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Free World Building Software

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By Shaudawn   |   Watch
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Published: August 25, 2010

--- Free Software ---


Due to the ever-changing nature of web links, the links presented here may break from time to time.  Please leave a comment if you notice a broken link and I'll try to fix it as soon as possible.  This document may change often.  Feel free to suggest additional world building software too!  Thanks for visiting.


--- World Management ---


So, if you are as addicted to the creation and building of worlds as I am, you have to check out World Anvil ( www.worldanvil.com/ ).  You can do so much for free.  Just check it out.  You'll thank me.  :D


--- World Building Software ---



Wilbur (last update: July 2019) ( www.softpedia.com/get/Multimed… )
Wilbur has been around a very long time, relatively speaking.  It's been freeware for as long as I've known of it.  I believe the link here should remain around, though (the previous link is now expired - thanks to Biggest-Baddest-Wolf for pointing that out!), and as a bonus, this appears to be the latest version.  I hope this remains.  Wilbur has a little learning curve to it, but after you get used to it, it is very simple to use to make realistic planets quickly (in my opinion).

Terragen ( www.planetside.co.uk/ )
Terragen is a terrain maker that creates stunning, photo-realistic scenes and has come in many versions throughout the years.  The first was completely free and came out back in 2005.  The original was an awesome program that created amazing landscapes with very little effort and ease.  The learning curve for the first version was pretty easy.  Then Planetside Software came out with Terragen 2.
It's successor was a completely different way of making landscapes.  It took much longer to learn, but was certainly more powerful.  The people who put this out have kept Terragen free, and even more fortunate for us, continues to develop it, which is rare when most either succumb to the pressures of profit or simply fizz out due to their deveopers having this powerful need to eat.  Not rest on their laurels, they went on with a Terragen 3 and now Terragen 4, which is not only the most current and most powerful, but also, the only one left available.  And best yet, it's all still free!  (Well, free until you want to make a buck from using it, then you have to buy a commercial license.  But until then, it's great for us starving artists.)  That's right!  Who needs to shell out huge bucks for those other software programs when this one does just as much?  One small difference is that past versions gave you the full experience and you didn't need to buy upgrages.  Terragen 4 is tiered between Free, Creative, and Commercial.  That's just fine though because the free version does a lot.

World Machine 2.3 ( www.world-machine.com/ )
I have not personally used this or learned this landscape creator, but it appears to work very similar to that of Terragen 2.  I don't know if it has better support than Terragen 4 (the current version since Terragen 2 isn't offered any more), but I haven't compared them in enough detail.  I'd be curious to hear feedback if anyone has tried both of these.

Celestia ( celestia.space/index.html ) or ( sourceforge.net/projects/celes… )
Celestia is completely open-source and completely free.  It is a beautiful program besides, and if you like astronomy, get it for that.  The program is very easy to use for that purpose.  But more than that, you have the ability to upload and create your own solar systems! Celestia Motherlode ( www.celestiamotherlode.net/ ) has a number of already created and beautiful worlds ready to download and install...again it is very simple to do.  And if you want to create your own worlds, there are a number of tutorials that can teach you how to do so in less than an hour!  Used in combination with other programs, and you can really create some great worlds!
Note: The original site, ( www.shatters.net/celestia/down… ), went down for a period of time.  It looks like the recent version has much more life to it, but just in case it does so again without warning, I've included a link to SourceForge.  I highly recommend using the shatters.net one, but in case there is an issue, SourceForge might work.  

SpaceEngine ( spaceengine.org/ )
Very similar to Celestia, this is another gorgeous universe-maker that also has the capability to write your own scripts for fictitious planets.  Because it is procedurally generated, there can exist more systems than anyone could find in a lifetime.  That's good if you want to explore a galaxy and discover random stars, planets, and other astronomical phenomenon without having to create your own.  The website itself is gorgeous.  Let me give you the developer's (just one guy) description:
SpaceEngine is a realistic virtual Universe you can explore on your computer. You can travel from star to star, from galaxy to galaxy, landing on any planet, moon, or asteroid with the ability to explore its alien landscape. You can alter the speed of time and observe any celestial phenomena you please. All transitions are completely seamless, and this virtual universe has a size of billions of light-years across and contains trillions upon trillions of planetary systems. The procedural generation is based on real scientific knowledge, so SpaceEngine depicts the universe the way it is thought to be by modern science. Real celestial objects are also present if you want to visit them, including the planets and moons of our Solar system, thousands of nearby stars with newly discovered exoplanets, and thousands of galaxies that are currently known.

