Saturday 10 September 2011

One Page Graphic Style

I'm deep in the one page project and have a bunch of new ones to dole out in the coming days.

Meanwhile, I'm looking at my own efforts and some others' in the genre and trying to determine what the right mix of graphics and text is for me. My first effort was graphic-heavy:

But a little cryptic, especially to the right with the chest and door. A reader also needs to know how damage can come to be applied against a particular piece of equipment, and that the weird shield at bottom is made of metal. A little more text wouldn't be amiss here.

There's art under there ...
One of the card games I play a lot is Race for the Galaxy, which has attracted carping about the complex system of graphic icons on the cards. This is a standard trick in Eurogames to allow them to print cards that work in all languages. Then they print a multilingual rulebook that explains all of those glyphs and numbers.

But some of the effects in Race are too cryptic for the all-graphics approach. They're explained in text on the card, which supports an accompanying graphic that most of the time will not stand on its own as an explanation. This, of course, undermines the multilingual rationale for the glyphic language. But could there be another reason to wed text and symbol?

This is how I see graphics and numbers on my One Page Rules. They're there to break up the monotony and allow a quick visual reference. But unless they're truly representational and understandable icons, they'll be backed up with text. A kind of Rosetta stone for a visual language that's quickly learned, to back up the verbal lesson with a quick glance in play. Symbols interspersed with more iconic silhouettes and illustrations.

So, pop quiz: can you guess at a glance what each of these symbols at left represents in my rules?

Also check out the one-page efforts of Telecanter (there should be more in the archives) and -C at Hack and Slash.


  1. First Guesses
    1) The result of a 5 on a d8
    2) Roll a d6
    3) 9 points of damage
    4) Classes and Levels: Fighter of any level, 3rd Level Priest, 1st Level Warrior
    5) Insert Charisma Modifier here
    6) Roll a Saving Throw versus mind-control type effects
    7) 1 point of damage or 1 hit point

  2. Bingo, and that last one is 1 HP.

    What do people think in general of how to approach play aids - more graphics, more text, happy medium, everything's good?

  3. Actually, that first one had me stumped, which led me to construct an alternate list of interpretations:

    1.) Black Diamond course, only skiers level 5 and up.

    2.) Your d6 is infected with dark energy. A -5 penalty applies to all rolls with that die. Throw it away and get a new one.

    3.) You looked at the sun! Your ability to see the color red is reduced by 9 steps.

    4.) A fighter, a level 3 priest, and a level 1 wizard walk into a bar. The bartender says to the fighter, "Hey, Bob! I see you've brought friends! What can I get for you three?" The priest orders water and is quickly served. The wizard also asks for water; the barkeep turns up his nose, but pours another glass. But when Bob the fighter orders water as well, the barkeep throws up his hands. "You're killing me! What's going on here?" Bob glares at the barkeep. "Jim, you drink-diluting cheapskate, if you're going to pour out of the water jug and try to pass it off as wine, I thought I'd at least bring in a consultant to show you how it's done." With that, the priest passes his staff over the glasses, and the water within turns to sweet, red wine. The adventurers toss their glasses back, slap a few copper on the table, and leave the flustered barkeep sputtering.

    5.) The campaign gains a character. Or loses one. Man, old school is so deadly even chargen can be rough.

    6.) If you enter this hex, you must make a mind save. I told you it wasn't any safer to explore Arkham by overworld map. Now let me roll on the "what did you step in" table...

    7.) You found a Piece of Heart and completed a Heart Container! Your life goes up by 1.

  4. @RMDC: Awesome! For real though, I might be switching to a more wireframey look for dice rolls. The "dice icons" work better as part of my outdoor silhouettes system, I think.

  5. It's tough to balance adding graphics to iconify info without adding so many graphics that deciphering them isn't really quicker than stopping and reading a wall of text. The different languages angle is cool, though, I hadn't thought of that (of course, American).

    I think numbers are a pretty clean bit of visual info, if we only know what they're associated with. When a chart has a wall of them they become just a visual design to me. So, your using images to distinguish them is a good approach, but the black bursts in your first example are kinda busy for me. I wonder if an image might be best to direct your eye to a column of numbers: "These numbers are all damage."

    And as you and I are both struggling with, the image has to be iconic in some universal way. A shield to represent defense, a heart for HP, but what for saves?

    This is probably a better example of me trying to serve up info visually:

    Anyway, keep on truckin'.

  6. @TC: Points taken, you'll find my latest ones are less graphics heavy and use icons, text and numbers in that way. Saves, I have a distinctive black hexagon but I write "SAVE" on them. When there's no icon, a symbol will have to do.

  7. A hand-out that is meant for in-play reference (combat, exploration, spellcasting, wandering monsters) can probably hold more information graphically (but less information overall) than a hand-out meant for pre-game activities (character creation, shopping/hiring/training/rumor-mongering in town, crafting and stocking dungeons).