Out, damned Fort! That's what we imagine our players shouting as they sweep clean the Fort of the Damned, gesturing grandly and paraphrasing Shakespeare like the classy bunch of buccaneers they are.

It's a victory worth celebrating, as October's free Sea of Thieves update presents a solid Fort-based challenge alongside a wide sweep of accompanying additions, from playable banjos finally finding a place in your shanties to duo Sloops making their debut in The Arena. If this is the first time it's come to your attention, there are plenty of places to find out what you get for this month's outlay of zero pence: the dedicated Fort of the Damned and Pirate Emporium pages here on this site, our narrated Content Update video and the release notes for all the fine detail.

Official Sea of Thieves Content Update: Fort of the Damned

Duration 6:27

And now, midway through the campaign, we're back with another behind-the-scenes look at the thinking and planning that went into it. As with Smuggler's Fortune last month, we steered Sea of Thieves Senior Designer Chris Davies to our regular spot in Rare reception to quiz him on the making of this month's offering and how it fits into the longer-term plan. He acceded graciously, despite already being grilled alongside fellow designer Steve in a Forum Q&A just last week.

So Chris, Fort of the Damned: where did you and the team pull that one from?

"Well, to start with, last year's Festival of the Damned was so popular that we were definitely keen to do a 'sequel'. Of course, the Flames of Fate from the Ferry of the Damned had to be part of that, but this time we wanted them to have a practical use – which is where the colour-coordinated Shadow of Fate enemies came in.

"We'd also been talking about Forts for a while, how we could potentially 'mod' them and offer players some control over when they were active. By focusing our efforts on a single Fort and making the activation criteria part of a bigger, more dramatic event, we could ensure it didn't get spammed and become too commonplace, which would take all the thrill out of a good Fort raid. Eventually, all these threads came together and Fort of the Damned took shape."

Behind October's update was also a push to tell more of a traditional ghost story. Initially the idea was that you'd meet other dead Captains aboard the Ferry of the Damned, bemoaning the fates of their crews who'd died in a variety of ways and needed the player to take the Flames of Fate and release their souls. Ultimately these mournful mariners didn't make it into the update to sit around hogging valuable Ferry deck space, but the purpose of the Flames had been found, with the no-longer-human Shadows of Fate only being made vulnerable by the right Flame of Fate.

Beyond that main push, how does this update carry forward the other threads established in previous monthly updates? Chris picks up the tale:

"In terms of lore, Fort of the Damned sees the skellies' plans with those pesky Dark Relics gathering pace, as players are unwittingly pulled in to help prove out experiments and progress some overarching plans that we can't give away just yet! Graymarrow's return from the grave even after his undead destruction in Shores of Gold is a big deal, as the repeated resurrection of a Skeleton Lord has now been proven possible by these mysterious schemers. So more and more of the pieces are coming together, some in the foreground and some in the background, with plenty of payoff to come in the months ahead."

Exciting times. Chris let slip some spoilers (to go no further, we had a gentlemen's agreement) regarding the directions those plotlines are taking, and you can rest assured there's plenty of drama brewing around some of your favourite characters. For now, though, there's a Fort that needs purging of a shadowy infestation, and it may well be the toughest challenge posed by a Sea of Thieves monthly update so far. Larger crews and Alliances with other vessels are well worth considering, Chris confirms:

"The time and effort needed to gather all the different Flames of Fate mean co-operation is definitely the best way to tackle the Fort of the Damned. Knowing that was the case, we fine-tuned other details to be consistent with this approach – like the amount of time required to defeat Graymarrow, designed to make it difficult for any single crew to take him down too quickly and prevent other crews getting involved.

"There are lots of other little details we included to prevent undue frustration when fighting your way through the Fort. We worked hard to avoid any potential colourblindness issues by determining 'safe' colour combinations of enemy waves (a great example of Insider feedback bringing something to our attention) and adding the ghostly hands near the active Ferryman statues – which we thought worked really well as it's an extra feature that benefits everyone, rather than any kind of gameplay concession. One other thing you may have noticed is that it's easier to see out of the fog bank surrounding the Fort than it is to see in, giving you fair warning of any crews sailing in to spring an ambush!"

Elsewhere in the monthly update, the Pirate Emporium and Black Market both got a stock refresh: the Emporium is carrying special seasonal treats in October with skeleton pets, new emotes and a forbidding Killer Instinct-themed ship livery, all up for purchase by any players with Ancient Coins in the bank. Meanwhile, Duke's Black Market business goes from strength to strength, bringing in new cosmetic set variants and giving players a way to fill out previously incomplete sets using their in-game gold and Doubloons. Take your pick now before the next update changes things once again...

The Fort of the Damned update is live until the next monthly update rolls out on November 20th, but the Fort itself will remain in the game beyond that, there for any crew to challenge provided they have a Ritual Skull and the Flames of Fate to give them a fighting chance. This is part of a push to make more of the monthly content permanent, although time-limited Commendations and Titles are still available to ensure participating pirates always have something to show they were there when it all kicked off.

We're already excited about what November brings to the seas, so keep your eyes peeled for that and for the follow-up chat we'll have with the team once it's live!