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As I had asked in another part of Stackexchange (didn't know about this part until some comments there) I'm writing manuals (mostly for computer games, but in addition to this also for tabletop games, pen and paper rpg games) and sourcebooks (world books for tabletop games).

Now I've run into a few troubles there with MS Word, as the text grew fast very cumbersome to organize (I lost oversight quite fast and had to search for parts of the text quite long time and again) and in addition to that I couldn't position text as I needed and also including pictures (screenshots and graphics) was more cumbersome than I would have liked (also using pictures as backgrounds for some of the pages was cumbersome).

So my question is: Are there any good tools out there where I can create such manuals and sourcebooks with?

As a note here: I'll have to print out those manuals/sourcebooks but also want to put them into PDFs.

Edit: As it was asked in a comment:

  • Pictures are very present. Part as charts, part as pieces of art to lighten up the book
  • Some pics are taking up a whole page, others take up only part of a page and are in between a section and its text, and others again are background images above which text is printed.
  • There are up to 8 different types of texts (titles,...) At some locations the text must be even displayed so that "2 columns" are on the page while on most it's 1 column per page.
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Welcome to Writers! Can you add a bit to the question about the make-up of such books? I'm imagining that you have a higher-than-average number of charts, tables, and illustrations, some of which might be large. Knowing how much of what kinds of content you're trying to accommodate, beyond just the text, will help people give you better answers. Thanks. –  Monica Cellio Jul 15 at 15:28
    
Put up a bit more infos there –  Thomas E. Jul 15 at 18:39
    
Thanks for the updates! –  Monica Cellio Jul 15 at 19:22
    
No prob. If anything still seems to be missing I'll add the info immediately. Especially as there are quite a few tools that are being used by ppl for things like that it can be quite possible that I'm missing to write down some important infos that would be required for recommendations there (especially as every tool has its own pros and cons there). –  Thomas E. Jul 16 at 8:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As Lauren loves Scrivener I love LaTeX! It lets you code your books, build reusable modules and makes laying out text a breeze.

Writelatex.com is an amazing free site that lets you work with LaTeX online, work collaboratively and save your documents as Zips or PDFs.

We use it to write the rulebooks for our tabletop games and RPG systems; we have a template set up with modules that you can elect to include (box contents, aim, setup, etc...) and a default style. Using a style sheet much like CSS we can comment in or out different styles as required, so that we can keep a uniform structure but theme the document on the game in question.

I also use LaTeX for my writing, using a template to split sections into separate modules with a defined plot guide and a handy "things to look for" checklist at the top of each module. I've found splitting the story out into manageable chunks makes it easier to write and stops me from ending up in plot-falls.

Overall I find LaTeX to be not only useful for it's flexability but also for the way that having pre-built, modular documents makes writing a new rulebook a matter of simply changing some options and adding some text. The time it saves us, and the consistency it gives us, is well worth the effort of getting your head round it.

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Last time I used latex was almost 10 years ago. Back then it was lets fromulate it this way: Cumbersome to use. It was almost like writing xml back then with no real editor that I found (so I had to handcode everything). Did that change there? –  Thomas E. Jul 15 at 8:43
    
@ThomasE. Write Latex makes it a lot easier, giving you a very neat editor with project, code and live preview windows side by side. It also has intelisense and this wikibook will tell you pretty much everything you need to know. Once you've coded a template you never have to code again, just dump your text into the modules and run it. My fiction template lets me just write, but if I want thought bolded instead of italicised I just have to change a line of code on a custom macro, instead of finding all the italic text and changing it. –  CLockeWork Jul 15 at 9:42
    
The other plus is that there is a huge range of macros you can add in, rulebooks are usually best with multiple columns, call-out boxes are very helpful, auto-generated contents pages are a must... –  CLockeWork Jul 15 at 9:43
    
Multiple columns are a must even for special things like spell lists (saw it af ew times witout and few times with....if there is a huge list of spells or merits,.... it gets quite cumersome to read through if its only 1 column on the page). will take a look at latex later today (currently taking a look at each of the mentioned programs with 1 program per day) –  Thomas E. Jul 16 at 8:31
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tnx will take a look at it. good luck to you too. I just convinced my company that kickstarter is having no impact on my work schedule so I want to wait a bit until I ask them if also selling the products is a possbility (have a platform already in mind for the computer game and also for the sourcebooks IF my company says yes, else free distribution and getting money for it back in only via kickstarter) –  Thomas E. Jul 22 at 9:32

This is a job for Scrivener! :)

Scrivener is an incredibly flexible writing program. It allows you to sort your thoughts into multiple documents within a project, see two documents at once, create hyperlinks, drop in photos and audio files, and then export as Word or print to PDF. You can view your documents as notecards on a corkboard with tags and summaries so you can rearrange things easily. You can create "folders" for your documents and view them like a file tree.

If you search the site for Scrivener and check the scrivener tag, you'll find more comments here from other users detailing the program's usefulness.

The only other recommendation I could make would be InDesign if the layout is very important, but that's only for the design part, not the organizing and writing part.

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I had taken a look at indesign a while back but I have to admit the renting part is something that really scared me off there (hate it when I have to rent something and can't just buy). scrivener looks interesting. –  Thomas E. Jul 14 at 19:16
    
@ThomasE. Oh I know; I'm refusing to upgrade to Creative Cloud for as long as I can manage. I find renting software to be obnoxious. But if you want a designed page, ID is your best bet. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 14 at 23:46
    
same here with renting. I have a complete dislike for tht idea of theirs. Just trying out scrivener currently. So in design is better at doing layouts? how so (scrivener looks pretty complete there from what I saw at first glance)? –  Thomas E. Jul 15 at 5:46
    
btw am I seeing it correct that getting a table of content together requires assistance from anotehr tool (like openoffice or word)? –  Thomas E. Jul 15 at 8:42
    
@ThomasE. I have only used Scrivener for novels, so I can't speak to a TOC or to laying out pages. It wouldn't occur to me to use Scrivener for those tasks because as a graphic designer, I'd always use InDesign. You'd have to experiment. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 15 at 9:58

If you have the financial resources, the manpower (a team for a synchronized multitasked work environment), the time for self (or paid) training and the will to participate in a much slower than SE community for help, Adobe's "Technical Communication Suite" is your solution. It's the top notch, state-of-the-art, standards supporting "technical documentation" solution on the market. Just Framemaker itself would convince technical writers to try it for once.

But as I've stated above it has its drawbacks.

If you're a "one man show", you should stick with open source solutions.

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