Bully Pulpit Games


Bully Pulpit Games

Night Witches at Roll20Con

Jul 10 2017

The folks at Roll20Con led a fantastic one-shot of Night Witches this weekend, and lucky for us, they recorded and posted it! GM Alex Abou Karam leads an all-star squadron: Suzanne Wallace, Kira Magrann, Mel Fox, and James D’Amato, through a session full of action, drama, and stylish hats. The best part? Roll20 took donations throughout for The Cybersmile Foundation.

Streaming is such a cool way to promote RPGs and share the games we love. If you’re interested in streaming or recording one of our games, please get in touch. We’re always happy to support great play.

–The Bully Pulpit Crew

Ghost Court is Now Available!

Jul 3 2017

Ghost Court

Ghost Court is now officially available to the general public! If you missed the Kickstarter and have been waiting to grab a copy for yourself, here’s where you can find it:

The digital edition is available from both DrivethruRPG and Indie Press Revolution. The print edition, which includes a free PDF download, is also available at IPR, as well as at friendly local game stores near you.

As usual, the PDF is included with any brick-and-mortar sale of the print book through Bits-and-Mortar.com. Talk to staff at the store and make sure they know about the program when you buy your book.

If you have questions or would like to share the love, feel free to post, tweet, or astral project your judicial selfies and play reports into the internet aether! You can also join us at the Ghost Court community on Google+. Have fun and stay spooky!

Brushes & Bugbears: Claudia Cangini on RPG Illustration

Jun 12 2017

Welcome back to the ongoing series of conversations between Alex Roberts (our Production Assistant, who you may have heard on her interview podcast Backstory) and various members of the Bully Pulpit crew. After chatting with Brennen Reece about graphic design, and dishing on editing with Karen Twelves, illustrator and comic artist Claudia Cangini joins us to talk about bringing beautiful art to your game.

Alex: I think most of our readers will recognize your distinctive portraits from Night Witches – what other games have you worked on?

One of our custom portraits from the Night Witches Kickstarter campaign. All illustrations in this post by Claudia Cangini.

Claudia: I’ve worked on a good number of games but probably the best known, aside from Night Witches, are FATE Accelerated, 1001 Nights, War Birds, and Montsegur 1244.

Alex: Those are some beautiful games. It seems like a lot of your work is in this industry – do you game much yourself?

Claudia: Thank you so much!

I started when I left the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. I left it to go to work for a publishing company. I was very much into manga at the time and was overjoyed to find work doing lettering and westernization (sound effects) for manga. In my spare time I also did some little illustrations for a RPG magazine. Afterwards I worked a few years in publishing in various roles and had no chance to do much illustrations, apart from my personal projects. The fact that my family always told me you can’t make a living out of art may have something to do with my life choices.

In 2006 I was forced to leave my previous work (the company folded) and started collaborating part time with my ex husband in his RPG publishing company, Narrattiva, with various roles: translator, editor, project manager, illustrator, graphic designer, etc. I’d been a gamer since my Academy years and at that time the hobby took more space in my life as it was closer to my work.

Around that time I started following The Forge and the indie gaming scene and began to find some work as a freelance illustrator (I think Raphael Chandler was the first to commission me for something in the field). I did this for a few years, then in 2013 I left my husband. Our separation was pretty ugly; I was forced to leave my work with Narrattiva and was left basically penniless. This was also the time I almost stopped playing. Most of my friends were people in the Italian indie gaming scene. Leaving my husband was very hard for me, even if it was me doing the leaving for a new partner, and I felt I got judgement instead of the support I craved in that moment of my life. I mostly left those relationships and that meant also most of my gaming.

That’s when I decided to throw all of myself into illustration freelancing.

From 1001 Nights

I started my Patreon and joined Elance (which at the time actually worked!) and looked for work any way I could find it. For the first time in my life I had someone close to me telling me I could make it. My partner was very supportive of this move.

Luckily, I soon got a huge commission for a six volume comic from author Diane Huffman, and started finding other work too.

This is how it has gone on until now. I continued working full time as a freelance illustrator and had the good luck of finding some really nice commissions to work on. This is the most satisfying work I’ve had in my whole life–and probably what I should have been doing from the beginning.

As for my gaming, I’m trying to get back into it with other people. I am currently playing in an Apocalypse World game and hope to continue doing so.

