Conversation about accessible rulebooks often raises the question: why aren't more tabletop roleplaying games in epub and mobi format?
Diversifying the formats offered would allow more control over layout for those who need it. MOBI allows you to tap into all of the Kindle app's features like color of text and background, column size, text size, font, etc. EPUB allows control over font size, and also offers an easy to use text-to-speech feature.
I'm pretty sure that Jason Pitre was the one I first heard suggest a workflow involving markdown to allow easy adaption of your game text into ebook formats. Based on this idea, I decided to try and create a workflow that would allow me to publish games in 3 formats with the least amount of extra work: interactive PDF, EPUB, and MOBI.
So how did it go?
I decided the best strategy would be to use Google docs as my essential word processor, then use a variety of available strategies to translate that text base into the three formats I wanted. I already use it for most of my InDesign work because you can download the document as a RTF then place it in InDesign with all of the formatting styles preserved. At the same time, it is a very simple word processor so I don't get distracted by more than the most basic formatting.
I chose Sun & Daughter as my test case because the text is short and has a relatively simple layout. It does, however, use tables and I wanted to see how well that would turn out since tables feature in most of my game designs.
First I created a formatted document in Google docs. This means using the headers, quote, and normal text formatting as appropriate.
For Indesign, I "Download As..." and choose the RTF option. In my InDesign document, I use the place feature to place the text into text frames, then continue layout as normal for creating a PDF.
EPUB and MOBI are a bit more complicated.
After the first time through, I learned to process a Google doc into EPUB and MOBI formats in less than 15 minutes. Not bad, right?
You can see my first draft of Sun & Daughter as an EPUB and MOBI version.
Two things stand out immediately.
One, just following the conversion process above leaves something to be desired when it comes to the formatting. I've started to look more into Markdown and formatting ebooks. It seems I can definitely do more with style sheets, better ways to display tables, add a cover, and overall improve the look of the ebook versions. Once I'm more skilled in the process, I will have a better idea of how much time that will add.
Two, and more significantly, changing the format of the document changes how you read it and process information. I compensated some by changing the order of information, but I don't think that's enough. When you create layout in PDF format, the visual structure adds to organization. It allows you to chunk information; place information that is related on the same page but in a different visual space; and in general is best designed when it allows for quick reference. Simply taking the same word document from the PDF verison and funneling it into an ebook version doesn't account for this difference.
A truly effective ebook would be organized and written to its specific format. Just as the most effective PDFs are formatted to take advantage of their visual format (and how you interact with them digitally). In some ways, this is the difference between reading a textbook (ebook friendly) and the rulebook to a boardgame (PDF friendly). Finding a way to cater to both without investing a huge amount of additional time will be tricky.
I want to keep experimenting with this idea. As of right now, I can create workable EPUB and MOBI versions without very much extra investment. But to make them feel like equally viable versions to the PDF, I need to develop more skills with ebook publishing and writing styles that fit them.
Note: Amazon does offer an InDesign plugin, but it doesn't support the newest versions of InDesign. It also did a pretty terrible job of converting when I tried it.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.