World-Builder’s Toolchest

I use the following for my worldbuilding:

Software!

  • LibreOffice – Free, cross-platform, can export PDF – what more do I want?
  • PagePlus X6 – Ah, yes. A (relatively) inexpensive software that handles layout (relatively) well
  • Inkscape – For vector drawing (mostly maps but also some diagrams)
  • FreeMap – For mind-mapping
  • The Gimp – Bitmap graphics editing (the background for my star map was made with this, for example)
  • Subversion – for creating backups; any other solution will do as long as you have one that actually works.
  • Google Earth – For reference, and for testing out my maps on a sphere!

Alternatives:

  • If you have enough money (or can get it inexpensively, say, on a student’s discount) the Adobe creative suite might be a better substitute for some of the above, but I am not wealthy enough to buy them.
  • MS Office is an adequate replacement for LibreOffice, and OpenOffice is a decent replacement.

Websites!

  • Well, anything from my link sections really – Plus Wikipedia.
  • News websites like the BBC or CNN or Google News are the best sources for plot ideas ever invented. A newspaper will do, too, if you are stuck in the mid-20th Century.
  • WordPress for blogging. Other blog providers will work too, pick what you are comfortable with, but personally I can recommend WP.
  • Cartographers’ Guild is worth its weight in gold and then some.

Physical Tools!

  • Lots of paper for sketching out ideas and taking notes – sometimes a quick diagram with a pencil is the best way to work on something, because it frees you from distractions
  • Binders into which I sort those, plus “WIP” printouts of maps and so on. Never throw anything away that you might use at a later time.
  • Cheap inkjet printer/scanner for WIP prints and for scanning stuff if I need to. Will replace this with a cheap color laser/scanner combo device as soon as I have the spare money for it.
  • Small Wacom Bamboo tablet (buy the largest tablet you can afford and can fit on your desk if you intend to do graphics or mapping at all. Trust me. You will never look back.)
  • Tons of reference books – A lot of expert knowledge is not or not easily accessible in digital form yet, and books often contain a lot of photos and other pictures as well that you won’t easily find online. Do not be afraid to check out the kids/teenagers’ section – those books are lighter on the details, but usually contain a lot of cool pictures.

Other stuff!

  • I use the “post it” notes function of my iPhone to take notes on world-building when I am on the road, then email them to myself every now and then.
  • Write down everything, every idea you have – every cool name you hear – even if it’s just individual words or one-liners. Sort them at home – I have several huge collections of ideas, name lists, and so on.
  • Make backups of everything! – My PC has 2 Harddrives that run as a Raid 1 (meaning if one dies, the other still contains all data) plus all my data is in a subversion repository that I synchronize securely to a server in a datacenter in Bavaria. If you don’t want to – or can’t – run your own infrastructure, there are plenty of cloud storage providers nowadays. Just make sure you are comfortable entrusting your documents to a third party – read their terms & conditions carefully.
  • Always respect copyright. Don’t use what you do not have explicit permission to use. This is both out of respect for the original author, but also because of copyright laws – breaking them can get you into hot water nowadays. When in doubt, ask your lawyer (and I am not kidding). When I collect stuff for inspiration (images, text, etc) I always save a plain text file with the same name as the work itself (but with a .txt extension) which notes author, source URL, and what license the work was released under. That way, when I go back to it months later, I know if I can put it on my blog or not, for example.
  • Whatever office suite you get, learn to use it. Use styles instead of manually formatting, automatic table of contents, foot- and end-notes, and so on. You will spend a lot of time in there; make your documents the cleanest to use you can. You will thank yourself later.
  • I am not a fan of fractal map generators. The maps they create look cool at first glance, but they are decidedly not natural, and this breaks suspension of disbelief quickly.

What do you guys use? Any tools or software you use that’s not on the list?

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2 thoughts on “World-Builder’s Toolchest


  1. Reading you loud and clear. I my have to take a hiatus while I sort out my own postings. I don’t want to cause a fuss. I’ll have to fiddle with GIMP and bit and see what gets spit out. GIMP is the style of map I’m usually drawn to, maybe it’s about time I churn out some of my own.


  2. Haha, it wasn’t aimed at you, but just general advice.

    – Also, I forgot Google earth on my list. So that’s added now.

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