Friday, June 12, 2015

Castles and Keeps and Fortresses and Bastions, Oh My!

That's no moon—it's a fortress!
A competent commander knows that all-out battle is a two-edged sword—the thrill of victory and the
brutal sting of defeat are right there for the taking.  A good, or even just a mediocre general won’t engage unless there’s a compelling reason.  That is, no one fights a battle “just because”.  It’s nice for writers to have armies show up on a field and then throw down in a spectacular blood-fest of winner-take-all, but there still needs to be a reason.

This goes double or triple at least for storming a castle.

Castles are designed to keep people out with the heaviest possible cost.  Even a poorly designed castle is still an obstacle that will deter an enemy and protect the defenders.  A hill gives you an advantage.  A dirt ditch and wall more advantage.  A wooden palisade atop your dirt wall atop the hill, even more advantage.  You continue this way, until you’ve got an inhabitable structure designed against current strategy to defend against an armed and determined force.

There has to be a reason to want to take a castle, any castle.  Otherwise you leave them alone and go on your merry.  There’s more to be had controlling the country in general, than the very small pieces of real estate a castle sits on. 

Quick!  Open the gates!
So unless there is a political advantage, a strategic advantage or just pure financial pillaging to be done, your commander should be loathe to take on a castle.  Even if it stands as some kind of weird rebellious symbol against your queen’s rule, the odds are in your favor of leaving the thing alone, and working out another strategy than direct force.  A siege, for example, is a time-tested path toward submission of a fortified structure.  Of course, you need the time and money to pull off a siege successfully, but that’s a rant for another day.

Also, very few castles, keeps and fortresses were historically taken by sneak attack.  Remember that the enemy is usually as smart as the good guys.  The odd guard nodding off at his post might certainly occur, but if there’s a place so key to maintaining the security of a castle, do you really think they’d leave one semi-reliable guy to guard it?

Above all, have fun stormin’ the castle!

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