Worldbuilding Basics #5 – Castles

Okay lad, you can stop running now, I see you’ve got stamina. However, if you want to be a runner for the Castle Guard, then knowing where something is, and what it does, is often just as important as how fast you can get there.”
– Kenderrin Largo, Captain of the Guard, Derrinus Castle.

Moat / Ditch. This is one of the first lines of defence for any castle. As a ditch, the defence is little more than steep sides to prevent defenders ease of access. As a moat, it is often filled with deep water to prevent sappers from tunnelling under the walls or just as a physical boundary. Ever tried swimming in plate armour?

Ramparts. These are steep banks of stone or earth that slow down attackers by forcing them to climb over them, often whilst dodging arrows.

Drawbridge. It is said that the entrance to any castle is its weakest point. In peace time, the drawbridge provides access across the moat for travellers and merchants. In times of war, large iron chains pull the drawbridge back to prevent any enemies from reaching the barbican.

Barbican. This can be seen as an outer defence to a castle, jutting out from the main walls and comprising of a gateway and, possibly, a portcullis. Further to that, barbicans are sometimes connected to the main castle through a road, called the neck, as it forces the enemy into a tightly-packed area.

Gateway. Any castle worth its salt has a strong gateway. If your walls are too thick, expect this area to get a lot of attention. Make sure that you have large timbers held together with iron nails to create formidable doors that can be barred shut from within.

Portcullis. If the strong gateway isn’t enough defence, a castle should install a portcullis as a further means of protection; a spiked barrier that can be lowered to protect the wooden gateway from a battering.

Bailey. In its simplest form, this is the area within the walls of the castle. But it’s much more than that; it’s the life and soul of the castle.  Expect to find everything in here that a castle requires to function; living quarters, livestock, stalls, stables, forges, workbenches, and so on.  Basically, it’s where all the domestic side of the castle lives.

Well. Every castle needs a well, and the best ones are those that are dug deep, and never run dry.  In times of war, a castle can hoard as much food and livestock as it can, but once the well runs dry, or is infected by some kind of enemy action, out-lasting a siege becomes almost impossible.

Chapel. Everyone needs somewhere to pray and, in a castle, this is it. When it’s peaceful, we thank our gods for protection, in times of war, we beg them for it.

Keep. This is the heart of any stone castle. It’s usually the building with the thickest walls and the least windows as it is often the last line of defence for those within the castle grounds. Inside you will find kitchens, halls, and living quarters, similarly to the Bailey but for the commanders and royalty. Sturdy and often self-sufficient, think of it as a castle within a castle.

Arrow Loops. You’ll see plenty of these around the castle; simple slits in the stone wall that are designed to allow archers to fire upon the enemy with little chance of return fire. I say simple, but they are rather ingenious. I hear some castles have different shaped slits to loops to allow different configurations of archers or crossbowmen.

Tower. Rising higher than the castle walls, it’s easy to see why towers are needed in a castle. But did you know that round towers are sturdier than square ones? It’s to do with the way the corners in a square tower can weaken the entire structure if damaged during an attack. Outside of sieges, it’s the place where the guard / barrack usually reside and, with all those stairs, one of the places that castle runners hate.

Bastion. Now some castles will have towers, some will have bastions, and some will have both. A bastion is simply a kink, or angle, in the castle wall which enables a greater level of ranged defense. They often allow more space than a tower which, in turns, allows more defenders.

Curtain Wall. This is simply the outer wall of the castles that surrounds the bailey. It also connects all of the outer towers, the barbican, and the bastions to form a single, stone-built, defensive unit, otherwise called a castle. As a runner for the guard, you can expect to spend most of your time running along here.

Parapet. The parapet runs along the length of the curtain wall. For guards like me, it’s for protection from the enemy. For runners like you, it’s to stop you from falling off the edge! It doesn’t just provide protection from the enemy either, I’ve spent many a cold night tucked up with a flagon of ale behind those parapets whilst the cold, ice wind howls around me.

Crenels. Many castles have additional stonework added to their parapets, called crenels. These are a further line of defence which allow arrows to be fire out, and a solid piece of stone for protection when they get fired back. Did you see that fancy pattern on the top of the castle wall as you approached? The intermittent gaps in the top of the wall? That’s the crenellation of our parapet.

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