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Neil Carr
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I've stepped onto the path of being an amateur RPG publisher via Kickstarter. I want to see how far I can travel from zero-to-hero and I'm looking for help along the way. These series of posts are in part just me thinking aloud, but also asking specific questions as I put the pieces together to achieve rpg publishing victory.

To kick off I'm thinking about what publishing software to use. I've been using Open Office for years now due to the great low price of free, though now that it isn't supported I've moved over to Libreoffice as it is being supported in the opensource community. Both mimic Microsoft Office in all the types of functions you'd expect from that suite of software.

This stuff works fine for writing, and even for one-button PDF creation, but it isn't really meant to be publishing software, particularly if you want to include a lot of art, side bars, and other features that you'd expect from an RPG product.

For that you need layout software that is designed for you to easily move blocks of material around and format them to fit with whatever style you're trying to achieve on the page. The top of the line for publishing in general is Adobe's InDesign. It's powerful, it's complicated, and it's expensive! $300 and you'd likely need to spend another $600 on a course to understand how to use it.

For the amateur like me it's complete overkill and the price is so high that I'd need to jack the Kickstarter up another $300 just to buy the software, and then be stressed out trying to figure out how to use this turbo charged engine while the backers gather their impatience. Too much risk all around.

One option is to leap back into the warm embrace of opensource and go download Scribus. It's kind of the Openoffice for InDesign, in that's it free, but still chock full of powerful features to pull off all sorts of layout needs.

Scribus saves money, but there is a learning curve to it. I'm not sure if I want to go this route at the moment.

Another option is PagePlus. This $100 package is built for layout, and purportedly is also dumbed down enough to be able to jump into it and start producing. Is this the Goldilocks Zone of layout software?

So that's where I'm at right now in assessing what to go with next. Years of work are in Openoffice files ready to be copy and pasted out into some layout software. I'm trying to figure out my own particular time/money priority.

At some point in the future, when I've leveled up with RPG material published, I'd want the whole Adobe suite at my fingertips, so I'd see InDesign, the +5 Holy Avenger of layout, as something I'd want to wield, but right now I'm just trying to figure out if I should invest in a masterwork longsword or just grab a regular great flail.

Any suggestions on the above, or other things to be looking at?
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William Hostman
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Scribus is directly comparable to Pagemaker 6.x, but for modern OS's. In other words, it does almost everything you NEED in page layout. Including, now, PDF/X-1a & PDF/X-3

The learning curve is worth it; it was for Page Maker.

Also, get several good books on page design... many of the "page designs" in the gaming industry are anything but practical, and a good book on functional layout is well worth the time.
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Eloy Lasanta
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I myself too the plunge into InDesign and slowly taught myself to use it, each of my books coming out better and better. I've looked at some of the free and less expensive programs and they just don't do everything InDesign does. There's a lot of free training material that you can find online too.

-Eloy
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Chad Bowser
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My very first self-published product came out in an older version of MS Publisher. It was very workman like and produced a very non-fancy, but functional product. Tough part of it was that it used a proprietary file format that things like InDesign/Pagemaker/etc couldn't open and Publisher didn't export to those formats. If you're just looking to layout then print, that shouldn't be an issue, though. I have the current version of Publisher as well, but haven't used it and haven't looked into its file formats.

I've also used Scribus. If you're willing to put in the time, you can produce some very good stuff. The community can be helpful when you're trying to figure something out.

However, I still think InDesign takes the cake as the layout program for the quality of product that can be produced with the least amount of effort. However, it is the $$$ gorilla in the room.
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Neil Carr
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First Oni wrote:
I myself too the plunge into InDesign and slowly taught myself to use it, each of my books coming out better and better. I've looked at some of the free and less expensive programs and they just don't do everything InDesign does. There's a lot of free training material that you can find online too.

-Eloy


Is there an example you could give of what InDesign can do that other programs can't? I totally believe you, it's more about just being in the dark with this whole range of software and so getting some concrete distinctions helps in wrapping the mind around the differences.
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Eloy Lasanta
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echoota wrote:
First Oni wrote:
I myself too the plunge into InDesign and slowly taught myself to use it, each of my books coming out better and better. I've looked at some of the free and less expensive programs and they just don't do everything InDesign does. There's a lot of free training material that you can find online too.

