2021-02-12, 09:06 AM (ISO 8601)
Bugbear in the Playground
Re: Where should fantasy feudal lords put their castles?
For the more military-focused holdings, another point to keep in mind is the sort of threat which the castle is supposed to project force or offer protection against. In real life, the major concerns were:
But in a fantasy setting, you might also care about:
- Raiders: The first form of warfare was the raid. In this model of warfare, the goal is to have a bunch of your top warriors sneak into the other guy's land and steal everything you can before the other guy's warriors can counter-attack. Everything is ambushes and counter-ambushes; most actual fights are a one-sided massacre. The goal of fortifications here are to make it difficult to move through your lands quickly and without being spotted. Expect short walls stretching across the countryside and manor houses with a single tall tower to keep watch from. This is probably what the Upper Duke of Ankle and his vassals have, with the actual Duke having a much nicer manor. If the duchy is especially prosperous, they'll have a network of signal towers. If they used to be wealthy but have fallen on hard times, except bandits and goblins to be living in the old signal towers now.
- Sieges: Here the expected threat is a large and organized army gathering up outside your house and trying to starve you out. This is where you see the motte-and-bailey castle design, with a big stone building on a hill and tall walls around it - the classic image that most people imagine when they think feudal castle. One of the important goals here is to be able to hold out during a siege - that means keeping all of the key industries inside the walls along with a large (ideally underground) storage space to keep food, cisterns and other provisions for an extended siege. Depending on how magical your setting is, this might also mean a temple to the lord's favourite god, in order to secure miracles (especially healing and create food/water) during times of dire need. Conversely, if you're trying to project siege-power, what you really want is a centralized administrative hub - two or three dozen knights in your court doesn't really cut it, you need peasant conscripts to man the walls and encircle the enemy.
- Crime: A major concern for a feudal lord is the fact that they are a single person who can only really enforce their will as far as their armed retainers can see and reach. If the local farmers are hiding part of their harvest in order to avoid paying taxes on it, they can only really do something about that if the farmers in question end up coming within reach of one of the lord's enforcers during the harvest season. As such, any lord who can manage it will want to maintain any key bits of infrastructure (mills, wells, granaries, etc.) in a centralized location where all of the farmers will be forced to present themselves (and their harvests) for inspection by the officials the lord has posted there. The same general idea applies to other sorts of taxes - forcing all of the boats to pass through a certain checkpoint along the river, or posting guards at all of the entrances to the central market so that taxes can be collected whenever the merchants show up to trade. Likewise if the lord is trying to stamp out a cult or heresy - simply build a single central temple and demand that all of the peasants use it. Any other resource that the lord wants to control can be treated similarly. A single authorized wizard who lives in a tower rented from the lord? A grove for the sanctioned druids on the king's lands? A central courthouse? Sure, all of that works.
- Apex Predators: Most fantasy settings have some sort of giant animal or monster that eats people living out in the woods. Maybe it's a troll. Maybe it's a giant tiger. Either way, there's a certain interest in having a place where everyone can gather together at night while the lord's retainers or the hired heroes go out to slay the beast. This has some overlap with the needs of anti-raid defense (in that spotting the thing coming and being able to launch a counter-ambush is very important) and with the needs of anti-siege defense (in that you want everyone to gather up at a central location where they can be protected), but differs in that the duration of the crisis is usually only a week or so and that there's relatively little need to man the walls with a massive number of conscripts - just enough knights to kill the dire tiger (or whatever) if it shows up. The big features here are having enough room to put up everyone on cots for a night or three and having a giant bell or something to call everyone to the rally point.
- Flying Enemies: IRL feudal fortifications were not built with flying enemies in mind. A system of border checkpoints is not going to keep hippogriff bandits from stuffing all of your valuables into a sack and flying off. Even a really tall wall isn't going to cut it against a dragon who can fly over said wall. People don't really want to live in an enclosed bunker full time, but they probably do want to have the buildings where they hide their valuable goods and vulnerable people from attackers who attack from the air. This is honestly one of the better excuses for underground dungeons: as shelters to hide the townsfolk in the event of a dragon attack. This ties into Apex Predators and Siege above. After all, if everyone is supposed to gather up and take shelter at the rally point when the warning bells ring, the rally point might as well be the place with the covered roof and the underground food storage cellar.
- Spawn: Fantasy settings often have monsters which can turn other people into monsters. Zombies are a classic, but D&D also has shadows, vampires, wights, werewolves and a smattering of brain parasites and mind control fungi lurking in the bestiary. To the degree that this is or has ever been a concern in your setting, it should also be a concern for the people who are building fortifications. If Shadows are a thing, the monster shelter should be buried 12' deep so that ethereal critters can't phase through the ground and turn the entire shelter into a killing zone. If vampires are a problem, there should be ways to easily expose significant portions of the castle to sunlight. If Ghoul Fever is a thing, the building should be structured in such a way that different sections can be locked down and forced into quarantine.
- Magic: Lords generally are not going to want their enemies scrying on them to see what they're up to. They're also not going to want uninvited guests (or dangerous enemies!) teleporting into their homes. If it's possible to curse someone using their blood or hair, the lord is going to make arrangements to have their own leavings incinerated. Whatever potentially dangerous magic which exists and and can be defeated using precautions, a prudent lord will endeavor to take said precautions. Maybe this means keeping all of their secret papers in a lightless room, and learning to read via braille. Maybe it means lining the walls with lead, if that foils divinations. Maybe teleportation can't cross running water, so they set up pumps around the moat. They're already building an entire castle, so some extra metal or water wheels probably isn't going to break the budget. Conversely, if there are magical benefits that a lord can benefit from (crop fertility spells, magical protections, ley lines, etc.) the lord is probably going to take those into consideration. If including a shrine to the Rain God in your castle means that the Rain God smiles upon you and prevents droughts, any lord who doesn't do that is going to be regarded as a neglectful master at best.
Last edited by Grek; 2021-02-12 at 09:09 AM.