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Castles revisited

by Bruce Heard

This regular feature offers answers to letters on the D&D(r) Game, its worlds and products, occasional articles, or "first glance" reviews of D&D game products. The reader is welcome to send questions, suggestions, or criticisms on the game or on the material published here. We can't promise all letters will be answered in this column, but they all will get our attention.

Have you ever tried designing a castle or even a simple keep? The Rules Cyclopaedia provides details on the time and cost to build fortresses, but one of our readers pointed out that there's little information on figuring out how much space a hundred-troop garrison will need, for example, or even information on outfitting and furnishing a simple keep. What's the proper size for a granary, how much area will the great hall occupy, and how large should the servant and military quarters be? What or who goes where? How many of them and why? These seem like obscure details, hut they affect the way keeps and castles are laid out. To a degree, such decisions affect role-playing as well. This month's Grimoire tries to answer some of these questions in terms simplified for the game. There are two things to look at when designing a castle. First, you need to know what era this castle takes its inspiration from: Early or late medieval times? Second, how sophisticated is the castle: A simple keep for a baron just starting in the ruling business, or the elaborate castle of a powerful duke or king? This leads to the question: How many people is the place intended to house? Early in medieval European history, castles were of the motte and bailey type, basically a hill surrounded by a ditch, with a wooden building surrounded by a palisade at the top. Fairly simple in design, the centre building stood a few stories high, with storage on the ground level, a great hall on the next level (where the lord and his family lived), and an attic above. Just about everything else had to remain in the bailey, in lean-tos or separate buildings. The open area inside the palisade contained the military barracks, kitchen, smithy, stable, etc. In the later medieval period, castles were constructed as fortresses with stone walls, corner towers, a gatehouse with a drawbridge, and a massive keep. These were far more complicated and housed many more people than the older motte and-bailey strongholds. The Rules Cyclopaedia does a good job of listing all kinds of people dwelling in a large fortress. Their tasks are many and varied, which the design of the castle should reflect. Here is a list of the residents and areas commonly found in a castle, with guidelines for their uses and their sizes in relation to each other.

Living Quarters

Lord And Lady: Their bedchamber is located on one of the upper floors of the keep, for safety and privacy. This is one of the nicer chambers, around 400-500 square feet. It probably has a fireplace, an adjoining wardrobe or anteroom, and in later castles, an oriel overlooking the inner bailey. The ceiling is 9'-10'high. The bed, with its heavy wooden frame and canopy, can be curtained for privacy and warmth, especially if the room has no fireplace. In earlier times, the lord and lady slept in the great hall of the stronghold rather than in private quarters. If your castle is based on those of this earlier period, be sure to check the description of the great hall a few paragraphs down.

Guests: These bedchambers house castle officials working for the lord or the lady, other adult members of the lord's family, and favoured guests. In castles of the later period, these rooms can be located in the keep's upper floors or in the towers. For example, the chief steward might live in one of the towers, while the captain of the guard bunks in the upper gatehouse. One of the keep's guest rooms can also be used as the lady's solar, where she enjoys her privacy and spends time quilting or reading poetry. Each of the guest rooms is about 200-300 square feet.

Children: For their safety, the lord's children live on the highest floor of the keep. A total of 30 square feet per child should be enough room. The rest of this floor is partitioned into a servant's room and a guard room for watchmen assigned to the keep's top battlements. Simple wooden panels separate the rooms. The stairs spiral up through the thickness of the keep's outer walls.

Common Quarters: Dormitories for the servants and soldiers are cramped and offer little comfort. When furnished with three-tier bunk beds, each room should allow approximately ZO square feet per person. The common servants usually live in a separate building (servery) inside the castle walls. A few favoured servants have small rooms in the keep. Some sleep in their master's chamber or on straw mats in the great hall. Soldiers are quartered in the gatehouse and towers, or even in a basement beneath the keep or under a main tower.

Gathering Rooms

Great hall: It wouldn't be a castle without a great hall! This central area is where the lord, lady, and their guests eat their meals. In earlier castles, the great hall was on the ground floor of the keep. In many castles of the later period, it was moved to the second floor for added safety. The lord and lady originally slept in this room. Their sleeping area was located opposite the entrance, behind a curtain or a wooden panel. The main area of the great hall might have a U-shaped table, at the centre of which the lord and lady sat on massive chairs sometimes topped with a canopy. Guests sat on benches, the less favoured ones farthest from the lord.

