Once a month here on the Molten Sulfur Blog, I run content taken from our book Archive: Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs. This post is one of eighty entries in Archive, each more gameable than the last!
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Crumbling Ruin of Skye
From afar, you can see a few crumbling walls barely standing atop a sheer cliff of basalt on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. The walls peer out over the water to another isle in the distance. A well-walked path leads along the coast to the ruins of Duntulm Castle, only approachable by one side, the other three defended by sheer cliffs. The builders supplemented the site’s natural defenses by digging a ditch across its landward side. Just beyond the ditch is a cairn commemorating the MacArthur clansmen and ancestors of the MacDonalds.
Duntulm was first built as a broch, a round stone building found only in Iron Age Scotland. Back then it was called Dun Dhaibhidh or Dun David. It was used by Norse raiders during their forays down the coast. Dun David was likely still occupied when the castle was built in the late 14th or early 15th centuries. The construction obliterated all traces of the broch.
The castle was originally a four-story tower house with a courtyard enclosed by a wall. Once finished, its ownership became contentious. Two local powers, Clan Macleod and Clan MacDonald, vied for control of Duntulm. The castle changed hands many times. A 1618 charter granted it to the MacDonalds, provided they made Duntulm castle their residence. This led to additions, including a new tower and improvements upon the old one. Though the castle offered a beautiful view and protection from virtually all sides, it was suddenly abandoned in 1730. A rumor began floating around that the castle was haunted.
There are three primary ghosts claimed at Duntulm. The first, the MacDonald nursemaid, was supposed to be supervising the infant son of one of the chieftains when the child fell from a window and died on the rocks below. She was set adrift at sea as punishment and supposedly came back to haunt the castle. The second ghost was, in life, Hugh MacDonald, cousin of Donald Gorm Mor, a chief of the MacDonalds of Sleat. Hugh planned to kill Donald Gorm Mor, but Donald discovered the plot and laid siege to Hugh’s castle. Hugh escaped by dressing as a woman, but was captured and taken to Duntulm. There, he was imprisoned. He was given little to eat and less to drink. It is said he went mad, and in his desperate hunger, he tried to devour his own hands. He died a slow and agonizing death from dehydration. The third ghost, Margaret, was a woman shunned by her husband after losing her eye in an accident, and now weeps in the ruins of Duntulm.
The haunted castle is now worn down by time. Only a few walls still stand. The last tower fell in the late 20th century to a harsh storm, but what does remain is underneath the castle. The vaulted basement of Duntulm is still intact, and if you don’t mind the danger, it can be entered. The entrance to the cellar is fenced off so visitors don’t accidentally fall in. The only illumination down there is sunlight peeking in through the entry hole. The ceiling dips into the cellar, showing signs of imminent collapse, but so far has held up.
Duntulm Castle in Play
At the table, Duntulm Castle makes a good strategic location for a combat encounter. Protected by sheer cliffs, the inhabitants only have to worry about invaders crossing the ditch in front. If your PCs are the ones invading, they may have to come up with more creative means of entry. Apparently, dressing as a woman gets you past some people, but not for long. Scaling the cliffs is another option, as is digging into the cellar. In its ruined state, extreme weather or roving monsters could force the party to take shelter in the castle. All through the night, the PCs will be tormented by the screams of a hysterical nursemaid and a starving madman and by the weeping of a shunned woman. You could use this sort of scene to teach your PCs some of the history of your setting, by giving them the opportunity to roleplay with (insane) eyewitnesses of a bygone era. Lastly, even though the ruins offer refuge from enemies, anyone hiding there should be wary of collapses.