Friday, November 2, 2018

Worldbuilding on World Anvil

I discovered World Anvil by accident while looking for a video on Twitch a couple of weeks ago, when I saw Satine Phoenix advertising it on the D&D channel. Since I think worldbuilding is the most neglected leg of TTRPGs (compared to resources devoted to mechanics and RP), I decided to check it out. Then I decided to test it out by uploading materials for one of my campaigns.

To simplify, World Anvil is kind of like a wiki for your campaign. I wouldn't say it's indispensable, as there are lots of other ways to share info with your players. It is convenient to have all that information in one place, that is easily accessible, and simply organized. This is an extended list of World Anvil's pros and cons, at least based on my experiences with it so far.

The Good:
  • Again, convenience. World Anvil is easier to navigate than, say Google Drive. All your entries (locations, organizations, religions, NPCs, etc.) appear in a clear table of contents, and you can click on each entry to see all the specific headings that fall under it without having to switch back and forth between different folders.
  • Visuals. Miniature maps appear right there next to the entries on your main campaign page, and you can then click to enlarge them. You can put article cover images into individual entries that make them look quite attractive, and the default sepia page layout is easy on the eye.
  • Design. Specific articles have built-in subheadings for specific purposes. For example, play reports can display tl;drs in the form of loot acquired, NPCs interacted with, missions accomplished, locations visited, and so on. In general, World Anvil is pretty ideal for play reports (this means, freeing your blog for others sorts of posts). If you are uploading an article on a settlement, you can easily highlight information on its history, demographics, mode of rule, etc., and these subheadings can easily be linked to other entries. I do find that the choices are better suited to higher-tech settings, though (precise sociological information is hard to come by for people living in pre-modern environments, nor is it clear why PCs would need it).
  • Timeline.  This is one of the best features of World Anvil. Personally, I think players don't need to memorize the dates of historical events so they can do well on the quiz at the start of your next session, so world timelines are best left vague (though having key events laid out graphically in a timeline is much better than a historical narrative or a list of bullets). However, where this resource really becomes handy is for making campaign timelines. Players often have little sense of how long their character has been adventuring, how long their characters have known one another, how long it's been since a particularly significant occurrence in the campaign, and so on. If the number of entries is kept within limits, the campaign timeline will probably be referenced fairly often.
  • System-variant. If you are so inclined, you can upload howebrew material (classes, races, spells, character sheets, monsters, etc.). World Anvil gives you options for various game systems (haven't closely inspected the range, but it seems broad enough). 
  • Economy. Using World Anvil is free - but see below. The resource is sort of set up for people who want to monetize their world-building, so you can link the page with Patreon and social media. For the artistically-inclined, it's a good place to feature your creations (graphic or narrative), and to make connections with people who will pay you to draw/write things for their settings.

The Bad
  • Free, but. So it is free, but you only get 100 megs of storage space, which, all things considered, is pretty skimpy. Google Drive gives you 15 gigs. The stuff I uploaded for a campaign that has been running since early summer took up nearly 10% of that. If I decide to upload materials for my other campaign, which has over 50 play reports, I'll be pretty close to maxing out (or actually over the top). You can put up fewer pictures (which eat up most of the memory), but that kind of defeats the utility of the resource. In other words, World Anvil is designed to hook you, and get you to pony up once you've invested all that time and energy uploading (or writing) your materials and attracting followers. On top of that, if you're using the resource for free, you're exposed to ads (which you now see on Facebook and Youtube, so you're inured to it, but still - it's oh so easy to get rid of them if you just fork over between $3 and $10/month (and then you still only get 5 GB of space). Also, unlike on Google Drive, you have to pay if you want to allow others to edit particular pages.
  • Some visuals are fuzzy. The best images - the ones that take up the most space - look pretty good on cover pages. Smaller pics look fuzzy and washed out - which, of course, encourages you to use ones that eat up more memory. For NPCs and such, you should use character portraits, which are smaller, but less voluminous, instead of cover images - they look better, and use less space.
  • Some cross-referencing is suboptimal. There are easy built-in ways to allow someone to read more about a character's race, or to see which NPCs are located in which settlement. But if you want to make links to and from your NPCs or PCs and a play session, you have to sweat, and input them manually, which is quite time-consuming. And you have to make sure your eyes don't fall out of your head while you're looking at all that BB code that appears on your edit pages. These are all far smaller problems on Blogger and such.
  • Rules are harder to design than setting fluff. If you want to include custom options like classes, you also have to deal with BB code. There are instructions on how to fashion/import tables (kinda necessary for level progression, say), but they are not particularly user-friendly. It's also not clear where the rules end up - I don't see them on the main world page.
  • Calendar is poorly designed. The calendar feature is useful, but not well executed. You input all your months into a numbered table, but then only the numbers show up, not the names. Also, the dates show up in numeric form, which kind of loses the purpose of having cool names. And the numeric form is European (i.e. November 2nd is 2/11/2018), which is fine, but would be confusing if most of your players are American. They should give you an option of which system to use, at least. And, the calendar doesn't include names for days of the week, which is also kind of... weak.
 So, in a nutshell, you have to do some work to make your stuff look its best. Is it worth a try? I say yes - put in what you can while it's free, and see what happens. People spend money on electronic rulebooks and tokens on various platforms; for my money, I'd rather spend my money on this, if I have to spend any money at all. And people are much more likely to read your setting stuff here than elsewhere.

So look at my Lukomorye setting, and follow it.


  1. Have you seen this?:

    PWYW & offline for those who think analog is sometimes better than digital.