Designing Maps

How to make beautiful and compelling maps for your games

Technique: Stairs

Wherein I teach you a technique for adding moss to battlemaps.

Stairs are common components in battlemaps. Since they are often part of the environment and layout of the battlemap area, they need to feel coherent with the style and design of the battlemap.

You won’t find sets of stairs in many asset packs, so you’ll need to make your own. Fortunately, it’s a fairly easy (if tedious) process. You will often want to build your sets of stairs in your own battlemap asset library.

In my example, I have a pit with a lowered walkway. There are stairs that lead down into it from the previous level, so I need to add the stairs to block the area out.

Paving Flagstones - Seamless
Paving Flagstones – Seamless
Black Marble Tile - Seamless
Black Marble Tile – Seamless
Flagstones - Seamless
Flagstones – Seamless

The first thing to do is create some shapes for each stair and apply a pattern to them. Dungeons stairs are made of stone but you could use a wood pattern as well. This is tedious work and involves dragging the pattern around.

How to Create Basic Stair Shapes
  1. Create a new layer group called “Complete Stairs”.
  2. Create a new layer inside of Complete Stairs and all it “Master Step”.
  3. On the Master Step layer, use the Rectangle tool to create a shape that is as wide as your set of stairs and twice as deep as a single stair will be.
  4. Edit the layer style of the Master Step layer and add a Pattern Overlay of a good stone or block pattern than you like with a Normal blend mode. Uncheck “Link with Layer”. Add an inside Stroke of 1 pixel in a contrasting color (so that you can see the stairs as you move them – the pattern). Don’t add any additional effects yet.
    • You may have to scale the pattern.
    • Don’t worry about if the pattern has weird edges. You’ll fix that later.
    • You don’t have to be married to the Normal blend mode, by the way. Some stone patterns look great Linear Light or Multiply, depending on the underlying color.
    • I am using Black Marble – Seamless here scaled to 20%.
  5. Duplicate Master Step several times – however many stairs are going to be in your set. In this case, I’m going with ten, so I need 9 duplicates.
  6. Switch to the Move tool.
  7. Move each step into position using the arrow keys. Working downwards in the stack of “step” layers:
    1. Select all steps except the top step.
    2. Holding down the <shift> key, hit the up arrow about three times. This will move all layers except the unselected ones up by 15 pixels.
    3. Deselect all your layers.
    4. Select all the steps except the ones you have correctly placed.
    5. Repeat this process until they’re all in position.
  8. Starting with the top “Step” layer (the one most visible) and working downwards in the stack, edit each step’s Layer Effects thus:
    1. With the Pattern Overlay effect dialog selected:
      1. Click and drag inside of the step to move the pattern around so that the pattern lines up with the edges of the step (where the Stroke ends). Make sure each “step” has a slightly different pattern. If your pattern has grout in it, make sure that no grout is visible at on the “top” side of the step.
      2. Check “Link with Layer” to lock that into place.
      3. Disable the Stroke effect.

For stone steps, you will want to clean the edges of each stair using the Eraser tool to dip into where the grout would be. This is not important with wooden steps.

How to Clean the Edges of Stairs
  1. Duplicate the Complete Stairs layer group and call it “Stairs Shape Backup”. You’ll want a copy in case this screws up.
  2. Back inside Complete Stairs, select all the step layers and then right-click on one of them and select “Rasterize Layer Style”. This will turn them all into pixel layers of the stair pattern.
  3. Now you’re going to clean up the edges of the stairs. For each step:
    1. Switch to the Eraser tool. Select a Hard Round Brush, 100% opacity, of about 3 pixels in size.
    2. Go around the edges of each step layer and erase just a tiny bit of the step where ever there is grout (obviously don’t do this if you have a solid pattern). You may want to turn off the other layers as you’re working. This may not be visible, and if you have a complicated pattern this can take a long time.
    3. Feel free to get jagged with this if you like.

All that clean up work is for nothing if there isn’t visible depth by adding shadows and strokes.

How to Add Depth to Stairs
  1. On the top stair in the stack, open the Layer Styles panel and add the following effects:
    1. Stroke: 1 pixel inside, a dark color (#222222), set to Multiply and at about 50%.
    2. Drop Shadow: blend mode Multiply, color #222222, opacity 75%, angle -90 degrees (uncheck “Use Global Light”), distance 0, spread 0, size 15 pixels.
  2. Copy the layer style of that step layer.
  3. Paste the layer style on all the other steps.

If you find that you don’t have enough stairs, you can always duplicate step layers and mix them around. Just remember that each one is 15 pixels above the other.

Now, you can either merge the stair pixel layers together and treat them as a single layer or move and modify them. I recommend saving the individual layers out into a battlemap asset library.

For my pit, I’ve pushed the stairs down against the pit wall, further than the edges of it, selected all the Wall pixels, and deleted those parts of the stairs so that they fit with the circular shape.

My Empty Pit that Needs Stairs
My Empty Pit that Needs Stairs
The Master Step Layer
The Master Step Layer
Applying Effects to the Master Step
Applying Effects to the Master Step
The Layer Stack for the Stairs
The Layer Stack for the Stairs
Selecting Step Layers for Moving
Selecting Step Layers for Moving
One Stair Moved
One Stair Moved
All Stairs Moved
All Stairs Moved
Stairs with Patterns Set
Stairs with Patterns Set
Stairs with Effects Added
Stairs with Effects Added
Stairs Doubled
Stairs Doubled
Stairs in Place and Clipped
Stairs in Place and Clipped

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