Castles in the Sky Part II: Religion, War and Conquest


This essay continues last week’s past, Castles in the Sky Part I: History, Mechanics and Trade.  We covered some history, how the castles mechanically work, and some trade policies.  That piece is required reading for this week’s so, if you missed it, make with the clicky and give it a quick skim.  It has the complete introduction.

We’re going to get right into the second half with no preamble.  And now, with the commercial break over, on with the show!

Castles in the Sky: Religion

A religion encompasses more than beliefs explaining how the world works, where it began, and how it will end.  It is a language guiding community morals, ethics and communication on wide range of human and demi-human interactions.  It informs the legal code, marketplace ethics, and the rules of trade.

For example, polytheistic civilization A worships, among its extensive pantheon, Bob the Trade God. Bob the Trade God encourages all His worshippers to travel, establish markets, build trade relationships, and make loads of money.  If one follows the Scriptures of Bob, one knows Bob requires a small song, three spins widdershins and a tiny dance to close a deal instead of, say, a signature on a contract and a firm handshake.  It’s a little prayer to Bob.

Bob’s paladins, clerics and scholars constructed a legal framework including recording spins, their number, and their duration for when someone challenges a contract in court. Bob’s merchant class – his most strident followers – take His Holy Word, venture into the world and trade among other Bob followers. This makes Bob happy, Bob’s clerics happy, and Bob’s followers happy.

And now Bob’s followers fly. 

Inventing Flying Castles affected the Gods themselves. Bob now belongs to an entire pantheon who believes, whole heartedly, that flying castles are a Good Thing.  They all knit in a bit of flight into their Theology to maximize worship.  The birth Goddess births the clouds at propellers.  Brandy, the Goddess of Tinkering became the Goddess of the Engine.  Once flying castle technology, beloved by the rich and powerful, spread throughout the society, the Gods “approved.”  The Sky God George, once gracing thunderstorms, lightning, and War, muscled out other potential Gods and Goddesses to personally patronize Flying Castles.   Clerics “discovered” brand new religious justifications for flying around with the Grace of George, the Blessing of Bob and the Brandy Engines into foreign lands.

Flying Castles allows civilizations and their Gods new tentacles of religious outreach.  Off they went, doing what Gods do – grow from medium-sized Gods into big Gods.

One day, followers of Brandy, Bob and George met followers of Joe.  Joe the Trade God required all followers hop on one foot for a minimum of three minutes before the two parties considered any deal secure for the pain in the calf shows Joe the believer’s passion. And Joe’s lawyers-slash-Paladins constructed a careful legal code around Joe’s foot hopping dictates.  Pain, they wrote into their legal code, is necessary and just before coin exchanges hands. It says right there in the Holy Works of Joe as Delivered Upon the Great Kumquat that Thou Must Hop and Hop Thou Must.  A minimum of three hops, the legal and religious scholars wrote, and that it shall be.

When Bob’s followers flew a castle over to Joe’s lands, disembarked, and attempted to sell fine Elven armor for enormous crates of nutmeg, neither understood the other’s religious dictates.  They had misunderstandings.  Hilarity ensued. A Paladin stomped off-screen swearing vengeance for Bob in George’s Name.  The trade deal worked out with spinning, singing, dancing, and foot hopping. This appeased both Gods.  But, the Bob clerics thought on their way to the next port of call:

That took too much time, effort, and profit margin.  Wouldn’t it just be easier if the Joe followers were Bob followers?

The next visitor to the land of Joe was not a happy Flying Castle trade ship, but a Flying Castle decked out in stained glass and song. A Flying Castle converted to a Flying Cathedral with a judicious coat of paint and tapestries.  And the Clerics offered the Kings and Queens who followed Joe a simple deal: convert to Bob, accept our laws and get 20% off all trade deals.  It’s right here in the Scriptures – for Lo, those who follow Bob shall have a Discount, and it shall be applied Universally.  And with Bob comes George, bringer of the Flying Castle and Brandy, bringer of its technology.  Does Joe offer you 20% off all trade deals?  And what do you mean, this 20% deal is in crayon. It’s ancient!  From the ancestors!

We have flying portable churches.  We’ve even landed one for you.  Gratis.

And if we don’t accept, asked the Joe followers.  Well… said the Bob followers, 20% off in perpetuity is a nice deal.  And we have these Flying Castles.

For Kings who worshipped Joe but lacked Flying Castles, and who wanted a cut in the Flying Castle triangle trade already making his small, distant country wealthy as trade does, Bob was a great deal.  And Bob was just like Joe, right?  Except a bunch of legalize, a few tapestries and some weird things about widdershins.  Joe was out. Bob was in. Clerics get their cathedral. Get the people changing their mind en masse, stat.

