I'm currently writing a story based in another world. I try to keep the story outline and the world in fairly separate notes obviously dipping into the world notes when I need to remember names, locations, descriptions etc.

Currently I'm using trello because of it's flexibility. I've got lists for Characters, Races, Places, Technology, Religion etc... But I'm finding that it's not scaling very well. A bigger story has hundreds of characters who are all connected, Trello gives me no way to keep track of that (aside from notes on their card).

I have thought about starting a wiki (kind of a fictional wikipedia) because of it's fantastic flexibility and inter connectivity (historical figures link to technology they created and used to their family and their places of birth etc). However most of the ones I've found are open to the public - given I don't want to reveal every little detail about a character's past and future to anyone who stumbles upon it I've tended to rule these out.

What other software is available (open source ideally) to track this sort of web of information (rather than a linear thread in a story) that would be required to document created world?

Edited to expand following this excellent meta suggestion I use Windows and iOS 8.

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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like this is largely a duplicate of What is a good tool for organizing story notes? on Writing. I think there might be a few other questions there which could be relevant; check out their software tag. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 24, 2014 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I'm trying to steer it away from planning a plot and more towards planning the various connections of the world. I'll have another crack with an edit. $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Sep 24, 2014 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is very much on topic. It is something vital for any non-trivial world building and the community is in favour of software questions. $\endgroup$ Sep 24, 2014 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ Patricia C. Wrede just today posted about Scrivener and process, which you might want to check out and which has some suggestions on how to use Scrivener to handle worldbuilding ideas. While Scrivener is proprietary, the ideas should be generalizable to any outline-oriented editor (including a simple file/folder structure, in a pinch). $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 24, 2014 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ If you are thinking about a Wiki and have specific requirements, Software Recommendations is the place to ask $\endgroup$
    – user3106
    Aug 4, 2015 at 8:34

9 Answers 9


Evernote is a pretty good note software, but that doesn't seem to be what you want.

It sounds like what you really want is an private wiki. You apparently weren't able to find one though, apparently they are pretty common.

The biggest one is MediaWiki (the power behind Wikipedia). MediaWiki can be private, and it's not too hard. See this tutorial for information on how to do that. But basically you would create one account and limit it to that. As a bonus MediaWiki is open source and free.

Another option would be DokuWiki on a Stick. This would be a simple home wiki that you could transport around on a USB drive, or possible share over the internet. To see set up look here. And it can still be private. DokuWiki is also open source and free!

There are many other private wiki options but many of them aren't opensource/free.

  • $\begingroup$ Does limiting the wiki to one account just prevent others from contributing, or does it fully prevent anyone else from even viewing? This stronger version seems to be what is required, but I don't know the properties of the wiki software you mention. $\endgroup$ Sep 24, 2014 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ @githubphagocyte I'm pretty certain MediaWiki can be configured to require login to even view the contents. I have accounts on a few wikis which are set up like that, and the look and feel at the very least greatly resembles MediaWiki on at least one of them. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 25, 2014 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ @githubphagocyte Yes, the tutorial if for a "private" wiki, so I imagine it means truely private. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Sep 25, 2014 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Liath Glad I could help. It's a good idea, I might do it for my own world sometime. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Sep 29, 2014 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ I tried Dokuwiki and Mediawiki, too. Dokuwiki is way more friendlier, but when you have a lot of pages it will be slower and slower. $\endgroup$
    – Feralheart
    May 1, 2017 at 20:26

I will second DonyorM's suggestion of DokuWiki. I've used personal installs of it before and it's really easy to setup, very customizable, private, and open source. Additionally, if you later decide you want to open it to other people, you just need to transfer it to a webserver and other people can access it. Alternatively, you can use the Wiki Chooser Wizard to find one that might work better for you.

Alternatively, RealmWorks by Lone Wolf Software is specifically designed for this kind of interrelated knowledge map. It's stated use is for designing RPG campaigns, and a lot of the defaults are configured for that, but it's very customizable and provides features such as:

  • Detection of references to existing pages and auto-linking to them.
  • Support for multiple different templates, with different sections for each. So you can have a "Person" template, a "Location" template, a "Religion" template, etc. Each would automatically have subsections for useful information (Person: Age, Sex, Description, History; Location: Description, History, Residents; Religion: Deity, Worship methods, Attitude towards others)
  • Ability to embed maps (with links to the appropriate articles), images, URLs, and other media.
  • A strong search feature.
  • Relationship maps.

The image below shows an example view: There's a map on the left, the list of information about the location in the center, with links to all the appropriate other articles (and an embedded map), and on the right are various other links, including the "Chapter 3" link to explain where this fits in the larger context. (The green dots relate to whether you've shown the content to your players, but that's unlikely to be relevant for you - you could ignore them, or you could repurpose them to indicate things you've already written (and thus would require editing to change) as separate from things you've thought up but not yet referenced in text)

Realmworks Example

Unfortunately, it's not open-source, and the software costs \$50 for the basic software, and \$24.99 semi-annual fee for cloud-based syncing & other related services (web access & sharing.)

