Initial Art Direction for the Citadel itself

Disclaimer: I’m a terrible artist

This may be a mistake, but I’m willing to show you guys my crappy whiteboard art direction for the Citadel at Norðvorn Kickstarter  if you promise me not to flee in terror.

I’ve tried to make some references for my artists, as well as things to keep my writing consistent. So, when I say “this is a setting,” what I mean is that I have in mind some of the lovely and inspirational detail in worlds like Harn, which I experienced with Rob Conley playing in his game.

Nordvorn and the Lower Town

This was my initial sketch of the citadel. I wanted it to be very not-square, something that marks it as a dwarf-hewn keep. I also wanted it big – one of the most impressive castles and structures. I tended to look up “how big was a castle wall/tower/keep,” find the biggest one, and then make this bigger. For example, the Great Wall of China is about 5m wide and 8m tall. Audreyn’s Wall is thus 10m x 10m, but not exactly square.

In any case, this was my initial reference for the Citadel, which led naturally to thinking about Laegribaer, the Lower Town.

What the heck is an aircraft carrier doing there? Scale. It’s a gigantic ship, 330m or so long (1,000-ish feet) and shows that the inner courtyard contains nearly six acres of space. That’s a big inner bailey!

The river is the wrong scale, which I realized when thinking about how wide and deep the river is downstream at Ainferill (Riverbend). Nearly all of the water that flows there also flows here, so if the river is nearly 0.75 miles wide there . . . well, the gorge needs to be bigger. Probably 100-135m wide!

Looking at the Citadel allowed me to consider the shape of the town as well, I went with a classic Viking-style ring town, with an outer wall.

I went with concentric and spoke roads, and wooden towers interspersed between heavy, large, barbican-style gates. The River Gate was initially smaller, then it was enlarged and replaced as the town grew; the old gatehouse is still there, and a sprawling market exists on both sides of the outer wooden wall.

I’ve also worked out where the major “where do I shop” things happen here in the Lower Town, and that gets a solid section in the writeup. Remember, though: Norðvorn is a city, but not Town – adventure can and should happen here!

If it’s time to rest your head, where do you go? A bit of research led me to believe that when focusing on the traditional “fantasy Inn,” I was vastly underscoping how much money and importance these places were. Matt Riggsby probably already knew all this, but it was new to me! So I made sure each of the major Inns had its own thing going on, and that the owners had their own quirks and character, and ties to the workings of the town. Also: for those that want to do so, under the inns there was usually storage for valuables for travelers, and while in Nordvorn in particular, a dungeon might be out of place . . . it might not.

But what if you can’t afford the inn? What if you don’t want to stay there?

Gestrisni – An Excerpt from the Book

Gestrisni. Afer the fall of the dragon empire, the subjugated populations—humans, eldhuð, captured elves and half-elves, and others—fled south out of the Dragonground, with hordes of dragon-men, eðlafolk, and gangaeðla in pursuit. Those caught might be re-enslaved, or killed and eaten. Settlements and fortifications were hastily erected, and a custom grew of allowing any traveler to take refuge inside a compound. The words for “traveler” and “refugee/fugitive” in the Norðlond language differ only slightly, with “moving from one place to another” and “fleeing being turned into an hors d’oeuvre” being relegated to context and aspiration of certain letters. In any case, a long tradition of guest-right (gestrisni, or hospitality) in others’ homes took root over time. Gestrisni is not a trifling thing—by requesting it, one is stating that the host has something you need: protection.

The host provides shelter; the guest promises to stand fast in the home’s defense. In more modern times, with Nordlond being somewhat more civilized (depending on whom you ask, of course), gestrisni is usually requested or offered within those of a common background and social status. A party led by a follower of The Snow Queen of no special wealth or nobility might reasonably request gestrisni of a shopkeeper or successful farmer from within the braeðralag of the Snow Queen. A husgjof (house-gif) of food, drink, or some tangible useful object is usually offered each night. In practice, this is the cost of living for your Wealth level, though it is never paid in coin, as that would be insulting to the host.

Back to Images

To help my artists visualize the area, I attacked my whiteboard and came up with some, well, not-so-great perspective drawings of the keep itself. It dominates the local scenery, and I wanted to ensure folks were working from a common base.

I first tried to capture the bulk of the fortress. Squat and imposing, I hoped. The scale isn’t great on this, mostly that the walls are thicker in cross-section than shown. If I had time and a 3D modeling program, I’d be able to do this easily.

Connecting the keep to the Lower Town across the river gorge – which I realized as I worked had to be MUCH wider (and the river MUCH deeper!) than I’d initially conceived it – is the Eternal Bridge. It actually anchors into the wall of the keep side, perhaps 30m below the magically-raised location of the Citadel on the north side of the gorge. Counter-weighted lifts bring goods and travelers from the lower docks, and the winding and defensible stairway, called The Spiral, takes you from the gates in the gorge up to inside the keep itself.

The smaller keep on the Laegribaer side of the fortress is called Little Rock, and it would be considered a primary and impressive fortification all by itself were it not dwarfed (see what I did there?) by the Citadel itself!

On either side of the gorge, cut into the rock and supported with good engineering, magic, and pillars, are the lower docks. Giant stone and wooden dockworks and huge, counter-weighted lifts bring cargo from the river level up to the main market. The lift ends at the foot of a road that leads to the outer wall, which is formally called the Lift Road, but locals tend to call it Tax Street.

That’s probably enough, though I do have more that I gave my artists.

But if you really want to know where the money’s going on The Citadel at Norðvorn: it’s here. Taking my crude visualizations and power-point doodles and turning them into high-quality artwork and maps for you to use.

Citadel at Nordvorn is currently on Kickstarter, and more than halfway to the funding goal. If the above strikes your interest, please consider pledging! Most of the book will be system neutral, and applicable to any fantasy RPG.

4 thoughts on “Initial Art Direction for the Citadel itself

  1. Hi, just wanted to point out that in Icelandic the word eðlafolk can be read as people having sex. If you write it eðlUfolk changing the a for u that means lizardpeople.

    1. I can do that on projects going forward – obviously the spelling can’t be changed on existing print products. I ought to bounce my draft off of you to make sure that my faux Icelandic isn’t completely awful.

    2. I’ve fixed that in upcoming books. Can’t fix it retroactively. Thanks for the tip. I’d be grateful for any tips on other faux-Icelandic mistakes I’m making

      1. Hi no problem. Rest is fine, maybe crosses with Icelandic modern language but makes sense as old Norse/Icelandic.

        Then again this is very complex language when it comes to spelling and grammar 🙂

        PS: Looking forward for the DFRPG version

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