Portals of Lantan
By Jeff Quick
The Welcome Gates
The Lantanese government has two great desires for their people: to let them invent, and to be allowed to do it safely. While wars and nations raged on mainland Faerûn, Lantan has maintained peace and noninvolvement. The most amazing facet of Lantan's obscure security is not that they stay hidden, but that they do it without looking like they're hiding.
In retrospect, this is not a terrible surprise from a nation whose main inhabitants prize trickery. The Lantanese do not erect stout defenses or possess overwhelming offenses; they just look uninteresting and give the impression that they are too much trouble to invade. They claim to be open and willing to trade, but they develop obtuse entry statutes and trading policies for nations they would rather avoid. They rarely hide, but they have a near-bottomless supply of diversionary tricks. As the old gnome expression says, "Always smile, but do it with false teeth."
Nowhere is this policy more evident than the absurdly named "Welcome Gates." The Welcome Gates is a large, clearly labeled (but never advertised) portal leading from the Lantan Embassy in Waterdeep to an area known as the Visitors' Vale right outside Anchoril on Lantan's southern isle. On both ends, the portal is 12 feet tall, 8 feet wide, and bordered by a metallic frame imbedded with countless whirring mechanical gewgaws. Travel through the Welcome Gates is ostensibly free and open. In reality, it's troublesome and convoluted by design.
Lantanese residents and their families have access to the portals whenever they it. Residents must show a passport and proof of residence, and they may obtain a gate pass for a small fee. The process for obtaining a gate pass by non-Lantanese is a labyrinthine five-day affair involving numerous forms, daily trips to various official buildings around Waterdeep, and signatures from three to six different city officials (depending on the stated nature of the visit).
Welcome Gate hours for nonresidents are only the daylight hours between dawn and dusk, except between highsun and afternoon, when they are closed. The precise interpretation of when highsun and afternoon begin and end depends on who is acting chief portal warden that day. Illiterate visitors are flatly denied entry (according to the application handbook) as Anchoril can be dangerous to visitors who cannot read warning signs.
The gate pass is a small wind-up toy -- a tin bird with flapping wings. Portal wardens inform visitors that the gate pass is the portal key. The key is actually the word "enjoy," spoken in Gnome, which a warden works into the conversation as visitors stand before the portal, ready to activate it with their phony key.
Most of the paperwork and runaround that Welcome Gate portal wardens require is perfunctory, and like many gnome behaviors, a blind for the actual process. Regardless of an applicant's ability to fill out forms and follow obscure directions, the wardens observe applicants' behavior and then divide them into three categories:
- Keep Out is designated for known or suspected troublemakers. Portal wardens know enough tricks to keep these types tied up indefinitely.
- Tourist is someone who seems like a minimal security risk and has shown enough interest in visiting to get through part of the application. But the would-be visitor either doesn't have the wherewithal to wade through the full application process, or perhaps he or she knows someone who the portal wardens consider trustworthy to vouch for them.
- Watch Carefully is reserved for anyone who calmly threads the bureaucratic labyrinth. Anyone who shows enough determination to jump through all appropriate hoops without getting discouraged or upset probably has a hidden agenda. These people are allowed through, but a "Visitor Assistant" (government spy) is assigned to "help coordinate" (monitor) the visitor's every action in Anchoril.
None of this behavior is ever presented as a security precaution, but rather as a desire to help the applicant get the most out of his or her visit to the Multifaceted Capital, Anchoril. (The fact that other gnomes claim that Sambar, or sometimes Sundrah, is Lantan's capital is an incidental gnome misdirection ploy. All three cities are considered to be a capital of something.)
Some Basic Tasks Portal Wardens Assign
When the portal wardens want to keep out a possible threat, they first resort to some of these basic tasks:
- Literacy Test: The applicant must first prove that they can read and write Common.
- Proof of Identification: The applicant must also prove that they are who they say they are. This can include a variety of tasks, such as bringing five people who know the applicant to vouch for him or her, getting a public official to write a note with a bonded messenger that vouches for the applicant, submitting to a magical test of the gnome's devising, and whatever else the gnomes can think of. This part of the process can take several weeks of time in itself and include several stages.
- Proof of Ability to Survive Portals: The applicant must prove that he or she can travel through portals without experiencing problems. After all, the gnomes don't want to be responsible for any imbalance within the applicant that could lead to the applicant's death. The proof can be as simple as having a gnome representative go through a different portal with the applicant and "testing" the applicant's health on the other end. Portal wardens also might make it more difficult if they choose.
- Affidavits from Past Travelers to Lantan: The applicant must seek out a number of different past visitors to Lantan and get these people to sign off on official affidavits before the local (to the past visitor) magistrate.
These three different tasks can take the applicant a long time to complete, and each can have a series of stages if warranted. Portal wardens can easily add on more tasks, such as requesting a Purpose of Visit form to be completed and notarized by a gnome in a different part of the world, verifying the identity of anyone who shows up on earlier forms, and so on.
The Delights of the Visitors' Vale
Once visitors make it to Lantan, they enter at the Visitors' Vale. The Vale is a pleasant bowl surrounded by low hills and is about half a mile from the entrance to Anchoril. This side of the portal requires no key, although the pretense of the toy bird is continued for visitors. In the Vale, two 10-foot-tall iron statues flank the Welcome Gate. These statues are of a male and female gnome, with the expression and posture of benign workers, tinkering with the edges of the portal. They are, of course, iron golems who spring to life if a weapon is drawn or if any of the five basic elements (fire, lightning, cold, acid, sonic) magically appear within the Visitors' Vale. The golems defend themselves, but their main order is to move combatants back through the portal.
Though effective, statues that turn out to be golems is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Anyone who pays attention knows that the obvious threat is seldom the only threat when gnomes are involved. The vale has a flagpole at five points around the perimeter of the hills. Beneath the huge Lantan flag on each pole is a large metal horn, which is known as a vale sounder. Sounders are the second line of defense, and gnome watchers activate them only if one of the golems falls.
Iron golems (2): hp 170 each.
How to Incorporate the Welcome Gates Into Your Champaign
Getting into Lantan is tricky, and no one gets in without knowing someone who already lives there. Some ways that PCs might break through the screen include the following:
- While in Waterdeep, the PCs are approached by a petitioner with a nine-page form, half written in Gnome. If the party has a cleric of a commonly lawful and/or good god, the petitioner asks the cleric to verify that he is an honorable and forthright person by means of divine power, and sign the form in several places. The petitioner seems confused and doesn't know why this is necessary. However, he does mention that he's doing this so that he can visit Lantan.
- If the PCs are an honorable lot, a gnome who seeks to be escorted from her current location (which is well away from the Welcome Gates) to Waterdeep contacts them. As they travel, the PCs discover that the gnome is a target of a particularly vengeful and stubborn group of assassins. Should the gnome die, she will give the PCs a message to deliver to the portal warden in Waterdeep that will allow them to use the portal. She also gives them an item to deliver once in Lantan. What the item is, who the assassins are, where they need to deliver it to in Lantan, and why the item needs to go to Lantan is up to the DM!