Thursday, December 24, 2009

Notes I Scribbled This Morning On What's Usually In Palaces

Moat. Moats are cool.

Watchtowers. Usually at the corners, but, hey, depends on what you're watching for, right? Might there be scrying rooms? (Always more than one floor.)

Throne room. Throne room should establish philosophical relationship between lord and subjects. May double as dining hall, depending... Path from front gate to throne room is usually direct.

(In general, palaces have "public" sections--throne room, receiving rooms, consultation chambers, and "private" sections-living quarters.)

Windows. Windows in palaces generally have views that are beautiful, strategically significant, or both.

Kitchen. Should be one of the most detailed locations. Food defines cultures as different.

Monarch/lord's sleeping quarters. Insert monarchical weirdness here.

Sleeping quarters for whoever else lives there. Consorts, advisors. Make not-boring or elide.


Records and documents archive. (Can be folded in with library if boring.)

Art (everywhere). Art is always evil or cursed or alive.

Place for the education of the lord/monarch's children.

Garden/gallery/other recreation-type-place.

(Zoo?)(Hunting grounds?)(If palace is abandoned then what's in it might be descended from hunting or hunted animals.)

Armory. (Weird and obscure guards.)

Place where they keep other supplies like lamp oil, etc.

Harem. (Traditionally, harems are self-sufficient--have own chapel, etc..)



War room/situation room. (May contain awesome map.)

Consultation chamber--mirror mirror on the wall, etc.

Workshop--when stuff needs to get made they go here. Has tools and stuff like that.

Stables. (Find way to make un-boring)

Place (balcony, generally) to stand and address subjects.

Well/cistern/aquaduct. Anything could be down there. Wells are cool.

Symbolic architectural features with traditional "powers" attached--Gate of Inexplicable Destiny, Widow's Window, etc.


  1. Great list. Don't forget Guard Room - the place which people spill out from when the monarch cries "Guards! Guards!" May also contain Supernatural or Beastly or Weird guardians.

    Also, there's the Oubliette.

    And then there's the Bear Pit or variant - the place where a cruel monarch watches prisoners being torn to shreds by bears/rabid dogs/tigers/cannibals/trolls/whatever.

    Security verification codeword: Tractiv. Adjective describing a hot girl in a neck brace.

  2. Curiously in many European palaces the private rooms were public. Your physical proximity to the monarch was what defined your position in the court (and in wider govt); hence Groom of the Robe, Purse or Stool being such important positions. This meant you had things like semi-public state bedrooms, which were large enough for the king to hold court in while he was getting dressed or undressed.

    Looking at somewhere like Hampton Court (Tudor, but applicable here as a late manifestation of a pre-existing cultural form), you have 2 or 3 successively more exclusive and private withdrawing rooms (your status at court being defined by which one you were allowed to enter), then the royal dressing room, then the state bedroom, all in a direct through line. On one side of these rooms you had concealed doors allowing access for servants, mistresses and the like.

    Versailles was equally odd, in that the King had massive amounts of space, but that everyone else had to fit in how and where they could, based on their place in the ever-shifting Versailles pecking order. Given that Versailles was a show palace first and foremost this sometimes meant you had nobles of France running their households out of poky, unheated 10'x10' rooms, from which they could be supplanted at any time and for any number of pretexts.

    There are stories about nobles giving up their rooms so that the king could meet one or other mistress there (a mark of great trust from Le Roi Soliel), but then being unable to find any other quarters due to a lack of backstairs clout and having to leave Versailles. A particularly sneaky and French version of the White Elephant.

    Palaces really are little more than systems of status and hierarchy made manifest in architecture, pomp and ceremony. Defensibility is generally a distant second to considerations of public visibility and the business of the court (rare exceptions like the Tower of London or Caernarvon Castle excepted).

    Enough nerdery though. I could bang on about this sh*t for hours though...

  3. noisms--
    The oubliette, guard room and bear pit are all things I'm not likely to forget.--also, the first 2 I tend to think of as going with "dungeon"

    I was basing a lot of this on floorplans from the far east, actually (just because they were easier to find). but your point is taken.

  4. Following Chris' point, Mark Girouard's Life in the English Country House is much less boring than you might think, and details the evolution from Great (Beowulfish) Hall to Versailles-type situation and beyond. I particularly like his description of the focal point of the palace, where all garden paths, corridors and windows point toward the king's head on the throne, so that he sees all, and on the other hand the progressively more private (ie elite) rooms getting smaller and wrapped around in a spiral like a ram's horn, with at their centres the closet (holy of holies, only for trusted advisors, spies) and a secret butler's backstair as a handy escape route.

    Don't forget access to water (drinking/sewer/transport) and the idea that in river-based kingdoms downstream generally means "towards old age and death" while upstream means "towards mysteries (inside the mountains)." Blessings flow from the king, so he's usually upstream, but the capital will be at the transshipment point, where sea-going ships can't go on and have to unload.

    Gormenghast's a palace with multiple centres of power in it, cross-cutting, overlapping, hiding in the paneling. The real king may not be the obvious guy on the throne. It's not his vizier either, though. Maybe it's the cat.

    I had my PCs brought before a vizier once. He mentioned in passing that there were 12 ministries and the players pounced: they wanted to know what they all were. And I played dumb and struggled and counted on my fingers and said "how many is that?" and I slipped "Fine Carvings" into the middle of the list and they got it immediately. The emperor sends his spies and ambassadors out with intricate goldwood tigers, you see. They slot together perfectly, so they act as personal identifiers. And scrying devices. And animate assassination tools. But the players didn't need any of that. I said "fine carvings" and it was the only thing they wanted to know. They lost 16 men there, barging in the front door like idiots.