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the-golem
03-16-2011, 09:20 PM
Greetings Guilders!

I'll soon be running a "large-scale" battle of sorts for the D&D group I game with. I want it to be pretty immersive, so I'm making a Castle/Keep at a 1" = 5' scale. The adventure I'm working with was nice enough to include a map of said castle, but some of the specifics of it have me boggled. Namely, Area 9. The flavor says that it's a portcullis that "swings shut" and is then locked into place. Personally, I've never heard of a portcullis that swung shut like a gate. Is that historically accurate, a "swinging" portcullis? Secondly, still focused on Area 9, were it a normal portcullis, shouldn't there be something like a gate tower builtup thats roughly trice the height of the portcullis, to account for the counterweights etc that keep it open/closed? As you can see, the battlement goes right overtop of the portcullis, instead of forming some kind of gate tower.

What are your opinions?

34426

Thanks in advance!

jfrazierjr
03-16-2011, 09:30 PM
Well.. I can't tell you anything specific about this, especially the author's intent, BUT.. the artist Mike Schley is a member here. He might have some notes, but my initial reaction is the same as yours on the whole portcullis thing... I say, just make your map the way you want it... you could always alter the adventure text a bit during game play if you make area nine as it appears in this map.


EDIT: on second look, the 2nd floor (top map) clearly shows a structure above the portcullis. There is no way to know the height of the structure, but it is very likely more than enough to house the portcullis on an up/down orientation assuming door height = less than floor to ceiling height on both the 1st and 2nd floors.

the-golem
03-16-2011, 10:00 PM
Wow, such a fast response. It's awesome that Mike is a member here, hopefully he can provide me some extras. I was going off the (modern) assumption that a new story is every 10ft. Hmmm. It's possible to figure it out based on the length of the staircases. Each stair case is 15ft long. Assuming a run of 1ft per step, that'd be 15 steps. 15 steps means 16 risers (One for each step, plus 1 for the "step" onto the actual landing/platform)

16 risers x 7.5 inches roughly = 120inches. 120in/12in = 10ft. So far, it seems my guess is on track.

However, I did notice something that says the "Embrasure sills on the first floor are roughly 12ft above the ground." At first I'd no idea what an "embrasure" is, but further reading enlightened me; they're basically arrow slits. Also, additonal reading enlightened me that the ceiling height is 15ft. Also, "The battlements ... are 25 feet above the ground level outside, and 15ft above the courtyards inside." This makes more sense, but makes for some really steep stairs, if the length of 15ft is to be taken as a given. Another 5ft in overall length and you could get a more manageable step.

I'm ashamed of myself, slightly. I should have done more reading.

(EDIT: I know the given statistics don't necessarily state the artists actual intentions, but at least it's something to go on.)

Midgardsormr
03-17-2011, 07:04 PM
Very steep stairs would be a defensive advantage. Presumably, if the enemy got inside the walls, the defenders will be at the top of the stairs, so steep steps, maybe even not quite long enough for your entire foot, would put the attackers at a severe disadvantage.

Regarding the swinging portcullis, it's possible that the gate has hinges at the top and swings down from the ceiling. You might see something of that sort if the portcullis was a late addition to the fortress. Perhaps the original architect considered the main gates to be sufficiently strong as to not need an additional gate, or whoever built the castle did it on the cheap, cutting out some features in favor of a more luxurious bedchamber or something.

the-golem
03-17-2011, 08:23 PM
Very steep stairs would be a defensive advantage. Presumably, if the enemy got inside the walls, the defenders will be at the top of the stairs, so steep steps, maybe even not quite long enough for your entire foot, would put the attackers at a severe disadvantage.

Regarding the swinging portcullis, it's possible that the gate has hinges at the top and swings down from the ceiling. You might see something of that sort if the portcullis was a late addition to the fortress. Perhaps the original architect considered the main gates to be sufficiently strong as to not need an additional gate, or whoever built the castle did it on the cheap, cutting out some features in favor of a more luxurious bedchamber or something.

Those are both very good points. I guess it is a bit silly of me to think that the stairs would adhere to modern standards. Also, I hadn't even given a thought to a downward swinging portcullis. Thankyou.

Midgardsormr
03-17-2011, 08:33 PM
Not silly at all. I wouldn't have thought in those terms if I hadn't already read several books about medieval fortification and architectural history. Long enough ago that I don't remember many details, but some of the principles remain in my head.

the-golem
03-18-2011, 04:08 AM
Is there a resource anyone goes to regarding castles and such, so that if I have to alter things, I can build something that looks halfway decent?

Thanks

Talroth
03-18-2011, 01:17 PM
I'm not sure if portcullis would still be the proper word for it, but I do know that iron gates, hinged on their sides, were used in Scotland. The have the advantage of being simpler to produce than your common tower based lowered gates. Personally I can't think of any really good reason to hinge a gate at the top. It just makes it awkward to get in and out in a hurry. With it hinged on the side, you can open it slightly and get in or out, without having to awkwardly duck under it or open it fully.

Midgardsormr
03-18-2011, 01:48 PM
Hinge it on the top for the same reason that you'd drop it down slots from above: Yank a cord, and down it comes, fast. And if somebody happens to be in the way, they get smushed. The portcullis is generally not meant to be closed except when the outer gate has been breached or is in danger of being breached.

As for books… I can't honestly remember much about the ones I read back in high school. In terms of construction and economy, Castles and Ruins by Iron Crown Enterprises is quite good and well researched, but I don't recall how much space it gave to design.

Talroth
03-18-2011, 05:57 PM
I've actually never seen a single working example where a portcullis dropped 'fast', and the only references to it always reeked of Victorian era 'I've never seen it, but this is logically the way it worked' thinking. They are usually fairly well balanced so they are both easy to raise and lower, meaning you still had to crank them closed.

The other flaw with hinging it at the top is that in order to close the door, you have to step well back from it, or risk getting knocked in the back of the head. That means your defenders have to be further back from the door way, which in turn means their sharp pointy things can't keep the attackers as far away. And an attacker that is closer to the door is one who stands a better chance of keeping it open.
With a side hinge you can have one guy swinging the door closed, and the defenders side stepping out of the way as the door swings shut. Not only that, but they can also stick their sharp pointy things through the door while it is still open, and thrust through the grate. You can't do that with any door falling from the ceiling.

Ryan K
03-18-2011, 07:11 PM
Cursed Victorians. They've polluted our understanding of medieval society and culture.

As has been said before/above, a gate hinged upon the side, or sides, has a very lovely advantage to the defenders. When it is time to sally forth to reclaim the fortress, a defending force can be certain that the area immediately outside the gate will be clear, or will be cleared when the gate swings open. With the help of a few consistently placed spikes on the outward-facing gate, any aggressor unlucky enough to be too close will be taken for a very point ride. Everyone smart enough to get out of the way will push themselves back away from the gate... and into a better position for any wall-mounted defenders with projectiles.

Midgardsormr
03-18-2011, 09:11 PM
I've been looking in vain for an example, but all I can find is a quote from a reference book:


Herse: A door stuck with protruding iron spikes. The door was hinged at the top and suspended in the open position by a rope. This rope was cut or released to effect a surprise blockage of the gateway or passage where it was situated.


The best way to do something is not usually the way it gets done, particularly when governments are involved. I was attempting to describe a portcullis that could be used without the necessary overhead space requirement, and this device fits the bill.

Incidentally, I ran across that Scottish gate during my research. It appears to have been called a yett.

the-golem
03-18-2011, 09:22 PM
I've been looking in vain for an example, but all I can find is a quote from a reference book:


The best way to do something is not usually the way it gets done, particularly when governments are involved. I was attempting to describe a portcullis that could be used without the necessary overhead space requirement, and this device fits the bill.

Incidentally, I ran across that Scottish gate during my research. It appears to have been called a yett.

Oh this sounds lovely. The protruding spikes would catch maraduers as the gate came crashing down. Thankyou. I'll probably be using this feature.

