Friday, August 15, 2008

How to Draw Stairs

Longer ago than I care to consider, I was an engineering undergrad at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. At the time (and maybe still for all I know), every student in the engineering school had to take General Engineering 103 - Engineering Drafting. I hated the class, partly because I didn't see the point, but probably mostly because I sucked at it. I managed to pass (barely) and moved on with my life.

Years later, I finally found a use for all the stuff they tried to teach me about straightedges and compasses and parallel lines. I could use their techniques to help me draw old-school-D&D-map stairs like in the image to the right (bonus points to the first grognard to tell us which module this chunk of map is from).

You will need the following tools:
  • Pencil (for construction lines)
  • Pen or marker (for final lines)
  • Good white drafting eraser
  • 2 drafting triangles
  • Drafting compass (optional)
I'll be showing my example on a scrap of 1" square graph paper from the stuff I've been using to make custom battle maps for our 4e sessions. You can click on the images to make them (a lot) larger. Maybe I should have scaled those down a bit. Ah well :)

I'll start with a hallway that I want to put stairs in (just like the one toward the top left of the map above).

Use one of the straightedges to draw two guide lines in light pencil from the top of the stairs to the bottom. At this point, truly particular drafting geeks can use the compass to draw evenly-spaced tick marks down one of the guide lines.

Set up the two triangles as shown. Set the guide triangle (the top one in the image) parallel to the direction your stairs go (I aligned it with a line on the graph paper). Press it against the paper so it doesn't move. Slide the other triangle to a point where its edge crosses both of the guide lines. Line it up with a tick mark if you drew some. Press down to hold it in place, but always keep pressure on the guide triangle as well. If you draw with a light touch you shouldn't need much pressure on the second triangle.

Draw a line in ink along the second triangle's edge from one guide line to the other. Keeping pressure on the guide, slide the second triangle along the stairs (to the next tick mark if you drew them) and repeat.

Finally, erase the guide lines.

I hope this little tutorial is of some use to somebody. It represents an application of pretty much every trick I remember from drafting class. I doubt my professor would be impressed.

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