Worldbuilding history can seem intimidating, but all you really need to start is to make an outline. And the best tool for that is World Anvil’s timelines feature. Once you have a basic framework, you’ll find it easier to image the past life of your world, and create more history for your worldbuilding.

This article is part of a series how to start worldbuilding with World Anvil! If you’re new to worldbuilding, we recommend you get started with the Meta Document. That will give you a foundation, and help you develop your world in worldbuilding articles. 

Where to find worldbuilding Timelines on World Anvil

In your first world (and optionally in your next worlds) on World Anvil, we auto-create a timeline, to show you how they work. You can see this in your Timelines section on the left-hand menu. It’ll be called “History of [Your World Name]”. If you want to get fancy, you can check out the World Anvil timeline video tutorial here or the written tutorial here. This will teach you how to divide your timeline into eras, add a calendar, invert dates for a BC-style era, and more.

Time is a complicated construct, and everyone thinks about it differently. My advice is always this: unless it’s critical to your setting, just keep your calendar and time setup simple. Your players and readers will thank you it isn’t too convoluted! You can always add complexity later if you need it, and World Anvil’s features will help you reflect and keep track of that.

Your auto-created timeline doesn’t contain any historical events. But adding them is easy! Just click the plus button at the bottom and fill in the small form!

Check out the written tutorial for more information about using timelines!

How much history do I need for my world-building project?

So, that depends on the setting! There will be critical periods in your world, where it’s important to write down what’s going on. These are generally moments that will appear in a campaign or novel, present or near-present moment action. Figuring out important moments in your world’s history which also feed into the plot (the fall of a God they must investigate, the invention of a now-lost technology, an ancient alien civilization, etc. ) will also help you with your plot. And understanding how much time has passed in your world between “that event” and “now” will help you develop your plot and story.

But there will also be sections of your timeline that are quite empty. That’s OK! It’s important not to feel you have to create EVERYTHING THAT EVER HAPPENED IN YOUR WORLD. In our own world, millions of things are going on every day, and they’re all influencing one another. That kind of complexity doesn’t need to be recreated in a fictional world (unless you really want to!).

As a general rule, the further back you go from your storytelling “present”, the more you only need to track the most important events. Depending on your setting, these might be earth-shattering comets, the fall of a great empire, or an alien invasion. Don’t name every king in the line of a monarchy unless it’s critical to your project. Stick with the important stuff, and you can always add more later.

And the golden rule? Don’t get stuck and lose momentum. You can always go back and fill things in later. And you can always edit your work if you need to.

How to create history for your world building? Inspiration and advice!

Looking for inspiration for worldbuilding history? For this, I recommend reading through the drop-down menu on the historical events form. There’s everything from cataclysmic events, to military coups and revolutions, to scientific and technological breakthroughs which can change your world!

Use the information in your meta to inspire you too. Your Scene and People sections will already have notes about major history in your setting. You can also look to your genre and tone to decide historical events. If you’re writing a dark world, seed your history with disasters. A bright world might be full of miracles, technological advancements, and peace treaties.

Apart from worldbuilding world history, what else can I use Timelines for?

Worldbuilding timelines are great for building your world history, but can also be used to keep track of historical events for all sorts of elements in your world! For example, worldbuilding timelines are a great way to track the major events of:

  • an organization like a University, or even a Country
  • a monarchy
  • a settlement or location
  • a plot, novel, or campaign
  • an important character (like your main character)
  • an RPG campaign, or your party’s shenanigans

You can attach timelines to an article in World Anvil. This means that as well as having an article describing (for example) an important city in your world, you can show a visual timeline summarizing the major events – invasions, uprisings, major disasters, and triumphs!

What should I do next?

This article is part of the Get Started on World Anvil series. Now you’ve got the hang of timelines, why not add some finishing touches to your new world with a Visual Theme? Or view the others in the series:

  1. Start worldbuilding with the Worldbuilding Meta

  2. Organize worldbuilding with Categories

  3. Create your world by setting up your map

  4. Start worldbuilding history with timelines

  5. Level up your amazing worldbuilding with visual themes

Not yet on World Anvil? Create your free account here! And if you’re looking for more help, check out the full written help guides, the Discord community, and the Youtube channel.