Alex: infinite high-fives for building a support network! Having people who believe in you and back you up can make such a difference. And it sounds like once the jobs started coming in, they kinda haven’t stopped – why do you think that is? We tell freelancers to network and get their work out there, but how do you keep getting recommended and re-hired?

Claudia: I risk sounding self congratulatory, here, but I think the reason is I do my best not just to deliver good art but also to be most professional in dealing with my clients. There are a bunch of really obvious business practices that I follow that I think are the reason previous clients recommend me.

I care very much about communication. I always try to understand exactly what the client needs, at the cost of asking for further clarifications if something in the brief is unclear to me. I send my images for approval at every step so that if something is not as desired it can be fixed at an early stage. I pay a lot of attention to deadlines and always try to meet them. I prefer to set a later delivery date [while negotiating] and then deliver early over being late. Of course, being late has happened to me a couple of times, (’cause shit happens) but by keeping clients constantly informed it never was a problem in practice.

Apart from this, I strive to never be “lazy” in my art. I try to really make any image the best I can, not going with the most obvious thing that immediately comes to my mind but searching for that more interesting composition, that dynamic pose, that peculiar costume, that specific landscape, etc. I try to never do just what I already know I can do well, but strive to always go a bit out of my comfort zone, learning something new with every image. This means working on a single image can be harder or more time consuming but I’m happy to pay this price. I think this is also important to prevent dullness in something I do every day. Up to now, the constant challenge of improvement is keeping things really interesting!

Alex: You mentioned going to an Academy of Fine Arts earlier – what are the advantages of going the professional education route like that? Were there disadvantages? Where else do you learn and grow as an artist?

Claudia: Actually, I attended just a couple of years and then got the chance of the lettering work and leapt at it. I learned practically nothing about illustration there. I’m aware it may sound weird, and people tell me nowadays the academy is different and better, but at the time I just got an overview of art history and little else.

I learned what I know about illustrations and comics by myself, observing the work of the artists I admire. I’m a bit embarrassed at my lack of formal education and my imposter syndrome is not better because of it!

Alex: I think it’s pretty common for artists to either learn informally or have a big student loan debt for something they don’t consider that useful. I hear both of those things a lot, actually.

I’d like to circle back to what you were saying earlier about that professional relationship between client and illustrator. What are the unique challenges of illustrating for games?

Claudia: I feel illustrations can greatly contribute to create a specific feeling, I would say a “taste” for a game.

I’ve experienced as a player how when, after reading of it, you see the visual representation of a fictional culture, historical period, kind of character, relationship, action, etc. you have a stronger impression of it and it can really ignite your imagination in playing.

The cool thing, from an illustrator point of view, is that in RPGs every picture is also a story. I love putting as much narration in it as I can, making every detail count. This is why the guerrilla fighters in The Watch have little stains or frayed borders on their clothing: they tell about their rough everyday life. Or why the colony spaces in Mars to Stay are a bit messy, dirty and disorderly: these are people fighting for their survival, not living in a calm, well organized situation. And so on.

I also love, brief allowing, to throw in little trope subverting things in terms of gender, sex, age or appearance.

Filling every picture with as much content as I can is something I take a great pleasure from!

Card designs from Bacchanalia

Alex: I’ve heard from first-time designers that they’re really nervous about commissioning illustrations! They’re not sure how much direction to give, what feedback is useful, or even where to find artists! What advice would you have for people in that position?

Claudia: In terms of how much direction to give, it depends on how clear an idea of what the final result should be the client has! Clear communication is vital in order to keep everybody happy and have a good final result. So, if a client wants something specific, she should try to explain it clearly in words or with reference images. If they have no idea, of course, it is fine giving the artist freedom. It happened to me to work in both ways: from being given complete freedom to create the look for an entire culture to receiving detailed descriptions and visual reference, to all the stages in between. Either is fine as long as the client is aware of what she wants. Just remember: artists can’t read minds.

A good idea would be also to agree on a revision process beforehand. I suggest having the artist send you the image in the different stages of development so that you can see in the early stages if something is wrong and advise immediately.

There are a couple of things to absolutely avoid, though: one is giving a feedback like “I don’t like it” without saying what is wrong and what you’d like to see changed. This is useless, and immensely frustrating for the artist who is not in the client’s head and may have no idea how to steer the work in the right direction.

