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:

Original Version ("Before")

Original Version (“Before”)

REVISED:

Revised Version ("After")

Revised Version (“After”)

 

CSI: Cryptid Scene Investigation

I’m going to add an ‘official’ Knightwatch guide to the Print on Demand edition. Here’s the first draft, provided for your review. Any thoughts?

  1. Arrive at Scene. Obtain a situation summary from Watch officer in charge. If Watchmen have not already secured the scene, perform reconnaissance to clear and secure the scene. If possible, wait until Watchmen have secured the scene from unauthorized persons before entering. Use the route least likely to disturb any evidence.
  2. Notify Command. Send any requests for assistance (e.g., Watchmen, medical examiner, criminalistics) to M.E.R.L.I.N. to be processed on your behalf.cover_Page_192_cropped
  3. Jurisdiction. When you need to operate within a district, neighborhood, or property not under Watchman jurisdiction (subscription services), be aware that search and seizure problems exist. Where possible, notify command to obtain a temporary inter-corporate contract or warrant before entering the scene. Without this permission, and if confronted by an official representative from another PMSC, notify command of the rep’s name and contact information; a Valyant legal representative will reach out directly to resolve jurisdiction.
  4. Living Cryptid. Attempt to contain. Flex-cuffs and paracord should be able to restrain most mutated humans. If the cryptid is active and hostile, combat is authorized. Wound the cryptid until it cannot retaliate and can be restrained. Liquidate cryptids only after containment fails. A Watch officer will transfer the cryptid to the Keep observation facilities.
  5. Living Victim. Perform or summon medical aid. Attempt to obtain the name of the assailant; otherwise, commence to obtain ID from description (sex, race, height, hair/eye color, clothing, etc.). Also attempt to determine the victim’s PMSC provider. If the victim is unconscious, ensure that a Watchman remains with the victim to note any declarations made during periods of consciousness.
  6. Removal of Cryptid or Victim from Scene. First, use HUD to photograph and record the individual’s position. Record the collection of any physical evidence from the individual.
  7. Witnesses. Canvass the area. Obtain names and contact information, plus a brief statement. Hold witnesses until the arrival of Watchman investigators, keeping them separate to prevent collusion. Be vigilant – witnesses may be involved.
  8. Process Scene. Call trained Watch investigators to process the scene. When not possible, photograph and record the scene and adjoining/adjacent areas from all angles. Examine the scene for physical evidence, marking and visually recording the location of objects found such as footprints, ectoplasm, fragments of cloth, bloodstains, magical residue, tool marks, etc. Preserve each item of evidence in separate correct containers.
  9. Evidence Processing. Contact morgue or lab to request tests on persons and objects (cause of death, presence of Flux, etc.). Watch detectives and investigators will process reports (initial, follow-up, evidence), witness statements, cryptid statements, and background on cryptid and involved individuals (name, home, relatives, friends, employment, finances, possible criminal activities, possible romantic involvements, possible use of narcotics, gang involvement). M.E.R.L.I.N. will deliver to your HUD as they become available.
  10. Investigation. Act on information provided by evidence. Determine actions of cryptid (day, weeks, or months; depending on circumstances) before the initial scene, including motive. Consider motives such as: sex, theft, narcotics, mental and/or Flux derangement. Question everyone thoroughly. Do not disclose valuable information to unauthorized persons. Give constant attention to the presence of any other PMSCs involved.
  11. Assault/Infiltration. Some investigations may lead to a greater threat. Return to Step 1 and repeat until mission is closed.
  12. Disinformation Report (Journo). Provide a brief, concise summary of the operative case facts, without verbatim recital of witnesses statements. Fictionalize accounts of Flux-based incidents, replacing magic with science and mundanity, and submit to media.

 

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.

1

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?

