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How to Write Game Instructions

by John Stavropoulos
Version 0.03

Table of Contents
What is This?
Who Else has Trouble Writing Rules?
Warning
Disclaimer
My Bias
Thanks to
Inspiration
Questions?
How to Explain Rules
Marketing

Front Cover
Credits
Legal
Find Out More
Back Cover

Introduction
What Is This?
Edition Notes
How To Use These Instructions
Table of Contents
Overview
Object of the Game
Contents
Preparing to Play
Before The Game
Setup
Keep Track
Choose Setting or Scenario
Customize Setting or Scenario
Roles
Choose Roles
Customize Roles

How To Play
Starting The Game
On Your Turn
On Other People's Turns
In Between Turns
Second Turn and Beyond
Game End
Learning Aids
Extended Example of Play
How to Teach the Rules
Frequently Asked Questions
Best Practices
Options

Advanced Rules
Optional Rules
Edition Conversions

Design

Designer Notes
How to Hack

References
Outline
Playsheets
Glossary
Index
Writing

Structure
Style
Review
Order
Instructions
Writing Section Headers
Example Section Headers

Fonts & Typefaces


Layout
Reference
Accessibility

Format

Resources
Free Icons
Free Fonts
Free Photos
Example Game Layouts:

What is This?
Who Else has Trouble Writing Rules?
I do. I love designing games but writing rules not so much. Its a different skill. Unfortunately
when you work independently, you end up wearing multiple hats. So I put together this short
guide to help both of us.

Warning
This is a first draft. It likely contains mistakes.

Disclaimer
These are not rules. These are simply suggestions and inspiration.
My goal is to make your life easier. If you find any of this intimidating, ignore it. If the choice is
between "perfection" and getting something done, I vote just get it done. Reading and learning
from others is great but there is no equal in my opinion to learning by doing. So do what you
have to to keep motivated and simply do the work. Put the hours in. Make mistakes. Reflect.
Make more mistakes faster. Learn. Keep moving forward.
There is no one way to write game instructions.What works for me may not work for you. You
know what you need better than I do. Browse below, experiment, and do what is best for you.
Enjoy!

My Bias
I'm North American which likely biases many of my ideas and suggestions. Culture matters.
What makes sense here may not make sense for you. I want to own these biases and be clear
about them so you can better decide what makes sense for you and your games. Additionally,
much of this advice is specific but not limited to Tabletop RPGs and Board Games.

Thanks to

Kira Magrann, Stras Acimovic, Emily Care Boss, Jason Morningstar, John Harper, John
Adamus, Brennen Reece, Daniel Scribner, Joanna Piancastelli, Ville Takanen
Your Name Here, if you help by adding comments with corrections and suggestions.

Inspiration

HOW TO WRITE AND LAY OUT RULES ON CARDS by Daniel Solis, http://
danielsolisblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/how-to-write-and-lay-out-rules-on-cards.html
HOW TO WRITE RULES by The Game Crafter, https://s3.amazonaws.com/
www.thegamecrafter.com/templates/document.pdf
How to Write Board Game Rules by Da Vinci Schools, http://www.dvgiochi.com/
WRITING A LARP SCRIPT by Lizzie Stark, Elin Nilsen and Trine Lise Lindahl, http://
larpfactorybookproject.blogspot.com/p/writing-larp-script-how-to-describe.html

PANDEMIC by Matt Leacock and Z-Man Games, http://zmangames.com/rulebooks/


Pandemic.pdf
HOW TO WRITE MAGNETIC HEADLINES by http://www.copyblogger.com/
CAROLINA DEATH CRAWL by Jason Morningstar, rules available for FREE here: http:/
/tinyurl.com/FreeCDC
Silver and White by Jackson Tegu, http://www.photographsoflightning.com/
QUICK 50 WRITING TOOLS by Dr. Roy Peter Clark, http://www.lonegunman.co.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2011/07/Quick_50_Writing_Tips.pdf

Questions?

Email me at john@jstav.com

How to Explain Rules


Structure

When do you use the rule? Who uses it? What's the rule? Why is it important? Then
what do you do?
For example: When [trigger], [player] do [action] because [reasons], then [trigger new
rule, specify rule location].

Order

Order your rules so you don't use terms or reference rules before they're explained.
Avoid asking readers to jump around from location to location to use a single rule.

Include Examples of...

...how to use the rule.


...how NOT to.
...non obvious uses (what happens on a tie).