Another is asking for changes later than you could have. Remember that for an artist time is money, so if you see something you don’t like at the jot stage, don’t wait after the clean up to say so! Request the changes as soon as you can so that they are the least time consuming to do for your artist.

As for where to find artists, I think that is actually very easy! You can post your request on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook, and ask people to share and/or recommend artists. Post on the job offers forum on DeviantArt, post on the relevant subReddits (like Comic Book Collaborations or Hungry Artists). There are job posting sections as well in ConceptArt.org and Behance. Artists willing to work are everywhere!

From War Birds: We Were WAC

As for the rest… choosing someone whose style fits your project I think is a pretty obvious one.

If you see that an artist has already completed some significant commission this means she’s probably professional and dependable.

Agree clearly in advance on what rights you are purchasing, for what price, what deadline and how the revision process would go.

Keep communicating with your artist well in advance of the deadline and get back to her timely for approvals.

Don’t assume that the artist you like is too busy/too expensive for your project: a polite e-mail enquiry is always a good idea and can lead to unexpected results.

Don’t try to underpay your artist. Instead, if you have a budget problem, look for a workaround: maybe they can sell you artwork they’ve drawn previously? Or work in black and white instead of color? Sketch instead of inked image? Don’t be afraid of discussing with the artist and see which solutions they can offer to fit your budget.

Be aware that an underpaid artist may have little incentive to act professionally, like getting back to you promptly or not abandoning your project if they get busier or find something more interesting or better paid. I’m absolutely not condoning these things, but I see it happen!

Alex: That is all awesome, Claudia, thank you! Okay, one final question: what’s next for you? Is there anything you’re working on right now that you just can’t wait to share?

Claudia: Currently I’m doing some lovely commission work illustrating Anna Kreider’s The Watch and Lawren Greene’s webcomic The Warrior Series. But, if they’ll pardon me, the thing I’m most excited about is my own project.

I usually draw for other people’s work, but lately I’ve felt the need to do something all my own, so I started a comic on my Patreon page. It’s not a very long project (just 20 pages) but others will follow. I can experiment as I want with this and do stuff close to my heart, so it would be awesome if my Patreon would get more love! I also use it to host my musings and pondering an all kinds of art stuff which is nice to share.

Alex: Awesome! The comic looks beautiful so far, I can’t wait to see where it goes. And thanks so much for speaking with me, this was lovely.

Claudia: Thank you!

If you want to keep up with Claudia and her work, check her out on DeviantArt, Behance, and Patreon.

Bully Pulpit Inspires Comics – Again!

Jun 5 2017

Have you been reading Vengeful Ghost? Their most recent storyline, The Summit, may look familiar to fans of a certain live-action scenario about doomed mountain climbers. Writer Parker Hicks says of this collaboration with artist Sonia Liao:

The Summit also owes a great deal to Jason Morningstar’s The Climb, a live action roleplaying game published by Bully Pulpit Games. The Climb is super intense, and all of Bully Pulpit’s games (like the smash hit Fiasco and the WWII historical Night Witches) are a great time.

We are so excited to see where this series goes!

And this isn’t the first time our games have inspired comics–you may remember Bingo Baby, the Fiasco-inspired graphic novel from Penny Lantern.

Looks like Fiasco, all right.

We love hearing about the amazing stories you create using our games. Seeing them in print is next-level! Hope you enjoy them as much as we are.

–The Bully Pulpit Crew

A Fiasco Dice Tracker!

May 31 2017

University of Toronto professor Matt Wells is using Fiasco in his classroom–and he developed this handy dice-tracking app to help!

In his course on Remix Culture, his students are learning and playing the game, as well as making their own playsets.

“There are only a few gamers in the course, so I was a bit nervous. But by the end it was very gratifying to see everyone excitedly playing through their stories (as opposed to paying a minimum of attention to some dusty old lecture).  Whatever magic you used to conjure up this game, I assure you it is working exceedingly well.

Also, since many groups were having some trouble locating the dice they needed, I cooked up this modest web app for the game: http://semioticblocks.com/fiascodice/

Note that the app is meant to facilitate pen-and-paper play, not replace it entirely. It is a substitute for the dice only. Anyway, I’m still troubleshooting, but I’m nearly there.

