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The Annotated Archive of Game Design Resources

A cataloged archive of different resources to demystify the steps that go into creating, publishing, and selling ttrpg products.

What is The Annotated Archives?

Curated by Goblin Archives, this site’s goal is to lower the barrier of entry for designers. It brings together twitter threads, blogs and youtube videos.

Cataloging these resources aims to demystify the design process. The push to open practice helps support the community. The Archives is a place that makes these practices easy to find.

Where to start (a great overview)


Index


HACKS AND SRDS

So you want to make a game but are unsure about writing rules from scratch (also a note on writing modules/adventures/mysteries using existing systems)….

Well great news! Many games live their lives as hacks for other games/rule systems. This means that you can start with a framework from which you can adapt to serve your idea/concept.

SRD (System Reference Documents) is a way game designers share their work. Often it includes what can be used, and how, so that other designers can iterate and create new games.

Below are some examples of different SRDs that you can use as a starting point in designing your own game. Many games have an SRD, but the one’s I’ve included have robust communities around them and are versatile enough to meet a myriad of needs.

Games have different licenses that dictate what can be used from the core text. Be sure to check their use/licenses to make sure you meet the requirements in your final product (an inclusions of established statements, attributions, etc).

A Step-by-Step Guide to creating a TTRPG SRD by Desolate Drifter @GulluthGultch is a comprehensve guide to creating your very ownn TTRPG SRD (that is also free).

Example SRDs

  • Liminal Horror by Goblin Archives: A rules lite modern cosmic horror hack of Cairn (which combines Into the Odd and Knave). It adds a stress & critcal stress fallout mechanic to those systems.
  • Cairn by Yochai Gal. It is an adventure game where players explore dark and mysterious woods. It is based on Into the Odd and Knave.
  • Vaults of Vaarn by Leo Hunt (with SRD by Desolate Drifter) is a techo filled game of a dying sun over a blue desert of science fantasy adventures.
  • PINKHACK by Monkey’s Paw Games. Rules for Fantastic Role-Playing Wargames, Monkey’s Paw Games has created a combination of the Whitehack and into the Odd.
  • Beak, Feather, & Bone by Tyler Crumrine. This rule framework is one that involves building a world through collaborative map making.
  • 24XX by Jason Tocci is a framework of rules that works as a modular plug-and-play toolkit. Rules lite and dynamic, 24XX SRD is axtremely versitile and includes a plethora of templates and resources to help designers get started.
  • Tunnel Goons by Nate Treme. Tunnel Goons is an extremely straightforward system that fits on half of a page.
  • Trophy by Jesse Ross. Trophy is a narrative system that focuses on the doom that befalls the characters. Beware the horror and doom that awaits.
  • Wretched & Alone by Matt Sanders & Chris Bissette. These are solo journaling games that focuse on struggle, survival, and striving to achieve.

-ARCANUM by momatoes is a great example of an SRD that provides you with the tools to make a game using the SRD. In momatoes own words “If you want to make a creature codex based on ‘90s Variety Children Shows gone wrong, Spells & Techniques for a cyberpunk setting, or a rules modification for games running only an hour long, it’s now Legally Blessed (™) if you read and follow the common-sense guidelines from the” ARC RPG license.

Note: Sometimes you don’t want to write a hack or new game and instead want to write an adventure, mystery, or modul. Luckily all the advice in this guide still works for that. SRDs are still great because they can provide rules references that you can use to make your zine compatible. I wrote a small twitter thread on the different supports Liminal Horror provides for people who are wanting to write their own mysteries/sessions/adventures. That can be found here: Interested in writing cosmic horror adventures?

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PROGRAMS

What Programs To Use?

There are a ton of fantastic programs one can use when writing and designing games. Below are what I used to make Liminal Horror.

Create your own SRD

Creating your own online SRD is not only a way to present your work (creating a free web based, public facing document that allows for collaboration and growth) but can help structure the writing and end product.

Markdown

I’ve found myself writing my games using markdown (an easy to use computer language) that can be used with a variety of different programs, and allows you to output in multiple formats (pdf, epub, html). This increases your ability to create dynamic and accessible products down the line.

Character Sheets

Word Processors/File Organization

  • Markdown based programs such as typora or ghostwriter are great options. I would highly recommend taking a little bit of time to learn about this option since it can really open up some opportunities at the end of your project.
  • Google Drive for file organization & management. Jalopy Design: Itchfunding & Gdocs by David Schirduan (Technical Grimoire) goes into detail about how one can leverage google docs to create a finished ttrpg. It presents what went well using gdocs, and what the drawbacks were.
  • Google Docs for writing the base text of Limnial Horror. This also allowed me to share the document and recieve notes/feedback.

