The World of Dragonsgate
North of Dragonsgate, Freewater is a shanty-town built in a large marsh where the Truin floods a low-lying plain. Between the marsh trees are ramshackle houses on stilts linked by floating or hanging walkways. Small skiffs and shallow-bottomed houseboats drift between them and sometimes underneath them. In Freewater, no one owns land – anyone who can find a spot they like can park their boat, build a shack, and stake a claim. Residents fish or net swamp birds, and alligator and swamp snakes make excellent eating, along with the eggs of waterfowl and the flesh of fat, gray snails. Wild pigs also enjoy the area, and those on the shallowest end of the marsh grow rice and other water-logged crops. Shallower water and streams can also yield frogs and crawfish.
Freewater is lawless, built to serve the goal of personal freedom from oversight. There are a handful of well-respected residents who could probably guide the rest if they chose, but by and large Freewater is a community without real leaders. Crimes demand personal recompense – there is no police force, and citizens go out of their way to avoid drawing the attention of The Watch or the Knights of Dragonsgate. Individual residents rely on the community to welcome and support them, and if the community turns against them, they can be burnt out, evicted, or even killed without consequence. Most of Freewater’s residents are poor, simple folk who get along fine with their neighbors unless they’re drunk, and a drunken fight is forgotten by the next day. Bandits, criminals, and nomads often pass through Freewater and sometimes settle there. Halfling riverfolk are common, and find Freewater a friendly community without any docking fees to sour their welcome. There is a black market in mundane and stolen goods that thrives here, free of regulation, as Freewater residents don’t care where an item came from so long as the price is right.
Beer from Dragonsgate is relatively common here, but distilled rice moonshine is most popular. Caustic enough to strip paint, the moonshine is often fed to newcomers so the residents can laugh at their reactions. A handful of shanty bars make a few coppers selling their shine and cooking up bowls of chowder to dish out to travelers. There’s often rollicking music, laughter, bawdy jokes, and sometimes even dancing, underscored by the sound of crickets and croaking frogs as the stars stretch overhead at night. Those who don’t belong anywhere else often find acceptance in Freewater, and even if they don’t settle, many such outcasts return often to their favorite safe-haven. Freewater’s marshes also drain into several of the Truin’s watersheds, streams that wind back and forth across the northern plains and touch several outlying communities. Trade moves back and forth along these streams, ensuring that both Freewater and its neighbors have everything they need and that news travels across the plains.
But Freewater’s accepting community and cheerful lawlessness conceal dark secrets. Dark rites are performed in the depths of the swamps, poisons distilled from native plants, and undead predators roused to serve pragmatic masters. Swamp witches and conjure men do as much healing as cursing and others stay clear of them unless they can meet their price. But worst of all, Freewater is home to a small, secretive cult of demon-worshipers.
Significant spots in Freewater include:
- The Yellowbelly Inn – Named after a common, non-venomous watersnake, the yellowbelly is the only real accommodation for non-residents and those who don’t already have contacts to bunk with in town. Run by Egerton Hull, a dour, unpersonable human man, the place is grimy and run-down, but sturdy compared to many other buildings in the shanty-town. It has a real stone hearth to help drive away the damp, and the cuisine is hot, if a bit questionable – snake, alligator, crawfish, and river trout are the primary dishes, with sides of local berries, peppers, and rice, but anything Egerton has on hand might find its way into the gumbo. The back room on the first floor contains Squalid accommodations, rows of unpadded wooden cots with rushes on a barely-swept floor (7cp/day+3cp for meals). The second floor contains slightly better communal rooms with actual linens, which are stained and have repaired stitches, but are generally clean, and are classed as Poor (1sp/day+6cp for meals). The best accommodations are single and double-bed rooms on the top floor, with real beds and newer linens, a bit of furniture in their cramped dimensions, and heavy, mismatched quilts for warmth. These are modest rooms (5sp/day+3sp for meals), and while Egerton does his duty attending to these customers, he resents them for their means.
- Sal’s General Store – Usually referred to as just ’Sal’s’, this run-down building looks like it was pieced together from several different mismatched structures. It’s run by a balding human named Sal and his half-orc wife Sizur. Sal mostly sells to traders and travelers, and only general goods and supplies (nothing magical) are available at his shop. Customers seeking more esoteric merchandise will have to inquire specifically, as the trade in magic, both good and evil, is mostly conducted between private parties in Freewater. A paddock is attached to Sal’s store where a number of mules and a couple horses attempt to graze on saw-edged swamp grass. Horses and carts are for rent at Sal’s, but only for travel between Freewater and Dragonsgate (unless Sal has a good reason to say otherwise).