Excellent Layout Examples

edited September 2008 in Game Design Help
I know nothing about layout. But I'm very interested in learning about it and how to do it well. I'm not anywhere near being ready to lay my game out but I thought I would ask this question so I can be thinking about it as I go or at least have or develop a layout design as I go.
So here is the question, really more of a request.

What are some books/games that exhibit exceptional layout design?
If links to samples are available, including them would be fantastic.

Now, I know layout is affected by the subject matter/mood/theme/genre/ etc. of the book a lot of the time. But that doesn't matter for what I'm looking for. I just want to see examples of how it is done well.


  • In my view, anything laid out by Matt Snyder is a good bet, particularly the stuff he did for other people (Polaris, It Was A Mutual Decision, probably some others.)

    But my view is particular. I don't like showy layout which looks pretty but actually makes the book harder to read and to use. Someone else, who does like that sort of layout, will chime in with other suggestions in a moment I'm sure.

  • The Spanish version of Donjon has some stunning layout. We worked very hard to create a fusion of modern, clear design with a very 80´s d&d-esque look and feel. The designer is very talented, and great with typography.

    You can download the whole thing here: http://www.mediafire.com/?forj1xmwyne

    I think that The Mountain Witch has some excellent layout too. I also enjoy very much The Shadow of Yesterday´s layout, though a bit simple. But simple is good.
  • edited September 2008
    Primetime Adventures. Simple, clear, and good.

    The Shab Al-Hiri Roach. Wonderful use of ephemera. Readable and stylish.

    My Life With Master. Spartan and evocative.

    Mist-Robed Gate. Elegant, with nice page size and proportions.

    The Burning Wheel. Luke's typography is the best, hands down.

    Studying good examples is a great way to learn, Tom, so you're off on the right track. Also, expand your sample size beyond game books. Go to your local bookstore, head to the design section, and dive in. You'll find lots of really beautiful examples (some of them will be artistic as well as reference manuals, which are perfect models for RPG books). The Elements of Typographic Style (Robert Bringhurst) is the place to start.

    Matt Snyder and I recorded a seminar on layout and design issues at GenCon. It should be up on Sons of Kryos one of these days.
  • edited September 2008
    I'm a big fan of the work Dan Algstrand did for the next to latest edition of the old Swedish rpg Drakar och Demoner. It's good, classic, readable typography, and still very, very pretty:

    Revised edition, DoD6
    Another spread from the same book
    Jorges Bestiarium (monster book)
  • Posted By: Ben LehmanSomeone else, who does like that sort of layout, will chime in with other suggestions in a moment I'm sure.
    "I have good taste, but check out the idiots posting after me..." ;)
  • Posted By: John HarperThe Elements of Typographic Style(Robert Bringhurst) is the place to start.
    I'm going to second this. Not only is it one of the best books on typography, but it's a hell of an interesting read.
  • John is too modest. Agon is superb. As with all of John's work, it is both user-friendly and extremely evocative of the game's theme.
  • John,
    Thanks for reminding me to check out design books. That slipped my mind.
    I agree wholly. Learning by example is the way. We use that in homeschooling my kids. Copying great literature helps greatly in becoming a great writer. That is how it has been for centuries.
    I'll find a copy of Bringhurst's book. Thanks for that guys.
    Dogui, thanks for the link.
    I'll check out all the suggestions so far.
    Keep 'em coming.
  • I really like that Robert Bringhurst book, too.

    I'm loving 3:16, which has a very evocative but accessible design sensibility. It's very easy to use and reference.
  • I'm a fan of Nobilis. It's stark and beautiful, with lots of white space. The interaction between the text and the sidebars can't be beat.

    For cover design, anything by Chip Kidd is a good place to start.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI really like that Robert Bringhurst book, too.

    I'm loving3:16,which has a very evocative but accessible design sensibility. It's very easy to use and reference.
    As a counterpoint, I will say that 3:16 does have more than a few layout glitches, e.g., graphical elements covering up bits of text. Otherwise I agree that it is accessible and will add that the layout does a good job of reinforcing the art (which is an often underappreciated component of the process).
  • edited September 2008
    Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is a model for an instructive, illustrative text.

  • edited September 2008
    As a layman, I'd say that Lacuna is a good example of more flashy, obvious layout. It's a book you look at and think "Bloody hell, look at that layout".

