Lore Check:

Failed - Castledom isn't all that important, it's full of a bunch of self important nobility worshiping grape growers, fussy mustard grinders, and self-important cheesemongers who think that the only things that matter are bread, boring music and pederasty.

Basic - A major and powerful province of the Empire/Primary Kingdom/Major World Power, Castledom is old, heavily populated, and there are a shit ton of castles, each with it's own minor noble house.

Advanced - Castledom has a long and rich history of intrigue, where the greater lords, men and women who command multiple castles and large tracts of land, can rival kings of other kingdoms for wealth and power. There are almost no monsters, and the existence of something as base as a Dungeon (versus a detention dungeon) is completely unimaginable. It is a glowing gem of human civilization, for good and ill.

Master - There are seven Grand Dukes of Castledom, and they are the power players, an depending on era, some of these Grand Dukes have indeed had more power than the King or Emperor. They play games as to who will sit the great throne, gambling out successions, and betting on wars. Each of the seven commands a castle grand enough to be a wonder of the world, and their vassals maintain fortresses and keeps that would be the envy of any border lord. Their wars within the borders of Castledom are ceremonial affairs, more like tournaments than campaigns. Outside of Castledom, the forces of the Grand Dukes are frightening to behold.

The Seven Grand Castles and their Semi-Royal Lines

Castle Cielhelagon, the Black Monolith

Castle Cielhelagon is located on the borderline tropical southern coast of Castledom. The castle itself is a single major tower with a crenelated top. This might seem simple, but the crenelations do not protect archers, they protect scorpions, siege engine sized crossbows. These weapons are used to control the lay of the land and the harbor at Cielhagon, as well as being able to reach the near side of the sandbar islands that shield the harbor. The castle and city proper are surrounded the Black Wall, which itself is host to three tower keeps that are full castles in their own right. Inside the Black Wall and the tower keeps of Morhelagon, Cielmordand, and Arcerose, there are no fewer that six palaces that have sufficient defensive potential and siege resistant construction to be counted as lesser castles themselves, ranging from the unobtrusive Palace of the Guard, to the ostentacious Palace of Princesses.

House Monaala of Cielhelagon has ruled over the port for several hundred years, and is considered easily the youngest house, and their keep the least of the Grand Duchy's. The power of Ceilhelagon comes in the form of coastal drakes, sea serpents, and a powerful alliance with offshore merfolk fiefdoms. It is rumored that the Monaala have mer blood and most have great sorcery, allowing them to pick land or sea to live on.

Castle Brouante, the Forbidden Fortress

Brouante is considered the most forbidding and intimidating keeps in the Castledom. It was originally raised as a cathedral to the arrogance and ego of King Eduouard Brouante, the self styled Death Knight. As a hierophant of a Death Goddess, a warlord, and a man of the blade, King Brouante expected the same of his castle. At the peak of his power he started construction of the castle, over the mephetic abyss known as the Pendyrinx Maw. The walls were all made of black stone gouged from the Maw, and the outer walls are well known for their brutalist design, where the towers have large square battlements studded with spikes as tall as a man. The main keep was crafted in the likeness of a leering skull, complete with enormous teeth made of rusting iron, and the eye sockets are open chambers with eternal flame spells cast into fountains, so the eyes of Brouante will flame until the castle falls. This aesthetic, black stone, rusting iron, and flames, is repeated throughout the keep, and many of the oldest buildings in the city of Zammoth also retain this. The palaces of some officials, several guildhalls, and institutions like Financier's Guild are kept in this fashion.

Brouante and Zammoth are under the leadership of a tripartite council formed by the Eternal Brotherhood of Silver Bones (lawful and non-evil aligned necromancer order), the Order of the Skull and Sword, (Paladin order, zealously lawful good) and the Financier's Guild. These three orders work together, and maintain Brouante as a vault of inequity for evil artifacts, a prison for those who are evil, but not evil enough to warrant extreme measures like magical disintegration, and as keepers of secrets. Some worry about the concentration of negative forces within Brouante, and the fact that the entire keep was built over a literal death/evil dungeon.

The Towers

There are many names for the Towers, and it is rooted in the unusual manner in which the fortress grew. It was not constructed as a single keep, but rather, as seven different towers and obelisks. The reason was relatively simple, at the time, two trade routes crossed at a place where a navigable river could be forded. There was not a single claimant to the land who could secure supremacy, and while they were squabbling with each other, they still had to contend with a clan of river goblins, forest trolls, and other monstrous fauna. Each created their own tower, and manned them, both in defense, and in war with each other. Minor noble houses rose and fell, guilds popped up like flowers, and were cut down just as quickly. It was all very much a bloody mess. The War of the Towers recalls the seventy some odd year period where the bloodshed was the worst and at times it seemed that it would all fail.

