Friday, November 21, 2014

Production Tip #1: RGB vs. Grayscale Images

I've decide as I continue to work my way through the Expanded Petty Gods productions I will start to post some production advice for all those self-publishers out there.

Today's advice specifically relates to the use of RGB vs. Grayscale images. More specifically, in instances where the book will be eventually released as both a B&W interior print version, as well as a PDF copy.

So, to begin, here's today's piece of advice...

If you're going to have a B&W interior (including grayscale images), and you know your product will be release in a PDF version, then make sure your source photos are in Grayscale..

Technically, this is quite easy to accomplish. In Photoshop, you simply change the color mode from RGB to Grayscale by going IMAGE > MODE > GRAYSCALE (see image at left). Also, most scanner programs have a grayscale mode. PLEASE NOTE: In most cases, it's best to retouch/image adjust in RGB before converting to grayscale.

Now let's answer the question, "Why grayscale?" There are two answers to this...

First, it actually makes for a more visually consistent (i.e., "professional looking") PDF. Check out the Digiskleros example from the Original Petty Gods PDF vs. the Expanded Petty Gods layout. In the first example, from OPG, notice the sort of "greenish" tone in the image? Now look at the 2nd example from EPG. Notice the consistency and richness of the black tones. Now, look a the 3rd image, where I take the greenish version from OPG and show it in the EPG layout.

Original Petty Gods with RGB Abondiance.

Expanded Petty Gods with grayscale Abondiance.

Expanded Petty Gods with RGB Abondiance "pasted in."

That alone should be enough reason to do it. But there's a second and equally-compelling reason. And it all comes down to file size limitations and restrictions. All of the OneBookShelf companies (including RPGNow, where most of us distribute our PDFs) have very established guidelines for production, but the following two, when taken at face value, are VERY misleading...
– All Images are RGB color
– All Images are 150 dpi/ppi
The reason they want images as RGB is because they are assuming the images themselves are in color, and if saved as CMYK, they would be tremendously larger. You'd think they would only be 25% larger, but a CMYK file size can often be more than 300% larger than it's RGB counterpart (it all has to do with file compression algorithms; or so the petty god of desktop production has told me).

Because grayscale images have less digital information in them, they tend to be smaller than their RGB counterparts. This means a couple of things for you... 1) it's okay to make your images grayscale, even though OneShelf says they need to be RGB, and 2) when your program compresses your file to make the smallest PDF it can, it will actually retain more "in between" information for your image (color images, especially JPGs, "squeeze" out a lot of the details of an image), meaning it will look a lot better on screen and when it prints from your desktop! Oh, and if you want that image to hold more detail, then always go with with TIFF over JPG.

Now, all this being said, for any artists sending me Petty Gods art, please just keep sending me the file types you would normally send!!! I'm doing any sort of adjustments and conversions on my end, to maintain as much production quality as possible! So, if you've sent me RGB JPGs in the past, then just keep doing the same, and I'll worry about all the stuff I noted above!

Coming soon... I discuss the power of the "Levels" control in Photoshop.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Petty Gods Layout Update: Petty Gods through "P"

On the Expanded Petty Gods book, I've got the rough layout done for the "Petty Gods" section up through "P." There are a few copy holes here and there throughout the book (going back as far as the "C" entries), and there are plenty of art "stand in" blocks (black rectangles which hold space for illustrations to come), but as a whole it's shaping up. I'm trying to keep the layout as flexible as possible, so that I can accommodate any unexpected layout issues that crop up.

The page count currently stand around 200. That includes the intro section, the "Cults & Cultists" section, and the "Divine Items" section. So, as expected, by the time the minions, spells, and appendices are added in, the page count will come in around 300.

I'm still thinking it will take through December to get most of the layout done, then through January to get proofing and final art pieces in.

Now that I've been able to get through more of the layout, review the entries that still need art, and know what kind of art-holes I need to fill in, I'm hoping to get a wave of art assignments out this week, with the hopes of having most of those back in by the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

I'm also trying to make the end of November as the absolute drop-dead date for any copy items that are hanging out there. Content items that remain incomplete at that point will likely be dropped.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Petty Gods Update: A through F

Just a quick post to let everybody know it looks like I have all but 1 piece of the art accounted for the A-through-F entries for the "Petty Gods" section of the Expanded Petty Gods book. That doesn't mean the all the art is in for those entries, it just means that it is accounted for. So... a) I have the art and it's already in the layout, b) the art exists (in whole or in part) and I'm waiting on the illustrators to find/complete and send them along, or c) the art has been assigned.