Layout

  • Affinity Publisher. This is an affordable, single purchase program (currently $54.99)
  • Canva is a free website that really scaffolds small scale design in a way that allows anyone to create professional products. It is used a ton in teaching and other fields. A great overview by Jeeyon Shim, on how to use it in ttrpg spaces, can be found here
  • Top 15 Tutorials. Affinity has a bunch of helpful tutorials to lower the learning curve and this had some good ones included.
  • Tips for adding interactivity to your digital publications

Image Editing & Creation

Jalopy Design: Cleaning up Public Domain Art by David Schirduan (Technical Grimoire) does another fantastic entry that goes through how to edit and leverage Public Domain Art in your works.

  • GIMP is a free, open source image editor. While I do own Affinity Designer and Photo, I still primarily use this to edit the images I used in Liminal Horror.
  • PIXLR X Is a free browser based photo editor. Described as an easy-to-use photo editor (with help of templates)
  • PIXLR E Is a free browser based, powerful photo editor. Described as an advanced editor for pros.
  • Dither Me This is a tool you can use to dither images.
  • Inkscape is a free vector graphic program.
  • Krita is a free open source painting program.
  • Artflow AI allows users to generate visual content wit hthe help of an AI. Currently it is built to generate portraits. The output is licensed under CC BY which allows commercial and noncommercial use with attribution.

Here is a list of alternatives to Adobe programs created by xdaniel Art (they require a regular subscription that is predatory and if you don’t pay you often get hit with massive hidden fees and lose access to things you have made/bought)
A list of alternatives to each of Adobe's products.

EDITING

Editing is an important part of the design process but isn’t always talked about. I hope to build out this entry into the archives with resources and support in understanding editing and its role.

Dev vs Copy Editing

Dev editing (or developmental editing) happens during the writing process. It often gives input on structure, content and information design. It can lead to major overhauls in the end product. (I personally found this process super helpful in getting structural feedback on the text)

Copyediting (also called line editing) focuses on the language used and centers on polishing the writing. From errors to readability to consistency, this process makes the end product professional.

Editing and The Mall

I was able to hire Vi Huntsman to do editing for The Mall. Initially I budgeted for copyediting.

After the first round, Vi noticed that there was a need for dev editing and we discussed adding dev editing time to the project. We were then able to pivot, doing two rounds of dev editing (and some resulting major restructuring). Afterwards Vi did a final round of copyediting for The Mall.

The below list includes every itchfunding version and corresponding notes (dev & copy) to archive the process. You can look to see what types of things get recommended in edits, and how they look when those notes get integrated into a text.

The Mall’s Editing Journey

  1. First Itchfunding Draft: The Mall v.0.75 itchfunding version (pre-Vi Huntsman Edits)
  2. Round 1 of Dev Edit Notes from Vi: Dev Edit Notes 1
  3. Second Itchfunding Draft:: The Mall v.0.77
  4. Round 2 of Dev Edit Notes from Vi: Dev Edit Notes 2
  5. Third Itchfunding Draft: The Mall v.0.8
  6. Third Itchfunding Draft (with copyediting notes): The Mall v.0.85
  7. Final Draft of Manuscript (with all dev and copy edits): The Mall v.1.0 manuscript

LAYOUT and FONTS

Having a good font and layout is vital toward making your game engaging to read/use. Here are some resources I found to help learn about layout/design.

  • Johan Nohr (one of the designers of MÖRK BORG, which pushes the layout and typeface envelope) wrote two must read threads on choosing a typeface and setting a body text. These dives are worth reading if you have any interest in design and are a great way to start your journey.