 

2

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

Familiar Spirits

The latest Corporia supplement, Familiar Spirits, is now available on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow for only 99 cents!cover_familiarspirits_800w

This little 14-page expansion details on how Sorcerer and Witcher characters can conjure animal familiars out of the very atmospheric energies (aka the Flux) around them. I tried hard to make familiars really easy and convenient to use, without the inconvenience of how they’ve traditionally appeared in the RPG medium. For instance, because they’re corporeal but still composed of energy, you can summon and dismiss them back into the ether – so you don’t have to worry about finding somewhere to board them when you’re going on a particularly dangerous or stealthy mission. This supplement also includes a form-fillable record sheet for your familiar.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

The Infinite Flashpoint Convergence of New 52 Secret Wars (A Rant)

The last issue (#8) of DC Comics’ Convergence series releases today, and… I couldn’t care less. It’s quite possibly the worst ‘summer event’ line that I’ve ever read, and I’ve read almost all of them. Almost every issue (and I’m including the various two-parters as well as the main book) suffers the ultimate crimes of being boring and/or confusing to the point of utter incomprehensibility. Sadly, I don’t have much greater expectations for Marvel’s currently ongoing Secret Wars event, based on what I’ve read so far, even though I usually enjoy Jonathan Hickman’s work. It may just be that I’m tired of the whole ‘throw a bunch of heroes together and make them fight’ concept. Also, as has been said elsewhere, “The main thrust of the story is simple enough, but you may have to consult a wiki to fill in most of these blanks.” It’s not easy to jump in.

Convergence

Convergence

It’s not that I’m biased against the ‘Big Two’. Over the years, I’ve been alternately (and sometimes together) a Marvel zombie and/or a DC fanboy. Even now, both companies still manage to produce a handful of great series that are creator-driven (like Astro City or Powers) and corporate-owned (such as Hawkeye and Thor), though the latter seem more like happy accidents of putting a solid writer (or writers) together with a good art team – rather than any kind of actual editorial direction from on high.

Looking over my current reading list, I’m slightly surprised to see how many great titles are being produced by Image Comics, a company once famous more for their adolescent-appealing artists rather than the stories, as they churned out their own ‘variations’ (aka inspirations aka ripoffs) of Marvel and DC characters. Birthright, Bitch Planet, Chrononauts, Jupiter’s Legacy, Saga, Sex Criminals, the Walking Dead, and many other good to great series are a testament to what a comic company can do when they focus on just providing interesting series, rather than being enslaved to continuity and a shared universe.

So. That’s my rant for the day. What do you think?

edit: I’ve gone back in and added hyperlinks to various reviews on other sites that match my own thoughts

Corporia: eBooks and a free city map

Based purely on a quick browse through the internet, it doesn’t seem that the ebook format (typically, epub and mobi) are e-bookpopular formats for role-playing games. I suspect this is primarily because of the extra work involved for the publisher, since converting a graphics and chart-heavy format to an essentially ‘text-only’ format isn’t the easiest job in the world. The ebook is also a fairly new technology, and most tablets can handle the PDF format that’s so common among the RPG community now.

That being said, I’ve decided to convert the Corporia RPG both to mobi and epub format, for Kindles and other tablets respectively. The charts and tables have been simplified to a mostly line-item format, and will appear as close as possible to their original locations in the text. Where possible, both will be bundled free with the PDF wherever that digital edition is sold online (such as DriveThruRPG, RPGNow, and Indie Press Revolution), as well as being sold separately. I hope to release them later this month, and will certainly mention it here when I do. (Citizen-level and higher Kickstarter backers will, of course, get the variant editions for free, since “future-proofing” was one of the stretch goals.)

I’ve also released the City Districts map (page 132 of the core rulebook) as a free visual aid, since it won’t be included in the ebook. That’s free to anyone who wants to download it, whether you’ve purchased the other products or not. You can currently download it on DriveThruRPG, RPGNow, and on the Brabblemark Press website. Enjoy!

 

Publishers: How to renumber PDF pages

Following up on last month’s discussion of how to format your PDF metadata, I thought I’d write a second ‘how-to’ guide for those of you who are aspiring (and even experienced) PDF publishers. This time, I’ll take you through the steps on how to properly set your page numbers. 

