Hello everyone! Happy new year and I really hope 2021 will be even better than 2020 for all of us! I’ve been asked many times to create a list of my favourite worldbuilding books and resources. Over the holidays I got some time and raided our library, re-reading parts of some of them, and I’ve created a list of recommendations for you. My plan is to start with the most important ones I could find and keep on updating this list periodically. So follow me on twitter in order to get any updates on the list!
Keep in mind these are the worldbuilding books I got the chance to read – I am sure there are many others, but these are the ones I can, with confidence, recommend to you. I will separate the books into some broad categories for your convenience.
Worldbuilding craft books are generally about how to worldbuild – methodology etc..
Worldbuilding knowledge & inspiration books are the books I use to get inspired by the actual world or from speculation
Mapmaking books are the resources I recommend for people who want to give map making a try for themselves.
Storytelling books are the books I use to create the stories that will take place in my worlds
Worldbuilding books: Craft
Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers
It’s no secret that I count Trent as one of World Anvil’s most incredible mentors and users. Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers is an incredible book for teams that want to create a world BUT also extremely valuable if you the only creator behind your imaginary world. If you can only afford only one book from this collection, this should be it.
The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding
We have given this book out during our streams so many times, I lost count. There is a good reason for it. It’s a short book that can make you get a level or two on worldbuilding within 2 days (I am a slow reader) Essays from some of the most amazing worldbuilders out there with the work published and known globally. This is what they mean when they say, learn from the best.
On Writing and Worldbuilding
Tim Hickson (Hello Future Me) has done an incredible work with this book and I know for a fact Janet swears by this book. It’s an interesting and fresh perspective on worldbuilding and writing from someone who spent years analysing world building and writing topics on his YouTube channel.
Science fiction essential reading
If you are writing a science fiction setting these three worldbuilding books will be invaluable to you. They tackle the theory of world creation from a very technical standpoint, but also discuss prevailing theories which can be easily adapted to your work.
Inspiration for Worldbuilding
I wasn’t sure if I should add these two, but they are both casual books I take off the shelf when I am feeling stuck and lack motivation. You can say they are my favourite “coffee table” worldbuilding books.
Worldbuilding books: Knowledge
Sadly, many of the books I have are specialist books that are sold almost exclusively at the museums, historical and archeological sites we have visited. These books are really my pride and joy, so before going into this list my suggestion will always be “When you visit an archeological, historical site or museum always check the books at the store“! Get the books of the curator or the team excavating, this will give you a good way to get first hand information. The books at museums and historical sites are worldbuilding gold and will always give you more details and more life on the site information than you can find anywhere else, and this is what makes them so very important for worldbuilding, because this level of detail cannot be found anywhere else.
“Gun Germs & Steel” and “Collapse”
These two books are possibly the most important books you will read in order to understand worldbuilding systems. Guns, Germs and Steel will take you through a theoretical journey of why human history unfolded so far the way it did and speculate on what this means for the future. For us as world builders, Guns, Germs and Steel is the coding behind a simulation, like the ones we create, and there is a lot to be learned from it.
Life in a medieval Village, City and Castle
If you are writing any type of medieval fantasy or science-fantasy these books will be a way for you to time jump to the medieval times and learn the nitty and gritty – something all medieval fantasy worldbuilding enthusiasts should have a read of!
Real world worldbuilding inspiration
Although quite different in type or writing and content, these books serve as a great reference of how and why things happen. Reading through them will make sure that your organizations, ethinicities and historical events will have substance and good reasons behind them.
These are both heavy hitters, not easy reading but certainly in depth analysis. I would class them as advanced topics, have a look once you read the above.
Western Europe (3rd edition)
Do not let the inconspicuous title of this book or the rather odd cover stop you from getting this. This book is pure fantasy worldbuilding gold. If you are running any fantasy campaign, you must read it. The Golden Ennie received by the first version of the book is a testament to how good it is. As a note, you can also find it on DriveThruRPG.
The staples of Science fiction worldbuilding books
These are not worldbuilding books, they are books about how our world was built – and all 3 of them MUST be read just so you can expand your understanding of the universe. I very often jump into them when I lack in ideas and in most cases any random page and 3 minutes of thinking about it will fill me with ideas.
When it comes to worldbuilding, maps are an inherit part of it. These Worldbuilding books for mapmaking will be an excellent tool and reference for all of you. I dare to say that even if you are not doing fantasy but historical or science fiction, the techniques described below will help get you on your way. Of course you can always use one of those amazing mapmaking tools
Cartography by Jared Blando
I have been recommending Fantasy Art and RPG Maps on our stream for a very long time now, not because it is the best map making book but because it is easy to read, with very good examples and specific techniques and full of references. If you are just starting with cartography or you are in an intermediate level and you want to become really good, both these books will give you the edge you need.
The following two books are books I am currently reading and enjoying but I cannot recommend before I finish them. I am putting them here because they came recommended to me.
Kobold Press Guides to Game mastering and Campaign plotting
If there were bibles for running and preparing a campaign, these would be them. I absolutely love these two books. Amazing essays from some of the best in the storytelling field.
Worldbuilding and campaign advice from the experts
Both these books are a source of tips and tricks and methods to make sure you stay on track and you run beautiful campaigns. I might not agree on everythign with Sly Flourish’s work, but there is certainly learning to be had.
We’ll be updating this list periodically, so make sure you stop back now and then to see the new releases!
Which are your favourite worldbuilding books, sources of inspiration and the like? Share in the comments below!
Follow World Anvil Blog on WordPress.com
Want more posts like this? Subscribe to the World Anvil blog!
Wow Dimitris!! What a fantastic world builder library to own!! I have about a quarter of these, and they are great. Time to step up my game in this department. Thanks for sharing. I will look forward to your updates. Cheers!
This is a great list! Thank you for it. Inspires me to maybe share some of my favorite books on writing sometime.
My to-read list has expanded. Excellent post, Dimi.
Everyone in the world should read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. As a worldbuilder, I feel so much more clear-headed and confident making societies and new people species because Sapiens laid out how we think, as individuals and groups, beautifully.
A very good list!!!
Orson Scott Card’s ‘Writing science-fiction and fantasy’ has a very good section on world building and how it should intertwine with and at times inform the plot. I re-read it when ever I hit a road block.
Great list! I’m glad to see Stephen L. Gillet’s World-Building getting attention. I picked up that book way back in high school, and it was pivotal in how I read and write science fiction to this day. I’d also like to suggest Aliens and Alien Societies (also edited by Ben Bova, in the same series of books I think) as a companion to World-Building.
Really good choices. I’ve got a few of those, but not all of them.
“Creating Life”, “Creating Places”, and “Cultures and Beyond” by Randy Ellefson are all very thorough.
‘Putting the Science in Fiction’ by Dan Koboldt is my go-to. I cherish it so much I often struggle with wanting to keep it to myself.