For many of us the Dungeons and Dragons setting of Faerun was the first world we explored in a tabletop RPG. Personally, I have spent many a campaign adventuring up and down the Sword Coast, and more often than not, making my way to Baldur’s Gate. The first time my character entered through the large city gates, it was described to me as the Gotham City of D&D. Filled with corruption and crime, Baldur’s Gate quickly became a fan favorite when it comes to campaign settings. Playing a major part in the new D&D adventure, Descent into Avernus, and the newly announced Baldur’s Gate III video game, this classic setting is going to be in the spot light for some time, so let’s see what makes this city tick.
Government and the Upper City
Baldur’s Gate is ruled by the “Council of Four” which is comprised of three Dukes and one Grand Duke. This council is appointed by the people, though it is a lifetime position. The people also elect a Baldurian Parliament which votes on issues and policy before bringing legislation to the council. Much like our own political system, this sounds like a reasonable solution that should benefit the common folk, but alas due to systematic corruption, a vast majority of the money and power are held for the nobles in the Upper City; also, like our own political system… Both the council and parliament are always taking bribes or working a political angle to take out an opponent… also like our… O, you get my point. Obviously, there are matters that nobles would need to “outsource” to adventures or The Guild which makes for interesting story hooks if you are looking for a bit of intrigue in your game. The seat of power and nobles are located in the Upper City, which is confined behind the inner-city walls that were built at the city’s founding. This area is patrolled by “the Guard” whose sole purpose is to protect the nobility. Anyone who is not a resident of the Upper City is kicked out at dusk by the Guard. This isolates most of the street crime to the Lower and Outer City. This has created a growing disdain for the cities elite, that causes these nobles to take extreme caution when leaving the safety of their district.
Trade and the Lower City
Baldur’s Gate growing prominence is due to its sturdy walls and location for trade. Located at the mouth of the Sea of Swords, which leads into the Chionthar River, Baldur’s Gate is the unique position to play host to trade coming from the inland and opening into the sea for goods to travel far and wide. This means the docks play a critical role in the city’s economy. Since the Guard only protect the nobles, the city has employed a mercenary company called the Flaming Fists to keep the peace. With the Lower City covering such a large and dense area, the Fists largely ignore petty crime and focus more on violence, murder, or actions that disrupt trade. This leaves a bit of a power vacuum, which is filled by a various number of street gangs, known as “Crews” and The Guild. As one can imagine, organized crime runs rampant in Baldur’s Gate, and this blossoming enterprise is headed up by The Guild. It is rumored that the Guild is run by a single Kingpin, this is of course just talk, and those say such things should be careful at night. Whether are looking for a game to root out corruption, or you wanted to join said corruption, the Lower City is the grit of Baldur’s Gate. Even so, were there is danger, there is also opportunity for adventures to find work protecting merchants and trade.
Religions and the Outer City
Since the expansion of Baldur’s Gate and the explosion of its trade, many have come to make their home in the city, however, those who are too poor often make their homes outside the Lower City walls. This area is called the Outer City. The Flaming Fists will uphold order just outside the walls, however, not much beyond that, so it is up to the common folks to fend for themselves. Violent crime has been on the rise in the Outer City, but organized crime like the Guild and other crews often ignore this area as the inhabitants are too poor to have anything of value. Due to the influx of foreigners and the lack of a means to keep order, the rules and laws of Baldur’s Gate appear lax from the view of their more stalwart neighbors. One of the consequences is the accepting of various religions and the open worship of all Gods. Though it maybe frowned upon, there is no law in Baldur’s Gate against the open worship of the Lord of Murder: Bhaal. For this reason, the city has often struggled with problematic murder cults that worship Bhaal. Though rare, the occasional noble is linked to these Bhaalspawn cults which causes a panic in the affluent Upper City. This may bring the Guard or Fists to the Outer City to shack-down the locals. With the Outer City being a hotbed for violence and cults, this can be a great starting point for a more occult adventure that leads the party through a murder mystery, were they will need to uncover the identity of a noble aligned with a cult of Bhaal, and to do so, the party will solicit help from the Guild to undercover untold secrets. What could go wrong when owing a favor to a powerful thieves’ guild?
Whenever I run a one-shot game or simply need an interesting urban setting, I always find myself going back to Baldur’s Gate. Mostly because my familiarity with the city cuts down on prep time, but I also lean toward the grit of a Gotham City rather than the over idealized themes one would find in a Metropolis. At first glance, the city can feel rather one-note, but hopefully after reading this, you get a sense that the city of Baldur’s Gate can offer much more and inspire new and different stories. I mean, just look at the newest D&D release; Descent into Avernus. The party starts in the streets of Baldur’s Gate, and ends up in the first layer of Hell! So, If you ever find yourself in the Lower City, stop by the Blade and Stars, and share a drink with me… and we can discuss a job I have. You don’t mind getting your hands dirty, do you?