I just came across a very simple method for creating better coastlines in Inkscape: Use the calligraphy tool instead of freehand line drawing.
At first glance, the calligraphy tool seems unsuited to creating coastlines, because it creates an outline and not a line. So I have been using the freehand tool in the past – and it has always been problematic; the coastlines never seem to be “nice” and rugged, and while drawing the color of the line I draw is in a weird shade that I can’t see too well.
Today i was working on some fjords. I created them by drawing the basic coastline, then creating a second shape – the fjord – which I would then subtract from the first path. Let me illustrate with an example:
This rectangle represents my basic continent. There’s also a colored “ocean” layer underneath, currently invisible to the naked eye.
Okay, it’s a bit boxy. Let’s change that. With the freehand tool, drawing is awkward and difficult to see:
With the calligraphy tool, however, you just pick your color and draw away. Set a brush size appropriate to the scale you are working on – for this box I used a 25p brush width. You can immediately see that this is much easier on the eyes, if nothing else:
I tried to draw roughly the same coastline as in the freehand sample. I filled in most of the gaps but did not bother filling all of them in; you will see why in the second. Even so, I ended up with a lot, lot, lot of individual shapes; I created a single shape using the Path -> Union function.
Finally, I subtracted the “fjords” outline from the base continent box using Path -> Difference.
And this is our result:
Not only did we get much, much nicer coastlines; the little gaps left by the calligraphy tool created a lot of fairly nice-looking islands.
Of course there is also a disadvantage to doing that; it creates a path with a large number of nodes, so you’ll probably want to optimize this for large maps. Still, I think the results speak for themselves – I will try to create an entire map using this method at some point. And I wonder why I never had this idea before…
In fact, I totally suck at it – especially when it goes beyond networking and goes into the realm of self-marketing. It’s one of those skills I’ll have to learn – and would love to outsource to someone more talented at it if only I could afford to do so.
Still, world-building (and creating other stuff) in a complete vacuum is not nearly as much fun – and in a way is fairly pointless. What good is your awesome con world if there’s no one there to enjoy it?
This is what I am doing – and I am sure there’s more to do, so I’d love to hear your comments and advice:
Blog: Well this one is a no-brainer. Try to post on a regular schedule. Don’t be worried if you have zero readers for a long time. Create quality content and they will come. And the opposite is true as well: Stop maintaining your blog and your readers will disappear quicker than they arrived. If you have a productive phase, don’t hesitate to queue up articles for the future – a (semi-) regular schedule is much more effective than a burst of postings because you have an overall higher chance to get noticed.
Twitter: Get a twitter account. Follow people who post informative material you are interested in. Learn about good twitter manners. Don’t do “follow for follow back” or anything like that – it’s mostly worthless. Don’t spam twitter with advertisement (now and then is okay, but don’t overdo it) nor with trivialities. Nobody cares about your bowel movements. Do automate notifications to twitter when you post to your blog.
Facebook, Google Plus: These do not work for me, but I dislike Facebook and do not put much effort into either of these. It probably makes sense to build both up – once you start having a following, especially if it’s a consumer-based following, Facebook especially is probably still a must.
Forums and other Blogs: Find a handful of forums and other blogs that actually interest you. Contribute. Make sure you have a signature on the forums. But do not use them for self-promotion; be part of the community. If you like someone’s work, give them feedback. If you think something can be improved, give them feedback. Don’t flame or have bad manners – people will remember, and they will ridicule extreme cases. You don’t want to become known as the “worldbuilder who had a meltdown”. Common sense, really, but there you go.
Gravatar and Identity: Brand yourself. Come up with some sort of name you operate under. Can be your real name, or the name of your setting, or whatever. Do at least a Google search to see what else your identity is used for. Trademark protection is probably too expensive unless you are really serious about it (and even then it’s probably too expensive). But whatever you do, create a custom twitter background, pick a nice theme for your blog, pay attention to colors and font choice. Sign up with Gravatar and upload an icon for the email account you use on forums and blogs – a lot of sites pull them in and it makes you stand out from the anonymous and/or auto-generated icons.
