Empire Of One

A Hard-Left History Geek Plays Minecraft

001: The Castle, In Media Res

The Castle, central stronghold of the Purple Triangle Imperium, three stories of arrogance in obsidian, granite, and diorite

I really wish I’d started this blog back when I started playing Minecraft. It would have been fascinating to look back on the diary and screenshots of my first explorations, learning a few basics about redstone, how to do deep gallery mining, the expansion of my territory – ah well. We will have to join our empire in media res, at a time when it sprawls for thousands of blocks in all four directions, and there have been ventures into the Nether.

I am however a firm believer in the Cult of Done Manifesto, printed it out and tacked it up on the wall over my desk when it first came out, and you start the idea now. You’re always starting it now. This blog will be somewhat raw, initially composed in LibreOffice but possibly migrating to composition online. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps get it done. Rather than talking about the idea, and how I wish I’d started sooner, I’m starting now, and we’ll jump in here at the Castle, the central stronghold of the Purple Triangle Empire. History will be cited as required during the guided tour. Do try to keep up, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

The front of the castle after banners weere added

I toyed with several names when I was designing and building the place, but the simple label of The Castle just seemed to fit. What it says on the tin. Yes, that’s a whacking lot of obsidian. It took me a couple of diamond pickaxes and a couple of weeks of gameplay with a water bucket down in a chasm to mine and place that much obsidian. However, the building walls are creeper-proof. I’m currently mining more obsidian because I forgot to do the damn skirting, and there’s exposed cobblestone at the base. The underfloor is standard cobblestone over a leveled area. I spent a lot of time leveling ground to build this complex. Half the dirt in the warehouse room chests came from this site alone.

So it’s three stories as you can see, obsidian first floor with andesite interior walls and polished diorite stairs up to a granite second story, then a third floor of alternating polished diorite and glass block columns. The windows are glass block throughout, for the appearance of solidity. Stuff pops like a soap bubble, which is why there’s no windows on the first floor. It’s really quite striking, don’t you think? Looks gorgeous from the inside too. That’s the enchanting room and we’ll get to that later.

The front doors, the main entrance and the livestock room entrance, iron doors set against obsidian, and a lot of illiger banners

The front two doors have some kind of interference problem or something, and will often flap madly and keep me from entering. They’re supposed to be mob proof, iron doors with pushbutton entry and pressure plate exit, redstone activated, but they’re far too often me proof. I’ve died right on these steps because I couldn’t get in and escape that damn vindicator. Fortunately, I fitted the middle story with a parapet access door, so now when there’s illigers I just nip out onto the ledge and snipe them. I’ll show you that later as well. The illiger banners are trophies, captured in combat. I started putting up the banners when I captured them as a show of defiance, and a warning, although I didn’t expect the game’s algorithms to take any notice whatsoever. It looked badass anyway, this little farm in the middle of the taiga flying a captured bandit banner. I’ve kept up the tradition, putting the banner up on the nearest waystation, railway station, mining head, or whatever I’m occupying in the area.

The entry hall, polished white stairs up dominating the otherwise grey space, relieved by red carpet

This is the entry hall, at the center. I spent more time planning this building than anything else I’ve done in this game. There was actual time spent with virtual graph paper and then a web based Minecraft designer tool, plotting out the layout. It all focused on the enchanting room at the top. It had to have a very specific layout, with the walls just so around it all, and that meant the next floor down could be larger but would have to conform to the stairs placement, and that determined where these stairs here, just inside the front door, went. Lovely big hall, open all the way up to the second floor. The wing around to the left is the warehouse room, to the right is agriculture, and center back behind the stairs is the treasure room.

Warehouse room looking left from the entrance, at the older section, mostly stone

This is the warehouse, my primary storage for materials, like granite and coal and lapis, and finished items, like the Home Decor chest that holds doors, steps, beds, banners, all your household fixtures. There’s also a chest for rail components, like rail and powered rail and minecarts. The worktable at the back is for blocking compressible materials for bulk storage, like iron and lapis lazuli. Some of the chests do multiple duty. For example, the Oak, Spruce, and Birch chests hold not only logs of those woods, but planks, stripped logs, and finished wood.

Warehouse room looking right from the entrance, at the newer section, with more exotic materials

The design here is based heavily on comments other, more experienced players had made in conversation, both in person and online. I had several people tell me about their strongholds long before I picked a site and started planning mine. There are certain basic ideas that have to be represented, and then there’s the functionality and aesthetic issues. I originally considered a wizard’s tower, but that would have had to either have a lot of unused space in the upper floors to make it look right proportionally, or involve a lot of going up and down stairs to use all the space in a narrower building, and yeah, neither one was going to work and we ended up with a ziggurat. The design is classic.

Treasure room view 1, looking toward the entrance from the back of the room

This is the treasure room. Starting facing the door, bottom left is weaponry and armor that I’ve made and stockpiled, diamond stuff that’s been enchanted. Above that both chests are empty. Bottom right is stuff I’ve captured or plundered, so a lot of beat up zombie and skeleton armor and looted horse armor. This points up a major aspect here, that of loot. This has been argued to death in the roleplaying game community, but it still serves as a very visible reminder of the colonialist and European-supremacist foundations of the Minecraft world. There’s abandoned temples out in the desert and jungle, and it’s perfectly fine to go out and disarm the boobytraps, tear the place down, strip it for valuables and usable parts, and leave the ruins for the sands or the vines. I don’t have a problem with the dungeons.

