I would like to present my map of Twin Kingdoms of Aran & Ilan. I've been working on it fairly non-stop for the past three months, so it's with both relief and a bit of sadness that I decided to call this map finished. I'm sure you know how it feels: you're convinced that, as soon as you decide to stamp on the "finished" label and post it in the dedicated section, you'll start discovering little mistakes in it, things you should've tweaked, colors you should've adapted, fonts you should've kerned just a little bit differently. A map actually never is a finished product, and I guess that's part of the fun.
But hey, a man's gotta grow up some time, doesn't he? So here I am, declaring my Twin Kingdoms map finished!
The region the map focuses on are the lands of Aran and Ilan. The people of those lands are divided in roughly twenty clans, each with a very distinct religious and cultural identity. Aran and Ilan have been the stage for hundreds of years of war between the different clans, but most of those have eventually been replaced by a grudgy kind of peace by the time this map was made.
There was a time when Aran and Iland where united under one king, but the huge distances eventually led to the breakup in two kingdoms, each very friendly towards the other. That all changed when the Twin Kingdoms were struck by a huge outbreak of the Plague in 3258, which all but wiped out the Ilan dynasty. The first five Ilan Houses to recover from the Plague where those that beat down the countless resurrections that had arisen. While the capital Fyrnan was still fighting the last convulsions of the Plague, the Five Houses started hoarding power and allies. All the clans west of the Dragon's Backbone eventually declared their loyalty to one of the Five Houses. In name they still sorted under the Ilan King, but he became sort of a puppet king, all the real power lies now in the hands of the Five Warlords. The king effectively taken out of the equation, the war for power began. Principality borders swept over the map like the northern lights. At the time this map was made, two hundred years after the foundation of the Council of Warlords, things have quieted down a little. The current Warlords of Ymbrae and Rodin have had enough with all the warring and are rather peace-minded, but the Warlords of Cell, Sarand and Conwr are still engaged in constant border conflicts, with ever changing alliances. Full-scale war is now a rarity, however. There is but one exception to this rule: every spring, as soon as the peaks of the Dragon's Backbone shed their snows, the Conwr Warlord marches with his vasals to the terrifying Sir Anglarain (Sunset Pass), the only path through which he can reach the enemy kingdom of Araniell. All summer his army and the enemy's fight in the narrow ravines and on the frosty icefields that dominate the mountains, each trying only to prevent the other from invading. No one really knows who started this murderous tradition, but there is no stopping to it now.
The kingdom east of the Dragon's Backbone, on the other hand, survived the Plague without any major political changes. While most of Ilan is constantly under arms, the kingdom Araniell (short for "Arain Nial" or "Garden of Aran") is a haven of peace. There still is a lot of friction between the Carthorn and Annor principalities, but only of the political sort. Most of Araniell hasn't seen any real wars in the last few hundreds of years, with the exception of Gaendyr. Less than a century ago the Gaendyr principality declared its independence, but that didn't end well: the rebellion was beaten down in force, and the Ganadorian prince supplanted. They did get some independence, however: The Gaendyrion no longer have to supply the kingdom with young men for the kings standing army and taxes have been limited to a bare minimum, but they're not getting any military aid in case of an invasion either. There's a royal legion posted just outside the Gaendyrian border (at the Heron's Fords), but they never intervene, they're just there to make sure the Gaendyrion won't attack the peaceful lands of Cilydd. Gaendyr is now basically a buffer state with the enemy kingdom of Ilan, and it's having a hard time. Because who else will march up to the Anglarain each year, to prevent the Conwrians from invading?
This map is actually a double first for me: it's the first thing I ever did in Photoshop (I was a real GIMP fanatic until I recently got the opportunity to jump on the Adobe train) and this is the first time I used my drawing tablet for anything else than doodles. I can safely tell you it was a huge learning experience, and I still don't think I've mastered half of the techniques necessary for decent mapmaking.
The basic outline was based on an older map of the same region, but I've changed a lot to make it more geographically plausible. All of the linework and shading is done by hand, with a Bamboo tablet and a lot of patience (this was the hardest to come by ). I started with the natural elements: first came the coastline, then the mountains, then the rivers, and finally the forests. The human part started with the city icons and the roads, and then I went on to labeling. That was a lot of fun! I only had the Dutch names for all those made up locations, but I needed them in the local tongue as well - and in English, so you guys would understand them of course! I topped it all off with two inset maps (one for the clans, one for the surrounding lands) and a sidebar with some more information on the history, politics and demographics of the Twin Kingdoms.
There you have it then! If you have any questions, both about the backstory and the technique, don't hesitate to ask! All other comments are obviously welcomed as well!