As for the crank, couldn't it operate similar (in idea, not mechanics) to a fishing rod? Freely moves one way, but you have to crank it the reverse?

rdanhenry
03-19-2011, 06:03 PM
Yeah, that's about the only place where spikes would actually be useful. A proper gate isn't going to swing open fast enough to make a good weapon and you need to not put spikes anywhere they'll be useful to help climbing.

I haven't been in a lot of castles, but I those I have been in did have rather steep stairs.

Normally, you'd rather lower the portcullis than crash it down, because you don't want to damage it or the mechanism. Even replacing a cut rope is work you don't want to do if you don't have to. That doesn't mean you wouldn't do it if the situation was dire enough.

Note that the portcullis need not have its own height to be drawn up into. There are certainly enough representations of the bottom of the portcullis showing in the entryway to a castle. The entry arch would lose a little off the top, but you plan the height to meet your needs without assuming the tall guy will always ride in the middle. This not only saves you a few feet of space above, but it makes the gate look like it has teeth. Why wouldn't you want a castle with bite? They are also commonly used in pairs, with the passage between them lined with murder holes or other defenses, so if the attackers get through the outer portcullis by whatever means (including overeager charging in while you allow it deliberately), they're trying the breech the inner portcullis from a killing zone.

You can find authentic castle plans online and in library books. Study of these and using them as guides in making your own drawings is the cheap way to go about it, if you don't want to invest in a book discussing castle design.

Talroth
03-20-2011, 01:03 AM
Every portcullis I have ever read about that was in working order was counter balanced so a single man could raise or lower it. (Note, this has not been a lot of material. It is an oddly lacking detail from a lot of books on fortifications.) This means that you can't really 'crash the gate shut' in general design, because there is a nearly equal weight that you have to raise up to lower the gate.

Now yes, you could possibly cut the cables holding it, but we're not talking about a thin little rope that you can easily slice through in the blink of an eye. Also I know a number of gates were eventually upgraded to metal chain in place of fiber rope, because chain doesn't easily rot out and let the gate fall at a random and potentially highly inconvenient time.

I also agree with rdanhenry about actually letting the gate crash down suddenly being a bad idea, as you risk damage to the thing that is suppose to be in good enough shape to withstand rams and the like. No sense doing part of the attacker's job for them.

And on another random note, I can't really think of many times where you would need to suddenly slam heavy gates shut. Often times if there was any worry of attack or possible attack, the gates would simply remain close. Either smaller secondary gates would be used, or possibly wicket gates set within the main gates themselves. Gates that weren't locked down firmly would have been guarded by a number of armed men, and the space from a large distance around the gate is cleared. If a large party that posed a threat to the castle appeared, the gates would have been barred before the enemies could get there. Now it is true that a small party could attempt to take a gate, but the defenders still have an advantage: A narrow passage with a few men armed with spears isn't a fun thing to walk through. Add in a few men above the gate throwing stuff down, and it becomes down right nasty even with the doors wide open.

Traps and surprises could be useful at some times, but you also have to consider the risks to the people who are actually suppose to be there. Hair trigger death gates would be kind of frowned upon if they killed someone they weren't suppose to.

Can anyone find a reference as to what castles a Herse was ever used on? It isn't something I've come across before, and now I'm really curious about it.

Midgardsormr
03-20-2011, 02:44 PM
I haven't been able to find such a reference yet, and I'd bet that there aren't any still in existence because a 400+ year old death trap isn't something you want to keep in working order, especially in a touristy location such as an intact castle. They've probably all been removed. Plus, it's been 15 years since my last real study of medieval fortifications. So my reference library on the subject is somewhat thin.

edit: That should read "there aren't any gates of this kind still in existence." I didn't mean that there aren't any references.

the-golem
03-20-2011, 10:28 PM
These are all awesome replies. Thank you all very much.

anstett
03-21-2011, 05:35 PM
If I can offer one slightly counter view point.

Depending on the setting Magic does have a lot to bear on this. Speed at getting things up and down can be increased and likely will be one key factor.

