Typically a thriving metropolis, at least by Medieval Stasis standards, the Free City may answer to a monarch in some sense, but if so its charter provides it with a lot of autonomy, or it may answer to no monarch at all, being a city-state, possibly joined in a loose confederation. In lieu of royal leadership, don't expect democracy, though. Perhaps it is ruled by an aristocratic senate, perhaps the city is run by a group of guilds (which is to say well-off masters within those guilds, not struggling apprentices or journeymen), perhaps it is run by a wealthy Big, Screwed-Up Family, or perhaps it is ruled by a tyrant who assumes no royal titles while being no less an autocrat. (The tyrant could actually be more benevolent toward the ordinary people of the city than the oligarchic rule of a hereditary senate or elite guild council.) Democracy isn't impossible either, but it isn't to be expected. Expect the inhabitants of the city to be less obsessed with honor, religious piety, and tradition than the rural, monarchic societies around them, and more interested in getting rich and enjoying cultural creativity. Free Cities may be, loosely, a Fantasy Counterpart to The Republic, and might be the home of a Proud Merchant Race. A Free City also has a good chance of being a Merchant City. However, while The Republic is often the protagonist-state in more modern settings, the Free City is more morally ambiguous: rarely as evil as The Empire, but often showing a certain corrupt, venal, cowardly aspect compared to the heroic knights of The Kingdom.
- In Chronicles of the Kencyrath, Tai-tastigon
- In The City & the City, Beszel and Ul Qoma.
- In Discworld, Ankh-Morpork (which appears in most books) and Ephebe (which appears far more rarely). Ankh-Morpork is more renaissance, while Ephebe more classical.
- In The Edge Chronicles, Undertown is a city created specifically as a haven of freedom and civilization, although it's ruled by corrupt merchants.
- In the Elenium, the city of Chyrellos is a free city (the fantasy equivalent of Vatican City)
- The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series featured the powerful central city of Lankhmar, which not only had its own independent ruler, it even had its own gods.
- In Gor, the basic civilized governmental unit is the city-state a la Greece, with some cities becoming more state-like a la Rome.
- In The Hobbit, Lake-Town (a.k.a. Esgaroth), at least until the evil republican officials prove their greed and uselessness and the rightful hereditary king is restored to his throne.
- In Neverness, the City of Neverness.
- In Perdido Street Station, New Crobuzon.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, The Free Cities across the Narrow Sea.
- In Swordspoint, there is a nameless city.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, Waterdeep and Ravens Bluff in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting and the Free City of Greyhawk in the Greyhawk setting.
- In GURPS, Tredroy.
- In 7th Sea, Freiburg. The feudal prince who nominally reigns is a figurehead.
- In "Warhammer", the Free City of Marienburg: a rich port city which bought its independence from the Empire during the reign of a weak Emperor who was deposed shortly afterwards.
- In Dragon Age II, the Free Marshes are a loose confederation of Free Cities.
- In Order Of The Stick, Cliffport seems to be one.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Omashu. Yes its ruler is called the king, but said king is a benevolent tyrant who reigns over a fairly advanced city.
- It's implied that the entire Earth Kingdom is a loose collection of such cities.
- The city-states ("poleis") of Ancient Greece (mostly Delian League cities rather than Sparta)
- The imperial free cities of the Holy Roman Empire, especially those in the Hanseatic League
- The cantons of medieval Switzerland
- the city-states of Italy in The Renaissance. (as well as Venice, a republican city-state from the midst of the Dark Ages.)
- Novgorod prior to Russian annexation. (Although documentation on this instance is a little spotty.)
- The seafaring, mercantile Kalinga republic prior to its conquest by Ashoka and the Mauryan Empire. (Documentation on this is even spottier.)
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