Author Topic: an iBook rulebook  (Read 2623 times)

Tom

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an iBook rulebook
« on: July 17, 2013, 09:21:48 AM »
New to this forum, but I've been playing RPGs for about 20 years, and over the years written one or three, as probably most of us here have.

Since I founded a small company recently, I've decided to make my current project commercial, and experiment with iBook as a medium. At least at first, there will be both (regular) digitial and print editions as well, later on.


I've seen that there are a few early attempts at using interactive content for roleplaying books, though the main item seems to be interactive maps (zoom, scroll, click on locations to go to a detail map, etc.)

I'm trying some more options. And I'd like some feedback and ideas from others, please. First, without reading below, I'd like to know what kind of interactive content you would want to see in a rulebook. Asking for this first is intentional because if you read my ideas below first, you will be primed (as the psychologists say).


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spoilers below


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Ok, you had time enough for some of your own ideas, here's what I've already done or am working on:

First, I'm using interactive images to explain character sheets and other forms that the players will handle. So there's a small view of the character sheet inside the rule book with the various sections explained, and when you go through the explanations, the view zooms to that particular section.

Then I have 3d models that can be interactively rotated and viewed from every side. For more complicated equipment like vehicles that's an interesting approach, though I'm not yet sure if a good sketch can't give players the same amount of mental picture. As I said, it's experimental.

I'm using a quiz at the end of the section that explains the core dice mechanics, and players can go through a few examples and check if they understood the whole mechanics correctly by completing the quiz and being told if their answers are correct or not.

Of course, I do a lot of hyperlinking where a regular rulebook would say "see chapter abc on page 123".

The example missions in the rulebook have a spoken briefing for the players. So in addition to the usual "read or paraphrase the below to the players", I also have "or click this button and I will read it to them".

Finally, I am using pop-ups for optional reading. Throughout the rules I explain not just what the rules are, but also why I designed it that way. Since some readers won't care about that and because you don't need it cluttering up the text when you are looking up a rule, there's an info bubble button that you click to make the design-thoughts pop up.



All of this is experimental and may change, be added to or dropped before I publish the book, but I think that iBooks are a great opportunity to break from the linear presentation that is good for a novel but not optimal for a roleplaying rules book.



Your thoughts?

shlo

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2013, 11:15:54 AM »
Hello,

Reading your post, I guess you mean eBooks (electronic books) rather than iBook (an obsolete computer by Apple).

I had in mind to write such an interactive book for a possible game of mine. I like the interaction as a mean of learning things, and I think a classic “choose your own adventure” (CYOA) would be quite good for that. When you read a rule book, you often think “Yes but what happen if I do [this] instead?” The answer is probably somewhere else in the book, and you have to look for it. I think a CYOA book could teach you the rules and the way to master this game while playing your first session. Doing is a better way to learn than reading. Maybe it's even good enough to start a game with actual players while reading the book, covering character creation, introduction, adventure and so on. That would be a mix a rules, replay and tasting the game. Then the book would end with some advice to create similar adventures by yourself (and not necessarily in a CYOA format.)

This is something I want to try in a near future, even if I don't know yet which game I would present that way... A simple pdf is enough for that, since you can make hyperlinks to navigate inside the document. Of course a website or an offline html file is good as well.

Now seeing what you suggest, there are some similarities. I'm not sure about viewing models : the more you show, the less you leave room for imagination. But for example a kind of Google map of a virtual world would be very cool. One thing to note, though: from what I read in RPG forums a lot of people don't like to read on screen, unless it's a very short document. More people are going to read on a tablet, or maybe on an eBook reader but this last one often offers less interactivity. For a twenty pages or less RPG that would be nice, but I can't imagine people reading a classical 300 pages book on any screen.

michael.

Joshua Bearden

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2013, 02:57:25 PM »
Hi Tom,

My feedback/suggestions below are not going to be terribly encouraging. I'm going to err on the side of honesty rather than diplomacy. On the bright side I'm not an industry expert by any stretch and rather than actually feel discouraged/annoyed/offended by my grumbling, please take my feedback with a large bucket of Dead Sea water.  The strength of my opinions is far out of proportion with the depth of my knowledge. As usual.

