Castle Coverage – Fort George (No, not that one, the other one…)

There are several places called Fort George across the world, and two in the UK. I’m not writing about the one in Guernsey today, but rather the one in the highlands of Scotland. It’s not technically a castle because it is a military installation, and was never intended as a high-status residence, but it’s interesting enough that I thought I would bend the rules a little.

Photograph by Stephen Branley

Photograph by Stephen Branley

A New Kind of Fortress

When gunpowder weapons were first developed they had many benefits, but they lacked the power of a trebuchet. Sieges therefore remained as they pretty much always had done, only with more smoke and loud bangs – cannons were primarily an anti-infantry weapon, and thus useful in defence but not really in bringing down a castle wall. Castle designs changed somewhat to accommodate gunpowder, and where one once would have seen arrow slits castles were being built with gun loops and cannon ports.

Over time, though, cannons got more powerful, and were able to make big holes in stone walls. The mobility and relative accuracy of cannons made the old castle designs far less useful and so designs changed. Clearly the walls needed to be thicker and better able to absorb impacts, so earthen ramparts were used. The previously popular round towers were problematic for related reasons – a large bomb called a petard could be comparatively safely placed at the base because there was an area which could not be easily seen from anywhere inside (to be hoist on one’s own petard was to be blown up by one’s own bomb – they were also, more dangerously, used to blow open gate houses and portcullises). Because of this bastions were built which were angled and protruded beyond the walls in such a way that they allowed a clear field of fire across the entire area.

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Castle Coverage – Tintagel Castle

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Tintagel is something of an anomaly on many counts. It was never a militarily important location, and rarely was it a royal residence. It is seen as key part of Arthurian myth, but there is little suggestion King Arthur ever set foot there. It has been inhabited since Roman times, but the only fortifications which remain are harking back to something that never happened.

 

The Myth(s)

The great King Arthur was a man, and thus needed to be born and grow up. Before even  that he needed to be conceived, and it is at Tintagel that that night occurred, at least according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father-to-be and King of All Britons fell in love with Ygrayne when he saw her at his coronation. But her husband Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall was not happy about that and left, taking her with him.  Uther used that as an excuse to go to war with Gorlois. There is no suggestion of Ygrayne’s position on the matter – the least worst option here is that she was receptive to Uther’s advances, which is the position Mary Stewart takes.  

Gorlois led his campaign from a castle called Dimilioc, but he sent his wife to Tintagel as its location made it impossible to breach – Uther is told that three armed warriors could defend the castle against the entirety of Britain – why Gorlois didn’t choose to base himself out of Tintagel as well I don’t know! Regardless, Uther believed this claim, and so called for Merlin’s aid. He asked Merlin to magically disguise him as Gorlois so he could slip past the defences. Merlin worked his magic and created a potion to do the job.

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Castle Coverage – Harlech Castle

By Baynes, James, 1766-1837 Woolnoth, William, fl. 1785-1836 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Baynes, James, 1766-1837 Woolnoth, William, fl. 1785-1836 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Harlech. Now there’s a name to conjure with.  One of the most famous castles in Wales if not the entire United Kingdom. In contrast to Bodiam last week, Harlech was the site of conflict from before it was built up until its partial destruction in the English Civil War. There is even a song about one of the sieges of the place! Despite going to university just up the road in Bangor i am sad to say I never managed to visit Harlech.

The Castle and its Construction

It’s a small castle, and comparatively cheap by the standards of the day – it cost around eight thousand pounds, while Conwy cost fifteen thousand, and Caernarfon was over twenty thousand – all three were built around the same time and all in North Wales. All three of these, and five others others, were built on the orders of Edward I towards the end of the Thirteenth Century to try to prevent another Welsh uprising – a conflict that had been bubbling for at least two hundred years by this point.

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Castle Coverage – Bodiam Castle

Engraving from a book by Nathaniel Buck & Samuel Buck

Engraving from a book by Nathaniel Buck & Samuel Buck

 

I’m planning to write a series of pieces about castles in the British Isles this month – there’s a lot of history here, and much of it would make good inspiration for games and stories. Castles are big, impressive structures built to withstand attack, pacify local dissidents, and protect those loyal to the lord. But they are more than just military structures – they are the homes of nobility, and they are big, imposing buildings which show the righteous power of those in charge.

