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.