  • $\begingroup$ This is cool. Does it actually help generate the map? Also can you provide cost information? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 24, 2014 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @James - No, you have to upload your own externally-generated map. But it does let you add the pins and link them to articles. It doesn't really have to be a map either - if you have a drawing of a character and you want to link each item they're carrying to the appropriate page, you can do that too. I've added pricing information based on their website - I got access via Kickstarter. $\endgroup$
    – Bobson
    Sep 24, 2014 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ DokuWiki on Dropbox looks a very nice option! $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Sep 25, 2014 at 12:04

I use a collection of tools, not just a single one. A single tool would admittedly be better but I find that what I do with world building is so diverse a single tool doesn't seem to cut it for me.

So, here is what I use

  • Perforce: This is version control software...and is probably overkill for what I or other world-building folks will do. Essentially it allows you to maintain and review every revision you make to a file. We actually use the enterprise version of this at work to version all of the software that gets worked on. There is however a free version for up to 20 users that is up in the cloud. I use this because there tends to be large gaps between session I work on my project, and after a while I end up looking for something that I deleted...this allows me to actually find it. I use this primarily for those items that change often, and potentially drastically. (my story for example since this is in support of a book I am working on) http://www.perforce.com/downloads/Perforce/20-User

  • X-Mind: This is a handy little program for mind mapping. I use this to document geography (locations in general), characters, themes, relationships etc etc etc. Its easy to use and also free. This tends to be static information that changes rarely if at all. For example here is a top level view of my work. screenshot

Each of the subtopics (and their subtopics etc etc etc) you can drill down into, so the World subtopic for example you can make the center of the map and work on just that section. Each item can have an attachment, you can mark things in progress or completed, its quick to use and easy to learn.

  • MS Word and Excel: Hard to get away from them...I use these both for the more detailed content. So I have sheets on each relevant piece of geography, on each nation-state, on each religion, etc etc etc, then I can reference the relevant details when I need them. I actually used excel to create my history table, sort of a back to creation high level timeline.

  • I also like to have an art program handy if I want to design buildings to flesh out a culture maybe, or to draw out a particularly central geographic location. I personally use: My Paint but there are a lot of options out there. Check out this thread form Software recs SE: https://softwarerecs.stackexchange.com/questions/395/drawing-software-for-amateurs/430#430

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    $\begingroup$ Word processing and spreadsheets are always useful. If you want free cross platform open source alternatives to commercial office software there is LibreOffice, which comes included in many versions of Linux and can be downloaded for Windows and OSX. $\endgroup$ Sep 24, 2014 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Version control : Good advice +1 $\endgroup$
    – JaDogg
    Oct 3, 2015 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ James, can you join this room please? chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/119422/use-of-mind-maps I have no idea how to ask you directly on this site. $\endgroup$
    – ben-ben
    Feb 6, 2021 at 14:52

You could use Scrivener. It is not free but it is worth it.

It has a short learning curve and a lot of potential of customization. You can organize documents by category and make templates for documents that tend to repeat themselves such as scenario descriptions or creature lore or even character sheets.

It can show you diagrams with connections between the documents and you can customize those links for later reference, what is the relationship of character x to character y and what is their relationship with character z?

It also allows you to compile the manuscript to a proper book format. Gives you statistics about your writing that are very useful aswell.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you provide a link? $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan
    Jun 12, 2016 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ This is the link for Scrivener: literatureandlatte.com I also use this for my world building and I recomend it. You can try it for free for a month and see if you like it. It only counts the days you actually use it so you'll have plenty of time to get comfortable before purchasing. One other reason to recomend scrivener is that it is very easy to set up automatic saving and backups. I have it set up to save every time I alter a text and back up to my google docs everytime I save manually or close the program. $\endgroup$ Jun 12, 2016 at 13:19

I personally use http://worldanvil.com, as it is specifically designed to help organize and develop your worldbuilding. It has 14 different very complete templates (Building, Character, Condition, Document, Ethnicity, Military Formation, Geography, Item, (meta)Physic Law, Language, Material, Military Conflict, Myth/legend, Organization, Profession, Prose, Rank/title, RPG Session Report, Settlement, Species, Spell, Plot, Technology, Tradition, Vehicle and Generic Article for stuff that doesn't fit any other template) and also some awesome Maps and Timelines tools and, of course, its Campaign Manager.

