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As I entered a contribution into a 24h-rpg-design-contest (Tanelorn Challenge; similar to Game Chef but German) I was wondering about how to lay out my game.

What software would you recommend me for getting an appealing layout with little effort? The software should be no or low cost.

Any suggestions?

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This would probably be better asked on a board about computer software like Super User - here's a link to questions about publishing software there: superuser.com/questions/tagged/publishing –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '10 at 3:31
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6 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

There's a thread on Story Games about this. Let me summarize:

Scribus is free, multi-platform, but has a steep learning curve because it's a desktop publishing tool, built for experienced layout folks. But if you're an experienced layout folk, you'll be annoyed by missing features.

Serif Page Plus is free for noncommercial use (very cheap for unrestricted use), powerful, but only runs on Windows.

ConTeXt is a TeX-style markup language program that will do two-column layout pretty easily.

I'm told that OpenOffice's Writer (which is their equivalent of MS Word) can do layout pretty well. I use MS Word for most of my layout needs. Once you get the hang of styles and text boxes, you can do some basic layout that looks pretty good (for an amateur). OpenOffice is supposed to be more powerful for layout than Word. Tips here.

(Story Games links might require a free registration.)

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Ok, I think I will give Scribus a try and resort to OpenOffice, should Scribus fail me. (I actually have a little more time than 24h right now.) Serif Page Plus looks really interesting, but I don't have the patience to try it under Ubuntu and / or Win 7. –  PiHalbe Sep 1 '10 at 8:20
    
I've done some very satisfying stuff with Scribus, but the interface is annoying. The particular gotcha I hate is that the font choice seems to never stick—I often went to add something only to have it suddenly explode into Arial 12pt (which was huge for the 7pt I was using) because of the odd way Scribus applies fonts. Once you get used to working with/around that though, it otherwise works great. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 1 '10 at 8:35
    
Update: This answer got me interested in ConTeXt. I'm currently re-implementing a complicated Scribus design (an Apocalypse World folded playbook) in ConTeXt, and I'm impressed by its ability to handle picky and strange layout needs. I would use it for an RPG layout without hesitation, being comfortable with LaTeX already. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 18 '10 at 6:30
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+1 to Adam Dray's answer. Just a few more notes based on my experiences.

I use Scribus, Open Office and Serif.

Serif is really easy to use.

Scribus is hard on your processor, but very powerful. You can create really comprehensive styles, position everything very nicely, make changes mid-stream. Great program, but runs slow on cheap computers.

Open Office is super nice. Columns is one of the things I really like about Open Office. I think it's a lot more intuitive, easier to control and shows you a lot more options compared to Microsoft Word. Open Office won't check grammar though, so Microsoft Word is still better in that regard, even if it gets the grammar checker wrong some of the time.

Open Office doesn't do as much graphics and cool font treatments as I'd like, but you could do all your graphics and font stuff in GIMP and put it in your Open Office documents as images.

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As mentioned above open office is great for general layout work on the cheap (free in this case). Gimp/Gimpshop and inkscape are my preferred tools for image editing. Gimpshop is gimp made to more closely resemble photoshop in it's general layout and inkscape is a vector image editing suite.

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On the mac, Pages can do a decent job at the low-end commercial. It isn't the most powerful tool in the shed, but it's relatively easy to use.

Word, of course, can be used, but getting the professional result requires an in depth knowledge and some use of poorly documented commands.

Scribus is available for all 3 major home computing platforms and is free.

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Unfortunately, neither Pages nor Word are free. Pages might arrive in a bundle with a Mac purchase, if bought at the right time from the right place; ditto, Word. But if you don't already own them, they're not going to be free for you. –  Viktor Haag Sep 1 '10 at 13:11
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The question says "at low cost," not "free". –  aramis Nov 18 '10 at 1:31
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Oh, and current cost for pages is $20... –  aramis Jul 12 '12 at 5:47
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For my own games, I have used LaTeX (not using columns, but using fairly wide margins). I find the layout to be pleasing and easy to read and LaTeX to be relatively easy to use.

On the up-side, you can use any text editor to edit your document(s), but unless you already know a decent text editor, you have the double whammy of "editor" and "LaTeX".

Project Unnamed RPG is one example of "no columns" layout generated from LaTeX.

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I used LaTeX a few times for RPG works, but haven't been that satisfied with it. I don't know, maybe it looks too much like science … ;-) –  PiHalbe Sep 1 '10 at 8:21
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@PiHalbe It certainly isn't fancy. But I've found that a lot of "fancy" layout is next-to-unreadable, even if it looks pretty. One thing I've found is that having a background image under the text tends to make it hard (for me) to read. At the end of the day, a set of rules is there to be read, not to be admired for how pretty it looks (even if looking pretty AND being useful is better than just being useful). –  Vatine Sep 1 '10 at 10:43
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I certainly agree. It's not that I lack the fancy in LaTeX (though a lot of styles are called "fancy"), but probably rather that I subconsciously associate it with boring scientific reports (though some of them are great). The good readability was one of the main reasons for me to try it out in the first place. –  PiHalbe Sep 1 '10 at 12:59
    
If you use the XeLaTeX engine you can get some fancy font effects in there, and with some of the optional packages you can do columns, sidebars, and other complex layout tricks easy enough. Of course, "easy enough" is assuming working knowledge of LaTeX to begin with… –  SevenSidedDie Sep 2 '10 at 0:13
    
LaTeX is a great tool for a 24-hour-contest, because you can use all your time creating your RPG instead of focusing on layout. But there is a downside: You have to know it already. Learning LaTeX needs some effort, 24 hours aren't enough for that. So if you don't know it yet, don't start learning it for the contest. But for a contest next year, it might a good idea to play a little with LaTeX, so you can get the skills to use it well. You can ask questions over at tex.stackexchange.com. I started my RPG in LaTeX, you can look at the source for reference: gaia-rpg.origo.ethz.ch –  Mnementh Nov 17 '10 at 10:49
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I wrote and published my 24 hour RPG entirely using OpenOffice. It came out looking pretty alright.

http://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/downloads-games/geodesic-gnomes/

Personally, I prefer heavier layout applications, but the benefit of open office is that it runs nicely on a low-end laptop and is free.

I know that Rob Lang had issues with the software in question (there are some odd workarounds to get full page backgrounds to work in it, for instance), but I haven't found a software that handles layout well without being a big hit on my processor.

Like using MSWord, getting professional results in Open Office requires that you learn some sneaky tricks here and there - ones that aren't well documented. Google ends up being a close and personal friend.

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