Category Archives: Graphic Design

First Look: MASHED playsheet draft

I’m making good progress on my Korean War RPG (working title still: MASHED), based on the Apocalypse World engine. I’m almost finished with the second draft; I just need to edit a little bit of text and include rough layouts of the hospital tents, camp, and both basic and deluxe playsheets. Here’s what I have so far for the deluxe playsheet. Any thoughts?




RPG Design: Less is More, Bold is Better

As a long-time writer but an amateur graphic designer, I’ve really enjoyed updating the Corporia RPG layout (in preparation for the 7″ x 10″ Print-on-Demand edition and accompanying PDF update). My skills have improved quite a bit since the original was published, after all.

One early review comment I received on the original book was that there were too many pages with ‘walls of text’ (i.e., pages with a big block of body text and not enough white space, art, or headers to provide some relief for the eyes). This was one particular comment I kept in mind throughout the (nearly finished, as I type now) revision process. Although there are still some ‘walls’ here and there, I really tried to break these up a bit. For instance, I overhauled the character archetype pages by swapping the art and text placement, making the color elements and quote bigger and bolder, and replacing paragraphs of text with a simple inset text block. Now instead of a ‘wall of text’, the archetype page includes text, the statistics block, and the color inset block. There’s still a lot of text, but the wall now has some paint and missing bricks.

The color elements add some boldness to these page spreads, and the inset block summarizes paragraphs of text, making it easier to read and comprehend (thus, less is more). It’s something I’ll definitely have to bear in mind during future projects.

Check out the Hacker archetype below to see the ‘before’ and ‘after’. I really like the revision, and it maintains the ‘look and feel’ of the original and so won’t be shockingly different to the existing reader base. What do you think?


Original Version ("Before")

Original Version (“Before”)


Revised Version ("After")

Revised Version (“After”)


RPG Design: converting Corporia to Print-On-Demand

Because I only have a couple dozen copies of the limited edition Corporia hardcover on hand, and there’s a demand for bundled print+PDF copies on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow, I’ve decided to add a Print-On-Demand edition to those store pages and update the PDF.


The new POD title page

However, this isn’t as easy as clicking a few boxes and turning a ‘print’ option on. First and most complicated, I have to adjust the page trim sizes from 6.75″ x 10.125″ to 7″ x 10″, and the cover has to be similarly resized. That means that all the text and art has to shift just a tiny bit, so I had to go through each page and make sure everything reflowed properly.

Second, the printer requires a blank page at the end of the book for their own internal barcode – and since they require that the total book pages be divisible by four, I have to either delete one page of content or add four more. Naturally, I’m going to add three more. I’ve dropped in three advertisements (at the back of the book) for Corporia supplements as placeholders, but my plan is to replace these with new Director/GM and player templates and guides, which will also be released for free online for everyone who has the Kickstarter hardcover. This means that I won’t be finished with the conversion as quickly as I’d liked, but I think it’ll be a better product.

Of course, I’m also taking this opportunity to fix any typos or rules mechanics errors that slipped by, and to update or replace some of the art and graphic design elements. For instance, I’m updating the background and images on the “The Story So Far” section so it flows better with the rest of the book, and it won’t switch from a modern design to a faux-handwritten journal style. The text in this section won’t change significantly; it will just have a different look and feel that still uses some of the same art. You can see the title page to the left above, and below are some samples of the (before and after) work in progress. What do you think?



BEFORE (left) and AFTER (right) – click image to enlarge

Masters of the Universe (art book)

I was a big fan of He-Man when I was a kid and, although that love faded as I grew older, I love the idea of the upcoming art book from Dark Horse – especially since it includes such behind-the-scenes things as aomup2‘how to create an action figure.’

You can read more in the Comics Alliance article here.


MASHED: Roleplaying Korean War medics

mashed draft title page

draft title page

Here’s a sneak peek at the draft title page (this is not the cover) for my new project! It’s an idea that I’ve had in mind for a while, but until I got familiar with the Apocalypse World engine, I didn’t really have a good game system to do it with. Also, the last couple of years have been really busy with finishing up all the goals from the Corporia Kickstarter, and my brain needs a break. Of course, I might still publish a Corporia adventure or something else simultaneously, but MASHED is my focus for the moment.

As you might guess from the (working) title, the theme of the game is the lives of doctors in Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, set in the Korean War. Gameplay and moves are also inspired by Apocalypse World and Night Witches, but with opportunities for both humorous situations as well as lots of drama. The game will be based directly on the real-world MASH units in the Korean War, including the one that inspired a certain S*H*O*W that you’re probably already familiar with. If you want to use MASHED to run situations from the show, you can. So, it will work with the media, but won’t be based on it or licensed from it.

