I'm thinking not only of the impact they would have had on how you would defend from an aerial attack, but also that they could be used for much more specific bombardment by dropping large rocks and such. For simplicity, let's assume that no more than two people in leather could ride such a creatures, which also gives us a general weight limit.

So, how would castles have been designed differently if these creatures existed?

  • $\begingroup$ How large is large? Two riders apiece sounds around elephant size, possibly smaller. At that size, studying the cultures where elephants were used as (war)mounts might be instructive. $\endgroup$
    – KRyan
    Sep 17, 2014 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'm currently thinking along the lines of a creature with a huge wingspan to help it lift that weight. A horse can carry two people, but it isn't happy to do so for that long, it would be the same in this case. I'm not overly concerned with realism of the creatures, more the effect that it might have. $\endgroup$
    – Mourdos
    Sep 17, 2014 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Mourdos You mention aerial attack and wingspan. Do these creatures fly? $\endgroup$
    – Allerion
    Sep 17, 2014 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ I completly.... missed... writing that. Good catch $\endgroup$
    – Mourdos
    Sep 17, 2014 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ Such creatures can be killed relatively easy? If yes, how? That is important when building a defensive structure. $\endgroup$
    – Garoal
    Sep 17, 2014 at 17:34

5 Answers 5


For the sake of this answer, I will be assuming that by "castles" you mean late medieval/early Renaissance pre-gunpowder fortifications that were used for habitation as well as defense.

I was also originally going to split this answer into two parts, depending on how difficult these creatures would be to kill or wound, but after some consideration, I decided it doesn't matter as long as we're not dealing with flying tanks.

So, we would most likely see some of the following:

  • greater focus on roofs/covered crenelations, like you find in Japanese castles and fortresses, to protect from missiles and projectiles dropped from overhead.
  • systems of upright spikes or blades -- something akin to anti-roosting pigeon spikes, only scaled up appropriately, in order to prevent these creatures from landing or performing snatch & grab strikes against valuable targets
  • depending on the level of threat presented by these fliers, as well as level of technology available to the defenders, we might also see some active defenses. Smoke bombs and/or smoke-producing apparatuses to obscure the castle from overhead, bolas or razor wire launchers for area denial, and maybe even tethered balloons with marksman teams to negate the inherent height advantage (though how you'd go about protecting the tethers or the balloons themselves is another matter)
  • and, of course, let's not forget the possibility of castles including facilities for their own flying cavalry in order to counter potential opponents
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    $\begingroup$ I like razor wire. Stretch that between two towers. The first time in the dark a flying enemy tangles in that, it may take them a long time to build up courage to return $\endgroup$
    – Andrey
    Jun 21, 2017 at 2:25

Large Rideable Flying Creatures are called Planes.

They made castles obsolete.

While the term castle is somewhat fuzzy, I will take it to mean a static, fortified location designed to withstand enemy attacks.

Many people believe that the advances in cannon technology such better propellents and rifling killed the castle, but the Trace Italienne pattern evolved to counter such advances in artillery design and technology. The use of very deep earth and brick hills (for they are too wide to be called walls) quite successfully creates a fortification that will resist canon attacks.

The next evolution in castle design came about due to advances in high explosive, making the Trace Italienne's wide thoroughfares very vulnerable to plunging fire from mortar or artillery shells. Cutting a long story short (see wikipedia), forts eventually moved underground, exposing only their guns to the incoming attacks.

What really killed the fortification as a doctrine of war, and made it largely irrelevant were advances on two fronts: Air Power, and increased mobility brought about by advances in Mechanisation. Fortifications would from now on either be destroyed with overwhelming force from the air, or circumvented altogether.

While Mechanisation and mobility can be countered by a determined defender, such as miles of barbed wires, tank traps, machine gun and anti-tank gun positions - or the equivalent in a fantasy setting, nothing at all can be done for air power. Once warfare takes to the air, the era of static fortification is at an end, and the era of air superiority has began.

Even creatures only capable of carrying a payload of 180kg kilograms at most (two fully equipped riders) would make mincemeat out of most modern fortifications with sufficient numbers. Flying high enough to be out of reach of conventional projectile weapons, the attackers are free to bombard the fortification with impunity. This is especially true for a world with either technology or magic, where projectiles can pack an enormous punch for very little weight - think only of greek fire for a real example from antiquity. The only defence against such an attack would be for the fort to keep a force of flying creature itself to be used as counter measure. This would essentially be the race for air superiority.

In fact, the most likely outcome would be that forts give way to a stopping and feeding point for the defender's fleet of air beasts. In effect, airports for flying beasts. This would also have a drastic effect (although dependent on the flight time), on a base's projection of power. The area that one could reasonably control with a flying beast is an order of magnitude larger than with a walking one.


In addition, it is unwise to discount the power of artificial selection. Artificial selection allowed humans to turn the wolf into both the Chihuahua and the Saint Bernard long before we understood genetics meaningfully. Applied to flying creatures, it is easy to envisage a variety of creatures specialised for different roles. here are a few to give an idea:

  • Large, slow but sturdy Bred for endurance, they are the preferred breed for long distances or heavy loads. They require little maintenance and have exceptional all round health. Sky camels.
  • Small, light and fast This fragile breed is prone to sickness and requires a great deal of care during their rearing. But boy are they fast. Used for scouts and messengers, they can fly twice to three times the speed of most other breeds. Air Arabian Horse.
  • Tough and mean When you need to take down other flying creatures, these are the ones you go for. You don't burden them with a rider (They won't really support one anyway) and you lead them from another creature. Their viciousness is legendary and most tamers are missing a limb or two, but a squadron of those over your lands will deny the skies to anyone else. (You might also lose a sheep once in a while). Sky Wolves.
  • Marine This breed deals with the difficulties of sea travel better than any others. In fact, they will mostly feed themselves on long sea journeys by dive fishing. Special boats accomodating dozens of the breed can project power over the ocean and assail distant cities. Portuguese Water Dogs for the clouds.
  • Smart & cooperative Bred for a pack mentality and a superior intellect this breed excels at complex tasks requiring timed coordination and planning. They take orders via hand signals and are the preferred breed for covert or special force work. If a silent night-time assault is required, your elite soldiers will most likely be riding these guys. German Shephards.

