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Basic Information

A motte is an artificial hill, built as part of a fortification to give additional elevation to part of the work (generally the keep. Due to the amount of labour required for this sort of job, the motte is generally as small as possible and often takes the shape of a flat-topped cone with all of the space at the top occupied by the footprint of the keep.

Due to their small size and limited load-bearing capacity, these structures tend only to be found in earlier designs of castle, with their place being taken in later works by larger, free standing keeps with more floors. The motte was key to the primitive "Motte-and bailey" design (as might be expected) and to most shell-keeps.

As a significant piece of engineering work, the motte is often preserved even after the castle that it was part of has otherwise passed away - England is dotted with small, egregious hills that once had a wooden keep on top of them, and even in castles that were later upgraded to more advanced designs the motte is likely to be retained in one role or another.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Being an artificial hill, mottes were not always entirely stable - subsidence or outright collapse were relatively common misfortunes for castle builders, especially when they tried to upgrade from a wooden to a stone keep.
  • When re-settling an abandoned area, a motte might be an indicator of a previously settled site.
  • Also not impossible for a long-lived castle to have an old motte (and it's associated keep) at one end of the enclosure and a "modern" keep somewhere else, leaving the previous structure as a satellite - perhaps a barracks, prison or similar. It can be fun to "evolve" a castle during world building, especially one that will play an important part in the campaign. When burying secrets in such a place, it's worth knowing which part of the castle was built by the first settlers, which by the cursed mad ancestor of the current house … and so on.
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