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Friday, March 29, 2013

Layout Tutorials

So, I've been thinking about the no-cost layout tutorials I promised to write... woah, a year ago this month. And actually, I've been doing more than thinking. I've been writing the first part, which is just about getting the right tools and setting up your workspace. Maybe the first two parts; it's getting kind of long. I test things as I go along to make sure the process actually works and that I'm recommending the right tools. Sadly, a tool I found a couple months ago that looked great (Self Publish a Book) didn't actually work, at least not on my system, so I had to ditch that and go back to a more primitive process.

The focus is mainly on Windows how-tos. I don't have a way to test Linux or Mac OS X options, and my experience with either of those is years out of date, so I can't give full how-tos for them. I can talk about two of the tools, which are cross-platform, and a third has non-Windows equivalents that are also free.

But that leads to a question. Right now, I'm going to suggest a process that requires four tools. Oh, and some fonts. All free, all easy to get, all easy to install. But still: would people actually want a how-to for a workflow that involves that many downloads?

For the record, after the set-up tutorial(s), each tutorial focuses on types of RPG publications, in order ranging from simple to more complicated. Here's a tentative sequence:
  1. General set-up (program advice, installation, folder suggestions;)
  2. Additional set-up (filters and files;)
  3. Spell and magic item write-ups/blog posts;
  4. Monster write-ups and handling images;
  5. Personal EPUB zines;
  6. Character classes and tables;
  7. Writing for others and RTF/ODT export;
  8. One-Page Dungeons and PDF formating.
After that, if I get into LaTeX (which would improve PDF formatting,) I could either merge that with #8 or do it as a separate tutorial, depending on how it goes (haven't tried it myself, yet, so I'm putting it far in the future.) And then move on to some alternatives, eventually trying out Scribus so I can give some advice on that.

Tutorials would be spaced out, about every three days to every week. I don't want to swamp the blog with nothing but posts on one topic. And, like I said, I've got to have time to work these things out first, myself. Right now, I usually do Markdown to HTML with Pandoc (which *is* part of the tutorial series,) but I haven't tried EPUB yet and use a commercial app (InDesign) for PDF, which isn't going to help people looking for PDF on the cheap.

I want to approach this as "OK, I've never done this before, here are my specific tasks that I'm sure lots of RPG hobbyists share. How do we do these things, specifically?" I think that will give me a perspective that might actually be useful, because hey, *I'm YOU*.


  1. I'd go ahead and write these up as an example of using whatever tools *you* are using right now. Ultimately, tools change, programs come and go, but the process you follow will stay pretty much the same.

    We end-users may not use those same programs, but we may use something that does the same thing (GIMP vs. Photoshop, Scribus vs. InDesign). The step by steps aren't as important as talking about the processes and design decisions you went through.

    Very much looking forward to this, Talsyman. I love reading about how other folks do their thing.

  2. I think the step by steps might be pretty important for page layout software, but there are Scribus tutorials around.

    Also, Basic Fantasy RPG has achieved a pretty good old school look using only OpenOffice/LibreOffice. Those two programs also have direct PDF export.

    1. There are some issues with OO's PDFs, though. For example, I don't think it embeds fonts. For another, in my experience, they've been larger than PDFs made with other programs.

      Also, I've done layout for some people who submitted OO documents where they'd done some initial layout. There are a lot of bad practices out there, and they were a nightmare for me when I had to work with them. I think it might be better to explore starting with one content document and showing how to translate that into several distribution formats, *without* damaging the master document.