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I sometimes see great variations of layout/design quality between different RPGs. For example, Edge of the Empire, Shadowrun 5, or the recent OVA have great layouts and designs. Some others ... less so.

I have been trying to examine the differences between good layouts and less good layouts, but I feel like I must not be the first one, and there must be some tutorial or advice out there.

I am aware of this question about design software (as well as its little sister), but I am asking specifically about learning RPG layout design (I am actually a graphic designer and have more than enough design software already).

Similarly, I use the Graphic Design StackExchange and the UX Stack Exchange frequently enough, but even though I know I can find great design advice there, I am specifically looking for design advice for RPGs.

I have actually done layouts for non-RPG books already. But applying the same rules than for non-RPG books doesn't give great results. RPG books actually have in my opinion some of the best looking layouts out there, way better than most books and ebooks. Why?

Assuming I had a fully written RPG book, or want to redesign a poorly designed one, where could I find advice and tutorials?

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2 Answers 2

I don't think there's much material out there that's specific to RPGs, your best bet might be to look at those games you think are laid out well and try to distill the shared aspects that you think make them good.

You could mine this thread for more layout ideas

Chaotic Henchmen also ran a series of posts about publishing, which can be summarized in a general process, and some tips.

General Layout Process

  1. Gather the contents. Assemble all your text, tables, diagrams, key illustrations, and just put everything together without worrying too much about the formatting.

  2. Identify layout constraints. This step is about determining physical and logistical details that affect the rest of the layout process - spread size, pieces of content you really need to keep together, section start locations, and artwork budget.

  3. Apply the basic visual design. Set up the document's overall properties (margin sizes, number of columns) in the word processing or page layout software, and then go through the document from beginning to end, specifying the desired indents, paragraph spacings, fonts, sizes and styles for all the text.

  4. Chop the Content into Spreads. This step is about inserting page breaks into the manuscript at appropriate places, essentially slicing up the content into the right amount for each spread, all the while keeping in mind a) the various layout constraints from step 2, b) the goal to not break elements across spread boundaries, and c) the goal to keep related elements together on the same spread.

  5. Arrange the Content on Each Spread, and Illustration Sizes Reveal Themselves. Your goal for this step is to arrange the text and other content so that no elements split across two columns. If all your elements are significantly shorter than each column, you can easily fit several elements on a column, along with a small illustration that uses up what would be the leftover space in the column

Additional tips

  • Don't be a slave to the "75% full" guideline

  • Manually Insert Page Breaks and Column Breaks

  • Use "Keep Paragraph Together" and "Keep With Next" Functions

  • Use "Avoid Widows & Oprhans" Functions

  • Use Soft Returns

  • Vary the Column Width

  • Prepare to Eliminate Some of Your Content

  • Re-order Keyed Areas / Rooms

  • Tables Deserve Special Treatment

Unfortunately, most of it is about layout organization (which is very important), and there is little advice regarding making it pretty.

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This podcast recording of a seminar at GenCon talks a bit about how Paizo handles their layout design. It's in a section about the editing/layout process, which is only one part of the whole thing, but it is relevant.

Some of the things mentioned include the positioning of artwork, how they wrap text, density of the rules, and so on. I remember similar seminars in previous years sometimes went into even more depth, although I don't have links to them at the moment.

In general, I'd suggest looking for discussions by Paizo staff - I won't claim that their books are the best designed in the industry, but they're definitely good.

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