The Last Worldbuilding Tool You’ll Ever Need
As a writer with a strong connection to the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror, worldbuilding is nothing new to me. For the past two decades I’ve explored numerous avenues searching for the perfect worldbuilding tool. I’ve jotted notes down on post-its and arranged them on my bedroom door as a teen. I’ve bought and received as gifts journals and notebooks, some of them beautifully bound by leather or llama skin and used them. I had binders with annotated pages. I’ve built up spreadsheets, and there is an entire series of folders on my Google Drive account filled with assorted notes and different aspects of all the worlds I’ve built. I’ve also gone so far as to install a local instance of MediaWiki on my home PC just so I could keep my worldbuilding notes private. However, as a worldbuilding tool, each of these options came with problems.
Journals and binders could be lost, pages torn out or otherwise ruined. Spreadsheets and document files become hard to manage. MediaWiki worked wonderfully, but it was a pain to install and configure properly, and you had to learn the Wiki Markup language in order to use effectively.
The other day, I discovered World Anvil.
What is World Anvil?
Designed as a worldbuilding tool to be utilized by fantasy, science fiction and horror writers and tabletop RPG campaign designers, World Anvil takes the most complicated aspects of worldbuilding and makes them easy to manage through an intuitive category-and-field system. It allows worldbuilders to create every aspect of their world, from the widest universe to the smallest atom, and links associated items together, and then compiles them all in an easily-traversable series of web pages, complete with all relevant information.
When designing an article, World Anvil’s system offers you a series of prompts with which you can further flesh out whatever aspect of your world you happen to be working on. If you’re, for instance, designing a character, World Anvil will prompt you not just on physical characteristics of your character such as age, height, eye or hair color, but further explores the character’s personal likes & dislikes, health condition, virtues, flaws, quirks and hygienic practices. But characters are only one aspect of what World Anvil offers. There are dozens more.
World Anvil users can upload maps of their worlds and annotate them through use of an API, connect markers to articles on settlements, and customize said markers however they wish, cementing World Anvil as a robust worldbuilding tool. They can upload pictures, headers and all manner of other things to the site.
Creation Features of World Anvil
Buildings: Allows for the creation of detailed buildings, attach buildings to settlements, owners and organizations, as well as multiple prompts to add extra details.
Characters: An incredibly robust form to build characters with multiple fields and prompts with which to create incredibly detailed, fleshed-out characters and their history. Also allows the creator to assign relationships to other characters.
Conditions: Allows for the creation of diseases and other maladies, whether they be natural, magical or technological in nature.
Documents: Does the religion in your setting have a central document? Create it, tell it’s history and even insert the content of said document. Useful for everything from religious texts to contracts and bills of sale.
Ethnicities: An option to create different ethnicities within your world, which can be applied to your characters and geographical regions.
Formations (Military): Is your world thick with military conflict? In here, you can create unique military formations, outline their ideologies, drives and tactics.
Generic Articles: On the off chance there isn’t a category for what you’re trying to create, World Anvil has you covered with the Generic Article.
Geography: That far-off mountain range? Name it. The shallow pond? Fill it. The warring nation far to the east? Develop it.
Items: Rundown of Items
Laws (Meta/Physical): In the eventuality that some physical laws are different in your world, you can change them using this tool.
Languages: One of the most overlooked (or sidestepped) aspects of worldbuilding is the existence of differing languages. Well, World Anvil’s got a tool for that, so now you have no excuse.
Maps: Create a Google-maps like map for your world, complete with the ability to pin it and link pins to locations you’ve designed in Buildings, Geography or Settlements.
Materials: Adamantium, Mythril or nano-plastic? If your world has materials with unique properties, you can make use of this tool.
Military Conflicts: Most military conflict has far-reaching consequences to the geopolitical landscape of your world. So why not develop them using this tool?
Myths/Legends: Did the world spring forth fully-formed from the brow of a god? Did the great meerkat will it into existence? Outline the myths and legends of your world with this tool.
Organizations: A detailed and multifaceted tool to create organizations, factions and groups ranging from social clubs to geopolitical and religious organizations.
Professions: Are there any professions unique to your world? Outline them using this tool.
Prose: You’re using the World Anvil worldbuilding tool to create your world, why not use it to write your book? The Prose section has you covered.
Ranks/Titles: Every kingdom has a king. Every empire an emperor, and every corporation a vodka-guzzling alcoholic in a vital role.
Settlements: Outline every detail of the cities, towns, villages or work camps of your world. Assign a ruler or leader, and explore its history.
Species: Elves? Add them. Strange chimerical cross-breeds between a raccoon and a fish? Do it. Also comes with a section specifically for sentient species.
Spells: A great tool for adding spells and other magically-oriented techniques.
Timelines: The ability to create parallel timelines and multiple universes shouldn’t be understated. Outline the history of your world, and the one where things played out a little differently.
Plots: Unlike prose, plots allows you to organize the multiple plots and subplots of your story. Like prose, you still have to write it.
Technology: Great for science fiction and the creation of advanced technology. Also great for fantasy and the creation of magical technology. Either way, technology is great.
Tradition: Don’t leave your readers wondering about why your characters all sneeze when they hear their name. It’s tradition, so explain it!
Vehicles: Ships? Automobiles? Corn-powered go-karts? Detail the vehicles in your story here.
A Robust Worldbuilding Tool
I took to the World Anvil worldbuilding tool like a duck to water. After a few hours of messing around, I even joined their Guild membership program. Now, it’s important to note that while the free account is functional, there are limitations. For instance, with the free account you can only create two worlds, and they must be accessible by anyone. As someone who guards most of their worldbuilding jealously, I needed to have the option to set a world to private until such time as I was ready to release it to the public.
Additionally, the map API features are scaled back with the free membership, as well as many other advanced customization features, such as the ability to co-author worlds and to have subscribers, or upload larger files.
The good news? These features can be unlocked starting at only $3 USD per month, and I recommend that for the serious worldbuilder they go for the $5 tier at a minimum. It unlocks numerous useful features.
So go check out World Anvil, and share your creations in the comments below.
If there is enough interest, we may engage in a series of articles chronicling the creation of a brand new world making use of the World Anvil worldbuilding tool!