I thought I would start with Bodiam Castle for two reasons: First it is a great example of what we think a castle looks like, and second I’ve been there several times as it is not far from where i grew up (Maybe that’s why I think it is the most castley castle that ever castled!).

 

The Castle and its History

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The Colours of Elements

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The base Elements of reality, or of mystical power, vary greatly between settings. In the real world their number is undefined (if we look at chemical elements they become increasingly shortlived as we go down the periodic table, with many being incapable of chemical interactions due to their tiny half-lives, while if we look at fundamental particles the list is incomplete and uncertain), but most settings that make use of them limit them rather more strictly – having them be well-understood phenomenon with a very definite list.

The Classical Elements

All can agree that Fire, Earth, Air and Water are classical elements, but there is commonly a fifth – Spirit, Void or Aether – representing things that are truly immaterial and cannot be felt in any way.

Looking at them in order of the complexity of assigning a colour to them:

Fire is always red.

Although the knowledge of white-hot flames is old, red fires were, and still are, by far the most common to encounter, with white flames requiring significant active effort to maintain in a forge or furnace.

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The Colours of Elves

Elves are a popular element of modern fantasy.

Elves are a popular element of modern fantasy.

Original Dungeons and Dragons made it easy to tell which elves are the Evil ones – they’re the Drow, the ones with the coal black skin. Whilst this might have been more socially acceptable in the 1970’s when the first edition was published, most modern gamers tend to shy away from that specific form – even those who are otherwise happy to have “evil races” be easily distinguished by their form.

It might seem useful to backtrack the appearance of elves from DnD back to Middle-Earth, and so to the mythic originals from which Tolkien drew his inspiration. Unfortunately it’s not. The Norse sagas have two kind of ‘elf’ – the lios-alfar, which are your basic elves, and the svart-alfar, which are dwarves. Arguably the Vana might be the inspiration for the High Elves, but the distinction between Quenya and Sindarian is largely linguistic rather than genetic, and the Vana are more close kin to the Aesir (both are Norse gods) than the Alfar (who are just elves), so I’m guessing not so much.

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Colour Coded Dragons

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Dragons! Huge beasts with bright red scales! Or is that green? What, maybe they’re golden? Hold on, they’re four-legged serpent-like creatures with feathers…
Dragon is an evocative word, and there is no doubt dragons come in a variety of shapes and colours in myth. From the battling red and white Dragons which fell castles in Welsh myth, to the symbol of the emperor in Chinese history – the one things they all have in common is power and strength.

In most fiction there is only one type of dragon. Most commonly in the west it is a huge fire-breathing lizard with wings, often intelligent but cruel, always symbolic of power. Sometimes the greatest ruler will command a dragon or three, other times the heroes will consult a dragon to discover ancient wisdom and forbidden lore, and sometimes they will  battle one to prove their prowess or outwit one to prove their intelligence.

But what about colour? In most fiction it makes no difference – there is only one type of dragon because no more than that is needed. In a few instances, however, dragons come in more than one colour, and you can tell a lot about the dragon by what colour its scales are.

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Fairy Colours

Colour

This month’s theme is colour and what it can mean in story and games.

Art Produced by Nolan Nasser for Letiman Games upcoming Kickstarter

Fairies’ Colours

Colour is a big part of our world, we use it in many contexts and each colour can have multiple important meanings, so it only makes sense that colour is a big part of the fae world too. Different colours can show what powers the fae may have or what they are linked to within the world. This time I’m going to talk about the small ones with wings, fairies themselves (especially the small pixies), since they can come in all the colours of the rainbow though the most common colours for these little guys are green, blue, white, purple and orange.

This piece talks about how they can be seen within popular culture: stories, books, and games.

They show their colour in a few different ways: skin, wings, clothing, their fairy dust, or their glow. A lot of fairies have peach coloured skin and wear clothing or have wings of one particular colour, this can be any colour, such as pink or yellow or reddish-brown/orange but that colour usually links them to something like a flower or season.

Plant fairies are one example of these nature-linked fae, each fairy is linked a type of plant, most often flowers but those can include the flowers found on trees. They not very powerful and their job is to help their plant grow and spread. The flower fairies that were depicted by Cicely Mary Barker in the 1920s are a form of this type of fairies, the art work is less than a century old but the concept that there are little fairies for plants helping them grow and that live within them is eons old.

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