Greetings and Salutations, and welcome to this World Anvil Timelines Tutorial about the Timelines Interface!
World Anvil’s timelines are great for tracking the history of your whole world! But don’t get stuck on a big scale. You can use them to record the major events in a Country’s history or detail the life story of your main character. They’re a super useful tool that can be embedded into articles to give historical context and support your text. In this World Anvil Timelines tutorial, I’m going to get you started with them!
Psssst! This is the blog transcript of our video “A Quick Guide to Timelines”, a World Anvil Timelines tutorial! It’s a quick World Anvil Timelines tutorial that takes you through how to make a timeline and organize it into eras! If you’d rather have the World Anvil tutorial as a video, you can find it right here or embedded below!
You can also check out the Quick tour to get started with World Anvil in 5 minutes here.
World Anvil Timelines Tutorial – What are worldbuilding timelines?
Worldbuilding timelines help you track the order of events in your world. On a large scale that might be the major geological events of your planet, like ice ages or an apocalypse. On a smaller scale, worldbuilding timelines might be used to track how an organization grows and changes. You can use them to show off the history of a city. They’re also a great way to storyboard plots or track life histories.
In World Anvil, Timelines are the infrastructure that helps you display your Historical Events. Historical events might appear on more than one timeline. Imagine, for example, a King is crowned. You might want to add that historical event to the Country’s timeline, but also to the character’s timeline!
How to make a timeline on World Anvil
Start by finding the Timelines and Calendars interface, on the left-hand menu bar (pictured below). From this Timelines interface, you can toggle between Timelines, Historical Events and Calendars. This World Anvil Tutorial will deal only with creating and organizing Timelines.
Start by creating a new timeline, using the form on the right. You MUST add a title, but you don’t have to add a description. Then, by expanding the Advanced Options and scrolling down, you’ll see a bunch of new options! Let me take you through what they do!
Master and Parallel Timelines
You can set the timeline to Normal (Parallel) or Major (Master). Master timelines are always displayed at the top of your homepage with more precedence. Parallel timelines appear underneath. If you want people who come to your world’s page to see your timeline prominently, set it to Master.
Did you know that in World Anvil, you can create Calendars? You can add your custom names for days and months, track celestial bodies and show repeating festivals and events. If you’ve already created a calendar in World Anvil, you can select it from the dropdown menu and apply it to the timeline. This will make the timeline display your custom names of days and months instead of numerical values. If you don’t have a calendar yet, don’t worry. You can always add this later. When you’re ready, check out the quick start video guide for Calendars on the Calendars interface.
Related Article and Related Category
You can also add a related article to your timeline. Maybe you want to add the character article to a timeline of a character’s life. Or perhaps you’re tracking a timeline of an organization or a country, and want to add the relevant Organization article. The timeline will then display at the bottom of the article, in a special timeline tab. You can only attach one timeline to each article.
Additionally, you can add a related category to your timeline. If you have a category for the region you’re describing, or for the book you’re writing, this can be a good place to link in the timeline. Selecting this will display the timeline on the category page. Categories can have multiple timelines attached to them.
There’s a checkbox where you can choose whether or not to show the timeline on your World’s table of contents. It’s entirely up to you whether you want to show it or not.
Of course, Guild Members can also set their timelines to private if they choose. Or they can show them exclusively to certain people or certain groups using the Subscriber Groups settings. (By the way, you can also set each individual Historical Event appearing on a timeline to be public, private or subscriber only). Check out the quick start video in the Access Rights Interface for more on this.
Once you’ve filled in the form and made your choices, hit the Create timeline!
World Anvil Timelines tutorial – Organizing your Timelines
Now you’ve got the basics done, it’s time to think about what you want your timeline to look like! Eras help you organize your timelines and divide them into periods.
Eras in our World – BC and AD
In our World – at least the Western world – time is divided into two periods. The Before Christ or BC era counts down in reverse, from the mists of time (think Big Bang, creation from an egg, or what have you) to the year 0. The Anno Domini era or AD era counts forwards from the year 1. If you want your world’s eras to be like this in construction, then you can set this up in World Configuration settings.
1. Go to World Configuration.
2. Select the Date & Time tab at the top.
3. Scroll down to set the names of your global eras, BC and AD style!
- Go to World Configuration settings on the left-hand menu bar. I’ve ringed it in blue on the picture above.
- Choose the Time and Date tab, at the top (I have elegantly highlighted it in yellow, and it is not at all messy).
- Scroll down until you see the Global Era settings. Here you can add names and abbreviations for your world’s BC-style and AD-style eras.
Once you add this information, all timelines you create in your world setting will automatically default to this Eras system, unless you add eras to them manually.
World Anvil Timelines Tutorial: Creating Fancy Eras, Dynasties and Ages
But maybe you want to get fancy! Perhaps you want to separate your timeline into Dynasties, or use Ages like Tolkein does in his Middle Earth? I’m going to show you how to create a three-era timeline. With this information, you’ll be able to create timelines with as many eras as you like!
A Key Concept: Universal Timeline Date (UTD)
The Universal Timeline Date, or UTD, is super important. It’s the way you order your eras and historical events in your world. Think of it as a “behind the scenes” counting system, which goes from zero to infinity, telling the system what order you want things in.
