5 November 2017

Class(es) Dismissed

One of the many fun things about the OSR is that it often looks at the issue of classes in entirely new lights.  I'd say that, other than the default "keep it all the way it was", there's two other major schools we can group these views into: chop some of the standard classes out, and add new ones in.

For the first school you have things like Delta's OD&D house rules where he axes the cleric because he doesn't think it's proper fantasy, or those that eliminate the thief because it robs the other classes of the ability to do things that people feel all adventurers should be able to handle, and additionally serves as a Trojan Horse for that dread marauder, Sir Skill System.

For the second school, you have guys who decide that the standard classes don't adequately cover the range of decent character options.  These designers take the 1st-edition AD&D route and add more and more classes and subclasses, so that you have cavaliers and assassins and knights and jesters and mountebanks and thief-acrobat-turnip-twaddlers and whatnot.  It's very Rifts©®™.

This was my favourite search result for "class structure".

The Taxonomy of Classes

While I can see the appeal of all three ways, for this system, as I've discussed, I want short and sweet.  That itself is justification enough for me to get cutting, but there's a larger reason there.  I've never been happy with how D&D handles the literature it was actually based on.  The class structure that so defines the game is excellent for people attempting to get what their character is going to play like and generally do, but its rigidity means that, even with multiclassing and dual-classing and prestige classing, you have a hard time properly representing even someone as basic and foundational to the genre as Conan, while other classes come with bizarre abilities (like the thief and read scrolls) that are there because Gygax or whoever read one book where a thief was able to do that and so it became the template for thieves everywhere regardless of how much or little it made sense elsewhere.

My broad issue with method 2 (multiplying class numbers)--besides the size of the resulting character creation section and the increased time it takes to parse options during character creation and gameplay--is that it never really solves this issue.  Like the chimerical quest for "the" transitional fossil, each class added only creates two further class gaps to either side of it.  Of course, after a certain point we can say that those gaps are no longer really meaningful ("now what comes between the gymnast and the thief-acrobat?"), but I also think that you have to create more classes than I want in order to reach that point.  So, while I need to keep in mind some way of creating role flexibility, I don't think piling on the classes is going to be the way to do it.  This is thus something I'll have to tackle in another section of the game.

With the idea of adding tons of classes abandoned, I might as well dive in wholeheartedly into the opposite: "just how far can I cut?"

1) I don't want race as class, because I'm going for a very setting-neutral thing here, to allow me to adopt the most material with the least effort (I'm not going to get that all the time, but with something like race as class, which I didn't like anyways, I can go with it).

2) As it's already been done I know I can axe the thief.  That will mean I'll have to ensure that thief skills are properly distributed in the ruleset so that all the other characters can do those things, but I don't think that will be an issue and in any case it's a matter for later on.

3) While I don't agree in the least with Delta's reasoning for getting rid of the cleric, it did get me to consider if it was a feasible thing to do it, and I think the answer is yes.  We'll take a closer look later.

That leaves us with just two classes: the Warrior and the Mage.  Now that's trim.  Let's give it a try.

The Warrior

What roles do we want the warrior to fill?

  • Be the best at beating things to death.  This is first and foremost.
  • Do more things in melee than non-warriors
  • Slaughter hordes of mooks/peons
  • Protect the caster
  • Cast spells

The last one is perhaps a touch unintuitive, but this is a class feature of both the paladin and the ranger classes and several key fictional fighters (Karl Edward Wagner's Kane comes immediately to mind), so I think it needs to be possible.  It just shouldn't be a no-brainer, and also shouldn't ever be comparable to the mage.

1) Be the best at beating things to death

There's three main ways to accomplish this, offhand: number of attacks, to-hit bonuses, and damage amounts.  Make any of these substantially higher or even exclusive to the warrior and they'll be noticeably better at carving up their enemies.

Attacks and damage are going to be my preferred methods.  I've been struck by 5th edition's interest in keeping numbers low overall, and I'd like to be able for a caster to still be able to hit things even at higher levels.  As such, the fighter will get better, but I don't want them completely outstripping the mage in this regard.  Here's what I'm using:

Warriors receive +1 to their attack bonus every two levels, starting at level 2.

From levels 1-20 that gives them a +10 attack bonus.  That's less than the +12 a fighter gets in B/X over the same level range, but that's playing into the statement above about not wanting too many attack bonuses.  There will be other ways for the warrior to get to that +12 figure, as I'll talk about once I reach combat. Keeping the same to-hit range means I can keep broad compatibility with modules, monster manuals, and their related threat assessment mechanics (i.e. if it gives some sort of challenge or encounter rating, or if the module says it's designed for characters of X level).

The best part about working with D&D and trying to reach combat design goals is the abstract nature of combat and related mechanisms in the game.  There's no exact mapping of attacks and damage in D&D.  Most of this is due to the hit points mechanic.  Now, it's drawn a lot of flack over the years for being vague--how exactly does one tie injury to HP in a manner that's consistent, for instance--and it's created some rules oddities for sure (such as the higher level you are, the longer it takes you to heal; I'm fixing that one for sure).  Still, while most people work to reform HP and combat in a way that makes them more precise, I think that's a major mistake.  If instead we embrace the fact that combat and HP are abstractions (which they have always unambiguously been; see the 1st ed DMG, p. 82), we can play around with abstract damage as well to meet our goals.

In short, as the warrior climbs in levels, we can give them more dice of damage to represent how much better they're getting in combat.  No, their weapons don't magically do more damage.  Rather, just as characters don't gain more meat and natural armour plate as they go up levels but gain more HP regardless, as warriors climb levels they become increasingly skilled at countering the advantages an opponent has that give them their higher HP totals in the first place.  Here's how I plan to do this:

At each name level, they receive an extra weapon die of damage (so a level 10 warrior would deal 3D4 damage with small weapons, 3D6+1 with medium weapons, and 3D8+2 with large weapons).

(Right now I'm tying a lot of bonuses to every fifth level, which is what I'm calling a "name level".  So a lot of, but not all, goodies kick in at 5/10/15/20.  I'll talk about this another time).

Weapon damage I covered in my previous post (and is why I started my design series with that post).  Other than helping out the warrior, higher damage also helps keep combats fast, which I like: as levels climb and HP totals with them, the warrior is going to be able to keep up to a degree.  I also plan to use the "name" mechanic to add additional attacks, like so:

At 1st level, warriors may make one attack per round. Warriors gain an additional attack at each name level.

Between that and the increasing damage, you'll see quite noticeable ramp-ups of warrior capability as they climb the level tree.  This needs playtesting, of course, to make sure warriors don't hack through opposition too well, but as I also mentioned in an earlier post, I'm writing with the assumption of smaller player groups and so smaller adventuring parties.  As such, a warrior needs to be more capable than normal--this meets that goal.  I must admit that I'm not as sure about the extra attacks as I am the extra damage.  Maybe I'll reduce their number: we'll see what playtesting says.

2) Do more things in melee than non-warriors

This one is damn tricky.  For one, one of the major reasons warriors often suck in games compared to mages is that people's realism alarm doesn't go off for mages in the same way it does for "natural" classes--classes that obey the general laws of reality.  In some cases people have tried to get around this by bending those laws, looking to wuxia, myth, and so on to expand what a warrior can "realistically" do.  In other cases, rulesets have looked to add special maneuvers and the like to just give the warrior more to do; ACKS takes this route, for instance (and is the inspiration for what follows).

I'm not interested in the first approach (just not my thing) and the second often fails due to implementation.  Why?  Well, the general idea is that doing things other than beating a guy like a baby seal is special, and such attempts need to be penalized because otherwise the warrior will run amok (or will spam one attack like some a 12-year-old playing Mortal Kombat).  ACKS, for instance, applies a -4 to all such attempts, so that if you want to try and knock someone down or disarm them or what have you, it's damn hard.  The result is that people don't tend to bother.  The other issue is that each special maneuver comes with its own special rules, and between the fact that they're rarely used and that they each tend to work somewhat differently, you get a major slowdown mid-combat due to the need to look up how they work, as few players will memorize them in the same way as the general combat rules.

I think I have a way of getting around this.  I want to give warriors some fighting styles to choose from.  This won't be like feats in graciously permitting them to do something they should already be able to do, but rather just something that encourages a warrior to do something they were already inclined to do.  The idea is you have a warrior fighting concept in mind, and then you get something that reinforces that concept, without generally preventing you from doing any of the other things.

In short, guy who wants to use giant-ass swords will be pretty good at them.  Similarly, I don't need an archer class when that's just a weapon choice (and also the warrior that decides to be a sniper will be able to do things with bows no non-warrior can).  The lightly-armoured fast-mover archetype is covered as well (again without the need for a class).  But Brawler is where most of the fun comes in.  I originally had this as just a melee-only to-hit bonus, but numbers are boring and also threaten to undo the bounded range of potential to-hit values we're playing with.  This compresses the page of ACKS special maneuvers down to a few lines, and their freebie nature makes it so they'll actually show up in play.  Making it random means that a player won't be doing the same thing over and over, avoiding that spamming repetitive feeling.

I do wonder if it's a wise idea to wall off these maneuvers behind just the Brawler, I have to admit.  But otherwise I'm good with it.

I also used to have Sniper as providing a to-hit bonus, but again--boring.  Allowing them to be the one group of combatants that can fire into melee is unique, and eliminating range penalties is something that is rewarding without being unbalancing (i.e. it doesn't make you more accurate, just more able to hit things at long range, so as you get higher and higher in level you can make more legendary shots).  As you can tell, I'm planning on using much higher range penalties than base D&D (based on Delta's series of interesting range and missile weapon analysis articles):

Archery -- Field Experiment
(last in the initial series)
Slings and Arrows and Outrageous Formulae
(interesting add-on)

Points 3-5
We'll cover the remaining points another day.  This post is already getting long, and in any case addressing these involves more than just the base character class section.  I'll just end with one co-opting of a modern D&D innovation, the Power Attack feat:

A warrior’s combat expertise allows them to balance power and finesse as needed. Before making attack rolls for a round, a warrior may choose to subtract an amount from all their attack rolls and add this amount to all their damage rolls. This number may not exceed their available attack bonus for that round, and cannot apply to spells.

I'm just giving this for free to all warriors, based on an off-hand comment by Gronan/Old Geezer a long time ago on some random forum (which amounted to "why not just bloody well let them do that?").  This helps reinforce warrior combat prowess, and at the same time gives the warrior player something to play around with each round (but not something so complex that it will eat up a lot of time).  It's chosen by the round, not by the attack, so as to not make things too fiddly when the warrior starts getting multiple attacks per round.

Below is a one-page pdf of what the warrior looks like right now.  With a similar one-page mage treatment, I can get the class selection part of character creation out of the way in two facing pages, which makes me very happy.

(I think the image of the warrior is Elric)

I've deliberately left out any attribute score class restrictions, because I feel that assumption of a role does not automatically mean that you're good at it.  If people are really concerned about this being unrealistic, there's already a mechanism known as Darwinism which generally serves to enforce what you're after.  (Additionally, with only two classes, I can't really redirect people to other classes if their ability scores suck).


Next we'll look at the mage, and then move on to the challenge of ensuring that these two class archetypes can actually fulfill the character-building desires of most players and games.

28 October 2017

Weapons, Damage & Armour

I thought about covering all my design choices in the order that the book would be laid out, but then I realized that I needed to cover some things, even if out of book order, before other things would make full sense.  So let's start with your essential combat gear.

In the original D&D (and in Holmes), all weapons did 1D6 and that's that.  There's an attractive reductionism there, in that Short & Sweet are the first two goals of my game.  I feel that D&D's general tendency towards a hundred swords and polearms with damages of 1D4+1 and 1D6+1 and 2D4 and 1D8 and the like is really just mostly cruft, offering very little in the way of meaningful options while bloating things terribly.  You could differentiate these with weapon speeds and weapon vs. armour type tables, but then that's adding more cruft to make the other cruft distinctive, and overall I feel the end result would be worse instead of better.  I can see how some would like it, but it's not for me.  At the same time, "1D6 for all and you'll like it" is a bit too Henry Ford, methinks.  Let's try and find a middle ground, erring towards the Basic approach.

