“Control Panel” Page Layout in the OSR

More and more books in the OSR have been making layout and information design a priority, in particular the “control panel” format that puts all of the relevant information from a single topic on a single page (or two page spread). It’s a term I first used on my video review of B/X essentials, but it seems to have hit a chord. Visuals often take priority, with flowcharts and diagrams replacing traditional text, in order to facilitate faster absorption of the information. I’ve put a bunch of examples below.

It got me wondering whether you could make an entire RPG in the form of cardstock handouts, somewhere between A4 and A5 sized. Player wants to play a wizard? Hand him the card with the magic rules and the card with the spell list. Going exploring on hex C12? The DM pulls out the card for that hex and places it behind the screen. Going shopping and need to see what goods are available at a high-end potion shop? Pull out that card and put it in the middle of the table.damagetable_design Dg32VG0U8AAXuhO flowchart_design strikepoints

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20 Comments

  • VC

    November 24, 2018 at 10:51 PM Reply

    I’ve been working on exactly this. Each class doesn’t need to know the rules for all classes jus their own. The wizard’s fighting rules are very simple, but the warrior has more skills to charge and evade. The rules for dungeon crawling procedure are one sheet and the rules for wilderness exploration, politicking, or resting/camping are all separate. Player facing rules also have light advice—what tips on how to explore a dungeon? Why is wasting too much time or fighting monsters head on bad? Rules can be learned as you go this way.

    The GM book would be AD&D style for GM eyes only—tables for everything. Or a binder of large cards. One sheet for encounters. One for combat. One for dungeon procedures—from the GM side.

    Why do RPGs need to be single volume books anyway? I love DCC for example, but why should I have to carry the whole thing with me if I’m just a player cleric?

  • Charles

    November 25, 2018 at 1:18 PM Reply

    What game is the overland travel process flow from?

  • Charles

    November 25, 2018 at 1:19 PM Reply

    Not familiar with it, but I’ve been working on flow charts for the game I’m working on, interesting to see other examples…

  • Trentin C Bergeron

    November 25, 2018 at 10:47 PM Reply

    What game is that first example from? I’m intrigued…

    • James Corlett

      January 5, 2019 at 2:25 AM Reply

      It and the 3rd and 4th picture are from a game in progress called “Break!!”. I kind of wish there was sort of attribution in the post for these examples, because, though I recognize some of them, I don’t recognize all of them

  • Paul McCann

    November 26, 2018 at 1:49 AM Reply

    The 1991 D&D Basic Set (or “black box”) did something like that.

    “The rules are presented twice, once in a 64-page rule book and again in the Dungeon Card Learning Pack, a set of 48 cards that also includes four-page supplementary mini-adventures. Inspired by the SRA reading program,[18] the front of each card features a discussion of a single facet of the rules, such as non-player characters, hit dice, or initiative rolls. The back of the card describes a brief scenario to illustrate the rules discussed on the front.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons_Basic_Set#1991_revision

  • Parker Emerson

    November 26, 2018 at 3:01 AM Reply

    Can you edit this post to caption the photos, please?

  • John Large

    November 29, 2018 at 4:21 PM Reply

    Would you mind telling me what the book with the plant descriptions is? This is a subject I’m interested in and am always on the look out for new sources of inspiration.

    • Pete Jones

      February 11, 2019 at 2:37 PM Reply

      John, that’s Hot Spring Island

  • Luther Gutekunst

    December 14, 2018 at 9:45 PM Reply

    What game was the list of plants from?

  • Alex Schroeder

    December 15, 2018 at 11:43 AM Reply
  • David Sullivan

    December 17, 2018 at 5:46 PM Reply

    I would love to see the names of all of the games displayed here.

  • David Sullivan

    December 19, 2018 at 3:52 AM Reply

    It looks like the game from the first example is Break!

  • Mitchell J

    December 29, 2018 at 4:50 PM Reply

    I was also curious and after some effort I was able to find what I believe is the source, check it out and see if you agree: http://breakrpg.blogspot.com/search/label/Layout?m=1

    Hopefully this is what you are after.

  • Travis Heldibridle

    January 5, 2019 at 7:34 AM Reply

    I’d also like to know what game the first example—with the conditions—is from. I’ve figured out some of the others, but I can’t place that one. I love that, and I’m a little upset I didn’t design it first! :)

  • Chris Mertes

    June 11, 2019 at 1:12 PM Reply

    As far as I get it (no clue as to why all have to keep guessing):

    What are the fourth and the fifth from the Bottom?

    The one labeled “Guns for hire” and the “Thule” (Time?)table.

  • Cheimison

    January 4, 2020 at 7:03 AM Reply

    I find some of that useful (mainly: clearly blocking out text and putting related bits all together in the book) but to a large extent a lot of that stuff I find simply annoying. Especially the oversized, needless pictures (I know what a goddamn table lamp looks like) and zany “I took graphic design in school and like 90s album covers) shit, I flat-out would not buy or pay for something with those kind of design elements. All that Vornheim and Mork Borg looking-shit is basically a dumpster fire and I cannot bear to look at it, much less try to puzzle out where the rules are located in the high school collage layout of that garbage.

    I like concision: little art which is directly related to a function of the module/world/dungeon’s layout, text which is as brief as possible for clarity’s sake.

  • Lance

    July 16, 2020 at 4:19 PM Reply

    From which game is that second visual “ITEMS OF NOTE”? It looks interesting.

    • Dave Sullivan

      July 16, 2020 at 4:43 PM Reply

      “The Sober Monk Inn” layout is from Kidnap the Archpriest.

      “Guns for Hire” is from Augmented Reality (Cyberpunk RPG).

      I’m guessing that the “Items of Note” layout is from Demon City.

      • Lance

        July 16, 2020 at 7:04 PM Reply

        Thanks for the information! The “control panel” layout is helpful, for sure. But it’s kind of the opposite of actual old-school games, where digging for details was an inherent part of the experience.

        Thanks again!

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