World Building

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The Problem

For years I've been trying to achieve a fairly realistic fantasy world, but have constantly been dissatisfied with the results. Trying to model a spherical world on a flat sheet of paper (or computer screen) is a problem map-makers have faced for much of history. Trying to perform the mapping in a 3D program such as 3D Studio Max seemed like a natural solution, but even with years of 3D experience, it was still awkward compared to having something in-hand to draw upon.

Just a few days ago, I thought, "If only I had a spherical whiteboard..."

Out of curiosity, I did some searches on Google and Amazon but came up empty-handed. "What about a plain white beach ball?" About the best I was able to find were clear ones with toys in the center.

The Solution

Finally I found a company that made pearly-white vinyl exercise balls about 2-feet in diameter. A bit on the large size, but sturdy and they were banded from top to bottom — perfect for indicating the lines of latitude in roughly 6.5° increments!


With my permanent, chisel-tipped Sharpie markers in hand, I traced the center-most band in red for the equator. Next I wrote the degrees of latitude at each of the bands for reference. Finally, after determining my axial tilt, I used the Sharpies to mark the bands for the tropics and arctic circles in green and blue respectively.


Now unlike whiteboards, to work on vinyl you'll need to use washable markers rather than dry-erase. Those nice dry-erase markers you'd use on your flip-mats and whiteboards will be permanent marks on an exercise ball just like they are on your old Chessex battle map.

Fortunately, most of Crayola's washable markers seem to do a good job with a few exceptions:

  • Brown: Even after only one night, the following afternoon when I went to erase the continents I'd drawn, a permanent yellow mark was left by the brown markers.

Other Ideas

If for some reason using such a large ball becomes annoying, there are a couple other possible solutions. Rust-Oleum makes both dry-erase and chalkboard paints. These could be applied to a smooth globe and you'd then be able to rotate it on its base as you draw. If you don't mind the weight, you could also consider an un-drilled, plain white bowling ball like the Vis-A-Ball by Brunswick.