20 Things to See at the City Gate

Most cities and towns of note have high walls to protect the wealth concentrated within. Adventurers hoping to enter such urban areas—legally—must pass through the city gates.

By Maciej Zagorski (The Forge Studios)

By Maciej Zagorski (The Forge Studios)


Gates are busy places with lots to see. Use the table below, to add minor points of interest to the PCs’ wait before the gate.

  1. A merchant at the head of the queue argues loudly with the guard, disputing the toll he must pay to enter. The argument gets quite heated and distracts the other guards.
  2. As #1 above, but as the argument reaches a crescendo a small, heavily cloaked figure dashes out of the gate. The guards do not notice.
  3. A man in the queue grumbles loudly about the delay in getting into the city.
  4. Children dart in and out of the queue playing tag. They may be having harmless fun or they may be using the game as a distraction for pick pocketing or other nefarious ends.
  5. Three iron cages hang above the gate—each holds the decomposing corpse of some unfortunate or another.
  6. Suddenly the guards use their spear butts to push those queuing out of the way. Moments later, a small company of horsemen—accompanying several nobles—burst forth from the gate at a canter.
  7. A dishevelled man pushing an old wheelbarrow trundles up and down the queue of folk waiting to gain access to the city. He’s selling refreshments—vinegary wine and meat pies (although he is cagy about exactly what kind of meat the pies contain). He is an excellent source of rumours, if the PCs can afford his price.
  8. As the PCs approach the gate, a messenger whispers something into a guard’s ear. The guard looks at the party before shaking his head. The messenger then returns into the city.
  9. Several beggars—mostly ex-soldiers missing limbs—sit in the shadow of the gate and plead for coins from those passing by. Few stop to donate anything to these desperate souls.
  10. A mud-splattered warrior stalks up to the gate, pushing passed those waiting to get into the city. The gate guards studiously ignore the warrior as he passes under the gate’s archway.
  11. A banner depicting the local lord’s sigil hangs from the gate’s battlements. A sudden gust of wind wrenches it loose and carries it away. One of the guards dashes after it.
  12. A light rain begins to fall as the party wait to enter the city. The other people in the queue start muttering as they pull their cloaks closer about themselves.
  13. Up ahead, a wagon laden with hay has got stuck under the gate’s archway. The guards shout at the carter to get the wagon moving and the cracking sound of a whip follows swiftly thereafter.
  14. A priest harangues those passing through the gate. Most of his message seems to alternate between pronouncement of doom and pleas for money to help repair his order’s dilapidated chapel.
  15. A young ruffian—perhaps barely ten-years-old—approaches the party and offers to act as their guide in the city. His name is Rufan and he may (or may not) be allied with the local thieves’ guild. He does, however, know a great amount about the city and its inns, taverns and shops.
  16. Three iron cages hang above the gate. Two hold rotting corpses—now little more than bone—but the third holds a forlorn figure. He clutches the bars as he watches those passing beneath. At sight of the PCs—particularly any paladins or clerics of good faiths—he begs for help; he has been (after all) wrongly imprisoned.
  17. Birds perch on the gate’s archways. As the party passes beneath them a sticky white substance lands on one PC’s head.
  18. A small child walks up and down the line shouting loudly—in a high pitched voice—of the warm welcome and fine ales to be found at The Green Dragon inn.
  19. A wagon—full of barrels containing excrement and other noxious waste trundles out of the city. Two men—with cloths around their mouths and noses—sit hunched in the wagon. A terrible stench surrounds the wagon and those it passes shrink back in disgust.
  20. Ahead of the PCs, a richly dressed merchant is negotiating entry to the city for his two wagons. A perceptive PC spots the merchant slip a small purse to one of the guards. Moments later, the merchant and his wagons are waved through.

Want More?

If you enjoyed the table above and like urban dressing, check out GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing! Crammed with over 200 pages of information and charts designed to bring your village, town or city alive, GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing is an essential part of any GM’s arsenal.

This article will appear in the upcoming GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things compilation releasing in 2016. You can read more about the book, here. Alternatively, you can read even more 20 Things lists on our Free Resources page.

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