I use the following for my worldbuilding:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
I thought I’d give you a little update on current projects and status. The past year or so has been a little hard on me “in the real world” but all that is sorted out now and things are on the up again. On the other hand, it hasn’t left me so much time for world-building: Besides my new real-life job keeping me busy, NaNoWriMo ate up a lot of free time in November. That’s done and over, and with the holidays coming up I should have a good amount of time to write and build.
- My Wacom tablet needs to be replaced, but I am not yet sure which one to get, and what size. They get expensive really quickly once you go beyond A6. I have some maps to draw!
- I’ve been consolidating settings. At least two, probably three, and perhaps four of my worlds will be merged – details to follow…
- I am totally into science fiction right now. This comes from reading everything H. Beam Piper that Gutenberg and Librivox could throw at me, but it is also related to finally playing role-playing games again; in this case we’re up to our ears in the Star Wars Saga Edition. I’m playing a shard in an IG-86 chassis with a severe identity crisis.
- I’d like to complete short “world books” for what I consider my main worlds. Say something on the order of 48 pages each.
- With the death of imaginaryworlds.net and the disappearance of Paul of the Shakespeare & Dragon podcast, I’d like to expand enderra.com to include more how-to’s, more discussion, more interactivity. This is more of a long-term goal, we’re definitely talking mid-2010 here. Anybody who’d like to get in on this, drop me a line…
I’ve added the following links to the “Worlds on the Web” page:
* Bergonia, a sqaurish fictional island nation
* Kingdom of Kaupelan another constructed nation, beware of pop-up advertisement
* The Republic of Novegrad is a really nicely done con-nation
* The Armorican Isles
Found more interesting world building links:
* Thud and Blunder: Article by Poul Anderson about worldbuilding.
* 3D-Starmaps is dedicated to star maps.
* Atomic Rockets contains a lot of information about real and fictional rocketships.
If you’re serious about world building, this one might be something for you: The California State University is/was offering a course in World Building. The course is offered both on-campus and as a distance learning course. It focuses on realistic, scientific world-building. I am not sure if the course is still actively offered; the Open University does not seem to list it. I’m actually interested in this course, but unfortunately the professor who taught it does not reply to email at the moment. A pity.
Update: Also seems the Cal State site doesn’t respond anymore. Too bad. Does anybdoy know of a similar offer?
I’ve added a few links – and since I can’t really expect anyone to do a mental diff on the two link lists, I decided to quickly post what I’ve added since I initially started the link lists.
World Building Resources:
* Climatology for Worldbuilders
* Language Construction Kit
* A Way with Worlds
Worlds on the Web:
* Life on the Planet Furaha
Worlds do not always have to be plain old balls of dirt speeding through space, it’s also possible to have artificial constructs as your worlds. One such design was created by Arthur C. Clarke for his book Rendezvous with Rama. Rama is a space ship in the shape of a hollow cylinder; such designs have been created by NASA as hypothetical future space stations.
Anyway, the Rama spaceship is quite large, and a Frenchman, Eric Bruneton, sought a way to render this huge scenery. He developed methods for this that are quite interesting, and you can visit his website about Rendering Rama to see the resulting art and read a very interesting article on how he accomplished the feat.
As you can see, he succeeded beautifully.
I must say that I always pictured Rama’s interior as more artificial-looking, but that could have been my misreading of the story. Of course Eric’s rendering is more a demonstration of technology rather than a faithful rendering. Either way, I thought that this was a great little gem that people interested in world building or constructed worlds might be interested in.
Alien Planet is another example of “professional” world building, similar to The Future is Wild. However, unlike that show, Alien Planet is set on a world in another star system. It depicts a robotic mission of exploration to this planet.
Someone actually uploaded the thing to Google Video. Enjoy:
Personally, I feel that a lot of the creatures showing here seem a little far-fetched… however, I am still not a zoologist or botanist and thus can’t really say. Anyway, it makes for an entertaining 90 minutes.
Sometimes you find gems when you least expect it. I was actually looking for a good domain name to use for this weblog when I came across this world-building podcast.
Shakespeare & Dragons [dead link!] is run by Paul Stark. Paul is an English teacher from California with aspirations to becoming a professional world builder. He takes a story-based approach to building worlds, which is a little different from the usual “scientific” approach to Conworlds.
Paul has published 15 episodes so far (plus a “donation reward” special dealing with monster design). Unfortunately, his publishing schedule is very irregular, but what’s already available is quite interesting and really worth the time to download: If you’re a world-builder, this podcast is two thumbs up. But even regular game masters can take a lot of value from it, as they will have to create stories just the same. Highly recommended. And do send Paul some feedback, so he is motivated enough to continue working on the podcast.
Update, 2011-09-16: It appears the website is now gone as well. The episodes are still out there, I will create a page to access them more easily.
Update, 2015-11-26: Never revisited the post, I got permission from Paul to host the podcast’s archive.