Layout

  • Designing Layouts (Layout and the Grid) by Clayton Notestine. This was the single most helpful resource in my learning how to do layout for my game. Not only does Clayton go over the core concepts of layout, but he goes on to give annotated examples of TTRPGs and their layout. 100/10 recomend.
  • Layout Design Tips For Your Next TTRPG Project by Ghost Lore. This is the final entry in a series that gives a good progression of layout tips that is well worth reading prior to starting the layout of your project.
  • Why Is Layout Important in Graphic Design? by Stephanie Corrigan is a great overview of layout prinicples with visual examples to reinforce concepts.
  • Using Canva to layout your ttrpg by Jeeyon Shim is a fantastic thread on how to leverage a great design tool to create small games. They look great and result in a quality that supports any new designer. Jeeyon is extremely thorough in their step by step guide in this thread. Well worth considering for your next project.
  • Pamplet RPG Template For Affinity Publisher by wizardthieffighter (writer of the awe inspiring Ultra Violet Grasslands). This template will get you all set up for writnig your own pamphlet using Affinity Publisher (a great single payment layout software…Adobe makes you pay monthly)
  • Pinterest: Look up layout, design, zines on pinterest to see examples of different design ideas you can use. This helps build visual references for the kind of things that are possible.
  • My pinterest board.
  • TTRPG Zine Layouts by Guilherme Gontijo.
  • Designs that could be TTRPGS by Guilherme Gontijo

Typography & Fonts

  • Typography in Ten Minutes, by Matthew Buttericks is a great resource for building your schema and dipping your toes into that world.
  • Summary of key rules is another great introductory resource by Matthew Buttericks.
  • Free fonts compiled as a twitter thread by Guilherme Gontijo.
  • Coding with Character by Doug Wilson. This blog is about utilizing different fonts for coding and could easily be applicable when thinking about what typeface to use for your project (especially if monospaced type aligns to the aesthetic of your project). Be sure to check the licensing of any fonts you are interested in to make sure they are available for commercial use.
  • Google Fonts is a collection of fonts released under open source licenses.
  • dafont is another place to search for fonts and includes easy to find licensing information.
  • WhatTheFont! is a tool for finding out what font is used in an image.

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IMAGES

CREATING YOUR OWN

One option is to design your own images. There are a few different programs you can use (some are listed here) to make your own maps and images. There are some online tools that allow you to create maps for your adventures. Always be sure to check the licensing information of resources you use.

COMMISSIONING WORK

If you are like me and not the most visual creative oriented, luckily there is a robust group of talented designers and artists out there. Often you will see them advertising that their commissions are open. Have a clear concept in mind as well as your budget range. Understand that commissioning work is a collaborative process between professionals and requires respect and clear communication.

COMMERCIALLY LICENSED ART

There are many artists that provide options to commerically license their art. Some use a flat purchase (on itch or another platform) while others provide licensing to those who subscribe to their patreon. Here are few that I have found:

  • Evelyn Moreu has a Patreon that contains some of the best art that she allows you to use commercially in your zines (if you subscribe).
  • Perplexing Ruins also has a patreon that provides access to images that can be commercially licensed through a subscription.
  • Andy’s Inventory Art Pak #1 by Andrew White is a collection of 81 random inventory items that can purchased to use uder a CC BY 4.0.
  • Tiny Zine of Faces #1 as well as Tiny Zine of Faces #2 by Chema (Punkpadour) contain some fantastic portraits and images that can be purchased to be used commercally.
  • Feral Indie Studio sells themed art packs that can be used commerically.
  • Fantasy Art 01 by Hairic Lilred is a collection of fantasy art assets that can be used commerically.
  • Map Pieces by Map Crow includes different pieces that can be used to make maps (and are Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licesed).

Maps

Here are some great resources to help you create maps for your games.

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGES

For those of us who are not artists, or don’t have a budget to commission art for our work, public domain images are what we use to add artwork to our games. These are images that are able to be used in commercial work (either because their copyright has lapsed, they are not copyrightable, or they were released under an open license from the start). Here are some places you can find art for your games.

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Formats

Different formats support different levels of accessability. when thinking about how one presents their work there are three major modes Web / EPUB / Print. Often when games are published the focus is only on print/pdf format. This is largely due to the fact that pdf is what is used to submit things for print. When thinking about accessiblity, understanding the scaffolds (and constraints) of the format is super important.

  • GIVING A DAMN ABOUT ACCESSIBILITY by Sheri Byrne-Haber is “a candid and practical handbook for designers.” Its goal is to make sure that digital accessibility provides equal access to information, functionality and experience on digital platforms.

Accessibility & Design Intention

One of the big things I wanted when writing Liminal Horror was to push mystelf to find ways to support people’s ability to access information. This largely arose from my background in teaching, and how it is important to provide multiple access points and opportunities for people to engage in the work.

ePub

There are a lot of benefits to creating epub versions of games. Text only games are able to be used with screen readers, and have boosted accessibility functions (fonts, font sizes, margins).

