Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lessons Learned

My first release for GM Games, Knowledge Illuminates, is nearly finished.  I designed these One Shot Adventures, to be played in a single session.  Creating the situation and writing the adventure was the easy part.  I've done that kind of thing hundreds if not thousands of times.  Editing is also something I have done several times for different magazines and gaming products.  Plus I have a secret weapon, my wife.  She does a great job of editing or as she says, "It's pretty good once you take out all the crappy parts." 

One thing I didn’t realize was how difficult it was to do layout.  Most adventures come in a two-column format.  I don't have to do it like that, but I think it looks good.  There’s also the decision whether to do left justification or even column justification.  I like the even justification, again, because I like the way it looks on the page.  Then add some art pieces.  Hold this spot, while I digress.

Art.  I am a horrible artist, can’t draw worth a crap, so I went to RPGNow and bought a few art packs that I really like from The Forge Studios.  Their black and while drawings capture what I like and how I see my game.  Once I started putting a few drawings in to accent the adventure it really looked good.  When I become a big fat adventure writing stud, I'll commission artwork. 

Now go back to layout.  Here was my biggest problem and it's because I don't do logical order well.  I laid out the adventure before doing the final edits.  Holy fucking crap, Batman!  What problems I caused for myself, and my editor.  My text boxes were jumping from page to page, the maps vanished all together, the margins weren't quite right either, and I spilled iced tea on my keyboard.  Which has nothing to do with layout but it sure didn’t help.

Another little situation I came across was that I wanted to say my adventure used the Swords & Wizardry rules.  In the back of all those gaming books is that page long, microscopic print of the OGL that I have never read and don't understand fully.  I get the gist just like I know beef wellington is meat and pastry, but have no idea how to make it.  Luckily, my good friend Mr. Robert Conley helped me by typing up what I needed to put in the back of the book, which I very much appreciated.  Once I put this adventure to bed, I will take the time to learn more about all this legal stuff.  I tend to poo-poo that end of things, but I need to take it seriously if I want to do this somewhat competently. 

So lessons learned, don’t be afraid to invest in art.  It's like landscaping for a house, it's not needed to live there, but it increases the value.  Get all the edits out of the way before you even think about layout.  In fact, don't even say the word layout.  Learn the legalese, listen to your editor and by god, whatever you do, keep the iced tea away from the keyboard.


  1. Sound advice.

    I've looked into more than a few games and would agree that good art adds a lot. It can completely change the way the game would otherwise come across.

    The idea of not editing after laying out might be a tough one for the perfectionists to pull off, but it's another good reason to build a team.

    As for learning legalese, it's all but essential for our times. Sadly. We just have to understand as much as we can without draining the colour from life.

  2. Thanks for sharing the challenges of your process. I am finishing an adventure manuscript but am hoping to get somebody else to do the editing, layout, art, etc. Your post reminds me why.

  3. It's not for everybody or for every project, but the LaTeX typesetting system can make these sorts of things easier. If you're not afraid of something like editing HTML by hand, you can learn LaTeX.

  4. Man, do I know where you're coming from. Over half a project is after the writing it seems.

  5. What are you doing layout in, Tim?


    That might be the problem right there.

  6. I use OpenOffice for my layout. Graphics placement options are diverse, and, well, it's free.

    I'm not a bad artist myself (at least, so I believe), so if anyone needs any art, I can certainly provide. I can be willing to work for free, depending...

  7. Greg>Yeah I did my layout in Word. I know its probably not the best program to do it in, but its the one I know. I have xara which is a great program, but I haven't had the time to sit down and learn it.

    steelcaress> Appreciate the offer on the art I may ask you about it sometime. I prefer to pay for people's work, I know a bunch will take contributor copies as payment, but if I seem to make a little bit off these things I definitely want to pay for art. Oh and thanks for the tip on the free program. Just DLed it to take a look.

    Trey> Its been a learning experience. My lack of knowledge with these things was frustrating.

    Paul> HTML? Oh man my head would explode I think. I have little to no knowledge of that language.

    Carter> Good luck your project. What are you working on?

    Dan> You're welcome. Stay away from ice tea and keyboards. I think Buddha said that originally.

    Porky> Yeah the editing was tough because I would see a tweak here and there. Legalize is a fact of life, but I am glad I am in the position where I can use a well known gaming system to wrap my adventures around and have a deliver system so others can grab a copy. So the good and bad of it.