Conversion!  Level up!  Everyone is now on the same Gods/Legal/Trade page. Now both civilizations will be rich. Burn those rioting Joe worshippers at the stake as heretics.  And the worship of Brandy, Bob, George and their whole Pantheon spreads worldwide.

But for Kings who already have Flying Castles or don’t care for this encroachment of Bob and his damned flying Clerics and really would rather the Bob worshippers follow Joe, they explored option #2…

Castles in the Sky: Battles and War

Wars are about resources.  Those resources might be land, water, raw materials, ports, or taxation collected from important cities on highly traveled trade routes. They might be souls and minds who, once conquered and converted, stop paying tithe to God A and pay to God B, or convert in ideology from one political thought to another.   But Wars are always about taking some resource away (land + ideology, say) from the other guy.

Theoretically, the Joe followers don’t much like the Bob followers any more and they take to the skies.  War.

Civilizations possessing Flying Castle technology organize their Flying Castles into Naval-like flotillas for war-time use.  They group classes of Flying Castles into Fleets, headed up by a Flagship, into enemy territory.  Neither walls, nor mountain ranges, nor oceans stop them.  Once the aggressor declares War, battle in inevitable.  Nothing is as terrifying as fleet of armed and dangerous Flying Castles descending from the clouds above to open rains of fire and death on the people below.

Battleship Castles, the most terrifying Flying Castles in the Fleet, carry armaments of heavy bombs, long-range magical and mechanical-like cannon and flak for protection from possible attack around their tower and walled sides.  Loopholes riddle castle bottoms for cannon and manually positioned slow-motion bombing raids. The Castles rain “death from above” on enemy cities and lands, dropping bombs on unprotected known targets from overhead to destroy enemy castles, weapons depots, barracks and fortresses.

The enemy, responding to the bombing of their cities, launch their own Flying Castle fleets.  Castle on Castle aerial combat is the world’s slowest dogfight.  The Castles cannot maneuver quickly through the air. They rely on Abjuration protection shields, well-placed magical cannon, flak, battle tactics and planning to either blow down the enemy’s castle towers or close for boarding actions.  Legendary Flying Battleship Castle commanders master vertical Z-Axis maneuvers while protecting their weaker castle bottoms from open fire. They rise through clouds into position to rain death on their enemy Castles from above.

Some Flying Castles in the fleet operate as a Carrier.  These carry aerial craft to support the Battleships with mid-air combat.  Smaller craft, stored explicitly for the purpose of dog-fighting, launch from the Flying Castle platform towers.  Some are Gnomish Mechanical inventions: Gnomish dirigibles designed for combat, mechanical wings giving flight, combat balloons, and light two-winged mechanical fliers. Some are pure magic from spells, items and the like.  And a few Castles prefer trained flying animals and their riders for aerial dog-fighting although Rocs, Manticores, Wyverns, and Pegasii run into major food, space and risk limitations over long haul travel distances.  Should a tiny gold dragon burp in mid-fight and the castle catches fire, that is the end of that Flying Castle as people and supplies inside burn.

Once a lucky flier fights through and lands on the enemy’s Castle, they defeat the defenders to reach the engines or wizards below. Should they turn off the engines, the castle will plummet to the ground and kill all aboard (unless there’s excitement with traversing the dim halls, getting back to the flying craft, and dramatically escaping the doomed castle at the last second while music swells).  Sometimes, dropping Commanders prefer to drop the Castle for tactical purposes but Castle take-over is more common. An enemy’s castle is a fat prize and reusable by the friendly Navy.  Also, crashed Castles tend to land on things people want.

City walls and ground troops are useless when a Flying Castle appears overhead. Walls – not even tall walls – stop or even slow down a Flying Castle.  Ground troops are simply paralyzed by Flying Castle actions, unable to do anything while the Castle flies overhead until the fight turns morphs a ground action.  Cities are not helpless, however.  Cities repurpose their old City Wall towers for Gnomish and Magical cannons for firing ordinance from the ground at the Castles.   They employ positioned defensive Abjuration spells.  They build shields of magic above instead of relying on walls around their city.

However, the city’s best defense from a Flying Castle are their own flying troops.  While a Flying Castle has challenges with space, food, and fire hazards from carrying trained flying animals designed for aerial combat, a city has plenty of space.   Well defended cities maintain flight troops drilled and trained for Flying Castle aerial dog-fighting combat.  And should a city’s flying troops manage a successful boarding action, kill the defenders of a Flying Castle, take the wizard hostage, and take the Castle for themselves, a City finds itself in sudden possession of its own gun and turret platform to open up on the opposing side. But such a thing requires Great Heroics.

