Tips and Tricks: Mapping Cliffs
May 18, 2021
May 11, 2021

Tips and Tricks: Mapping Cliffs

Tips and Tricks: Mapping Cliffs



May 18, 2021

Cliffs are something that can make a huge difference on your maps. I don’t know where you live, but if I look out of my window the landscape is far from being flat and so there are probably parts of your game’s world that could benefit from some height differences for the ground - being it some hills or high mountains.

Before we do it right, we have a look at an “all wrong” map first with some common issues you might have encountered or made yourself:

  • the cliffs are unnatural and boring
  • the cliff height is inconsistent
  • The rocks are placed in weird places and too many of the same rocks are placed in clusters
  • The path is unnatural and stops suddenly for no reason
  • there is no path to the cave, even though it is so  close to the path
  • the whole map is boring and uninspired
  • the stairs are too short

But how can we avoid these issues and get a map that really lets the player know they now enter mountain territory?

At first, you start with your first level of the cliffs - all of the same height, so this plateau is logically consistent. Make sure your straight sections aren't too long:

In the next step, you add the next level - again, with one consistent height over the whole plateau. If you add two plateaus that are not interconnected, they may have different heights on their own:

Continue with levels in this way, until you have a general layout you like, make sure to leave room for your path as well:

Now, these were already pretty neat mountains, but we can make them even look more natural by adding height differences. Make sure each variation you add in is still consistent heightwise:

This already makes a huge difference. You can spot some problematic areas when round tiles hit straight ones, but that is how the vanilla tiles work, you would need the lower curved tiles without any grass for a perfect look.

But for now, make sure your map is accessible for the player:

Your path should be consistent and make sense. If you want it to disappear for more wilder areas, do so by having it dissolve into smaller patches first. But here, we are just at the beginning of the mountains, someone actually built stairs and in my idea for the map this is like a smaller trade route through the mountains, so it has to be an overall accessible path  in this setting.

You already see the small variation I shiftmapped into the path, and that is because you saw that is because I wanted to include the cave from the example as well:

For such caves, you have two basic options: They are barely used or seen or they are known and then usually have some traffic - to hide from rain, monsters going in and out, to sleep inside…

So if you want to add a cave to your map, ask yourself: What is its purpose?

It is a cave where monsters jump out to attack travelers? Then it is probably kind of hidden, as otherwise people would have cleared it or made another path.

Is it a cave where people rest? Then you can add man-built things to make it more accessible and even leave a sign or similar things outside.

Is it just a boring natural hole? Well then, maybe there is just a small dissolved path, as some animals would use it anyways and some people would still check it out.

With this in mind, we now have everything we need on this map… or have we? No, now it is time for some decoration:

Some basic tips:

  • I like to use rocks and rubble of similar colors as the cliffs and place them close to them - it give the feeling like they just fell from them at some point.
  • Don’t clump too many things of the same kind in one place and try to avoid forming “lines” or “squares” or other patterns with your decoration. Drop them randomly.
  • You can hide some of the issues with these cliffs where you would need the edited part with vines, use the part that is not made for the bottom or use the one that has ground instead of grass below.
  • Since we are not really high up the mountains yet, we can go all in with vegetation - but if you map something that is more closer to the top, keep in mind that there is less vegetation there!
  • And if you now think, oh, I am out of cool decoration items, I just use the vanilla RTP, then...

By adding the Cave_B tiles to your Outside E tab, you get a lot of new tiles without actually doing any edit work. Some of these tiles are perfect for this kind of map, as these other smaller rubble tiles that I placed on the path and the broken in wall filled with rubble that I used as decoration in the bottom left of the map here.

I do not use the autoshadows on cliffs like these, as the square shadows and the slightly rounded cliffs just don’t work well. If you want shadows on such maps, I recommend you to make an actual tilesheet with the pieces you need (and make the bottom cliffs without any grass or ground while you are on it ;3).

With some shiftmapping this does not take too long and the results are really worth it!

So, summed up:

  • Height consistency is key
  • So is having irregular and therefore natural shapes and placings
  • If you go in for rocks and rubble, I would recommend to stick to one area of shades and not have brown cliffs and then all kinds of colorful rocks around
  • Have your paths and caves make sense. Who made/uses them? For what purpose?
  • Decoration brings a lot of life to your map. Here I would probably even add some smaller animals (not included in the RTP) as birds or mice.
  • You can use the dungeon tiles as variations for the outside tiles as well
  • Some edits can make a huge difference, but as you can see, vanilla already can look pretty nice!

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