An interesting idea would be for some breeds to be the secret pejorative of a given nation. This would lead to the nation only fielding a single gender of the breed to avoid other nations capturing or breeding similar beasts, downded riders killing their beasts the way modern special forces destroy downed helicopters with explosives, or perhaps only fielding castrated creatures.

The wider issues

You'll also need to think of the wide spread effects of having air travel from pre-history. Political and Social systems would look very different indeed if humans had air travel before writing. In fact, flying creatures would be a world-defining feature. The entire history of exploration and map-making, as well as the differences in advancement and technology on earth would likely never occur.

Rapid exploration and communication would have drastic and fundamental effects. Languages would evolve differently, and trade routes would also be very different, as they would no longer have to be defined by geography. This is only scratching the surface.

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    $\begingroup$ Exactly. Battle for air superiority would start much sooner. $\endgroup$ Jan 5, 2015 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ A little late, but +1 for the star fort. $\endgroup$
    – m t
    Mar 2, 2015 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, but they are command and control structures protected to avoid C&C decapitation or loss of retaliatory strike capabilities. They are no longer about territory control as the old fortifications were. You can tell by how their very location is often secret. This is fundamentally antithetical to territory control, and shows they serve a different purpose altogether. $\endgroup$
    – brice
    Mar 15, 2015 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ Bingo. You model these flying creatures as planes and look at how castles fared in WWII. The only thing I'd add is the troop transport and heavy bomber. Weight isn't the issue, size is: you can't squeeze infantry like sardines for transport, and you want to be able to control the bomb rate, which requires someone to be able to move things around in the bomb bay. Since you can't have this space in the body of the beast like you would in aircraft, how big a load could the beast carry before the aerodynamics become nonviable? Without heavy bombers/troop transports, it's a different game $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Jul 13, 2016 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ I don't agree with you there : bunker lines were still used up to WWII (and we didn't have many symmetrical wars since) in the form of the ligne Maginot, which was only made useless by circumventing it through Belgium (where, arguably similar fortifications would have made the invasion of France impossible). Also, aerial power alone isn't that great for invading a territory, as Britain's example shows us, and in that case, it was complemented by artillery and needed an amount of efficient munitions that can hardly be matched by whatever greek fire you may come up with in pre-industrial times. $\endgroup$
    – Evpok
    Sep 8, 2016 at 13:17

There was an article in a dragon magazine where the defenses against aerial creature was discussed (mostly in d&d term, but that may give some pointers against more "standard" creatures)

A discussion on dragonfoot lead to the following (taking only the part against aerial creature) :

  • Anti-aircraft ballistas. Ballistas on a universal mount, able to be fired at steep angles. Special ballistas may fire two bolts with a chain inbetween, to catch wings and necks.

  • "Dragon Chains" Large poles, like the masts on ships, extend up above towers and walls, and chains dangle inbetween them and down to the ground, thus inspiring great caution in any flyers thinking of swooping down. The name is just advertising, this product is not recommended against large creatures.

  • Bulwarks - stone or heavy wood low shelters that defenders can dive behind/under at the last moment to avoid things like diving attack or arrows.
  • Someone trying to fly and infiltrate down through chimneys could be surprised to find the chimneys grated off near to the fire (so the metal is nice and hot).
  • Roofs will have to be fortified in any case. A squad of heavy crossbows in cover could ruin the day of many a flyer.
  • $\begingroup$ Also the cow catapault, assuming these are carnivores. They will likely be kept hungry in order to keep them aggressive. Fresh meat can be a major distraction $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Jul 13, 2016 at 8:22

I will work off of the following assumptions.

Your leaving all things the same: balances of power; political, social, & technological advances; etc., however during the development of fortresses into (let's say European) castles, we happened upon and domesticated (to the point of using for our needs) a flying animal capable of causing problems for our enemies from the skies.

I think very rapidly what you would see, would be similar development of the 9th and 10th century stone structures into the 15th & 16th centuries. The difference is that they would be underground. Instead of investing labor into assembling stones above-ground, they would work on deep structures, evolving into having multiple "level" of stone barrier above, such as your "outer ward" / "inner ward" / "keep" arrangements, with fortified ingress & egress portals outward.

This can get interesting when it is discovered that a moat surrounding your castle is a helpful defense (it would make it difficult for an invading land and air force to "dig" into your castle. You could have a fortified island bunker as your entrance & exit, but your castle would be under ground, under water!

My last speculation would be that these are more largely "forts" than full time living locations, or else it could have highly defended skylights, much like a castle's keep has highly defended, thin windows.


I have struggled with the question of 'how to defend against dragon fire' while creating my own world. I decided that if there are magical creatures that can breath fire then it is also very likely that there are magicians that can manipulate fire. As such, the key to the castle's defence would be a class of powerful magicians that specialize in fire magic. The only problem is it is unlikely that there are many of them (unless your world has a lot of magic) and so for the most part, castles would be defenceless against dragons. Those who control the dragons would have absolute rule over all the lands.

You could try something similar. It may not be dragons, but whoever rules the air may be an absolute power and no matter how corrupt ("absolute power corrupts absolutely") all would fear to challenge their rule least they bring about their utter destruction. If there were wars, then they would likely be fought in the air and immobile fortifications would be a liability.


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