It was mentioned earlier that you typically can see someone coming from a long way off and know to close the gates. In a fantasy setting speeding things up on one or both sides can make a huge difference. Magically fast movement (up to teleport) means your guards need a hair trigger or you just need to accept that you will be surprised once in a while by an attacker. Magical camouflage means not noticing that bush walking up to the gates. :D

Given the idea that there are magical barriers on the walls to protect from magical entry such as teleport attackers still need to breach the gate in a physical fashion so there is still a need to keep those defenses up to snuff. I think the hinged gate idea works well because of its quickness rather than the more complicated counter balancing for a drop down portcullis.

I think that even in High Magic settings a strong castle defense is required to give the attackers a rock/impediment that they have to somehow overcome at some point. The more problems you can put in front of an enemy the more chances they have of screwing the attack up.

BOB

the-golem
03-21-2011, 08:08 PM
I spent a good hour (probably) on this, and came up blank. However, it's entirely possible I'm not searching with the right terms; I've found that when I change a word or two, and that makes a world of difference.

Anyway, I've been trying to figure out an "average size" of a portcullis. Alternatively (as I've tried both methods) the average height of man on horseback. To put it succinctly, how much clearance does my gate need to clear a cavalryman? My gut says 8ft average for a cavalryman, plus a few feet for clearance, which gives me 10ft. This leads me to a portcullis size of roughly 10ft by 10ft. This is all guesswork on my part, mind you.

If anyone has some insight, I'd love to hear it. Thanks!

PS: I've started a "WIP" thread of sorts on enworld, documenting my progress on this hefty undertaking. I figured that much was out of the realm of this forum. For those that are interested, you can find it at: Project: Harken Keep at Scale (http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/303084-project-harken-keep-scale.html)

ravells
03-21-2011, 08:56 PM
It's a shame you don't have photoshop, you can use the vanishing point filter to measure dimensions from a photograph. All you need is one 'known' starting dimension. There must be ways you can do it with a ruler and trig as well, but I'm no mathematician.

Different portcullis entries were different heights and sizes, I don't think there was a standard. If you want to post a photo of one you had in mind, I (or anyone else with photoshop CS3 extended or better) can measure it for you.

Here's one. Assuming the person standing under the gate is 5.8 feet high, I make the portcullis about 15.2 feet high, and the width is about 13.8 feet.

Korash
03-21-2011, 10:34 PM
Can anyone find a reference as to what castles a Herse was ever used on? It isn't something I've come across before, and now I'm really curious about it.

the only reference I could find after a quick search is Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle. And that was a picture of a reconstruction....not too sure if that counts...

the-golem
03-21-2011, 11:15 PM
Every portcullis I have ever read about that was in working order was counter balanced so a single man could raise or lower it. (Note, this has not been a lot of material. It is an oddly lacking detail from a lot of books on fortifications.) This means that you can't really 'crash the gate shut' in general design, because there is a nearly equal weight that you have to raise up to lower the gate.


Hmmm. Just to clarify, you're talking about raising/lowering it properly, with the crank (or whatever mechanism one uses). Not raise/lower as you would a garage door, correct?

the-golem
03-21-2011, 11:21 PM
It's a shame you don't have photoshop, you can use the vanishing point filter to measure dimensions from a photograph. All you need is one 'known' starting dimension. There must be ways you can do it with a ruler and trig as well, but I'm no mathematician.

Different portcullis entries were different heights and sizes, I don't think there was a standard. If you want to post a photo of one you had in mind, I (or anyone else with photoshop CS3 extended or better) can measure it for you.

Here's one. Assuming the person standing under the gate is 5.8 feet high, I make the portcullis about 15.2 feet high, and the width is about 13.8 feet.

Splendid. This more or less sticks with my raw guessing. In my estimates, I was calculating to the actual tips of the spikes. Seeing the portcullis in the back, it looks like the bottom of the spikes line up with where the arch starts.
Also, this may just be my eyes playing tricks, but if you trace the rectangle formed by the bottom opening and the fancy detailing above the arch, it looks to be a Golden Rectangle.

By the way, I actually do have CS5 now, I had to get it for some of my design classes last fall. Yay me :-). It never occured to me to use the vanishing perspective feature., however. Thanks for that tip.