House Xeynas currently rules The Towers, and will do so for seven years. After seven years, the scions of the Tower Lords come together for a Grand Cotillion, complete with intrigue, a martial tournament and games, as well as galas and soirees that are the talk of the Castledom. To not be invited is a sign that a lord or lady, despite their, title, is not important. This is a serious business, as almost a third of all noble houses in the Castledom hail from The Towers, and have connections back to the sprawling fortress, and the cities that have grown around it and near it.

Starnwood-on-Braeborough

Starnwood-on-Braeborough is an easy to miss castle, as it is both completely underground, and covered by a forest. The commons of the castle are open to the sky in places, allowing airflow and dappled sunlight to enter, as well as a number of waterfalls, all feeding into the castle cisterns and a great underground lake/moat to protects the central keep. The castle houses many, and each of the entrances to the surface has a town surrounding it, typically with a trader's outpost, wooden palisades, and a bustling local economy. All of these are feed from the central fortress, which is not just a military installation, but a means of secret travel under the Starnwood forest. One of the outstanding features of Starnwood-on-Braeborough is that the entire castle can move itself under the forest, rise and fall through the trees, and appear anywhere within it's boundaries, either in part or in whole. More than one attempt to lay siege to the castle has failed due to this power. Siege engines and siege lines are set, only to see the castle vanish into the ground, leaving only stone and leaves in it's wake.

The Lords of Starnwood-on-Braeborough keep to the old ways, venerate the old gods of hearth and forest, and the castle supports as huge demi-human population of half elves, forest dwellers, olde men, and relics from other ages. The Baron of Braeborough is a Green Man, a rare masculine version of the Loru Valsharris, and is as powerful as he is ancient.

The Barrow Fortress of Candor-Hurlwell

Candor-Hurlwell is a strange castle, even stranger than Starnwood-on-Braeborough. It looks like most any other castle from the outside, with gothic spires, crenelated walls, strong turrets, and baroque architecture. It sits on a hill in the middle of an open field, bracketed by hills to the North, a forest to the South, and the river Hurlwell cutting along it's side. All attempts to breach the castle have failed, though it's doors have never been closed. Invaders will pour in through the open gates, and are never seen again. Entire armies have been seemingly devoured by Candor-Hurlwell, and after each failed siege, the hill grows a little higher.

The secret of Candor-Hurlwell is that the castle is a twisted nexus of magical energy that turns in on itself for infinity. As invaders charge through its corridors, they are unaware of the fact that each time they advanced deeper inside, they are growing smaller and smaller, because everything is changing at the same pace. Eventually, they've become so small that returning is impossible and most the invading armies have foundered in endless chambers and corridors , reduced to minuscule size before starving to death. Escaping Candor-Hurlwell requires the power of an magical Artefact or high level magics.

The Lord of Candor-Hurlwell, the Arch-Mage Candor built the castle so long ago that it appears throughout histories and mythologies. No one is sure if this is true, or if Candor used high power time magic to project Candor-Hurlwell into the memories of the past. The Candori are feared and reviled as powerful sorcerers, and most are pleased that they have little to no interest leaving their keep on the hill.

Castle Armathaine, the Fortress at the End of the World

Castle Armathaine is superficially normal, albeit massive and seemingly overbuilt. The walls are of enormous thickness, the doors and gates are deeply and powerfully enchanted, and the castle has a cadre of tireless golems that act as the Noble Guard. Other than this, it is seemingly an ordinary place. The great-great-great-grandsire of Lord Darius Armathaine laid the first stones of the castle, and it is still under construction, well over a century later. The walls contain arsenals, and the dungeons beneath it are almost a negative castle, the structure burrowed out, and the walls reinforced and sealed with powerful magics. Vaults have been burrowed into the stone with the same urgency and purpose of bomb shelters.

The Legacy of Armathaine is that it will be the Last Castle, the final fortress at the end of days, when humanity has reaches it's demise, and behind those walls, armed from the stores and fed from the deep pantries, man will make its final stand, and it will be determined if the age of humanity is to come to an end, or be reborn from a single fastness. To this end, the Armathaines have done more than build. They have commissioned weapons, sought artefacts, cultivated magical growth and stocked the greatest library in the Castledom, and are promoters of peace, lawful alignments, and cooperation among all humans, and seeking alliances with the non-human races.