Give to the community: If you are reasonably good at something, consider releasing content you create under an open license. Public Domain if you are really generous, or a Creative Commons license. The later is well-suited if you require people to credit you (with a link to your blog). Post to relevant forums and/or twitter about it. If your content is at all usable, people will latch onto this. It gets you referrals, new followers, and above all, a lot of goodwill over time.
Sign up for a blog network: The RPGBA is a fairly strong blog network that covers role-playing sites. Worldbuilding almost always fits that niche. It’s not a huge traffic source but it helps – plus there’s hope the RPGBA will become more of a networking tool. There are probably also blog networks for other topics – fiction, movies, whatever – but I haven’t looked around much.
That said – I am hardly an expert on any of this. I am probably naive, but I firmly believe that making your content the best you can is the best long term strategy, but of course it doesn’t help if people notice you.
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?
Lugh’s comment on The Evil of Eugenics plot-a-day inspired me to write up a plot-a-day for Genetic Engineering. Lugh basically suggested that wizards created monsters in genetic experiments as a weapon against an undead horde, which is a nice and modern take on the origin of those creatures.
Genetic Engineering is really a staple of fiction by now. It usually goes horribly wrong, unleashing monsters or designer plagues on mankind. The sort of story you would associate with Genetic Engineering roots in Frankenstein and encompasses a lot of Post-Apocalyptic fiction; at the high end an unstoppable virus has become a popular alternative to global thermonuclear war for the purpose of destroying Earth to allow for such a setting or story.
Ignoring the total destruction of human society – which is usually a setting choice rather than a plot device – Genetic Engineering can be used in many ways in your adventures or stories.
The evil villain is breeding an army of unstoppable mutants – usable in (almost) any campaign and setting. The player characters need to stop him from unleashing that army. Perhaps the villain is already using some of his creations to terrorize the nation or to assassinate politicians that stand in his way. Even the Aliens movie franchise could be seen as a variation of this idea (and indeed, Alien Resurrection picks up on that theme).
Genetically engineered plants and creatures often feature in the colonization of other planets; realistically, Mars could be terraformed with their help. And you know what may happen next, of course – the plants used begin to mutate, the animals go crazy, and some may even develop intelligence. Depending on your setting this could result in anything from man-eating insects to a full exotic and alien ecosystem. Jungles on Mars! But that is setting. The players may have to investigate why colonists in an outlaying mining town disappear, and then find a way to exterminate the smart bugs, or they may even have to protect the new Martian ecosystems from an evil Colonial Authority that attempts to eradicate the “mistake”.
A lone mutant runs rampant in a city, and the PCs have to stop him.
Genetically-modified humans are patented and used as a slave labor force by an evil corporation.
According to urban legend, Stalin wanted to breed human-ape crossbreeds to be used as soldiers. While there seems to have been little to this, at least one Russian scientist was conducting experiments to that end. No matter what the purpose, such experiments pass as unethical by today’s standards, and the PCs might have to look into a scientist who is doing follow-up experiments of the same nature. Or it could lead to a Planet of the Apes scenario.
In general, genetically-modified pets may go on a rampage.
A corporation on a distant colony world / in a dystopian future controls the world’s grain because it genetically engineered it in such a way that it is not viable after the first generation. Each year, the farmers have to buy new grain from said corporation which is abusing this monopoly more and more. The antagonists need to step in and end this injustice once and for all.
Genetic engineering is usually portrayed as “evil”, but it doesn’t need to be. A good, easy twist would be to offer a genetically engineered vaccine that is the only thing that can save mankind from a mutated plague; or a certain type of genetically modified grain that could solve a famine. If the producer of these is then less than clean – say, they also use their products for “evil” things – that sort of plot could offer a good amount of conflict of interests.
To cover another cliche: It’s not people who are behind the genetic experiments, it’s aliens. This can easily become zany, too, if you combine it with any sort of whacky conspiracy theory. Then twist it around and set it in a High Fantasy world.
There are surely countless other ideas, but that’s what I can come up with for now.
Here’s my latest entry to the CD-Cover game – I haven’t posted these in a while. And, before you ask: #8 is not missing, but the licensing of the base image I used changed so it’ll have to wait until I clear that up.
Original Art: Senales, by José María Pérez Nuñez; cc-by-nc.
From the looks of it, Cliffside is probably an “artsy” band…