I've got a fortress guarding a river in my upcoming game. And I need some interesting ideas to make it.....well, interesting.
The fortress is a two part job, on the northern shroe of the river is a tower with a small curtain wall. The top of the tower has a lighthouse and the curtain wall has a pair of turrets set with ballistae, ready to rain death on any ships that try to force the channel.
On the southern bank is a much bigger fortress, with a large curtain wall, a three storey keep (more like a large fortified manorhouse) and a string of very nasty artilery pointing at the river.
Between the two is a large chain, enchanted to destroy wood that acts to stop ships moving up the river without the say so of the fortress commander.
The whole fortress has been abandoned for a considerable period of time and left empty. My players will be finding it and exploring a bit. I need some interesting ideas for what they might find, beyond a cool empty castle.
My setting is highly non-canon, much more high fantasy but don't worry about that too much, indulge your creative juices and I'll see what can be squeezed into my canon (hmmm...that sounds a bit wrong, oh well).
OK, large castle. I assume that there is nothing inside (furniture, weapons....?)
Can we know HOW it was left unhabited? Was it a massacre, did they just leave with time to prepare=? Did they flee? When they abandoned it, was the contingent in residence big or was it small so some parts of the fortewess might have gone unused for MUCH longer...?
Some history would help
A nice nasty in the dungeons is always good, though. And griffins/gryphons have a love for tall unused towers. Merfolk might have taken over it, at least the caves underwater (because there ARE underwater caves under the fortress that communicate with it inside, right? RIGHT? )
You've got two locations... FEUD! Perhaps two witch-trolls took over the structure many years ago, got into an argument, and have spent the last several decades warring against each other. They've attracted goons or beasties to their fight. They'll even want to trick/convince/hire any outsiders to do away with the evil thing on the other side of the river.
It was originally designed to hold off attackers from the sea sailing up the river by a paranoid nation state. After centuries of no naval attacks, nor any imminent threat from such, it had its garrison reduced to a near skeleton crew. When the nation state was attacked (turns out they had good reason to be paranoid), the seawatch castle was left alone for a while as the nemy knew it had no real ability to launch attacks. Once the nations large cities and fully manned fortresses fell, they turned their attention to seawatch keep, only to find that most of the occupants had been spirited away via magic, leaving only a small number of volunteers manning the walls and generally making it look occupied.
The assault was a very quick massacre of the few remaining volunteers. With the castle one of the last to fall, the occupying troops had time to loot quite thoroughly and once they finished, they set a few fires (hence I was planning on the main keep being pretty badly fire damaged). It can be assumed that anything easily moved and valuable was either taken by the magic spirited away force or looted by the conquering troops. Its entirely possible bits of the fortress had been mothballed much earlier. Its only really purpose at the end was to protect against river/sea attacks everyone knew weren't coming.
I did think about some kind of beasty taking refuge in the place, the curtain walls aren't terribly badly damaged so it might make a good lair.
There are indeed underwater caves (now that you've put the idea in my head). Hmmm, maybe some kind of semi-aquatic beastie slithered in after everyone was gone.
And I have just statted out some griffins too.
Kilgs - I like the idea of a feud. I have hags in my setting, very powerful magic using crones of clearly non-human nature, but I don't want to overuse them too much so I'd avoid them for this. There are no river crossings except by boat for a great many miles so whatever is feuding must be able to cross the river to do so. Still, the two castle design does seem to make a feud a really cool idea.
I would advise shortening the time of no attacks from centuries to decades. A century is time for 3 generations to pass away (up to 6 or 7 if the teens aren't adequately chaperoned) and that's a long friggin' time. Centuries can imply anything ranging from "from the US secession from Britian up to now" (barely 2+ centuries) past "the start of the renaissance up to now" (4-6 centuries) to "from the time William the Kickass taught those silly English k'nigg-its that living in France didn't make the Vikings soft after all up to now"(9+ centuries). Or longer.
Decades, on the other hand, can imply something like "My father's father was stationed here when this fortress was built, and my father served in it faithfully all the days of his service, despite no attacks. Now? Yes, I'm a 'knight', but really I'm just a glorified toll-keeper."
I mean, centuries of peace mean that, no, you didn't have a reason to be paranoid. It means half-a-dozen (low end) up to dozens (high end) of generations have lived without the reality of war. The only time/place I know of where this might have happened was the Dawnlanders (pre-Columbian New England Indians), and that's only because their population grew so slowly that they had several centuries in which there were no serious resource conflicts. And note that they still fought - albeit for fun, prestige, bragging rights, and chicks.
The feud is a nice idea. How about just making it a symbolic one? Faeries are very good at that and you can have the Little Brother on the small side and the Big Brother on the large side. They can be an embodiment of sibling rivalry, envy or struggle against the odds. Or whatever matches the payers' conflicts?
Both sides should be largely unable to affect the other so that the players are needed for that.
Another traditional thing in abandoned castles are ghosts. Maybe the fortress fell due to a fallout between a commander and his/her second in command? One of them betraying the other and the ghosts reenacting the fatal night every night without a moon? To spice it up you can add any sort of background conflict around discipline, love, lust, jealousy, greed (wages, embezzlement, robbery, bribes) etc.
Gullam I like the idea of ghosts reliving their treachery/betrayal, in fact I've already got that going on in another abandoned fortress so I can't really reuse it here.
