Strongholds of Fantasy

Castles, Dungeons, and other Fantasy Lore...


 Welcome to the wonderful world of stronghold model building.  This page will cover every aspect of designing your model stronghold, the most important step for you cannot build anything worthwhile without a plan.  Strongholds are designed from the outside in and layered with different obstacles to protect its residents and hinder the advancing enemy.  Creating a stronghold will basically involve terrain layout and the structures themselves.  All areas will be approached about building anatomy:  castle theme, landscape, layout, foundation and levels, walls, buildings, bridges, defenses, decorations and so forth. 



 Before you can begin designing your stronghold, it is strongly advised to search for references of inspiration.  Many sources exist to fuel your spark of creativity and the amount of time you spend in researching for ideas will pay for itself in your finished product.  Suggestions to help in your search include:  movies, television, books, and the internet. 

                Movies and television shows are probably the best resource for ideas, since they have instant visuals to refer to.  Watch fantasy or science fiction movies that involve castles and other medieval architecture and take notes of what you find aesthetically pleasing.  Deposit those ideas into a folder or file of your creative bank to withdraw from later. 

                Books can provide two sources of reference material, visual and written.  There are many books with pictures of castles and other medieval architecture; however it is far easier to refer to a page than to pause a movie for a pictorial idea.  Story books are good sources of reference material only if you can clearly envision the words of the author in his descriptions. 

                The internet is the largest source of ideas and the most complicated to navigate through.  One must know how to navigate websites and use key words in search engines.  However, pictures can be easily saved on a computer and referred to at a later date upon demand.   



 A suggested approach to clearly envisioning the appearance of your fortress is to narrow it down to a theme.  Think of what subjects would reside in your kingdom and you will discover that basically three different kinds of castles exist:  lite, neutral, and dark; although another way of labeling them is Fairy Tale, Ordinary, and Gothic. 

This is a possible guide after all and not an absolute answer in defining the way your fortress is built.  You may incorporate these themes into your design or develop your own. 

Fairy Tale

Fairy tale castles are home to a majority of subjects, like people of nobility and governed by a monarch.  They are staffed with servants and usually protected by knights, unless mythical beasts and magic users are available.  The stables shelter horses or possibly unicorns.  An abbot ministers to the people and holds services in an abbey or cathedral.  In his own keep a wizard may work his spell craft.  They are constructed of a cream colored stone with beautiful stained glass windows and cone-shaped roof tops.  And all lite fortresses are sitting in very scenic countryside, weather it’s near a water way, in lush fields or close to mountains.  An example of this type of stronghold is the castle from the movie “Tangled”.



Ordinary castles are inhabited by adventurers or may be outcasts with no other place to go, which are ruled by a strong leader, not necessarily a king.  They are usually defended by an army of armored troops of some sort.  A holy man or fryer preaches to the people in his chapel.  They are built of gray stone with possibly stained glass windows and open roof towers.  All neutral fortresses are found in the wilderness, such as forests and valleys.   An example of this type of stronghold is the castle from the movie “Brave”. 



Dark castles are the dwelling of many scoundrels and other foes, while led by a war lord or tyrant.  Slaves are used to keep things in order and the fortress is guarded by eerie creatures, monsters or beasts.  A shaman or dark priest may temper the morale of the people in a temple.  In his own tower a sorcerer or witch will do his work of conjuring.  They are put together with black stone with strange towers depicting skulls and other hideous imagery. All dark fortresses are found in a desolate wasteland, like a barren desert or near a volcano, or possibly an icy region.  An example of this type of stronghold is the castle from the movie “Sleeping Beauty”. 


Assuming you have decided on a theme of your fortress it is time to get started with the surrounding landscape.  For now trees and other scenery pieces will not be considered in detail as you decide on the type of terrain your setting will have.  Landscapes have natural obstacles that provide the first line of defense for your castle.  NO scenery is perfect for your stronghold to rest upon and other factors must be thought of when choosing the land:  construction difficulty, visibility, access, and escape.  

Construction difficulty - determines how challenging as far as cost, building materials, and time it would take to produce your model.  In a real world scenario this would be a very important factor to consider, since you would need resources to construct such a stronghold.  In role-playing the factor is less important and only limited to your party's resources available.  Of course in the terrain modeling world you are only limited by materials on hand and time. 

Visibility - determines how well your sentries posted on the walls can see the surrounding area of the castle.  

Escape - determines how possible it is for your party to flee the stronghold in the event it is seized.  This factor applies more to role-playing than anything else. 

