Hi folks! It seems that there are a lot of people making their own games at the moment, so I thought I might try to share my own experiences doing layout and graphics design for ttrpgs.
My name is Art and I have over two decades of experience as an artist in many mediums (street art, typography, graphics design, paper collage, mixed media, punkart), and I have a lot of experience as a graphics designer using programs like the Adobe creative suite.
While I implement my past experience for publishing my first ttrpg, I realize that a lot of other creators that are just starting out don't really know where to begin, and they often go for the biggest names in the game first before finding that the learning curve is indeed very steep. What I realize now after working with the big apps for so many years, is that you don't really need them to get started. Of course they are the go-to for professionals who are doing the heavy lifting, but if you are just starting out you don't need to spend more time learning to use a tool that will actively impact your current workflow.
The simplest answer is to use the tools that are the easiest to use, right?
Right, so long as they can do what the big names can do just as well...
Well, if you have a mac (i use an old 2017 MacBook pro for my writing projects), you can do all of your design and layout for free with some easy to use tools:
-GIMP: Hands down I prefer this to photoshop now. Its completely free, and is very close in operation to PS with a few minor differences. I found that its important to work with a program until you get comfortable with it, that took me my entire life working with photoshop. Moving over to GIMP, I have found that its performance is actually faster on a laptop, easier to use, and once you learn hotkeys your workflow is smooth as silk.
-PAGES: Pages is another free app for doing layout work on a mac. Oh boy do I recommend trying this first before delving deep into InDesign. I have worked with Indesign and its an excellent program, but it has a steep learning curve, and its not so good on the interactions with other programs (I write all my material in a basic text editing program called Bean). Pages imports your documents and can convert basic text documents into nicely laid out PDF's with ease of use. The entire program has an easy to navigate setup for quick editing on the fly. It can do everything you will need to publish your first ttrpg (& then some).
Hopefully this has been helpful to you if you are trying to get started.
I think that its important not to set a goal that is too high for your first publishing project, because as a creator you will have to wear a lot of different hats while juggling your many responsibilities. No need to put more work on yourself that can be avoided. Learn from us who spent our lives doing it the hard way (and they probably don't want you to hear this), but it doesn't have to be that way.
You can check out my Patreon for examples for my upcoming free ttrpg release of Splicer Gears.