Not everyone is a graphic artist. Not everyone has skills in layout. Not everyone is familiar enough with the powerful programs that help a product look professional. Sometimes, we have to work with the skills we’ve got.
Dungeon Masters Guild has a basic template they provide for writers who are looking to format and publish the material they’ve worked hard to create. Originally made for Microsoft Word, there are now several templates created by the community for a wider variety of programs–Adobe InDesign, Pages (here and here), Scrivener, OpenOffice, Scribus, etc.
But unless you know one of those programs it’s difficult to use them. Most folks I know are familiar with Microsoft Word, but don’t have much experience in more advance and powerful programs that enable more flexibility and creative expression. When it’s hard enough to get your Microsoft Word document to behave the way you want it to, how on earth is one going to tackle conquering the capabilities of something like Adobe InDesign? Who has time to learn all that?
It’s for those folks that I’ve created imagery to put behind your text, and make it look like it has been formatted in a different program.
We’ve all seen imagery from our favorite RPG products, and the popular style currently involves making pages look like there is a texture to them–old parchment, wrinkled pages, stains, grunge, and a sense of use. There’s also a “framing mechanism” that often cradles the text around the edges of the pages–filigree in the corners around the page numbers or a line that defines the outer edge of the page. This gives the package itself a sense of character, and helps the reader not become fatigued with the amount of tiny text that’s in front of it. It actually makes things easier to read (in some ways) if it’s not distracting. Too much can be detrimental. Too little can make reading a chore if there’s nothing but blocks of text…
But similar imagery can be achieved without needing to learn a graphics program to make it yourself.
The various Layout Elements packs are filled with pictures you can insert behind your text to give it a bit of life. The 22 images in each pack are centered around a color–Blood Red, Phantasmal Purple, Bleak Blue, Grungy Green, and Burnished Brown. Within each pack there are two basic pages that only have the framing lines on a white background. The other 20 images have artistically placed paint swatches with the framing lines that can be inserted behind your text in various places to help break up the visual monotony of a document with too much white space. A simple transparency adjustment to make them receded into the background is all that’s needed.
While each burst of painted color on each page is lovely, I would encourage you to use the basic pages for the majority of your layout as the paint strokes can start to feel repetitive and artificial if you keep using them.
To use them with the Microsoft Word template in Word 2008, insert the image and right click it. Choose “Format Picture”. In that menu, select “behind the text” in Formatting, then click on Advanced Formatting settings. From there you should adjust the Transparency (knowing that Transparency doesn’t mean “opacity” in Microsoft Word–the image will get lighter as it becomes easier to see through), indicate that the image matches the size of the page you’re putting it on, and arrange it with an Absolute Value of 0″ both horizontally and vertically, aligned with the Page (not a Paragraph). These settings will ensure your image looks like it’s in the background. More current versions of the program may have different avenues to achieve the same thing.
Each of the images is a 8.5″ x 11″ JPG at 150dpi, per the specs suggested by the DMsGuild when creating your PDF documents of your work for upload.
To get a more advance look (like using multiple images on the same page) you may need to move to a different program. A more current version of Microsoft Word than 2008 may allow you to overlap multiple images and still use text. Some great imagery to use in addition to these layout images are the paint swatch iconography images found in Graphic Elements for Adventures I, Graphic Elements for Adventures II, Graphic Elements for Adventures III, and Graphic Elements for Adventures IV. All of this imagery features paint stroke graphics that echo the page layout thematic style.
Regardless of how you use these (in whatever program), they’re yours to use for your DMsGuild products! Perhaps they can provide inspiration for your own work!
Good luck! And happy formatting!