Part 2: Writing Style
There are several barriers to accessibility in tabletop roleplaying games, from financial, to international shipping, to variable willingness to offer digital PDFs, to reading disabilities. I want to start by focusing on the last one: trying to learn and play TTRPGs with a reading disability.
As someone with dyslexia—who is also frequently the GM and enjoys trying a wide variety of new games—in general, TTRPGs do very little to help those with a reading disability. (I'll be upfront and admit that so far, Karma in the Dark, falls into many of the same traps as other games that I'm going to criticize.)
There are several ways to address reading disabilities: how text is laid out, how text is actually written, and having non-print alternatives to learning rules. I'm going to touch on all of those areas in my blog posts—and own process for improving Karma in the Dark's accessibility—but today I want to start with layout.
There is a lot of conflicting and terrible advice about writing and laying out documents for people with dyslexia. Part of this is complicated by a) imperfect research methods, b) the fact dyslexia is not a uniform neurological condition (i.e. it presents and affects people differently), c) people diagnosed with dyslexia sometimes actually have other conditions (e.g. a vision disorder, not a language disorder).
I spend a lot of time reading dyslexia research. So far only a few findings have been generally consistent:
This is a screenshot of my usual Kindle reader settings. I found these settings helpful through trial and error before I was ever diagnosed with dyslexia or looked at research. What did I find? I absolutely need 1 column, shortest lines possible, with large font, and I love dark brown text on a cream background.
Click on images to see a larger version.
Let's compare this to one of the most common—and most difficult—layout formats in TTRPGs: multiple columns; small, crammed together text; headings in unusual fonts; black on white text; and a colorful and distracting side margin or an image-based page background. If a page has any italic, check and see if the typeface is cramming together the letters (like the Cypher example):
My brain starts crying when it sees pages like this, and my first urge is to shut the book.
No book has perfectly hit all of the layout wickets, but here are a few examples that get closer. Fate Accelerated varies from page to page, but the basic layout has shorter lines, adequate spacing, and a common font. The book also highlights rules references in the margins, which really helps to find information faster if you get overwhelmed by words easily. Apocalypse World chose a font that remains well spaced even when using italic, and over all the layout remains simple and well spaced. While the heading font is funky, the frequent headings help to break up text into digestible sections.
As I acknowledged, the current version of Karma in the Dark violates a lot of the dyslexia-friendly tips. This might be part of the reason I find it so hard to detect and edit typos: my brain is overloaded with trying to read the text. Below I've included an example of 1) default layout; 2) max dyslexia-adjusted layout; 3) a compromise between the two.
If you want to offer multiple versions of the rules (at least digitally) in practical terms, the easiest way is to design the layout so either a) the spacing is similar, or b) the layout can easily be adapted to different page lengths (e.g. always ending a chapter on an even or odd page so the changes don't disturb the next chapter). That way, if you change font and colors, the layout itself only shifts minimally. When I prepare the next version of the Karma rules, I will likely make a few changes for the base rulebook, then have a dyslexia-friendly version as a separate PDF. For example:
Since I design chapters to always end on a right-handed page, having a longer dyslexia PDF really only means I need to reload the table of content and index. Luckily, InDesign automates that process, so having two versions will require minimal extra work.
Using these rules to adapt printed rulebooks faces different barriers (e.g. printing costs) but when it comes to electronic formats, it's easier than ever to create accessible layout.
I'm known for going on tangents. The only consistent thing in my life is that I spend most of it creating things: novels, games, graphics. I love taking apart how art and games work, then reconstructing my own version from the pieces. I'm also enough of a layout perfectionist to adore eraser shields.