The great hall should be one of the largest chambers in the keep, with enough room for a sleeping area (if necessary), the table, the lord and lady's chairs, wooden benches, an open area for a troubadour or a jester, perhaps a large fireplace, and plenty of space for servants to come and go in an orderly fashion. The ceiling is fairly high, arching up 14'-20', sometimes with wooden or stone pillars supporting the vault. The castles of wealthy lords often contain an elevated wooden musicians' gallery. A staircase leads to a wooden balcony or an oriel connecting with the lord or lady's chambers (if located above the hall). The lady of the castle and her retinue can use the oriel as a private vantage point overlooking the great hall.

In determining a size for the great hall, allow 500 square feet and add 50 square feet per person, based on the minimum number of guests the great hall is expected to accommodate. The lord's children and all people of status living in the castle should be counted. A minimum of ten people is not far-fetched here, requiring 1,000 square feet of space (500+ [50x10] = 1,000).

Chapel: A private chapel may be no bigger than a guest room, but a chapel that can accommodate all the household members can take up a space half the size of the great hall. If the vaulted ceiling is high enough, a balcony can connect the chapel to an anteroom on the second floor, allowing the lord and lady to attend services while the common folk worship on the nave's main floor. The chapel can be part of the keep or a building added to the side of the keep as a separate wing. A large chapel may contain a sacristy, a small study, and the chaplain's personal quarters.

Commoners' halls: Guard rooms are located near the top of the keep and beside its main entrance, in each tower, near prisons, and in the gatehouse. The soldiers' mess hall may be in the gatehouse or in one of the main towers. The servants' hall adjoins the commoners' kitchen or the servants' quarters. Other common areas are the administrative offices found in the castle of a powerful ruler. These rooms can be as large as 50 square feet plus 20 square feet per person. For example, a small guard room furnished with a coal brazier intended to warm three watchmen would require no more than 110 square feet. A mess hall needs over 650 square feet to seat 30 troops at a meal.

Utility rooms

Kitchen: There should be a kitchen near the great hall, inside the keep. A larger castle may need another kitchen near the soldiers' and servants' quarters. The latter can be a separate building against the castle's inside wall. A kitchen usually has an adjoining scullery. The size needed for the cook and his assistants comes to 150 square feet plus another square foot per person served. If the cook in the keep prepares meals for 10 people each day, the kitchen should take up 160 square feet. A soldier's kitchen for a garrison of a 100 troops, however, would need 7.50 square feet. The areas given here include space for an open hearth, a large table, some furniture, shelves, and a sink (serviced by a lead pipe connected to a cistern located near the top of the castle walls). If separate from the keep, the kitchen building may be made of stone or wood. The second floor is used for storage, or as a dwelling for the cook and his family. Sometimes the cooks sleep in the kitchen, on straw mats or benches.

Blacksmith: With all these soldiers, you'll need a smithy! This can be a very busy place, between production and repair of implements of war and the care of horses. The smithy is always adjacent to the stable, along the inside of the castle walls. The size of this workshop reaches 150 square feet plus five square feet per soldier. This includes enough space for a furnace, bellows, anvils, working surfaces, tool racks, etc. For a garrison of a hundred troops, the blacksmith and his assistants will need 650 square feet for their workshop. The upper floor of the building can be used as a dwelling for the blacksmith and his family.

Storage Areas

Armoury: This is where extra armour and weapons are stored and sometimes repaired. The armoury can be inside the gatehouse or the keep, and takes up an area equivalent to a third of the blacksmith's workshop. Buttery: This room is located near the great hall in the keep. Here, servants prepare beverages and fill jugs of beer or wine before bringing them to the great hall. The buttery is about a third the size of the great hall's kitchen. It may have a sink with running water from a cistern.

Cellar: Castles are expected to protect their inhabitants, sometimes for long periods of time, so the lord stockpiles large amounts of supplies against famine or siege (sometimes enough for an entire year). The cool cellar is used to store perishable foods, like salted meat and fish, cheese, honey, dried fruits (figs, nuts, etc.), and barrels of ale and wine. To insure a supply of fresh meat, livestock is corralled into the castle's bailey before a siege. Food stored in the cellar supplements the soldiers' common diet of bread and water, or more likely, the meals of the lord and his guests. The cellar, located under the keep, needs about 40 cubic feet per person for a six-month supply. For example, a castle with 150 inhabitants (people of status, soldiers, and servants) would need a cellar of about 6,000 cubic feet (a room 20'x30'x10').