"As long as it's black..."

So What Do I Want?

I'd like some distinction between broad classes of weapons, without requiring the GM to be involved or charts to be accessed.  The big distinction for me is wielding a giant asskicking weapon versus single weapon and shield.  Any set of weapon (and combat) rules has to be able to support both of these styles, because both happen all the time in fiction and they're reasonable fighting styles that players and GMs alike will expect to be able to do.  Both also need to not just be accessible, but desirable: that is, a system that allows you to do something but makes one choice so much obviously better than the other is really offering a false choice.

So, let's try standard and large weapons.  Standard weapons have an automatic advantage in that you can use a shield with them.  Large weapons need to be able to dish out enough extra damage to make giving up an AC bonus worthwhile.

If standard is 1D6, then large being 1D10 (what a two-handed sword does in Moldvay and 1st ed AD&D) seems a reasonable spread.  I think I want to add a third category though: small weapons, because the idea of throwing knives or darts dealing as much as a sword strike seems off.  Three tends to be a magical number when it comes to categorization; that many somethings are rapidly grasped.  I know Mentzer Basic went with four categories (D4, D6, D8, and D10), but while it doesn't hurt, I don't think the D8 is really needed.  1D4 for small weapons, then.  So:

Small: 1D4 (+ shield)
Medium: 1D6 (+ shield)
Large: 1D10

Breaking it down by size categories like this also makes it easy to ensure weapon sizes interact with wielder sizes.  For example, I think I'd rule that a weapon one size larger than the wielder must be a two-handed weapon.

Okay, now to tweak.  We can look at more than just damage here: there's other ways to play around with weapons.  I think I'd like to raise medium weapons a touch, to better separate them out from the little guys.  1D6+1 would accomplish that, and give us a nice 4-7-10 spread: three points of maximum damage potential separating each weapon category.

I also like the idea of modelling that "big weapons hurt but are slow" feel.  Moldvay/Mentzer's "automatically goes last" is much too far for my liking, as is Holmes' "can only attack once every other round".  However, a -1 to initiative when wielding one in melee seems like a simple addition that also gets us an expected result.

Small: 1D4 (+ shield)
Medium: 1D6+1 (+ shield)
Large: 1D10 (-1 initiative)


This is another one of those cases where I feel a lot of later editions added more than was needed.  You wind up with this bizarro listing of various armour types, many of which never existed at the same time.  I like the Moldvay and Mentzer methods of just giving three types (there's that magic number again), which some of the clones also follow.  So how about this?

Armour consists of a wide variety of materials and construction methods, depending on how advanced its builders are and what resources they have access to. Many adventurers wear a mishmash of armour pieces, such as a strong breastplate alongside light or even non-existent protection elsewhere. Rather than trying to codify all the possible material, piece, and technology combinations, armour has been abstracted.

I'm using ascending AC because I can't imagine a single reason for voluntarily going the other way that isn't rooted in a desire for back-compatibility, emulation, or nostalgia; I'm willing to do any conversion work with material I own, as it's reasonably straightforward, so that's not an issue.  That gives us AC bonuses of +3 (light armour), +5 (medium), and +7 (heavy).  A shield would presumably add +1 here.  However, a common complaint (one I share) is how little value a shield has in D&D.  Shields are life savers.  We could introduce three different shield types, which I've also seen in some games (typically buckler, standard, and tower), but that just doesn't appeal to me.  Let's just bump a one-size-fits-all shield to +2 AC.

But, making a shield better makes small and medium weapon choices indirectly better, because we're assuming that wielders of those weapons are also using a shield (a safe assumption, I think), while large wielders cannot.  I'm starting to feel the large weapons are falling behind.  Thinking about it more, I think I'd prefer a bit more guaranteed damage for the big guns anyways.  1D8+2 gets us the same max damage, but avoids 1 pt flesh wounds.  That's better than any standard D&D weapon, but only by a touch.  It also gives a nice minimum damage threshold progression of 1-2-3.