Treasure room view 2, looking toward the back from the entrance

Somebody obviously set up a very nasty little challenge, with a chest or two in an obviously artificial room, always with a monster spawner dead center. The mouse who beats the trap gets the cheese. But the temples, while they look pretty much abandoned, half covered in drifting sand or enshrouded in greenery, were built for a different purpose. It’s in their name: they were meant to be sanctuaries. This view of a temple as something to be looted, a handy label for an unguarded place with goodies just lying about for the taking, comes from some very dark parts of Western, and thus my, history indeed.

The small side chests are the overflow storage for gold, diamonds, and emeralds. Not a lot of diamonds here right now. The Great Eastern and Great Southern projects went through a lot of diamond trying to keep the railway stations all kitted out with a spare set of armor and a sword, along with bow, arrows, and torches. I am so tired of killing chickens. They could at least have the decency to all drop a feather, not have it be a coin toss. I have so much cooked chicken in my food locker. Came a point toward the end of the Great Southern where I had to go pull all the armor and weaponry in from the Great Eastern stations, and the size of the inventory startled me. I hadn’t realized my territory had grown that large. When I was walking everywhere, with just single-block cobblestone roads between waystations, it made sense to keep a full set of kit in each waystation in case of a respawn. Now, however, I need to finish centralizing my storage and logistics, and manage this like an empire, and restock my diamonds. And learn to think on a larger scale, even if it’s just me and what I can personally do within the game instance.

Front or livestock room of the agricultural storage hall

The Agriculture hall is kind of empty, both in the front and back rooms. I had thought I’d need more agricultural storage, not sure for what, and I built the Castle to be symmetrical in its first floor layout. Originally, I was going to put just crops out back and around the side, and livestock across the road in larger paddocks, but then I realized I didn’t need large scale production. As fast as everything matures, I can just wait a couple of cycles and I have more of whatever it was I was growing or breeding. The front hall has a chest of saddles and another chest with fencing, with the idea of a separate room for tack and livestock tools and supplies, but I’m not running a ranch or a stable here. I just don’t have the need for it.

Front or livestock room of the agricultural storage hall

The back room is plants, although the tools chest now has the shears in it, for the sheep and the pumpkins, and I keep animal feed and eggs in the single chest there so I can restock the pens as needed.

Upstairs landing between crafting hall and bedroom

The second floor introduces color coding for spaces in the carpet, also known as I’d just discovered dying and was going a little nuts with the colors. You’ll see another wave of that with the Great Southern stations that started when I realized I hadn’t done anything with that loom I’d built. So, blue into the bedroom, pink into the crafting hall, and yellow around the back.

View of the back room on the second floor, stairs going up to the third

See that wooden door just past the stairs? That’s a retrofit, put in after I got besieged by an illiger party and had to break a window to shoot them. That lets out onto the parapet, and allows me to sneak around with a bow and find the mobs below. With diamond boots of Feather Falling II or better, it’s not a long enough drop to cause damage when I jump down at the end to collect the experience orbs and item drops. The stairs lead up to the enchanting room, it’s later on the tour.

Bedroom of the castle, blue carpet, red bed, tool locker, food locker

The bedroom is pretty sparse – a bed is all it really needed, and I could have put that in the corner of the crafting hall or under the stairs or something. I also put my food locker in here, though, and the toolbox, the chest with the tools and items I’ve most recently been mucking about with, or mean to get back to, or just don’t have anywhere else to put. Okay, so it’s less toolbox and more rummage drawer. Don’t look at me like that. Everybody has one, usually in their kitchen.

Shot 1, Crafting Hall, Crafting table, furnaces, associated chests

The crafting hall has all the making-stuff platforms. Two furnaces and a blast furnace, and yes, there’s been times I’ve had all three of them going. One chest for textiles, wool and dyed wool, dye and dye components. One chest for mineral supplies, iron, gold, coal, glass, flint, diamond, emerald, and so on. One chest for food components, raw veg, empty bowls, that sort of thing. One chest for odds and ends components, wood, gunpowder, made items that count as components like paper. All this ready to hand within click range of the crafting table.

Shot 2, Crafting Hall, loom through crafting table

A little down the line, we’ve got an anvil, have to replace that every so often, really annoying, a cauldron full of water, a cartography table that I don't ever use since I installed Unmined, a smith's table for decor, and the aforementioned loom. It makes colorful banners and works very much like a stencil printing toy I had as a child.

Shot 3, Crafting Hall, brewing table

The built in table on the other wall has two brewing stands recovered from igloos up past Ice Station Zebra, we’ll go there someday, and one from a village down near Barking Station, sorry I stole your job site, villager, but I haven’t had any success hunting blazes in the Nether, so no blaze powder in my inventory yet.