Granary: Sections of towers or attics (or any dry area) can be filled with sacks of grain and flour. Again, the more people staying in the castle, the greater the food supplies. For example, a six-month supply requires ZO cubic feet of storage per person (eight 20-pound sacks of flour per person). To establish granary size, count all people living at the castle, including soldiers, servants, gentry, and guests. A small castle with 150 people would need a storage facility of 3,000 cubic feet (a room 10'x10'x30') .

Pantry: This room stores bread, tableware, linen, and other items that might be needed to serve meals in the adjacent great hall. The pantry is about half the size of the great hall's kitchen. Some castles also have a separate larder near the pantry, where game is left to hang instead of in the cellar.

Stable: This building is likely be made of wood, with its fourth side formed by castle's inner wall. Horses are stabled on the ground floor; the upper level is hay storage. The stable requires 100 square feet per horse, including stalls, mangers, alleyways, racks, etc. Storehouse: This small wooden lean-to outside the keep is where household tools and other items are kept. It can also be used as a repair shop for household objects. The storehouse is about half the size of the smithy.

Other Design Concerns

Other areas of the castle not covered here should conform to the castle's overall design. The room that houses the portcullis and drawbridge mechanisms. for example, must be as wide as the castle's main entrance. The number of dungeons depends on the personal style of the builder, but prisons and guard rooms are normally located under one of the towers. Certain parts of the castle may have individual portcullises, separate baileys, or concentric walls. Battlements may be open to the air or, as with later castles, enclosed with roofs.

The castle may also have small gardens (for the lady's comfort or to grow food), an orchard, a fishpond, a mill, livestock pens, kennels, and a mews for the lord's falcons. Jousting usually takes place outside the castle. Think about the original purpose of the stronghold. What strategic element is it defending (road, bridge, mountain pass, port, or town)? How does this purpose affect the stronghold's position and layout? If the castle is near a river it can have docks. Castles usually follow the shape of the terrain upon which they are built, using rocky formations to the best advantage. Cliffs and steep rocky crags can be used just as effectively as moats. If the castle is located in the middle of a town, it may need extra walls and towers to protect it. Part of the town can be enclosed in the citadel also, with the townspeople providing necessary troop levies to man the battlements. Use your imagination and try to come up with unusual layouts and set-ups that will make your castles distinctive.

Remember, too, that you're designing a castle for a fantasy world. Think about the particular inhabitants of the D&D game. The lord of the castle might also be a cleric, a wizard, or a monster! A wizard needs a laboratory, a library and perhaps even an observation point high up in a tower, for astronomy. A scriptorium might be useful for a cleric. And who knows what a monster might demand?

Design Details

Hallways and stairs: Remember to create the hallways, and stairway allowing everyone to go about their business without entering someone else's private quarters. Simple screens, curtains, or wooden panels rather than thick stone walls can separate hallways from main rooms, or subdivide a large chamber into smaller quarters. Corridors, stairways, and secret passages can be built within the thickness of the castle's outer walls, sometimes even within those of the keep. Extra stairs can be added inside smaller turrets corbelled alongside the walls of a keep, to allow private access to one or more rooms. Think about how the inhabitants of the keep can get around without disturbing each other, and how defenders can move quickly and safely to defend the stronghold. To these mundane considerations, you should add features that take advantage of the fantasy element of the D&D game. Teleport Areas, shifting walls and magical doors add flavour to an otherwise humdrum castle.

Sanitation: Trivial and yet unavoidable, garderobes (latrines) have to be positioned so they either drain into the moat or into an underground cesspool.

Garderobes can be inside the keep, in the towers, on the battlements (a simple turret corbelled within machicolation, hanging over the moat), or near military barracks and serveries. Rainwater can be channelled through the garderobes' drain pipes and into the moat.

One garderobe per 20 people is customary for the commoners (several garderobes can be clustered in the same chamber). In addition to the ubiquitous chamber pots, one garderobe per five people is more acceptable for the lord's family and the guests (usually, one near the great hall and another near the lord's living quarters). If a cesspool is needed, keep it away from kitchen and food storage areas. Cesspools also require some access so they can be regularly cleaned. Of course, fantasy peoples might rely on a charmed black pudding for sanitation!