So, with all the above taken into account, here's what our final basic combat equipment list looks like:

Small Weapons: 1D4 (w/ +2 AC shield)
Medium Weapons: 1D6+1 (w/ +2 AC shield)
Large Weapons: 1D8+2 (-1 initiative)
(1-2-3 minimum, 4-7-10 maximum)

Light Armour: +3 AC
Medium Armour: +5 AC
Heavy Armour: +7 AC
Shield: +2 AC

I'm also thinking of differentiating these weapons based on further choices the warrior can make, or that can be made in combat in general, so this isn't really the final say here.  But I think it's a decent start, allowing someone to pick weapons they think are cool and not worry if they're mechanically sub-optimal, while keeping things generally simple.  I feel it's a sweet spot of simplicity versus complexity; I'm curious if others agree.

23 October 2017

Setting Design Goals

Now that the basics of layout have been chosen, I want to move into game design.  I know I'm making an OSR game, but while that establishes some very real principles I'll need to adhere to, it still leaves a lot to be defined.

And defining your principles at the start of your game is absolutely essential.  I think there's little room to argue that most of the most successful OSR games have very clear design goals.  Take the core retroclones--Swords & Wizardry, BFRPG, Dark Dungeons, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, For Gold & Glory, Blueholme--which set out to emulate a particular D&D ruleset (and then follow-ons from those, like Iron Falcon or B/X Essentials).  With those niches largely filled, the other big OSR games have mostly focused on emulation of some broader theme, whether genre/specific authors (Mazes & Minotaurs, Crypts & Things, ASSH, Beyond the Wall) or gameplay (Low Fantasy Gaming, for low-magic games; ACKS, with its emphasis on the D&D "endgame"; DCC, with its emphasis on taking shittons of crystal meth and playing D&D).  The remainder have been what I call kitchen-sink rulesets, which amount to "throw in everything cool I can think of from all the D&D games": examples include Blood & Treasure and Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.

Interestingly, the big exception I can think to all this is LotFP, which despite its mandate of "weird fantasy roleplaying" doesn't have a ruleset actively supporting that ("actively" being the key: it passively supports that kind of play just fine, i.e. it can be used for such, and the system doesn't fight you when doing so).  In other words, it says it wants to do something, but other than giving you art along those lines, doesn't actually do anything about it (at least in the core book).  Offering nothing especially unique as a ruleset, though with some choice bits here and there, Lamentations succeeds not because of any mechanical approach but because of the vision and considerable talent of its creator.

So What do I Want in an OSR Game?

There's a lot of little things I want to play with, but the precise penalty you assign to two-weapon use or what have you is not really important at the start.  Vaguely, I know I'm going sort-of kitchen-sink, but I need to nail down the heart of the project.  Of course, it helps that I'm making this for myself and no one else, so I don't have to convince anyone, but that doesn't mean I don't have reasons for X and Y, so let's go into them, because talking about this stuff (hopefully with you the reader) is the whole point of this blog.

1) Short.  One of the major elements of the OSR movement that attracted me has been the succinctness of the core rules: B/X is 124 pages, for example, and crams a lot in for that amount.  At the same time, OSR publishers have tended to give us some pretty hefty books: witness C&T Remastered (247 pages), Blood & Treasure (267), ACKS (269), OSRIC (402), FH&W (428), DCC (484), ASSH 2nd ed (618!).  Some of that is more generous layout spacing, and some is more art, but really what's in those pages isn't the point.  It's that I want the trim succinctness of B/X and perhaps even more.  In some ways I can cheat, in that I can just say "creatures are someone else's problem" or the like and then I don't have to waste a ton of pages on it.  But I'm still going to be keeping a close eye on page count and the options which bloat it.  I have some ideas on how to make some very large trims, and a vague goal of two 48-page books (Player's and GM's Handbooks).