Optionally Include

Details that are commonly forgotten.


Instructional graphics.
Inspirational art.
Bullet point summary of rule.

Marketing

Front Cover

Title
Subtitle
Image evoking the game's premise.
List of Creators
#-# Players*
#-# Hours/Minutes*
For players ages # and up.*
*= include images and/or icons.

Credits

Who made this game possible?


Game Designer, Writer, Producer, Publisher, Editor, Layout, Artist, Playtesters, Special
Thanks, Patrons, and Crowdsource Backers.
Inspirations

Legal

Who owns this? Copyright (http://fairuse.stanford.edu), Creative Commons (http://


creativecommons.org/), OGL (http://goo.gl/eImzyP)

Find Out More

Where can I find out more?


Website, Fan Communities, Email, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Tumblr.
How to give feedback, submit errata, sign up for updates.
Place to download or read rule updates and errata.
Any online video tutorials? Youtube link.

Back Cover

Briefly summarize your game's premise and themes.


Is this game like [Popular Game, Movie, Book, Event] mixed with [other Popular Game,
Movie, Book, Event] but with [Twist]?
What is the creator's goal for the game?
What makes this game different?
What type of game is this? Cooperative? Competitive? Mature? Silly? Puzzle solving?
Resource management? Impov? Acting? Storytelling? Played around a table? Played
standing up?

Introduction
What Is This?

Briefly summarize your game's premise and themes.

Is this game like [Popular Game, Movie, Book, Event] mixed with [other Popular Game,
Movie, Book, Event] but with [Twist]?
What is the creator's goal for the game?
What makes this game different?
What type of game is this? Cooperative? Competitive? Mature? Silly? Puzzle solving?
Resource management? Impov? Acting? Storytelling? Played around a table? Played
standing up?

Edition Notes

If this is a new edition of your rules? Which edition?

How To Use These Instructions

Do you need to read these instructions before you play?


Can you read these instructions as you play?
What order should you read? What can you skip the first time playing?
Are there any special icons, symbols, or text formats? What do they mean?

Table of Contents

Section Names
Section Summaries
Page Numbers

Overview

What roles do players play?


What do players do?
Why do they do it?
How do they do it?
What is stopping them?
If there is a setting, where and when is it?

Object of the Game

What triggers the end of the game?


Is this a game where players win or lose? How do players win? How do players lose?
Are there other possible outcomes?

Contents

What come with the game?


What are each component called?
Include an image of all components and their names for quick identification.

Preparing to Play

Before The Game

What do you need to do before the game starts?


What materials do you need to acquire, if any, that don't come with the game?
What do you need to download? From where? What do you need to print?
Do any of these materials need to be prepared in any way?

Setup

How do you set up all the components, materials, and/or printouts?


What goes to each player?
What do all the players share?
Does any of the above change depending on the number of players?
Use image to show how everything is layed out.
How long does it take?

Keep Track

Is there anything you need to track? Scores? Resources?


What do you track?
Why? Where? How?
Is there a limit to how many resources you can hold at any given time?

Choose Setting or Scenario

Are there different Settings or Scenarios to choose from?


What makes each different? Why choose one over another?
Are there difficulty levels? Are any specific Settings or Scenarios recommended for the
first game? Any specific Settings or Scenarios for experienced players?
How and when do you pick which Setting or Scenario to play?
How long does it take?

Customize Setting or Scenario

Are Settings or Scenarios customizable?


How do you customize them?
How long does it take?

Roles

Do all players play the same roles?


What are the roles? Characters? Parts of the world? Different responsibilities for running
the game? How is each role different?

Choose Roles

How and when do you pick who plays what role?

Customize Roles

Are roles customizable?


How do you customize a role?
Why customize a role?
How long does it take?

How To Play
Turns

Are there Turns (or Rounds, Scenes, Acts)?


Do players take Turns at the same time? Do players wait for their Turn?
How long is a Turn? How does a Turn start? How does a Turn end?

Starting The Game

How does the first Turn (or Round, Scene, Act) start?
Does one player go first? How do you determine who goes first?
What happens on the first Turn?
How does the first Turn end?

On Your Turn

What do you do on your Turn?


What do you have to do?
What choices can you make?
How can your choices help you win? Lose?
How long does or should Turns take?
Who goes next?

On Other People's Turns

What do you do on other people's Turns?

In Between Turns

What happens in between Turns?

Second Turn and Beyond

What happens after the first Turn?

