Tower House
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Basic Information

A tower house is a type of fortification standing somewhere between a true castle and a residential manor house. They are, broadly, an alternative to a fortified manor house. Unsurprisingly the type consists of a tall, strongly built house, rising some distance above the ground - typically home to one well to do family and their immediate retainers. These buildings are generally fortified against light light weapons only and not designed to resist artillery or other siege engines or to resist prolonged siege or professional assault but can resist casual attacks and raids. They are generally a feature of areas with a significant history of low-intensity warfare such as cattle raiding and familial feuds. This is exemplified in the two very different areas in which they are best known.

The first area well known for its tower houses is rural Ireland (and, to a lesser extent) the Anglo-Scottish border - both places that suffered centuries of endemic, low level strife. Here the towers are found dominating miles of countryside and acting as a base for a local magnate and his retainers - much like a castle on a smaller scale. These fortifications may also be known as peel towers or as bastles (a bastle may also consist of a tower with a fortified yard like a miniature bailey). Here the tower offers an elevated viewpoint as well as security, from which a sentry can spot potential trouble a long way away and give the local population time to take refuge and the magnate time to call for assistance and/or deploy a response. Similar structures also occur in any place with the same conditions - low level endemic violence, but a weak enough economy to preclude serious fortifications1 so such things also appear in the Balkans, Spain and some parts of Germany and Eastern Europe. A notable design was the "Z-tower" which actually consist of two interconnected towers offset from one another so as to create a minimum number of blind spots around them, but the typical example was a lot less sophisticated and consisted of a simple round or square tower.

(note: the Scottish tower house should not be confused with the broch - which is a much earlier phenomenon with only a superficial resemblance).

By contrast, the cities of Renaissance Italy were also centres of tower house building - this was also the result of endemic violence, but of a more urban nature, involving street gangs, riots and other such things, with open warfare being less prevalent. Here, the constraints on availability of urban land, as well as the prestige of building higher than your rivals, were the driving features behind the height of the tower. Obviously such tower houses were a lot closer together - being found within the same (by modern standards rather small) city - but served the same function in general if not in detail. In this case the tower house could be the whole residence or a stronghold rising from some less defensible building.



Game and Story Use

  • An areas with endemic, low intensity violence is one in which PCs are likely to be needed. This is what civilisation is likely to look like in such a region - not castles and villages, but tower houses or similar refuges surrounded by isolated farmsteads.
  • These generally sprung up in response to human marauders, but non-humans (whether humanoids acting in the same way, or non-sapients) could supply an equivalent threat … again, anything too powerful will simply take the tower houses out, but lesser threats would fit the bill nicely.
  • Obviously best suited to a history or fantasy game, but not impossible to work into another genre with a bit of work:
    • In the modern era, with ready access to bombs and rockets, such towers are largely impractical, or at least less safe than a bomb shelter or underground bunker. After the end, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where explosives have presumably become rare again, these may come back into style. It depends a lot on how the post-apocalyptic decay has progressed, and what building materials are available.
    • They'd also be great in a zombie apocalypse, provided you can somehow find or build such a structure. Most people are unlikely to live near enough to a genuine one that's still in good enough condition to really use it in such a scenario, and raising new structures while fighting off hordes of zombies is difficult, but any tall building whose lower levels can be fortified or secured could serve in a pinch. They'd be a good place for a sniper to practice headshots from, provided zombie population density is low and/or you have a relatively quiet projectile weapon (like a crossbow) that won't just summon more of them to your hideout.
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