Welcome to my birthday post…

PDFs and other ebook formats have really revolutionized publishing. The cost to produce and distribute is much reduced, thanks to e-publishing, and its nice to have an entire library of (game) books in your tablet or e-reader. Despite the convenience, and when publishers aren’t screwing you over by charging full print prices (you know who you war, and shame on you!) the thrift of e-books, print is still king for game materials — or at least core rules sets and larger splatbooks.

Why is this? Simply put, unless you are adept at bookmarking your e-books, a printed book is often easier to find things in. You can visually and tactilely index to a portion of the book you know is where a certain set of rules is located in. Sometimes, they are easier for folks to read; even a good media consumption form factor like the iPad or Kindle just isn’t working for the old eyes. On really complex layouts or heavily graphic intensive books — and many in the industry are now addicted to full-color interiors with loads of art, fancy watermarking, in 300+ glorious pages of stuff that pads the price out to $50-60 a book — a pdf or epub file can really blow up your memory on a tablet and leave the thing scrambling to try and render your pages fast enough to be useful.

And this is why, while I like having digital copies of books that I can tote with me easily, I still prefer print for rulebooks. (Adventure modules, on the other hand, seem perfectly suited to the e-pub model.) I tend to prefer my fiction books, which I rarely reread electronic, but for research material and non-fiction, I prefer a physical book — it’s easier to index, easier to find pictures or maps, and there’s a certain delight to the feel and small of a book. They look great lining your walls, too.

When it comes to the printed rulebook, I like hardcover more for the longevity of the format, but softcover works well, too. My old game books for the systems I played were mostly softcover — DC Heroes might have a box, but the books were softbound. James Bond: 007 was all softcover, and by today’s standard very lightweight with a page count of 130 pages or so for the core book and maybe a total of 50,000 words. Castle Falkenstein‘s main book was a (partly) full-color, hardback, but all the splatbooks were softcover and grayscale inside. Atomic Robo is softcover, and so is most of the Evil Hat stuff, but most of my Cortex stuff is hardbound. Exile Games does great, high-quality stuff, hardbound, but is it necessary?

This question has actually been pretty forward in my mind as Black Campbell Entertainment is ramping up its product line — how much of this trend to full-color, hardcover, “big” book is superlative? Is it better to have 300 pages of full-color with loads of artwork to evoke the mood of the game, or is it better to keep the interior layout simple, uncluttered, and simply push the information you need to the players as simply and clearly as possible. (I’m leaning to the latter…)

So hardcover or softcover, my answer is: As long as the binding is done well, it probably doesn’t matter. Once a group learns a game, there’s usually a lot less flipping through a rulebook, which means its lifespan increases. Is hardcover nice to have? You betcha. I have the faux leather Space:1889 book — that bit of excess is utterly pointless; the usual hardcover, or a softcover would do just as well, but that particular setting has real sentimental value to me for many reasons, so the fake leather is pleasing to me. But ultimately, I’m still a print guy for rule books.