Using Google Docs for RPG Books

I use Google Drive (or Google Docs or Google One, depending on what they call it this week) for basically everything. It’s free, it auto-saves, it’s the same no matter what computer I’m on, and it generally works great. This extends to tabletop RPG design. You could use expensive desktop programs like Microsoft Word, or Adobe Indesign… but they don’t get you as much as you’d think, at least when you’re starting out. Google Docs works great for writing game rules. It’s basically just like writing in Microsoft Word, except it saves to the cloud, so you never have to worry about losing your work.

You can see an example of using Google Docs here. . This is a copy of the first page of my in-progress RPG. Not bad, right? Feel free to make a copy of this document and mess around with it to see how it works (go to File->Make a Copy).


Use Headings for section titles and sub sections. This lets you style all the section headings the same very easily. It’s also used for creating an automatic table of contents later on. The easiest way to change a style is to set a line to a specific heading (see the dropdown in the toolbar labeled “Normal Text”. Then, change the style of that line, and then right click the line and select “Update Heading to match”. Then boom all your other headings will match that style. You can go to Format->Paragraph Styles to tweak your headings even more, to give them borders or background colors.

The only thing that I wish google docs supported that it doesn’t is styling specific sections of text inside a paragraph. Applying a heading style applies it to the entire paragraph. You can’t, for example, tag all skill names with a style and then update that style to update all instances of skill names (like making them italics or whatever). You also can’t have more than 6 headings, and you can’t name your styles. Maybe this will come later, but for now, it’s not possible.


Please change the default fonts. While Arial is a perfectly fine font for reading, it looks incredibly generic. one great thing about Google Docs is that it has full access to Google’s huge list of fonts at Google Fonts. Only a subset are in font list to start with, so go to the Font dropdown, and choose More Fonts… to get access to all of Google’s fonts. There’s fonts for basically anything you could ever want in there, so give yourself some time to look through all the options. If this is still not enough fonts, you can install the Extensis add-on to get even more fonts. Go to Add-Ons->Get Add-Ons, and search for Extensis. Follow the steps to install it. Now close out of Add-Ons. For every document where you want to use Extensis fonts, you have to “start” the add-on. Go into Add-Ons->Extensis->Start and you’ll see a sidebar open up with a whole new world of fonts.

Don’t go too crazy, choose a small number of fonts (2-4) to use in your text, and make sure they’re used consistently, so that the reader can infer meaning just from what font is used. It’s totally fine to just use one font for section headings, and one font for the body text.

Page Size

It’s probably a good idea to choose what size your book will be fairly early on. Things like images and tables are annoying to change up later (and in fact you might need completely different art for a different sized book). Google docs lets you change the “paper size” of the document. To do this, go to File->Page Setup and choose one of the paper sizes. At the time of writing, you can’t simply choose a custom size, but there’s a variety of popular sizes in there. If the one you want isn’t there, choose a larger size and set the margins so the text fills the space you expect.

6x9 is a popular size for indie publishers these days. At almost exactly half the page area of 8.5x11, it’ll double the number of pages in your book. This can be good if you have a book on the shorter end of things, to make it feel more substantial. At the same time, if this pushes your page count too high, it’ll make the book feel like you’re holding a pocket dictionary. Personally, I think 200-300 pages is ideal for most RPG books… it makes it feel like you’re getting a good amount of text for your money, without feeling intimidating like a college textbook.


8.5x11 is the traditional “D&D” size, but please don’t make your book full page-width. Such long lines are hard for humans to read. Instead, split your book into columns. In the last year or so, Google has rolled out column support for Docs. To change the whole document, make sure no text is selected, then go to Format->Columns and choose the one two or three column layout. Most 8.5x11 RPG books these days are two columns, but 1st and 2nd edition D&D used three columns, so if you want a really old school look, try that out. To get some text to span columns, select that text and go to Format->Columns again and choose single column. Thus you can have your chapter or major section titles span the full page. This is also a great way to break both columns in the middle of the page and still have text below them.

Speaking of breaks, you can insert a column break with Insert->Break->Column. This will end the current column (if it’s the left/middle column, the text will flow to the next column, if it’s the rightmost column, it’ll flow to the next page).

Call Outs

The nice thing about two column layout is that it makes it easy to make call-out boxes. These are the boxes with a different color background that you can use to highlight some information or note it as an aside. Highlight the text, go to Format->Paragraph Style, turn on the borders lines, and set the background to a different color. Bam, call out. Call outs in single column layouts are a little trickier, but still doable. We actually cheat and force part of our text to be two-column. Select a paragraph of text, and use Format->Columns to make that part of the document two columns. At the end of the first column, use Insert->Break->Column Break to ensure that the text wraps correctly, then set borders and shading as above. It requires a bit more manual text management, but it’s doable. You can even drag the column markers in the ruler at the top of the document to make them less than 50 / 50 on the page. If anyone finds a better way to do call-outs, let me know.

Cover Page

Everyone wants an awesome looking cover for their RPG. It grabs people the moment they open your PDF, and sets the tone for everything that follows. A huge part of a great cover is the artwork, which is beyond the scope of this post, but a cover is more than just artwork, you need your text in there as well. For this, Google Drawings works very well. It’s a part of Google Drive, just go to New->More->Google Drawings. I’ll write a separate post about google drawings, as I think it’s a pretty great tool for designers.


Please folks, remove the borders on your tables. It’ll immediately change them from looking like a document written in 1998, to something more modern. Tables are at once useful and a nightmare. They can convey a lot of information, but large tables can be intimidating and just look nasty. Discretion is advised. I like making every other row have a light gray background to help with readability, but there’s no built-in way to do that with Google Docs. However, there is an add-on that’ll do it for you. Go to Add-Ons->Get Add-On, and search for Table Formatter. Install that, and it’ll give you a bunch of preformatted styles that it can apply to tables in a single click. It even lets you customize your own formats. Super useful.


There’s basically two ways to share a google doc. You can either share a link to it directly, or you can create a PDF from it. I prefer the latter, because it feels more professional (and then I don’t have to worry about whether or not I update that doc, if anyone is watching). Luckily, Google Drive is great for this, too, and you can share links to a PDF that anyone can open, even if they don’t have a Google account.

Making a PDF of a Google Doc is trivial. Just go to File->Download As->PDF. This will save a copy of the document as a PDF on your local machine. To share this PDF, add it back to Google Drive. Go to your game design folder (you do have a game design folder, right?), and click the New button, and choose File Upload. Choose the PDF you just downloaded and click ok. Once it appears in your game design folder, right click the file and select “Get Shareable Link”. Copy the link that pops up and that’s it. Test out the link by opening an Incognito window and paste the link in, to make sure it opens the PDF directly.

Now here’s where using google drive is better than just any old file hosting. You can actually update the file that opens from the link you just copied. So if you make a new version of the rules, you can create a new pdf and replace the old one. Find the pdf you uploaded in drive, but don’t open it. Right click the file and click “Manage Versions”. A small window will pop up, and allow you to upload a new version of the file, and now when people open the link, they’ll get that version instead. Let me know in the comments if you have any other tricks for using Google Docs.