Game End

When does the game end?


How does the game end?
How do you know the game has ended?
What do you do when the game ends?

Learning Aids

Extended Example of Play

Don't just say what happens. Say why.


Show how edge cases are handled in play.
Show how people negotiate at the table.
Show common mistakes and how to recover from them.
Establish sample characters and player names that you can use consistently throughout.
Any online video tutorials? Youtube link.

How to Teach the Rules

Is there a script the person teaching the game can read aloud?
Gently guide the reader through the rules without overwhelming them. Have the players
actively do something after passively listening to you explain rules. Learn something, do
something, repeat.
Any online video tutorials? Youtube link.

Frequently Asked Questions

Common problems.
Common confusion or overlooked rules.
Edge Cases.

Best Practices

What to pay special attention to.


What to avoid.
Common successful strategies.

Options
Advanced Rules

Rules to try after mastering the basic game.

Optional Rules

Different number of players.


Different lengths of time.
Different styles of play.

Edition Conversions

If this is a new edition of your rules, what is different?


Can you convert content from the old edition to this one? How?

Design
Designer Notes

Why did you make this game?


Why did you make the design decisions you made?
What mistakes did you make?
What did you think was a great idea that turned into a bad idea?
What did you learn from playtesting?
If you did it again, what would you do differently?
What were your inspirations?

How to Hack

Do we have permission to publish hacks of your game?


What is easy to hack? What is difficult to hack?
What should we avoid hacking?
What parts are crucial to make other parts work? Why are they crucial? How do they
work together to create the experience you want?
How to create new roles?
How to create new win conditions? Lose conditions?
How to create new Settings or Situations?

References
Outline

Overview of How to Play.


Bullet Points.
Common Charts or Tables.
Where to download..
Ideally format this outline to be printed on as few pages as possible.

Playsheets

Include examples of playsheets.


Where to download.
How to print (for example double sided, landscape, flip on the left side, letter sized).

Glossary

http://www.docsymmetry.com/glossaries.html

Index

http://www.wikihow.com/Write-an-Index

Writing
Structure

Get to the point early. Start sentences with subjects and verbs. Place strong words at
the beginning and the end. For example: [Subject] [Verb] [everything else] [Object]..
Minimize verb use that end with "ing".Minimize adverb that don't add useful instructions.
Dont use five words when three will do. Cut to the chase. Use shorter words, sentences
and paragraphs where possible. Use short and easy-to-understand explanations.
Especially for translating into different languages.
Do not repeat distinctive words unless you want to create a pattern.
Vary sentence length to influence readers speed. Be intentional. Break up walls of text.
Highlight your most important points. Repeat crucial information at least 3 times.
Break long sections into multiple sections, long lists into multiple lists.

Style

Find a "voice" for the text that matches the content, your strengths as a writer, and that
will inspire people to play as well as instruct them on how to do so.
Be specific. Use sensory details.
Use contrast to grab attention. Put odd and interesting things next to each other.
Use cliffhangers to propel readers to read forward.
Avoid "may" when you actually mean "must". Avoid "always", "never", "should" unless
discussing absolutes.
Don't make your text sound like a corporate manual or school text book. Be simple
rather than trite.

Review

Read your instructions aloud.


Listen to someone else read your instructions aloud.
Avoid self-criticism and editing when writing first drafts.
Not sure what to write? Record yourself teaching the game. Transcribe the recording.
If possible, hire an editor.
Who is the game for? Who is your audience? Who are you writing about? Have them
review your text.

Order

Avoid references to rules that are still to be explained and that will be found later on. If
you find yourself forward referencing frequently, it is a sign you are presenting rules in
the wrong order. Some people try to solve this by including a Glossary at the beginning
but Glossaries are rarely read before rules and even when read definitions are quickly
forgotten without context and examples to help us remember.

Explain the rules in the order you use them in play. Except when you need to know a
future rule to make an informed choice now.
When asked to make a choice, do you have enough info to make a meaningful decision?
When reading instructions, ask yourself, "do I need to know this now?" If not, move it.
Are there rules that aren't necessary? Can you move them out of the main instructions
and into Advanced or Optional rules.

Instructions

Make it clear what information should be read aloud in play.


Use terminology consistently in both name and format.
Do not hide critical rules in sidebars
If referencing rules you have already explained, repeat the rules in full, or include a page
reference.
Don't just tell us what to do. Tell us why.
If something is difficult to explain, it may be difficult to understand. Simplify. Break it
down.