At this point, only 2 descriptions from A-F are missing or incomplete. I have a rough draft of one of them, and am just waiting on the finalized version. The other one is supposed to exist, the contributor is working on finding it.

I've spent the good part of this week working on coordinating art needs with artist styles and availability, so layout hasn't progressed much (and I don't imagine it will until next week). But it feels great to look at the spreadsheet and only see 1 missing art-hole (I dare not call it an "A-hole") for A through F.

In the next couple of days, I will likely be posting lists of entries for the "Petty Gods" and "Minions, Knights and Servitors" sections, to confirm that no entries have fallen through the cracks. (Look for that tomorrow morning.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Expanded Petty Gods Lives (#epglives)

Okay. This is me, officially announcing that I have taken over the reins on the
Expanded Petty Gods project.

Over the last couple of weeks, as I began to reach out to a few folks individually as well as the OSArtists group at Google+, I know there was some speculation. I, however, wanted to get a bit more accomplished before I made the official announcement. (As stated above, this is it.)

I've been lucky that this time of year there's always a bit of a lull in my workload (I have two big clients whose jobs I get put to bed at the middle-ish of October), which is why I reached out to Greg Gorgonmilk to offer my assistance in taking over the reins (something we had discussed briefly toward the end of this past summer).

So what have I been doing over the last few weeks?

The first thing I did was create a new master spreadsheet (based off Greg's spreadsheets and expanded by the list of the gods from the Original Petty Gods PDF). As you'll see in the sample below, I broke out contributors' names (by first and last), as well as created a column for alignment and domains. Once the book layout is done, I'll be able to add page numbers for each entry, and spit out indexes for petty gods by alignment, writer, and artist (and possibly domain). The other thing this let me do was do a "matchback" to all art and content entries to see what I did/did not have, in the way of both copy and art. The OPG content came from Peter Gifford (who did the layout on the original version) and the archives that Greg had been making.

Based on the finalized spreadsheet, there will be a total of 300 petty gods in the book (including the 100 or so from the Original Petty Gods edition, but not including the minions/knights/servitors). I believe there are only a handful of these for which I'm still working on getting the source copy. There is a lot more art that needs to be done, which is where the major push will be over the next month or so. There is a separate spreadsheet for the 40+ minion/knight/servitor listings.

The email address I've set up for those interested in lending their artistic talents to this community projects is pgart(at)newbigdragon(dot)com (please send links to samples, and please put "Petty Gods Art" as the subject line). [No new/additional copy/non-art content will be accepted unless specifically requested, or already agreed upon to appear in the book.]

Believe it or not, over the last couple-three weeks, I've gotten rough layout done on approximately 150 pages of what looks to be a 275-300 page tome. Originally, when I was looking to help Greg with the layout on this back as early as last October, we were going for more of a 1e/Futura-typeface-driven look, a la the AD&D Monster Manual. In looking to speed up the process on the layout of the entire book, I'm going to default to what has become the New Big Dragon "house look" for the internal pages for two reasons: 1) I'm really familiar with its nuances, which will allow me to tremendously speed up the layout process (e.g., because I can make odd typesetting decisions on the fly, based on how I've done similar things in the past), and 2) because this Expanded edition was intentionally a Lab-Lord compatible book, this Souvenir-typeface-driven look is consistent with that edition (and the editions that inspired it).

So here's an overview of the layout and what's been accomplished so far:
  • TITLE/INTRO SECTION - complete minus some art
  • SECTION 1: Petty Gods
    about 75 pages of this have been roughly laid out, encompassing all petty gods from A through L (what's there will take some layout tweaking as art comes in, but all of the typesetting has been completed as noted from A-L)
  • SECTION 2: Minions, Knights & Servitors
    I have not started on this yet, but intend to do it after finishing the remainder of PGs from Section 1
  • SECTION 3: Cults & Cultists
    About 7 pages have been laid out here; this includes all submissions previously made for this section; I'm also working on creating a d10xd30 set of listings (since there are 300 petty gods)
    that suggests cult names, membership, and practices for the PGs listed in Section 1
  • SECTION 4: Divine Items
    All copy for this section has been roughly laid in and typeset (about 20 pp), but there is no art (though, I believe this section will have very little)
  • SECTION 5: Spells
    No layout has been done for this, but I've collected all the spells (from the various entries)
    and put them in a master spreadsheet by spell name (which I'll be able to export and quickly layout). Entries will include contributor's name, and the reference related entries in the book. Expect this to take about 20 pages.
  • APPENDICES - have not been laid out at all, but will be easy
    (since it's big chunks of copy)
    A. Create a Religion In Your Spare Time for Fun and Profit
    B. Barsoomian Pantheon (a wonderful section by Michael Curtis)
    C. Reaction Tables (need to be written, but I have thoughts on organizing this)
    D. Petty Foods of the Petty Gods
    E. Petty Classifieds
    F. Other works referenced in this book
    (e.g., Dunsany's The Gods of Pegāna and issues of Underworld Lore)

