How to produce RPGs on nothing a-year is a series that focuses on the technical aspect of RPG design: the layout, fonts, art, and everything else that doesn’t constitute the actual writing. In particular, we’re looking at ways to create quality products using nothing but free programs.
Today we’ll be looking at perhaps the most overlooked and underutilized aspect of RPG design: typography. Good typefaces are a hallmark of fine press books; why should fine tabletop RPGs be any different?
Before we begin, I’d like to say a word about bad fonts. Like many things in life, there are far more bad fonts than good. Bad fonts are distinguished by a number of things: poor kerning (the spacing between individual characters), a small library of glyphs (many bad fonts only support the basic English alphabet, and some don’t even have numerals), and dubious/blatantly false licensing (the thing that says you can use that font for specific purposes). There are many sites that offer free fonts by the thousands, and as tempting as these are, the vast majority of their stock will consist of bad fonts.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about good fonts, and where to find them.
If you’re using Google Docs, you’d be foolish not to take advantage of Google Fonts. They have a massive repository of open-source typefaces that can be added directly to a file, and a lot of them are perfectly suited for RPG work. However, the Google Font directory was and is designed primarily for screens, and as such I would only recommend them if the finished product is presented as a PDF. If printed, many of these fonts will lose some legibility.
Editors’ Choice: Roboto, Crimson Text, Libre Baskerville, Alegreya, Fira Sans
League of Moveable Type
The League of Moveable Type is an open-source type foundry that specializes in digitizing older typefaces. Every one of their fonts is completely free to use, no questions asked, and quite a few come with alternate styles like bold, italics, or small caps, which are highly recommended for emphasizing certain pieces of text.
Editors’ Choice: League Spartan, Fanwood, Raleway, Sorts Mills Goudy, Goudy Bookletter 1911, Chunk
Out of all the free font sites, Fontsquirrel is the one I trust the most. While not everything here is free (and quite a lot of it is crap), it at least avoids pirating copyrighted fonts like other, less scrupulous sites.
Editors’ Choice: Questa, Playfair Display, Vremena Grotesk, Libre Caslon
Charis: Charis is based off of an old font called Charter that was designed for screens in the 80’s. Funny enough, it still looks great today, even printed out. Charis also boasts an incredibly large library of glyphs and extensive language support.
Roboto: I mentioned this above in the Google Fonts section, but it cannot be overstated how great a font Roboto is. It’s getting closer and closer to overplayed every day, so use it while you can.
That’s it for this article; while the above typefaces aren’t perfect, they’re worlds away from Arial and Times New Roman. With a small-but-dependable arsenal of fonts, even a novice designer can produce amazing work. Check back soon for our next installment, where we’ll be talking about maps.