Another class of Flying Castle is the Transport.  They disgorge castle-loads of troops on the ground via Gnomish and magic machinery.   A city, hopefully, has ground troops left alive after the bombing action and aerial combat.  The final stage of battle turns into urban combat – street to street, house to house, as troops land on roofs and try to take the city from above.

If the Flying Castles are victorious and the winning side wishes to keep the city, a Battleship lands outside the city walls, crushing valuable farmland. It becomes a towering oppressive symbol of victory and triumph.  Occupying troops take up residence in the city.  The military force claims the City as their own.  If not, the military leaves an occupying force behind and flies off to wreck the next enemy city on its plan.

If the Flying Castles lose, the city still loses. The city is free but enormous dead smoking ruins litter the surrounding land.

Fleets of Battleships, Carriers and Transports are enormous expenses to their host country. Losing one to an enemy is a significant monetary loss.  Typically, whomever starts with the biggest Navy and keeps up with the running cost of replacement battle over battle wins.  But scrappy cities with their elite flying troops have, historically, put a serious dent into a Flying Naval Action when they have come to town.  Don’t count some heroes on Dragons out simply because they don’t have enormous stone walls.

At the end of the War, when enough dead castles smoke and cities burn, the two sides sign a treaty (by some will of Bob and/or Joe).  Someone walks off with the others’ resources.  They draw new boundaries.  Perhaps they nail a new God to the native’s feet.  And if one country is overwhelmingly successful in War, that country’s ruler seriously looks at the map and considers expanding the Bob and money horizons.

Castles in the Sky: Conquest and Empire

Civilization B worships Paul the Trade God and not Bob.  They lack Flying Castle technology.  They have not developed high altitude magical cannons, bombs, Gnomish armed War Dirigibles, or flying dragon corps.  But what they do have is nutmeg.  Civilization A don’t have nutmeg.

Civilization A wants nutmeg.

There’s no reason for Civilization A not to wrest the nutmeg trees from Civilization B.  And take from them they did, by the ends of cannons and the power of flying troops.  Then, Civilization A sent back the nutmeg home for sale in their local markets as a global nutmeg monopoly.  The castle, of course, stayed, landed permanently on the nutmeg tree island’s furthest edge as a local fort and trade point.  Civilization A imposed the belief and legal strictures of Bob on the locals. The Flying Castle’s sheer might washes away legal codes the locals had over life, death and trade.  More land, resources, and people taken for the glory of Civilization A.

Civilization A does this again. And again. And again.

Flying Castles are the engines of Empire.  Once they pacify a land through a War action – one, and hopefully no more than one major set piece battle – the castles double as forts, barracks and, in the case of the Flagships, useful government buildings.  They land and Instant Imperialism.  Castles impose, to give a right of settlement, and to keep the locals from rising up in rebellion.  They are the manifestations of raw mail-fisted power.  Every time a local looks up on the horizon, the Castle looms, an affirmation of the power of conquerors.

Trade Flying Castles with enormous holds made for transport feeds resources from the conquered back into the Empire.  These once expensive and now impossibly cheap resources are universally saleable and finished goods.  The ravenous Empire population cannot get enough nutmeg, or mace, or pepper, or silk, or cloth, or Elven medications, or rare drugs, or whatever the conquered once made.  The Empire taxes the imports and sales. The Empire becomes rich.

With its riches, the Empire builds more Flying Castles.  With more Flying Castles, they win more Wars, they take more land, and they spread more Word of Bob. Bob melds with and consumes other Gods.  More money feeds back into the Empire. The engine chugs along.  Sure, the the crashed hulks of dead Flying Castles litter the ground from the random uprising, but this is the price one pays for peace.

But it is not all bad. With the horrors of conquest and empire comes the infrastructure builders to make it the world comfortable for the conquering.   Civilization A builds roads and dams. They improve housing. They bring in their magical technology. Being part of the Empire is great! Too bad the nutmeg trees are gone and the locals who used to tend them, dead, but we have universal and global peace and prosperity.

Flying Castles hover along the Empire borders and above rebellion hot spots.  Other Flying Castles refresh ground troops and government officials on a known schedule.  Trade ships reach the far-flung corners of the Empire.  The Empire annexes scrappy stand alone civilizations and slowly melts them into the new Empire.  Gods mirror their host civilizations and, before long, Pantheons which once stood alone turn into one, giant Pantheon with Flight and Trade at its heart.  Money good!  Flight good!  Technology good! Emperor good!

Civilization A turns into Empire A.