Anyway, just wanted to pass along all that info. Thanks!”

No, thank you, Matt! We’re excited to see how those playsets turn out, too.  

–The Bully Pulpit Crew

Syntax & Semicolons: Karen Twelves on RPG Editing

May 15 2017


Welcome back to the ongoing series of conversations between Alex Roberts (our Production Assistant, who you may have heard on her interview podcast Backstory) and various members of the Bully Pulpit crew. After chatting with Brennen Reece about graphic design, we join Karen Twelves, our copyeditor, to talk about the unique challenges (and fun!) of editing and proofing for games.


Alex: How would you summarize your work in games? I have a feeling there’s more to it than checking for typos.


Karen: There’s a lot of different levels of editing I could be doing on a project. On the surface I might just be checking that the terminology is all correct (Is it roleplaying or role-playing or role playing? Is it Start Deck or start deck?) and that there aren’t any formatting errors. Going a little deeper, I’m assessing if the rules are clear enough and if the organization flows well. Deeper still, I might be reviewing a game with an eye towards how engaging the setting is, or if the mechanics are balanced. And the tone should be uniform throughout–some publishers want all their books in a chatty, conversational voice, for example, or it might all be written in the voice of a particular character or setting a certain mood. Whatever the standard is, it needs to be consistent.


Alex: When trying to establish that consistency, are you usually working from a style guide?


Karen: If the publisher has a style guide, that’s great! Often, though, there’s a lot of terminology unique to that particular game, so I invariably build my own style sheet to use as a checklist. For other corrections, I fall back on the Chicago Manual of Style or good old Merriam-Webster. And I might also check in with the author or layout artist to get their ruling on something. It’s a lot of resources to synthesize!


Alex: You mentioned clarity of rules, which of course is important in a game text; how do you establish and maintain clarity? What are the common pitfalls you see when looking at rules texts?


Karen: Game rules often have a lot of conditional sentences–“If X, then Y.” Sometimes those clauses can get a bit unwieldy, so I always look at them carefully. And if there’s any example play, it’s very important to check that it sticks to the rules as written and really spells out what is happening–if someone rolls a die, what is the numerical result? (Not just “a hit?”) Also, sometimes a rule can get revised in later drafts, which causes ripple effects through the whole text. So those are all things to look out for.

This applies more to board and card games, but whenever possible I like to meet with the designer and walk through me giving them a demo, following the rules as best I understand them after having given them only a basic read-through. I’m a kinesthetic learner; I much prefer to walk through a practice round and learn as I go. So I consider myself a good litmus test for how well rules are written–if someone like me can pick it up and play, then it’s solid.


Alex: That brings up an interesting question: at what point do you prefer to be brought in? I guess too early would mean repeating too much work as the game gets refined.


Karen: With board and card games, I prefer to get it when it’s been heavily playtested and the rules are more or less set, because, yeah, otherwise I’m doing lots of revisions on a small amount of text. I love working with Eric Vogel; he’s a prolific game designer and I always know that when one of his games comes my way, my focus is more on the wording rather than assessing the mechanics. I had the pleasure of working with him on The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game, and was bringing out my demo set to play all the time with friends well after we’d moved past the editing stage.

With roleplaying games, it depends on if I’m doing developmental editing or not. I got to work on the War of Ashes RPG from its inception; Sophie Lagacé is an amazing author and a lot of fun to work with. We did a lot of planning on the structure of the book, refined what to include in the setting material, and there were a lot of changes to the Fate-inspired mechanics unique to the game. And then Dale Hostman came in with an absolutely beautiful layout, and we had a TON of art from ZombieSmith at our disposal. It was a long and intensive project with many, many rounds of revisions, and the end result was a stunning book and a very good read.

In contrast, I did copyediting on Blades in the Dark, which was already post-layout when I joined the project. Also a fantastic book to read just for the setting alone, but I wasn’t involved in refining the rules. I’d been playing the earlier edition of the game already available online, so it was a real treat to be brought on to something I was already a huge fan of.


Alex: It sounds like you’ve worked on some amazing projects. What, for you, defines a great working relationship?


Karen: I have! One of my first major projects was proofing Carolina Death Crawl; I’m always excited when Steve asks if I’m available to do some work for Bully Pulpit because I know I’m going to want to play the hell out of the game when I’m done (have you seen Goth Court??).