Dates set in UTD have values for Years, Months, Days and Hours. It doesn’t actually matter how long your years last, or how many months or days they have in them in different cultures. As long as you’re entering whole numbers, you’re good to go. The UTD data is simply a scale of ascending values which tell the system what order you want things in.
If you have assigned names for months and days in a World Anvil Calendar and attached it to your timeline, those figures will appear as your custom days and months. If not, they’ll just appear as numbers.
You can create the same eras on each timeline, if it makes sense to do so. For example, the timeline of a city may reckon the same eras as the country it belongs to. But different cultures or species might have their own eras too. Dwarves might count eras via their ruling dynasties, whilst Elves divide them by referencing phases of a celestial body. The cool thing is that a historical event appearing on both timelines will have the same UTD, so it’ll happen at the same universal timeline date. But in the timeline, it’ll appear in the culturally appropriate Era and with the correct dating system. It’s a great way to navigate different calendars and methods of calculating time, whilst keeping your setting’s history intact!
Era 1 – the BC-style Era
To get started creating an era, go to the edit interface of your timeline. You can get there by clicking the spanner icon from the main timelines interface.
Click the dropdown highlighted in yellow to create your Era!
On the right hand side of the edit interface, you’ll see a dropdown container called “ADD AN ERA TO THE TIMELINE”. Click that to open up a form and create your new era!
Title, Description and Abbreviation
You must add a title to your era. You can use something epic like THE BEGINNING OF ALL MANKIND. Or just “First Era” will do. Add a short description of the era if you like. It’ll appear beneath the Era title and date span on your timeline.
The abbreviation you choose for this era will be shown on all the Historical Entries attached to this timeline which fall within this era.
Start Date and End Date
It’s important to make sure your eras don’t overlap. If you’re creating your first era, then don’t worry about adding a start date. I want 5000 years of my BC era, so I’ll add 5000 in the UTD box for the end date. My next era will need to start in 5001 UTD.
You can see that by clicking the blue Show advanced options text, a bunch more options appear!
Invert Dates will make the dates of your era count backwards, rather than forwards. This means that events in the past will have a higher number than events in the future. For my BC style era, this is perfect. Since I selected 5000 UTD as the end of my era, the first year of my era will be 5000 BC, and the last year will be 1 BC.
I’ll also select This is the First Era of my World for my BC style era. Press create and we’re done. You’ll see your era appear on the timeline!
Era 2 – An Anno Domini style era
Now it’s time to make the Anno Domini or AD era. This will be the middle era of my timeline, but you could make as many of these as you like. Follow the same format for each, and make sure they don’t overlap!
Since my previous era ended in 5000 on the Universal Timeline Date, my AD era should begin in 5001 UTD. I’ll add 10,000 UTD as the end date. It’s important to add an end date for the middle eras of your timeline.
In the Advanced Options section, I select the box to begin counting at 1, so that I don’t have a ZERO AD. I’m all done, so I’ll press save.
Rinse and repeat this process for all the consecutive middle eras of your timeline.
Era 3 – The Current era of your world
The final era I’ll add is… The Future! I’ll abbreviate it to FE for Future Era. Maybe this occurred after some kind of apocalyptic style event. This will be the current era of my timeline.
The start date of this era on my timeline is 10,001 UTD, because my previous era, the Anno Domini era, ended in 10,000 UTD. But, I’m not going to add an end date to the form, because I want this to be the current era of my world.
Instead of displaying the UTD values range, I want the timeline information to be a text – The World of Tomorrow. To do this, I’ll add an alternate display range. This is totally optional, and you can do it for any era.
Back in the main timelines interface, you’ll be able to see an overview of all of the timelines in your world setting. Edit them by clicking the spanner button, and view them by clicking the eye button.
In both the edit mode and the view mode, you can mouse over an era and the Edit button – a pencil – will appear. The same is true of Historical Entries, once you add them to a timeline.
What are Orphan Histories?
See that section at the bottom of the picture? Orphan Histories is a kind of limbo section on World Anvil timelines. It’s invisible to everyone except you and your co-authors, as are any historical events which appear in here. If you add a Historical Event to a timeline, but the start date of the historical event does not fall within the parameters of one of your Eras, it’ll appear in Orphan Histories.
To fix this, and make your Orphan History events appear on the timeline, make sure you create an era which contains the starting year for the historical events in question.
Where should I go next?
Now that you’ve got your timeline infrastructure sorted, it’s time to create some Historical Entries! Hop over to the Historical Entries tab on the main timelines interface to populate your world with amazing events. There’s a quick start video guide there too.
Looking for more World Anvil Tutorials or help?
We’re working to make World Anvil even easier to use, and I’ll be adding these short tutorial videos to every main tool of World Anvil.
Beyond that, the first port of call for information is always our Documentation! The World Anvil Codex is chock full of articles explaining how to use World Anvil’s worldbuilding tools. Here’s the codex article for Timelines and Historical Events!
If you’d prefer to ask questions and get answers, join our Discord Server and ask questions on our #help channel! The Anvil Assistants are an amazing clan of people who devote their time to helping others learn to use World Anvil better!
And make sure you check out our Youtube Channel! It has all our World Anvil tutorials, as well as inspiring worldbuilding advice and interviews with professionals in the field!
Are you building a timeline for a Country, a Character or your whole world? Or maybe you’ve got a cool new use for the Timelines feature which we haven’t thought of yet?! Let me know if the comments!