Strongholds of Fantasy

Castles, Dungeons, and other Fantasy Lore...

Visualizing your stronghold

Picturing what your stronghold will look like is the most challenging part of the design process. After you have done some research on looking up pictures and drawings of other castles it is time to brainstorm some ideas of what you want in your stronghold.  Recapping from the other page (Designing a Stronghold), strongholds are designed from the outside in and layered with different obstacles in order to protect the residents and hinder the advancing enemy.  Creating a stronghold will basically involve terrain layout and the structure itself.  


Terrain Details

What kind of terrain does your castle lay on?  The base as well as the foundation of the stronghold will greatly influence how the walls and buildings will stand on it.  All types of terrain have their pros and cons and affect visibility, access, and escape.

Building Details

Write down a list of what you desire your model to have. Think of the towers and other functional buildings. Consider shapes and sizes.  What is the theme of the castle?  Refer to the "Components of a Stronghold" section for more information and incite.  


Sketching Layouts and Mapping

If you are comfortable with sketching the model for a rough visual three dimensional layout than do so.  Any paper will do, whether it is notebook paper, sketching paper or even printer paper.  Any pencil or pen can be used as long as you can erase your mistakes and write over them.  This step may be skipped.  


Above is a simple working drawing of a tower on a piece of graph paper.

While a sketch is not absolutely necessary a map layout is still needed before any building of the model can start.  Use a simple piece of graph paper, preferably one with a quarter inch grid to keep it simple to follow.  Assign a square or rectangular size to your buildings and walls and cut them out with a pair of scissors.  Below is an example using a one quarter inch square for a mini-scale representation.  The rendered size can easily fit on to a normal sized piece of paper:

Main Keep:                 8 x 8 square

Tower:                         4 x 4 square

Gate House:                4 wide x 6 long

Wall:                            2 wide x desired length

Barracks:                     3 wide x 6 long

Great Hall:                  4 wide x 8 long

Stables:                        2 wide x 6 long

Smithy:                        3 x 3 square


After the pieces are cut out arrange them in a layout that you desire.  Keep in mind that all buildings are placed in strategic positions and should not be taken lightly as their location.  For example, the main keep is always within the center or rear of the stronghold, so it makes no sense to place it next to the gate house.  

Once you have a desired arrangement you may use graph paper again or a plain piece of paper to draw out a map of your placed buildings.  Using this method saves time from drawing lines and redrawing lines in mapping your stronghold. 

The book listed below goes into more depth of this method and gives more examples of other buildings that can be incorporated within a stronghold. 


Constructing the Base

Now that your map is complete and the terrain is chosen it is time to put the base together.  You will need to choose your building material, insulating foam is relatively inexpensive and easy to shape.  There are basically two types of foam that can be used, colored foam and white foam.  Both can serve that purpose and have advantages as well as disadvantages. 

Expanded Foam:  Mainly known as white foam, it comes in a variety of thicknesses and is cheaper in bulk.  It is lighter than colored foam and has a rough texture, similar to stone or plaster.  Because of how it is made, it easily breaks off under pressure and fragments when a blade cuts into it.  Its fragmented pieces easily scatter and create a messy cleanup.  A hot wire tool will give cleaner edges, however it melts easier than colored foam and produces angel hairs, which need sanding or filing off.  

Extruded Foam:  Mainly known as colored foam, it comes in a less variety of thicknesses and costs more.  It is heavier than white foam and usually has a smooth texture.  Because of how it is made, it takes impressions very easily and can be cut with a blade, resulting with a jagged edge.  A hot wire tool will give cleaner edges, however it takes longer to cut through than white foam, but produces less angel hairs, which need sanding or filing off as well.  

With your terrain base mapped out and your chosen foam in hand place it on your work area and begin drawing your guide lines on it.  Mark where your buildings and walls will stand, where paths will go, how a waterway might flow.  With your markings in place start shaping your foam with your desired cutting tool. 


Fabricating the Buildings

Now that the preliminary shaping is done on the base it is time to focus on the buildings.  Measure and mark the sides of all the walls and structures  in the foam.  

Using your preferred cutting tool, cut them out of the foam, one building at a time.  Be sure to keep the walls of the buildings separate from the other buildings and mark the parts to know where they will go in the assembly stage.   Smooth off the angel hairs from the edges with a file or sand paper.  Do a dry fitting test to ensure the different walls and other parts fit together snugly before detailing them further.  It is by far easier to take the time to re-cut a piece over than to assume a piece is good and waste more time detailing it, when it will be trash in the end. 


Preliminary Detailing of the Buildings

Choose a building and detail it's outside walls, highlighting windows, doors, and masonry blocks.  When the first building is detailed, move on to the next one and so forth until all are detailed.  Keep in mind the building parts should be kept separate from one another, like different piles.  This will ensure one building will not be confused with another when assembly takes place.  Again, dry fit all buildings to verify they fit together properly.   


Above is an example of some pieces cut out and detailed for a keep tower.

Assembling the Buildings

Assemble each tower, functional building, and wall segment individually, using an adhesive and allow for drying time.  Below is a list of adhesives that can be used and will not react or melt the foam.

Elmer's All-Purpose Glue - This glue is relatively inexpensive and can be found in most stores that sell school supplies.  Easy to apply with its small tipped spout.  It cures within a day and dries clear.  Make sure your parts are lying flat, since the excess glue will run out at the edges.   


Mod Podge - This glue binds things and works as a sealer.  It can be found in most craft stores, but will cost more than basic glue.  It can be applied with a small stick or brush.  It cures within a day, dries clear, and can be painted over.


Loctite Power Grab - This all purpose adhesive has a consistency similar to rubber cement.  It costs more than glue and can be found in most hardware stores that sell foam as well.  It is sold in the form of a squeezable tube or caulking tube.  While it can be easily dispensed with a caulking gun, the squeezable tube form is harder to dispense and costs slightly more.  For its higher cost, compared to other adhesives, the trade off is that two pieces of foam can be glued together rather quickly and will not come apart.  It cures within a day.


Arrange the completed pieces on their designated places on the base.  Make sure the pieces fit closely together before gluing. 



Above is an example of the keep tower assembled. 


Above is the view of the roof of the keep tower. 


Final Detailing of the Stronghold and Base

With the satisfaction of all the pieces fitting together as they should on the base, it is time to do the detailing work. 

Paint the base with a base coat of acrilic paint depending on the desired color of the terrain.  A shade of green would be a wise choice to start with if the land is to be filled with grass.  Allow the paint to dry and apply a thin coat of glue to the base.  Apply chosen turf to give texture to the land of the base.  Allow to dry and apply water effects if applicable. 

Paint all structures of stronghold with a base coat of black paint.  Allow to dry and apply with a dry brush technique a chosen color, probably gray, to highlight the stonework. 

When satisfied with the overall color of the buildings, assemble them once more on their prearranged places on the base and glue everything down. 


Above is a miniature's point of view of the finished keep tower.