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Licenses

An important step of creating is understanding licenses (if you are writing content for another game) or creating your own game (which may inspire others to write content for your game). There are different licensing options you can do, often with overlapping considerations. The two areas of focus I want to present as options for games that I see a lot in the indie-rpg scene, and those are Creative Commons Licensing (CC-BY-SA 4.0) and Third-Party Licensing.

Of note I am not a lawyer and this is by no means legal counsel.

Creative Commons Licensing

  • Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International — CC BY-SA 4.0 is a super permissive licensing language that allows others to share, sell, remix, transform, and build upon one’s work. Cairn by Yochai Gal and Liminal Horror (my game) are examples of games that have CC BY-SA-4.0. The main idea behind it is to make the works completely open for use by others (and therefore encourage games/hacks/adventure to be made for them).

Third-Party License (Open Licenses)

Open Licenses (often referred to as 3PP/ 3rd Party License) allow others to create and publish compatible games. These licenses have stipulations that must be followed, and if they are then others can make original content while adhering to vision set out by the license. These licenses also stipulate what is open to be used (and what assets are not allowable for use by others).

  • (The Mörk Borg Third-Party License & You – Līber Lūdōrum (liberludorum.com)) does a fantastic job of not only guiding the reader through the Mörk Borg Third-Party License but it details what a 3rd Party License can do.
  • MÖRK BORG LICENSE (morkborg.com) is perhaps the most popular format of open license I found (especially when I put the call out about licensing how-tos). I found a lot of creators pointing to this license as the framework for creating their own licenses.
    • I was able to talk to Johan Nohr (@JohanNohr) / Twitter, one of the creators of Mörk Borg, about the idea behind creating a permissive third-party license, “in short, we wanted a license that was open, inviting and encouraged people to make and publish things. I don’t think people necessarily -need- a license like this to make stuff, if they want to publish their own material they will, regardless - this I just our way to say loudly that we really want people to do that and we want to help them get their shit done.”
  • THE COMPANY by Mega_Corp (itch.io) by Logan Dean (@L__Dean) / Twitter is an example of a license that is based on the foundation laid out by Mörk Borg. It acts as a direct invitation for others to create content, while maintaining the vision of the original work.
  • Third Party Licence · Runecairn (byodinsbeardrpg.com) by Colin Le Sueur - (@ByOdinsBeardRPG) / Twitter is another example of a easy to parse Third-Party License. When asked about why he decided to make a license, he said, “Since I based it on Cairn, which has a CC BY-SA (share alike) licence, I’d already opened up Runecairn for editing and modifying, so a 3rd party licence just made sense. I wanted people to take my work and hack it, like I’d hacked Cairn. By adding a logo and giving explicit consent and encouragement, I hope people would build on Runecairn and make it their own. Selfishly it helps me as well, since more Runecairn adventures helps spread the word for the system and my work.”

  • ARC CREATORS LICENSE by momatoes is a license for ARC that allows people to “ARC-compatible, -inspired and derived works for free or for sale without any fees or prior permission required” as long as they follow the guidance laid out in the license.

In the end, you can publish a game without any custom licensing, but what is becoming more evident is for game designers, they see having an open and permissive Third-Party license as a invitation for others to create works for their games. It acts a way to bring people in and let them know what can be done with the works.

Creative Comrades

Creative Comrades Licence is a new form of licensing agreement created by jn for use of their art in commerical products. It also is another model of a license worth building from.

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FUNDING

While you can write and create each aspect of your zine yourself, some parts may require funds to complete (either to make a reality or to commission someone to make). Some things that may require investment are:

  • Art
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Layout
  • Design
  • Publishing

Other than self funding (or getting someone to invest/partner), there are are a few different ways to raise funds for your game. A noncomprehensive list is:

  • setting up a co-op
  • slowfunding
  • settig up pre-orders
  • “crowd funding” platforms (such as itchfunding or Gamefound).

itchfunding

An alternative to Kickstarter that is newer (but avoids many of the issues with kickstarter) is itchfunding. This is the format I curretly am using to create The Mall.

