Nate Lee asks:
As a follow-up question from last issue: since game books are frequently full of art, is it all just extra audio clutter to you? Would you prefer it all be marked as decorative, or do you want alt text on all of the graphics?
For those who are unaware, Alt text is the information a publisher adds to an image to describe it to screen readers (and search engines). Whenever you hover your mouse over an image on a web page and see a pop-up with a description, that’s Alt text. When a screen reader encounters an image with Alt text, it reads the text to the user. If there is no Alt text, the screen reader may simply say “Image” or “Graphic,” neither of which are very informative.
PDFs, HTML files, ePubs, and other files are capable of displaying Alt text. A common best practice is to describe illustrations, graphs, and charts but to ignore elements which are purely decorative such as background graphics and stylish embellishments around page numbers.
The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes a list of accessibility standards for web pages called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines state that images should have useful descriptive text unless they are designed to be purely decorative (just like I mentioned as a best practice, above). I stand by them on this one.
As much as anyone else, I love a good evocative image. Although I can no longer make out most illustrations, I love to know what is happening in an image. This is especially true of RPG art because illustrations are used to convey a great deal about the game and its setting. I feel like I miss a lot of information about a game simply because I can’t see the pretty pictures in the book and they almost never have Alt text or descriptive captions.
What I don’t need to read is “parchment background” on every page or “artistic flourish.” There are methods for telling a screen reader to simply ignore graphics. By using an empty quote (such as “”), most readers won’t even say “Illustration” or “Graphic.” They encounter that as a cue to simply skip over the graphic and keep reading. That’s what Nate means by removing the clutter.
I love it when the actual clutter is removed, but please keep adding Alt text to your action poses and dramatic set pieces. You don’t have to be overly detailed, but a little description goes a long way.
Patrick Farrell Asks:
One thing I really appreciated with the physical copy of your zine was the larger font sized used. It seems a lot of zines will use a smaller font, I understand that this can be a style choice or a way to pack as much content as possible, but it sure does lead to some major eye strain. What size font would you say is a good starting point for print
(Editor’s Note: Patrick also asked a great question about Vision Layers that we’ll try to address as an article in next month’s issue.)
Believe it or not, the choice of font for a book is as big a consideration as what art to include. While I was learning layout, I studied typography and text design in far more detail than I ever even knew was possible. Most great layout artists know not just which fonts look nice on a page, but how and when to use them. Todd is no exception to this, and we have a lot to thank him for when it comes to the legibility of this zine and other Accessible Games products.
In 2013, I released Psi-punk, a cyberpunk RPG based on the Fudge System™. I had This was before I learned how about layout myself, but I knew I wanted the book to feature a large, easy-to-read font. I wanted to start with 12-point font, but my layout artist at the time (Ruben Smith-Zempel) cautioned about how many extra pages of space that might take up. Although 12-point fonts seemed nice and accessible, there are some economic reasons to choose something a little smaller.
I compared the book at the time to some of the other major game products I was familiar with. Pathfinder used 8.5-point font, and a lot of gamers complained about how small it was. As I hung out on web forums such as RPGGeek.com, I learned a valuable lesson: even people who are not visually impaired often have a difficult time reading small print. This is particularly true for the RPG demographic, which consists a large percentage of people age 50+. Let’s face it: most peoples’ eyes just don’t work as well when they get older.
So if 8.5 was far too small, but 12 points was too large, what was the sweet spot? As it turns out, we didn’t have to go much smaller than 12 points to find a good fit.
For Psi-punk, we went with 11-point font. The typeface we chose is called Droid Serif, which was designed specifically to be read comfortably on screen and on paper. Many fonts that work well on screen aren’t as easy to read on paper, so if Droid Serif lived up to this promise then I knew it would be a win.
As it turns out, this was a great move. Psi-punk got a lot of compliments for having large, easy-to-read text. People with aging vision could still read it comfortably, but it also wasn’t so large that it took up more space than was necessary. That’s when I decided 11-point font would be the way to go moving forward.