Cisterns and wells: Water is essential to castle survival. One well should be located in the bailey, for everyone's access. A second well can e placed inside the keep with a single vertical shaft connecting with all upper floors. If there is no indoor well, servants must be sent to fetch water from the courtyard. Should the well fail, cisterns become critical. These holding vats are usually positioned high up near the top of the walls, where runoff from rainfall can be collected. Cistern water can then be channelled to butteries, kitchens, sculleries, and even to actual washrooms in more "modern" royal castles. Near the entrance of the great hall, consider placing a small basin recessed in a wall. Equip it with a drain pipe and a metal faucet to release cistern water. Contrary to most beliefs, late medieval plumbing compared favourably to that of 17th-century Versailles. And of course, the inhabitants of your D&D world have magic, too! A 30-cubic-foot cistern can hold about 250 gallons of water. In a temperate climate, a physically active person (especially one who works outdoors) needs up to three quarts of water a day. That cistern can thus serve 100 people for three days before drying up completely. Several cisterns and reasonable rainfall should see your castle's population through until a new well can be dug to replace one that has failed. A castle near a river can sometimes rely on an underground conduit to channel water to the castle. Secrecy is of the essence here, to prevent enemies from discovering the conduit and cutting off the castle's water supply during a siege. The single most precious magical asset in siege warfare is probably a magical source of water or a lot of clerics.

Fireplaces: Early castles have no fireplaces. Instead, the inhabitants most likely use coal braziers. These castles are cold, drafty places. They have no glass windows, relying instead on wooden shutters and tapestries. If the great hall is on the ground floor, it can safely have an open hearth. Smoke rises to the ceiling and exits through a roof vent. When it became customary to locate the great hall and private quarters on the upper floors, chimneys became a necessity. In these castles, fires cannot be lit directly on the floor (which is made of timber) but require stone-walled fireplaces with permanent chimneys. A castle with fireplaces will often also have thick greenish glass in the windows. Castles of the later medieval period may have stained glass or glazed windows.

In the D&D game, judicious use of control temperature 10' radius spells or magical devices can also heat a fantasy castle.

Machiavellian measures: There are many ways to make the lives of castle intruders very difficult, especially for inventive dungeon designers. The best protection makes use of separate portcullises, strategically placed murder holes, arrow-slits and machiolations through which to pour boiling oil or pitch. Don't leave any blind spots around the castle when positioning towers. Try to create bottlenecks to force attackers through before they reach the keep entrance. Invaders trapped in such narrow areas are easy pickings for crossfire from strategically placed archers. Spiral stairs should rise clockwise, so the centre post gets in the way of an attacker's sword (assuming he's right-handed). Use trap doors to drop victims into oubliettes (remote dungeon cells where victims are "forgotten") or worse, into monster infested pits. Think about the location of the chute if it goes through several floors.

Now is the time to use magical spells and some of the tricks and traps in the D&D game to leave in the way of attackers.


As described in the Rules Cyclopaedia, many people dwell in a castle. There were often many more servants in the castle than the people they served. Peasant servants take care of the menial tasks, but they do not live at the castle. Their service is temporary. Household servants must be paid, fed, and given shelter. Here's a way to find out how many servants there should be. If this method provides fewer servants than those listed in the Rules Cyclopaedia, assume that some servants perform several different functions. First, find out how many people of status live in the castle (the lord and lady, their children, castle officials. Guests, etc.) Then multiply that total by three for a king or a duke, or by two for a marquis or a count. Use the number as is for a baron, or divide it by two (rounding up) for a simple knight in a manor house. The result gives a rough total of the servants attending to the needs of lord and his guests throughout the castle. Decide how many soldiers make up the castle's garrison. Divide the number of soldiers by 20 (rounding up). This gives the number of people needed for the smithy's forge and stable. Now add up all the inhabitants so far. Divide that total by 20 (rounding up) to find out how many more people work in kitchens.

