This month, Tales of a GM has kicked off a fun topic for the RPG Blog Carnival… Gates and Portals. Whether you take them literally as physical gates and doors or abstractly as storytelling techniques, this is a subject that offers lots of room to explore. So today let’s take a look at a common scenario for GMs… your characters have to go through a portal, whether it is magical or mundane. How do you describe it?
Without too much trouble, you can usually come up with a few qualities off the bat:
- Size – how large is the opening the characters see before them?
- Location – where is it found? in a wall, a fence, freestanding?
- Condition – locked? open? jammed? broken?
That’s a great start, but what about these?
- Purpose – what was it meant to do? block a gap? keep things in? keep them out?
- Age – how long has it been here?
- Meaning – does it tell a story?
- Accessories – what else is here?
That’s seven broad categories. Let’s see how we might be able to use them in a few ways.
Let’s take a traditional fantasy world first.
“The Gate at Horas offers an imposing shape at the center of the city square. Wrought-iron twists from the ground into a freestanding, twenty-foot height spiky black arch in the middle of a rock-strewn clearing. There are many stories about its creation after the city was founded, but the most popular story surrounds the character of Brendan, the Architect. It is said that when Horas was razed to the ground by the Horde, all that remained of many buildings was the doorway left in a pile of burned rubble. When Brendan was tasked by his brother the king to help rebuild after the war, he wanted a lasting reminder so that everyone would remember what had happened. A trio of blacksmiths worked for weeks to build the structure, which weighs more than a ton and starts six feet below the ground. Lately however, there have been reports of a crackling blue light from the Gate in the middle of the night. The city guard would like you to investigate.”
That sounds cool. I might use the gate as a large magical antenna some dark force is using to infiltrate evil creatures into the city… (Interesting thought – I might have to explore that as an adventure idea.)
How might it work for a science fiction world?
“Your vessel emerges from the wyrmhole gate at the edge of the Krystos system in the middle of a debris field and warnings emerge from all of the ship’s external sensors. This is one of the smaller gates in the galaxy and seldom used, so you received no warning of trouble on the other end. Each gate varies in size and may not be suitable for larger ships traveling off the main trade routes. This one is composed of a series of 15 small spinning cubes that generate the necessary energy fields to hold open the gate for a one minute maximum. Early on there were incidents where inexperienced pilots would emerge and wait too long before moving forward into realspace, effectively destroying their own ships in the process.
Initially you think that may have been the case here. There is a ton of debris, suggesting that this was one large ship. It’s not until you find scoring on some of the larger pieces of external hull that indicate that there may have been a battle that you start getting a bad feeling about the situation you’re in… But you have at least an hour before the gate recharges enough to open again and a small fleet of five ships appears to be quickly closing on your position…”
And lastly, let’s look at a modern world…
“The driveway leads to an impressive gate, through which you get only a glimpse of part of the mansion at the top of the hill. The 15′ brick wall on either side is likely reinforced with steel bars to prevent just crashing through it with a tank. The gate itself is black wrought iron artistically decorated with the Latin phrase ‘Carpe Noctem’ in larger-than-life letters. Cameras noted your approach and you hear a speaker mounted somewhere in the wall crackle to life…’State your purpose of visit.’ These folks mean business.”
You can go crazy with details or just throw in a few to help set the stage, it’s up to you. These are just a few ideas for any gates that may show up in your worlds.
Thanks for reading!