Four Ways To Draw Trees On A Map

Mini tutorial on different tree styles

Trees are useful on a battlemap as they provide terrain, cover and a lot of artistic style. As the canopy stretches over the play area, how you depict your trees will affect both the form and the function of your maps.

There are four styles of tree that I can think of that I’ve regularly seen and there are pros and cons to each one. A lot of the decision is really based on how you’re going to use the map you have at the end. I’ll go through each in turn:

  1. This is probably the most obvious. You draw the canopy of the tree. It’s relatively easy – and there are lots of pre made tree image you can use if you want to lay in a lot of trees quickly (for example). Equally, you can hand draw them, like I’ve done here. The down side is that this obscures anything under the canopy that you might want to show, and in particular it obscured the tree trunk. If you’re running an abstract game, where forest is just a generic terrain type and being in the forest gives you cover then this is fine. However if you’re playing something like 4e D&D and you need to know where the tree trunks are for cover and line of sight, this will give you a pretty map, but won’t actually allow the map to be used for gameplay.
  2. This approach goes in the opposite direction. Here I’ve just shown the tree trunk, and no canopy. This is great for tactical gameplay as it leaves you able to throw other details onto the forest floor, like fallen trunks or meandering streams, without any problem with the players being unable to see them. However, it’s less obviously a tree, and it’s just not as pretty. It’s the approach I took for my Leafless Wood map pack, which I still drag out whenever my players end up in a fight in a clearing.
  3. Here I’ve gone for a happy medium. It’s more abstract, as we have both the canopy and the trunk beneath. You can decide when you colour it whether you want to just leave the line art to designate the extent of the canopy, or whether you want to add in some leaves around the edge. I first saw this style done by Mike Schley on some maps he did for Wizards, and it certainly makes for attractive battlemaps that are also useful for tactics. It’s a little more time consuming, but I think it’s worth it for the versatility. The one downside I’ve seen with this style is that if you also have a lot of ground level detail like streams, fallen logs, mushroom fields and such, then it can get very crowded and it can be hard to read off the important information.
  4. Here I’ve just shown the branches of the tree. It works well for winter scenes and you can clearly see the extent of the tree as well as the location of the trunk. However this comes with a health warning. Doing the line work can be time consuming but it’s as nothing compared to the amount of time it’ll take to colour and shade. Think very carefully before doing a map with more than a couple of these on it. You’re likely to regret it, however pretty they look at the end of the day!

7 thoughts on “Four Ways To Draw Trees On A Map”

  1. I find that #3 would be the most useful in most instances. I have 3.5 players who would want to know how thick the tree is visually (for cover, as well as spells like Tree Stride), as well as how thick the branches/leaves are, just in case they want to climb the tree or spot things in the air. It may clutter the map, but it makes my players happy, as well as makes things go a lot smoother.

    1. I find that anything that anything that makes players happy tends to mkake games run smoother! I take the point on the branches. A number of people have actually suggested a combination of 3 and 4.

  2. I think that all the styles that you mentioned are good and it really depends on the felling or season that you would like to depicted in the map.
    Sometimes I also like to draw a profile of the tree(s) if I want to show something under the trees branches that would be hidden from an aerial view.

      1. Sorry for the delay on the replay.

        Ok, I draw my maps by hand. First with pencil then I go over it with ink and in the end I fill them in with watercolor and colored pencil.

        If I can find the map I drew with the “tree example” in it, I’ll use that. If not I’ll just draw a sketch.
        give me a little time and I will reply with a with a link to the example drawing.

        Thanks for relying to my comment.

        I found your blog because Christopher Paolini had tweeted suggesting your blog.

  3. When using trees on a battlemap, I find that if I have any canopy at all, the players tend to treat it like underbrush and think they have cover when standing in it, but if I just use #2 or #4 they think they are dealing with dead trees.

    What I have been doing lately is using #4 with a semitransparent shadow of the canopy; it shows there is a canopy, reveals the terrain below it, does not misrepresent the amount of cover, and gives a shady feeling to portions of the map that are forested.

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