more severe their potential punishment becomes.
  7. City laws require all weapons to be surrendered at the city gate, and the party members are denied entry unless they comply. Of course, there is a fee for storage, which is substantially higher for magic items, owing to the additional problems posed by their safekeeping (accidental discharge of charged items, increased need for prevention of theft, and so forth). Particularly valuable weapons may be pilfered by the city guard and sold to fences or kept for personal use. Alternately, the party may be asked to retrieve a stored or stolen item by its lawful owner, or the PCs may desire to steal whatever they can from the weapon storage facility for themselves.
  8. Another traveler who was denied entry into the city begs the party to pass a message to an associate inside the city walls. This message might arrange a clandestine meeting outside of town, or it may be encoded to prevent the PCs from reading it. Depending on the nature of the traveler and his associate, the PCs might find anything from a greedy merchant to a desperate fugitive to а cunning spy to a fresh corpse to an ambush by the city guards when they try to deliver the message. If the PCs refuse, the traveler attempts to enter the city while the PCs are talking to the city guards, causing a commotion and possibly casting suspicion on the party.