It’s very important for me that the managing editor be very clear about what level of edit they need–I want to budget my time accordingly. Also, having a style guide ready to go saves everyone a lot of time. And if I’m doing any type of edit more involved than proofing, there will likely be more than one round of revisions and some back and forth regarding any questions that may come up. So a great working relationship requires prompt communication between anyone on the project I may be working with. Can you tell that all of these preferences revolve around time management? I know that I will want to see the draft as many times as I can, and Steve can attest to me turning around proofs on The Warren within 24 hours, just a day or two before it went to print (at my own insistence that I change “just one more thing.”)

Once a game is finally printed I get so superstitious–I’m afraid to open it for the first time and find a typo I’d missed. My name is only as good as the quality of work I do, and that’s what’s going to keep me working in games publishing. Right now it’s not feasible to be an editor full-time, though it is something I may start pursuing down the road.


Alex: Ah, yes. This industry is full of talented part-timers. Do you have any advice for people who want to start doing this kind of work themselves?


Karen: I hate saying that you gotta network but… yeah. I started with some tiny jobs that put the “free” in “freelancing” until I had a wee little portfolio, and then sent a lot of polite emails along the lines of: “Hi I’d really like to work with you again please keep me in mind for future projects I’m really good kthxbi!” Then, there were serendipitous meetings of people at conventions and at my FLGS (EndGame in Oakland! It’s the best!). As a naturally shy person I can attest that it can feel very uncomfortable to cold call, but remember that you’ve already got a hobby in common and share a passion to make great games. Now that I regularly work with the same publishers, they know me well enough to pass my name on to others, and that’s pretty awesome.


Alex: That is awesome! Anything else you want to impart, to designers or publishers who might be reading this?


Karen: Keep making games! I look forward to playing them.


If you want to keep up with Karen, and maybe have her fine work on your next project, check out karentwelves.com.

First Ride / Last Ride Now Available!

Apr 19 2017

New from Bully Pulpit Games, FIRST RIDE / LAST RIDE is a short but intense one-player game about living on the edge, pulling heists and driving high performance cars in illegal street races!

This game is a love-letter from Jason to the Fast and the Furious franchise of films. Here’s more from him about the game:

“I love the Fast and the Furious movies for their casual bombast, their relentless dedication to smashing increasingly large numbers of cars with every entry in the franchise, and their endless, superheroic absurdity. They are movies that make sense with the sound off. Theirs is the language of the swollen bicep and the hot ride, and it is deliriously universal.

But I think what I love even more than all this is the emphasis on family — the franchise is predicated on an unshakeable crew with genial, pan-ethnic curb appeal. These people all love each other fiercely, and the family grows with each installment. It’s pretty cool. Inspirational, even, for a series of films where driving supercars between skyscrapers in Dubai is just another day at the office.

So here’s a game that distills that old-school feel to its essentials — family, the crew, and the hard choices a true car wizard must occasionally make. I wrote it as an experiment in privileging tone over substance and, in that way, it is both an affectionate homage seeking to capture that fast, furious vibe, and also a sort of roleplaying poem whose value comes from what you pour of yourself into it. Let me know how your Dan turns out.

One side note: My preferred mode of play is Last Ride and then First Ride. That’s the order I wrote them in, and, like a gonzo flashback in one of the films, there are all kinds of little Easter Eggs you may appreciate if you play in that order. Enjoy!”

Available now at DrivethruRPG!

Grimoires & Garamond: Brennen Reece on RPG Book Design

Mar 27 2017

Welcome to the first of a series of conversations between Alex Roberts (our Production Assistant, who you may have heard on her interview podcast Backstory) and various members of the Bully Pulpit crew. Our inaugural interview is with graphic designer and layout artist Brennen Reece, who shares his thoughts on design, typography, and working in dialogue.


Alex: So! Brennen! You’re the graphic designer here at Bully Pulpit. What games have you worked on, for us and elsewhere?


Brennen: I’ve been working with BPG since I did the pen-and-ink illustrations for Durance. I think I’ve worked on most of the games we’ve released since then: Night Witches, The Warren, Carolina Death Crawl, The Skeletons, Ghost Court, and countless smaller games that are in various stages of existence.

