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.
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’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…
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.
Update, 2020-01-01: Linked a more current YouTube video.
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 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.
The Future is Wild was a joint production of Discovery Channel, ORF and ZDF television corporations. It depicts three scenarios for the future evolution of life on Earth, set at 5, 100 and 200 million years in the future.
While there has apparently been some criticism of the scientific validity of the show, it’s still a pretty well-thought out design for the possible future evolution of life on Earth. And even if not everything is accurate – I am not in a position to have an opinion on this – it certainly sounds plausible and fairly consistent. Overall, The Future is Wild can serve as a pretty good source of inspiration for the aspiring world builder; especially since they explain why they designed the creatures in the way they did. Highly recommended.
I’ve been world building for as long as I can remember. As a child I owned many Lego bricks, and built many imaginary worlds from them – often space-themed, but there were more “mundane” worlds. Later, in the 1980s, my mother got me my first role-playing game, and I was instantly hooked. I used the prefab settings for a long time, but built my own modules and campaigns. At the same time, I began to fiddle with writing fiction.
In October 1993 some friends and I wanted to start a fantasy campaign. The system was GURPS, and the setting… well. GURPS comes with a strange fantasy setting based on real-world religions. We didn’t own the world-book, and to be honest it would not have been to our taste. After a friend failed to come up with a campaign, I took on the job of Game Master. I told the guys I’d have something ready in two weeks. In these two weeks I built a fantasy world I called “Enderra“. The first game session was, as best as I can reconstruct it 18 years later, on October 23rd, 1993.
The Enderra campaign ran at a very irregular schedule for several years and eventually died. In the late 90s, we decided to start playing again. I was again the GM. When I started to prepare for the game I quickly decided that I did not want to use any of the prefabricated worlds. But I also thought that building a new world from scratch would be wasteful. After all, I already had Enderra – there were many things about Enderra that I did not like anymore. So I fast-forwarded Enderra by a thousand years, and built on top of what already existed. The following D&D campaign ran for years, and a friend of mine actually ran his campaign using the same world.
The creation of “Enderra II” marked the point where I became interested in world building for its own sake. I drew immense enjoyment out of the creative act of designing a world, a whole universe, and over the years I built several settings of all kinds of flavors. Most of them never got used for anything.
Recently (late 2007, early 2008) I started to look for other world builders… to share experiences, to learn, and above all to have people to bounce ideas off of. This blog is part of that effort.