D&D Ideas — Castles and Strongholds

Cool Off with Deep Magic: Winter Magic from Kobold Press
To Roll, or Not To Roll?
Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy newsletter. This one has been written in two different castles over in England. Nerdarchy was given their own castle to run games from and Nerdarchist Dave was invited to a second castle to be a one-shot Dungeon Master.

This week’s videos:

Delving Dave’s Dungeon

Two castles in two weeks — talk about inspiring. The other guys have Lumley Castle covered. So I want to tell you a story from Langley Castle and how you can use it in your Dungeons & Dragons game.
I was talking with one of the fellow DMs at DnD in a Castle who was telling me a story about this particular castle, Langley. Now I don’t know if it’s 100% accurate, but it doesn’t matter for the intent and purpose of my example how to use it in your game.
A knight served the king well during a major battle. As the knight’s reward, he was given a keep and tavern. The keep and tavern were connected by a secret tunnel. But there was a catch — the knight was named protector of the region. This is very much a condensed version of the story, but you get the gist of it.
In D&D terms:
  • Adventurers complete quest.
  • Adventurers get a reward.
  • Adventurers’ reward will generate more adventures.
But there is more going on here than just quests and rewards. Giving the characters a base of operations gives you, the DM, the opportunity to make them care about the world you’ve created even deeper. When they have a place to call home they will become possessive and protective of it. Not only that, you can stock it with some of their favorite NPCs, tying the characters even more to your world.
Adventure seeds from a keep attached to a tavern:
  • The latest ale, spirits and wine shipment has gone missing. (Bandits)
  • The beer has gone bad. (Angry fey creatures or are they just having fun?)
  • Enemies invade the keep through the secret tunnel. (Who betrayed the adventurers?)
  • A marauding monster in the countryside is terrorizing the farmsteads. Several hunting parties have dispatched, but none have returned.
  • A visiting dignitary has vanished in their territory. They were last seen entering the region. Their kingdom of origin is holding the local lords responsible. (Will this lead to war?)
  • What about a drow or duergar invasion coming from beneath the keep?
These are just some of the ideas I was inspired with after a brief story and beholding these magnificent edifices.

From Ted’s Head

I sit here in a castle thinking about how I would use such features in a D&D game. Lumley Castle is beautiful, with lots of cool twisting turns. There are lots of small rooms in alcoves and this really supports the way that many DMs have made dungeons I have seen.
In a world where magic is present, I would certainly want certain features in my castle if I could arrange such. First and foremost doing flights of stairs over and over again makes me long for an elevator. While one of the technologies might not be possible, what if there were Tensers floating discs that functioned with the push of a magical sigil? What if you had a group of living unseen servants? What if you had a place like Beauty and the Beast, with animated furniture? What if the chairs and tables would move upon command?
Another great option you can do if you are not interested in making a crazy magical castle would be to hold your own version of a mystery dinner like we just did. In this case, it was pretty cool because I think the actors had a script but it had multiple ending options. So you could even plan your own mystery event for the adventurers to solve. And if you take inspiration from the event, you write the options and allow the players to pick who they think did it and use the material based off of that NPC, just as the actors did in the even we were at did. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: One of the adventures in Midgard Sagas is a very well-constructed murder mystery set inside a keep!]
Lastly, castles will always have loads of interesting people in them. You can always use nobles, visiting dignitaries, merchants or any number of people to make their experience that much more fun and thrilling. Castles have the ability for drama, subplots and intrigue.

From the Nerditor’s Desk

This week’s topic could not be more appropriate since the Nerdarchy crew is in the UK as guest Dungeon Masters for the D&D in a Castle event!

(So weird, right? Like we planned it this way…)

One of the many fantastic takeaways after guiding players through an epic three-day campaign is how much adventure there is to be had without leaving the castle grounds.

D&D ideas castles
Lumley Castle was the Nerdarchy castle for D&D in a Castle 2019. Castles make a fantastic setting for a D&D campaign, and playing inside of one is an experience not to be missed.

Lumley Castle, the setting for the event, is massive! There are so many corridors and chambers, rooms, halls, gardens, and courtyards in this incredible location. The castle was constructed in 1389, and wandering the grounds I was struck by the sense of history contained within. Everywhere I went, I discovered little details to inspire imagination. I wondered what had taken place within these walls.