As far as non-Bully Pulpit games, I’ve worked on Blood Red Sands, The Ruined Empire, The Clay that Woke, The Veil, the official card deck for the latest edition of Primetime Adventures, and a collection of strangely popular character sheets for Dungeon World and OSR D&D that look like Swiss tax forms.

In the larp world, I did the layout for Warren Tusk’s Be Not Afraid.

I’ve also done some graphic design consulting, most notably for Graham Walmsley, who is a brilliant game designer and one of my favorite people.


Alex: Graphic design consulting? Interesting! What does that entail?


Brennen: I’ll make suggestions about various aspects of layout and point out typographical errors. Things like font choices, widows and orphans, margins, when to use a hyphen and when to use an em dash.


Alex: Neat! I didn’t even know that was a thing.


Brennen: I’ve been a working graphic designer for 20 years, and I’m still learning the craft. Even if you’re really good at it, there’s always something new to learn or perfect.


Alex: What are some games that stand out to you as being beautifully designed?


Brennen: I can’t think of too many games that are well designed, graphically. There are some competent ones, but those are rare, and those invariably come out of the story games community where there is a culture of innovation and improvement. Those people tend to question, research, and enjoy learning new skills.

The earliest RPGs were horribly designed, because they were put together by people who had no idea what they were doing design-wise, and with very little budget.

The 1983 Mentzer Red Box is one of the best examples of a well-designed game text. My grandmother bought mine for me at a Toys ‘R Us in 1985. They obviously were trying to up their game for that a mass market. They had great (if somewhat unenlightened) art, the brand was well designed, and the book was written and organized so ten-year-olds could teach themselves how to play.

There aren’t any weird typefaces, obnoxious fake parchment page backgrounds, eldritch page borders. The typography is pretty damned competent. I think that is because you couldn’t just decide to be a graphic designer like you can today. There was a period of apprenticeship, that was sometimes accompanied by a design education.



Alex: It’s interesting you mention the Red Box, because that cover is one of the most iconic images in RPGs, and a lot of creators have been inspired by it. Where else would you point designers for visual inspiration?


Brennen: The biggest mistake I see is only looking at other books in the genre. You need an awareness of graphic design history or theory beyond the geek-culture visual vernacular. RPGs are first teaching texts, and then reference texts, so I’d start there. There are some incredibly well designed books for art instruction, bushcraft, cooking, woodworking, knitting, or any kind of crafting or creative hobby.

My first step designing a book is to look at a lot of art and design from that era. For Night Witches, Jason and I spent a lot of time poring over WWII-era and earlier Russian design.

I spent a lot of time looking at old book covers for The Warren. When I was working on The Clay that Woke, I did lots of research on pulp sword & sorcery novels. The cover, the lettering, and even the interior was informed by that research.

I’m a jazz musician as well, so a lot of my work is informed by classic jazz album covers. I find a lot of inspiration in the old Command Records covers, which were often designed by the Bauhaus professors who fled Nazi Germany and ended up teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Also, Reid Miles who designed for Blue Note, and S. Neil Fujita, who was an amazing abstract painter and did TONS of jazz covers, as well as the book cover for The Godfather.


Alex: I can see how keeping a broad base of inspiration is important. Do you collect inspiring images somewhere, like a Pinterest board or something?


Brennen: I live and die by Pinterest.




Alex: Cool stuff! Why would you recommend Pinterest to other graphic designers? I think some people see it and are like “oh no, another social media I don’t understand.” Which is ok (I feel that way about Snapchat) but it sounds like it’s an invaluable tool for you.


Brennen: I don’t even think of it as social media, but more of a nice, convenient way of searching and saving images. Good designers create “mood boards” for each project, which are like “vision boards,” but instead of what you want out of life, they’re what you want out of this design! A Pinterest board is like a virtual mood board, with the added benefit that if you click on an image, dozens of related images pop up. I get turned onto a lot of new (to me) art and design like that.


Alex: Do you follow other users with similar taste?


Brennen: I do. If someone posts something nice, I’ll often check out their board and follow them. My feed is pretty inspiring. Also, I like a lot of different styles, even if they aren’t similar to my own. Jason called me a “mid-century formalist” once, and, while that’s very, very true, I really love the funkier stuff and the more classical stuff. I’m trying to stretch my design muscles lately.


