None of my dungeons are flat. I always have things for people to jump off or fall into. But if you’re laying out a top down view it can be tricky to show elevation on a map.
A simple method is to use arrows, and basic shading to show higher/lower levels (v1 in the diagram). However – it’s hard to tell which way the arrow points (is that up or down?), and shading a whole flat area is unsatisfying and flat.
So – v2 – you can use hatching to lay in the thrown shadows.
1. Basic Hatching
For each edge where the floor on one side is lower than the floor on the other – lay simple hash marks along the side that is lower. In this case there’s a staircase up to a high ledge, so on each step I hash along the edge that is lower. It’s basic, but it gives a clear direction on each edges.
2. Longer Shadows For Larger Drops
Not all drops are equal. Here the drop on the step is shallow, but the drop from the top plinth is large. So I use longer hash marks where the drop is larger. I also cross hatch in the corners to produce deeper shadows along the edges.
3. Hatch All The Things
This method comes into its own when you do this everywhere. You can see here that I’ve hatched along every edge. This means that the walls themselves have cast shadows, even onto the plinth. I’ve also used very light hatching across the entire lower floor (as with v1 above). Now – when you use this many lines, you stand a risk of losing the clarity of the edges. To avoid this I’ve darkened those edges with a heavier line.
It’s also possible to use this when you have more detail than just simple block room shapes. Here I’ve added flagstones, but you can add any set dressing and the same method will work.
Elevation Side Views
Shading will get you some way to a clear read, but you can always throw in a side-view cutaway. This provides an unequivocal read on the elevation of the elements in the map.
Throw any questions in the comments – and tag me on any sketches if you’d like input on your own work in this style.