Thursday, 23 October 2014

How To Design A Rulebook – Preparation

So I started this series earlier in the week with a bit of an introduction. The underlying premise is that a rulebook is basically a piece of communication and like any other form of communication needs to be clear and concise to be effective. But before you go near a computer you need to decide a few things.

First of all, what do you want your rulebook to be? Do you want a no-frills, rules-only booklet or are you looking to create a lavish window into the world you've created with full colour imagery, background stories – the works?

Next you need to map out the rulebook and make a list of what you want to include and in what order.

7th Voyage contents page

What do you want to include?

• Table of Contents
You're almost certainly going to need one of these so that readers can see what's included and where they might find a particular section they're looking for.

• The Rules
Obviously you're going to need the rules themselves, but how will they be broken down into sections to make it easier to read? Will you want an introduction to the rules to explain the items needed to play and some of the terms used within the rules? 

Zombicide missions

What about any extras?

• Filler Text
Do you want to include any historic background or stories to help flesh out the world in which your rules take place. This can often be used to draw the reader in more and get their imagination going, make them more enthusiastic to play the game. Do you want to have extensive explanations of the factions involved – remember, even with historical gaming not everyone will know the background or motivations.

• Scenarios
You may want to have a few sample missions or scenarios included in your ruleset and your rules may require army lists for any factions or characters involved.

• Miniatures
Do you want to include any miniature building or painting guides? Showing off the ideal game can do wonders to capture the viewers imagination.

• Plus…
Finally, do you want to include any cards or tokens to print/cut out? Any credits, references or links to additional resources? What about an index or glossary? Any maps? Reference sheets?

How many pages?

Once you have your batting list of things to include you need to decide how much space each element will take up. If you're creating a ruleset that will only be available as a downloadable PDF or Word doc then you don't need to worry about the number of pages as much. If you intend you have your rules printed commercially then this will be a big consideration.

Whilst the cost of printing does usually go up if you have more pages, it's often not as much as you may think and there may be instances where more pages will actually cost you no more, or even less!!

The number of pages (including front and back covers) needs to be divisible by four, regardless of whether your book will be saddle-stitched (stapled) or perfect-bound (glued into the spine). I won't go into a lengthy explanation about why this is, but it's part of the production process. Therefore, if you end up with 97 pages you're either going to have to lose a page (to make it 96) or add three more (to make it a round 100).

Careful planning at this stage will save a lot of wasted time and extra work re-doing pages.

Example pagination document (yet to be completed) for a hypothetical game Humans vs Aliens

In my industry, for any brochure or catalogue in excess of 100 pages we would create a pagination document. This is basically a spreadsheet that records the intended content of every page within the book. This way you can always tell how many pages you have left and where the gaps are in your content. You'll be able to tell what's going to be on a left or right hand page and how many pages each section of the rulebook will be. This pagination document becomes your master reference for the project and is constantly updated as things change. Everyone in the early part of the process refers to it so it must be correct. You may find it useful creating one, even if your rulebook is less than 100 pages – it became a very important tool in the creation of the Aetherium rulebook, that's for sure!

So at this point you have your pagination document, you just need to make sure you have content for all these pages. Ideally you want to have a final version of your rules, or as close as you can – don't worry about photos or pictures yet.

Gather your notes together and let's look at the design of your rulebook!

To be continued…


  1. From my viewpoint of bling vs functionality that page Zombicide Mission page is an excellent example of things I like and dislike. The color pictures are good, although I don't like the way they are layed out on the page and I despise that dark watermark. If the watermark was dropped from the page I would be much happier with it.

    1. The Zombicide design style does seem to be very over the top, with little or no white space.

  2. This is turning into a fascinating series.

  3. Hi, Mike, I just found your blog and would like to talk to you about possibily designing a rulebook for me. It's for a ruleset of my own creation. Could you please contact me by email: mateus_carneiro @


  4. I suggest adding an Index too, to reference the materials in the book. Crossindexing on sidebars is good too.
    Adding hyperlinks to references is also a must have if you're having an electronic document.

  5. Great stuff, thanks for the insight!



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