When I saw the picture of the Torre Guinigi I felt drawn to it, and thought it would be a fantastic location drawn from the Shadow Hearts universe. SH is a quirky game that uses basic RPG magic and combat mechanics but runs around in a post Victorian world of steam ships, Vatican intrigue, the Russian royal family and more, and features such locations as Le Havre, and the Japanese battleship Mikasa. Torre Guinigi seemed to fit perfectly into this setting and feel. To use it in a different setting, the names need only be changed to fit what you want to use it for.
Palazzo e Torre Guinigi was once the wealthy palace of the Guinigi family, nestled deep in the heart of Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. It is no sprawling rustic country estate, it is a large house in the middle of the city, with its tower rising as a status symbol of wealth and influence. Any family or institution that wants to present itself as a serious power must have a tower, and the taller the better. The house is hemmed in on all sides by narrow streets and other houses built along the same Tuscan lines, with red tile roofs and stonework. This is the wealthy part of the city, no wattle and daub, no thatch, no stick-built houses.
Stage One: Entrance and Guardian
Entering the Palazzo e Torre Guinigi is no simple task. The palazzo itself is two stories, and while it has windows, they are narrow and more akin to arrow slits than any sort of forcible entrance. Likewise, the stone walls are thick, so smashing through is unlikely. There are three main ways to approach entering the building, the main courtyard, the servant's gate, or the roof.
Approaching the courtyard, there is space enough for a number of people to present themselves, along with enough room for a carriage to enter, take on or release passengers, and then turn. This is a one-way access, as the roads on the north and west sides of the palazzo are large enough for foot traffic, and a man ahorse would find it crowded. The road on the south side of the palazzo is the main thoroughfare and can handle carriage and wagon traffic, though most such conveyances ply their trade early in the morning long before the sun comes up. The east side of the home faces a secondary road that feeds onto the southern road and there are no doors or person-level windows on that side of the building. Security inside the courtyard is good, with several locking wrought iron gates, as well as valets and house guardsmen on staff to ensure footpads, scullery-sneaks, and other such criminals don't get in to steal the family valuables. The gates are not 'military grade' and would not withstand a siege, though there would be no real way to get siege engines into the city proper to attack it. The courtyard is constantly manned, as it is the main entrance, and as mentioned above, stocking sundry goods and food deliveries for the kitchen are done very early in the morning, and the house business often runs late into the night.
Entering through the courtyard could be as simple as having a legitimate appointment and being expected. It's a large house, not a fortress or monastery, and regularly receives guests, visitors, and petitioners. Otherwise entering through the courtyard requires a ninja-like level of stealth to avoid notice. At night it tends to be well lit because child thieves can be small and easy to overlook. During the day it can be busy, so misdirection and a good disguise can work, such as imitating the craft of a scullery-sneak and dressing as a member of the household staff, or even one of the guardsmen themselves, though this would place them under the scrutiny of the other men on the guard. They know each other, so an act would have to be convincing, it is a large house, not a castle or military fortress.
The Servant's gate is a small one-person door on the north side of the house and it opens into the Giardino e Guinigi, the house garden. This is more of a private park than a garden. There are more flowers and trees here than any sort of produce. Most often the door is used by members of the family and their guests taking in the house garden, a walled-in green space, a luxury in the middle of such a built-up city. The door is thick, stoutly made, and locks from the inside, so there is no lock to pick. The best way to breach this door is to bribe someone on the staff to leave it unlocked.
The most dramatic entrance would be to travel across the roofline of the city and make the jump across the eastern road onto the roof of the palazzo. The Assassin's Creed/Ninja path is dangerous. Footing can be treacherous, tiles can break and slide, and it is a sheer twenty-foot drop to a cobblestone road below. There are a number of palazzos in this part of the city, with their own towers. It is fairly common for there to be a guard or two set to watch the roofline. Crossing the top of the city is a well-known technique. There is no legitimate reason for a person to skulk on top of buildings at night, so it is not uncommon for a tower guardsman to put a crossbow bolt through a night cat and let fate and the foot patrol deal with it.
Sidenote on the Fine Art of Fletching - there is no reason that the various houses and guard outfits wouldn't have a sort of pattern to their crossbow bolts or arrows. A man shows up stuck through with a bolt, and the barber/surgeon/healer might know that three goose feathers on a red shaft, that's house Tremaine's armsmen. Likewise someone turns up with a black quarrel with raven feathers, a white stripe down the center, was perforated by a night watch sitting in a tower. This could act as a primitive non-magical version of getting a ballistics report by seeing the arrow or bolt a man was shot with.
Stage Two - Puzzle or RP Challenge
The palazzo itself, as mentioned, is a two-story building. The original construction was a horseshoe-shaped building, with the open end facing west. The central area was the original courtyard and held space for a small stable, blacksmithy, and builders shop. As the city grew, and space became more of a commodity, the central courtyard was demolished and filled in. The old kitchens were torn down and rebuilt inside the old courtyard. The decadence of the bathhouse was also torn down and was turned into a storeroom. The old courtyard filled in and became the menial core of the palazzo. Security here is low, but it is constantly abuzz with activity. The house employs between a dozen and twenty sculleries, cooks, servants, and more to keep it clean and running. There are also a half dozen official servants, from the seneschal (or head butler) to the mistress of the kitchen, and such.
