Castles, particularly Concentric Castles, are great to have against the technology of the time; swordsmen, crossbowmen. They're less great against ornery wizards and capricious dragons. The lords of the land got tired of the occasional wizard tossing a fireball in their courtyard and flying off at a height that mere bolts and arrows couldn't reach. Strangely, they were also sick of the odd dragon swooping off with their livestock, gold, or family members. They were most perturbed by the dragons buzzing their walls with breath, taking out many of their men.

How did they counter this problem?

Assumptions are as follows:

  • Magic is reasonably common, but the kind of magic that lets an individual swoop in and take out a few dozen troops is rare.
  • Dragons exist, have various nasty kinds of breath, and are smart enough to demand ransom. They're also only slightly more common than the Wizards.
  • Technology is Late Middle Ages.
  • Kings are likely to have someone on payroll who can use magic, or at least knows a lot about it.
  • Dragons and Wizards have a hard enough time knocking over walls.

The lord does not wish their castle's look ruined, not to mention that sometimes they'll be expected to deal with all three threats (besieging armies, dragons, and flying wizards) at the same time.

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    $\begingroup$ After the lord gets plucked from the battlements by a dragon and eaten, the next lord might have a more flexible view on the castle's appearance. Some reforms must simply wait until after the old guard has waned. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Feb 3, 2018 at 3:51
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    $\begingroup$ The castellated turret is really a giant Gatling gun. $\endgroup$
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 3, 2018 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ "The lord does not wish their castle's look ruined" > real "castles" which actually served military purposes were cold, dark and wet places and only looked the way they did because it repelled attackers well; Beautiful, luxurious, fairytale castles only existed for rich people to live in... and even they are often cold and damp, TBH. $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2018 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ @errantlinguist This isn't strictly true. Castles were generally better to live in than many other places, and this includes castles built for defense and during wartime. Many of these castles were permanent (or semi-permanent) homes for the nobles. You may be thinking of Early Medieval keeps, which fit the cold/dark pattern, with their primary purpose being to protect supplies. $\endgroup$
    – user63
    Feb 4, 2018 at 9:33
  • $\begingroup$ @WrongOnTheInternet fair enough; I'm not an expert on the medieval period, am mainly going on the impressions of the (European) castles I've visited myself and what you're told about them. Still, it's apparent that appearances were secondary to function, except for nonmilitary palace types. Unless OP just wants a crazy lord who refuses to have changes to how his castle looks just because he's crazy. $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2018 at 9:43

9 Answers 9


The short version is: Add roofs to the keep, towers, and along the walls. But first let's understand the difference between castles and underground bunkers.

Castle vs Bunker

Castles use height as their defence, while bunkers use depth.

Height allows you to see further, to shoot further, and to get more angles of attack on incoming sieges. A tall wall also prevents siegers from just walking into your castle. In particular, it deals with the concern of cavalry, as it's difficult to get cavalry into a castle unless you control the gate house.

While a few bunkers are tall like a castle's keep, many sacrifice these advantages of height for greater defense against artillery. By burying yourself in dirt, you can use hundreds of tons of earth as a shield. They deny entry not with large stone walls, but with barbed wire which you can see and shoot through, and with powerful artillery and machine guns. They are heavily roofed, as they expect to be hit by indirect fire and air attack.

In the world wars, there were many fantastic bunker castles which were very expensive. These were pretty great, but the Germans in both wars demonstrated the ability to construct and transport massive artillery pieces which could tear these apart. So the cheaper and more effective bunker design was adopted.

How to defend against medieval flying creatures?

Short version is: Ranged weapons and roofs.

Man towers with light artillery weapons, probably ballistas, and light cannon if you have those. And plenty of ranged troops who can shoot any enemy that gets close. Keep look outs who watch the sky from several angles, to try and prevent the enemy using clouds and the sun as cover. And make sure there are roofs that protect your troops and deny intelligence to the enemy.

Magic, I'm less certain of. You could always try to rig a giant fly-zapper, if that works on hawkmen. Maybe cover your castle in magical wards that make curses and spells less effective?

You'll want roofs that your men can climb onto via ladders, so they can fight any flying enemies who land on the roofs. You also want to have it so that there are always some archers who have a clear shot at a given roof, so your towers and walls can cover each other against this.

