Great Rift Portals
By Jeff Quick
The Warriorgates network of portals facilitates quick military response or civilian evacuation to both edges of the Great Rift. This defense system dates back to the last massive drow attack several hundred years ago, when the drow killed hundreds of dwarf children and noncombatants after breaking through the dwarves' anti-teleportation defenses. The dwarves originally envisioned the portals as purely defensive, but after applying dwarven ingenuity, developed a secondary, offensive use for them as well.
Approximately every half mile in populated tunnels of the Rift, a thick, red line of words is inscribed into a blank section of wall. In Dwarven, the words say, "When Sirens Sound Run Through Here" and either "East Edge" or "West Edge" followed by a number. These words outline a system of one-way portals to the surface, designed only to allow dwarves out -- never outsiders in. Those who step through appear at a specific location on the edge of the Rift, depending on the portal chosen. The portals have two separate keys for their two purposes: evacuation in case of underground attack and rapid troop deployment in case of surface assault.
In time of underground attack, should attackers penetrate the thick dwarven defenses through to residential areas, dwarves from all over the Rift stream to these portals to escape above ground. This is considered by everyone as a truly last ditch effort, and many Rift dwarves swear they will never use the Warriorgate portals, preferring to die in their homes rather than flee. Less stubborn dwarves (what few there are) prefer to live and fight another day if they can.
The key to activating portals in these times is the defense warning sirens found throughout the tunnels. When these huge, distinct-sounding horns sound off, their call echoes throughout the halls and chambers of most of the Great Rift complex. Ever paranoid about having their defenses used against them, the dwarves have created the key so that only one siren will not activate it. Instead the portal requires a two-toned, echoing blend of multiple sirens to open it so that infiltrators cannot use the portals to escape after setting off a single siren.
The second use is to get troops to the surface in case of attack from above. An elite branch of the gold dwarf army, known as "Irontoes" (for the shiny iron toes on their boots), specializes in surface combat and defense against aerial assault. They have proven themselves in more than one attack on the Rift, and a number of squad members adorn their helmets with teeth from dragons they have slain in defense of the Rift.
The Irontoe troops wear more than iron on their boots. The iron bears an insignia: a hammer erupting from the ground. The second key to activating the Warriorgates portals is this symbol. When the Irontoes need to reach the surface, they simply have to step into the portal and are teleported in motion.
The Irontoes brag that the portals open only for them because they know the secret rituals and war cries that allow them passage. As they enter the portals, Irontoe soldiers usually shout a war cry to throw the occasional curious onlooker off track. In truth, no rituals or passwords are necessary; the insignia on any piece of iron activates the gates. If they must take someone with them who is not of their company, they haul the visitor out on a palanquin, carrying him or her as cargo between two Irontoe soldiers.
Though old, the portals are rarely used. They are activated occasionally by Irontoe soldiers, both in drill and in combat. Since their construction, though, they have never been used as an evacuation tool. Few dwarves pay the portals much attention, and in some cases, the entries are covered by some project in mid-stage. How the civilian dwarves will react in emergency -- if they will even remember to use the Warriorgates -- remains to be seen.
How to Incorporate the Warriorgates Portal Into Your Campaign
- When attacked, many dwarves would rather not leave their defense to outsiders. However, they might leave trusted outsiders to care for their noncombatants, seeing them to safety. After all, the dwarves might know how to get out, but they don't necessarily have a plan once they've reached the surface.
- Some dwarf children might like to see what happens when the portals are triggered. They develop a bold plan to set off two sirens and watch what happens. When the PCs overhear seditious talk of "creating an emergency" by two scurrying dwarf children, will they brush it off or follow up on it?