-Eloy


Is there an example you could give of what InDesign can do that other programs can't? I totally believe you, it's more about just being in the dark with this whole range of software and so getting some concrete distinctions helps in wrapping the mind around the differences.


It's kind of what Chad said... it's about the ease of use. I use InDesign for easy importing of art, word wrapping, storing my page and headers settings, the ability to store templates and have layers, making quick changes to any settings that apply across the whole document. I mean, other programs might be able to do this too, but I always had a hard time figuring out other programs, whereas InDesign just seems to have it all in line with the way my brain works.

-Eloy
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Marshall Miller
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I hear you. I've been using openoffice and its bugs just kill me.
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I use InDesign, for better or worse. I crank out 3 convention booklets a year and just cranked out the reprint of Starship Command on it.

It's a maddening piece of software, and it's designed deliberately so that if you have multiple parties working on a project you had better all have the same version. And good luck mixing platforms (Mac and Windows) as there's subtle bugs that tweak things as files move from one to the other. Font handling is the area we've observed the most problems (though we actually suspect the problem could be outside of InDesign. Microsoft fonts from Office are subtly different between versions for the different platforms, and I would not be shocked if that's the real problem)

The good thing? As long as you move forward it keeps working. We were able to open up our 18-year-old PageMaker files and extract what we needed into InDesign CS 5.5!
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Neil Carr
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Can anyone speak to the idea of picking up an earlier version of InDesign? From what I've read CS3 was a "great leap forward" in easy of use, and then CS5 did yet another big leap. Aside from perhaps having a steeper learning curve, are there pitfalls to going with an earlier version?

And I guess this is from the perspective of doing it all in house, hitting the magic PDF button, and then sending that off to a printer, so I'd imagine it doesn't involve having to interact with other users of InDesign.
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Jacob Wood
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Aside from ease of use, is there anything InDesign does better than MS PUblisher? Is Publisher too utilitarian for a big project like a game book?

I have Publisher 2010 (thank you, Office for Students!) and had some experience years ago with earlier versions when I worked as a newsletter designer for a chamber of commerce. It seems fairly straightforward and easy to use, though I haven't gotten the hang of importing large blocks of text (like 170+ pages) from Word just yet.

Since I'm already tied to MS Word and the rest of the Office suite, should I bother with other publishing software or does MS Publisher work for professional-level design?
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Chad Bowser
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Munkwunk wrote:


Since I'm already tied to MS Word and the rest of the Office suite, should I bother with other publishing software or does MS Publisher work for professional-level design?


We used Publisher 2003 for Cthulhu Invictus (1st edition) and it turned out perfectly serviceable. However, that was also our first foray into a modern DTP - previous to that was pagemaker back in '93. I don't even remember the version.

I'm sure 2010 (have it but never used it) has added bells and whistles that weren't there in 2003. And familiarity with a layout program goes a long way.
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Eric M. Aldrich I
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echoota wrote:
Can anyone speak to the idea of picking up an earlier version of InDesign? From what I've read CS3 was a "great leap forward" in easy of use, and then CS5 did yet another big leap. Aside from perhaps having a steeper learning curve, are there pitfalls to going with an earlier version?

And I guess this is from the perspective of doing it all in house, hitting the magic PDF button, and then sending that off to a printer, so I'd imagine it doesn't involve having to interact with other users of InDesign.


CS3 is good. CS 5.5 is frustrating.

If you're on a modern Mac, CS 3 is the minimum as CS 2 will not run on Snow Leopard. I actually prefer CS 2 to CS 3, but yes, CS 3 seems to be a leap forward in capabilities and it's what I use. I had to use CS 5.5 for Starship Command and was not happy with the process.