ChView ( chview.nova.org/chview )
Before I discovered Celestia, I found this program.  It is sorely outdated, and I wouldn't bother much with it.  I include it here only if you are curious about it.  It reminds me how quickly innovative people can evolve into better programs like Celestia.

WinStarGen ( www.eldacur.com/~brons/NerdCor… )
If you only use any this program and never any of the other programs listed here, I will still be very happy. :D  This is the most essential program (web or download) for the creation of solar systems you will ever encounter.  The original program is based on a solid science-based algorithm called ACRETE.  Anyone can make a random solar system, but this one makes believable worlds.  Anyone who tries to do the same thing and wants to sell it to you is a crook because underneath any bells & whistles is this open-source program.  It isn't a graphics program, but gives you the information to make whole solar systems, and Jim Burrows has done an outstanding job to incorporate visual appeal.  I use this to make the solar system I want, and use the information to program into Celestia.  Then I use Celestia to place it in the sky and represent it visually.  

Everchanging Book of Names (last update: March 2009, 64-bit) ( ebon.pyorre.net/ )
Some people can make up fantastic names, and some cannot.  While I consider myself able to create imaginative names, I use this name-generator when I want consistency.  This program uses mathematical algorithms to create names of people (and sometimes even races, places, and even medicines).  Most "chapters" are from familiar books, like the Lord of the Rings or Star Trek or Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones, etc.).  This is free shareware, so it has a few limitations and needs to download other "chapters", but if you don't mind generating only 5 names at a time, you'll be okay.  The site is French, but the English instructions are easy.  My only wish is that I didn't have to download each chapter individually, but the price tag makes it worth the work.

Blender ( www.blender.org/ )
Say you want to make 3D models, but you can't shell out the money for a program like Maya, Bryce, or other modeling software.  That is the beauty of Blender!  It is open source and free!  It is very powerful, too, and will give those other 3D programs a real run for the money (pun intended).  The drawback is the learning curve.  This is a very powerful program, and it takes a while to learn.  The tutorials used to be few and far between, but these days there is a lot more available.  Still, there are some amazing things that the program can do...it may just take some time to figure out how to do it all.  There is pretty good support in the online community...plenty of very helpful and creative folks who love the program.

DOGA L2 & DoGA L3 ( www.doga.co.jp/english/downloa… )
If you want to create spaceships or robots without having to worry about all of the little details, this is a good program that can even do some basic animation.  It's like working with a bunch of virtual Lego pieces that you get to put together quickly and easily to make some pretty impressive stuff.  The basic model building is pretty easy to understand.  The drawback is that this is a very old program from Japan, so English help is very difficult...non-existent really.  It's worth a look, though, and fun for a time.  

HeroMachine 2.5 ( www.heromachine.com/heromachin… ) & Heromachine 3.0 ( www.heromachine.com/heromachin… )
If you haven't discovered these fun javascript programs already, I'm including these here for those of you who like making superheroes, or need help with fantasy or sci-fi outfits.  Basically, its a virtual paper doll dress-up, but you can really come up with some great looks using these.  Version 2.0 is the classic (actually 2.5, which just has more stuff).  You only get one pose, though.  Version 3.0 doesn't seem to have changed much since it was still under development several years ago and it may still have a few bugs and missing libraries.  But it is much more versatile than version 2.5 and comes with potentially more poses.  When building worlds, every detail invested in makes the world richer and more fun for you and your audience...here is a unique tool to help with that.  Totally free, and you can't beat that for what it does!

GIMP ( www.gimp.org/ )
The GNU Image Manipulation Program is not bad for the price...free!  If you can't afford Photoshop (like me), this is a pretty nice program.  Again, it is open source and free.  There is a lot of support and help for it, and it gets better all the time.  Again, you just can't beat the price.

AutoRealm ( www.rpglibrary.org/software/au… )
I was so happy to find this again!  It is a free mapping software I used way back in the day on my Windows XP computer.  It's meant to be for role-playing games (think Dungeons & Dragons) but I actually find a lot of worldbuilding in many RPG games to be quite good at getting the old creative juices flowing.  AutoRealm is free mapping software that is useful for making localized town and castle maps.  I've tested it out and it will run on Windows 10.  What I like best and haven't seen in most other programs is the ability to use fractals to create lines and curves.  But there are many other features that actually create a pretty good map for free.  Please see the website ( www.rpglibrary.org/software/au… ) for a few more support files, like the help source file and add-on symbols.  While you are there, check out a host of other free and low cost sites found in the RPG Library.