  • Jalopy Design: Itchfunding & Gdocs by David Schirduan (Technical Grimoire). As with all the Jalopy Design entries, this one is extremely infomrative in providing a deep look at the benefits and drawbacks to itchfunding in the context of their project.
  • Information Thread: How To Setup Itchfunding! by Pandion Games is a fantastic 16 tweet thread that goes over the benefits and steps crowdfund using itchfunding.
  • Itchfund FAQ by KeganExe is a great place to get an overview of what itchfunding is and what it can do. PlusOneEXP hosted a great discussion on Itchfunding.
  • Part 1 is with Jeff Stormer
  • Part 2 is with KeganExe, Adam Bell, Nic Masyk
  • Part 3 is with Thomas Manuel & Sam Leigh.
  • Google Doc compiling notes on the discussions by EldritchMouse.
  • The Mall itchfunding page is an example of an itchfunding page. I used a ton of different models and the above resources to try and structure it in a way that presented the necessary information to backers. You can use any parts of it (especially the Itchfunding & the Mall, The Goal, and the Logistics sections) in your own campaign.

Presale Model

Another funding method being implemented is a pre-sale model

Slowfunding

Slowfunding is crowdfunding alternative proposed by Long Tail Games, that acts gradual model of colecting pre-orders over an extended period of time, and once it hit pre-determined markers then it triggers going into different stages of production.

Printing Partnerships

One option is to partner with retailers to help fund a print run. Many online retailers do this (I have experience partnering with Exalted Funeral).

  • CHAPBOOK CO-OP is a collection of retailers (Monkey’s Paw Games, Loot the Room, Spear Witch, ratti incantati) that have come together to help designers fund a print run (and sell the games in their storefronts across the globe).

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PRINTING and PUBLISHING

Overview

  • A Year in RPG Self Publishing: Year 1 by Ian Yusem. This is a great peak behind the curtain on some of the realities of self publishing. Ian does a great job of consistantly opening their practice (and a few of their blog posts about Kickstarters are linked in the funding page).
  • Zine or Pamplet? The format you choose to present your writting will be a factor when trying to market your game. Jared Sinclair (bookseller for spearwitch, editor, and writer) wrote a great thread of the financial considerations to choosing your format.
  • My Adventures In Selling Stuff by Sean Patrick Cain is a fantastic series of twitter thread that detail Sean’s journey in printing, selling, & shipping his book Long Haul 1983.

Selling PDFs Of Your Game

If you are selling your digital game, two major market places for selling digital games are itch.io as a physical game (yes, ttrpgs are tagged as physical games even though they are PDFs) or on drivethrurpg.

Printing & Publishing (Yourself)

So you’ve put your game on itch or drivethru and you want to get a print run going. Here are some resources that can help guide you in the right direction.

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Printing Options

There are a few different options in terms of printers that you can use. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a place to start.

  • Mixam is probably the most common/popular way to print physical ttrpg zines.
  • Tabletop Hotdish is a newer small business printer who has been working with indie zine publishers (and does free print proofs). Currently they are launching a full website, but dm on twitter to see about starting a partnership.
  • short Run Printing
  • Jukebox is another web based printer that offers a ton of different formats (stickers, booklets, brochures, etc). Often seen as a good mixam alternative.
  • Spencer Printing offers both offset & digital printing, as well as short-run book printing.
  • Taylor Specialty Books
  • Smartpress

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Publishing Partnerships

One option for funding a print run is to partner with a publisher/distributor. Many indie storefronts regularly partner with game writers to get a finished game to print. This tends to involve a partnership where the store fronts some (or all) of the cost to print. Afterwards they handle distribution, and after the print costs are recouped they pay regular royalties to the game’s designer. This is the avenue I went through for Liminal Horror (I had it published through Exalted Funeral Press).

  • Chapbook Co-op is a new venture by Monkey’s Paw Games, Loot the Room, Spear Witch, and rattiincantati that aims to provide funding and distribution for ttrpg zines (without the kickstarter). Not only do they help with printing, but having the storefronts in multiple markets. This model of co-op funding is one that hopefully we see more and more.
  • If publishing it yourself is out of reach (logistically or financially), it is worthwhile to reach out to one of the great small ttrpg retailers listed below. Sometimes all it takes is emailing the right person to make a connection that can help you get into print. back to index


Selling You Game

One option for selling your printed game is to sell it yourself (on your website, as an add-on on itch, or using some other platform). The other option is to try and get some of the fantastic online sellers to carry it. This means reaching out to their buyers. Below are some different sites that sell ttrpg zines along with where they are based out of. If they are located in a different country, it may be benefitial to coordinate with them about doing a print run near them to cut down on international shipping.

  • Starting Guide to Pricing by Jared Sinclair (bookseller for spearwitch) gives you a good idea of a starting point for pricing physical copies of your game.






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MARKETING

Once you have a completed game, it is important to focus some effort on marketing (in order to get it in front of players).

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Liminal Horror was written and designed by Goblin Archives