Saturday 27 June 2015

On Lego Castle Design

My kids have finally reached the age where they can play with legos, so for the last couple months I've had the opportunity to build things with them once or twice a week. I was really into legos as a kid, but it's been 15-20 years. Anyway, getting back into it, I'd like to talk about designing castles.

Simple castle construction
As a kid, and even as a teenager, I remember finding lego castles a frustrating challenge. I would get a castle play-set, build the thing according to the instructions, and it would turn out great, but if I tried to build something of my own design, it would end up quite disappointing.

Now, working with my own kids, I've build a few, rather humble castles, each a bit more complex than the previous one, and I'd like to take the opportunity to share my novice thoughts on castle design.

Sorting Pieces

So this is something which is so obvious to me now but which I don't
Corner piece
think I knew as a kid. Before you start building something, take five minutes to sort out the pieces you will likely need. This saves you time looking for specific pieces later, and it also gives you an idea what materials you have on hand. When building a castle, that usually means:

  • all the various large castle wall pieces
  • a good supply of the various types of pillar pieces
  • any grey or black arch
  • lots of assorted grey bricks
  • a good number of black bricks

The Walls

Castle with various wall types
Now let's talk about the walls. When I was a kid trying to do this, I would connect several lego wall pieces together and get a very boring castle. So the first thing I would like to point out is that you have many options regarding walls:

  1. Wall/Door Pieces are quick to put up and cover a lot of space. 
  2. Arches on Pillars are a great alternative to a filled-in wall pieces since they are quick to put up, don't use a lot of bricks, and give decent access to the inside of the castle, which is important if this castle is for your kids to play with
  3. Open it's also valid to leave rooms artificially open on one or two sides so the kids can play. That said, you still need to keep things structurally strong. 
  4. Bricks can be used to fill in between wall pieces or even to build entire walls, but this is time consuming and uses up a lot of pieces. They're nice and strong, though
  5. Crenelations are good for the top level or can even go under an arch
  6. You can also make a drawbridge, portcullis--I'm not there yet, though. It requires hinge pieces, string...
Castle Walkway/Flooring Example

The Floors

So you've finished a level of walls on your castle. Now you're going to need to put floors and walkways.  This isn't just a place for your lego men to hang out. Having a broad and well-supported floor will help you put the next story on your castle.

So you pick out some thin lego pieces for your flooring, but how do you support them? The castle wall pieces have a lip to support a floor, but that usually only gets you 80% of the way to something load-bearing. You'll need to come up with a creative solution to get you the rest of the way. Upward-slanting pieces can help with this.

The Foundation

Foundation needed...
Another challenge is if you have an irregular base plate like ours. Before you can even start your castle, you need to create a surface to build on. That means covering over the pits and expanding the floor with pillars and arches. It's a bit of work, but it results in a more more interesting construction.

Embracing the Subjective

So these are the general ground-rules, but you can take them in a lot of different directions and create some really diverse castle designs. There's no correct design, but there are a few categories one can judge the castle based on:
  • Complexity of design- how many stories does it have? Are there separate sections?
  • Structural integrity- how strong/stable is this Tower of Babel you've erected?
  • Accessibility- I mentioned this before. Can the kids easily access all parts of the castle and put their guys there?
  • Colors- is the coloring aesthetically pleasing?(This is a hard one--takes a lot of work if you're picky about colors)
  • Variation- do you just have flat, featureless walls or are their variations? (bonus points for greebling!)
  • Decorations- are there flags, crenelations, colorful roofs, etc?

A whole lot of castle!
All in all, this is a very deep, complex creative venture and I completely understand the guys who make a full blown hobby out of building gigantic lego castles. A lot of things are like this: coming up with an idea, developing it, modifying it, trying to get everything to fit together just right like a puzzle. DMing your own sandbox can definitely be like this. Even composing a semi-coherent blog post...

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