Castles are fortified dwellings that form the basis of a House’s power.
All castles contain a keep, which is the fortified building in which the castle’s owner and family live. Some humble castles consist of nothing but a keep. A keep may be situated atop a natural or artificial hill, known as a motte, to make it extra defensible.
Larger castles include a curtain wall among their fortifications. A curtain wall is a wall designed to defend against attackers (as opposed to a wall designed for privacy or to deter burglars, such as are found around many wealthy town houses). Some are simple wooden palisades of wooden stakes, while a formidable curtain wall may be made of stone ten feet thick and thirty feet high. High curtain walls often include battlements, stone or wooden walkways, to allow defenders to fight atop the wall. These may include crenellations (cut-outs in the topmost portion of the wall) to let archers shoot with a clear shot and then duck back behind cover) as well as machicolations (battlements that extend a short ways over the wall to let defenders drop objects on attackers at the foot of the wall).
The area enclosed by a curtain wall is the castle’s bailey. The bailey may include the castle’s keep, though it need not – some keeps are situated a short ways from the bailey, connected by additional walls. Either way, the bailey will contain the various buildings that support the castle’s function, such as kitchens, stables, gardens, barracks, counting houses, and more.
Curtain walls are vulnerable at certain points. Wherever a curtain wall is vulnerable due to the lay of the land or the design of the wall (e.g., at a corner), it may be strengthened by a tower, a defensive strongpoint. Some towers are mighty edifices that rise twice the height of the wall they guard, even mounting their own artillery. The strongest tower in a castle is invariably the gatehouse, a tower built to protect the gate (or gates) that allow passage through a curtain wall. The strongest gatehouses are miniature fortresses in their own right that force an attacker to fight his way through a veritable maze within the gatehouse before he ever sets foot in the bailey.
Many curtain walls also feature a moat, a ditch at the foot of the curtain wall. Moats may be filled with water if water is available, but they need not be. The primary purpose of a most is to make it impossible for siege engines such as ladders, rams, and the like to reach the wall, and a dry moat achieves this purpose.
Owing to the social position of their owners, castles are more than simple family homes. They are also the center of their owner’s court, and often perform administrative functions such as serving as a central distribution point for goods. Many castles are lively market towns. In rural areas, “going to market” and going to the local castle are synonymous.
Building a castle involves enormous time and expense; a medium sized castle may take ten years or more to build (though castles are generally expanded piecemeal, so a castle that took ten years to reach its present form may have been inhabited for nine). Because of this, castles are greatly prized possessions. Each House has a castle as its ancestral seat, whose size and complexity generally reflects the power of its House. The seats of the seven great Houses are nigh impregnable edifices unrivaled by any other structure on Nova.
Castles are formidable military obstacles. Their fortifications allow them to be held against odds of as much as ten to one (or, in the case of very strong castles, even worse). Because of this, an invader who leaves a castle in his rear area leaves a strong fallback position from which defenders may strike. For this reason, control of a castle is usually thought of as virtually the same as control of its surrounding countryside, and human military strategy centers on capturing or neutralizing castles.
Castles are rarely strongly garrisoned for long, as a large garrison is easy to starve out. If an attacker feels that the garrison is sufficiently weak, he may storm the castle by constructing siege engines. These may range from enormous ladders to great wheeled towers to complicated magic spells such as trebuchets, but all have the aim of neutralizing a castle’s defenses to let attacking troops into the interior. Siege engines can rarely be transported, as they are both bulky and heavy, so storming a castle normally involves a fairly lengthy period while trees are felled and engines constructed. However, storming a castle is considerably faster than investing one, or attempting to starve the garrison out. This involves surrounding the castle with walls of circumvalation to let the defenders interdict any outside help and ensure that any sallies from the castle itself are forced to attack the besiegers’ own fortifications.
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