I'm particularily in love with how complete with prompts the templates are and how they ask you for stuff maybe you never thought about (the Species template alone has like three tabs!), and also the ability to create interactive maps out of your own images with links and adorable markers. Here you can toy around, for example, with my world's map, Dayrd: https://www.worldanvil.com/w/dayrd-bluewildfire/map/ae4ece9b-4c22-4b8d-a877-b370c7ebb95d

enter image description here

The World Anvil project is not and will probably never be fully finished, as new features are added every week. It also counts with a to-do list feature, your own image gallery and a huge tools set for writers, gamemasters, artists and worldbuilders in general. There are also monthly Worldbuilding Challenges among a great community of 170,000 worldbuilders from all around the world. The Discord server alone has more than seven thousand members always willing to help each others. They're lovely. Also ALSO the developers are very active on the Discord and the staff members are helpful and caring as hell.

Too long, didn't read: World Anvil is the best worldbuilding tool I have ever seen, and the last one I will ever use. And it's free!

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Blue Wildfire! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Jan 29, 2019 at 16:15

I use TiddlyWiki (http://tiddlywiki.com/) for most of my personal writing and worldbuilding projects. It has the advantage of keeping a whole project in a single file that can be easily transferred from device to device. I find it very easy to work with, but definitely give the FAQ a browse before trying to commit anything important. Most importantly, saving through your broswer's save file function will lead to data loss and heartache, you must use the save feature within the TiddlyWiki page in order to save changes to the Tiddlywiki.

  • $\begingroup$ Good to know is that Tiddlywiki is opensource and free to use. I use it quite extensively. $\endgroup$
    – Uriel
    Apr 9, 2021 at 12:05

The World Building softwares I use are Storyist, which allows for research based file collections in addition to the main manuscript - in my case, I am writing a novel. I also researched a low-cost mind-mapping tool available as a plug-in on Google's Chrome web browser called "mindmap." I like it because it allows me to drop in photos/images and maps as well as have just text links. The images can be annotated as well. I just thought I would respond to others who, like me, may be looking for options. The latter plug-in is free and can be accessed by downloading the Chrome browser if you don't already have it, and going to Google's plug-ins page https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/mindmap?hl=en


Alternatively, if you have a relational database management system (RDBMs) you can link the things together. This method has the added benefit of allowing multiple connections for each bit of information. For example, a specific NPC could be linked to a thieves guild, a specific location in a city, and a planned encounter later in the adventure.

Professionally I work with some (Oracle RDBMs and MS SQL server) that I'm more familiar with and I am licensed to use (and have a business logic overlay for that data). These are intended for Enterprise data management, are likely too expensive for personal use, are not user friendly, and do not have any tweaking to make them more suitable for managing this type of data.

For the typical user, I'd recommend something more like MS Access (or equivalent). Databases like these are intended for much lighter weight use and more user friendly interface. Plus, MS Access ties into things like Word & Excel so you may be able to tie everything together in it (this holds special attraction to me because I store much of my data in Excel in spreadsheets). However, I am personally not familiar with MS Access and can't really give much advice on how to use it.

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    $\begingroup$ Editing raw tables is really heavy-weight for someone who just wants to keep track of some story details. Sure, you can do it but oooffff that's a lot of extra work. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Oct 5, 2015 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I wouldn't use a raw RDBMs. There's a business logic overlay that makes it significantly streamlined. But I have intended to get some experience with the MS Access solution. I think it'd be an ideal way for me to tie in the work I've done with spreadsheets in other areas. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 6, 2015 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ Ugh Access? Really? SQL Express is free, as is Postgres, and either of them is a better option. On the plus side (for any neigh sayers) (spelling choice deliberate), SQL is a marketable skill. $\endgroup$ Jun 12, 2016 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ I find that using a Graphing database is much easier than a full RDBMS (due to the arbitrary relationships one finds when building a world not fitting in the RDBMS model as well as with an edge/node setup) $\endgroup$ Jun 13, 2019 at 14:40

I recommend a wiki, and my favorite two for this sort of work would be TWiki and MoinMoin.

Caveat - you have to be willing to invest a fair bit of set up time - you need to establish a documentation structure on the unformed wiki... thereby gaining the distinct advantage of it being exactly the structure you desire, with the bonus of being able to easily modify the structure as your desires grow and evolve.

TWiki is known as a developer's wiki but is true to the wiki ethos so is usable for capture of any sort of knowledge.

MoinMoin is an advanced wiki with a strong feature set enhanced by a number of plugins .. and has the special advantage of having an publishing API that allows you to output alternate formats of your pages .. like PDF, TeX etc .. instead of the standard HTML for use on the web.

Both offer version control, inclusion of media, and non-CamelCase links and are in live development. Those choosing Moin should probably stick to version 1.9 .. Version 2 is stable .. generally, but as its foundations are completely different from Moin 1.* one has to expect hiccups.

TWiki should be used at the most recent stable release.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, vulcan_! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox (both of which require 5 rep to post on) useful. Have fun! $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2018 at 15:50

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