2) Sweet. Related to the above is mechanical ease of use.  I own 500 tons of Hero Games stuff.  I love Hero and will cherish the memories I have of play with that system forever.  But man, nowadays I just want to dive in and go.  Old D&D only achieves simplicity by virtue of not having a lot of rules; the rules that it does have are often clunky.  I've heard it expressed that this kludginess is a feature rather than a bug, in that it provides a sort of charm that a more aseptic ruleset using unified mechanics and a reduced variety of dice does not.  While I can't argue with such subjective feelings, my own subjective feeling is that such people are wrong and that this is a recipe for bad design.  I'm always reminded of someone's statement that if D&D had used ascending AC in the first place, no one would have ever felt the need to invent THAC0; that THAC0 can be learned utterly misses the point.  I think "would someone ever willingly invent this, let alone implement this, if faced with the likely alternate candidates" is a good rule of thumb for all aspects of design.  Mechanical simplicity also helps keep the page count down, feeding into #1.

3) Broad Compatibility: aka "Recognizing my Limitations".  I want to be able to use this ruleset with minimal adaptation with one of the OSR's greatest strengths--the host of incredible adventure modules out there for it.  Adapting here and there is no problem, but it's no good if it takes me hours; best case scenario it could be something I could do on the fly during actual gameplay.

Along those lines, I want to be able to use existing bestiaries.  I have no interest in writing up the SRD monsters yet again: I don't feel I could offer anything new there (or rather, I'm not inspired to try, which largely amounts to the same thing).  If I'm going to be using beastiaries belonging to other games, then that's going to determine in some places how far I can stray in terms of mechanics.

4) OSR Feel: I've talked about this a bit earlier, essentially arguing that mechanics alone can't guarantee you an OSR game.  At the same time, they can certainly ensure you lose it.  I'll have to watch out for this, especially in light of my next goal.

5) Support for Low Player Counts: Old-school D&D assumed lots of players.  It then further assumed that those lots of players often had a NPC army backing it up.  It spoke of walls of spearmen blocking the dungeon halls, stabbing enemies with multiple ranks.

I'm in my 40s.  I have a wife.  Most of my friends are in the same boat: time is precious.  Even then, finding gamers who are available is one thing: filtering based on gamers with actual social skills is another.  All this means my typical gameplay group is 4-5 folks, and while I intend to support the use of retainers/hirelings, I do not want to make them mandatory to survive.  Quite frankly, I think the reputation old-school D&D has for lethality is somewhat overstated, due to people playing in modules originally designed for 6, 8, or 10 players or more (OD&D groups could run into a dozen or more in the early days), plus NPC support mobs.  Since I'm making this game for me first and foremost, I need to be able to expect four guys (my typical play group) to be able to take on what many other OSR games, derived from these old rules, seem to assume more will be tackling.

Of course, then the Danger Danger sign goes off.  More capable characters means stronger characters, which leads to heroic gameplay, which leads to fear, anger, snowflakism, muh storyline, the Dark Side, etc, and before you know it you've blown up Alderaan.  I don't actually believe that there's anything wrong with heroic play--I've always found the dichotomy between much of the original inspirational material of D&D and how the game actually played in practice rather odd (as I point out in the my earlier article linked above, so too did most other people, which is I think why the gameplay style so markedly shifted in the mid-80s).  I'm even okay with plot-based play, as long as everyone is on board.  BUT, ultimately I'm not going for either in this case: I believe there's a wide gulf between "more capable" and "Dragonlance/WotC D&D", and I intend to plant my design flag there.  If at first level a character has 10 hit points instead of 5 and can hit a goblin 70% of the time instead of 55%, it's still going to be very easy to toss mortal challenges at him; no real extra effort is going to be required.  And again, he's going to be assumed to have less help than in a lot of games, so that bit of extra is only going to put him back to square one.

What matters most along these lines, I think, is keeping the resource management and other elements of old D&D intact, so no "resting and getting half your HP back"-type mechanics.  I want the tension of watching torches go out, worrying about kobolds stealing your mule full of treasure because you can't care it all on your person, and whatnot.

20 October 2017

Layout Part III: The Full Monty

I sat down with a giant pile of OSR pdfs, mixed in the lessons I learned working on Battletech books, considered the general feel I wanted, and went to work.  All that's left is

Fantastic Fonts (and Where to Find Them)

My previous posts lead to picking out a variety of visual elements that do and do not work, or ones that I simply liked more than others (I try not to confuse the two).  But this doesn't settle one of the most important layout choices: the font.

