Looking down at the map, General Yetheric observed the region - flat land with few rivers, but with the note ‘tar pits’. Nearby, a small rose marked a structure ‘Palace of the Ebony Fields’.
The map was quite old, perhaps drafted a hundred years past, though it was updated with new fortifications built by their enemies. The plains here were a natural access between their kingdoms, and were referred to by his own people as the Northestern Marches.
He looked again at the castle marker on the map. It was well sited to control the region, but seemed well away from any natural defences. His siege train could easily be brought up to it, and his calvary squadrons control those wide, featureless plains. He knew the enemy would also invest heavily in calvary, but his horsemen were the finest in the world!
After he finished dictating his orders to the nearby scribe, he had them dispatched. Soon the ‘ebony fields’ would be known as fields of blood! His foemen would fall to his lancers and their Palace would be pounded into rubble.
This palace appears almost unnaturally white - its light marble appearing nearly snow white when compared to the pitch black of the tarry moat that surrounds it. It is a mass of minarets, and onion domes, with multicolored banners flying from every top - a style similar to middle-eastern or perhaps old-russian architecture.
It is a compact, well-built castle, built from the plentiful white marble from the nearby Caserne Quarry. It is a concentric castle built upon a fairly steep mound - largely a naturally occurring outcropping of bedrock.
It has a tall center keep and two concentric rings of walls. The distance between the walls range from 30-50’ and the walls are a good 40’ tall discounting the battlements. Numerous tall and thin towers stud the outer walls and the main keep. With the high mound and great height of the main keep, some of the towers stand as high as 200’ from the ground level outside the castles walls.
The fortress was intended to be at the center of a large farming settlement, and was until an earthquake causes a shift in the local geology, and nearby torpids overflowed into the area. Originally, a huge stable, nearly a fortress in itself was planned to house several squadrons of calvary, but the initial work was lost to the rising tar pits.
The lands surrounding the castle are dotted by deadly tar pits, most covered with several inches of water making them an inviting trap for wildlife, and a deadly obstacle to incautious armies.
What appear to be open plains dotted with small ponds is effectively a maze filled with hazards and choke points. Not all of the tar pits are obvious - some are covered with thin layers of moss and bog plants. A single human might be able to cross without danger, but the iron-shod hoof, or the feet of many men would break apart the moss and penetrate to the sticky, grasping tar beneath.
All in all, the lands are a terrible place to move an army through and provide defence on par with the best man-made fortifications.
Since the castle cannot hold great numbers of men with no supporting structures nearby, the Imperial Wizards Guild was tasked with the castle’s defence and control over the local region.
These mages defend the region primarily with illusions, summoned and created creatures (chiefly Asphalt Golems, who are fully mobile in this environment), and various wards, including force constructs. An example of these three factors combined can be found with Black Despair
Black Despair was the name of one of the largest tar ponds - more appropriately a lake - astride the best approach to the Palace. In advance of the enemy’s approach, the magicians of the palace caused a fine stone bridge 20’ wide to span the pond, appearing a marvel of engineering. However, only the first few score feet were real, and the remaining spans a construct of force masked by illusion. To contribute to the illusion, a squadron of real soldiers were tasked with holding the ‘bridge’, to put up a good fight and if possible, fall back in disarray. They might fall into the tar during the retreat, but numerous Asphalt Golems in wait would bear them to safety. The enemies that chased the ‘routed’ troops would not receive quite so warm treatment once the force construct was dispelled.
The castle itself is defended by a small cadre of skilled warriors heavily supplemented by the magics of the Palaces’ Magii. In addition to defences granted by spell, the soldiers "The Company of the White Tower", carry many weapons and armor cunningly made by the mages.
The Palace does have a dungeon, but it was flooded with tar and is completely avoided by the castle’s occupants. It is patrolled by a couple of Asphalt Golems so it is not completely undefended. There one may also find other Tar-related creations of the mages…
Plot Ideas and Campaign Use
As a well defended castle populated by mages, it is a natural exotic location PC’s might have to go to obtain help, mystical knowledge, purchase items of power, or obtain instruction. It could easily be a location for the PCs to raid if they are aligned against its holders, which would be a dangerous task. Counting on terrain and magical defences, it might be a better match for PCs then a normal castle with its armies of defenders.
"Ah, the Liberum Arcane of Duke Meelcheendaar! That work holds the answers you seek, but it is in the Libraries of the Palace of the Ebony Fields. Tis a treacherous place to go, with mages just as treacherous!"