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Martin’s Mentions: Worldbuilding, Mapping Software, wikidPad, Scrivener, and More

Gnotes from Gnome Stew HQ

RPG Mapping Software

For many years, I’ve felt like I wasn’t a true gamer because I didn’t have a world I’d been building since I was a little kid. I’ve built pieces of worlds, and helped write plenty of worldbuilding fiction, but never had a world all my own, like so many gamers do — one that I’d been adding to, bit by bit, until it became a rich and interesting place.

A couple weeks back, that changed. Fellow gnome Don Mappin almost talked me into doing NaNoWriMo [1] with him this year (and I wish him the best of luck — godspeed, Don!), and while I was considering it I decided the first step for me would be to get a fantasy world sketched out.

I had an idea I really liked a few months ago, and everything came together in a rush. I’ve started working on that world I’ve always wanted to have, one that I hope will prove to be rich and fascinating and complex and entertaining enough to be the setting for future work.

And apart from a much-needed kick in the ass from Don, one of the things that got me there was Campaign Cartographer 3 [2]. I snagged a copy for half price on Loot [3], and I’m glad I did.

Everything I’d read about CC3 seemed to fall into two camps: “This software is like smooth, silky butter that will have you creating professional-quality maps in no time!” or “Trying to draw a line in CC3 is worse than getting a root canal while someone stomps on your balls!” For me, the truth is somewhere in between.

Is there a learning curve? You bet! It’s not the most user-friendly software around — but it is powerful, and doing the entire tutorial taught me the basics. I can now muddle together a world map, evaluate it, discard it, and start again with something a bit better.

I have no intention of producing maps professionally, so as long as I can produce maps that are useful to me I’ll be happy — and I’m well on my way. Is it for everyone? Nope; nothing is. But so far, I like it.

In the course of settling on CC3, I also checked out some other options. These were all suggested by Shane Knysh on Twitter [4] — if you’re not a CC3 fan, maybe one of these will tweak your nipples:

Worldbuilding with wikidPad

The other tool that collided with CC3 and my world idea was wikidPad [10], free wiki software recommended by one of my favorite authors and worldbuilders, Brandon Sanderson. (I wrote an article about the signing where he recommended it [11].)

Now instead of populating a Word document and an Evernote file with random world tidbits, I put every single thing I come up with for my world into wikidPad. I’m not a wiki conoisseur — most of my experience comes from using Obsidian Portal [12] to run my Star Trek game (and I love OP), and from hating most other wiki software I’ve tried — but wikidPad is amazing.

It’s lightweight, simple to use, and does exactly what I need it to do — and not an ounce more. I already can’t imagine worldbuilding without it; it’s really that good.

Adventure Writing with Scrivener

On a related note, Don also recommended Scrivener [13] for novel writing, and having downloaded it, done the extensive tutorial, and played with it a bit, it’s pretty awesome.

Scrivener should also work well for RPG writing, as discussed in this piece over on Population: One [14] (via Stargazer’s World [15]). It’s not free, but it’s quite reasonable — and via a NaNoWriMo promo [16] you can get it for 20% or 50% off.

GMing Roundup

In no particular order, here are some interesting GMing-related things that have crossed my email/browser/desk in the past few weeks:

Subterranean Design [17] is a tumblelog about caves, holes in the earth, weird portals, and other real places that nonetheless make for great inspiration for games. (Thanks, Kurt!)

rpgGM [18] is a GMing blog I only just learned of, and it’s quite good. They also publish a book, The Adventure Creation Handbook [19], that might be of interest to Gnome Stew readers.

I’ve always said that one of the best things about GURPS books are their extensive bibliographies, and SJG has gone and made it incredibly easy to get access to them — all of them. You can check out the bibliography of just about every GURPS book in existence online [20], for free.

Monsters and Manuals has an interesting and passionate take on a rarely-considered reason why you shouldn’t fudge die rolls [21]: because you suck at it, and your players can tell.

Before I close with some RPG background music recommendations, I wanted to draw your attention to this fascinating look at the disparity between the depiction of men and women at GenCon 2011 [22] on Go Make Me a Sandwich (via RPGGeek [23]. I had never realized just how one-sided much of what you see in the Exhibit Hall actually is, and it’s worth considering as a human being, a consumer, and as a GM who portrays the world to your players.

And Lastly, Some Music

I’ve been digging the crap out of the Hanna soundtrack [24] (awesome movie, too). It wouldn’t fit as BGM for most games (perfect for some, though), but it’s amazing music to write to.

Kudos to Gnome Stew regular Rafe for recommending Two Steps from Hell (thanks, Rafe!): I recently picked up Archangel [25], and it’s excellent RPG BGM. The tracks are a bit same-y, but in the context of a larger playlist on shuffle, that’s not going to be an issue.

I haven’t bought their other album, Invincible [26], yet, but it’s on my list. They do trailer music — literally, the music movie companies buy to use in their trailers — so it tends to be epic, action-packed stuff.

That’s it for this edition of Martin’s Mentions — thanks for reading!

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "Martin’s Mentions: Worldbuilding, Mapping Software, wikidPad, Scrivener, and More"

#1 Comment By Rafe On November 8, 2011 @ 6:54 am

You’re welcome, Martin. 🙂 Check the track listing for Invincible. It was the first one I bought, but I think most of the tracks are on Nemesis and Legend. If not, there’s at least a bit of overlap and different versions. Nemesis is a 2-CD one, and well worth getting just for the diversity — so many tracks have 2-4 versions like “no choir,” “high intensity,” and combinations of intensity/choir. Awesome, awesome stuff.

Another music recommendation: for space horror/survival and sci-fi games generally, download the Metroid Metal tracks by Stemage: [27] I used them for a survival/horror Dread game on Friday and it worked really well. Added bonus: nostalgia!

On another note (pun intended), this is the second time I’ve seen Scrivener recommended. Now I definitely have to get it. Great price for such a good piece of software!

#2 Comment By Dunx On November 8, 2011 @ 7:30 am

I use Scrivener for adventure writing, just like I use it for all my writing. It’s a good tool. And there’s a Windows version, now.

#3 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On November 8, 2011 @ 11:04 am

Another good reason to roll in the open.

Was there one feature of Scrivener you felt made it a superior adventure writing tool?

#4 Comment By Martin Ralya On November 8, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

[28] – I haven’t used it as such, since I don’t prep adventures lengthy enough to need it, but the corkboard, the ability to seamlessly reorganize scenes (each can be a discrete entity, but you can output the entire collection as one document), and some of the organizational features made me perk up.

For me personally, it’s more likely to see use for fiction writing and campaign prep than adventure writing — my adventure notes take up a page or two at most. But I can see it being enormously useful to folks who write in more detail.

#5 Comment By Martin Ralya On November 8, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

[29] – Thanks for the follow-on recommendations!

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 9, 2011 @ 10:32 am

I will have to check out Scrivener. I use Text Block Author, which is no longer available it seems, but the free version Text Block Writer still is:


Being able to arrange virtual index cards is a great way to gather my thoughts when working on a new project.

#7 Comment By Martin Ralya On November 9, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

[31] – Scrivener builds that feature in as well. It’s very slick.

#8 Comment By Roxysteve On November 10, 2011 @ 8:11 am

How I hate any website that shills a product using pictures and adjectives from the hard part of the dictionary, yet is reluctant to show me the price asked for whatever it is that will save my world.

Yes, campaign cartographer, I’m talking about your site.

Scrivener will probably get my money tonight because I need something like this, could write one of my own but would rather use the time writing for my Delta green campaign and they told me how much it would cost without me going on a voyage of discovery through the website.

Maps I need, but CC, you made me work to find out what your worth and hence you aren’t, in my mind.

One to grow on.

#9 Comment By Roxysteve On November 10, 2011 @ 8:12 am

you’re worth. Stupid brain.

#10 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 10, 2011 @ 9:02 am

[32] – Seeing the screenshots of Scrivener’s “virtual index cards” has me very tempted to buy it. I’m going to review my toolbox and if the free trial lives up to my expectations I think $40 is a bargain for it.

I used to use wikidPad on the PortableApps solution for Windows. Seems that the latest version is in development (or was as of 2/2011):


I wonder how well the portable version would work if used from Dropbox? PortableApp more or less just repackages programs as standalone executable files.

Then again, at that point why not just use a web service and have your wiki accessible from any browser?

#11 Comment By Martin Ralya On November 10, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

[34] – The CC3 website is pretty unfriendly. It probably would have annoyed me too, save that I came there from the deals site where it was half off and knew what it cost; I just needed to check its features.

[35] – With the caveat that I know a lot less about wikis than you do, I have yet to encounter an online wiki that was as easy to use as wikidPad, or that offers its combination of ease of use and surprising depth.

#12 Pingback By Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2011-11-11 On November 11, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

[…] Martin’s Mentions: Worldbuilding, Mapping Software, wikidPad, Scrivener, and More […]

#13 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 12, 2011 @ 10:04 am

[36] – I tried the latest version of wikidPad, and while it is a great program for what it does it still has the limitations that made me decide to stop using it. I think that a GM who is considering using a wiki should compare wikidPad to the free plan of a site like [37], or some of the campaign management sites like [12] or [38]. Each of these solutions has benefits, and it just comes down to personal preferences.

Now if only Evernote had an as you type wiki linking feature… 🙂

#14 Comment By Martin Ralya On November 13, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

[39] – For running a campaign, I wouldn’t use wikidPad — Obsidian Portal’s ability to share content with my players while hiding GM-only material on the same pages is fantastic.

But for worldbuilding, I would find OP too clunky. Which makes sense, since that’s not really what it was built for.

#15 Pingback By News from Around the Net: 18-NOV-2011 | Game Knight Reviews On November 18, 2011 @ 4:05 am

[…] do you use for your RPG maps? Martin Ralya has a few suggestions over at Gnome Stew. Of course, Campaign Cartography 3 is on the list along with Hexographer, Dungeonographer, and a […]

#16 Pingback By News from Around the Net: 18-NOV-2011 | Gamerati On December 22, 2015 @ 8:22 pm

[…] do you use for your RPG maps? Martin Ralya has a few suggestions over at Gnome Stew. Of course, Campaign Cartography 3 is on the list along with Hexographer, Dungeonographer, and a […]