The Evolution of a Fantasy Map
by, 03-13-2012 at 07:36 PM (19345 Views)
This first image is the original map, as penciled by my partner, J. E. Dugue. J. E. is an all around talented guy. Besides his natural born abilities in writing and music, he is also a natural born artist. He chose to pursue his first two loves, but this map will always possess a special place in my heart. This map was first drawn in the late 90’s when we were in high school.
This is the continent of Sylvane where the first stories take place. Sylvane is a crowded continent in the lower hemisphere. Its lands were originally divided by seven races. Our concept nations were Doljinaar, Kildore, Jui-Sae, Jui-Rae, Sssyrinya, the Blacklands and Myst Valley. The map really only had two major cities labeled back then: Doljinaar and Kurn. Doljinaar was always the name for both the nation and the capital of the united kingdom of men. Looking back, Capital Doljinaar took up the entire southwestern peninsula of Sylvane, which is absurd. When compared to Kurn, which was basically a dot by comparison, Capital Doljinaar was astronomically too large.
Of course, we were but a pair of dreamy-eyed high school boys back then, so every flaw is still married to the original dream. One of my favorite aspects of the original map is that it actually looked like a continent. Far too many fantasy stories have these strangely shaped landmasses that fit conveniently in portrait format on a page when most real continents are far more landscaped in shape. Just pull out a map and take a glance at the Americas, Asia and Europe for example.
That said the original Sylvane seems scrunched now. There is not enough room for sprawling fields or untamed forests. We did not understand the concept of snowcaps providing meltwater to feed rivers at that time, so Mount Haven had a ridiculously large lake atop it. LOL! There are also far too many mountains. Whenever we wanted to keep nations apart we had a habit of slapping mountain ranges in between the borders. Far be it from us to leave room for conflict in the beginning, which is at the heart of good story-telling. Nevertheless, this map laid the groundwork for all Sylvane’s future renditions.
The next map was made by J. L. in 2007 on AutoREALM, a free fantasy map making program. I called it the expanded world. For starters I used the original map as an underlay and then I stretched it to make the continent feel much wider. This was our first labeling of the cities, towns and capitals. Kingdoms began to feel more like kingdoms complete with roads, wilds, rivers and ruins. We opened up some of the mountain passes to make war torn borders. We replaced much of the northern mountains with a swirling, but passable desert called the Great Waste.
The kingdom of Doljinaar became far larger and grander. Its concept was supposed to represent the united kingdom of men at the height of their power. Their boundaries now extended to nearly one third of the western continent—an empire unequaled in our world. And then we salted it with hides and wastelands where dark and forgotten things lurked. We added the Ice Marshes, the Jaded Wood, the Ruins of Garrlohan, the Rusharken Hills, the Grublands, Mizzle Drizzle and greatly inflated the sprawling brigand-infested woods of Karus Forest.
Sylvane had now grown to house over 15 nations, 30 races and 10 unique human nationalities. The dragon-men now took their place in bleak tower cities atop the fiery black Bloodstorm Mountains. Bloodthirsty shark-men crawled out of the seas to drag land-dwellers back into the depths. A people who glowed like gods took shelter in a crystal city in dragon-infested lands.
Capital Doljinaar’s size was reduced to a more realistic grandeur, though admittedly it still remained too big. We were still in a love with its idea…a sprawling architectural wonder that could be seen from space like the Great Wall of China. Ten massive districts, each a city in itself, walled together side by side to form the largest city to ever grace the pages of fantasy literature. A spectacle of pride and glory, impregnable and a symbol of mankind’s insurmountable power, the shadow that cast across the west causing every dark thing to both cower and yearn to cast every great stone down.
Alas, this map lacked its final polish. Its lines and colors painted an unbalanced contrast. Some lines were far too light to express their full significance, others were far too dark. And then the map file was plagued with technical issues. We could scarcely move a tree without waiting five minutes for the change to take. The file became unusable and I wasn’t sure about commercial rights. I finally caved in and purchased a commercial map-making program called Campaign Cartographer 3. We worked with Photoshop and CC3. We tweaked and tweaked until the final map was born.
The expanded world did not prove vast enough for the growing population of our world. J. E. and I exploded with new ideas. Covent’s population boomed to include over 50 races, 20 unique human nationalities and over 20 nations. Races migrated from Sylvane to the far wilds of the other continents, a few even sailing by ship to even further off lands. Peoples and creatures wandered into caves and into uncharted caverns little known to the surface world.
Centuries upon centuries of history made its mark on our world leaving war-torn lands, lost ruins and artifacts, enslaved, vanquished and forgotten peoples. Wars between ancient wizards left wounds upon the world. The southern forests of Jui-Sae and Jui-Rae burned forming the warped deadwood known as the Ashwood. The Blasted Plain was forever scorched never to yield vegetation again. Dark abominations stalked magic ruins still possessed by the ancient and forbidden black arts. Magic gates and secret fortresses were erected.
The final map at last crystallized the extreme depths of our obsessions. The mountains, coasts and sea finally made a bolder statement to help the whole map fall together. J. L. finally found a map he was satisfied with and J. E. added the final touch. We set the map against a sheet of dirty, grungy parchment and at last we were finished. Feedback from readers and map-makers advised a mere glance at the map made them want to read about our world. We hope fantasy fans will find all the love and care we have poured into this world. The low resolution map above doesn’t do the final map justice. Feel free to visit the fully zoomable high resolution map available on our website if you would like to know more: