Weekly Tips 2 – How to design a gatehouse, using grids and building isometric maps

Castle Defence – a classic gatehouse

How to design a guard house of a castle

Castles are built for more than one reason – people live there, guards are stationed there and often they are political power centers for the region. But first and foremost they are built to keep people out. The weak point in any castle is it’s front door, and a number of techniques were perfecte over the years to make sure that someone trying to attack a castle would have a hard time of it. Now attackers might not be as obvious as a massed army at the gates – unsavoury people sneak in too. This gatehouse design was used in many places – including Linlithgow Palace, the palace I grew up beside and spent a lot of time in.

  1. Visitors approach from the south (in this diagram). The outer gate is large and heavy, and often opens onto a moat that’s crossed on a drawbridge.
  2. Once inside, the doors are closed behind (often from a mechanism operated from the guard room).
  3. Progress forwards is barred by a portcullis, and a set of heavy doors. This allows the inner doors to be opened safely so someone can talk to the visitors, without allowing them access to the castle
  4. Guards on either side can target visitors through arrow slits.
  5. More guards are perched above and can target visitors with ranged weapons, or that classic defence of boiling oil.

This provides a robust defence mechanism against invaders, but it’s far from fullproof. Linlithgow Palace was taken by a small group of determined soldiers using a simple ruse with a hay cart. The farmer drove his cart with fresh grain up to the palace. The guards opened the portcullis to let him in. He stopped the cart under the portcullis, and armed soldiers burst out from under the hay. The portcullis was dropped, but the cart jammed it open, and provided an open front door for the extra troops waiting in hiding outside. Soldiers poured in and the Palace was taken with relative ease.

For a game with fantasy elements, you’ll want to station some form of caster at the front gate, with some easy divination magic. The murder holes make the perfect vantage point for a sorcerer, and the confined space is just built for flaming spheres.

This tip originally appeared here on G+.

Drawing Isometric Dungeons

There are some classic isometric dungeon maps out there, particularly those of Castle Ravenloft – the original David Sutherland maps inspired the styles of all maps of that castle that have come since. It’s also a style beloved of computer games, most notably the Diablo series.

Creating an isometric map is actually pretty easy.

How to draw an isometric dungeon map
How to draw an isometric dungeon map
  1. First draw out your floor plan as if it were top down. Place lines for all the elements on the ground – walls, doors, outlines of pit traps. I draw these lines on a separate layer from the grid as it keeps everything organised.
  2. Make it isometric! Rotate the map 45 degrees. Then you shrink the map vertically by 57.7%.
  3. The great thing about isometric maps are the vertical details you can throw in there. Find every corner, and draw a vertical line to show wall edges. Focus on the edges that don’t obscure details further away. Here I’ve added the most detail where the detail doesn’t overlap the actual floorplan. Fill in the blank space with sketched stone texture, add in illustrated doors, throw in some lines to show the rough stone in natural stone tunnels and give the viewer an idea of just how deep the spiked pit trap is. Again, I add these details on a separate layer to make it easy to erase mistakes without rubbing out the floor lines.

Remember that the primary goal of the map is to show the floorplan and allow for easy use for a GM. The extra detail that an isometric map provides can really sell the setting of a map, but it’s also easy to obscure important features.

This tip originally appeared on Google+ here.

Quick and Easy Dungeons using Grids

This one’s quite specific for photoshop, but can be adapted to Gimp (and I’ve added some gimp tips throughout).

It’s a neat tool that often lies buried in Photoshop’s preferences panel that allows you to turn on a grid that you can snap to. This is perfect for quick dungeon floorplans on the fly. Combined with layer effects and blend modes (a future mini-tute) this can give you great looking maps really quickly.

  1. There are a few steps to turning the grid on at the right scale.
    1. Make sure that you have your image file set the correct scale. Here I’m creating a map at 100 pixels per square, so I set the resolution to 100dpi.
    2. Open up Preferences and go to the settings for Guides, Grids and Slices. In here set the grid to 1 inch, and add in the number of subdivisions you want. When sticking to drawing features that take up full 5′ squares you can set the subdivisions to 1. If you want to draw some smaller detail, like a 1′ thick wall, then set it to 5 – to get a grid line every foot.
    3. This should now give you a grid on your map. You can show/hide it with ctrl/cmd + ‘ . You can also toggle the snapto grid behavious using shift + ctrl/cmd + ; This also toggles snapping to guides.
    4. Note for Gimp Users – there’s a plugin here that allows you to create a grid of guides that will do the same job.
  2. With the snap to grid on, you can create a new layer, and use the rectangular select tool and Fill (option + delete or cmd/ctrl + delete for foreground/background fill) to quickly lay in your dungeon layout.
  3. Using that as a base, you can use blend modes and layer styles to build a pretty dungeon (or Gimp users can use this plugin to generate a pretty dungeon map from their basic layout)

This tip originally appeared on Google+ here.

There’s also a new Tutorials tab up on the menu bar, so you’ll be able to find all the tutorials up there from now on in.

6 thoughts on “Weekly Tips 2 – How to design a gatehouse, using grids and building isometric maps”

  1. Jon, I have quite a few RSS feeds that I go through so I normally don’t pause to comment on posts. However, I do want to say I really appreciate you sharing your work and now these tips on your mapmaking process. I work for a design group in the Navy and have passed your links on to my co-workers. Thank you very much for the inspiration and instruction.

    1. I’m really glad you’ve been enjoying them. I’ll continue to post tips – and I love that they’re making it into a naval design group! I know what you mean about the stream of information on RSS feeds these days – it’s really good to know that these are coming in useful to people.

  2. Hey, have you tips on the layer styles to achieve the final look of that gridded dungeon? I played around with this a bit but I come nowhere near to this. I have a black Outer Glow 50px wide to achieve this undirected shadow effect, but even thats not as good looking as your sample.

    1. I’ll be putting up a post on the layer styles this week, but I’ll give a quick breakdown here:
      • colour set to a mid blue-grey and blend mode to colour burn
      • 2px black stroke inside the wall area
      • black drop shadow with mode set to colour burn, large blur (75px) and offset set to zero, opacity of 75%
      • Outer glow with colour set to black, mode set to overlay, opacity 75%, size 75px
      • Inner glow with colour set to white, blend mode set to overlay, opacity 40% andsize set to 50px.

      I’ll explain all the decisions in that later, and obviously the pixel sizes will depend on your scale – but that should get you started. Hope that helps!

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