Tuesday, 12 July 2016

All Manor of Things

Castles, which infest the surface of most vaguely medieval, vaguely rural D&D settings (i.e. most of them), are a bit shit. Or, no, castles are fucking great, because castles are fucking bizarre: but the neatly quadratic barracks full of soldiers and implausibly high-level fighters passing for feudal lords – which is what most lazily conceived castles are like - can fuck off. If you want to do D&D (or similar) that has a noble house every few miles, whether randomly occuring as session-long entertainments in a hexcrawl or set up as important points of civilization and NPC fun, you shouldn't treat each of them like a military camp (and nor should you treat them like a dungeon).

The trouble is (said the early Renaissance brand consultant, grinning as he flipped the charts of his vellum Powerpoint) the whole castle brand is creating misconceptions, yeah? So let's rebrand, let's really get back to basics – because back to basics also usually means back to the underlying weirdness that some fucker sanitised ages ago in the name of curtailing some session planning. No more castles, but lots and lots of fortified manor houses – which are the same thing only the term is more closely associated with hodgepodge constructions torn between leisure and defence and trade and scholarship, with a barbican and a herb garden and a great hall and a standing stone built into the wall somewhere that thrums in the dreams of the kitchen boy and begs him for his lordship's sweet blood.

Here all around this post are pictures and floorplans of the aggregate, moated juiciness of the (English and Welsh, mostly) fortified manor house, to give you some idea of how messy and ad-hoc they are. This is the best one. If we're being properly feudal, each of these is the seat of some kind of local lord and controls the land around for a few square miles. Mostly they have villages clustered around them or quite nearby. But exactly where they are and what they're for depends – are they densely packed along a military frontier, where the king has posted newly-minted earls to act as speedbumps when the ogres come drooling out of the east, indricotherium siege beasts gorging on the neat crop-rotation-diagram fields? Do they dot the pleasant rolling hills near the great city, each one of them hosting balls and jousts and incest and other good things? Do you want to flesh out the village manor for your Beyondthe Wall campaign, having bought The Nobility? (Buy it! It is good.) Did a well-placed manor house get trapped behind a stormcloud 700 years ago and ellided into an oddly grassy corner of the plane of djinni? Happens all the time. Is your campaign not feudal at all but still has a use for weird country houses scattered around the landscape? Every campaign does. This generator draws on 'real' history not big on actual magic or overt fantasy elements, but there are many places such things can be jammed in. Halflings fucking love to build rambling mansions on century-long timescasles. Hippogriffs need stables too.

The first thing is to generate how old the house and how grand it is. The subsequent tables

are modified by the age and/or wealth of the manor: each of these is a d4 if you’re generating fully at random, or else pick if you need to work with an especially luxurious/modern/whatever manor because you're scared of randomness. Fool. The combination of age and wealth, and the way they influence every other table, also ends up determining the third chief characteristic of a manor house, its size (ie this isn’t determined directly, but the richer the bigger, duh,and to some extent the same is true for age, but not so neatly). So, roll -


Age (d4)

1 New - The manor was built within living memory or just outside of it - certainly within the last 100 years. The plan probably hasn’t been much modified since and any previous dwellings were not incorporated into the building, if there even have been any here: it’s likely quite fashionable as a result. Perhaps the manor is a new grant, or a younger child of a noble family trying to set up on their own.

2 Fairly Old - The house is a few hundred years old, or at least large parts of it are. A clear plan to the building is probably still discernible, and any modifications have been fairly discreet (and discrete). The inhabitants are probably well-established but not especially powerful or notable.

3 Old - The house is several hundred years old, parts of it maybe even older. It will mostly feel like a hodgepodge of different wings and rooms: there is probably still a clear main body to the house but it may now be decrepit, with those able to do so living in newer quarters. Whatever family lives here probably has an ancient line, assuming they can trace it to the original occupiers.

4 Ancient - The house, or a house on this site, has existed for many centuries: at least a millennium, in some form or another. The whole place is a mess, feeling more like a compound than a single house, and the foundations go well beyond anyone’s reliable knowledge. Parts of the building may be entirely neglected. There have almost certainly been multiple tenants, but the current ones may nevertheless be very senior.

Wealth (d4)

1 Impoverished - This is a poor seat, however noble. There may have been occasional periods of mild prosperity but by and large this manor has always struggled: it will probably be cramped and dated, with upgrades lacking and fashionable architectural styles and innovations nowhere to be seen. Most likely it is on poor agricultural land and away from decent trade routes, but it may simply belong to an unlucky or unfavoured family.

2 Modest - This manor has never been luxurious or showy: its inhabitants live well enough but this is a functional place with little thought going into decoration, though there may be one or two more impressive parts. Possibly it belongs to a cadet line or is in some out-of-the-way place.

