Thursday, September 9, 2021

Switching to PDFs

I've decided to make the switch to PDFs for my RPG collection. I'm keeping the physical products I have, but won't be adding more, besides those that come with my Pathfinder 2e Adventure Path subscription. I use my smartphone and Samsung Galaxy Tab A to reference PDFs at the table.

I love books to death, but PDFs are cheaper, and it's easy to maintain a collection of them. I've had to wean my collection multiple times because I'll buy books I never end up using, and they just occupy space on my shelves or in boxes.

Plus, since everyone has a smartphone, I won't feel the need to purchase enough copies of a book for everyone at the table to have one. This is especially tempting for games like The Burning Wheel or even Old-School Essentials, which require a lot of page-flipping during play (e.g., skill descriptions, subsystems, equipment tables) or while making characters.

This also means I won't be purchasing physical products like screens or minis. I roll all my dice in the open when I GM, so foregoing screens isn't a problem. Minis are too expensive and difficult to store to make up for the fact that you never have quite enough or the right ones; tokens are better in both regards, but not by much.

I use theater of the mind unless a scene gets complicated, at which point I sketch out a map on my chalkboard table and use dice from my enormous collection. NPCs are d6s, grouped by color and identified by number. Players are d4s, differentiated by color.

I know I'm not the only one doing this; I've watched the RPG zeitgeist shift over to PDFs for a while now. It's great for accessibility (particularly the ability to zoom in and out) and enables creators to get their products out there for little to no cost. Most of the Kickstarters I see now are to make print runs of products (which typically already exist or will be released concurrently as PDFs) and cover shipping (which gets so exorbitant there are some who literally can't afford to have collections in print). Honestly, print products seem like more of a formality at this point.

The next step is to switch over to HTML, something I've seen murmurs of lately. PDF is a proprietary format and that carries all sorts of baggage: Only certain programs can read, create, or modify them, and all of them are clunky, feature-starved, and costly. I'm excited to see a big push for HTML products, which will make all these operations free and easy, not to mention really broaden the horizons of what accessibility in a document looks like.