And as always, firefighting will be important.

And for high-flying enemies... you'll want heavy mortar artillery if gunpowder is available, that'll preferably send exploding shrapnel ammo high into the sky (medieval flak). If you don't have that, you'll have to build something like a giant ballista that shoots bladed nets or something like that. Otherwise, all you can do is use magic or hire a flying creature to deal with these high fliers, your only other option being to try and ignore them and perform damage-control.

If flying creatures are a big problem in your area, more than cavalry and infantry, then you should just make a bunker.

  • $\begingroup$ I've updated my question with a practical reason for the castle's existence: sieging armies are just more common. Sometimes they siege with allied dragons and war wizards. $\endgroup$
    – user63
    Feb 3, 2018 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ @WrongOnTheInternet I believe my answer covers all the questions you asked about. Did you want any further clarification? $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Feb 3, 2018 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ No, your answer is good. The emphasis on bunkers just made me realize I needed to explain why castles were the default, as opposed to some other form of defense. $\endgroup$
    – user63
    Feb 3, 2018 at 3:17
  • $\begingroup$ "Quarmall - Quarmall - Quarmall is all. Quarmall - Quarmall is downward tall". :-) $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2018 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ See 'How to train your dragon 2' for some dragon-specific firefighting apparatus... $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Feb 4, 2018 at 13:51

Stretch thin wire and rope from ramparts to battlements to towers

Even if it isn't strong enough to damage the flying [dragon, hawk-man, roc], the risk of them getting tangled/falling to your troops below should help keep the skies in the immediate vicinity of your castle clear.

Yes, a creature like a dragon could burn through it, that's why you make it thin enough that they can't see it easily. This means the dragon is forced to expend energy in fiery/acid/ice breath when anywhere near the castle's sky.

Barrage balloons

Barrage balloons were used in the world wars to help prevent against dive-bombing aircraft. I think they should work against dive-bombing dragons. One disadvantage against dragons compared to aircraft is that dragons have fiery breath, and aircraft bullets do not tend to set things alight. So you may need to enchant your barrage balloons against fire.

Barrage balloons require higher technology level compared to just stringing ropes around, but will defend your castle higher up. This prevents dragons from carrying stones aloft and dropping them on your troops.

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    $\begingroup$ Barrage balloons are a great idea, which somehow I managed to forget. Thanks for mentioning it, sdf. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Feb 3, 2018 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ Incendiary bullets were used in WW1 against German Zeppelins by the Royal Corps, the reason they were not used against other aircraft types was duty to treaty obligations. $\endgroup$
    – Sarriesfan
    Feb 3, 2018 at 12:34

Don't neglect your defenses against conventional foes.

Sure, dragons are a problem, but so are angry peasant mobs and the armies of rival lords.

In WWII, Germany came up with above-ground air defense bunkers. These "Flaktürme" were a combination of an air raid shelter and a firing position for air defense artillery.


A rookery.

A large group of ravens with cock-fighting barbs on their legs. They can out-maneuver the larger dragons, attacking its rider and weak points, like the eyes.

If you have the right kind of wizard, you could even put bombs on some of the ravens, and have them akbar into the oncoming dragon.

They might not even need any training - they could instinctively attack the dragon as a flock, just like dolphins will attack sharks.

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    $\begingroup$ One blast of fire could decimate the whole flock. The wings alone would be large and fast enough to kill ravens, if we're talking a classical dragon. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Feb 3, 2018 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Johnny: I'll trade one flock of ravens for one adult dragon or war mage anytime. It takes far less time and money to replace the ravens. $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2019 at 17:32

Don't let them get close to your castle.
Instead of waiting for the enemy to approach and destroy your castle, intercept their armies midway. Since magic is reasonably common, it shouldn't be to difficult to create a magic reconnaissance system to detect invading armies before they reach your castle. Then, you can either send out small strike teams to harass their armies, weakening them before they even arrive, or dispatch an entire army to fight them on a battlefield.

Divide and conquer
In most fantasy stories, wizards and dragons are pictured and solitary and aloof beings. You can use this to your advantage. If the wizard/dragon is attacking your castle solo, you can counterattack with your own wizards/dragons, since you say that they are very common in this world.
If the wizard/dragon is part of an army, wait for them in inevitably separate and lead a heroic solo attack on your castle. Then, overwhelm them with your troops and kill them.