For stats, my draft notes use +skill, +nerve, +luck, and +fight, with points distributed depending on your rank (Lieutenant, Captain, or Major). There are four character temperaments (Head, Heart, Bones, and “Blood and Guts”), and several roles within them (Casanova, Prankster, Scrounger, Cutter, Mentor, Bully, and Stickler). Stress and burnout will be particularly important parts of moves and such.

Right now I’m still fiddling with these, as well as some other ideas about how mobile the MASH will be, and how/whether I use “Rotation Points” as a means of allowing characters to get leave or go home. Although real MASH doctors didn’t get rotation points like the regular army did, I’m willing to bend reality where I need to service the fiction. That’s one of my main rules concepts that I’m still having trouble with.

I’d love to get your thoughts on the points system or anything you think might work well (or be a problem) for the game. I’ve started a thread on the barf forth apocalyptica forums if you’d like to contribute there.

RPG Design Concept: Slimline Boxed Sets

I was browsing the children’s section of Barnes & Noble with my daughter last week, and ran across this interesting bit of packaging. (It was lying on the20150309_165516 floor empty, so I’m guessing some child snatched or mislaid the contents, but you can see them in the product page on Amazon.)

I think this could be a really attractive way to market RPGs, particularly to the younger audience. It would be great for small pamphlet-sized games and paper minis, but I suspect the manufacturing and distribution costs would be too expensive for most companies outside of Wizards/Hasbro. Another problem is that, with this size, you’d also have to use smaller-than-normal polyhedral dice if you wanted to include them in the packaging.

With all that in mind, I don’t expect to see this type of packaging used for RPGs anytime soon, but I’d love to see someone track down a way to do it effectively.20150309_16553320150309_165540




RPG Design: Race and Gender in “Agents of Change”

In May of last year, I took a look back at the photographic art in my Corporia RPG core rulebook, breaking down the numbers of people of various races and gendersAgents of Change final cover

As I mentioned then, “Unlike perhaps 99%+ of published RPGs, I wasn’t using graphic artists or painters to create new art from scratch, in which I could dictate the character model for every piece of art. Instead, to supply the art in Corporia, I relied heavily on actual photographs supplied by various micro-stock photographers around the world (often in Eastern Europe). And because it would have been incredibly cost-prohibitive for me to commission new photographs, setups, and models for each piece of art, I was limited to tracking down just the right blend of existing material from various portfolios.” The same holds true for the last Kickstarter-backed expansion, Agents of Change.

This time, however, I wanted to try to improve my previous record on both gender and race. Let’s see how I did. (Since the page counts are significantly different, I’ve converted the numbers in my last post to percentages.)

  • Corporia core rulebook
  • Men: 56.43 %
  • Women: 43.57%
  • Transgender: 0%
  • Agents of Change
  • Men: 50 % (-6.43% from previous)
  • Women: 41.67% (-1.9%)
  • Transgender: 8.33% (+8.33%)

Looks like the percentage of women (not counting men identifying as women) decreased a bit, though not as much as men – and I was able to add a new transgender character. I’d call that a slight improvement. Now let’s look at race.

  • Corporia core rulebook
  • African-American: 4.29%
  • Asian: 2.86%
  • Caucasian (best guess): 81.43%
  • Hispanic/Latin: 1.43%
  • Other: 0%
  • Unknown (fully clothed, silhouette, etc.): 10%
  • Agents of Change
  • African-American: 15.38% (+11.09% from previous)
  • Asian: 7.69% (+4.83%)
  • Caucasian (best guess): 76.92% (-4.51%)
  • Hispanic/Latin: 0% (-1.43%)
  • Other: 0% (no change)
  • Unknown (fully clothed, silhouette, etc.): 0% (-10%)

Race isn’t as well-balanced as I’d intended, but percentage-wise I suppose you could call this an improvement.

As I said last time, restricting myself by budget, by what was available/realistically possible, and by what I just thought looked cool meant that there was no way I’d be able to reach even a semblance of a perfectly diverse ideal. That’s still the case for Agents of Change, of course, since I wasn’t commissioning every new photo from scratch.

Honestly, I could have improved a few percentage points had I not removed a female Latina character and replaced her with a male Caucasian near the end of the design process, but I chose to use the piece that worked better for the look and feel of the chapter. She’ll no doubt appear in a future expansion.

So, that’s what I did, and how. I haven’t taken the time to compare my work with other published RPGs to see how the percentages stack up, though. Anyone out there know of someone that has tracked gender and race in other RPGs? If so, please let me know!