Monday, August 2, 2010

The Digital Revolution: Or “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love PDFs”

    PDFs in gaming aren't anything new.  They've been around for a few years, but are taking on a life of their own now.  Virtually every major game company has embraced  a digital initiative, a conversion that was truly completed when Palladium came on board last year.  However, it seems that the only thing game companies can agree on is that digital availability is essential, in some format, with a large amount of disagreement beyond that.
    Wizards of the Coast (in)famously pulled their entire PDF collection after the Player's Handbook 2 was leaked to torrents and file-sharing sites.  They have locked away digital access to their games behind DDI, their in-house digital subscription program in which they control the release of the content.  This has had another effect on would-be WotC customers: If you are interested in Dungeons & Dragons, your only legal, commercial options are buying the Fourth Edition of said game (which is, for better or for worse, dramatically different than every version that came before it), or fishing around in the second hand market for the books you seek.  Well, that's not ENTIRELY true.  The “retroclone” movement has spawned reasonable facsimiles of every version of D&D except my personal favorite, AD&D 2e, so if you seek just the rules themselves, you're covered.  For my part, my favorite material has always been the settings, and I would kill to load up on Ravenloft, Birthright, Spelljammer, Planescape and a few other settings in PDF for the express purpose of conversion to a system I like better, like Savage Worlds, High Valor's FEAT System or something else.  Alas, that option is not available to me.  I pick up the odd used book as opportunity and funds allow, but I have more storage space on my computer than I do anywhere else in the house.  It has been said that the reason for this decision was to essentially force people into buying D&D 4th Edition, and not be able to stay with the older editions, though I don't know how well that has worked for them.   That does, however, bring me to...
     ...White Wolf, makers of the World of Darkness, who have every RPG that they have ever created, aside from the licensed Street Fighter Storytelling Game, available in PDF format to purchase as you will.  A few years back they “ended” the original World of Darkness and replaced it with the new World of Darkness.  They could easily have gone the WotC route of sealing away the old World of Darkness forever, but no, they provide you with at least a digital choice in your flavor of gaming.  Pinnacle Entertainment, my favorite game company and makers of both my favorite setting (Deadlands) and favorite in print RPG (Savage Worlds), have taken a similar approach:  Every Deadlands product ever made is still available in PDF format, and some are around in POD format, all while the Savage Worlds version, Deadlands Reloaded, is still being heavily supported.
     Not every company treats PDFs with the same level of importance, though.  Fantasy Flight Games ruffled some feathers years ago with their PDF pricing for the Midnight game line, and when pressed, simply said that the digital versions were a courtesy and not a priority for them.  Some game companies will give you a free PDF with the pre-order of a print book.  Green Ronin has been known to do this.  Presumably due to licensing fees, this changed with the new DC Adventures RPG, where the PDF cost an additional $5.  Precis Intermedia Games will let you buy a PDF from them and, if you like, you can pay the difference between that and the printed cost to have a POD copy printed up and sent to you.  Kind of a “try before you buy”.  Other companies keep PDF pricing at, or similar to, print pricing by arguing that the PDF is every bit as functional as a print book, just in different ways.
     Obviously, there are gamers who refuse to buy PDFs.  There are others who will, but will cap their purchase limit at, say, $10.  Others will only buy PDFs, having freed up their shelf space and liking it.  I haven't gone to one extreme or another, but since I bought a laptop last year, I have actually purchased PDFs, rather than just download free previews and the like.  These days, I get comped a lot of PDFs as I review more and more games, and I'm perfectly comfortable working off of PDFs for gaming (and actually prefer it for reviews), but that doesn't mean I have eschewed print products altogether.  For instance, I own 98% of all Deadlands print products in print...and I want to make that 100%.  That means no The Flood in PDF, I want it in print.  That's just me.  I still want BASH Ultimate Edition in print, and I preordered ICONS, so I wound up with both the print and PDF versions.  I hope to do the same with the Villainomicon, but we'll see how the funding goes.
    Point is, by embracing the digital revolution, I'm open to many more games than I was just a few short years ago.  There are some great products being released in digital format only, and there is a large number of tremendous, out of print games that are now available again thanks to PDFs.  Feel free to discuss as you will, I'm curious about the thoughts anyone else may have about the digital rpgs.  Okay, it doesn't hurt that  becoming an affiliate of RPGnow/DriveThruRPG has helped me put gas in my tank and thus helped me make it to my real job.


  1. I too am really enjoying PDF. In a recent Deadlands game I ran having the Savage World rules, One-Sheet, and Deadlands Reloaded book on my laptop allowed me to look up rules, charts, stats and notes quickly. This also allowed me to focus on the play at the table instead of stopping to shuffle through a book for the relevant info.
    Don't get me wrong, I love my books, and the laptop is not as comfortable to read in bed! But for ease of use at the game table, I can't imagine GMing a game without my laptop in the future.

  2. Yup, same here. I don't even use paper notebooks anymore...everything goes into a txt or rtf file on my computer.