Albert - The people that used to live in this castle are very long lived, life spans of centuries are not unknown and the more powerful magic users amongst them can go even longer than that. Also, the nation that built the castle was indeed involved in many wars and battles during this time, it was just that the Seawatch fortress itself never got attacked (or even close to it). More background: The reason for their paranoia is that their entire nation is made up of refugees from a much larger and more powerful nation on the other side of the continent. This other nation is rather tyranical and the refugees were often powerful people, freethinkers, religious minorities and so on. They lived under constant expectation of vengeance which was exactly what eventually happened. In the centuries before that happened they warred frequently (and rather successfully) with their neighbours to the north, south and east. Seawatch is on the western coast and hence never got involved in the fighting. It was built to protect the capital city which lies further upstream on the river.
FIrst off, when people are looting and just grabbing everything before burning, they often miss things like hidden compartments, hidden rooms, secret stairs to lower levels (labs, dungeon, treasure, magic items)
There could be magic items imbedded in walls, doorways or floor that you activate as you walk on/through/next to that teleport you to hidden chambers below ground.
In one of my Ars campaigns that I played in, The covenant was a 2nd level beneath the castle/keep on the road between Paris and Rouen. The entrance was through the wine cellar and down a short tunnel. When the crusades got active in the area, the covenant took the archway that had been the entryway and replace the capstone of the arch and both ends with magic item linked linking them and then filled in the tunnel with solid stone except for a small alcove at each end. To get to the covenant, you stepped in one alcove, said the magic phrase and got transported to the other. Bulk of treasure, labs and such were hidden in the covenant area. This could then lead to underwater caves.
What about some leakage from the magical chain? Since it has been there as a moderately/highly magical effect for centuries both the chain and things in close proximity could conceivably be warped. Maybe the chain is now (sort of) sentient? Or maybe small water elementals or magical fish have made their home among the links of the chain. They might be a good source of vis, a nuisance/hinder to use the chain, make trouble crossing the river, etc.
Or you could do the old but nice "hive mind" stunt. The school of fish living among the links of the chain are actually one super-being that behaves like a swarm and is more intelligent/powerful the more of the fish are there. Removing a few fish is a nice vis-source, but be careful since the power of the full school of fish is very high. A potential ally or mighty enemy. Very hard to fight face on, but maybe easily weakened by moving/destroying the chain.
Another thing is that the chain could be made from something special. Living Magical steel from the magical realm, for instance? That could give effects like above and could make a regio or at least an aura around itself?
What about a paved street leading from the castle into the forest. The street is in perfect state in contrary to the castle. No weeds are growing on it, no animal is trespassing. The street leads some miles into the forest an ends abruptly. This arises some questions:
-Who build the street and why
-What is at the end of it (maybe a hidden regio, another invisible castle or was it just never finished ...)
-What keeps off live (is the street dangerous?)
-Who is/was using the street
-Is it just an illusion?
so just a boon for further stories ... Listen to your players what they think (or wish/fear) and make up a story.
In relation to enchanted stuff around the castle (and I agree with those suggesting it), you might have a large observatory at the top of the keep. It is damaged, but could be repaired. It looks like it was highly magical, and has only suffered minor damage. What sort of powers could that have? It is too big to remove.
A band of brigands might also have occupied one or both castles. There was a book/movier I read ablout this in 5th grade, but can't recall the title. It was about a castle that had been broken in half by lightning IIRC. Each half had been occupied by rival highwaymen gangs. Each leader had a child (a boy and a girl) born the same day. The child become fast friends even if their fathers hate each other etc etc. Can't recall much more from it. There is a movie about the book for sure (watched it) but still no idea of the title. Sonja comes to mind but only brings me images of Red Sonja when I search the net. The movie started with the fatheer of the girl shooting at harpies that were circling the castle when the mother was giving birth if that rings a bell.
In any case the set up of 2 rival gangs in both ends of the castles can work. Much more mundane than having fae at each end. But I like mundane
Thanks for all the awesome suggestions folks. I'm going to pinch a few for other areas of my saga.
I've decided to use the feud idea. The northern tower will be home to a lonely Drake (i.e. a big winged, scaly serpent with fiery breath). His mate was killed and his eggs stolen by the wicked fishmen (Think a very primitive, barely tool using, very aggresive man/fish hybrid. Kuo-toa without the looks, brains or sophistication) that live in the southern fortresses basements, cellars and underwater cave system.
Although the Drake is more than a match for the stinky fishmen, in the close confines of the southern castles curtain wall, he would be penned in and killed (which is exactly what happened to his mate). Therefore he attacks the fishmen when he can but can't get into the underground area to root them out for good. Also he is too large to fit through most of the underground area.
When the PCs investigate the castle they will either be attacked by the fishmen (if they go south first) or meet the Drake (if they come from the north which is more likely). The fishmen will drive them off but the drake will be happy to speak with them and will put to them an offer. If they go where he can't and wipe out the fishman tribe and recover his eggs, or at least find out what happened to them, then he will tell them about a cache of magic he knows about. With reward in sight and a good plan (possibly using the drake, who is more than eager to burninate some fishmen). This will be followed by some tense tunnel fighting against vile fishy smelling beasts to clear the lair and recover the eggs (assuming they are still intact).
Conviniently I've already got a kind of powerful sorcerous retreat planned out that I was wondering how to introduce to the PCs, now the Drake can tell them how to get to it as their reward.