Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Oh Index, Where Art Thou?

One of the things the RPG industry is notorious for is bad or missing indexes. I've discovered over the last few years, some publishers don't know how to do them and some don't find them important. Others will drop them, supposedly, due to page count concerns. This last one I often find suspect, especially when there are ads or blank pages in the book (I have multiple publisher friends guilty of this sin).

One thing I can guess is they have to be pretty hard to do. Not necessarily the physical process of making one, so much as the decisions that go into what belongs in one. In most cases, it's not enough. You get your "lip service" indexes--the one-pagers. And sometimes you get behemoth indexes that never seem to have what you're looking for.

In the most recent episode of The Game's the Thing, I took part in a discussion about the index in Iron Dynasty, Way of the Ronin from Reality Blurs. I commented on how excellent the final of version of the book's index was. We had to cut the conversation, but I'd like to still give credit where credit is due. Apparently, the Blur's lead editor, Lyn Harm, is responsible for the index. It's six pages and includes a separate table index.

The size isn't what really hit me, it's the fact I have yet to stump the index when searching for something. According to Sean, Lyn actually kept a running list of what needed to be indexed as she edited the several versions of what became the final book. This process also apparently caught missing items, which needed to get added back in.

I am told the layout person is typically responsible for all matters reference in a RPG book--I have certainly never been asked to help in indexing when I edit--but I think the editor should certainly take part in the way Lyn did. Maybe this has been done before; maybe it's relatively common. I just know my experience, and it has never included anything involving the index.

Anyway... Well done, Lyn. And nice find, Sean.


  1. Oh goodness, no. The person doing layout is not in charge of the index. The index falls under the editorial department. If you put someone that doesn't have editorial experience in charge of laying out the index, you'll probably get something like Mouse Guard. Now, while Mouse Guard looks like it has a great index, it really has an alphabetized listing of the chapter titles, section headings, and sub-section headings. The entire point of an index is to allow readers to find relevant information -- the concepts that the reader needs.

    The index is not an alphabetical table of contents. An index is not a page reference for every mention of key words. An index is for quick, clean referencing.

    The alphabetical listing of headings seems prevalent in the industry. I believe it comes from a lack of proper editorial departments at gaming companies. For small press publishers, it seems that this is just one person doing proofreading and light or medium copy editing, coming late in the manuscript's cycle. Instead, early drafts of the document should be passing through an editor that has the authority to reorder and request rewrites from the game designer. Once that has been done, the editor should bring in an indexer to review the manuscript for concepts. RPG rulebooks are reference works; they should have an index that is usable.

  2. I'm speaking strictly of RPGs, here. And the sad truth is, it's often the layout person creating the index--which is why InDesign has that nifty tool for putting an index together. Which is why most indexes in RPGs are crap.

    And really, I'm only speaking of my small experience on the creative side (editing) and my vast experience on the consumer side.

    I agree on all your points though.

  3. I also found it amusing that the discussion on indexes was cut due to podcast length considerations.

  4. Ah... but while indexes are certainly essential to reference books such as RPGs, they are not so essential to discussions on creating Western-friendly Eastern game settings.

    So it's only a little amusing.

  5. Looking forward to Iron Dynasty, index and all.

    Would this be the proper place to point out that Eureka (the 501 plots book) has four indexes?

  6. Having been on both the layout and the writer side, the question sometimes seems to be: Crappy index or No index.

    When you look at the description of what is really required to make a good index (as described in Ron's post and Thomas' comment), the cost/benefit ratio seems high compared to writing new rules/ adding flavor, etc., especially when the book is small, and even more so if the book is primarily a PDF.

    I can honestly say that if I'm looking up something on a PDF (which I'm often doing when looking for rules, as opposed to just kicking back and reading a physical book), I have never used an index. Table of Contents, yes, index, no.

    If I only have a book in hardcover, and especially if it is a big book, then I'd definitely like an index. But then again, I don't usually play games like that anymore, so I may be a bit in the minority.