Did castle defenders battle invaders in the guard room where we played D&D?

What sort of performances did medieval troupes put on in the banquet hall where modern-day bards entertained our own dinner feasts?

What sort of reign did each of the lords rule with? There are so many portraits and busts of former rulers decorating the place.

Libraries contained straight up secret doors and hidden alcoves behind bookcases, narrow spiral stairs wound up towers (one leading to my room at the top!), and the castle entrance commanded a view of the surrounding lands for miles.

In essence, a castle is as lively — and populated — as a small village all by itself. In fact, there’s way more staff and guests at Lumley Castle than there is in the small coastal village where my home game takes place!

Castles hold many secrets, and history, inside. They are a bastion against hostile forces (real or fantastic) outside their walls and homes to folks of all stripes. In our D&D adventures, it’s not uncommon for a castle to be a one-time quest location, cleared of monsters and treasure before moving forward with the story.

But I’ve fallen in love with the idea of a game set entirely within and around a castle. And since we’re talking D&D, we’ve got the tools to make the myths and mysteries come alive in the campaign.

That’s exactly what the Nerdarchy crew did with our players, too! We took our inspiration from the real history of these places and guided our groups through fantastic stories where these castle legends became all too real. Ghosts, hidden dungeons, and noble family curses are just a few of the elements our adventuring parties were thrust into, but what really had an impact was the denizens they came to know and genuinely sought to aid.

A castle is not just an edifice of stone. It is a place where families live. The ruling nobles, as well as staff and their families, form a microcosm of intertwined lives.

Here are a few tips I learned that helped inspire story elements the awesome players I was honored to welcome as new friends got to interact with and weave their heroic tale through:

  • What brought the ruling family to prominence? In our case, the Phasiandae family grew from chicken farmers to a powerful lineage who raised exotic birds, most notably peacocks. This was a huge part of the story that also inspired the characters’ actions like the peacock-shaped fireball sculpted by the wizard in the final encounter. So dramatic and cool!
  • Who are the castle staff? The people who keep things running know as much or more about the castle than the nobles! Franny the scullery maid, Edvard the sage and Gileas the gardener were all key NPCs with a major impact on the story we wove together. But having a list of everyone in the castle was a tremendous resource the players really loved since we were prepared for their investigations with colorful characters ready to go.
  • What secrets, legends, myths, and mysteries surround the castle? A covered up murder from long ago, a guarded family curse and a slow-moving coup by sinister forces are just a few of the plots going on in our adventure.
  • What factions exist at the castle? There are the nobles of course. But in my game, there were two outside factions waging their own clandestine battle under everyone’s noses. Even the evil extraplanar threat was opposed by a second force — also evil — making for strange allies of the heroes.
  • What fantastical elements does your castle contain? In my game, there was a dark mirror version of the castle inhabited by opposite versions of everyone. Cultists devoted to Abalor the Abhorrent were poisoning the cistern beneath the castle, and the family crypts went much deeper beneath the earth, concealing an ancient burial chamber where the first of the family line plotted in the darkness to seize power and dominate the world.
So the next time your D&D game features a castle, consider how truly massive and magnificent these strongholds can be. Those who live in and around a castle, along with centuries of history and legend, can hold countless adventures — plenty to keep heroes invested and busy for an entire campaign.
I’d also like to take an opportunity to recommend with great excitement that you check out DnD in a Castle. It is no doubt the chance of a lifetime to gather at the table with new friends from around the world and roll funny-shaped dice is the most D&D of locations!
One last thing, Nerdarchy is honored to be a part of a Humble Bundle going on right now. These offers are incredibly amazing! You get so many awesome digital products to enrich your D&D experiences for an unbelievably low cost — and you will lend your aid to wonderful charitable causes. We are so honored and, well, humbled to be included in this bundle with proceeds going to RAINN. Please check out this great deal and consider becoming a part of this fundraiser for such a worthwhile charity. And add a crazy amount of fantastic books to your collection!
Until next time stay nerdy!
— Nerdarchy Team


Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2019 Nerdarchy LLC

Leave a Reply