Many PDFs, particularly RPGs and technical documents, include text that prompts the reader to “go to page 177 to learn more about [fill in the blank]” and such. If you’ve included hyperlinks in your PDF – so that the reader can click on that text and be instantly transported to the appropriate page – that’s great! However, you also need to ensure that the PDF page number matches the document’s actual page number. If your PDF contains a cover page or other front matter that appears before page 1, the numbers won’t match – and your customer can easily become frustrated when trying to find a particular page. See the red circles in Figure 1 below for an example of bad numbering.

Here's an example of bad page numbering.

Figure 1: Here’s an example of bad page numbering.

To renumber the pages in your PDF, just follow the steps below. Note: This guide is based on Adobe Acrobat X on the PC, though it should be functionally similar on the Mac. Images utilize my Corporia RPG core rulebook as an example.

Step One: Open your PDF and determine what page range needs to be renumbered.

Our example, the Corporia RPG, has two pages of front matter: a cover page and a preface page. Including this front matter in the PDF automatically shifts all the page numbers by +2. This means that print page 1 will appear as PDF page 3, print page 17 will appear as PDF page 19, and so on; again, see Figure 1 above.

To fix this, we’ll renumber the front matter (page range 1-2) with lower case Roman numerals. This is the standard numbering convention for front matter, though you can use upper case Roman numerals or even letters, if you really prefer.

Step Two: Go to the Pages panel in the vertical toolbar on the left side of the screen. This is also where you can view the page thumbnails. See the green arrow in the following Figure 2.

Alternately, if you want to create a toolbar shortcut for this now, replace Steps Two and Three with Step Ten, and then proceed to Step Four.

Figure 2: Go to the Pages panel.

Figure 2: Go to the Pages panel.

Step Three: Click on the little Options drop-down menu box that’s immediately adjacent to the Pages icon, and go to Number Pages. See Figure 3, below.

Figure 3: Page Numbering

Figure 3: Page Numbering

Step Four: In the Page Numbering window, type the range of PDF pages in the front matter (unless you’ve actively clicked to select the pages you want to change, which I haven’t done in this guide). In our example, these are PDF pages 1 and 2 (the cover and the preface page). See Figure 4, below.

Step Five: Next in the Page Numbering window, select Begin New Section and choose the style of page numbering for those pages. See Figure 4, below. I’m using lower case Roman numerals, as mentioned above.

Figure 4: Renumber your first section.

Figure 4: Renumber your first section.

Step Six: Now in the Page Numbering window, you can insert a Prefix to come before the page number. This could be a word or number, in case you’re interested in numbering your pages as “Alpha 1” or perhaps “1-1”. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to leave this option blank.

Step Seven: As your last step in the Page Numbering window, you can choose what number you want to Start this section with. In most instances, this will be the number 1. You can also skip the Extend numbering used in previous section to selected pages radial button. Once you have your preferred equivalent of what you see in Figure 5 below, click OK.

Figure 5: Clicking OK will renumber your chosen page range.

Figure 5: Clicking OK will renumber your chosen page range.

Step Eight: After you click OK, you will see that the PDF page numbers below the thumbnails, and in the page number box, have changed. See the green circles in Figure 6 below, and compare them to the previous numbers in Figure 5 above.

Figure 6: Done!

Figure 6: Done!

Step Nine: After you renumber the front matter, the following pages self-correct beginning with page 1. See Figure 7 below. If you have other sections to renumber, you can repeat the steps above to handle those as well. Feel free to experiment with what works best for your book, but that’s really all there is to it!

Figure 7:

Figure 7: Here’s what your good page numbering should now look like.

Step Ten (Bonus): If you’re going to be renumbering more PDFs in the future, customize your toolbar by adding the Number Pages icon. Go to View > Show/Hide > Toolbar Items > Quick Tools. Under Choose Quick Tools to Add, open Document Processing, click on Number Pages, and then click the Right Arrow Button to move this item to your Quick Tools to Show. See Figures 8 to 10, below.

Figure 8

Figure 8: We don’t have a Page Numbering option in the toolbar – yet. See the red circle.

 

Figure 9

Figure 9: After selecting “Number Pages”, click the right arrow to move it into your “Quick Tools to Show.”

 

Figure 10: The Page Numbers icon now appears in the toolbar.

Figure 10: The Page Numbers icon now appears in the toolbar. See the green circle.