Shadow World Adventure Hooks: “Rock Star” fortresses!


My campaigns have never featured a lot of traditional RPG dungeon crawls; I’ve always felt they were a little contrived and disrupted the grittier/realistic feel I was striving. Instead of stocked underground mazes filled with traps, puzzles and commensurate rewards I challenge my players with fortresses, strongholds, castles and lairs. Creative architecture is not my strongest skill, so I look to real life examples for ideas and templates. A google image search under “archaeological floorplans” generates a wealth of great layouts that can be printed and used for gaming. Most of these archaeological layouts are for ancient sites destroyed years ago and forensically recreated from the remnants of historical records, foundation stones and building science so I’m always excited to see an intact site.

Structures and fortresses built on isolated rocks are my favorites. They look cool, they are manageable projects to map out, they represent a controlled finite game environment and they can be a challenging mission to infiltrate/access. Here are a few of my favorite “Rock Star” fortresses.

Aragonese Castle


During my trip to Italy I came across a fantastic fortress: Aragonese Castle on the island of Ischea. Just looking at it makes you want to explore it! The island is skirted with sheer cliffs and the only access is through a long causeway into a tunnel that accesses the fortress. A perfect adventure site.



Mont St. Michel Abbey

St Michel 1

This famous site is more of a walled city/castle than a small fortress. Nonetheless it makes for a great adventure setting. I see this as inspiration for the fortress of the Raven Queen in Shadow World.





Sigiriya 3



A huge exposed rock sticking out of the jungle? A winding staircase up to a fortress? An entrance gate flanked by huge carved lion’s paws? What’s not to love!



Agia Triada

Agia Triada 1

Some of you will recognize this as the monastery featured in James Bond “For your Eyes Only”. That movie came out in 1981—the heights of the D&D craze for my friends and I. The assault on the fortress in the movie—the crossbow, rock climbing and the rope basket elevator was pure awesome.


Those are a few of my favorites—do you have any real life examples you’ve used?

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