Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Aspects of the 'Texas'-Style Layout in Hot Springs Island

(Advance warning; the OSR situation of people who already know each other well and like each others stuff 'reviewing' each others books is in even more effect here. Not only do I know Jacob reasonably well but I am featured in the book quite a bit.)


Well it's Jacobs layout style but I'm calling it the 'Texas Style' so that it sounds cooler, like part of a movement rather than just some wierd guy, and because it makes it easier to sell it to Americans. Who wouldn't want 'Texas Style' RPG's?


Well to start with its monochrome, so maybe we should call it 'Texas Monochrome', which sounds a bit more pretentious.

Everything in the book except the bookmark is black and white. Writing is by Jacob Hurst, Evan Peterson, Donnie Garcia and I have a few fragments in there as well. There are pieces of art by Scrap and Cecil Howe and a really fun map by Jason Thompson but almost everything is by Gabriel Hernandez.

There are a few Gabriel Hernandez's online, it's this Gabriel Hernandez;


All of the maps are by Billy Longino;


The ovverriding aesthetic is provided by Jacobs layout, Gabriels art, (and there is a LOT of art, it's on almost every page), and Billy Longinos map, and that aesthetic is unified, repeated and tight.

By Book

Five staggered book sections, four easily observable in this image;

The fifth - the short quick reference section, the only part with all-black borders;

The other four;

- Hex Key.

- Maps and events.

- Factions.

- Appendixes.

Every page of the book has this near-corner white-on-black (cubes again) page numbering.

By Page and Spread

HSI is broken down very tightly by spread so, unlike some other books, it becomes reasonable to regard the page and spread as essentially a unified element.

A few initial noticable things;

- Regular semi-asymmetry.

Pages are always meta-stable over sections. So for the hex key, the encounter tables, mini-map and sensory descriptive words are always in the same place, the primary hex information is also always in the same place, and the next two hexes vary in their arrangement, slightly, along with their ordering and assumed direction of reading, but tend to keep to a narrow range of general patterning.

- Lots of use of negative space.

What this means for later pages is that large primary titles almost never sacrifice font size for page width, instead, a big chunk, maybe a top quarter of the left page, is kept white-space and the only thing there is the spread heading and the words of the spread heading descend down in a step formation if they need to, rather than being shrunk.

Again, this is meta-stable, rather than exactly the same each time. The spatial logic of the arrangment; where you look to begin with, the assumed size of the text, the relative proportions of white to black, all remain the same but the exact arrangement of each individual page/spread shifts depending on the needs of the adventure.

- Deep image integration.

Images are ink I think, either integrated into the text layout or, on opening sections, bursting across one or more pages, some of the images that have been 'blown up' are actually the more powerful, to me anyway, they are scratchyer and less fine.

Jacob - "The only real art direction I ever provided for Gabe was that I wanted everything to be "unfinished" and "sketchy". All his illustrations were done in pencil and you can still see a lot of the lines that would normally be erased for a "finished" piece. He kinda hated this at first, but I think he grew to love it (or he pretended well). The big metaphysical reasoning for this was that I have found that oftentimes I like the sketches that came before a finished piece more than I like the finished piece. And I think it's because you can oftentimes see ways in which the piece could have gone, but didn't go. So you kind of see more of the artist's thought process, and you can see the potential of the thing. Since SFI is a sandbox, it's all potential and no finished product, so I thought sketchy art would work for it on many different levels. It'd be faster, cheaper, and yet it would also hopefully help people focus on or at least notice "potential". "

And again, imagery on almost every page. More on this below.

- Black-block-white-text info-titles for rapid inter-referrability.

You could even say that the book is built primarily around its inter-reliability, with the Hex Key being a more immediate source of information than the map.

The Visual Hierarchy

Kings and Queens

The 'King' of the page us usually the big, block, left-page (usually) main titles with a solid fraction of land space given up to pure negative space purely for them to float in.

The 'Queen' is the art. So a page awareness experience goes back and forth between 'hard', precise, inter-referable information and soft interpretive information.

This is a very classic HSI image/text integration.

This logic is repeated again in terms of use with the map, becoming crowned on the dungeon pages. This is now the 'hard' information, and the text of the encounter and 'whats happening' chart becoming variable active and interpretive.

These look a bit yellow as I'm taking them at night.

Jacob - "The one page dungeon contest was a big influence on my stuff. I thought it was a neat idea, but thought a single spread was better than a single page (because it's a book not a digital thing)."

So if you follow this, possibly absurd. line of analysis, the dungeon pages and perhaps the section opening pages and spreads are 'feminine' with the image dominating and leading the experience and the text responding, and the other pages are more 'masculine' with the text providing the through-line and the image both soaking up the inferred and auto-generated mental static and reflecting it; a mirror of art if you will.

Page Princes

White-on-black elements - often white text in a black cube, givng the white information its own negative-negative space, these are both 'flip to' (all the page numbers are like this, and as mentioned below, the exact positioning of the numbers shifts depending on the section of the book) and 'flip within' elements, as in you use them to find the page you need and to find the place in that page you were looking for.

On dungeon spreads the page princes are the map/key room and section numbers.

Page Peasants

Textural churls, all the nitty little titles and sub-headings that do all the hard work. Here we have a range of smaller titles, paragraph separation and bolding.

The dungeon pages go down a level below this with a cognitive pulse of bolded and light bracketed text, an attempt to merge the 'opening room description/objects' elements with the 'I investigate closer' elements, in the same linear paragraph.

I'm probably going to talk more about this in a series of posts as there is quite a lot to talk about. After taking care of the basic elements of the style I'll look more at how it works, the imagined sequence of play and at the imaginative elements. I'll have more questions for Jacob and we can also look at how the Field Guide and main book interact.

(Oh and you can buy the whole thing here.)


  1. Thanks so much for this. I never got the chance to sit down with Jacob and pick his brains. This is the next best thing to that. :D

  2. My residence in the Lone Star State, combined with your choice of style name, tempt me to purchase this. Also I that layout is really appealing.

  3. My residence in the Lone Star State, combined with your choice of style name, tempt me to purchase this. Also I that layout is really appealing.