Imagery for Layout on DMsGuild

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   Originally made for Microsoft Word, there are now several templates created by the community for a wider variety of programs–Adobe InDesign, Pages (here and here), Scrivener,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.

plexamplerright3_zpsox8csmh9But 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 plexampleleft3_zpsre1661nhproducts, 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…

plexampleleft4_zpsqxasfssvBut 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 plexampleleft2_zpsm3rafcrwtransparency 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 plexamplerright3_zpsidgmpzrdWord–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!




Graphic Design in Adventures

tankardbrown_zpsjeyd0gw3Let’s face it–art for RPGs is expensive. It’s time consuming, difficult to arrange sometimes, and isn’t always exactly what you want when it’s completed. There is available art for use in material that’s marketed exclusively on Dungeon Masters Guild, but that artwork is already becoming overused and isn’t always useful within the context of the material it is supposed to support. Finding artists in the first place isn’t usually a problem, but a single illustration can sometimes break the bank.

So what’s a driven, zealous, creative RPGer supposed to do?  Learn to draw?

arrowsblue_zpsdvjqa5osWell, some have done just that. But that approach takes time. And it’s really difficult for most RPG creatives to wear all those hats–writer, editor, play tester, layout technician… A person needs to be an artist, too? On top of all that?!?

Sometimes you just can’t do it all.

And once a creator has their material completed and they need to format it to publish it on the site?  There is a template that can assist you with the layout. WotC has published it for free on the DMsGuild and included a template for Rich Text Files as well as two different versions of Microsoft Word. There are also  versions up there for Adobe InDesign, OpenOffice/LibreOffice, Scrivener, two different ones for Pages 5 (here and here), and Scribus 1.5.1.


But the supplied format looks terrible by itself.  Rather like generic packaging from the 1970s and 80s, this template does what it’s supposed to do but not much else…

On top of that, learning different layout programs can be daunting.  The templates provided are designed to provide the basics, but it takes some knowledge of the programs they’re used in to really take advantage of all the options available and make your product shine.  Not everyone has the time (or the budget) to learn the ins-and-outs of the programs for the templates.  That’s yet another hat…

So what does a person do when they can’t really afford appropriate art, and they don’t have the skills to do it themselves?

They should ponder graphics.

3example4_zpslldfwh5yWhat is the difference between graphics and illustration? In my opinion both are art, but one is substantive and delivers visual information to the reader of the material through visual means, the other doesn’t. Graphics aren’t specific enough to the material to do much more than assist in breaking up the huge blocks of text that a header or boxed section can’t. They add to the feeling, mood, and theme of the material, but they don’t indicate specifically called out elements of the text.

Graphics are a bit easier to achieve. One doesn’t need a great deal of artistic skill.  One can rely upon design programs to create visually interesting but non-obtrusive materials that can slip in between the paragraphs when appropriate, linger in the background, help create mental “partitions” to assist the reader’s comprehension of the text, and generally shape the overall feel of the published work.

2example4sm_zpsmuqplvaeA huge amount of the published RPG material written today features text formatted in columns with an interesting background. There are sometimes interesting little pictures scattered around the book (mostly at the beginning and ending of sections or between component pieces of chapters) or used to frame the text at the top or bottom or side. Currently (thanks to Wizards of the Coast) 5E’s graphic theme elements seem to feature artistically torn edges of paper or pools of watercolor stains that age the paper and give the text character. There’s a visual texture behind the words that goes with framing lines along the side and bottom that help constrain the pages. It provides unity and clarity, and is visually appealing.

So that’s what I’ve set out to do: provide graphics that a writer can easily use to spruce up their formatted text and provide a visual package that shows off what they’re trying to express with their own creativity.