The largest room in the house, the hall, is large enough to hold formal events. It is accessed from the main foyer, just inside the courtyard, and has close access to the Servant's Gate. When there is a wedding, auspicious birthday, or similar, there are frequently parties in the garden and the hall. This is often a busy time, and when some people could, if confident and properly dressed, could nip in under the guard's noses. It isn't uncommon for the youngbloods of other houses to do just this as a bit of sport. Courtesans and prostitutes often attempt the same, to get a bit of gold rich sport.
There are secondary gates that can be locked, closing two of the three stairways that reach the second floor. The second floor is where the family itself lives, their privvy, library, common room, bedrooms, and offices. There is a grand stairway leading down from the second floor to the first. It attaches to the foyer, so that when the daughters are presented in their formal dress, or the sons appear with their parade finery, they descend from high down to the common level. This staircase once had locking gates, but they were made of fine bronze, and in a time of financial hardship, they were torn down, melted, and sold.
Key notes - this is not the place for bared blades and slinging spells. Space is limited, there are often a good number of people, and it is fully intended for intrigue, storytelling, masquerade balls, weddings of great importance, and in very rare cases, the site of executions.
With the importance of decorum and noble status, the family takes care of its own. It is not uncommon for offending nobles to be placed under house arrest. To this end, the house has a small dungeon, enough to hold a few people. Most of the time, when a thief is caught, or a prostitute gets out of hand, they are locked up for a few days, and the magistrates are eventually made aware of it. They will then either have the offender released, or take custody of them themselves. In the case of house arrest, a crime involved noble will be expected to be in the dungeon. Thus, the noble in question is not subjected to public incarceration, nor is the crown or guard required anything for their upkeep. The concession is that the guard can send someone to inspect the dungeon, and if the family member under arrest is not in the dungeon, further fines and penalties can be inflicted. This varies with intensity of offense, some have been allowed house arrest so long as they do not leave the house itself, or the house grounds. The charming rake who killed another man in a duel over a woman, he is so charming, he can be seen lounging in the house garden, but never beyond its gates. The bitter uncle who's sword was found black with the blood of children and women (following orders while leading a mercenary company) might not see sunlight for two years, sitting in the dark of the dungeon, the magistrate coming to visit several times a week, just to make sure he isn't too comfortable.
Stage Three - Trick or Setback
The most salient point of Torre Guinigi is obviously the tower itself, it's literally in the name, Torre being tower in Italian. There are plenty of other towers, Torre Guinigi is neither the largest, nor the tallest. It is, however, one of the most curious. There are no other towers in the city with trees growing on them. Four great holly trees spread their branches are evergreen leaves across the flat top of the tower, itself rising another four stories from the top of the palazzo.
What is in the tower, why are there trees on top?
Reaching the tower requires getting into the palazzo. Then, getting to the second floor. After reaching the private level, the would-be tower detective must find the doorway that leads to the stairs going up. There isn't a single staircase running all the way up. There are two floors between the palazzo and the top. The first has no windows and a second staircase running deep down into the bowels of the house. The latter is the way down to the house vaults and coffers. It is easily fortified, and in times of need, easily concealed. The lower tower floor is the 'chamber of the house' where the family comes together to make serious decisions or receives serious petitioners, such as members of other noble families, heroes of great renown, and royalty.
The second tower floor has a good view of the city, a number of concealed arrow slits, and a large table. This is the war room of the family. When the city has gone to war, plans were made here. Mercenary Lords, Captain Generals, Lords Marshall, and others have stood around the great table and made their daring plans or desperate defenses. The walls are hung with banners, trophies taken in war, along with a few taxidermy pieces claiming the prowess of the family's warriors.
Stage Four - Climax, Big Battle, or Conflict
The question is simple, what's on the roof of the Torre Guinigi?
The real Torre Guinigi has a number of holm oak trees (holly trees to us Americans) and was used as a rooftop dining area. The fantasy Torre Guinigi would likewise be exactly the same, a rooftop dining area where the wealthy and powerful members of the family can eat, under the shade of trees, looking down and across the city, the view must be magnificent, and to have that view while casually having brunch or a martini dinner must be fabulous beyond imagining.
But this is intended for use in a fantasy setting, what's on the tower rooftop, beyond trees?
Perhaps a magical stone bust?
Maybe a supernatural tree that has been the source of much wealth?
Perhaps the family maintains a super-secret magical retreat?
A cunningly concealed fully functional secret fortress?
Some sort of magical creature living in the small space, a faerie, a unicorn, a dryad?
Whatever is needed or desired could be lurking in the trees atop the Torre Guinigi.
Stage Five - Reward, Revelation, or Plot Twist
As per the above, the garden atop the tower could provide the desired prize, simple enough after RPing all the way through a medieval Italian palazzo. It could just as easily be something terrible kept in the garden. A demon on a gold leash, a bound djinn who only grants curses, the staked body of an evil immortal only restrained by the blood of the family.
30 Things on top of Torre Guinigi could be its own submission.
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? Responses (1)
Awesome. I was enthralled by the picture when I saw it too. Especially since I have probably visited Lucca a dozen times but never noticed it before. Which is also why it had me doubly entranced. I was also inspired by the towers of Italy, specifically the city of San Gimignano which drove my take of the Sidjir Towers (which I added to suggested).