3 Comfortable - This is a well-off manor, able to afford renovations and expansions where necessary but not indulging in splendour for its own sake. Most manorial families consider this the right standard of living, and the place will impress most visitors: but it is still likely to feel functional in some places and dated in others.

4 Rich - This is the peak of feudal living: this house will be luxurious and elaborate, and though parts of it may be far from new they will still be impressive. A house of this kind will likely belong to a distinguished lineage or be sited in especially valuable and extensive lands - or, very likely, both. Nevertheless, it is a manor, not a palace.


The actual site of a manor house is defined to a great extent by its defences: these are not full on boring curtain-walled castles but most are fortified in some way because everything in the past wants to kill you. Each house has d4 stone towers: where there are no true (stone) walls these towers are simply appendages of the main house. If there are proper walls, one of the towers is probably a gatehouse. A ‘tower’ in this sense can mean a lot of things, depending on the house: but they are always of at least 2 storeys and usually a story or two higher than any other part of the house, and they are likely round (or at least the part of them facing out is). Whether they are roofed, elaborately crenellated. depends on the house: and very likely each tower is different, even within a single house. Towers are not purely military structures: if attached to the main house they may contain domestic rooms lower down, and if they’re part of a curtain wall there are probably stables and storehouses in their bases.


A manor house also has defenses as follows: roll d12 and then add the value of the house’s wealth roll for a result from 2 to 16. These perimeters usually in some way run through the house or right alongside it, rather than having the house be at the centre of an enclosed space - that is, if there are stone walls, the walls of the manor probably form part of them on one side.
(d12+x)
2 - Nothing at all - unwise.
3 - Ditch - not filled with water. Probably a small raised bank on the inside, but not a true wall.
4 - Moat - is filled with water. Probably about waist deep, maybe deeper. In peacetime people swim here, wash clothes etc. Probably fed by, or incorporating, a diverted stream.
5 - Earthworks - largish bank of earth with steep outsides.
6 - Wooden stockade - at least 6ft high. Towers will be stone but the rest is just sharpened logs.
7 - Stone wall - might have battlements, and a walkway, if it’s high enough.
8 - Earthwork and ditch.
9 - Earthwork and moat.
10 - Stockade and ditch.
11 - Stockade and moat.
12 - Stone wall and ditch.
13 - Stone wall and moat.
14 - Stone wall and moat with fully fortified barbican (this doesn’t count as a tower).
15 - Stone wall with stockade outerworks in places, i.e. outer layer at approach to gate, corners, obvious weak points etc.
16 - Double stone wall, the inner one higher than the outer, with a moat between them. Fancy.


Within those walls, a manor house really only needs one thing: a large central hall with a
hearth, at one time (and maybe still) the only real living space in the building, and still the main communal space for eating, socialising and various bits of feudal business. Almost all manors will share a few other features, however: within the main building the lord of the manor will have a private bedroom (and probably a connected private sitting room: these will most likely be upstairs), and there’ll be a kitchen attached to the hall. Disconnected from the main house but still within the ring of fortifications will very likely be most or all of: a stable, some storage for foodstuffs (chiefly grain, but also preserved meats etc) and a well (d6x20ft deep, may or may not be covered).

The hall itself is almost certainly the largest and grandest room in the place, and will have some distinguishing features. Roll on this table as many times as the higher of the two age/wealth results: it has all the resultant features (some can work twice, otherwise reroll). This table excludes smaller furnishings: cutlery, plates, assorted chairs etc and at least one large table can also be assumed to be present.

(d20, x times)
1 - A richly decorated bay window
2 - A cavernous fireplace on one side, with a hearth large enough for numerous people to sit 
3 - A dais at one end for the most prestigious dining table
4 - An elaborate pulley-and-spit system for roasting large animals on the fire
5 - Impressive chandeliers hanging from the rafters. D4 of them
6 - A screen passage from the kitchen - i.e. one screened-off end, the screen likely carved
7 - A large curtain that can be drawn across one part of the hall for privacy
8 - A minstrel’s gallery at one end
9 - A large gallery/platform for secluded or informal eating at one end
10 - Ornate tapestries and wall-hangings
11 - Carved wood panelling on one wall
12 - A peep-hole (aka Judas) from the lord’s bedroom
13 - An especially elaborate principal seat, where the lord of the manor sits
14 - A sunken firepit in the middle, where the hearth is: fire here at all times, chimney above
15 - A disused firepit in the middle, now just a depression
16 - Spectacularly carved hammerbeam roof
17 - A fancy floor with patterned tiles
18 - Some kind of small household shrine in a niche in the wall
19 - A tree inside: now dead and preserved but once living and growing through the wall
20 - A well in one corner of the great hall rather than out in the courtyard. D6x20ft deep

That's really all you need: add outbuildings to taste. But I will do another bunch of posts in the next few days with more interesting ways of using those outbuildings and the related stuff you've generated already, and of filling the place with weird and stealable objects and people.