Although not all of my products use Droid Serif, I think just about all of my products do use 11-point fonts. With the feedback I have received, I’d say it’s probably a great choice. People don’t complain about it being too small, but it also doesn’t take up a disproportionately large footprint. It’s a great balance between cost and legibility.
In the upcoming Survival of the Able, which successfully funded on Kickstarter on November 1st, 2021, we’re sticking with 11-point font. However, Todd also had the brilliant idea to bring the multiple font options of Vision Layers (which you can learn more about in AGQ Issue 3 or at http://www.visionlayers.com) to print. We’ll be printing the book in in your choice of graphic, easy-to-read, and dyslexia-friendly fonts. Since it is going to be produced via DriveThruRPG’s print-on-demand service, we can offer multiple font options without having to store a lot of excess inventory. I’m thrilled that we are getting to take what we have learned over the last several years and continue to improve on readability for everyone.
To me, running a game is mostly managing information streams (prep notes, rules, etc.) which are mostly on paper for me. A screen reader could make those accessible but that would not necessarily be handy. What’s the best way to support visually impaired GMs in their prep?
I tend to be a low-prep GM by nature. That’s partially because I’m just not much of a note-taker, but it’s also partly born from necessity. Like you said, it can be difficult to prepare a lot of notes and documents and store them in an accessible format.
To me, one of the best ways to help facilitate a GM’s prep needs is to design games that don’t require a lot of prep to begin with. Games that can be easily run off-the-cuff are particularly helpful. Fudge, Fate Core, the Pip System, and Power Outage are some of my favorite examples.
Let’s say you’re designing for a system that isn’t inherently low-prep though. What can you do then?
First, go back and read all of Travis Peterson’s articles throughout the Accessible Gaming Quarterly back catalog. You can find them in issues 4, 6, and 7 (this one). He gives some great advice on how blind and visually impaired GMs can use tools to adapt games to their own needs. In particular, he makes great use of Microsoft Excel to produce maps and initiative trackers. After re-reading those, check out Justin Oldham’s article in Issue 6 called “The Big Picture” in which he talks about how he produces huge, hand-drawn maps.
If you are writing adventures for a game like 5th Edition, why not include some large print maps? You don’t necessarily have to include these in printed products, but make them available with your downloadable files. Optionally, you could also include some maps that are pre-produced in Excel or Google Sheets. That would go a long way toward making sure your locations don’t go to waste as we adapt them to simpler tools.
While you are at it, why not enter your monster and NPC statistics into a spreadsheet as well? That takes the work out of copying and re-typing data. It also benefits anyone who downloads your spreadsheets, not just blind people who use them for accommodations. Excel is a handy tool that GMs have been using for ages and it’s far more accessible than any custom-built app. Spreadsheet junkies like me might also enjoy analyzing the numbers in myriad ways, and any engagement you can get from your game is a plus.
Some GMs like to keep track of NPCs, but it can be difficult to go through a PDF and pull out the important details to be easily-referenced later. What if you didn’t leave their details trapped inside a PDF and instead collected them all into a single, easily-referenced Word document? You could use Heading styles to properly tag each NPC’s entry so a blind GM could quickly navigate the document. As a bonus, anyone (disabled or not) could use Word’s Navigation Pane to quickly find the character they were looking for so they could easily reference their stats and personality traits.
It would be difficult to name every possible scenario and the tools you could use, but thankfully I don’t have to. When you are preparing notes for your own games, consider what electronic tools someone might like to have to go with them. Use Word, Excel, or an HTML-based web page to easily produce these in an accessible format. If it is something you would jot down on paper, copy it into a text document instead. If it has a lot of numbers or might need to be sorted in different ways, copy it into Excel. Pretty soon, you’ll have a ton of tools you could distribute with your game that make life easier for everyone—whether they have a print disability or not.
Nowadays, RPGs are more than just rulebooks. We are starting to see more games offered with accessories designed for Virtual Tabletop play to make it easier for VTT users to get started. Why not include a few accessible accessories as well?
Do you have a question you would like to have answered in the next issue of Accessible Gaming Quarterly? Let us know in the comments. ????