    (As Ben points out, that's not necessarily what you want in every book, and often the best layout is the layout you don't notice. But it works for Lacuna).

  • edited September 2008
    Posted By: John HarperThe Elements of Typographic Style(Robert Bringhurst) is the place to start.
    While I kinda found the book plodding and boring, there were a few bits in there I liked.

    Tom: I've got this book. Next time we meet up, I'll give it to you.

    Personally, one thing I love about RPGs is flash and style. The more dynamic yet coherent layout, the better. To that end, Hellas: Worlds of Sun and Stone, a game I simply can not shut the fuck up about, is IMO the prettiest, most dynamic, yet most helpful laid-out book to come out all year, and probably then some. Everything from headers, to chapter openers, to organization of information in charts and stuff, is solid gold in my book. It's really something to behold.

    Edit: Here's the quickstart:
    Note: Page 1 is messy, but the rest is pretty indicative of the book, but it doesn't contain the chapter breaks which I love.
    EDIT EDIT: Ahh, the SAMPLE *does* have the chapter breaks, and is more indicative of the layout:

    It also does the landscape-style 8.5x11, and makes that stuff shine. It really uses space well, in a way where it makes me surprised that more people (read: big companies*) don't use landscape style for their books.


    *Yet having said that, in this last year we see 3 visual powerhouses, Alpha-Omega, Hellas and Eoris all go with landscape style layout.
  • edited September 2008
    Andy's post illustrates that there's layout and then there's layout. For example, imagine roleplaying games are hip-hop album covers.

    Agon is like this...
    limited number of fonts in the same family, not a lot of ornamentation, clean straight lines, quietly dramatic instead of big and bold

    ...while Hellas is like this.
    a bunch of different loud fonts and colors, lots of ornamentation, loud and garish, busy design, striking and bold

    Generally speaking, most of the design work in post-Forge indie games strives for the former rather than the latter, trying to go for clean, easily readable design rather than big and loud design. Folks like John Harper, Joshua A. C. Newman, Matt Snyder, Luke Crane, and others all tend to do clean instead of loud, though Matt probably has a stronger ornate side (see Nine Worlds) than most of the others. Honestly, my preferences lean towards clean too, as do most of the typography and graphic design books mentioned here. But there's definitely a counterculture in the US/UK that likes really loud, busy, over the top design. Check out the covers of M.I.A. albums, for instance. I can't do that stuff that well (I tried a bit on the cover for Agonia), but I admire it in some cases.
  • Tahti sort of approaches your Lil' Wayne example by way of J-Pop:
  • Asian classical style tends to be minimal, but modern style and design tends to be loud, colorful, and full of sensation.

    I'd love to see an RPG that looked like an issue of a J fashion or household mag like NON-NO:
    (click the third button from the top, with the LEFT pink arrow, to turn the pages)

    Or Tokyo Walker:

    But more the Non-No style. A mag that sucks you in, aggressively punches you in the eyes with business, yet at the same time remains ordered, and not garish.
  • Posted By: AndyWhile I kinda found the book plodding and boring, there were a few bits in there I liked.
    I read it when I was still working as a graphic designer. It's like having sex in a bath of chocolate while listening to John Coltrane's Atlantic-era recordings...or the design geek equivalent.

    If you're not a design geek, I can understand the plodding and boring bits.
  • Eye-punching flash can be great when it's what your project needs. Despite (or because of) the laser-sharkiness, I like HELLAS quite a bit. A game with Space Amazons and octopus-centaurs deserves a colorful and bold design. The tables, use of color, and references bits are all good, too.

    Daniel Solis does great ornamentation work in his designs, especially in Reign. I think of his style as straddling the line between clean and ornate.
  • This is fantastic info. Thanks everyone.
    Andy, Thanks for the offer of the book. Maybe if Supercrew gets together soon or something I can get it. I checked out non-no. It reminds me of a teen magazine in the layout/design. Neat. Thanks for the Hellas links too. It's on the play list.
    Johnathan - album covers - great example. I'll definitely keep that in mind as a source.
    Jason - I'll check 3:16 (need to play it too).
    Remi and others - Nobilis, good.
    Graham - thanks for the suggestion of Lacuna
    lukzu - wow you're right about Scott McCloud's stuff. I really need to bring in my comic book experience to this too. I just forget these things. Will Eisner's works could be useful also. Even some Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz could be good inspiration. Andy, are you familiar with Sienkiewic? You might like him.
    John - I'll check out Reign. I noticed the ornamentation on the previews and liked the feel of it and the idea of it. Thanks.
  • I've actually got a degree in mass communications and publishing. I'd be happy to help you lay out your game, Tom, if you ever want it. I'm not good, but I generally help for free if I like the material.