I'm mostly going to have to stick to whatever comes with Microsoft Word, because that's what I got to play with and fonts are bloody expensive (my wife does some art and graphic design and so I have access to a few more, but nothing extravagant). And I want a serifed font: none of that hippy sans-serif stuff.  There's also no particular TSR-era font that cries out to me to be used.  Beyond that, I'm not sure.

The easiest way to choose something that looks good I think would be to choose a typical block of text and run it through all the possible candidates. We'll need to make sure that there's both letters and numbers in there, as some fonts do well with one, but not the other.

Here's my guinea pig text block:

When in the wilderness, characters use different movement rates. Small creatures move 90 yards a minute, Medium creatures move 120 yards a minute, and Large creatures move 160 yards a minute.  

      Further, characters in the wilderness can move their outdoor movement rate divided by 5 in miles per day: a character that moves at 120 can thus move 24 miles per day. If not all characters have the same movement, to stay together the party must move only as fast as the slowest character. Also note that this assumes unfinished but dry, generally good trails. Other conditions will alter the distance travelled in a day, as detailed below.

I'm not actually using that text in my book anymore, but it works as a sample.

All the fonts here are 9.5 except Times New Roman and Baskerville, which were bumped up to 10 to better match the rest.  Each one also has 1.1 spacing, because I know I'll be using that in my book: it's a great way to let your text breathe, especially when you can't avoid having large blocks of text and so can't use some of the other usual tricks to break up the visual monotony.

Even with the size increase, Baskerville winds up looking a bit cramped.  While it's the font I always use when writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche (for obvious reasons), I think I can pass on it here.

Cambria looks a bit too stark.  Times New Roman I don't like because of the way its "r" encroaches on other letters.  When this happens with an "n" (as in "wilderness") the result often appears to be an "m".  Bruce is a bit thin, and Book Antiqua a bit stretched lengthwise for my liking.  I like Constantia the best, overall: each character can breathe just right, the resulting words look firm, yet it takes bolding well (some fonts are so strong than when you bold them there's not enough of a immediately noticeable difference, which is important when you're going to be applying bolding to create headers with that font).  I think Constantia would be the easiest to read.  However, what the hell is it doing to those poor numbers?  Why would anyone want their numerals compressed to itty bitty sizes?

In terms of numbers, either Book Antiqua or TNR look best.  What I think I'll do then for the regular body text is substitute Book Antiqua numbers, but otherwise use straight Constantia.

Cool.  Now it's time to put together a sample page with the full range of fonts and headers and other visual elements and see how it all comes together.  Assuming I set up Google Drive right, click the following to get a two-page pdf sample.


I intend to walk through the process of designing the whole game here in this blog, but I felt I'd best have a bunch of it ready to go so that I actually have something to talk about.  That having been said, anything seen here could change as I think about these things and (hopefully) talk it over with anyone who reads this.

EDIT: Updated from a two-page sample to a three-page sample.  View the first two pages in two-page view mode to see what it would look like as a book open to those pages.

Exciting Font Stuff

From OSRIC and, to a lesser degree, ACKS I took the idea of colour splashes. Even printed out in greyscale, this will look fine: the layout isn't reliant on colour, only enhanced if you have it. OSRIC's chapter headers (i.e. Heading 1) use Optima. I don't have access to that, but I do have Optima BQ, which is pretty close and quite sharp. My chapter header (on page 3) is green, all-caps 24-point bold, and I've expanded the character spacing by 0.5 points to give it just a bit more room to breathe (this can be done in MS Word under Font --> Advanced).

For the Heading 2 ("MOVEMENT & ENCUMBRANCE") I'm also using Optima BQ.  This is also green, all-caps and bold, but is 15 pt and only expanded by 0.3 points.  It has one point of padding on the bottom, so that text underneath it doesn't encroach on it too much.

There are two other headings.  Heading 3 ("MOVEMENT OUTDOORS") is all-caps bold, 11 pt Constantia, expanded by 0.2 points.  There's also 2 points of padding at the bottom of this one.

Heading 4 is the last one ("Forced March"). It's basically the body text, but bold, 0.5 points bigger, and expanded by 0.2 points.

