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  • Writer's pictureNate

A History of Inner Sea Maps

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

So, the poster-sized map of the Inner Sea is finally finished (Acolyte patrons can check it out on my patreon from tomorrow, and it will be made available to everyone next Wednesday). I thought I’d go through a bit of the history behind the worldbuilding that went into creating Elyden and, more specifically, the maps of the Inner Sea.

Elyden would slowly emerge from an earlier campaign setting I was writing for my D&D campaign, called Sola. It was more of a classical setting, based in a city-nation surrounded by hostile nations and wildernesses in a Pangea world. This was about 15 - 16 years ago. I wrote a decent amount of background for some of the regions and named most of them, but it was a bit too generic to really stand out or be interesting. I had a sourcebook of about 300,000 words, most of which was titles to entries with a few bullet points that I jotted down here and there whenever I came up with an idea.

Back in the dim past of the mid noughties I was still drawing maps on paper, specifically large cardboard sheets I used to get from a newsagent. I used to love buying those bits of cardboard. I’d unroll them and lay them down on the floor, weighed down at the corners by old books, and look at the blank pages in wonder. The possibilities were endless. I’d make solo games, drawings, paper crafts and all sorts of other things with them, but my favourite was maps.

I drew the first map of what would become Elyden on such a piece of cardboard. Here is it, many years later:

This doesn’t look like Elyden, I hear you say. And, well, that’s right. It doesn’t, at all.

In fact, there’s some questionable features, but on the whole, it’s passable. It was never intended to be a work of art, and was only for my own worldbuilding, to be filled in as needed. Even before I was using Photoshop, I was still working with layers, and made do with what I could - cooking greaseproof paper, cellotaped together and added on top of the map to let me add labels and trade routes to the map, without having to ‘damage’ the map itself:

the greaseproof paper is now heavily stained and discoloured but at the time it was almost clear. You may actually recognise some of the names, which I unflinchingly stole for Elyden a few years later: Vaalk, Laaskha, Ahrishen, Almagest, Malan, Parthia (Partha), Dacia, Temuja, Tethysia (Tethys). Others I’ve never revisited and honestly can’t say why. Gammater sounds like an interesting name, come to think of it…

Of particular note is this area:

Many parts of this, including Khamid, Say (which would evolve into Saua, native name Nakhe), and the Iapetan Sea, would feature in the region of Elyden known as the Dark Sea and the Arid Triptych.

I abandoned the world of Sola, but thankfully (and rarely, for me) never got rid of any of the material I created. I have a bad habit of purging old projects I think are no longer of any interest or use. For some reason I never did so with Sola. It would go on to be somewhat of a boon a few years later.

Between jobs and bored at home I started writing a fantasy story with no plotting or prep or worldbuilding. I came up with everything as I went along, plundering the world of Sola for interesting words out of context, planting them firmly into the terra incognita of what would become Elyden. The story revolved around a Firmamentist from Temuja who would be sent west, to the land of the Iron deity, which would go on to become the Undying Machine and god of Korachan. I wrote like a madman, churning out 10,000 - 15,000 words a day of rambling stream of consciousness story for months . The story was contrived, the writing bad, but it sure helped me get my foot in the door of worldbuilding Elyden. All that worldbuilding needed a map, and my big cardboard sheets were waiting for me. And so, sometime around 14-years ago was born the first real map of Elyden:

The major coastlines are all there - the Inner Sea in the centre, the Korachani peninsula, and almost all of the nation names, which survived relatively untouched over the next 14-years. It was a good start, but still needed a lot of work. I started writing the Encyclopaedia Elyden at this point. It wasn’t much more than a document of rapidly increasing bullet points - every fact of the world I came up with went into that document, as an archive of all my work. Over time I’d divide it into sections, by letter, like a real-world encyclopaedia, as it grew.

All that writing needed an updated map, but I was really happy with the general shapes of the coastline so little changed in Elyden 2.0:

This map is a LOT closer to the current Inner Sea map than some people may realise. Unsurprising given that the digital world map I based all my atlas maps on Is traced over a photo of this very map. Many details are changed - mostly in the expansion of the coastlines of Sammaea in the south and Tethysia in the east, but the coastline of the Inner Sea itself has changed very little. I used this map for a while, but decided that the worldbuilding was growing at such a pace as to require maps that could be edited and updated more readily that physical media could, so I started dabbling in Photoshop. After gorging myself on tutorials at the Cartographersguild (a great resource for budding cartographers), I was able to make my first digital map of the Inner Sea:

This map got a lot more praise than it ever deserved and to be honest I’m pretty embarrassed for sharing this map now. The fonts are horrible, the paper texture is very amateurish, the borders are horrible, but for a first attempt it was decent. Helpful people explained the correct use of rhumb lines on maps, and I was first introduced to the maddening and complex world of projection mapping after making this map, and I would go on to make my first world map - a simple black and white image that later maps would all be based off of. But I was never happy with the map, and knew I could do better. 8 years ago I took a local course in mastering Photoshop and really put my mind to work doing tutorials specifically geared towards cartography, and I was able to put my new skills to use in the revised map of the Inner Sea:

This map won me my first cartographers guild award, which I still look at proudly. It is showing its age, but it was the fruit of a long labour, that had cost me quite a lot of time and money. But me being me I was never really happy. The faux-historical fantasy style of cartography was never my favourite, and as I continued worldbuilding I was finding Elyden moving inexorably into the future, changing from a classical fantasy setting into a grimdark steampunk post-industrial world that needed more realistic maps.

That led to exploring different map styles, leading me to the Atlas Style I’ve been working at for the past 4-years.

Though the story of mapping Elyden is something best told elsewhere, suffice it to say, there was a lot of back and forth, revising the black and white world map, fiddling with projections, making sure that everything lines up correctly. It’s something I’m still working on to this day, and which is causing me more headaches than its probably worth (if anyone can donate a Cray I’m happy to accept it). With all those atlas-style maps, I needed an update to the Inner Sea map, but there was a problem - I couldn't make it until all the nations had received their very own map.

That happened recently, and since the I’ve been slowly working away, compiling those maps into a single giant poster sized map with new labels. And finally, it's ready:

This is actually a VERY low-res version of the map, which will be made available in High-res on patreon tomorrow to select tiers, and everyone else a week later.

It actually covers less area than the previous Inner Sea maps (I excised the Dark Sea, to concentrate more on the Inner Sea that my life has revolved around so much for the past decade). I’m pleased with the result, though don’t really want to repeat the process ever again. It made me wish I had started working in vector graphics all those years ago instead of raster. It made me want to throw my computer against the wall every time it froze, which it would do multiple times with the addition of each of over 3,000 text layers. But it’s done now, and I can now concentrate on the next series of maps.

Who knows what the Inner Sea will evolve into over the next 10 or 20 years?

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