Sunday, 15 June 2014

Castles

What would classic Fantasy be without Castles? Or fortresses, citadels, ruins and Doom Forts for that matter.

Castles stud the landscape of Fantasonia like the bolts in an oak door. They rise out of the forests of imagination, soaring above the crude and slovenly lean-to's of the local slopmongers and generally remind passers by that here lives a person of Importance. Or a villain of great power and fear generating.

For millenia Castles have sheltered, excluded and impressed various different people around our world. In Fantasonia they often form the backdrop for a climactic battle or the starting point for some young, idealistic and utterly thick pleb's journey to fame and possible evisceration.
My problem is that a lot of authors don't do justice to these monuments to war.

So, put up some hoardings, heat some sand and prepare to defend the breach. Or go and weigh your dog after the nightly walk to see what difference that walk made.

What actually is a Castle?
We'll start at the basics then?
A castle is a purpose built fortification made to;

  • Intimidate the locals
  • Protect some noble 
  • Remind the peasants who is in charge
  • Provide a garrison to protect/dominate/control the local territory
  • Employ a lot of masons and carpenters 
  • Provide something to have an epic battle on top of
  • To create a vital node in the network of leylines 
Basically it is a collection of stones and earth and wood made so that soldiers can go to sleep safe at night without the fear of throat slitty death. 

So I should probably invest in one?
Well if you're that concerned about your home security then you might as well. Castles have a whole host of handy and easy to use/figure out selling points.
  1. Murder holes: More or less what you'd think, holes which you murder people through. Usually found above gates, doors and in corridors. Arrows, boiling water or sewage. Whatever you fancy!
  2. Drawbridge: A bridge you can draw back/up. An excellent extra layer of wood between your door and the hordes of disgruntled peasantry howling for your head on a stick.
  3. Arrowslits: Windows that work on the same principle as bullet wounds! Very small on the front and much larger at the back! The narrow frontage stops enemy missiles from skewering your crack-troops and the larger space behind lets you move around and pick your targets at will.
  4. Hoardings: Not a bell for the ladies of negotiable affection. Hoardings are wooden platforms that extend beyond the battlements. Usually roofed they are an excellent way to drop all sorts of horror onto the heads of the slopmongers bellow. They also provide your minions with excellent cover from the elements, which is not to be sneezed at if you want to avoid a cold.
  5. Portcullis: Not a strange variety of harbour. A portcullis is a grate that drops down in front of the gates, usually made out of wood or iron it is an excellent way of preserving the integrity of your doors and by extension, your head.
  6. Moat: A bloody big ditch filled with water, sewage, pointy sticks, fire or whatever else is to be had. In successful defenses a good moat will be filled with the bodies of your enemies. It also stops people from tunneling under your walls. Which is nice.
Huzzah, I've got my castle from a fleeing Baron and I'm now lording it over the local morons. What happens if they attack?
Well, this is a difficult situation. People attacking a castle is what is known as a siege. Sieges were far more common in our history than battles. For starters they involved less people. The average standing garrison of a Castle in the middle ages was, maybe, fifteen or twenty. That would have included the cooks and sable boys etc. It might sound daft but a number that small could, assuming they held off the assaults, keep a much larger force at bay. Most by having more food per mouth and a food supply of fresh water. 

Mogmush the Mighty sighed and rattled the jug. It was totally empty. He stood, braving the inevitable hail of arrows and stones. Ignoring the missiles that whipped past, tugging at his hair and rattling from the stonework, Mogmush carefully took aim and loosed. 
He grunted as the stream of urine splashed into the empty jug. He grinned as he shook the last drops free before turning and hurling the jug over the wall toward the hordes of evil. 

"Have a drink on me!" He giggled to himself as the jug broke on the head of a particularly ugly looking minion. 

"Subtle. I like it." Gudguff groused as he gnawed on the end of his belt. Ran Dom McGufin was asleep on an empty pile of potato sacks. Between them the two gargantuan Heroes the carefully stored food had lasted about a week. The  Castle's vegetable patch had lasted about an hour after that. 
Gudguff moved the leather to his other cheek and peered around the corner of the battlement. He quickly saw the massed ranks surge forward silently before an arrow tugged his hat from head. 

"Looks like they're coming again." He sounded weary even to himself. 

"Why do they try?" Mogmush was more sober now than the Wizard had even seen him before. Unfortunately it didn't do much for the man's sense of decorum. The giant Barbarian was unsheathing his sword, Cabbage.

The first head to appear over the parapet was very quickly dented by a titanic blow which shattered the rungs of the ladder as well. The next face was a few feet away and fell victim to Ran's perfectly timed punch. 

"Well, he might be as thick as two short planks, but by the gods he can punch things." Gudguff watched in horrified awe as his Chosen Moron hammered each head to appear. The huge youth chortled with glee each time he deformed a helmet with his huge fists. 

Gudguff rolled up his sleeves and brandished his Staff. 

So, lets say my tiny garrison has held my fortress. What if I were to attack my enemy in his Castle?
Well, the easiest way to do it is to block off the ways in and out of the place. You can do it with a few people and not need a huge force. Just sit back, block the roads and don't let any food get in. If you feel like being a bit creative then you could throw some rotten meat in over the walls, this will hasten the spread of lovely diseases like dysentery. The biggest problem with this is the cleaning up required when you have control of the place. Assuming you want control and you're not just going to burn the place to the ground.

If you're pressed for time then you could try rushing the walls, if you're lucky and especially fierce then you might just about manage it. Lucky or no it will cost you a shed-load of men. So be wary about it.

You could try mining under the walls. A number of sieges in England were ended using this method. Take a wall, preferably one with no moat. Then dig a bloody big tunnel under it. Once you're sure you're under the wall you can extract your miners, or not, then fill the tunnels with pigs. Once the little oinkers are in, set fire to the lot. Pig fat burns seriously hot. Hot enough to crack stones and break foundations, meaning the walls come tumbling down. Once the smoke and dust has cleared you can run up the rubble and take the place. The redecorating might be a pain though.

The major disadvantage with a siege is that the people in the Castle might just have friends who could come up behind you and cause some damage. Not fun.

Gudguff coughed and hacked as the smoke cleared. The blast had been titanic and his ears were still ringing from it. 

"Waazat!?" Mogmush lurched out of a pile of rubble and dust trailing fine particles like a shoddy comet. Ran simply kicked a boulder out of his way, simply grunting slightly as the stone cracked under the blow. 

Gudguff looked, the original line of the curtain wall was now a series of piles of rubble. Smaller stones slid from the tops of the heaps and caused miniature avalanches. Beyond the line of the wall, the Dark Lord's forces were in disarray. Most of them had been flattened by the concussive force of Gudguff's blast. Those not on their backs were stumbling away from the ruins of the Castle. 

"What...What...?" Ran stood and stared around dumbfounded.

Mogmush tugged his loincloth straight as he stood and stared at the Wizard in fear. 

"I..." Gudguff looked around at the devistation and began again. "This is what happens." He paused and tried to justify what he was about to say, finding he couldn't he said it anyway, reasoning the two idiots wouldn't notice. "If I don't have a hat, things go bad." 

The two bigger men looked at each other and then back to the abashed Wizard.

"'S a bit much though." Mogmush said it quietly and made a badly written mental note to not annoy the Wizard.