Ruined Fortresses, new ideas

Hello all

Once again, i'm looking for ideas for a non-canon setting chronicle. But i want to pick your brains to see if you have any good ars thoughts on this. Don't be put off by the non-canon setting, let me know what you think.

My players will be exploring a realm left deserted after being annihilated by an enemy nation. I've got huge amounts of background sorted for the towns and cities but i have 7 fortress that i need to do some background for.

3 of these fortresses are along a southern border facing a vast rolling steppe, built to defend the nation against a warlike nomadic culture to the south.

Another 3 fortresses form a similar defense on the northern border of the realm in much more mountainous terrain, defending the nation against attack from the organised and military powerful nation of Dwarves (somewhat Tolkeinesque) to the north, not to mention all the horrid things that lurk in fantasy mountains.

Finally 1 guards the western coast bordering a massive atlantic sized ocean. This fortress is to guard a large river delta from any marauding piratical types and protect the riverside cities further upstream.

However, with so many fortress ruins (they've been abandoned for a period of time between 50 years and 200 years) i want something to make them stand out from each other. I want to avoid the "Oh its another ruined castle" from my players.

So, has anyone run any plot involving the exploration of ruined castles, fortresses or covenents that they could share. Can anyone thing of any defining features of these fortresses to define them as having their own character? Most will have been conquered by force but any other interesting fortress-death could be useful.

I'm banging my head against a brickwall trying to think of interesting plot for these ruins.

Some info on the nature of the realm and its enemies and the level of common magic seen around would be good here :slight_smile:

Delta: think Constantinople (or king's landing, that is just a riopoff of constantinople):

  • a chain traversing the river. A smaller fotress at one extreme and the big one in the other. Or 2 identical castles at each side of the delta.
  • A small fortiffied harbor for a war fleet is located in the larger fortress.
  • Lots of artillery points.
  • A pair of high vantage points
  • depending on how high fantasy you want it, a landing platform for air cavalry (griffins?)
  • A place that looks like an old market
  • shipyards
  • Obviously, at least 1 tall lighthouse to proclaim the glory of the kingdom for all to see,

More, later

When I design things like this, I often design the main characters who lived there first. Once you know their personality and interests, this will help define their space. A huntsman noble would have grand forests around his keep, filled with game. A warrior-wizard would have interesting weirdness on the inside of the keep (labs, etc.) Maybe a large cave or hill top where he practiced his martial magic without risk of hurting his subjects. A noble with a taste for exotic women (or men) might have a palace built just for his harem.

Maybe look over the boons and hooks in Covenants for ideas to make each fort different?

The Goblin Tower.

The Tower of the Elephant.
The Tower of Druaga.

For the delta-fortress, I would take a look at the ancient city of Avaris, or other cities in the Nile Delta. I would in particular try to make use of silt accumulating in the delta, burying some key structure beneath it. Of course, a light-house is almost a must-have, preferably haunted, preferably with a giant kraken or a haunted ship nearby, but that's another matter...

Have one of the northern fortresses be dwarven fortress, long-ago captured from that race. Then you get to play with all the usual D&Desque stuff, like multiple underground levels, smithies and fire elementals (now running around loose), caves leading down to the underdark... that sort of thing.

Another trapping I would take is The Wall, from Game of Thrones. Adds a nice atmosphere. I'd put it on the south, though, as fortresses don't make for a good defense against nomads. And I'd take a look at China's Great Wall or Hardrian's Wall for inspiration on the castles on it.

For a change, one fortress might be occupied and in full use. Maybe the center of a fast-growing Evil Empire™©®?

Or make them believe is is an evil empire, while it really is riuled by a wise noble house that is concerned about the downfall of the kingdom and is securing things for the people of the realm to be well in the near future. The PCs can mess things up royally there and that always make for a good story.

If you are going with a high magic setting, one of your fortresses could be alive - a giant elemental spirit that actually gets up and lumbers around on occasion. Spice it up even more and have some people living in it who worship their castle-god. Let the players wonder why it isn't where the map says it should be.

If it moves infrequently enough the land will have recovered at least a bit since last time it decided to move to a different spot on the mountain.

'Rook' from Demigod is a nice evocative image for such a castle.