That said, the great bridge version is CS 4. It's the only version that can write out files readable by CS 3 and before and CS 5 and 5.5. This was a source of some serious problems for us on Starship Command, and our final solution was to use the trial version of 5.5 for those of us that only had to do limited work (you've got 30 days to get the project done before it turns into a total turkey). I own a full legal copy of CS 3 and CS 2 -- I have no need for CS 5.5 beyond this last project so I was reticent about spending the necessary cash to upgrade.
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Eric M. Aldrich I
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Munkwunk wrote:
Aside from ease of use, is there anything InDesign does better than MS PUblisher? Is Publisher too utilitarian for a big project like a game book?

I have Publisher 2010 (thank you, Office for Students!) and had some experience years ago with earlier versions when I worked as a newsletter designer for a chamber of commerce. It seems fairly straightforward and easy to use, though I haven't gotten the hang of importing large blocks of text (like 170+ pages) from Word just yet.

Since I'm already tied to MS Word and the rest of the Office suite, should I bother with other publishing software or does MS Publisher work for professional-level design?


The great problem with MS Publisher is if you're going to get stuff professionally printed, there's a chance that the print shop is Mac based, and well, that's a no go for the most part. I'm sure there are Mac programs that will handle publisher, but I don't know of them. Most print shops support both platforms these days, and you can always submit a PDF for a lot of things.
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Brian Leet
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I've been doing layouts in Scribus for board game rules prototypes. It does what you need, but has some annoying interface quirks and bugs. In particular it resizes the program window when selecting new commands sometimes, which drives me nuts. I'm not sure I would have gotten to where I was going if I wasn't already generally familiar with DTP software and what the capabilities are and should be called. But, you can't prove the negative and I came to it with some experience.

The good news is that it is free, open source, and powerful enough to do most anything I'd think you would want to do.

I really liked PageMaker, but haven't used InDesign enough to have a strong opinion on it.
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Steve Bode
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This is a rather timely post for me since I'm ready to port my own game out of Word and use a real DTP tool. I was looking at InDesign (I have access to the CS5 version on my work laptop) but was also concerned about the learning curve. I'm very familiar with Photoshop, but have almost no experience with InDesign. I never even considered MS Publisher an option since I thought it was just for brochures and newsletters, but after I read Jacob Wood's recommendation I checked out MS Publisher and found it is more intuitive and would probably meet my needs. That said, if I'm going to make the effort to really learn how to work with a DTP I might still go the InDesign route. It's always nice to work on a project like this and be able to take away a new skill set, and I believe InDesign experience looks better on a resume than MS Publisher.

One quick question, I read somewhere that you can't create tables in InDesign, that you essentially have to take a screen capture of the table in Word, save as a graphic, the import into InDesign, is this true?

-Steve
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Eloy Lasanta
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sabode wrote:
One quick question, I read somewhere that you can't create tables in InDesign, that you essentially have to take a screen capture of the table in Word, save as a graphic, the import into InDesign, is this true?


Very very very untrue. As a matter of fact, I spent most of my night last night working on tables for Mermaid Adventures (http://kck.st/zDOhIg). So, yes, tables are fully supported in InDesign.

-Eloy
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I can further add that importing tables from Word and even plain html works fine in CS 3. (Haven't tried in CS 5.5)
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Jacob Wood
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I wanted to make a few updates here, since I've been fiddling around with various DTP programs as of late. I've tried MS Publisher, Scribus, and PagePlus Starter Edition, and here are some initial impressions for each.

MS Publisher: It's great for building brochures, flyers, and even character sheets (I used it to make the Colors of Grey character sheet) but seems to have problems importing Word documents and keeping all of my formatting. I've tried importing small documents and the text moves over just fine, but I'd prefer to not have to re-format all of my text that I spent time setting up Word stylesheets for in the first place. I"d think that since it's the same version of MS Office that I use for Word it'd "just work," but that's not the case.

Scribus: If I about pulled my hair out with this one. I've done a lot of research and read/watched a lot of tutorials about Scribus, and it just isn't doing it for me. I downloaded 1.4.0 and it just doesn't seem to do a very good job of importing text at all.

