A Rough Guide to Castle Design – Part 2

A Rough Guide to Castle Design

Part 2 – The Room List

by Jon Roberts

The basic Why? and Who? can now be developed first into a list of who lives in the castle and then the living and work space they will require.

My castle is home to the lord, 10 elite cavalry and 25 soldiers. It will also house 10 non-combatants, including a castellan, chief herald, captain of the guard, and 3 or 4 senior servants. I also want a mage and a priest.

Now that I have the population I can quickly get an idea of the rooms we’re going to need. I think in terms of shelter, food and defence.

For shelter, it’s a question of thinking about how the population lives and allocating suitable space. My lord lives at the top of the castle, in a suite of rooms. On a lower floor I’ll have the second tier of nobles and important servants – the castellan I mentioned. I also want the cavalry to have a room on this level. The men at arms will sleep in the great hall – similar to vikings sleeping in the mead hall. It adds an obvious historic divide to the building from our own experiences. The non-combatant staff will be in a series of rooms one floor up. The mage and the priest will have their own rooms as they’re important but the mage should probably be in a separate area as his activities are dangerous and likely to give off foul odours. I also want a couple of spare chambers for visiting nobility and a small cell for a couple of prisoners. I don’t need a large prison because local justice is brutal and brief.

I don’t need to list every last member of staff and figure out what they do; but I must know where the important people are and that there’s roughly enough space for everyone else.

Food is a more pressing issue. All castles need to have an internal source of fresh water. Castles are built to withstand siege and you won’t hold out more than a couple of days if you don’t have any water. So whether it’s a deep well in the cellars or a fountain that flows straight from the elemental planes, make sure that there’s a source of water for the castle. We also need a kitchen, food stores, a cold store and a wine cellar. Now obviously you don’t need to identify all the different types of store and their contents unless your players will be tasked with raiding the castle pantry but you’d be amazed how many players want to know where the wine cellar is. In some strongholds you’ll also want to have some idea of where the food comes from. It may be a drow house with it’s own rothe herd. That would be a precious resource and would be well guarded and likely within the boundaries of the fortress. In our case the farmland in the valley is the source of the food so we only need short term store rooms in the castle itself.

Finally let’s consider defence. Defences tend to exist around the outside of the building and so have relatively little impact on the internal layout. First of all, you want to control access to the building. The more doors you have, the more weak points you have to protect. Small castles are likely to only have one gate, larger ones may have two or three, but rarely more. These gates will be heavily protected and will rarely just be a single wooden door. In order of increasing sophistication, typical gate defence structures are (these are cumulative):

  • Overlooking arrow slits
  • Two gates as a holding area, with a killing zone in between
  • Murder holes (open spaces in the roof above through which defenders can fire arrows and pour oil)
  • Portcullis
  • Drawbridge

At this stage we don’t need to worry too much about the specifics, but I’m going to just have one front gate and I’ll make sure it’s solidly defended. I think probably a gate and a portcullis, but no drawbridge here. That said, we’ll be needing a couple of guard rooms beside the gate and an armoury.

The other standard defensive features of castles are the staircases and the battlements. Many castles sport spiral staircases. This is not only a compact way to fit a staircase into a castle, but also a key defensive feature. Spiral staircases spiral clockwise as they go up. This means that a right handed attacker climbing the stairs will have their sword arm blocked by the central pillar. A defender fighting from above will have a clear swing around the arc of the staircase. In addition, spiral stairs are often used as archery positions. If the spiral stair is on an outer wall then it will butt out of the wall and have arrow slits, allowing an archer in the staircase to fire along the wall at attackers, catching them in a crossfire. Stairs are also a strategic means of getting between levels. Defenders should have more than one way to get to an area. Finally consider the battlements. A defender on the battlements can rain down fire and hails of arrows on attackers. I want my defenders to have quick access to the battlements on the roof.

Now we have a full list of the rooms we need – and it’s quite extensive, even for a relatively modest castle. Let’s start connecting them together. When doing this, consider the flow of traffic in the castle. The kitchen needs to be connected to the stores, and should also access the well. The great hall should be close to the kitchen. Lower levels of castles are generally damper so the poorer inhabitants are likely to be on the lower levels whereas the more important people are higher up. The guard rooms should have good access to the armoury, as well as to the murder holes above the gate. The main area where the soldiers sleep should have easy access to the battlements. If you ask what rooms people will need to use regularly, you can quickly figure out how the rooms must be connected.

Back to Part 1 – Why? and Who? >>

Continue reading Part 3 – The Floorplan >>

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