The Rise of RPG PDFs

It’s been a very long time since I last bought a pen and paper RPG book. It’s been well over two years since I last played in an RPG game at all. It’s been so long that I don’t even remember where my whisky tin full of dice is, although I know my collection of RPG books is safely buried in a mound of boxes somewhere in my mum’s house.

It’s a bit depressing – even after I’ve effectively abandoned the hobby – to read about how eReaders and tablets have taken over from giant hardback tomes.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I bought a Kindle and I found my iPad invaluable when I was still gaming, but I found that neither device could replace my RPG books. My Kindle hasn’t even come close to replacing any type of book in my life thanks to a nasty habit of buying the same book in both hardback and digital forms.

RPG books are a particularly special case though. There is something about the scent of the paper, the glossy illustrations and the crack and snap of the pages that is an essential part of the role playing experience. It’s a particular joy when someone has a newly released book which is getting handed round a group or when you find an old, out of print game in a FLGS or on eBay.

There are also advantages to paper books over their digital equivalents. It’s not unusual for game masters to ban players from reading or referring to particular books to prevent cheating, reading ahead in stories or rules lawyering. If the source books are 300 pages of glossy A4, you can’t really hide them at the table. With a Kindle or an iPad, you could be reading anything at the table.

On the other hand  PDF game books are a massive benefit to independent game designers and small publishing houses because they cut out the overheads and the middlemen, allowing direct sales to fans. Which is why they are here to stay.

Moving Annoyance – Which Books and Where To Put Them?

Del Lib ScreenshotI own 577 books. I know this because I use the excellent Delicious Library to keep track of books I’ve loaned to people.

Moving from a two bedroom flat in which every room has a 6 foot tall bookcase into a single room means that less than a quarter of these books can actually accompany me. The result of this is much debate as I go through my collect and decide what I can’t live without.

The bulk of the books I’ve taken with me are related to my degree in some way – politics biographies, political philosophy treatises, textbooks, Greek and Roman classics, commentaries and so on. Some are distantly related, but useful – history books covering Europe, Scotland, Britain and Germany through various key stages for example.

All this has left only two shelves for my fiction collection.

What I judge to be essential enough to me to fill this space probably says a lot about me. It includes a whole swathe of dystopian fiction – 1984, Brave New World, We, Fahrenheit 451, Gormenghast, Live at Golgotha and Catch-22; the essential Tolkien works; my favourite Iain M Banks’ books – Use of Weapons and Excessions; a few modern classics – How To Kill A Mockingbird, The City and The Pillar. The books I’ve been strictest with are Terry Pratchett and my massive collection of sci-fi books – I haven’t taken a single Pratchett and the only sci-fi novel I’m taking other than Banks is Asimov’s Foundation.

On top of these, there are about 50 books which were occupying my To Be Read stack – previously a monstrous collection consisting of four piles spread around every flat surface in my bedroom.

I have absolutely no idea where I’m going to fit all these books. Not least given that I’ll have to buy more books for Uni in the near future. It’s a hard life being a book-geek.

You Gotta Roll With It…

You must never question the wisdom of the Die. His ways are inscrutable. He leads you by the hand into an abyss and, lo, it is a fertile plain. You stagger beneath the burden he places upon you and, behold, you soar.

– From ‘The Book of the Die’, Quoted in The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart

If you are reading this, spend your time playing RPG games and have never read The Dice Man, then I strongly advise you buy or borrow a copy of it.

It deals with that which every gamer seems to treasure above all other RPG paraphernalia and what exactly you can do with them. Although, while gamers generally live or die by the roll of a dice in-game, Rhinehart’s book is a fictional account of a man who decides to live his entire life by the roll of 2d6.

Of course, when we play, we don’t decide all actions though dice rolls – that would lead to a boring game, unless it was done purely for laughs with suitably ridiculous options. The idea has potential, but if all decisions in a game came down to random chance, then you might as well just remove the human element all together and program a random number generator with a plot.

That’s not to say that a player in a mischievous mood couldn’t absolutely infuriate the GM by role-playing a character who uses dice to make decisions.

Has anyone tried this? Or any other form of diced based decision making in or out of games?