For starters, if you're using Word you have to save your files as .ODT or Scribus will simply snub its nose at you. It will import .DOC (but not .DOCX) as plain text only, meaning all of that hard formatting work is gone. So I saved as .ODT, imported it into Scribus, and got nothing but illegible, fuzzy text all over the screen. In Edit Text mode I was able to read all of the text and presumably work with my stylesheets, but going back to the document window proved pointless because the text was so illegible that I couldn't make out any changes anyway. The tutorial video I watched about this didn't seem to have any problems importing text from OpenOffice, but even after trying everything *exactly* as the tutorial video did I got the same results.

Problems with my version/Windows version/other software interactions? I don't know, but I'm not about to import a 170+ page document and re-format everything from scratch.

PagePlus SE: This actually seems like a really solid program. I was able to import from Word and, though it didn't keep al of my styles in tact, it was able to keep the general idea; all of my bold, italics, and font sizes imported jsut fine, but I did have to re-set my fonts. Of the three programs I've tried so far, it seems like it would be the least difficult to import a Word document and just get started on the layout.

Unfortunately, Starter Edition has a cap on the number of pages you can import and work on for a single document (dang Shareware) and I had to jump through a bunch of account set-up hoops just to get it. SE won't work for a gaming book, but $100 for the full version actually seems like a pretty good deal and one I may be inclined to entertain when I'm really ready to start production.

On one final note, Adobe recently released CS6 of all of its major production software in a new program called "Creative Cloud." You can sign up for a monthly fee ($50 with a 1-year commitment or $75 month-to-month) for the ability to download and use nearly all of it sproducts without the high up-front costs. This strikes me as a really solid option for the "little guys" to get their hands on Adobe products without breaking the bank, and also for ease of collaborating across software versions and platforms.

I'm still not sur eif I would rather drop $100 for a permanent license of PagePlus or $75 for a month of Creative Cloud access and then just trying to knock out all of the layout in under 30 days. My biggest deciding factor would be whether or not InDesign can import a Word document and NOT require me to reformat just about every block of text and table I've already written. Does anyone here with InDesign experience know how well the software can handle that job?
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Neil Carr
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Thanks, that's some great information!

Over on RPGNow, when you set up your publishing account there is an hour long video seminar that goes through the process of getting your files for print set up to work with One Book Shelf's POD system. The layout expert was doing everything in Scribus. It seemed pretty straight forward and I have to say is a must see for the newbie in this whole process.

They have templates for you to download, one for Sribus and one for InDesign. Pageplus was asked about in the seminar. The layout expert said that she did not use PP, and that it might be ok, but it's possible that some of the exacting technical specifications that they need for their print files might not be replicable in PP.

PP does sound appealing to me for it's ease of use, and version 6 which has the epub and other ebook export features is likewise a nice feature to have when it comes time to offering up digital options. However with that seminar video it does shove me towards grappling with Scribus, particularly since the template is all set up and ready for you.

But that is excellent news about CS6. It isn't exactly cheap, but it opens up an option that can be pursued if everything else isn't working.

When you were moving things over into Scribus, did you do it from Openoffice or Libreoffice? If you were still using Word perhaps it's just Word's ODT conversion that is causing the problem.
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Jacob Wood
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It may indeed be the conversion from Word, since I just used the Save As function to save it as .ODT> I previewed it in an old copy of OpenOffice I had laying around (I haven't bothered with LibreOffice yet).

I'd be interested to hear if anyone has better luck with Scribus than I did. It may be worth it to try a full remake of some of my smaller Word documents, but certainly not my big project.
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Neil Carr
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I was just messing around with Scribus and tried out the import feature from files I'd made from LibreOffice and it seemed to do fine. All of the bolded features were still present, along with different font sizes.

Images and tables didn't import.

When I was installing Scribus there was this whole deal with having Ghostscript installed also on the computer. The help file discussed features that would be missing without GS, but they were a bit more technical than what I'd be able to grock at this point.
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Ghostscript is the open source equivalent of postscript, and you'll probably need it sooner or later if you're doing DTP with open source software. It's pretty straightforward to download and install, and it might fix the image and table import issues.
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