It seems like only a few years ago when Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition (D&D 3e) came out. I remember how almost everybody in our gaming group had the Player’s Handbook. A few of us had the Gamemaster’s Guide, and there was one or two Monster Manuals lying around. Now things are incredibly different.
Tabletop roleplaying has gone digital. Our gamemasters (GM’s), including myself, often have a laptop propped up for reference. Players learn the rules with free quickstart versions of the game. Most of us have printouts of abilities and spells, which stem from portions of pdf’s and other digital files. This is the tabletop of this century.
I remember lining up for the opening of DriveThruRPG, a site that sells digital copies of RPGs. I was still a poor college student, and I relied on the PDF underground to get a lot of my gaming fix. I felt it wasn’t all my fault since there was virtually no way to get some out-of-print books. Then an official channel opened to get official digital versions of roleplaying books. With glee I got my first digital RPG, Exalted. It was a free promotion to check out DriveThruRPG.
Now, I rarely buy print copies of books anymore. If I do it’s because I feel the book has transcended beyond mere content and should be framed in my collection. Or, it’s just easier to have a physical copy at the gaming table. There are still some printed, but many now are done as a print-on-demand option.
In the past, an RPG shop would have to consider how many books to print, distribute, warehouse, etc. to make their bottom line black. It was a maddening game. For instance, Dark Ages Fae was a supplement to White Wolf’s Dark Ages line so that players could play as the fae. White Wolf underestimated the demand or didn’t feel that this would become a prized gem. One can buy it new for around $250 right now. On the flip side there are likely pallets of RPG books that were shredded to make space. Both mistakes cost the RPG maker.
The RPG developer’s new bottom line is how many digital books to pay for the entourage needed to create the book. With infinite stock, aiming for profitability is far easier. Print-on-demand pushes the risk and cost of a print run on to the consumer. The prices for a book are higher because the book is printed for that consumer. However, this also makes gaining the content slightly lower. Just buying the digital version of the book is usually a cheaper option, but I think that the option to have a print copy was necessary.
I am completely sold on the digital age of RPGs. Last weekend I went through a huge stack of RPG books I had gained before the PDF/POD age. I had so many I barely even knew. I had so many I knew I would never return to. There were my D&D 3e books lying in a corner. This was a system I would never play again. I had a pile of waste, and I didn’t want to add to it anymore. (I also couldn’t get rid of even the D&D 3e books.)
Going forward my yearly additions to my RPG library remain fairly constant, but the books are kept in digital form. I find that I read them more in-depth, since I am just carrying a tablet or laptop. I reference them more often since I am not flipping pages. And, I don’t feel guilty about the number of pounds of books I have that are sagging the bookshelf. The option to get a print copy is now my choice. I leave it there knowing that when I want it… well, I think I’d rather buy more PDF’s quite honestly.