My strong bias comes primarily from my experiences in the late 90s and early 00's working in product development and, (briefly), in online education. Back then my employers and everyone was all excited about flash/shockwave/"interactive media" et al as a revolutionary set of tools to turn education upside down.  I was just as excited as everyone else and pitched all kinds of "experiential" alternatives to the "boring old textbook". After sufficient heartbreak, embarrassment and change of career I now have the following opinion: The text is what really matters. Decent media can make good text a pleasure to use but poor or mediocre text makes even brilliant media useless. The style, organization, and clarity of your publication's text is the foundation, walls, roof, and civic lot of your product. The "interactive media" is wallpaper.

Since I founded a small company recently, I've decided to make my current project commercial, and experiment with iBook as a medium. At least at first, there will be both (regular) digitial and print editions as well, later on.

Good! As I said, I think the quality of the print edition is the first priority by an order of magnitude. However this does raise another issue. A nice print product demands a significant investment in art, layout and design; very little of which will be re-usable in the digital version. (I'm assuming you also consider a pdf as "print"; and by "digital" refer to a computer application).  To produce something worthy of printing (either by the publisher or by the customer after downloading) one needs to choose fonts, layout, illustrations that won't work in the app. So the problem is extra upfront investment.

I've seen that there are a few early attempts at using interactive content for roleplaying books, though the main item seems to be interactive maps (zoom, scroll, click on locations to go to a detail map, etc.)

I'm trying some more options. And I'd like some feedback and ideas from others, please. First, without reading below, I'd like to know what kind of interactive content you would want to see in a rulebook. Asking for this first is intentional because if you read my ideas below first, you will be primed (as the psychologists say).

In my curmudgeonly opinion, there's really only one digital feature that makes a digital version of a rule book worthwhile. Easy, fast, and effective search tools. I've downloaded and used a number of digital reference books both for gaming and other purposes.  The ones that let me search quickly and intuitively:  meaning without me having to think of more than one (or at MOST two) search terms in order to generate a handful of likely references, get used regularly. (Reviewing this comment I realize all I'm trying to say is you need Google inside your app). Any book that doesn't get that right gets  ignored no matter how many interactive activities or multi-media elements it contains.

Unless I've downloaded an actual game to be played ON the
tablet/phone/i-thingie, I almost never have any patience for textual information being delivered to me via interaction.  Interactive for me is typically a euphemism for inefficient. 

But, see:
I like the interaction as a mean of learning things, and I think a classic “choose your own adventure” (CYOA) would be quite good for that.

There may be way more customers that agree with Michael than me on that point.

Ok, you had time enough for some of your own ideas, here's what I've already done or am working on:

First, I'm using interactive images to explain character sheets and other forms that the players will handle. So there's a small view of the character sheet inside the rule book with the various sections explained, and when you go through the explanations, the view zooms to that particular section.

This sounds interesting to me only because I imagine the character sheet as a secondary interface for browsing and searching the rules text. (It had better not be the primary means cause that would drive me nuts.)

Then I have 3d models that can be interactively rotated and viewed from every side. For more complicated equipment like vehicles that's an interesting approach, though I'm not yet sure if a good sketch can't give players the same amount of mental picture. As I said, it's experimental.

These 3D models better be stunningly beautiful! A functional understated line
drawing is useful and inoffensive.  A "functional/understated" 3D model
typically looks like ... er something ugly.

Here's a rhetorical non-sequiter:  A picture may be "worth" thousand words, but how does this help when you only have 100 words of useful information to convey?

I'm using a quiz at the end of the section that explains the core dice mechanics, and players can go through a few examples and check if they understood the whole mechanics correctly by completing the quiz and being told if their answers are correct or not.

I don't think I'd enjoy that very much.

Of course, I do a lot of hyperlinking where a regular rulebook would say "see chapter abc on page 123".

Yes, absolutely. In fact I think the challenge and frustration of building
hypertext documents is that you have to try and anticipate all the places a future user will expect and demand a link.  Lots of usability testing is probably essential. 

The example missions in the rulebook have a spoken briefing for the players. So in addition to the usual "read or paraphrase the below to the players", I also have "or click this button and I will read it to them".

If you sound like Morgan Freeman/Cate Blanchett ... I might listen for 25 seconds, tops. (I know I'm an asshole! Please remember my disclaimer at the top!)

Finally, I am using pop-ups for optional reading. Throughout the rules I explain not just what the rules are, but also why I designed it that way. Since some readers won't care about that and because you don't need it cluttering up the text when you are looking up a rule, there's an info bubble button that you click to make the design-thoughts pop up.

That sounds cool to me.  I come to this forum and I read RPG rules often because I'm more interested in how people think about RPG's than how to follow one particular set of rules.  However if you're going to be wisely skeptical of how representative my negative comments are of your target audience, you'll probably want to apply same skepticism here.   



