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One Cobble at a Time

Designing the Planet Mercenary RPG Book

Sandra Tayler's Journal

responsible woman

A cobble by itself is just a small stone, but when many of them lay together they create a path . My life is made up of many discrete parts. I have to find ways to fit them all into place so that I can continue to journey where I desire to go. This journal records some of the cobbles that create my path.

Designing the Planet Mercenary RPG Book

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responsible woman

Designing books is an art. The presentation of the physical book must be pleasing and enhance the transfer of information from page to reader. For some types of books, such as novels, this is fairly straightforward. Put the words on the page, pick a good font, add a few graphic elements, copy edit, double check for widows, orphans, and rivers. (Note: Straightforward is not the same as easy.) Other books, such as textbooks are a bit more complicated. They include more graphics and a need for extensive indexing. A good RPG book, like Planet Mercenary intends to be, presents a real design challenge as it needs to incorporate elements that are similar to novels and elements that are similar to textbooks.

In facing this challenge I found it helpful to list out my design goals. There are four.

1. It needs to be a useful instruction manual for people learning how to play the game.

2. It needs to be a reference book filled with easy-to-find information for people who are playing the game.

3. It should be fun to read and have a narrative flow from beginning to end so that people who don’t really want to play, but want to know more about the Schlockiverse, can enjoy it.

4. It must be visually attractive on every page.

To show how I’m attempting to meet these design goals, I share with you the following page spread. It is a work in progress and will likely change before we got to print, but it allows me to show what I’m reaching for.
Web Sample

Instruction Manual
This spread is from one of the heavily instructional sections of the book. The pages before it explained how to go about creating characters. These pages are designed to give a player enough information so they can choose which type of sophont they want to be in the game. There is text about the advantages and disadvantages each sophont brings to the table. There are stats so players can do quick comparisons. Design wise, I’ve turned the stat information into easily recognizable blocks. All of the instructional information has to be carefully planned so that we’re answering questions in the order they come up, or we’re indicating that the question will be answered. It is very important that a learning player not feel confused.

Reference Book
Note that the outside edges of the page are clearly labeled with the section of the book. There is also color on the edge graphic. Each section of the book will have a different color and texture. This means that players can look at the edge of the pages and quickly find a section they are searching for. Chapters will be clearly labeled on the upper corners of the pages. The page numbers are on the bottom corner to make finding a specific page is easier. The primary point of the narrow outside column on the page is to be useful reference. There will be page numbers for additional information, definitions of terms, and other reference type material. The book will also have an extensive index, which will be a giant task all by itself.

Fun to Read
This is a tricky piece to fit into a book whose primary purpose is instructional and reference. Fortunately the source material has humor built into it. Also working in our favor is the concept that this book was created by a company inside the Schlockiverse as a way to trick low level military personnel into learning important information. This is the origin of the CEO comments that also show up in the reference column. Those CEO comments will form a story of sorts, starting with the belief that the comments would be removed before the book went to print. (They weren’t, which is why we get to read them.) Much of the world information will be told with the same humor as can be found in the footnotes under Schlock Mercenary comics.

Most of the attractiveness of this book will come from the art that is contracted to fill its pages. My design job will be to make sure that the pages are organized in ways that display the art to advantage. I need to pick fonts and elements that work well together. Since the art for each page will be different, I will have to arrange the words and images on each page individually. Sometimes we’ll have to re-write text so that everything fits and no information is skipped. This is a long and tedious process which requires a rough layout so we know what art to commission and then everything has to be adjusted for the art we receive.

The animated gif below gives you an idea of how things shift around during the design process. Images change, text gets nudged. The shift at the end shows when we decided to swap the pages because the Fobott’r art looked better on the left. There are probably three times as many iterations between where the page is now and where it will be when the book goes to print. I can already see half a dozen things I want to nudge and make better.


This is such a big project. I’m really excited to be working on it.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

  • Whee, design! Design is hard.

    Also, good point re: Straightforward != easy.
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