For example: Let's assume we have 10 people of status in a baron's keep, plus three children, and a garrison of 100 troops. The baron would require 13 servants. The stable and smithy require five more people (100/20=5). That gives us 131 people so far. The kitchens need an additional seven people (131/20=6). Of these, it would be safe to assume at least two work in the baron's kitchen, and the other five in the commoners' kitchen. The grand total of people living at the castle now comes to 138. The salary noted in the Rules Cyclopaedia for servants is far too high (5 gp a month plus room and board). A single piece of silver should be more than enough, in most cases, for common domestic servants. Fortunately, that's not a concern if using the "cost overhead" system (see "Known World Grimoire," DRAGON Magazine, issue #191). Servants are normally part of the dominion ruler's normal cost overhead.

How the place looks

Motte-and-bailey strongholds are constructed of timber and earth. Later castles, constructed almost entirely of stone, are whitewashed inside and out. The inside of the keep can be plastered or covered with wooden panels. The lord's dwelling areas might feature painted decorations on the walls, displaying flowers, busts of kings and queens, heraldic arms, fantastic animals, medieval world maps, etc. Tapestries of wool or silk are also very common, and square banners can be hung from the ceiling of the great hall. Straw covers the floor, often concealing old food remains and other debris. Occasionally, the soiled straw and refuse are swept away, and fresh straw with fragrant herbs is brought in. Unlike oriental abodes, carpets aren't used as floor coverings in European medieval fortresses. The floor at ground level may be hardened earth or stone, while upper floors are almost invariably made of timber supported by wooden pillars or stone vaults. Light comes from candles, rush lights, and oil lamps. Wall brackets, iron candelabra, and table candlesticks hold candles or rush lights, and large oil lamps can be hung from the ceilings or mounted on stands. Of course, in the D&D game, one might find permanent light spells far more effective and safer to use.


Aside from being symbols of local authority, castles are a critical factor in the medieval military and political equation. Close to 90% of historical battles involved a besieged fortified town or stronghold. Castellans appointed to administer a castle in the name of their proprietors may abuse their vested powers over the surrounding lands. They may betray their lieges in favour of rivals in hopes of gaining nobility and ownership of their castles and surrounding lands. Dominion rulers, beware!

Strongholds are generally defensive. Few troops can hold against large armies, sometimes at odds worse than 10:1. If a castle can hold out long enough, it is then the besiegers who face a major logistical problem. There are many more of them to feed, and they do not benefit from a stronghold's protection against weather, disease, and relief forces coming to help the besieged castle.

Attackers cannot ignore castles and bypass them, because then the castle garrisons can cut the attackers' supply lines. So in most wars, castles must be dealt with before moving on, usually at great cost to the attacker. A strong dislike of pitched battles between two forces in an open area persisted among medieval commanders because of the likelihood of high casualties on both sides. In contrast to this, siege warfare was considerably more bearable, which also explains why strongholds were built. The key factors of siege warfare lie in the supply of money, equipment, provisions, and time, rather than a brutal, bloody confrontation. If the castle runs out of water or supplies, its garrison can always surrender with the hope of being spared.

One problem came up in the Rules Cyclopaedia, however, about the way strongholds can be breached. In truth, it isn't necessary to inflict the whole amount of a structure s hit points to breach it. If you are not using the abstract Siege Machine rules, here's a suggestion on how to handle breaches.

To create a 10'-wide breach, divide the structure's hp value by its frontage. If it's a building (keep, gatehouse, etc.), use that number directly. If it's a two-dimensional structure (such as a wall), multiply by 4.

Example A: A 60'-wide keep has 2,500 hp. 2,500/60=42. A breach requires only 42 points of damage applied to the same general area of the keep. Example B: A 100'-long wall section has 500 hp. A breach requires (500/100)x4=20 points of damage.

More damage must be inflicted on thicker structures to create a breach. The numbers given above are for 5' thick structures. For a 10'-thick structure, multiply the required hit points by 2; for a 15' structure, multiply by 3; for a 20' structure times 4, etc. So in example B, above, breaching a 10'-thick wall requires 40 hp instead of 20 hp.

Field repair: Defenders get to repair their walls at the rate of 1 hp per person per day. Repair crews cannot participate in the defence of the stronghold, however. No more than 30 people can work on the same breach simultaneously. Damage to structures cannot be reduced by more than 75%. Field repair is free but temporary. When normal repair takes place after the conflict, the breach must be repaired from scratch, at full cost.

All this being said, you now should be able to build your own castle with a bit more flavour and realism, and then, of course, seize those of your foes with equal know-how.