All of this is experimental and may change, be added to or dropped before I publish the book, but I think that iBooks are a great opportunity to break from the linear presentation that is good for a novel but not optimal for a roleplaying rules book.

I think the most important opportunity presented by electronic text is the potential convenience and efficiency. But I think it takes considerable effort to realize that potential. Even with a well organized, highly searchable app on my smartphone dedicated to D&D 3.5 spells I only occasionally achieve faster look ups at the table than someone with the Players Handbook in their lap.  That's baseline convenience.  The app starts to pull ahead if I can use it to make quick spell lists, mark off castings etc. 

I guess I'm suggesting applications that offer tools to the players for quickly completing necessary game tasks ... might offer me some real value.


Your thoughts?

Your plans are probably much better thought out, and will likely to be much better executed than an nearly anonymous pessimist on the internet can even imagine so if you have a clear vision... go for it of course.  I hope send me a link to your kickstarter or equivalent campaign. For all my talk I'd probably bite.

Cheers!

Tom

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2013, 05:04:56 PM »
Reading your post, I guess you mean eBooks (electronic books) rather than iBook (an obsolete computer by Apple).

No, I mean iBook as in an eBook for the iBooks software running on the Apple iPad, etc.

Specifically, the format created by this tool:
https://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/



For a twenty pages or less RPG that would be nice, but I can't imagine people reading a classical 300 pages book on any screen.

Yes, that is the main reason I will definitely make a print edition.

But, again following Ron here, for the first edition that hopefully creates enough money to pay for the second, it is much, much easier to publish electronically. I've got a book published in both eBook format and print (yes, you can order it on Amazon), and the process for print was quite a bit more work and also more expensive (because if you self-publish, they do charge you for proofs) then digital.



My feedback/suggestions below are not going to be terribly encouraging.

Fantastic, thank you. I mean it. Fanboys are good for the ego, but to get something done, honest, constructive criticism is much better.




there's really only one digital feature that makes a digital version of a rule book worthwhile. Easy, fast, and effective search tools.

I agree that is very important and one of the areas where a digital version can outshine a printed one. I can only use what the format offers me, but the iBook format offers a Glossary in addition to a search index, and even though the current alpha version only makes rudimentary use of it, I understand this is a very important part of the finished product.

My vision is that for all those "how did X work again?" questions that we all hate because it means interrupting the game and flipping through the rulebook for a few minutes, you could turn to the Glossary which (hopefully) has an entry for your problem and a short summary of exactly what you need.




This sounds interesting to me only because I imagine the character sheet as a secondary interface for browsing and searching the rules text. (It had better not be the primary means cause that would drive me nuts.)

Hehe, I was probably overselling this. What is basically is is a character sheet with arrows and bubbles telling you what each section is. The interactivity is simply the bubble text expanding and the view zooming in so it is easier to read and clearer what everything refers to.


(on the quiz)
I don't think I'd enjoy that very much.

Would it disturb you, or would you simply ignore and skip it? This is entirely optional, I should explain. My thinking was that I know many people who are not rules cracks who after reading the rules are uncertain if they really "got it". The quiz would help assure them that yes, they did understand everything correctly.




I guess I'm suggesting applications that offer tools to the players for quickly completing necessary game tasks ... might offer me some real value.

That is an interesting line of thought. There are a number of things that I could imagine as useful in a tablet app. For both the GM and the players. This, however, is something that I am skeptical about, because just like you I've tried a couple of digital tools and most of the time they slow you down rather then speed you up.

But something like a digital NPC sheet ("hey iPad, give me 3 dogs and 2 colonists" and it shows a list, including their values, and a field where you can tap each time they get a wound) might be an interesting thought - for somewhere in the future.




Your plans are probably much better thought out, and will likely to be much better executed than an nearly anonymous pessimist on the internet can even imagine so if you have a clear vision... go for it of course.  I hope send me a link to your kickstarter or equivalent campaign. For all my talk I'd probably bite.

Thanks. I actually thought about a crowdfunding campaign, but I'm currently reconsidering. I'm getting some artists first to figure out what the cost would be, and then I'll decide. The beauty of digital formats is that they can be updated, so I could do a crowdfunding that basically says "pay $x, and you will get the current version of the rules immediately. If and only if we reach the funding goal, I will hire an artist and create a much more beautiful version and you will automatically get the update".

There are a number of interesting options that have emerged in the past few years.