I believe layout will easily take the rest of November and into early December. (While I've had a lull in work which has afforded me the ability to blow through all of the above, I can't expect it to last forever). I also believe based on the number of illustrations still needed, it may take through January (or longer) to fill in all the holes. BUT! proofing can happen before all art is in. So the hope is that while art is being completed, so is the proofing/correcting.

No guarantees, of course, but (fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc.), release sometime in February?

[BTW, I'm out of pocket most of the day today, so anybody that leaves a comment below or messages me through Google+ will probably not hear back from me until this evening.]

Friday, November 7, 2014

Busy & Big

I don't think I've ever gone this long between posts. Just a note to say I'm around, working in the background on something big. I mean that literally. It will likely be 300 pages complete. 

You are now free to speculate, though I know a couple of you know what it is.

On a side, but related note...
I'm hoping to use the weekend to catch up on psionic and creature compendium input.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Basic Psionics Handbook Discussion:
Helm of Telepathy vs. Medallion of ESP

NOTE: In the discussion below, the terms "ESP medallion" and "medallion of ESP" are used interchangeably. Most occurrences of this item in the early editions refer to it as a "medallion of ESP." However, in Eldritch Wizardry, it referred to as "ESP medallion" (albeit, it is only mentioned once).

This past week, a discussion came up with one of my Basic Psionics Handbook playtesters regarding the bonuses and penalties derived from a helm of telepathy vs. a medallion of ESP.

As far back as the introduction of psionics in Eldritch Wizardry, the psionic saving throw modifiers for the helm of telepathy and the ESP medallion were +4 and -5, respectively. The vast difference in the modifiers brings up a lot of questions, particularly when you consider they are both magic items which essentially do the same thing, though they offer some subtle differences. (BTW, I suggest you read Delta's post "Spells Through The Ages – ESP and Clairvoyance" before continuing.)

In Eldritch Wizardry, the helm of telepathy is afforded the following two advantages (which the ESP medallion is not):

"A helm of telepathy worn by the defender will stun the attacker for three turns if the defender makes his saving throw."

"A helm of telepathy raises psionic strength by 40."

Regarding both the telepathic projection and telempathic projection abilities:
"A helm of telepathy doubles the power and range of the ability and gives the possessor the effect of +4 on his intelligence in addition."

By comparison, the only mention of the ESP medallion in Eldritch Wizardry is the -5 penalty incurred on psionic saving throws.

Now let's take a look at the description of the helm of telepathy from the Monsters & Treasure book:

"Helm of Telepathy: This allows the wearer to read the thoughts of any creature within 9". If his Intelligence rating is greater than that of human or humanoid creatures within the range of the helm the wearer may attempt to control their mind with suggestions implanted telepathically. Such suggestions will have a +2 effect in their likelihood of being carried out (see Vol. Ill for random actions of monsters). For characters in the game roll percentile dice adding 10% to the helm's wearer, and if the character fails to beat this score he will follow the suggestion. (The referee must use judgement here, for a suggestion to kill oneself would not be likely to be carried out in any event.) Treat as non-protective helm if worn into melee."

And now the ESP spell and the medallion of ESP magic item (again, from the Monsters & Treasure book):

"ESP: A spell which allows the user to detect the thoughts (if any) of whatever lurks behind doors or in the darkness. It can penetrate solid rock up to about 2' in thickness, but a thin coating of lead will prevent its penetration. Duration: 12 turns. Range: 6"

"Medallions of ESP: These devices are usable by all classes of characters, even Dwarves, but the device malfunctions on a roll of 6, so whenever in use roll a six-sided die to check it.

Given there is no telepathy spell (a name which is actually much more appropriate than ESP, especially in the context of Delta's comment that ESP as a discipline is a blanket title which includes clairaudience, clairvoyance, and telepathy), the true differences between ESP and telepathy (as abilities) are little to none. The difference lies in the magic items themselves.

A helm of telepathy provides both the ability to read thoughts (an "inbound" ability) and the ability to control creatures (an "outbound" ability). By comparison, an ESP medallion provides only the ability to read thoughts (and, therefore, is an "inbound-only" item).