Castle Wolfmore, the Gray Keep

The most distant of the Castledom keeps, Castle Wolfmore is situated in the mountainous border of the region. It is likely the oldest castle, as there is contention over Candor-Hurlwell, and the least interested in the affairs of the others. The castle is also the smallest, and the least sophisticated, but the most tested. Wolfmore has been besieged dozens of times, and each ends the same, with the wolf lords riding forth and scything down their foes to loot their corpses.

By most measures, Wolfmore and it's noble family of the same name, are the least of the Castledom houses. Their lands are the smallest, their coffers the smallest, and their forces are easily the least. This is offset by the fact that Wolfmore has never known defeat, be it war or tournament. The Wolfmores maintain cordial, if distant relationships with most of the major houses, a few of the small houses, and are known for being allies without equal, and foes without remorse.

USAGE

There are several ways to approach and use the Castledom.

Italian City States: Drama and Intrigue

Much like the Italian city states, or even the different nations and provinces that would eventually become Germany, the Castledom is both culturally cohesive, and politically splintered and balkanized. There is a phrase, War is honest, because assassinations and intrigue seldom go on during open hostilities. The castles oppose each other, alliances are formed and broken, and armies take the field. These are chivalrous and courtly armies, numbering in the few hundred to few thousand, and the battles fought are more symbolic than strategic. There are still deaths, but cities aren't burned, castles aren't laid siege, and its almost like a massive melee tournament with fewer rules. PCs can be involved in courtly intrigue and the games of castles. They can be mercenaries for hire, or tried and true men of different guilds all brought together for a common purpose.

Italian City States: Patrons and Piety

Again mimicking the city states, the Castledom is massively wealthy, and the cities are well staffed with landed gentry, lesser nobility, autocrats, and the men and women of the guilds. The Guilds themselves are numerous and strong, granting even more possibilities. All the people need to show off their wealth and that's supporting and financing different ventures. Artists, musicians, composers, bards, and even down to footing the bills for Adventurer-Upon-Return teams. They seek exotic prizes, fame, and accolades of their peers and superiors. Heroes for hire could find themselves escorting nobility on exotic hunts, carrying out sorties against enemies of the crown for their patron's favor in court, or seeking glory and treasures of places long since lost.

An Unexpected Monster

One of the castles has unimaginably fallen. A dragon? An arch-demon fiend? A long time advisor revealed to be a liche who's been behind the scenes for generations? Sure, any of those. The Heroes are brought in on the side of the castles near the fallen keep and they are charged with supporting the effort to depose the foe, and reclaim the castle. In a full on military campaign rife with monsters and magic, the PCs are the commandos and heroes who have to make the way clear for the armies of mundane soldiers or the siege engines to carry out their grim work.

The Secret of the Castledom

It's a pretty large secret, and one that if revealed, would start staggering amounts of violence. All of the seven grand castles are DungeonVerse dungeons. The structures themselves are able to grow and change shape over time, and each of the noble families heraldry literally hearkens back to the dungeon core legacy. The creatures on the livery are the monsters that are generated by the cores. The dungeons are living, they are inhabited, and as such, they do not generate traps or monsters like normal. They create more defenses and more things that the residents require to survive and thrive. These are human dungeons, and the real question is what people came from the dungeon cores, all those many of dozens or hundreds of generations ago, and who was a migrant.

Powers of the Castledom Cores:

A Hero Rises - in a time of duress, it is incredibly common for people to rise from the ranks of the commoners or the guard and become heroes above and beyond. This is literally the core of the dungeon reaching out and turning people who live in the domain of the caste from mundane civilians into avatars of the dungeon. Thus, even in the darkest hours, the castles are never undefended, never without a champion to hold the gate.

The Great Stable - each of the castles has some menagerie of animals associated with it, be it the serpents of Ceilhelagon or the dire wolves of Wolfmore. These represent a technically bottomless supply of beasts. Should all the wolves be slain, or all the drakes shot down, and all the griffons reduced to arrow fletching, there will always be a new clutch of eggs found, or an overlooked warren will produce some of the old blood to replenish the host. As a side effect of human habitation, all of the dungeon cores have the ability to produce warhorses, warhounds, hunting hawks and at least one major meat animal.

The Great Vaults - each of the castles have numerous vaults, so many that keeping track is simply impossible. When the time is required, a new vault can be found, or a previously inaccessible vault can be opened, providing the things a dungeon can give to it's defenders, magic items, weapons, wealth, and so forth.

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