Below are examples of different types of terrain along with their advantages and disadvantages: 



Building your stronghold on a plane is the easiest landscape to build on, since the area is level.  It provides a clear view of one’s surroundings in every direction.  A structure of this sort is open for attack on all sides, unless a moat envelopes the perimeter.  With a trench dug in place access is limited to a draw bridge, while escape is very limited.  The Castle of Camelot in the movie "Quest for Camelot"  is an example of this terrain. 



Building your stronghold on a hill is medium in difficulty and will make constructing the foundation more challenging, since the land is sloped.  Visibility is greater on a hill in every direction and gives greater warning of an enemy approaching.  Although an invading army must climb the hill to attack and spend more energy in doing so, a moat would provide greater security.  Access is normally available over a drawbridge, but a tunnel could possibly be dug from the depths of the castle and led out to somewhere at the base of the hill for escaping purposes.  The castle of the royal family in the movie "Sleeping Beauty" is an example of this terrain. 




Building your stronghold on the beach is easy to build, like the plane.  Visibility is about the same, compared to a plane.  The sea water will restrict the enemy from attacking, unless they use boats that can move in shallow water.  The waving of the tide will greatly affect access to the castle, which is limited to a portcullis gate.  Means of escape is limited to a boat that can be released in the open sea.  The castle in the movie "Snow White and the Huntsman" is an example of this terrain.    




Building your stronghold within a mountain is very difficult, since the castle walls must become joined to the side of the mountain.  Visibility is limited to all directions not covered by the rock face of the mountain.  A castle built on a mountain side has natural protection from the rear, since an army cannot penetrate the mountainous rock.  Access is available by a main gate on level ground or a constructed ramp.  If the mountain has caves people can hide in them or possibly flee the fortress, in the event of its seized. The fortress Helm's Deep from the movie "the Two Towers" of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is an example of this kind of terrain. 




Building your stronghold near a cliff is medium in difficulty and similar to building on a plateau, however the rear of the castle has a vertical drop that leads to water or land.  Visibility has similar advantages of a plateau and a mountain.  Access is limited to the front of the fortress and the area is usually very level to the main gate.  A moat cannot be used in construction, but access could be limited further by the use of a natural bridge, assuming that the structure is sitting on a large pillar of rock instead at the mere edge of a cliff.  Escape is very limited in this design, although it also hinders invaders from climbing the vertical rock face. The castle from the movie "Mirror Mirror" is an example of this kind of terrain. 




Building your stronghold on water will vary in difficulty depending on how the structure and the water interact with each other on the landscape.  A castle can be constructed on top, beside, or possibly within water, depending on your design and preference.  Keep in mind that water can be substituted for another liquid, such as lava or whatever comes to mind.  

Building your stronghold on top of water, like a river, will prove to be very difficult and produce many challenges, however it does serve a purpose of fortifying a bridge to cross that water way.  Visibility is similar to that of a plane.  Access can be granted by either side of the river bank; however defense is limited to a gate with a portcullis.  Escape can be utilized by either gate and by the river, although the enemy can try to invade using the same path as well. 

Building your stronghold beside a body of water can involve your castle being connected to a lake or river on one side.  A construction of this type can be medium in difficulty and will depend if the structure is on a plane, hill, or mountain.  Regardless of what the foundation of the fortress stands on, a bridge is the only way to access the main gate.  If a secret outlet connects to the body of water, a means of escape is provided as well as another way for the enemy to infiltrate.   The castle of Arendelle in the movie "Frozen" is an example of this terrain.



Building your stronghold within a body of water most likely would involve placing it on top of an island in the middle of a lake.  A construction of this kind would be the easiest in comparison, since it would be sitting on a plane or small hill.  Visibility would be the same in regards to a plane or hill.  Access would be restricted to boat as well as escape if possible.  An invading army would also be limited to advancing by small boats as well.  The castle of Totham from the movie "Conan the Destroyer" is an example of this type of terrain.  



Building your stronghold on a plateau is medium in difficulty and similar to building on a plane.  It has the same visibility advantages of a hill.  Although the only access to a castle is a narrow pathway from the ground up to the top of the plateau, an army will have a difficult time advancing up such a route to invade.  A moat can be utilized as well to increase the defense of the fortress.  A similar escape tunnel can be incorporated as with the hill landscape.  The castle of Hogwarts from the "Harry Potter Series" is an example of this type of terrain.