Supply lines
Dragons and wizards would probably need large amounts food and wizard fuel. Instead of fighting a bloody war, simply destroy their supply lines, preventing the dragons and wizards from effectively fighting. And scorch the earth to prevent them from foraging for food.


Much of this would depend upon the nature of the air attack, and the building technology available.

To survive against a dragon's flame breath, you'd need some sort of hardened roof, plus a method of ventilation to bring fresh air into the castle - flames would deplete the oxygen and heat the ambient air. A cave under the castle with a prevailing breeze would be nice, or perhaps large bellows driven by falling water with a tunnel for fresh air intake.

Against a wizard... one would have to explore the nature of the damage a wizard could inflict. After all, even Saruman had to resort to conventional explosives to breach the walls of Helm's Deep. If all a wizard can do is toss fireballs (or shoot missiles in the case of Tim the Enchanter in Monty Python/Holy Grail), then the same reinforced roof and ventilation system should suffice.

Defence against both... has anyone ever considered shooting flaming balls in return? Fire was one of the more potent pre-explosive weapons. True that dragons can breathe fire, but their wings are fairly thin, and probably vulnerable to flaming tar. Same goes for a flying wizard, their robes do look rather flammable. This opens up a WW2 style image of dragons spiraling down with a wing in flames.

I doubt the Lord would be concerned with the appearance of the castle, if they were faced with a new form of attack. They'd just be leaving a good looking castle to whomever defeated them.


I wondered about this while playing Morrowind, where Levitation is a very easy spell to acquire yet there are still forts and castles. Then I realized that defenders could cast Dispel at any invaders that tried flying over the walls, which would likely lead to them plummeting to their deaths. So with good anti-magic the walls are still useful.

Against dragons, I suspect the tried and true movie favorite, the ballista, is the answer. But it would benefit from a few improvements. The main issue is that if the dragon attacks the crew they have nowhere to hide and they typically die. I would put a bunker of sorts within a few yards of each ballista. I would also make a point of having many ballista, so while one crew is hiding, other crews can be lining up their shots.

Another way to deal with dragons is for a wizard to cast Paralyze.

  • $\begingroup$ In Morrowind, it's mostly the Telvanni (who are the most powerful magic users) who use height for defense. Redoran and Hlaalu have basic walls, but don't rely on them too much - their important buildings are often submerged. Only the Imperials are really vulnerable from the air; they probably aren't used to fighting floating wizards, but that's not much of a problem since most wouldn't dare attacking the Empire anyway. Their presence and name is enough to ensure peace. $\endgroup$
    – Sinthorion
    Feb 9, 2018 at 13:12

Borrowing an idea from one of my favorite videogames, use glass shrapnel. Make a ballista with a wider launching bay, and fire glass panes out of it. The glass will shatter on impact, causing a bad day for any wizards or dragons unlucky enough to catch a direct hit. You can also use a modified bellows pump to build pressure in a vat of boiling oil, and then squirt it at anything that comes near.


If magic & dragons are somewhat common then Castles become not just defensive positions but can also be offensive positions as well. Power projection ...Castles built on frontier to push forward your mages power ie put their magic in range of neighbour countries forts/castles & cities. A line of Castles reinforcing each other with overlapping areas of magic bolstering & amplifying each other ie magic from neighbouring towers able to be channeled to tower/s under attack, also in depth defence with another line of towers behind the first ready to channel to the front line.

Magic used to attack walls? Well the walls are inbued with magic wards as a passive defence, but also defended by a company of Wizards. Aerial attack by dragons, griffins, angels, birdmen, giant eagles, pegasus riders etc a thing? Well just include a squadron or two of dragon-riders, squadrons of griffin & pegasus riders, and companies of birdmen, angels etc.

Your castles become like stationary aircraft carriers. With a bunch of air forces on your border you have a good deterrent to any would-be enemy. If they attack at any one castle or section of castles you are able to do the same from your unattacked positions. No more breaking just one castle then entering kingdom to pillage, they'd have to go at every castle on border at once ...plus if you have defence in depth & castles/airforces all over distributed then wars of conquest become much harder.


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