    From that perspective: Unknown Armies is laid out very well.

    Prime Time Adventures actually isn't laid out so well. It's not very clear. It has some poor art choices and the rules are a bit hard to reference.
    But it does seem simple and sometimes that's worth a lot.

    Nobilis is laid out rather well.
    That Hellas quickstart thing has a pretty standard, workable layout, but it's a little graphics heavy, making it impractical for .pdf distribution.

    Keep in mind, I'm not talking about just graphic design, here. I'm talking about publication access, page layout as a means of conveying information and functionality.
    Not cover design and directing the eye, but the arrangement of the words and data for ease of play.
  • Oh! I forgot Before & After Magazine, which has lots of neat little tutorials that are helpful for all skill levels. They have a very specific way of approaching design, but it is useful and interesting.
  • Rob Bohl just pointed me over here, but there's not really anything I have to say that isn't already said.

    For what it's worth, I endorse Bringhurst wholeheartedly and am happy to see that so many other people do, too. I also think that The Burning Wheel books are some of the most beautiful in RPGdom. Agon's nothing to sneeze at, neither.

    Whether or not you like them, I've put rather a lot into the books I've done, too. Dogs in the Vineyard (first ed.) crammed stuff on the page like a 19th century production bible. The Mountain Witch does a thing with sidenotes I've never seen anyone else do. I'm particularly pleased with Shock: and its 2001ness.

  • Arpie,
    Thanks for the offer. I'll try to remember to contact you when I get to planning the actual layout. And I'll check out UA. I have PTA so I'll look at it to see what you are talking about.

    Remi, thanks for the link. Looks interesting.

    Joshua, Thanks for the suggestions. I hear good things about your work. I really need to get DiTV and Shock. I'll try to check MW too.
  • The one thing I don't like are digest-sized books - except for the simplest of subjects. Otherwise they break up the material too much and make it much harder to follow.
  • Posted By: AndyBut more the Non-No style. A mag that sucks you in, aggressively punches you in the eyes with business, yet at the same time remains ordered, and not garish.
    And yet in Italian in means Granddad.

    It looks pretty much like most of the women's magazines they stock in our local supermarket, the agressive sell. I'm not sure how you could do that in an rulebook where the idea is to inform and provide continuity rather than having things compete to appeal to you. Unless you want people to use the same book in different ways in the same session.

    I like the Trail of Cthulhu layout because it gently reminds you all the time that you're playing a game set in the 30s.

    I quite like the classic GURPS one column plus sidebar which you can see in quite a few indie games. Some of the indie games do a better job of spacing the text blocks but it's a good way to have space for complementary information without overloading the text.

    d20 Call of Cthulhu has two columns with a diagonal split, sort of forming an inverted V on oppposing pages. I thought it would make it difficult to read but it doesn't. On the other hand it's harder to skim. It was an interesting experiment that didn't quite work.
  • For a few to check out:
    Burning Empires does a fantastic job of having a bold, but readable and scanable (i.e. reference) style. It's--in a word--LUSH, like its source material. It's the "comic style" of RPG format.

    Conversely, Hero Fifth Edition (and Fourth, basically) is the gold standard, if you have a "dense" game with a lot of content to cover and several options and even stuff to warn GMs/players about (e.g. options that can "break" a game). Good iconography and art use, with sidebars that matter. Nothing innovative on the typographical front, but when you've got 384 8x11 pages to fill, cute font games do you little good. It's the "textbook" style of RPG format.

    Aside from the over-use of background images (EVERY page, guys?!?), the D&D Third Edition books do a very fine job at layout, IMO.

  • Posted By: tomgArpie,
    Thanks for the offer. I'll try to remember to contact you when I get to planning the actual layout.
    Thanks. That's all I can ask.
    I'm at yokeltania@yahoo.com
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