The Tyranny of Dragons: Dawn of Heroes
On the Coast Way, some forty miles upstream along the River Chionthar from the Sword Coast, lies the bustling city of Baldur’s Gate. Home to tens of thousands, the harbor city has poor soil, but its sheltered bay, well away from the tides that batter the coast, make it an ideal location for trading goods from locations to the west in the Sea of Swords, inland along the river, and up and down the coast. Baldur’s Gate is a place of commerce, and the city enjoys great success handling the coins of other powers and making them its own.
Sadly, Baldur’s Gate has a storied connection with the dark god, Bhaal. Just a few years ago, the city saw the terrifying return of the Lord of Murder. Following a number of deaths, one of the city’s dukes, Torlin Silvershield, was revealed as the Chosen of Bhaal, and underwent a monstrous transformation, turning many citizens into bloodthirsty killers and inspiring a riot and much death before finally being put down by brave adventurers. Even now, murderous echoes ripple through the city and beyond, and reports of unexplainable, gruesome killings flow out of Baldur’s Gate.
Baldur’s Gate is ruled by the Council of Four, dukes who vote among themselves on matters of law and policy for the city. A single grand duke is chosen from among the four, and is empowered to break ties when the council is deadlocked. The current Grand Duke is Ulder Ravengard, who is joined by Dukes Thalamra Vanthampur, Belynne Stelmane, and Dillard Portyr, the former grand duke, who ceded the post to Ravengard after the city’s recent troubles. Below the council sits the Parliament of Peers, a group of about fifty Baldurians who meet daily (though almost never in full number) to discuss the future of the city and recommend actions for the dukes to take on all matters, great and small. At any given time, roughly one-quarter of the peers are powerful members of Lower City society, with the rest drawn from the Upper City’s noble families, called patriars.
Defense of the Upper City is handled by the Watch, the official constabulary of the city’s elite. Their duty is to defend the patriars and enforce their laws, and little else. For the rest of Baldur’s Gate, security is enforced and order maintained by the Flaming Fist mercenary company, a supposedly neutral force which is free to fight in external conflicts, so long as it doesn't side against Baldur’s Gate. By tradition, the highest officer of the Flaming Fist is one of the city’s dukes, and Grand Duke Ulder Ravengard fulfills that tradition proudly. Membership in the Flaming Fist is fairly easy to achieve, and adventurers with much experience swiftly advance in rank (and, consequently, political influence) once they become permanent members. Many ranking officers are former adventurers who have “retired" to military life.
In both the Upper and Lower Cities, the underworld is controlled by a shadowy group known merely as the Guild. The dukes don’t acknowledge the power of this group in any meaningful way— at least not publicly— but try (at least nominally) to curb its influence where and how they can. I lost count of how many gangs claim territory in the Lower and Outer City, and all of them seem to owe allegiance to the Guild. Efforts to destroy the Guild have thus far failed, due in part to the inability of outsiders to identify a clear leader of the group, but in no small measure to the shameful lack of effort on the part of the rulers of the city to protect its people.
The Upper City of Baldur’s Gate is the enclosed haven of the city’s nobility— the patriars. Sitting atop their hill, the patriars look down on the rest of Baldur’s Gate in every real sense, wielding their wealth and influence to push the Council of Four to protect their lifestyle. Though at one time a wealthy merchant or powerful adventurer might hope to advance to the ranks of the patriars, there is no longer room, physically or otherwise, for the class of the Upper City to grow. Now, only those born into the patriar families inhabit the manors of this oldest part of Baldur’s Gate. The poorest among these go so far as to sell furnishings and decorations from inside their homes in order to keep up appearances with their fellow patriars.
Most would say that the lives of patriars are marked by luxury and decadence, and for a great many of them, this is likely true. However, some families do make an honest attempt at improving the city, and nearly every family has at least one member who engages in major commerce— no matter ones heritage, everyone must have coin in order to eat. There is but one nonhuman family among the patriars, the dwarven Shattershields, who have been in Baldur's Gate for long enough that they are just as accomplished as their human peers at looking down on the rest of the citizenry.
A number of gates divide the Upper City from the Lower City, but the one to note is the famous Baldur's Gate, from which the city takes its name. Trade passes only through this gate, and is taxed by the city— despite the fact that it was just such taxes that led to the city’s being overthrown by its first dukes and the Lower City enclosed by its ring wall. The other gates exist solely for the convenience of the patriars and their retinues. Any who aren't in the presence of a patriar, wearing a patriar’s livery, or bearing a letter of proof of employment by a patriar must use Baldurs Gate to pass between the Upper and Lower Cities. Bear this in mind when trying to sneak from one part of the city to the next.
Hard against the harbor lies the Lower City, where stone, slate-roofed houses stand (sometimes unsteadily), and the folk who have long performed the real work of the city reside. Baldur's Gate depends on trade, and that trade flows in and out of the Gray Harbor. The hands that load and unload ships, that tally cargo and haul goods, that repair keels and mend sails, all live here. The damp clings heavily in this portion of the city— some say it’s held in by the Old Wall— and lamps (lit and filled by citizens, not the city) pierce the fog. Most locals are wise enough to carry lanterns or lamps, and visitors that have not learned to do so can usually hire a young Baldurian to guide them through the streets.
The Lower City was long ago walled in to benefit from the protection of the city, but the divide between the two wards is as stark as it has ever been. The Flaming Fist is responsible for keeping order in the Lower City, and do so with brutal efficiency, deterring most from engaging in bold, public acts of theft, vandalism, or violence.
Where merchants in other cities might hope to one day join the nobility, in Baldurs Gate the best one can hope for is to become an absurdly wealthy and influential merchant. Becoming a patriar is out of the question. Still, the wealthiest Baldurians live as much like the patriars as they can, buying up adjacent properties in the hopes of demolishing them in order to build large
homes to echo the manors of the Upper City. The Bloomridge district has a number of such homes, and some of the patriars grumble that these merchants are growing too comfortable with their new status.
Outside the walls, there are no laws barring construction or settlement, and so those who are too poor to reside within the city or to purchase property have slowly built up a third ward of the city, living in the shadow of its walls, paying its taxes, and covering both sides of the roads leading into Baldur's Gate. Here, the poorest of the poor live in the Outer City, but so too do those whose businesses are considered too troublesome, noisy, or foul-smelling to operate within the walls, so tanners, smiths, masons, dyers, and other tradesfolk abound. The city does woefully little to help the folk here, and charitable souls (myself included) sometimes start at one end of the road with a full purse, only to see it empty by the time they reach the other end.
The lack of laws in the Outer City has led to two strange phenomena, unrelated to one another. A walled Calishite district has grown up to the east of the city proper, known by Baldurians as Little Calimshan. Within the district, neighborhoods are divided by walls, but these walls have walkways atop them so that foot traffic can proceed unimpeded by the gates that slow carts and mounts. Here, refugees from Calimshan have found a home away from that southern nation, and largely depend on themselves for trade, culture, and defense.
Buildings have also been constructed along Wyrm’s Crossing over the Chionthar. Shops, taverns, and tenements choke the bridge, hanging from both spans, and even in some cases built to hang from the supports that hold it up. Folk must pay a toll to cross on foot or by cart or wagon, but many swear they would pay yet more to be able to use the bridge without having to dodge the hawkers and urchins that infest the area.