Writing Section Headers

Promise a benefit to the reader.


Be specific, simple, direct, avoid jargon, and avoid patronizing or obscure cleverness.
Pose a provocative question or make a command.
Offer useful information.
Include quotes.
Ensure information is factual.
Be credible. Don't say "always" if it is untrue.

Example Section Headers

The Secret of [blank].


Heres a Quick Way to [solve a problem].
Give Me [short time period] and Ill Give You [blank].
How to [verb noun] and [related verb noun].
How to [Task] That [Rewarding Benefit].
Who Else Wants [blank]?
Here is a Method That is Helping [blank] to [blank].
Little Known Ways to [blank].
Get Rid of [problem] Once and For All.
Now You Can Have [something desirable] and/while/without/but [great circumstance].
[Do something] like [world-class example].
Build a [blank] You Can Be Proud Of.
What Everybody Ought to Know About [blank].
If You Dont [blank] Now, Youll Hate Yourself Later.
The Lazy [blanks] Way to [blank].
Do You Recognize the [number] Early Warning Signs of [blank]?
See How Easily You Can [desirable result].
You Dont Have to Be [something challenging] to be [desired result].
Do You Make These Mistakes [in/with X]?
Warning: [blank].
How [blank] Made Me [blank].

Are You [blank]?


[Blank] Ways to [blank].
If Youre [blank], You Can [blank].
10 Ways to [blank].
Five Familiar [blank].
Six Types of [blank].
[number] Reasons Why [blank].

Format
Fonts & Typefaces

Avoid small or overly fancy and difficult to read fonts.


Stick to 1-2 typefaces and no more than five fonts (within those two typefaces).
Limit yourself to as few font styles as possible: header, subheader, text, emphasis.
Look at your font styles next to each other to ensure they don't clash or blend together.
Embed your fonts in your PDFs, ePub or Mobi formats.
Use 11-12 point font sizes at minimum with a medium x-height (http://goo.gl/fMq935). If
your font's x-height is larger, consider increasing the space between lines.
Avoid overly condensed fonts. Generally it is recommended you use fonts that are
spaced well rather than manually letterspacing fonts. The exception is with all-cap words
with benefit from letterspacing.

Layout

Keep layouts uncluttered with plenty of white space and avoid walls of text.
Aim for one topic per page or page spread.
Use bullets points where possible. Keep lists shorter than 7 items and minimize indents.
Line breaks between paragraphs are clearer than paragraph indents. Do one of the
other, never both.
Left justified text can be easier to skim than perfect justified text. But if you are laying
out your text in InDesign, you can use perfect justified text that looks great and is easy
to read. The trick is adjusting your Justification settings in your paragraph styles dialog
(http://goo.gl/xV4QFR). Turn off, or severely limit hyphenation. Set your word spacing to
97/100/103, your letter spacing to -3/0/3, and your glyph scaling to 98/100/102.
Limit Column Widths to 50-75 characters per line (CPL), including spaces for print. You
can go up to 95 (CPL) for digital screens. People I trust recommend 66 CPL regardless
of format as an easy target.

Reference

Make Headers and Sub-Headers clearly distinguishable at a glance.


Bold, highlight, or call out the most important point on each page.
Include Page Numbers in a consistent easy to find location.
Make it clear what Section you are in.

Accessibility

Create PDFs accessible to people with Vision Impairment, Blindness, Mobility


Impairments: http://www.adobe.com/enterprise/accessibility/pdfs/acro6_pg_ue.pdf
If printing in b&w is an option and you use colors for text, stick to darker colors.
If printing is an option, include printer friendly formats of your documents (minimal
images, no backgrounds).
Even if your fonts are readable on a digital device, they still need to be readable printed
as many people print digital text.
If using colors, make sure that your instructions are still useable in black & white.

Resources
Free Icons

https://www.iconfinder.com/
http://findicons.com/
http://www.iconarchive.com/
http://thenounproject.com/
http://game-icons.net/

Free Fonts

https://www.google.com/fonts
http://www.1001freefonts.com/
http://www.fontsquirrel.com/
http://www.dafont.com/

Free Photos

http://search.creativecommons.org
http://photopin.com/
http://www.morguefile.com/
http://www.stockfreeimages.com/

Example Game Layouts:

http://www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird/lady_blackbird.pdf
http://tinyurl.com/FreeCDC
http://zmangames.com/rulebooks/Pandemic.pdf