Digital RPG books vs. Physical RPG books

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Digital RPG books vs. Physical RPG books

I love books. I love the feel of them, the weight, the smell of old paper, the sound of the crack of the opening of a book for the first time. I have a lot of books on the shelves. I also have a lot of comics. All this stuff takes up a lot of space. It drives my partner nuts on how much stuff I had. As e-books and digital media became more popular, I began to purchase more of my readings via digital vs. hardcopy. (yes, Amazon has made it really too easy to buy crap.)


Photos: not my bookshelves but the shelves of the other contributor of the blog.

Note: when I reference hard copy or digital copy here, I mean the original version. Not photocopies of a book or bootlegged digital copies that you didn’t pay for originally. Support your creators by purchasing the books (physical and/or digital).

As I got back into RPGs in recent years, I struggled with deciding whether to buy physical or digital books. Growing up, we purchased AD&D modules at Waldenbooks in the mall or local hobby shop. (or in my case, stare at the AD&D modules in stretch wrap longingly as my parents didn’t believe in buying books when you could goto the library for free. Never mind our local library didn’t have AD&D books).

I started purchasing digital versions of RPGs for several reason.

** It takes up a lot less space in your crib so your partner doesn’t ask you why you have a pile of hardback books on the couch and on your nightstand and on the extra dresser etc.

** Its easier to read as you can zoom into the text. (for those of us with bad eyes and refusing to get bifocals)

** Its much more portable to lug around when you goto friend’s house to game. I would normally just bring my tablet, dice, character sheet to game at friend’s house. Friends that would DM at my place ended up lugging piles and piles of books in crates and backpacks.

** It was cheaper than buying the physical copy. I’ve bought a lot of great digital material on Humble Bundle, Bundle of Holding, Drive thru RPG sales and supporting Kickstarters.

** Digital books will last ‘forever’. (pending electromagnetic pulse). Physical books get dinged up with use. My original D&D Basic Box was so banged up and the covers of both books were worn white from use. I wonder where that went.

As a player, digital media worked fine as you only have to reference a couple of pages usually in game. As a Game Master, I find that physical books make life a whole lot easier.

As a Game Master, why physical books / media?

** Its much faster to physically flip thru a book when you are searching for some random rule or stat than trying to ‘page down’ thru a PDF.     This is really the only reason/benefit for me is speed.

I have created cheat sheets of key stats, spells, monsters if playing with digital version to speed things along. Well, I do that too if playing with printed module. (scribbles on old notebook paper)

** A game masters screen has a lot of useful information that is easier/faster to see in physical copy than on a tablet or computer screen.

**Books gives a more satisfying thud when you drop it on the table vs. your tablet. (and risk damaging your tablet)

**Game Masters should have the core rule books in physical. At least 1 copy. And then maybe multiple player guide copies at the table. (if playing in person, we’ve been playing online during Covid still)

** If you are the Game Master at someone else’s place, you can use an old roller suitcase to transport your books around. Vs. trying to lug everything in a backpack or crates with multiple trips. We’ve done that with board games (Arkham Horror 2E, Mansions of Madness 2E). No, I don’t use the TUMI to haul around games.

** There are options today to print out digital copies of your old games that maybe out of physical print. Drive thru RPG has a print on demand service or you can goto LuLu.

Note: we play OSR systems so online systems like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds may not have all the databases for our games. And not everyone wants to pay for another license especially when you already own the core books.

Where to purchase old out of print physical books? 

** Noble Knight Games

I’ve found limited edition releases at Noble Knight and many many old out of print stuff.

** FB RPG Auction groups

** Local Half Price Books

** Local Game Stores (we make it a point to stop by any local game stores we may pass by during road trips); support your local brick and mortar game store!  Its about the community.

Where to purchase digital books?

** the Publisher!  They get to keep more of the money that way.

** Drive thru RPG

** Support Kickstarters!  Though publishers are usually late. Grr….

** Various Humble Bundle, Bundle of Holding etc.

I find that I will try a game through purchasing it via Humble Bundle. If I like it or we play it, then I end up buying a physical version usually. Net, I have both physical and digital versions of almost all the modules (and physical core book, GM screen, character sheets) released by Northwind Adventures for Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria as well as most of the books (and 2 GM screens I got on Noble Knight games) published by Troll Lord Games for Amazing Adventures (Siege Engine version from Publisher and 5E version via Kickstarter) as I run both of those games for our group.