Body text is Constantia (except any numbers, which are Book Antiqua). It's 9.5 points, expanded by 0.1 points, and with 1 point of padding, which means that each line will breathe a bit more.  I've decided to skip the typical line breaks to separate paragraphs that most OSR games use (no doubt inspired by B/X and the 1st ed AD&D books), and switch to indents like Mentzer used.  I found the standard indent units a bit small: I wanted no doubt that a new para had begun, and so upped it to 0.6 cm.

Other Stuff

Each page is offset towards the edge. That is, there's more blank space on the inside margin than the outside. That's so if it's ever printed, you don't lose info due to the binding.  I don't have any plans to formally bind this, but if you're going to do something, might as well do it right.

Column spacing in between is 0.9 cm.  Headers are the standard 1.27 cm, footers are 0.9 cm.  I don't know offhand how many hogsheads that is in imperial, sorry.  I've kept the headers large because after I put words and such up there I don't want a cramped effect to occur.

You can see what I'm using for headers in most of the book by looking up top in the first sample page: just chapter references to help when page flipping.  It's the standard body text, but italicized and with 0.3 points of expansion instead of 0.1 (because italics tends to cramp things a bit).

In the header on the second page there's a cool little spear thingy graphic; I'm not sure where it came from, which will be troublesome if I ever want to release this as an actual book rather than as an experiment in game making (if anyone knows, let me know).  It just looks nice and thematic.  Generally, the header is valuable real estate, but on the first page of each chapter I'll use this instead (because just as I complained about ACKS putting its own book title up top, you don't need to waste the readers' ink and time telling them what they already know: in this case it's already right in front of them in screaming huge letters).

Page numbers are aimed to the corners of each page for easy flipping.  I've taken OSRIC's lesson of making them big and bold (12 pt Book Antiqua).

Text Boxes: I learned very quickly that I did not like thin-border text boxes.  I've worked on other homebrew projects before this one where I found the same MS Word setting that Swords & Wizardry probably uses, and I've employed that here.  The boxes have been coloured green to match the major headings.  I plan to use boxes to set off things I consider absolutely essential, that apply to multiple elements on the page, and maybe in a few other cases where I want to remove information from the main body yet keep it readily accessible to the reader.  In the case of the box on page 3, it's essential; in the box on page 1 it applies both to force marching and terrain, while also being relevant to encumbrance later on, so I didn't want to risk readers missing it by placing it in just any one of those places, but I didn't want to feel the need to repeat it three times either.

I don't actually use them that often (I count 7 in the 48 pages I have so far): a little goes a long way.

Tables: Again inspired by OSRIC, I've gone with green shading (I really like green).  However, I've alternated between white space and colour, whereas OSRIC goes all-colour all-the-time, and just varies the shading.  I think that reduces the usefulness of shading your table rows, which is intended to help guide the eyes across them.

Bullet Points: I like to use a little design that Word provides, rather than the standard dots--it just makes it look a touch less generic.  I also break up each point with a 4-point line break.  You could just stack it all on top of each other and it would generally read fine, but (again) I really like things to be able to breathe.

Drop Caps: That's what the giant capital "I" is called at the start of page 3.  Word makes doing this very easy (Insert --> Drop Cap), and it's a classic look.  I do it at the start of every chapter.

Art: I have a giant folder of random fantasy line art I've saved over the years, which is where lizard dude comes from.  I have no idea where the majority of it originally appeared, since I couldn't imagine ever needing to know back when I downloaded it because it was just cool stuff I wanted to keep.  If anyone sees their art here and wants it gone, please let me know and I'll do so immediately.  Regardless, if this is ever released as a formal PDF, I'll be replacing every last piece anyways.


So here we are.  Of course, after critiquing other peoples' hard work for two posts, I'm prepared for a bit of the like in return: no hard feelings.  Some of this is subjective, but I think the principles of making text readable are not so much, even if the result will be aesthetically displeasing to some.

Also, I've come across a very nice overview of layout with regards to RPG design on the following page, which can only help more:


Okay, now we can actually start designing and writing rules.