World building can be one of the most difficult parts of scifi storytelling. Often, two questions arise in any world building project: 1. How do you start the process? and 2. What are some useful resources that can help the process?
In my case, I found a good starting point when I read an interview with the two authors behind the James S.A. Corey series, The Expanse, where they described using a role playing game as a system for world creation. As a gamer who has built campaigns within the Dungeons and Dragons Dragonlance, the Palladium Games Rifts, FASA BattleTech, and Steve Jackson Games GURPS rules settings, on one hand it made sense that gaming campaigns could serve as a good starting point, on the other hand I’d never considered such work as a baseline for a writing project.
As I put together my library of world building resources, I kept running into the problem of many lists only had one or two resources that would world for my world building project. To aid anyone else who might be looking for a library of world building resources and, in some cases, just general writing references, I offer:
An Annotated Bibliography
Aylott, Chris. GURPS Space: Planetary Record and Worksheet. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2006.
— This is the record sheet designed to work with the GURPS Space rule set. It has the benefit of consolidating the world building instructions and requirements into a single workbook to keep up with solar system structures, planetary maps, and cities that might exist on the planet being constructed.
Baker, Richard. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: World Builder’s Guidebook. Lake Geneva: TSR, Inc., 1996.
— The rule book published by TSR to support dungeon master world building under the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition rule sets.
Clegg, Brian. Ten Billion Tomorrows: How Science Fiction Technology Became Reality and Shapes the Future. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2015.
— I recently encountered this book resulting from a library search for the science behind science fiction. I was only a few pages into the book when I realized that this book is a must own for anyone interested in scifi storytelling. Not only does Clegg present what might work and what cannot work, he digs into the science as it stands today, how science has changed some possibilities, and ultimately offers that sometimes a storyteller does have to cheat to tell the story.
D’Amato, James. The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide: Prompts and Activities to Create the Most Interesting Story for Your Character. New York: Adams Media, 2018.
— Everyone has a story. This little book helps with questions and examples of things that would be important to understanding who the character is at the beginning of your story. It’s easier to get your character to the end of your story and understand the impacts of the adventure, if you know where the character started.
Fugate, Sr, Joe D, J Andrew Keith and Gary L Thomas. MegaTraveller World Builder’s Handbook. Boise: Digest Group Publications, 1989.
— This work was created to offer a supplementary set of rules for building worlds and equipment for exploring those worlds with the Traveller game setting. This book works around instructions for a variety of world and environmental structures.
Gygax, Gary and Dan Cross. Gary Gygax’s World Builder. Little Rock: Troll Lord Games, L.L.C., 2004.
— One of the co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons, Gygax, offered this set of world building instructions to demonstrate what types of things should be considered for a setting.
Jackson, Steve and William A Barton. GURPS Space. 2nd. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 1993.
— While the 4th edition of GURPS Space has improved rules for planetary and solar system construction, the 2nd edition includes spaceship building resources from the largest interstellar travellers down to planetary shuttle craft.
Jackson, Steve, Sean Punch and David Pulver. GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2008.
Jackson, Steve, Sean Punch and David Pulver. GURPS Basic Set: Characters. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2008.
— These two books make up the GURPS Basic Set. The character volume provides a broad offering of character personality traits that might be considered in the construction of story characters. The campaign volume provides suggestions for building the world and setting in which those characters to live and explore within.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2010.
— King begins his book on writing advice with “most books about writing are filled with bullshit”. From there, he goes on to explain that reading and writing are the two most important things a writer can do. Along the way, he offers suggestions of tools and advice on how to approach the writing process.
Lamson, Laurie. Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2014.
— This volume of the Now Write! series offers a set of writing exercises created by many big name authors in scifi, fantasy, and horror writing. Everyone experiences writer’s block at some point and these exercises offer an excellent guided way to keep writing while working through a block.
Peoples, Mark. Cosmos-2: Alternity Universe Building Guidebook, Version 2. 2006.
— This is a supplementary rule set that the author created to support solar system and world construction for another one of TSR’s scifi gaming attempts.
Schmidt, Victoria Lyn. 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.
— This book works from the Joseph Campbell monomyth and Carl Jung archetype theories to create a set of character types that exist in stories, gives examples of characters from existing stories, and explains how such a character might be placed into a writer’s story.
Silverstein, Janna. The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. Kirkland: Open Design, LLC, 2012.
— This is a collection of articles that Kobold magazine ran covering different aspects of world building. Some of the biggest names in game design and fantasy writing are represented here.
Thorne, Kip. The Science of Interstellar. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2014.
— This book is another example of the science behind science fiction. In this case, the scientist who served as the science advisor to the movie Interstellar, Thorne gets to explain the actual science behind wormholes and black holes. For anyone toying with wormholes and other forms of faster than light travel for a story, this book is a must own.
Vandermeer, Jeff. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. Revised and Expanded. New York: Abrams Image, 2018.
— Vandermeer is an author and editor well-known within scifi, fantasy, and horror circles. In this book, a guy who knows the genres offers suggestions and exercises to aid in the creation of worlds and setting for the stories of other writers.
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 3rd. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007.
— If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s classic work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this book presents Campbell’s heroic journey monomyth concept as a structure for writing and telling stories.
Ward, James M and Gary Jaquet. Gamma World 1st. Lake Geneva: TSR Hobbies, Inc, 1978.
— Gamma World was one of TSR’s earlier explorations into scifi gaming. While the rulebook was written to support a post-nuclear war post-apocalyptic setting, two sets of subrules really standout for world creation. First, the rules for mutations offers interesting prospects for what types of mutations might result from radiation exposure. The second set of useful rules take the form of a series of flowcharts that walk through the process of trying to figure out any unknown, lost, or alien “artifact” item that might be found over the course of a story. The flowchart process results include such possibilities as damage to the artifact, death or injury to the charactrers trying to figure out what the aftifact does, or even the characters actually successfully figuring out for themselves what this “new” toy does.
Zeigler, Jon F and James L Cambias. GURPS Space. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2006.
— The 4th edition of GURPS Space offers an excellent and much improved system for creating planetary worlds and the science-influenced rules behind solar system placement of habitable planets.