donjon ( donjon.bin.sh/ )
Despite sounding like a cheesy adult site, it's actually an incredibly well-developed set of tools mostly dedicated to RPG gaming (donjon is ye Olde way of saying 'dungeon').  Like I said about AutoRealm above, I actually find a lot of worldbuilding in many RPG games to be quite good at getting the old creative juices flowing.  Perhaps the best tools are the planet creators, solar system creators, and the name generators.  Check out the appendix where you have the ability to download a couple of tools that use javascript and html to give you some very powerful stuff.  My only criticisms are that there is absolutely no support from the person/people who made it, so any questions you have won't be answered and the very short descriptions don't offer as much help as I'd like.  Another problem I have is that while the tools are very powerful, there are limitations and a lack of real-world equivalents (like no way to reproduce our solar system and Earth for comparisons).  The planet maker behaves just like Wilbur, so it has its limitations, but it's quick and easy enough.  And the fantasy map maker uses up so much memory on whatever system that hosts it that you can't always get the result (which is amazing if you are able to get it to work sometimes).  Remember, this is inspiration to help you make your worlds.

Fantasy Map Generator ( azgaar.github.io/Fantasy-Map-G… )
Thanks to Stellina-90 for contributing this and to Biggest-Baddest-Wolf for informing us about the update. :D  I'm pretty impressed with how much you could do with this web-based map generator.  It can do a lot very quickly and easily, and I completely agree with the developer's vision: "Map should be interactive, scalable, fast and plausible."  It meets these criteria well.  But even more, in its current state, it gives you a glimpse into the coding.  If you're not into that kind of thing ("Just give me something that works!") then another feature you might enjoy is that whatever you make can be saved and then reloaded.  There is a lot of control and that lends to trying many different features.  I hope this link remains and that the developer/s continue to improve upon it.

--- Writing Software ---



Apache OpenOffice 4.1.0 ( www.openoffice.org/ )
So, you don't have a fancy word processor and you believe Bill Gates' evil spawn isn't worth any more of your hard earned coin... Here is one solution.  You can get a descent word processor, spreadsheet (good for those pesky astronomical calculations), database, simple drawing program, and a PowerPoint-alike for that word we all love... free!  Also,

Google Docs ( drive.google.com/ ) Google Docs as part of its "Drive" series also offers some word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing capability for that same price ($0, in case you lost track ;) ).  If you can't even afford a computer, at least you can use and store things through Google if you can get access to a public site, like a public library.  Hey...several long years ago, it was Bill, Steve, or nothin'.  We've come a long way, baby.  

--- Low Cost Software ---



I can't always get what I want for free, unfortunately.  :(  In cases like that, I do sometimes use low cost software.  There are two gaming companies I've used (I won't provide the links, though):

ProFantasy Software ( secure.profantasy.com/default.… ): Campaign Cartographer 3 ($45 USD); Fractral Terrains 3 ($40 USD)
The one I actually invested in was Fractal Terrains Pro (a predecessor to FT3).  The guy who developed Wilbur worked on this, so you'll see similarities.  FT Pro was a bit more powerful...but even then it only went so far.  FT3 looks pretty similar.  It may have improved on some things--like creating rivers, altitude, climate, temperature, and rainfall calculations, and other features which helps the feel of the world.  It even lets you edit and tweak your world in case that peninsula looks a little too...erm... endowed. ;)  If you do invest in this, you will get more than Wilbur, but you have to decide for yourself if it is worth $40 more...  I suggest playing with Wilbur or the other terrain-makers first.  If they just can't do what you'd like, check this out.  ProFantasny also has a host of other programs at similar prices.  If you are a hard-core D&D player, you will love these.

NBOS Software ( nbos.com/ ): Fractal Mapper v8.0 ($34.95 USD download); AstroSynthesis v3.0 ($34.95 USD download)
On the one hand, AstroSynthesis has the ability to make an impressive 3D universe surprisingly quickly.  The map output is actually in 3D, which is so very important when making a universe.  There are many people who just give up and make their universes like giant earth oceans dotted with island planets...not realistic.  This tool will help...but only if you really need a huge quantity of random worlds in a 3D universe.  It does create whole solar systems, and can map those out.  It makes names and even can make some surface terrains.  But the name-generator for the worlds drives me nuts, and I find the mechanics of world-building only so-so.  It's an interesting program, and if you are in the business of creating a lot of worlds in large universes quickly, it may be worth the investment.  But I really think that all of that can be done with WinStarGen, Celestia, the various terrain-building programs, and your own imagination.  I got AstroSynthesis v2.0, so maybe some of the issues I mentioned have been addressed in v3.0.