I’ve created 4 packages of generic iconography that is silhouetted (in most cases) with artistic paint strokes and watercolor stains. Doing the same image in 5 different colors (red, purple, blue, green and brown), each pack ultimately contains 50 different images (10 different icons in 5 colors each).  200 different images. They can be found here:3example2_zpsl4budgxi

Graphic Elements for Adventures I –Iconography includes single swords, crossed swords, single battle axe, crossed battle axes, a flame, a wagon wheel, a helmet, a shield, a tower, and arrows.

Graphic Elements for Adventures IIIconography includes an eagle, a horse, a lion, a wolf print, 2 ravens, 2 wolves, a skeleton, and a stag.

Graphic Elements for Adventures III Iconography includes five different spiders, a partial tree silhouette, a jungle leaf, a tankard, a single eye, and a pair of eyes.

Graphic Elements for Adventures IVIconography includes a ghostly apparition creature, a maple leaf, a set of mushrooms, a skeletal rider, a skull, a tombstone, 3 different trees, and a spider web.

All of the iconography is public domain.  Each PNG image file is 5×5″ at 300dpi.

Even in the basic template provided for Microsoft Word, these images can be inserted behind the text (with the transparency adjusted) or in line with it so the text wraps around an image.  Word being the program it is, it’s difficult to do much more than that and you might have to learn a more advanced program with a steeper learning curve (and more time invested) to achieve more advance looks.  But on a basic level, your layout can look intriguing and visually pleasing if you use the imagery in the right way.

So when you’re looking for imagery to help you flesh out the layout of your particular published material, ponder using a piece of graphic art.  The examples in this post and at the links demonstrate their versatility and effectiveness when trying to create a mood.  They are simple, artistic, interesting, and as receding or pronounced as you prefer for your piece.  An effective visual package makes your text more interesting and effective psychologically, and can ultimately increase your sales.  Think about it!

New Items on Dungeon Masters Guild

So I actually did it.  Quite a while ago in fact, and I am just now getting around to posting about it.

I’ve made some things available on Dungeon Masters Guild.

The first item I’ve put up there is a supplement called Amber Waves of Grain featuring my map of Goldenfields in the Forgotten Realms setting for use with Wizard’s of the Coast’s Princes of the Apocalypse.

It took a while, and I needed the assistance of my husband Jonathan to get the PDF layout and formatting looking polished and professional.  I haven’t made a fortune (I posted it back in February, I think) but anything has been better than a stick in the eye.  Since then, I’ve managed to create some graphics and other material that I’m hoping will take off eventually.

But until then:

From the item description:

“Here’s a new map of Goldenfields, the Breadbasket of the North, with supplementary material to inspire your adventures among the farmers!  Intended for use in conjunction with Princes of the Apocalypse™, it contains an original map of Goldenfields that can be printed 3 different ways (with hex versions!), a 16-page booklet guide of descriptions for the entire facility and operating structure, and mentions a few key NPCs.  It also contains adventure seeds and plot ideas for how you can use the material to jump-start developing your own adventures, and a few thoughts on dovetailing it into campaigns based on both Tyranny of Dragons™ and Rage of Demons™. 

The highly detailed map comes in 6 different versions:

     • A letter-sized image

     • A letter-sized image with a hex grid

     • A poster-sized map that can be printed at large scale

     • A poster-sized map with a hex grid that can be printed at large scale

     • A 20-page print-and-assemble-at-home version that can be printed on your own home printer resulting in a 32″ x 51″ poster

     • Another 20-page print-and-assemble version with a hex grid that can be printed on your own home printer resulting in a 32″ x 51″ poster

The 16-page guide contains descriptions of various hamlets around the collectivized farming facility, plot threads to expand on for your own adventures, and explanations of just exactly how Goldenfields can be the largest operating farm on Faerün!

This variant supplement is intended for those DMs who like to have resources without being railroaded, who like to flesh out scenarios themselves and even incorporate the unique and unusual monsters they’ve discovered or created on their own.  This material is suitable for all levels and PCs, and offers story seeds that can keep your players busy for several adventures, as well as keep them coming back as they play other Wizards of the Coast published adventures.”