Thursday, July 10, 2014

The RPG Rule Book — A Modern Illuminated Manuscript

A recent post from Chaosium regarding its Call of Chuthulu 7 Kickstarter got me thinking about what other books containing such a depth of both copy text and details existed in this world. The only thing that came to mind was perhaps medieval illuminated manuscripts of the Bible. 

Chaosiums graphic designer Badger relayed an interesting account of his process in laying out the rule book for CoC 7.

He talks about researching other modern rulebooks to learn about what is and what is not working with their design.
A quick bit of research regarding contemporary illuminated manuscripts resulted in finding the Saint John's Bible project.

The blog I was reading that lead me to the Saint John's Bible asks "what other works do we consider to be worth this sort of treatment?"

I had to ask myself, if RPG rule books seek to emulate this style of design; what one set of RPG rules would I consider important enough to be transformed into a one of a kind art object as was done with the Saint John's Bible commission?

In a previous post I talked about how the orignal LBBs reminded me of indie publishing like punk zines from the 80s. How do we go from zines to illuminated manuscripts? Full colour rule books basically start with the WotC d20 Fantasy rules they marketed as D&D Third Edition. That however was not the beginning. 

During the mid to late eighties TSR moved toward a graphic design decision of emulation. One only has to look at elements and products from games such as Top Secret, Conan and Adventures of Indiana Jones to see some examples. This trend I believe started with the Greyhawk Boxed Set and pretty much ended with the full colour pages of the Forgotten Realms Boxed Set, the latter of which I would guess was used as inspiration by the Magic The Gathering pool of artists and designers as a reference when designing d20 Fantasy. 

1983 Greyhawk Box Set
1983 Greyhawk Box Set (Interior)
1983 Top Secret Operation Orient Express (Interior)
1985 World of Hyboria (Conan RPG)
1987 Forgotten Realms Box Set (Interior) note the parchment emulation here foreshadowing  3e

Between these two ideas (conceptually though not chronologically) RPG rules books including D&D Second Edition (TSR) and Star Wars (West End Games) seem to have been influenced by the clean and attractive design of the James Bond 007 RPG by Victory Games that incorporated a blue highlight colour. This was pretty much the end of the completely black and white era.

1983 James Bond 007 RPG (Interior)

1987 Star Wars Sourcebook (Interior)

1989 AD&D (2e) Players Handbook (Interior)

As for what rules set I'd personally want to see made up as an illuminated manuscript, that hard to say. I'd hope it to be many things. Iconic such as AD&D, Elegant as is Tom Moldvay's Basic, Genre Neutral like Basic Roleplaying or FATE. Perhaps if someone actually created an amazing universal RPG system that would be the one (nice try Amazing Engine, but not quite).