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A Brief Study of TSR Book DesignClick to magnify
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A Brief Study of TSR Book Design


For many of us in the hobby there's always been a deep and abiding love for the classic modules and manuals of TSR-era Dungeons & Dragons. Out of affection for those mighty days of yore, I've conducted a light typographic analysis of Original D&D, Basic/Expert D&D, First Edition AD&D, BECMI D&D, and the early-era module designs of the late seventies and early eighties.

For each publication, I've identified margin sizes, fonts and font sizes, indents, table styles, head styles, and individual entry styles for dungeon rooms, spells, magic items, monsters, and class entries. Directions are given for getting the closest available free fonts to match the classic choices, and commentary is provided on the sometimes-esoteric page design choices made by TSR's book designers. Given those idiosyncracies, I wouldn't recommend anyone replicate the styles in this document exactly, but designers who want to do callbacks to classic TSR styles in their own works will find the specifics in this study.

This document comes with the original InDesign .IDD source file so that other publishers can load it up and strip it for parts and styles. All of the book styles described have been recreated in InDesign paragraph styles that other publishers can use in their own personal or commercial products, as well as the blank tables and other page objects. An .IDML file is also provided for people using the free Scribus layout software or recent earlier versions of InDesign.

If you find this document handy, I'd recommend you look up my free Exemplars & Eidolons game for a layout template for "Little Brown Book" style game booklets, or the free The Smoking Pillar of Lan Yu for a template for 1980-era TSR modules. If you're short on art for your project, you can get free-for-commercial-use art packs with the Silent Legions Art Pack, the Scarlet Heroes Art Pack, the Spears of the Dawn Art Pack, or the Starvation Cheap Art Pack, all the product of Kickstarters I've successfully executed.

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Reviews (7)
Discussions (4)
Customer avatar
Noah S February 28, 2022 9:10 pm UTC
This is a pretty terrific document for DIY publishers of OSR-adjacent stuff. You're the best!
Customer avatar
Kevin J May 27, 2019 2:08 am UTC
I found this document recently when someone posted it in an old school Facebook group- I cannot tell you what feelings of nostalgia it evoked in me. It was like reading the old B/X books and the modules for the first time all over again. Might seem silly, but I was really surprised. Thanks for this.
Customer avatar
Dan G January 15, 2016 5:17 am UTC
Amazing. This is so much win. Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I find myself trying to express this to so many people at least every few weeks. now I can refer them to this incredibly insightful analysis. I love it!
Customer avatar
Tony M December 11, 2015 8:47 am UTC
Many thanks Kevin, as someone who plays about at laying out his own game material in the style of the games it is for I find this extremely useful, as well as a lot of fun to read. I was particularly engaged by the REASONS FOR ZOMBIE JUBILATION table on page 7, I may have to steal that for my next BX Screen.

P.S., SWN is so superior to T5 (as a game, not an instrument of blunt force trauma) that I weep for the $130+ I wasted on the bastard.

Looking forward to Godbound.
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Product Information
File Size:
9.46 MB
Original electronic
Scanned image
These products were created by scanning an original printed edition. Most older books are in scanned image format because original digital layout files never existed or were no longer available from the publisher.

For PDF download editions, each page has been run through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to attempt to decipher the printed text. The result of this OCR process is placed invisibly behind the picture of each scanned page, to allow for text searching. However, any text in a given book set on a graphical background or in handwritten fonts would most likely not be picked up by the OCR software, and is therefore not searchable. Also, a few larger books may be resampled to fit into the system, and may not have this searchable text background.

For printed books, we have performed high-resolution scans of an original hardcopy of the book. We essentially digitally re-master the book. Unfortunately, the resulting quality of these books is not as high. It's the problem of making a copy of a copy. The text is fine for reading, but illustration work starts to run dark, pixellating and/or losing shades of grey. Moiré patterns may develop in photos. We mark clearly which print titles come from scanned image books so that you can make an informed purchase decision about the quality of what you will receive.
Original electronic format
These ebooks were created from the original electronic layout files, and therefore are fully text searchable. Also, their file size tends to be smaller than scanned image books. Most newer books are in the original electronic format. Both download and print editions of such books should be high quality.
File Last Updated:
December 09, 2015
This title was added to our catalog on December 10, 2015.