Shot 1, Enchanting Room, view from stairs

Up the ladder to the roof, where we can see Heaven much better. This place took for farging ever to finish. Holy crap, did that take a lot of tedious and unpleasant work. Sixteen bookshelves, each consisting of six planks and three books, each book consisting of three sheets of paper and one leather, meaning three stalks of sugar cane and one cow. Let’s do the math, shall we? At three cows per bookshelf, and sixteen bookshelves to complete the room, that’s forty-eight cows I had to raise and slaughter. The good news is that steak is an ideal ration for the more dangerous deep cavern explorations. The bad news is that I have gotten really tired of breeding cows until the paddock is crowded, then wading in with a sword until only a few are left.

This gets at a point inherent in the title. Is it possible to have an empire of one? To behave in such a way as to constitute an empire all on your own? I own the means of production in this game world. I am the only volitional producer of transformed materials and finished goods. The shepherd advances from selling shears and buying wool to selling dyed wool or carpet and buying dyes to selling beds and buying fancier dyes in a regular progression based on the number of trades made. I’m doing all the work here, and am the only conscious being in existence in this instance of the virtual world. This brings up the question of ethics, and puts me on a collision course with the nature of the game itself. Just a fair warning that we’re going to get much deeper into this later on, letting it unpack itself in a natural progression as we tour the game world and things come up in conversation.

Shot 2, Enchanting Room, the enchanting table

The enchanting table was expensive, yes, diamonds and obsidian, but it also required a book, so 49 cows died to make this room. Just something to keep in mind. The chests over here along this wall hold – oh gosh, more books. Most of them enchanted, having been used to capture enchantments from the table when I didn’t have an item I wanted to enchant at the moment, and many from before I figured out that it was costing me more to capture the enchantment in a book and apply it to an item later at the anvil than to enchant the item directly. This is why the third chest has diamond armor and weapons in it. They’re waiting for their turn. There’s such a crapton of them because remember the story about the diamonds back in the treasure room? Yeah, this all came in from the Great Eastern stations when I went back and cleaned them out, and a lot of it hadn’t been chanted yet. So, enchanted books in alphabetical and numeric order across three chests, the first with spare books and a stack of lapis, the third with the item waiting area.

Nice view from up here. Don’t worry about the spider on the roof, they spawn up there sometimes. If I put a torch up on the roof the building would look like some terrible birthday cake that the bakery totally misunderstood the instructions for. Eventually, it’ll get bored and try to come down or peek over the edge and then I’ll shoot it. I hate the noise they make. It’s so disgusting.


Let’s go out back for a minute. I’m rather proud of the raised beds and the fenced off growing areas.

Raised Bed Back

The two raised beds have water down the center. The strip is seven blocks long, and took three water source blocks to create. Put one at each end, then one in the middle, and they’re close enough they flow into each other and turn all the blocks in between into source blocks. Voila, you can now dip up new source blocks as you need to.

Raised Bed Front with Kelp

The one bed has a deeper channel so I can grow seaweed down in there, and harvest one leaf off the top of each plant at a time. It’s a slow process but I haven’t needed much in the way of seaweed. The layout is optimized to put the sugar cane next to the water, the other plants only one block away. Everything matures at its fastest possible speed.

Wheat Bed

The one with the wheat can be harvested with water power using two dirt blocks and a bucket, although I’m not convinced that’s faster than the whack and plant method going square by square.

Fenced Enclosure

The second fenced area has a patch of soul sand so I can grow netherwort, and bamboo because it’s useful and makes good signage, I can see the location of the Castle from a distance. Of course, there’s a pumpkin and a melon and a jungle log with cocoa beans.


Cows, sheep, chickens, pigs. No, I do not keep llamas here. What I have is annoying enough. Oh, and a horse with diamond armor tied off to the sheep fence. Haven’t ridden the thing since I got the road built out to Paddington. Note the livestock chutes on the cattle and sheep pens, and the airlock design on the chicken and pig pens. We’re not having any escapes here, and those made getting the initial stock into the pens so much easier.


The well around the side of the castle was my original controlled source. Two source blocks at a diagonal and presto, I have a four source block square and can dip up source blocks all day.

Railway Launcher

The launcher for the Farm and Northern lines. Switch is up on the next level, right after the initial climb, inconveniently far from the launcher, but I haven't gone back and revised it yet. These were my first railway lines, and I still had a lot to learn.


The grey building across the road half buried in the ground is the Nether Gate enclosure. Out past it is Outpost One, my first waystation and now the launch point for the Western Railway. The launcher here at the corner of the Castle runs down to The Farm, my original spawn point, from which the Great Eastern launches, and up to the Purple Palace, where the Great Northern line has its southern endpoint. We’ll see all of those in later entries. The first draft of this thing was over three thousand words. Isn’t that quite enough really?


This is Dumbass, my pet iron golem, made to keep the pillagers off the Castle. He keeps wandering into the ponds and having to have paths dug back out for him. Here's a typical pose. I think he listens to me, because he seems to react to what I say to him. Here's the next snap, right after I called him his name and grouched at him for getting stuck in a pond again