Player’s Handbook Exclusive Preview!

The Look of D&D: From the Proposal to the Printer

When you’ve got to redesign the look of the most popular books in roleplaying from scratch, where do you start? Wizards of the Coast started with art director Dawn Murin and graphic designer Sean Glenn. Although now Sean spends most of his waking hours working as art director for the new line of Star Wars roleplaying game products, just a couple short months ago he was creating the page design for the new D&D core rulebooks -- shaping the way gamers will "see" D&D for years to come.

Sean dug into his overflowing file cabinets to share with us a firsthand view of the process that led to the hot new look of the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. Reproduced here are snapshots of the different page designs considered for the new editions. Accompanying each are Sean’s designer notes, which point out what each version contributed to the final look of the books you’ll hold in your hands very soon.

Leather Is Better?

"This is one of the earliest designs -- we first presented it to the D&D brand team in December 1999. The leather texture and gold edging gives the design the look of an old handmade book, which is the direction we wanted right from the start.

"In the end, this idea was dismissed as looking too much like a day planner. However, several elements did carry over into the final design: the use of side tabs and the right-aligned headline treatment, to name a couple.

"We knew we were going to have to pack a lot of text in, so we couldn’t do a really wacky layout. We selected the Celestia Antiqua font from Adobe -- the text here shows a bit of a rough edge, to convey the feel of an archaic printing press.

"One other thing everyone liked from this design was the ‘incunabula’ style horizontal lines shaded back behind the text. Scribes commonly marked out writing guides like this in the days before the printing press, prior to 1501. We decided to adopt this element to firmly root the core books as objects from a medieval-feeling D&D world."

(Leather is Better? - Image Gallery)

Turn Those Pages Carefully…

"At about the same time, we offered the team a little bit different direction with this design. We were going for an ‘old book’ feel again here, but instead of the scribe idea we were trying to create the impression of an ancient tome, a very old edition, in which the pages are starting to yellow. It was decided, though, that this produced too ‘open’ a look.

"We had pretty much nailed down the type treatment by then, although here we’re experimenting with the Minion font. What really changed from this version, though, was the way the folios [running footers displaying the page number and chapter title] are treated.

"By the way, that image on the chapter start page is from a Time-Life book on pirates. Since we were working on these designs before the final art was completed, we pulled in temporary images like that one to suggest a certain feel. In this case, we used an illustration showing a single character that offered an expansive and moody feel. The intention was to create one image that represented what the chapter was about. Due to the nature of the book, however, this proved to be impossible -- the content of this book is more rules and stats and less "story" narration. How do you compose a moody picture that illustrates "Gear"? It just wasn’t working how we imagined it would. So, we went away from the single image direction, and instead opted for DaVinci-esque type schematical drawings. Illustrated by Arnie Swekel, these drawings worked much better, while still reinforcing the feeling of a medieval tome.

"We also pulled the image from a Dragonlance book cover to illustrate how we wanted to present the interior art: large full-color floating images with text wraparounds. The image is actually a part of the page -- you can see the shadow the figure casts onto the page’s border. Although we dropped the shadows (too difficult to implement over 288 pages), we kept the floating artwork."

(Turn Those Pages Carefully... - Image Gallery)

Almost There…

"This design, proposed in January of this year, is almost final. The colors are a bit more brown than we actually went with, and the gold is not as shiny, but this concept really communicated the feel of the new edition of D&D.

"People liked the aggressive shapes in the page borders. These shapes, and the colors in this design, were very strongly inspired by the concept art, and Planescape too, believe it or not! Here also you get your first look at the use of the wrought-iron ‘hardware’ elements that later we reproduced for the D&D web pages.

"Still, a couple things did change from this design. The running guide words at the top of each column were changed to a single running guide word, on the outside edge of the page. This is a nod to the original 1st Edition D&D books. In addition, the captions and page numbers look a little different from what you see here.

"In case you’re wondering, the place-holding illustrations in this version we picked up from the Greyhawk internal style guide.

"At the time this design was accepted, the Player’s Handbook was still in editing. We spent that period building other pieces of the layout -- tables, chapter starts, and so on. The edited text was turned over to us little by little between February and April, so we had to make some minor changes as we went along to accommodate new graphic needs. During this time, the final cover for the Player’s Handbook came in as well, and we made some changes to the page design based on how it turned out. For instance, we pulled in some of its colors, and we lifted gemstones off the cover and placed the page numbers in them."

(Almost There... - Image Gallery)

The Real Thing

"We finished the page design in April and sent the Player’s Handbook to typesetting; the typeset text files then went to the printer in May. Actually, the first sample signature [16-page section] of the Player’s Handbook came in from the printer this week [late May] and it looked great!

"This whole process has felt like a real collaboration between me and Dawn [Murin], who was art directing me the whole time, and Sherry Floyd, the other graphic designer on the project. So it felt really good for all of us to see it finally come to life!

"Looking ahead, the color of the page design may change a bit in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. However, fundamentally it’s the same look. Meanwhile, we’re hard at work on the new Monster Manual. . . . "

(The Real Thing - Image Gallery)

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