I've released well over 30 PDFs in the last five years, most of them for Savage Worlds, but my early products had pretty crude trade dress - they were just exported Word documents, and used free low-resolution artwork.
Back in October 2015 I decided it was time to step up my game, as my plan is to eventually move into self-publishing. I started researching how to design a setting book, and recorded my findings in a series of 20 blog posts.
Originally I provided links to these blog posts on the Pinnacle forums, but the forums have been down for quite a while now, and not all of my recent work is specific to Savage Worlds so I figured it made sense to post a new summary here for easier reference.
In my first post on setting design I describe the process I use for creating fan supplements, and discuss the importance of content, layout design, font selection, cover and interior design, title and logo, and artwork.
This post takes a look at the layout of three of Pinnacle's newer settings (ETU, Lankhmar, and Rippers Resurrected). I provide a breakdown of the different sections in each book, showing how many pages are allocated to each section.
I provide some rough guidelines for which chapters and sections should be included in a setting book, along with an approximate word count range for each section.
An anonymous pricing comparison of 100 randomly selected Savage Worlds PDFs, with a brief look at the pricing used by Pinnacle.
Some thoughts about designing Plot Point Campaigns, and the difference between Plot Point Episodes and Savage Tales. I also discuss how to create a Plot Point Campaign by reverse engineering a TV show, and provide an example.
A comparison of Plot Point Episodes, Savage Tales and One Sheets, showing how (if you break it down) a Plot Point Campaign is really just a collection of One Sheets; if you can write a One Sheet, you can write a Plot Point Campaign.
My third blog post about designing Plot Point Campaigns. This time I talk about choosing the overarching plot, and using it to build a Plot Point Summary. I've also included a detailed example for Drakonheim, showing how I might weave three threads into a central plot, and then break the story down into 10 Plot Point Episodes.
I briefly discuss the importance of having a good cover, and give an overview of how I went about getting my rough cover concept turned into a reality.
I talk about applying the CRAP Principle (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity), and provide some suggestions for improving typography.
A detailed description of the process I use for writing One Sheets (which are essentially much the same thing as Savage Tales and Plot Point Episodes).
I show each step of the process as I transform a one-paragraph adventure overview into a second episode for my fictitious "Prophecy of Drakonheim" Plot Point Campaign.
I discuss the importance of geography, topography, and a good map, and share some thoughts about designing a smaller gazetteer based on the mini-setting concept.
I take a step back from my Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, to consider where it came from, where it stands, and where it might go next.
I discuss a mechanism for grid-based travel, with Savage Tales triggered by points of interest, combined with Plot Point Episodes based on the overarching storyline.
I take a look at the different styles and file formats for the Wild Card symbol, comparing the approach used in various setting books, and discussing their pros and cons.
Some musings on creating a gear chapter with multiple item illustrations, and how best to present the layout.
How to create a nicely illustrated bestiary without breaking the bank, with a look at different sources of inspiration, keeping the layout easy to read, and making the bestiary a source of adventure seeds.
A first-hand look at how a setting can evolve throughout the design process, particularly when it isn't fully fleshed-out in advance.
Many game settings include a world map, but a map isn't just aesthetic, it's also functional - in fact it's often one of the most important pieces of artwork in the book, referenced extensively throughout a campaign. But what sort of thought process goes into the creation of a map?
Before I release something there are a lot of things to double-check. In the past I would frequently have to make multiple releases to correct stuff I'd forgotten, but over time I've built up a checklist of things to look out for.
EDIT: Since writing this list, I've added a few more articles!
21. Setting Design: Post-Mortem and Lessons Learned
Now that I've finally finished and released the Saga of the Goblin Horde setting, I decided to take a look back over it, and think about the lessons I've learned.
22. Building a fanbase on DriveThruRPG
Once you've designed your setting you'll need some way to build up interest, attract a fanbase, and eventually sell your products. One of the easiest places to do this is DriveThruRPG, and you don't need to wait until your setting is finished before you start using it!
23. Creating a print-ready PDF
I describe the process I use for creating print-ready PDFs, intended for print-on-demand.
24. Commission artwork: Describing what you want
When commissioning custom artwork, it's important you give the artist enough information to bring your ideas to life. Here's how I went about it.
25. Saga of the Goblin Horde: Silver ENnie Award!
Once you've finished and published your setting, why not submit it to the ENnies?
26. Designing and Selling Custom Decks of Cards
In this blog post, I take a look at the process of designing, printing and selling your own deck of cards through OBS.
27. Savage Worlds Licensing: Ace, Fan or SWAG?
I take a look at the Savage Worlds Adventurer’s Guild (SWAG), and compare it with the fan and Ace licenses.
28. Savage Worlds: Pricing your SWAG
A comparison of the prices used for various SWAG products, my thoughts on different sales strategies, and a look at DTRPG's Best Seller medals and Hottest lists.
29. Customizing Stock Art
When publishing your own setting, the choice is usually stock art (which may not match your needs) or commissioned art (which is expensive). But you also have a third option, if you're willing to invest the time -- you can customize stock art to fit your needs.