If you build it they will come
Great starter article by Big Jim over at Galaxy in Flames regarding fan-dex design, a must-read for all fans of fan-dexes and homebrew rules afficianadoes alike.
Homebrew rules aside, from a graphic layout/designer's point of view the overall 'feel' of the document will lend it a greater degree of credibility to those still entrenched in the 'GW rules only mindset' (in fact my local group were impressed with the WIP document I produced, which seems to have swayed them to a greater inclination to playtest the rules. Hooray!).
Now, I'm not saying aping the look and layout of an existing GW rulebook/codex/supplement/etc right down to the correct font, font size, illustrations, in-focus painted model diorama photographs, and so on is what one should do, but it sure does help! :)
The BolS downloads archive have plenty of such material for inspiration, and I cannot stress enough how impressed I am by the group effort to produce such quality documents and any budding rules designers would do well to look there. Big Jim's blog as mentioned above is another personal source of inspiration of mine as his journey to flesh his Soul Reapers to life continues apace.
Of course, a unique look and feel can be achieved on one's own terms and that too, should be applauded. However, I have found the following tips invaluable if you are to produce a fandex, homebrew rules, or even a campaign/narrative/fluff 'finished' (or there and thereabouts) document related to the world of 40K, especially if you intend to have a printed copy of such on the table, or at the hands of your opponents, or any other casual 40K readers, to enjoy.
Tips for a Healthy Fan-dex!:
1. Spellcheck: Run your text through a programme that will spellcheck it! A simple copy, paste, and correct onto (say) Word for Windows or some other equivalent can, and will help clean up any errors.
2. Grammar: As per Item no. 01 above.
3. Font: Readibility is key! While it may be tempting to pepper a document with arcane gothic font befitting a 40K mood and theme, it can be a little hard to read! Perhaps stick with readable (both on-screen and printed) freely available fonts such as Calibri, Tahoma, or Arial for the meantime at a suitable size (e.g. 9 or 10), and spice up any headings or text that needs shouting out with a readable quasi-fantasy font such as Superfrench, or even Ringbearer! Head to http://www.dafont.com/ and experiment with a tonnage of free-to-use fonts and have a go.
4. Layout: Recent GW 40K books and supplements favour the 2no. paragraph 3no. separating margin format, so the text reads in a vertical, block-chunk fashion, in order to avoid large blocks of text that can be intimidating, dizzying, and downright difficult to read. Also, this is done in order to better fit the fluff illustrations, fluff quotes, and rules statlines in a consistent manner.
However, that is by no means the be all and end all of text formatting, and really how the layout works is up to the author's discretion, but consistency is key here.
5. Illustrations: Again, this is really up to the author, but looking at the 'canon' 40K books, you may have noticed apart from the relevant illustration placed for the relevant rules (especially when there is a lack of a GW-produced model. Yes, I'm talking about you 5th Edition IG codex Stormies & Roughriders!), there are other ways to use an illustration to bring about a better fandex document, such as:
- Consistent use of an illustrated header at the top of each page. IG codex is a prime example in which a winged lionheads are used as headers for the fluff portion, aquila and lions used for the special rules and characters, and a stretched aquila for the army list really ties the book together and emphasises the Imperial-ness of the reading material. Obviously aquilas and such are out of place in say, a homebrew Ork Freebooter document, or Genestealer cult document, so common sense works best here.
- Splash pages. These are the occassional use of large 1, or double-page spreads of art to provide breaks in the document, partitioning off say the fluff/timeline sections to the hobby/army list & points section. GW documents use this method to effectively provide 'Chapter breaks' in a book, which again really contributes to the feel of a document and many fandexes can do well to apply this method, otherwise the text just reads in an ajar manner as it jumps from one bit to the next with a turn of a page. Examples with reference to the IG document being the Graf Harazahn splash, or the Invasion of Gnosis Prime campaign map in the Planetstrike book.
- Text & paragraph spacing: The use of little insignia, watermarks, and even quotes relevant to the book's theme (e.g. Ork glyphs for an Orky document, Chaos stars, regiment logos, etc) can be applied to great effect to fill out paragraphs, and use every available space allowed by the text, giving it room to breath and also adding little flourishes and breaks, when transitioning from one subject matter to another. This is also a great trick to use especially when you run out of text!
6. Get it Proof-Read: Get thee to an Editor! There is only so much a spell/grammar check programme can do, so a fresh pair of eyes to go over the document can be of great assistance, catching things out that no computer will ever be able to.
7. Respect GW's IP: In the end of the day, we are hobbyist fans producing fan supplements to an official game, and we'd all like nothing better to further, and promote the hobby to ourselves, other fans, and maybe even beyond that! However, there are many things one can, and cannot do, with regards to GW's intellectual property rights, and a read-thru visit to their website's legal section is in order. Make sure you provide the correct disclaimers on your fan-dex!
So remember, "by the fans, for the fans!", and the most importantly enjoy your labour of love, and if other people enjoy it too, all the better!