Ron Edwards

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2013, 05:33:11 PM »
Hi Tom,

When I was at Lucca last year, I had the chance to see all kinds of book/digital combinations, including sections of a book that you could pass your i-Pad(or whatever) over, and little movies would pop up on it - really freaky stuff.

What I'm liking about your project is that you are really seeking value added, rather than merely saying, "Ooh doggies, it's a book! On a screen!" Speaking as a game author and a teacher, I quite like the little quizzes, especially since they could replace the historically terrible and aggravating examples for stuff like combat rules. If I could have inserted an interactive feature into the Sorcerer book that taught combat sequencing, instead of re-writing and borking and re-writing the Brandon-and-Fragg example over and over for years, I would have jumped at it. I can see how it doesn't sound all too attractive upon hearing about it - who likes quizzes? that's school! fuck that - but I think that as a well-done feature, it would win instant converts. Because you'd know, after doing it, that you really do understand it.

I would also consider "speaking parts" for particular pedagogical moments. There are things I've conveyed very effectively, over and over, in person or in interviews, that simply could not be conveyed no matter how many times I wrote them. Things that people re-visited years later and said, "But it was perfectly clear right there the whole time, how could I have missed it," after they'd learned it in person. Expression, body language, and above all voice techniques that convey those things, makes all the difference. If I could have, I would have put one solid moment of that kind into the Sorcerer core book - basically, "I" pop up (if called) and say, "See this bit here? OK, it goes like this," and explain it as effectively as possible, in ways that printed text simply cannot do.

Best, Ron

Tom

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2013, 06:42:13 PM »
Thanks, Ron.

I'm not sure about the reading parts, as I personally am not a fan of audio-books (they are too slow, I read fast).

I'm still struggling with the best way to do quizzes, and that's probably something that needs some user-testing and experience. I also do have examples in the book as we know them from rulebooks, because sometimes an example can illustrate a game mechanic so much better.


There is also more stuff I'm experimenting with. For example, this being a SciFi game, I'm working on a simple random planet generator in Javascript that I can include in the book. Where the print edition will have tables to roll on, the iBook can have a widget where you press a button and the iPad does the rolling for you.

I would just love to have an interactive character generator, but unfortunately I don't think there is a way to print out the resulting character sheet.

Ron Edwards

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2013, 08:09:02 AM »
Hi Tom and everyone,

I'm definitely not talking about an "audio book," in which the visible text is read aloud. That strikes me as a horrible thing.

I'm talking instead about the voice (or visible clip) saying something else which acts together with the text to generate a complete pedagogy.

This is precisely what really happens when people learn a given RPG. One person at the table has the text and points to various sections which matter most at that particular moment, and he or she talks to explain it. When this is done right, the person isn't merely reading stuff aloud (directly or from memory), he or she is saying something else which orients the listener properly for looking at the text.

Best, Ron

Tom

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2013, 08:23:59 AM »
Ok, got it now.

Still not convinced, though. When you are explaining things in person, there is a lot of interaction going on. You speed up or slow down depending on the reaction you get from the audience, you can see what they are looking at, if they're finished reading, you can go back if they look puzzled, stuff like that.

What is true, however, is that some people learn better by reading and some people learn better by listening, etc.

I think one thing an e-book could do is having more visual elements to help those that learn by pictures. It could be really simply, like having a picture of dice instead of showing numbers. Not all the time, of course, but at least once or twice.


Tom

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2013, 12:03:58 PM »
After two rounds of testplaying (and me GMing with only the digital book in front of me), I'm getting some experience on what really helps, and I'm digging deeper into having a collection of small GM tools embedded into the book.

For example, my latest addition is a one-page bookkeeping widget that allows the GM to keep track of game time and various mission counters with just a few buttons. I'll be using it for the next playtesting session, but I already love it to death. Making this a widget instead of keeping track on paper allows for a few nifty additions, like calculating the time of day from the game time (which is not as trivial as it sounds for a SciFi game with planets where a day does not last 24 hours but some other amount).

Joshua Bearden

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2013, 08:17:18 PM »
Now that does sound exciting.  Those are the kind of things that really make digital versions start to look attractive to me. I'm looking forward to hearing more.

Tom

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Re: an iBook rulebook
« Reply #10 on: July 28, 2013, 04:46:31 AM »
I'd like to know if there are people here who both own an iPad and would be happy to help me by reviewing the rules book and giving me feedback, especially regarding the interactive elements. As I said, I'm experimenting and what works for me might not work for others.