Being a citizen of the Empire is a pretty good deal. There’s a Navy to aspire to. There’s an Army of Elite Flying Troops. The Empire has money to spend on arts, literature, music, and magic.  Life in the Empire is comfortable and the goods of the world are for sale.  No one really wants or needs for anything.  Too bad about Joe worshippers and other Civilizations.  These things happen.

1000 years pass.

And then, we kick off our D&D campaign with the End of the Flying Castle Empire.


Worlds are more than just magic spells and some weapons – building a cohesive world means considering how people talk, trade, give each other ideas, and fight.   This was a thought experiment (which needs some polishing) on building a world using money and military power as core motivation for all actors involved. “Castle in the Sky” is a rough outline expansion for a possible campaign world involving Flying Castles.

Nothing here is set in stone. It’s all available for ready theft.

Some ways to “JRPG” these core ideas up:

  • Start the Empire the Flying Castles made and let it crumble.  Evil invaders on the ground and in the air chip at the edges of the Empire.  The old Emperor dies and no one takes his place. Allow the world to end and let PCs dig into the sordid history of the Empire and decide for themselves if they wish to save it or let it fail for a new world.  As the Empire fails, regions pull away under strong Generals and fight ala the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms.  Maybe stage a Red Cliff-like battle but aerial. Inject politics, might and power.  Perhaps lose the secrets to the Vox Levitate Spell – No one knows how to make new Flying Castles at the end of Empire and the castles left operating are all in the world. 
  • Run a game of Flying Castle Piracy and Smuggling.   How one smuggles with a Flying Castle is an exercise up to the reader (they are not subtle – fly casually) but stealing and attacking other Flying Castles while flying a Jolly Roger is nothing but fun.   Remember: piracy and smuggling is all about goods the Empire is trying to keep out, and the PCs are trying to get in for a big payday.  What does the Empire not want in its borders?  People? Drugs?  Technology? And it’s not piracy, it’s a fight for Freedom!  Freedom from the Empire in a stolen Flying Castle!
  • Run a Naval Star Trek like campaign. Build a set of stable Empires – for example, the Human Empire, the Gnomish Empire and the Dark Elven Empire. Have the Dark Elven Empire run their ships off captured and enslaved Mamluk-like wizards for extra evil and PC background fodder.  Keep a number of smaller countries around so PCs can have easily reached “place of the week” to adventure. Have the party all take up officer positions operating their Flying Castle, have them interact with other Flying Castles, fight major airborne threats (big dragons), and embroil them in Dark Elven Empire politics.  Ensure to stage at least one Wrath of Khan-like space battle in the magical nebula-like cloud.
  • Run a dog-fight based war backdrop game.  Add Soldier in a Flying Squadron to the possible backgrounds for “Soldier.”  The entire play group is connected in some way to a flying squadron – all PC squadron members, some PC squadron members and some friends, the PCs are fleeing the squadron, the PCs are disgraced from their squadron and need to redeem themselves, etc. Flying skills and access to a flying mount easily gets the players involved in the action, especially if war and conquest for money/resources/Gods/ideology is the backdrop for the game.  Have them be stationed at a city so they have a home base with the option to go off with a Flying Castle to adventure in other places of the world.
  • Start with a standard JRPG “the bad guy destroyed my peaceful peasant village in some War/Conquest.” Spend the game trying to destroy the bad guy and his Empire of Flying Castles.  Go through adventures, eventually have the party take a Flying Castle for themselves and fight the Big Bad on a Flying Castle Flagship Battleship tower.   Escape at the last moment as the castle slowly crashes to the ground in flames.
  • Decide that the world has lost dragons, and let the players find dragons.  Let them train them, grow them, and then eventually go to war with the crumbling and weak Empire ala Game of Thrones.
  • All Gnomes all the time!  Because Gnomes.

Because big trade missions and Naval battles feel much more Age of Sail than Medieval, the world is ripe for magical clockwork and steampunk.  Swap out regular magic spells and magical devices for Gnomish ingenuity.  For example:

  • A steampunk Gnomish contraption with a huge copper bell which casts Sending for intra-Flying Castle communication and coordination;
  • Enormous steam-powered wings for flight instead of the spell Fly;
  • A crazy looking Bombard that sprays Cone of Cold instead of a wizard doing the same thing.

The world of Flying Castles hangs together fine with just straight up D&D-style magic, creatures from the Monster Manual, and an acceptance that a Flying Castle can both trade with you and bomb the hell out of your capital city.  Gnomes may or may not make exploding engines. The lust for nutmeg combined with superior warfare may or may not power Empire.

Remember: there is no bigger and better expression of absolute power than a fleet of armed and armored Flying Castles hovering over your home.  Just think about that, think about that very hard, before allowing a group of Murder Hobos take one over and fly off into the sunset.

No Gods were harmed in the writing of this column.

Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games –