Alex: How would you define mid-century formalism?


Brennen: Well, to me, it’s classical design with a modern aesthetic. There’s a focus on clean, crisp typography, stripped of ornamentation, and big, dramatic photographs or illustrations. It’s concerned with communicating information rather than decorating it.

If you’re interested, you can look up Massimo Vignelli, Josef Mueller-Brockmann, Armin Hoffman, Paul Rand, Jan Tschichold.


Alex: Those are your design heroes?


Brennen: Add in Reid Miles and Bradbury Thompson, and those are my favorites from that era. The most influential for me. And no one has any business doing graphic design at all if they haven’t read The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst!


Alex: Right! I’ve actually heard of that one. What were some key things you learned there?


Brennen: It’s an indispensable reference to all aspects of typographical design. But the main thing is that the design should honor the text, and the reading experience shouldn’t be made more difficult by poor craftsmanship and visual distractions. Most of it is what I’ve heard referred to as “advanced common sense”- stuff that’s obvious once someone points it out to you, but you probably wouldn’t think of on your own.

One of the main questions in any project is that of what font to use. Most designers, especially Bringhurst and Vignelli, use a very small palette of typefaces (we can get into the difference between typefaces and fonts later). There are only a dozen or so type classifications, but thousands upon thousands of typefaces. The professional opinion is that you should only use the absolute best example from each classification, and the rest are garbage.


Alex: Haha! That’s ruthless! But it resonates with what I hear from a lot of game designers – that good design is subtraction, cutting away what isn’t necessary.


Brennen: Tufte talks about increasing the Data:Ink ratio. Anything that isn’t contributing to the signal is contributing to the noise. That’s true for writing, design of any kind, and, in a lot of cases, life.


Alex: Then how do you, as the graphics or layout person, adjust that ratio when you’re generally given text and illustrations that you have no control over?


Brennen: Well, the simple answer is that I only work with clients who respect my input and value my expertise.

I don’t think of myself as a graphics or layout person. I’m a designer and a typographer. Design means solving a problem within a certain set of constraints. My problem is how to best communicate the information to the reader. I have no problem suggesting an edit to fit the text on the page.

Honestly, the most important part of that is making sure the writing is tight. Most of my clients take this very seriously, and if I need them to rewrite something to optimize the pagination, they don’t have a problem with this. They realize that it’s a rare case when a passage isn’t improved by further editing.

It might be more helpful to phrase it this way: If you’re doing the layout and design for your own game, you have all the control you want. But, if you’re going to hire someone, don’t hire them because they know how to use the software. Hire them because they will make your game better. Think of a graphic designer as an editor for the visual presentation for your game, and consider their advice the same way you’d consider advice from a content editor.

If your designer is simply following instructions, that’s a red flag.

If you’re a graphic designer, it’s your job to solve the problem of communicating the message to the intended audience. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You’re the expert here, and if you’re not the expert in your field, you’re in the wrong line of work.

That being said, you’re not infallible, and it’s helpful to ask for lots of feedback. There are a lot of smart, visually astute people in this industry, and they can open your eyes to issues you didn’t notice. The design process is ideally an iterative dialogue between the designer and the client.


Alex: Speaking of dialogues, we should wrap this one up for now! Thanks for your time, Brennen.


Brennen: My pleasure.


You can see more of Brennen’s work at his website, or connect with him on Google+.

A Fiasco Replay Manga!

Mar 3 2017

An artist and gamer whose pen name is Michinaki Michio discovered Fiasco (in English), did her own informal translation, and played it with her friends. She enjoyed it so much she not only illustrated their session as a manga (they played Logan Bonner’s Dragonslayers playset, by the way) but also explained the rules as she went along. Half of the folks she played with were brand new to roleplaying games as well!

The time, talent and energy Michinaki Michio devoted to our game is incredible, and the end result is both useful and beautiful, and all of us here at Bully Pulpit Games are both delighted and humbled! You can read the full comic on her twitter page.

Fiasco has never been cuter.

BPG at Dreamation 2017

Feb 17 2017

Dreamation 2017

The entire BPG team (Steve, Jason, Brennen, and Alex) will be at Dreamation 2017 in Morristown, NJ this weekend! If you’ll be there as well, please find us and say hello! If you ask, we might even give you a sneak peak of something we’re really excited about!