Fractal Mapper is a program that looks interesting.  I don't have that, but it sure does interesting.  Look at the features shows a host of levels of map and world making, from the simple, local map to a Wilbur-like representation of the world on a globe.

Scrivener ( www.literatureandlatte.com/scr… ) : Scrivener ($40.00 USD download) is a great friend to the writer.  As the site says, it's "a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents."  This means that is helps you organize your writing, from novels to screenplays, including college papers, into a workable form.  When you're writing, the fancy, shmancy formatting is a moot point anyway since the content is what your readers are interested in.  Still, it gives you plenty of formatting options, letting you focus on getting that first draft done.


--- --- --- ---
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© 2010 - 2019 Shaudawn
UPDATED NEW FOR 2018!!!
---

It's the INFORMATION AGE!

"Oh, so they have internet on computers now!" --Homer Simpson


Imagination is great. It's the spark that helps those of us who build worlds. But it is nice to have help sometimes, especially when some of us may lack technical, artistic, or scientific skills that can really give those awesome worlds a realism others can enjoy.

Here is a small list of some of the software I use to help me with my world-building. I invite others to share their favorites as well.

Now, none of us are made of money. (Of course, if you are, please give me a call as soon as possible!:P) There are all kinds of fancy proprietary software available, but why shell out a few hundred bucks when you can do a really good job for free and use that money for more important things?

I hope you find these programs helpful to you, especially if they can do the job you need without costing you an arm or a leg...or that next :beer:! :D Please, feel free to comment on these if you've had experience...what do you like or dislike? Also, if you have any other free or low cost software resources you would like to share...by all means, don't hold out on us, man!!! Share and give your own comments and critiques.

[I hope to contribute my own free sites one day soon, too, interwebz godz willing...]

As always...
:earth: Happy World-building!
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Comments (53)
Biggest-Baddest-Wolf's avatar

I see others (and you yourself) already mentioned worldanvil.com - I've used and liked this one, too.

And Stellina-90 brought up Fantasy Map Generator, which you added a link to; at that link there's an easily overlooked popup (overlooked as in "easy to click away without reading) informing that there is a newer version, and that popup links to the newer version too, titled Azgaar's Fantasy Map Generator at the new address.

Certainly lots of features/settings, but only as "difficult" as deciding whether you want your coffee with sugar, milk, whipped cream, or just black...

Also, that first link to Wilbur (http://www.ridgenet.net/~jslayton/software.html) no longer works, I've actually seen Wilbur hosted somewhere else too, not too long ago, but I can't remember where.

I'll see if I can find it back.

Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Thanks for the comment.  Yeah, I see various versions of Azgaar's Fantasy Map Generator too.  I'll have to update that.

I haven't checked the Wilbur one for a while.  I would hope it's hosted somewhere.  It's still actually a fairly good program, if you can manage the learning curve.

Thanks again!  Let us all know if you find anything additionally.

Update: I made some updates.  I realize I need to go an check all of these links again.  I think DOGA is about dead, for example.  But I have to decide whether to keep that around for reference or not. 
Reply  ·  
TheDragonsSpark's avatar
TheDragonsSpark|Professional General Artist
Oooo, super helpful!
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
I'm glad these help!  Happy worldbuilding!  :earth: :D
Reply  ·  
xanthussmarduk's avatar
Have you heard of WorldAnvil.com? May be a good one for your list! They're a worldbuilding organization website.
Reply  ·  
HrafnFjodr's avatar
HrafnFjodr|Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for this! Very informative. Terragen 4 is absolutely stunning! 
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
You are very welcome.  One of these days I need to update this with a few more sites, mostly free.  And, yes, the things they do with Terragen are stunning.  I agree!  Happy worldbuilding!  :D :earth:
Reply  ·  
HrafnFjodr's avatar
HrafnFjodr|Hobbyist Writer
Thank you! I just need to figure out how to actually use Terragen now...
Reply  ·  
theundeadunicorn's avatar
Favi g this as this is super helpful, thanks!
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
You are quite welcome.  I do need to go through it again and make sure things are working.  Plus I need to add a couple of items, so stay tuned!  :D :earth:
Reply  ·  
harlequinshine's avatar
I would just like to say thanks for sharing all the info and software that you've come to find in your search and compiled here for others to use. it is very much appreciated.
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
You are quite welcome.  I hope it has helped a lot of people who are in need of free and inexpensive world-building resources.  I need to add this to my main article, but I also highly recommend the site World Anvil for some amazing world-building for (that magical word) free!  www.worldanvil.com/

