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Thread: Architecture of a Castle.

  1. #1
      the-golem is offline
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    Default Architecture of a Castle.

    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?

    Architecture of a Castle.-iron-keep.png

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
      jfrazierjr is offline
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    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.
    Last edited by jfrazierjr; 03-16-2011 at 08:33 PM.
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      the-golem is offline
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    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.)
    Last edited by the-golem; 03-16-2011 at 10:24 PM.

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    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    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.
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      the-golem is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Midgardsormr View Post
    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.

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    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    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.
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      the-golem is offline
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    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

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      Talroth is offline
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    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.

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    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    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.
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      Talroth is offline
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    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.

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