Tag Archives: graphic design

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

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.

“The City” in Corporia – and changing the art…?

Now that I’m getting close to finished with the next PDF supplement for Corporia, I think my next task will be to change the core rulebook dimensions to 7″ x 10″ so they’ll be available on DriveThruRPG as Print-On-Demand books. My current dimensions (6.625″ x 10.125″) don’t have a POD equivalent.

When I make this, I’m considering updating some of the art pieces to better reflect what I see as “The City” in my head. For example, look at the pieces below. The top image is from the video game Mirror’s Edge, and is what “The City” of Corporia looks like in my head – bright, white, clean and outwardly utopian while the populace groans under corporate oppression. The bottom image is from Shadowrun. I think these two images really show how Corporia stands out from most other similar urban fantasy/cyberpunk RPGs.

the city

“The City” of Corporia as I view it in my head (this image from the unreated video game Mirror’s Edge)

The look and feel of Shadowrun (and Cyberpunk, etc.)

The look and feel of Shadowrun (and Cyberpunk, etc.)

Are there any pieces of art in the current edition that you would like to see replaced? What do you really like and what do you hate? Let me know!

Corporia – Agents of Change (and not the small kind)

Here’s a look at the draft cover of the next Corporia supplement, which I’m planning to release in the first quarter of 2015. The actual title may still change, since I’m a bit concerned that the cover implies a product that’s entirely based on spies and spycraft. Although there’s a Spook archetype inside, that isn’t the case. Alternate title ideas include: Fringe Benefits (there is a Fringer archetype inside too), Hazard Pay, and Trade Secrets.

I’d love to hear what you think!

agents draft cover

Vote for Corporia!

Thanks to my Kickstarter supporters, friends, and editors who helped with its creation, Corporia has received an 9780991489718_interior_Page_012ENnie award nomination in the ‘Best Electronic Book’ category! Voting will be open until July 30th. Click HERE to go vote!

There are some great products in this year’s nominations, but in this particular category I think Corporia has a lot going for it:

  • Single-column format designed so that you can easily read one page on a tablet, or a two-page spread on a desktop monitor.
  • A detailed table of contents and each chapter begins with its own mini table of contents for ease of reference.
  • A prominent color appearing throughout each chapter (the character chapter is green, the equipment chapter is red, the assets and magic chapter is orange, and so on). These colors actually make cross-referencing instinctive as your brain makes the automatic association between color and chapter.
  • Naturally, the PDF is extensively bookmarked and provides clickable/touchable links whenever a page number or section is mentioned in the body, the tables of contents, and the index.
  • Sections of the sample character sheet and the city district map are specially numbered and hyperlinked (and color-coordinated!).
  • The index uses red text to indicate the links intended for the Director’s (aka game master’s) eyes only.
  • Section numbering so all digital and print electronic edition references will match up even if you ignore the page numbers.
  • An overall design sense specifically targeted towards electronic reading!

Whether you vote or not, thanks for reading! And thanks once again to my Kickstarter backers – this award is as much yours as it is mine, since you helped fund the design and production costs to make it the best electronic book that I could create.

And for those of you who haven’t seen it, Corporia is currently ‘Pay What You Want’ on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow! Here are some sample pages:



Sex and race in Corporia

I’ve been delving recently into some tabletop gaming forum posts from the last year or so, reading discussions on racism and the portrayals of race in RPGs. Naturally, this being the internet, parts of these discussions were crazy insane wankery, while other parts made some points I agreed with or at least mentioned incidents that hadn’t occurred to me (wow, there really were no Asian actors anywhere in Firefly!).Corporia NPCs

In turn, that led me to think about the photographic art in my recent Corporia RPG and how various races and sexes were presented in the near-future setting of ‘The City.’ I thought it might make a somewhat interesting blog post, so here’s how I approached that part of the design process.

Even in the early design stages, my ideal goal was to show a roughly equal mix of male and female individuals (heroes, villains, monsters, civilians, etc.) from ethnically diverse backgrounds. However, there were some distinct challenges to doing so.

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.

While I was able to find much of what I wanted to fit the themes (primarily people in business attire wielding swords and firearms), getting a good blend of human races that also fit the theme was more difficult. Even some photos that did fit the theme (such as an African-American man holding a longsword, and a Latina woman holding a tattooed skull) couldn’t be used in the core rulebook because the clothes didn’t fit the section that I wanted to use the photo in, or a text box (that couldn’t be moved) would have covered a significant part of the photo, or some other design-related reason. I went ahead and purchased some of these anyway, and plan on using them in a future supplement.

Occasionally, of course, I’d find a photograph that had a good model with good weapons, but was just boring or had a poorly rendered futuristic or magical effect. Those I simply didn’t bother with.

Corporia cryptidsSex (i.e., gender) was easier to deal with. After all, most of us males seem to enjoy watching an attractive woman kick ass, and photographers don’t seem to be particularly immune to this trend. However, I also specifically wanted to avoid the classic ‘chainmail bikini’ trope, and have all the women clothed in appropriate attire for the situation. Monsters didn’t always meet this criteria, either because there was body paint involved or because it was appropriate for the situation. The succubus (being a sexual predator) is naturally nude, and the woman turning into a werewolf in her shower is shown more for horror than titillation. There’s also a seamy city district (think the worse parts of Las Vegas) where the photo shows a partially clothed stripper from behind, performing for three private audience members (three men and one woman).

So in the end, if you were to go through each page of Corporia and catalog every human (full body all the way down to just a visible hand, ignoring the same model appearing twice), would you find a perfectly equal mix of fully-clothed genders from all races and continents? Well, no. You’d get this (assuming I didn’t miscount somewhere):

  • Men: 79
  • Women: 61
  • African-American: 6
  • Asian: 4
  • European/American Caucasian (best guess): 114
  • Hispanic/Latin: 2
  • Other: 0
  • Unknown race (fully clothed head to toe, silhouette, etc.): 14

Hell, I didn’t even come close, even with the best intentions. Of course, 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 for every model. Exactly what that ideal is (for any particular RPG or other piece of media), is too big a debate to have on my little blog. This post was just to share what I did, and how, and why.

Should I have a future project where all the art is illustrated and I have full control over every character model, we’ll see how well I do then. Hopefully much better…