How to draw cliffs - 3 different styles
So I was asked a while ago about different cliff mapping styles. Today I thought I'd break the hiatus of the last couple of weeks with a few different styles of cliffs. It's not really a tutorial, just a breakdown of a couple of the styles I've used for different maps.
1. Classic cliffs
This is a symbolic style - a very abstract representation of a cliff. It's used a lot on current maps. The advantage is that is clearly designates the cliff, shows where the edge is, and indicates which side is the top and which the bottom. The downside is that it's not particularly illustrative. These are great for abstracted regional scale maps and old school dungeon maps.
2. Illustrative cliffs
Here we have the opposite approach. The cliff is drawn to give some impression of how it would look from above. You tend not to see the vertical lines in the cliff. Instead you see all the ledges as you look down. Where the edges are close together you can see that it's steep, where they are more spread out you can see a more gradual rise. Throw in some fallen rocks at the bottom - all cliffs have them - and some lines showing the smaller rubble that's run off from the cliff. This is a good style for battlemaps, where you might want to give an indication of different routes up the cliff, but bad for regional maps where the scale makes this style inappropriate.
3. A compromise
Finally we have a style that acts as a compromise. The edge of the cliff is clearly shown. The structure of the cliff is indicated by the perpendicular lines. I've added more structure and variation. This gives a more illustrative feel to the style in 1. without sacrificing clarity. I've found this works well on world or regional scale maps where you need to indicate a cliff, and have it blend in with a more illustrative style.