Finalizing Our Look

By | September 30, 2017

One of the things we’ve kept in mind as we developed Forthright Open Roleplay is the final look of the product. At its largest, the text of the rulebook was 120,000 words long. With that many words, we were planning on releasing a standard 8.5 x 11 book with two columns and otherwise roughly approximating the look of D&D or Pathfinder. The earliest version of Forthright was, if not precisely a fantasy heartbreaker, pretty damn close.

As we became more confident in what we wanted to communicate with Forthright, and especially thanks to editor John Adamus, we realized that more words and aping D&D was not the answer. We focused instead on the core elements of the game: rolls to generate dramatic turns of events, rules that focused on the effect and not the how of actions, and both ease and flexibility of play. As a result, we were able to reduce our text by 80,000 words (67%!) while offering both clearer text and more game options.

Less text, in this case, meant better communication. The rules are presented in shorter, more digestible chunks that readers are more likely to read. Additionally, important considerations in the rules are less likely to be buried in cruft or fluff. I’d previously written, long ago, about how proud I was of the fiction written for the game. It’s all gone, now – the only fiction presented is in the examples, to better illustrate the function and intent of the rules. This helps ensure the fiction matches the rules (you see nothing in the fiction that you can’t do in-game), and the fiction doesn’t inadvertently add new interpretations of the rules.

Less text also means a smaller book. At 8.5 x 11, with a traditional two-column layout, the book would likely come in at less than 80 pages and the rules would feel denser and more traditional. A one-column layout would not work, as that form factor is too large to support a good-looking one-column layout. Traditionally, thin full-page books are more associated with splatbooks than core rulebooks and, according to a somewhat informal survey we did among gamers and on social media, tend to communicate “less value” as a result.

So we looked at smaller form factors, ultimately settling on the half-size 5.5 x 8.5 format. Forthright now has more in common with Fate Core and Apocalypse World than it does with D&D, so the smaller form factor makes more sense and fits more into the traditional branding of indie games. The size also allows for a single-column form factor easily, with a decent amount of white space for marginalia. We kept in mind that the rulebook is not a book for reading, like a piece of fiction, but is instead more like a textbook or reference guide, requiring easy navigation and ability to quickly find what the reader is seeking.

We wanted a crisp, clean, and modern look to match the universal / generic nature of the rules. Fate products were a big inspiration, as was Hunt the Wicked by Sigil Stone Publishing. We wanted a full-color, art-rich book to highlight the text, and gave special consideration to ensuring the book was enjoyable and not muddy for the color-blind. We have the incredible fortune to be working with Nathan Paoletta of World Wide Wrestling fame on this layout:

Click to embiggen Click to embiggen
These pages are some of the densest in the book, fully explaining the expectations the game has for both the Guide and the Players. You can see the outer-edge tabs the book has for easy navigation and the blue-backed example boxes used throughout the text, as well as the red (hyperlinked in PDF form) page references within the text. Also present is our form of callout box, the exclamation tab, which is used throughout the book to highlight notes of particular importance or rules interpretations we want to ensure readers are aware of.

The art highlights the Cosmetic Rule and the game’s approach to ethnicity, sex and gender. All three are profoundly different characters – a Maori strongwoman with a flame thrower, a gay black man with fists of flame, and a part-asian woman with magical fireballs – but all wield fire and all are equally capable. This is the only place in the book you will see the classic “three different characters” illustration which has become de rigueur in the industry for illustrating different abilities, races, etc. Here we specifically intend to turn it on its head, showing three different people doing the same thing to better highlight the rules on the page.

Click to embiggen

This page shows how the different sections of the book are broken up – with a single full-page art piece and indication of the section’s purpose. You can also see here the beginning of the description of the game’s social contract, the Game Charter.

Click to embiggen Click to embiggen
These pages illustrate how we wanted to use art throughout the text in surprising and unusual ways. Traditionally, game books illustrate those action events – the cool stuff like fighting monsters and the like – without spending a lot of time other elements. Here we have a human schmoozer, two space-truckers discussing the finer points of their craft, an orc orator (ORCRATES), and two gnomes dancing at a gala. Likewise, the most action-packed illustration here is of a dwarven pacifist getting between two combatants, trying to dissuade them from fighting. This very much highlights our core principle that combat is not the only thing that’s awesome about roleplaying.

Click to embiggen Click to embiggen
The more complex pages in the book are double-page art spreads. These aren’t common in Print-on-Demand books because they can be difficult to line up, but fortunately OneBookshelf has excellent print quality. All of this extraordinary talent comes together into what I personally think is our most awesome page:

Click to embiggen

Comic books have always been inspirational to me, especially when they include dynamic camera angles and text that flows around the panel, enhancing the image by forcing the eye of the reader into specific positions. This page, which describes the biggest, baddest opposition available in Forthright, splits the text apart so you can see the tiny adventurers in the lower-left finally being noticed by the devastating and no doubt unhappy cyclopean titan in the upper-right. This page took a lot of coordination to create, and I’m tremendously proud of it.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this preview of Forthright Open Roleplay, available in October 2017. We’d love to hear your comments and answer any questions!