This week, I played some Rogue Legacy. After several hours of fascinating playtime, I realized that my usual play-by-play of the time I spent with the game was inadequate for this one. The situation of Rogue Legacy’s characters was so strange and fascinating that I felt compelled to delve further into that world. So I decided to do just that.
Our family crest is an odd one. The shield that hangs on our wall (or sometimes on the arms of a family warrior) bears a brown bear standing upright, clad in silver plate armor and leaning upon the pommel of a long sword. Inscribed along the bottom is the text “Morietur in Arce.” In the long-dead language of our kingdom, it translates to “Die in the Castle.”
To that particular command, our family has been faithful indeed. That slogan and our hall of portraits tells you everything you need to know about us. Perhaps I should say “Halls of Portraits.” Every connecting corridor in this manor is lined with the faces of the dead- regal art of men and women at arms in their prime. Each painting represents one step of the family- a single face for each generation. Below that is a series of plaques- siblings of the illustrated warrior.
The names on the plaques aren’t exiles by any means- no disrespect is meant by placing them below the portraits, by making them faceless. I have a few aunts and uncles whose names are underneath the portrait of my mother, Lady Charlotte IV. I see their children, my cousins, from time to time when they visit the manor, but they are not allowed to live here. The choice of the parents decides the fate of the child. Only one child per generation is permitted to continue the line.
This little castle is defined by the far grander castle that it sits in the shadow of- the Keep, we call it. And the whole family, even those that are not permitted to stay at the manor, know exactly what you mean when you say the Keep.
It was a few hundred years ago when Sir Johannes first stepped into the Keep. Full of monsters and traps, he fought valiantly to push through and depose whatever dark lord reigned there (to be honest, it has been so long that our family no longer remembers who exactly the enemy is). He did not survive the attempt. But the wealth he accumulated on his ventures into that dark place was more than his children and widow could imagine. The unsuccessful quest was still enough to comfortably feed two children and a woman for a decade and a half.
But all wealth comes to an end, and when at last it did, the now-grown children of Sir Johannes and his wife had to decide what to do. They had been working themselves, making an income, but their budget had been anything but balanced, chipping away at the fortune their father left them. They prepared themselves to sell their manor and start living within their means… but then they remembered the Keep. Their father had made so much money from just a little dungeoneering- perhaps a little further exploration would solve their budget woes?
And so it came to pass that one child, to each generation, would take up the sword and shield of their parent, and step into the castle to seek fortune, adventure, and ultimately death. The castle is unforgiving and bizarre, its layout different every time we enter. Efforts to map it have proven pointless. All we can do is train each generation to the best of our ability, and then when they come to maturity, let them decide amongst themselves who will have the honor, and the duty, of keeping this family alive.
Before they go into the castle, the one chosen heir must establish a family line, and have a few children, to ensure that the line keeps going. Our wealth (and, I think sometimes, the knowledge that you won’t actually have to live with your spouse) attracts suitors from across the land, which the living parent of the heir narrows down to a handful, and allows the heir to pick for themselves. I’m a little uncertain on how exactly the line kept going in the case of, say, Sir Scorpio, who married to another man. Given the birds and the bees and so forth, I’m sure it was a complicated situation. But the line did continue.
Speaking of procreation, it’s interesting to note the rate of strange conditions among our line. As a mage myself, my theory is that the magic from the Keep is having an effect on our children, but whatever the case, it is rare for us to have a child who is not born with a condition of some kind. Dwarfism is not too uncommon. Dextrocardia. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I myself am color-blind, which given what could have been is really not so bad. At least I was spared some of the mental disorders- dyslexia and hypochondria are not unheard of in our line.
And yet our family endears, and seeks death in the castle. The greatest honor any of us can achieve. It’s not as simple as just stepping into the castle and dying, however. Take another look at the portraits, and you will notice something interesting. The frames. Most of them are nice frames of silver, or bronze. A couple are exquisitely elaborate: creations of white gold, of platinum, of gems and art. And then there are the few, sad little wood frames- simple, plain, unadorned. This is not coincidence. It is the quiet way in which we pay our respects to the dead. If you elect to go into the castle, but die before you can get enough money to help the family survive, we will still put your picture on the wall. You will still get your portrait, and the family will still be okay. But it will be a wood frame, your family will have some lean times, and everyone will know it for generations to come. Your name will be spoken in a quiet, disappointed undertone. “Oh, yes. Sir Darwin. Such a shame about him.”
For most, though, this bit of positive and negative reinforcement is wholly unnecessary. My uncle is to this day furious that he did not get the chance to go die in the castle- he will ramble on and on to anyone who will listen about how close he was to winning the duel with my mother that decided that generation’s heir. My siblings, too, are fervently passionate, wholly disappointed that it is I who will be the one to stride into the castle. To seek a noble death. It is a religion to them, an obsession. At times I wonder if my family is anything more than a cult, tied together by blood.
I don’t know what I think of it myself. The Keep fascinates me, at the very least. How can it change its interior so frequently? How can it last for hundreds of years, with endless amounts of monsters, without any shipments of food or supplies from the outside world? Where does all the gold come from? And why on earth is it here- why do they bother? A castle full of monsters that just stands there for centuries, waiting. I do not understand, and there is very little these days that I do not understand. Death sounds unpleasant, but more unpleasant still would be to know that the Keep held answers, and I never went to find them.
Tomorrow, I will put on my battle garb, and enter the Keep for the first time. I assume that I will at least survive that first scouting trip, but I cannot be sure. You can never know what the Keep has in store for you. But unlike so many of my family, I have no intention of dying. If I do, I do… but it is not the goal. Not for me. I just want to know what it is about this place that has captured the soul of my family and held it hostage. I want to know why we are here. Why I am here.
I suppose that’s what everyone wants, isn’t it?
I should get some rest. Tomorrow… is the beginning of my end. My children sleep soundly tonight, proud of me. Of my near-certain death. I suppose I should be as well. But I just feel… uncertain. Cold. I wonder if this is how my mother felt? Or her father before her?
Is this how one of my children will feel, one day? Only if I can’t end it myself. So I suppose I shall just have to do that. Succeed, where generations of ancestors have failed.
Shoutouts to Idle Thumbs- I was halfway done with this when I heard your podcast 113 “Shoot That Pizza” which basically has a ton of the same ideas in it. Great minds think alike? Coincidence, I promise.
Hope you guys enjoyed this little experiment, and I’ll see you guys next week for more Goddamn Mondays.