Aug 17, 2014

PDF - Pretty Difficult to Fabricate

Part of making a game is presenting it in a way that makes the reader want to play it and the player glad that everything is presented so well. About the worst thing you can do throw over a hundred pages of words in a .txt file at people. On the other hand, you don't need to insert a dynamic document with hyperlinks everywhere either.

The industry standard is the PDF, because it works as a document to read and is a good format for printing. In this digital age there are other options, especially if you don't intend to actually print out anything, but generally speaking if you want to write your own RPG you'll have to make a PDF file.

Too bad that working with PDF files from the creator's side of things is terrible.

Microsoft Word can, technically, export documents as PDFs but good luck not having an aneurysm if you try to add images, sidebars, or anything remotely fanciful to the text. Dedicated software like Quark or Publisher will work better, but they each have their issues.

Probably the best one of the bunch is InDesign, which is okay as long as you admit to yourself you are okay with having to do your tables of contents manually - or are okay with it looking like crap and taking up twice the space it should. Second best is probably Quark and it is one hell of a drop in quality, I used it a few years ago and this twitter account is not mine but it totally could be because it sums up my feelings pretty well. Maybe it has improved since then, but I wouldn't know and I really don't want to have to find out either.

Oh and good luck if you lose the original files or need to convert them to another publishing software. See, all those fancy programs work with their own file extensions then export the document to something the average user can read. If at any point all you have to work with is the resulting pdf, you are boned. About the only thing you can do at that point is edit what you have left with a PDF editor.

Don't do it. PDF editors are the spawn of Satan. I swear they work on Lovecraftian alien physics because none of what they do makes any sense. If you so much as try to insert a new line into an existing block of text then when you export it will roll 1d100 on a mishaps table and the resulting document will likely have one of the following:
  • The line will be in a completely different font and size than the ones you used.
  • The edited page will show up completely blank.
  • You find a whole new page for that one line right after the original one.
  • The document will be entirely written in blood and signed by Qos-Ukthtog, Cacodemon of Despair.

Bottom line is for the love of Valsione keep a backup of your original. If you can do that and can find suitable workarounds for whatever problems you can find with your publishing software of choice (I'm told Scribus is both decent and free, so there's that) then you'll be good.

For the record, I do use a PDF editor in JPDFBookmarks, but just to add bookmarks and leave it at that. It saves the bookmarks as its own .txt file you can import later to another version of the same document and modify from there. InDesign can do bookmarks but I don't like the way they are arranged automatically, and if I'm going to touch them up then might as well do them manually and keep them in a .txt for later use.

Unless you want a document that looks good in, say, a tablet. Then you are super boned because .epub and .mobi files are unruly children and you need to pretty much write up files entirely around them from the ground up. You can't approach them like you would any other manual, because they behave somewhat like a webpage in a browser and thus much of the end result depends on the end user's settings. They are not a very popular format for RPGs, understandably so, but that is a shame because they are much more useful as a reference document when you're gaming in meatspace.

If you really want to use them though, here's a few tips:
  • Stick to the basic fonts that everyone should have. Even if you embed your own fonts into the document they might not look good.
  • Don't divide things by pages because what fits on a page depend on the user. Divide things by sections or chapters instead
  • Don't work in layers because foreground elements will be pushed below the objects behind them. Basically don't have background objects.
  • Tables tend to lose their formatting so be careful with them. You might need to apply some HTML.
  • You really, really need that Table of Contents. Automatically generated ToC's work pretty well here.

If you're going full-digital there are other options worth considering, like using a wiki or cloud-shared documents, that might be worth sticking with instead of dealing with all this stuff. I use them to run my games, for example.

This was a pretty nuts and bolts post type post, I stuck to the key points and didn't really want to lengthen it with images because either you're interested in this stuff enough to keep reading or you don't care. If this was interesting I might do more in the future with more detail to them.

Next Week: Things Happen.


  1. Does Absolute Barrier work like temporary HP, getting weathered down bit by bit after an enemy attack punches through Defense? Or is it like a threshold, where the enemy damage needs to exceed its value in order to hurt me?

    1. The former, essentially being temporary HP.

      There is potentially room in the game for the latter mechanic, like SRW-styled A.T. Fields. I think it might be too easy to accidentally make unbeatable enemies with it so I haven't touched it yet.

    2. I believe it acts as temporary TP that you must spend energy to refresh each round.

  2. Oops, posted a bit too late. Haha.