I like the idea from firth5 to ask "who has lived there" first. Another aproach is "what was the castle used for" beside to defend the land:

  • As a prison e.g. for political opponents
  • As a refuge in case of war for nearby towns
  • As a last stand for the nobility
  • As a watch out point
  • To position a cavalry (for raids?)
  • As a representational site



You guys rock!

Those are some sweet ideas.

Stone Goblin fortress - Love it! Might change it to a Fortress made entirely of petrified various races bodies (wonderfully dark and i can make the whole fortress a macabre place of terror, deliberately over the top creepiness). Would be good for the sourthern fortresses as a place of terror to literally scare away the marauding nomad warbands.

Moving Fortress - wouldn't be appropriate with these locations but made me think about a fortress surrounded by living, maybe moving defenses, vast fields of animated metal trees that hack and slash at anything that comes near, hundreds of stone obelisks that turn into stone elementals and clobber anything getting close, Marshy ground enchanted to suck intruders deep into mud and water and drown them. Could be scary and extremely defensible, not to mention a horro to investigate until my players work out the safe routes in.

Captured Dwarven fortress, thats actually an excellent and entirely in canon idea. It'll also make an excellent introduction to the dwarven culture which my players characters are unlikely to have encountered at the point they find the fortress. Radically different architecture and styles to really set it apart.

Covenants hooks and boons - I have this book and didn't even think about it. Good call.

For the Delta Fortress, i like the idea of only a single large navigable channel protected by a huge chain with a pair of fortress, one huge and 1 diddy. Maybe make the smaller one the lighthouse. Have both bristling with artillery, maybe a few strange magical fire bomb launchers or something similar.

I'm not sure about a huge wall, haven't read Songs of Fire and Ice or seen Game of Thrones yet. I'll ponder that.

This is all excellent stuff. More more more!

A "cave"-castle or rock-castel. Build partly directly in the mountain so half cave half normal castle. Only accessible through a narrow tunnel. The tunnel may be blocked by some creatures/undead (awoken when entered/rocks etc.

A mountain castle could rest on (or form) a large span across a narrow valley, or sit atop a narrow peak that gives it a commanding view of the pass below. Decay means the normal means of getting in and out are gone, making the whole place only accessible by flight or by climbing. Crumbling floors and creaking stonework could make for a very tense 'is it going to collapse!?' place to explore. Add in some wind spirits and a colony or two of magic birds and you've got a very 'air' themed castle without having to make it fly.

The steppe defenses I'd definitely look at a 'Great Wall' structure, with its three defending castles. Each can be themed differently - one as the home of the warrior-lord responsible for the southern defenses, one as a purely military keep (lots of barracks, not much luxury living) and one perhaps as a forge-castle, where day and night its great furnaces churned out the weapons used by the defending forces. The military keep could be haunted, the warrior-lord's castle could have attracted a small community of treasure-hunters who pick through its extensive and labyrinthine ruins and the forge-fortress now rests in the hands of a minor lord or bandit who seeks to reactivate its great (and maybe magical) forges and thus create his own armies. Or it could contain ancient secrets of the Verditius - if you're bringing the Houses across into your setting.

A Fortress constructed by a Demon with an eternal renewal pact if the fortress is ever completely destroyed
or the foundation stone removed.

If you're really interested in busting out of canon and looking at cool and different types of settlements, you might check out these:

  • The cities and fortresses litterally carved out of mountains, with vast settlements underground, like in Cappadocia, in Turkey, where Christians fortified themselves against Muslim invaders. Sometimes homes were carved out of the fairy chimneys (hoodoos) which pepper the landscape there. For example, take this

  • The fortresses at Cuzco in Peru, of Incan consturction, which used stones which fit together perfectly and thus needed no mortar. The Spaniards were convinced that it must have been built by Satan himself, because no man could ever have designed so perfect a fortification.

-The book series Fire and Ice had a great idea, a fortress atop a giant mountain, a great retreat in time of siege.

  • A shell of walls with the centre completely disappeared. No ruins, no graves, no bodies just... gone. And the walls are in perfect repair. What happened here?

  • A castle which is, in fact, a prison for the supernatural enemies for the old Kingdom. Each of the "cells" has a ring drawn within it. Don't break the rings.

-Finally, internal decor makes a huge difference. In Europe, there are monastray chapels made from the skeletons of the former brothers. Spooky. And great for a necromancer cult or even a proper Divine chaper, easily misinterpreted.

All make things different, I think. And fun.