Again, I'm happy you liked it and I hope your worlds are all nice ones!  :D :earth:
Reply  ·  
lordceleborn's avatar
lordceleborn|Professional Interface Designer
If you are looking for a way to manage your worldbuilding work have a look at World Anvil www.worldanvil.com I have started using it 3 months ago and I am soooo very stuck with it.
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
Great minds think alike!  I discovered this site this past summer as well.  I can't recommend it enough.  And I've only scratched the surface.  Highly professional quality for free, and for a very modest Patreon subscription, you can get even more.  All hail Dimitrius and the Banana Queen!
Reply  ·  
Hyratel's avatar
OpenOffice is outdated and superseded by Libreoffice www.libreoffice.org/
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for letting me know.  I've not checked in too long a time.  I'll have to update that, so much thanks!
Reply  ·  
Stellina-90's avatar
Stellina-90|Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I also suggest you this page, it's not a software, but is a simple and useful tool...and it's free.
bl.ocks.org/Azgaar/b845ce22ea6…
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
Thank you, Stellina-90, for the suggestion!  It may not be software in the conventional sense, but it basically fits what I have in mind for these links.  I will evaluate it further and incorporate your suggestion.  Thank you.
Reply  ·  
DameCeleste's avatar
Frankly I have scrivener and adore it I got a huge discount on it but if I hadn't had the discount I still would have bought it. Also the trial version is great.
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
I'm glad you like it too.  It can be a very powerful tool for organizing your writing, keeping track of characters, planning plots, and fleshing out settings.  I use it every NaNoWriMo!  :D
Reply  ·  
Sonomatic's avatar
Sonomatic|Hobbyist General Artist
Question, i found this via google (though im on DA already, haha) ok im a total scrub cake to world building. I have a nebulous idea on what to make in my head for my characters but ive never truly started outside a rough continent map I made a long time ago, which I want to remake. Whats the best software to do this with?
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
My apologies for the very, very late response, but perhaps by saying something now it can still help others.  Maybe.

The short answer is: I don't know.  I'd probably need more information to give you a more satisfying answer, I'm afraid.  It depends on a lot of variables such as the kind of story you want to make.  I have another couple of little write-ups I did called Building E.P.I.C. Worlds (and Part 2) that discuss the idea about how to think about making your stories.  And drama is going to be the main driver, so the software to use will depend on the kind of story you want to write.  If the story is a "Place" story, then the drama is going to center around more world-building software that focuses on the unique aspects of your world that your protagonist(s) will have to overcome.  However, you are writing about characters, then anything in your world that tests the characters (and aids your antagonists) will be more paramount.  So in some cases, all you need is a simple list instead of a map-making program. 

So...I guess it depends.  Sorry I can't come up with a better answer at the moment.
Reply  ·  
Sonomatic's avatar
Sonomatic|Hobbyist General Artist
No problem. I really appreciate it!Nah that was a good answer. Been busy as of late so haven't had much time to mull over, so this was a good reminder to get back to where i was inspired.

Your right I should just list things down. Just the idea of keeping these things organized based on geography I feel like would really help out. (I guess I could just use any image editing software for my needs and annotate it)
Reply  ·  
Shaudawn's avatar
Shaudawn|Hobbyist Writer
I actually love to look at a map as a starting point to stories.  I can be transfixed by any map for hours.  I especially like to look at water--oceans, straits, peninsulas and isthmi, and river networks and basins.  I look at them systemically, seeking all of the connections.  What resources are there?  What features?  And what do these do to the people who live there?  Are they fishermen or miners?  What kinds of religions and civilizations arise from that?  Governments?  Is there energy flowing to invite conquest?  Do the neighboring regions depend on one another or despise one another?  Where is the trade flowing (which is most often based on waterways)?  Take that to a galactic scale, and the questions are still the same, only instead of islands and continents, you have solar systems, asteroid belts, and nebulae.  I also like to write short histories, sorting out relationships between the players too. 

So, for software, this can all start with something like Fractal Mapper (NBOS) or Wilbur, but really any map-making or graphic software like GIMP.  Before they put the Interwebz on the computer ;) I did a great deal of world-building using nothing but large sheets of butcher paper.  I had plans to write a whole paper on my theories of world-building but...alas...

Sadly, at least 90% of whatever world-building a writer comes up with is never experienced by the readers.  Yet, if you have it in place before you write, it can not only be inspiring, but can lead to some really great writing.  I think one of the best recent examples of this is Brandon Sanderson, and another is Isaac Asimov.  Our maps are staring points and great tools, but as long as everything is connected, it makes for great worlds and great stories.
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