Midgardsormr
03-22-2011, 12:55 AM
There must be ways you can do it with a ruler and trig as well, but I'm no mathematician.

Well, since you really don't have enough on your plate, I recommend you do a search on the word "photogrammetry."

ravells
03-22-2011, 05:46 AM
These sites might also be helpful for reference pictures (the second has a portcullis cutaway):

http://www.carneycastle.com/Beaumaris/index.htm
http://godfrey.ws/castle/castles/parts/parts2.htm
http://www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk/

ravells
03-22-2011, 10:16 AM
I knocked up a little model in Silo...just for some practice.

dementius
03-24-2011, 06:52 PM
Something else intirely, but i always have to say this, when i see a castle like this: the way to the castle is not put clever. Attackers marching at the castle are showing their left side to the castle, which is the side for the shield. One should always try to build a castle so that attackers would show their right side to the castle. This way they either march sideways (disrupting order in their ranks) or archers in the castle can hit their vulnerable right side, which is not protected by the shield.

Ryan K
03-24-2011, 07:50 PM
In theory, perhaps. In practice, an approach to any determined defending castle is fraught with danger regardless of whatever side one bears one's shield. Shields aren't very good at protecting someone against projectiles lobbed from the top of high walls. Attackers will not even come within bowshot until defences have been breached, and depending on the aggressor's commander, that may or may not be directed at the gate. Sieges, historically speaking, tend to last only as long as it takes for one side or the other to run out of money, health or time. This can end with the garrison commander surrendering under terms, or the aggressors quitting the field. A formation of troops 'marching onto the castle' is generally a very good way of getting them all killed unless the castle is compromised, or their defenders are broken. So, you tend to keep soldiers out of the way until you know for sure they are going to make a lick of difference.

Siege warfare. Good times.

Edit: As an aside, and depending on the topography of the landscape the castle is perched upon, I'd be investing in breaching the wall on the east-side of the first gate house, but that depends if I have the money to spend on sappers, engineers or a couple of reliable canons. If I just had troops, and the money to keep them happy long enough, I'd just sit on them and wait for them to run themselves out of food, water and hygiene.

rdanhenry
03-25-2011, 03:03 AM
On magic, yes it changes things, but it takes a good deal of contrivance with a more than low-magic setting to have castles make sense, at least without substantial redesign. Even without spells, flying cavalry (winged horse, gryphons, hippogriffs, etc.) and fast-tunneling and wall-crawling creatures, castle walls become less secure. Walled towns still make sense for defense against bandits lacking magic and land animals.

Midgardsormr
03-25-2011, 11:14 AM
Even in a high-magic setting, though, magic on that kind of scale is likely to be expensive. Probably most magical threats to the fortress could be neutralized by whoever lives in that wizard's tower. If magic is common and powerful enough to obsolete castles, then nobody will undergo the effort and expense of building them. Ergo, if this castle exists, it is not in great danger of being overrun by magical beasties.

Then again, magic of that kind would make large buildings easier to construct, if the wizards could be enticed into doing that sort of low work.

C'nor (Outermost Toe)
07-26-2011, 06:14 PM
Hmm. Now I'm seeing people that have captured, bred, and domesticated Bulettes, and use them to undermine buildings. If you have the time, creativity, and equipment, a castle isn't a big deal in D&D.

Green-Pilgrim
11-12-2011, 06:48 PM
What's silo?

Midgardsormr
11-12-2011, 07:30 PM
Silo 3D is 3d modeling software with a relatively low price point. It is only a modeler, though. It doesn't have any animation, rendering or effects features of the kind that make other 3d software like Maya or Houdini so cumbersome and expensive.

atpollard
12-02-2011, 05:38 PM
Actually, the gate at No. 2 concerns me more than No. 9.

Can a horse drawn cart or wagon make that turn?
If not, then the inhabitants spend a lot of time hand carrying supplies from the wagon outside the castle gate to the storage room near the kitchen and those 50 gallon barrels are a bear to move.
The main gate (2) probably needs a straight approach.