There's a couple of reasons I really needed to get a handle on the above concepts, rather than simply copying the bonuses and penalties into my system: 1) my system uses a "to hit" model for psionic attacks (which determines initial damage), and 2) this is paired with a saving throw system (used to determine the extent of additional effects).

So what does that mean for these psionic bonuses and penalties? It means that the nature of the helm of telepathy is such that much of what comes in from the outside has a chance of reflecting back upon the attacking creature, but an ESP medallion makes the target more susceptible to the attack in the first place. So here's where I've landed on the copy I'm including at the end of the "Psionic Combat" section of the Basic Psionics Handbook...


The following magic items provide their users with psionic-like abilities, and each interacts in a specific way with psionic attacks.

Helm of Telepathy: Essentially, this item is “two-way” device (i.e., not only does it receive inbound mental energy, it also sends mental energy out, sometimes enabling the wearer to control the thoughts of a target creature). Therefore, a helm of telepathy gives the wearer a chance to “deflect” an incoming attack and “send it back” at the attacker. In addition to a +4 bonus on all psionic saving throws made while wearing a helm of telepathy, a successful saving throw by a defender wearing a helm of telepathy will create psionic “feedback” which stuns the attacker for 3 turns. Furthermore, any psionicist wearing a helm of telepathy receives a +2 “to hit” bonus on all psionic attacks.

Medallion of ESP: Unlike a helm of telepathy, a medallion of ESP is a “one-way” device (i.e., it only allows inbound mental energy, but provides no recriprocal ability to send mental energy out). This makes the wearer more susceptible to incoming psionic attacks, incurring a -4 penalty to all psionic saving throws while wearing this item.

The +2 "to hit" bonus is my interpretation of the 40 point psionic strength bonus from Eldritch Wizardry. (I don't like the idea that an item provides more mental energy, but do think it offers some kind of psionic potency.) You'll also see I pulled the -5 penalty back a bit to -4.

Considering that the mystic class I've developed has a delicate relationship with magic items (these types of items are rarely allowed, and require the mystic to engage in additional meditation to avoid become attached to them as possessions), and that the monk class I've developed does not possess attack/defense modes (and has a similar relationship with magic items), these may be much rarer occurrences for them they might be in other editions.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Basic Psionics Handbook Update

Thanks particularly to Matthew Skail and Eric Potter for their input so far on Basic Psionics Handbook. Eric is running a BX game where the average player age is 12, and Matthew is coming at this as someone who seems to know early edition psionics top-to-bottom. The dichotomy of those two POVs has proven to be incredibly insightful in making a complete and cohesive psionic ruleset that is also coherent (especially in BX terms). Following are just a couple of what I see to be key updates to the most current version...

Updates to Attack/Defense Mode Interaction
If you've looked at pages 76-77 of the DMG at any length, you know that the Attack/Defense Mode charts can be a little daunting. But I didn't want to do away with the concept. I really do like that each attack and defense mode has a methodology behind it, and how they interact is based on how those methodologies interact. If you recall, I'm using psionic “to hit” rolls (psionic level vs. Mental Class = target on 1d20). If successful, each attack mode does a number of dice of PSP (psionic strength point) "damage" equal to the psionic level of the attacker. However, the type of dice to be used is based on the combination of attack and defense modes (see chart below). The number to the left of the slash = the dice type. The number to the right of the slash = the adjustment to the saving throw which avoids additional effects (beyond the PSP loss).

Addition of a Monk Class
This is a class based on an "enhanced" shaolin-type monk, with psychometabolic psionics (plus some other relevant disciplines). This is no monk/mystic/Europe/Asia identity crisis thing. And there's none of this "speaks with animals" bullshit. This is a bare-handed fighting machine (and easily a fighter replacement).

Streamlining of the Disciplines
Some of the other updates include: 1) streamlining the PSP costs for the different disciplines (to the point where they're pretty easy to memorize the PSP cost for each based on whether it's a devotion or science, and which chakra they belong), and 2) streamlined the layout of the disciplines (using a top-of-page index strip to help quickly identify which of the 6 chakras you're viewing).=

Wild Psionics "Tweaks"
Wild psionics have been a struggle for me. I'm theoretically opposed to them, but almost everyone I've talked to want them included. Here's my reasoning... in BX, there's no such thing as "wild magic spells," nor are there "wild thieving abilities." In that context, what sense does "wild psionics" make? What I have to realize is that many folks are using BX/LL rules, but playing 1e classes (e.g., LL AEC). So I've made wild psionics one of the appendices, rather than having it appear between the discipline descriptions and the psionic combat sections. I've also make attack/defense modes available via wild psionics.

Okay. I think that's it for now, but I'm sure I'll have more updates soon.