A few years ago I took part in the #threeforged tabletop RPG design contest. This was a design contest where one person would start a game design, it would be anonymously handed off to a second person who would develop it a bit further, and then anonymously handed off to the third designer who would finish it. One of the games I worked on was called “the Book of Armaments” during the contest. It had a premise I found a little bit weird to begin with: the idea was that the story of the RPG would follow a weapon as it passed to various owners. I wasn't entirely sure why you would structure a story that way, but it seemed to me that it would definitely work – I could see an anthology of short stories written like that, or film which had several story chunks weaved together around that common thread. Even though I wasn't in love with the idea I thought I did a good job in giving it a set of simple-to-use mechanics that would deliver a solid gameplay experience, and I thought I made it thematically interesting by having a player role where their job is to suggest ways that using the weapon can solve problems. By semi-outsourcing the “should I use the weapon?” thoughts to a conversation with another player it helps keep that part of the character's thinking in the foreground, which seemed to me like the key to making the story in some way “about” the weapon.
After the contest I found out that “the Book of Armaments” was a Monty Python reference, so I decided to change the title. I went with “Rusty from Disuse”, as a reference to the way the weapon sort of wants to be used and how it ends up in storage or mounted for display or something similar at the end of the story. I talked to the other designers at the time, but they weren't interested in pursuing it any further, but were cool with me doing that if I wanted to. While I was pretty confident that the game was solid at the time I didn't do much with it, for a variety of reasons. But recently the “hot new thing” among indie RPG designers seems to be publishing tabletop RPG PDFs on itch.io, and the idea of being able to publish games like this in “early access” is letting me get to the place of wanting to publish them even if they haven't had as much playtesting as I would like for a “final” release. But in order to get it into a publishable state I needed to do the layout and graphic design to get it to a state where it looks like a commercial-quality product, not just a functional prototype.
One of the reasons I hadn't pursued publishing the game previously was that I thought I would need to pay an artist to create some imagery for it, at the very least for a cover image, and I have no budget for that sort of thing. My thinking was that you'd want to show images from a few different stories that all included the same weapon, the way that the gameplay would. But a few weeks ago I read a tweet that talked about the Metropolitan Museum of Art making a lot of their images open to the public domain and how this could be a good resource for RPG designers. After searching for some things for a different project I searched for “pistol” and found this cool picture of a Colt 1851 Navy Revolver in a case:
(image in the public domain thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The antique gun in the slightly-weathered yet open case really spoke to me as being a great cover image for Rusty from Disuse. So I downloaded the image, cut out the background in GIMP, and started laying out a cover in Scribus so that I'd eventually be able to create the PDF to publish. I laid it out on 6”x9” pages, since that's a popular print-on-demand format if I ever decide to go in that direction.
Then I moved on to laying out the text. I went with the Cambria font for most of it, with 16-point bold characters for the section headers and 12-point regular for the body text. But it was looking awfully plain on the page, so I felt I needed to add some decorative elements.
First of all I realized that there were plenty more weapon images where I got the first one, and sword and rifle images could make pretty cool horizontal dividers. So I downloaded some more images and cut out some more backgrounds.
Secondly I decided to create some decorative graphic elements for the corners. I thought my first attempt with line art looked cool in Scribus, but the diagonal lines were looking very jagged and pixelated when I viewed it in a PDF reader, and I wasn't sure if there was a way to get them to use better anti-aliasing.
Rather than bang my head against Scribus where I'm just a novice user (and where the problem might not even be solvable) I decided to just go with an alternate design that didn't have any diagonals. Since the guide-lines I was using to properly space out the pattern were black I drew the lines in one of the other colors that was active in the document to make things easier to visually line up, but once I was finished I decided to keep them in the rust/dried-blood color from the title rather than switching to black since it looked nicer to me and also ties things together better by reusing a color. Plus, since I was planning for it to be a PDF-only release there was no reason to avoid color in the interiors like there might be with a printed book where color printing is more expensive.
Then, after a bunch of text-tweaking and moving things around slightly I was pretty happy with how it looked. However, I also realized that even though the game is pretty short and the rules are somewhat simple, it would be easier to play if I made a rules summary / quick-reference page. That was its own little graphic design challenge, since having things in their own blocks, etc., makes them easier to use. Once I had that, and I did a few final once-overs, I decided it was ready to publish.
I put it up on itch.io this morning. I decided to set the minimum price at $3, because it's a 3-player game that was originally designed during the Threeforged contest, and also because that seems like it's in the ballpark for what a lot of short indie RPGs sell for.