A while back I was introduced to The Sprawl, a cyberpunk band-of-criminals roleplaying game. The book itself was printed in two versions, â€œMidnightâ€ and â€œNoonâ€. Midnight was black paper with mainly white text while Noon was the opposite. I gravitated to the Noon version for a few reasons and didnâ€™t give it much thought, but then I was contracted by Modiphius to work on Star Trek Adventures (the standalone missions, mainly), and suddenly I was working on a game line with white copy on black text.
Day 23 of #RPGaDAY has the most interesting topic to me this month: “Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?” While I take a bit of an issue with the “most jaw-dropping” part of the question — other topics used “the best” to provoke a convesation about your favorite ________ — I see where the question writer is going. It’s not the best layout we’re looking for, it’s the most noticable layout that’s pleasing to look at.
Now, while I as a layout artist want to have people blown away by my work, one of the best reviews I have received is one that pointed at 7th Sea‘s layout: It doesn’t do much to overwhelm and mainly gets out of the way. On the surface, that sounds like a bit of an insult. The layout design doesn’t do much. It doesn’t distract the reader. It’s plain. This is one of the best things a layout artist can hear.
Like cinematography, comic book lettering, or editing, book layout is really only noticed when it’s done poorly. Sometimes it stands out, but layout is there to communicate, to deliver the contents of the book. When I hear someone saying the graphic design was fantastic on a thing, I am not certain if that’s higher praise than “I didn’t notice the layout at all.”
When obtaining art assets for books in the roleplaying industry, I have noticed there is a lot of input into getting the interior artwork and cover artwork. With selling pdfs (and other electronic editions) through places like DriveThruRPG, you’ll find that those files have the front cover, the back cover, and the interior. They are usually in that order so you can view the pdf as a two-up document with a separate page for the front cover, preserving the page spreads in the printed work. What seems to be forgotten — or at least not considered fully — is the treatment for the spine of the book. I find this odd, because at a store, your book is more likely to be shelved spine-out.
I hadn’t really noticed this until I developed the cover for Magpie Games’ Urban Shadows. For that book’s cover, we only had the front artwork which was to be placed on a black background. The back artwork was a composite of four of the character types, combined specifically for that space. We used an interesting typeface for the logo (and some chapter headings) with a white fill at about 85% opacity, re-purposing it for the spine. I wanted to make it big, bleeding over the edge of the printed spine. As a happy accident, this wound up looking amazing on bookshelves.