Media for RPG material

I am starting to feel rather old-fashioned about my shelf full of RPG rule sets, settings, and supplements that I downloaded as PDFs (often formatted for US letter pages), printed out on my laser writer (on A4 paper), and bound in my little thermal binding machine. I have the distinct feeling that the cool kids live on a pure diet of patterned electrons. But honestly, I only got as modern as that because posting books to Australia became prohibitively expensive.

So, cool kids! Fellow gaming dinosaurs! Thinking of the new materials (rules, supplements, settings) that you actually use in your games, and discounting the legacy of stuff that you bought in hardback fifteen or thirty years ago and are still using, what medium do you tend actually to have recent purchases in while you are using them?

In what medium do you find yourself using new RPG material these days?
  • Commercially printed books
  • Downloaded and printed
  • Fixed format (e.g. PDF) on a large screen (monitor or laptop)
  • Fixed format on a digest-sized screen (tablet)
  • Fixed format on a small screen (e.g. phone)
  • Re-flowable format (e.g. EPUB, MOBI)
  • Something even more hip than that.

0 voters

Has this changed lately? If so, can you say why?

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I work entirely with PDFs and software (Libre Office, GURPS Character Assistant) when generating characters, devising games that I intend to run, and doing game preparation. I’ve operated that way for several years.

I used to use commercially printed books in-session, as a player and GM, but since the pandemic moved all play on-line, physical books are an inconvenience, so everything is done on the same laptop as I’m using for play.

Edit: I also have a tablet with gaming PDFs on it, for access in-session to stuff that I don’t have as physical books, and the same set of PDFs on my 'phone, in case I want to look something up while out of the house.

While I have quite a decent laser printer, I’ve never printed out lots of gaming material, because it’s never seemed useful. I adapted to using PDFs for long technical reference books at work in the early 2000s, and gaming went along with that. A powerful search tool for PDFs is very useful for gaming; I use Agent Ransack, which works rather well.


Pretty much all of those, really.
I tend to buy PDFs because price and availability (I’m in Europe, physical books for those ultra niche indie games I like are both relatively expensive or hard to get), but I dislike reading them on a screen, so I print them out if they are longer than a few pages. At the same time, if more games were in EPUB, I would use on my ebook instead of printing.
These days I only play online for social distancing, so I usually have the rules open on the computer when I play (and for free games/material, I am surprised that there are not so many that have a web page/html instead of a pdf). I am also that kind of weirdo that goes around with PDFs of small games on my mobile, you never know.

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Quite a few companies provide pdfs of rulebooks alongside dead tree copies, which I’m very fond of. I love having a physical book to leaf through, but for games that I’m playing digitally, having a pdf to pull up on a screen is very convenient, particularly since the copies of books might not be accessible.

I tend to have a collection of physical RPG books that includes systems that I know I’ll never get to the table, bought for the enjoyment of the production. I would never buy a digitally copy by itself unless I was actively playing that game system.


At the moment I tend to have the core system book in hardcopy, one screen for the videoconference, and another screen for any other reference material I need. (Sometimes on separate machines depending on where I’m doing it.) I printed a bunch of GURPS PDF supplements but generally don’t bother any more.

(I’ve also made a “stripped” version of the Genesys core book, with all the images removed, so that it’s faster to search and render. Very pretty layout style, but…)

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I pretty much always prefer dead tree stuff. Even when the heaviness of having a load of books makes things inconvenient, I still have things like spell/monster cards, and I’ll print out other supplementary stuff (character sheets, stats for monsters I don’t have cards for, etc).

Hell, I’m using books more now that we’re playing online because I don’t have to carry them anywhere!

I do have copies of pretty much everything as PDFs, which I keep in Dropbox so I can easily access them if I don’t have the books for whatever reason. But I’ll always prefer books. Mainly I just find them easier to use. Plus I’ve killed enough hard drives to not trust that anything digital is forever.

I almost never get to play RPGs so I will only buy a physical copy if I really love the game (or for a couple of very specific creators, their overall work). I don’t have space for everything I might want to read in the medium, plus somewhere in the last couple decades printed RPG books got fucking insanely expensive. $50 for one book? That’s a nope from me.

I do find print copies a bit easier to reference and share at the table, but even before the pandemic it was way easier to find games online than get my local friends to play anything I want to play and be reliably available. So I definitely need a PDF there.

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I’m the same with regards to physical copies as the preferred choice but haven’t bought anything since a DnD sourcebook last year. I love the tactile natural of a large tome and they look great on a shelf and are a talking point for friends.

I use pdfs rarely if I’m playing online.

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For reading the rules I want a dead-tree book, so my preferred option these days is games which bundle both physical copy and pdf together. Reading an entire rulebook on screen melts my eyeballs and turns my brain to mush.

Having pdf versions of character sheets and the like is wonderful. Well, it is wonderful if they are printer friendly.

Normally, when I’m running a game I have the physical book to hand, not the pdf. My phone is too old and too small to comfortably read rules or character sheets on it.

However, since everything is held online in these cursed days of covid, I’ve often got the pdf book open. All glory to the Ctrl F function, since RPG indexes still continue to be as much use as a chocolate teapot.


I still like my books. I can’t help it, the format just works for me and the pleasure factor can’t be ignored.

That said, I’m running a PbP game of Troika! at the moment and, while the asynchronous nature of the game is helping me get my footing (I haven’t run a game in decades), I’m increasingly curious about platforms.

I’m not sure I’ll ever want to ditch having physical books for my games, but getting a PDF with purchase is increasingly important to me. At the end of the day, pandemic notwithstanding, I think the realities of my lifestyle will increasingly point me online for game sessions and I’d be foolish to ignore the options available to facilitate that.

I’ll end with a question though: for anyone using some of the fancier options… have you found them explicitly necessary? Are your players increasingly demanding of these kind of platforms? I feel like I can do a whole lot with simple Discord/Forum software and some very basic imaging software.


The only things I’ve ever used are 1) dice rolling, 2) chat/posts, and 3) fillable character sheets. Until Discord came along I’d not encountered a great way to do 1 and 2 that wasn’t explicitly part of an existing community other than Roll20, and I really didn’t feel like it made sense to all pop up on some forum somewhere to play with each other and not, you know, the locals. I’m still not sure how you would do nice functional character sheets playing through Discord. At least not as nice as Roll20 has for a whole shedload of games. But that thing has so many functions that are mostly relevant to D&D and games like D&D that it does feel like overkill on the other hand.


Yeah that last bit in particular is what has kept me from doing more than surface research on available options. I just don’t need the wealth of options available (I play squarely in the OSR space) and worry it’ll be more of a burden than a help.

The online groups I’m in just use, er, dice. (In some cases dice apps on people’s phones.)


Heh. We already fired one of our dice bots. If nothing else, having a formalized rolling format provides a kind of enforced honesty. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

I look at it this way: It’s a game, that’s all, and if you can’t trust people to roll the dice honestly then why would you want to play with them?


I look at it that way too. But not all do, and in this case it’s flat out more convenient. [EDIT] Noting that I’m currently playing with 4 complete strangers.

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Why would you ever fire a dice bot? They are all lovely.

I have written many dice bots. Including subtly cheating ones, when I was called on to do it. It’s very easy when you realise that what a human perceives as “random enough” is quite disjoint from “actually random”.

( is the one that’s running here.)

I actually preferred the one we started with because of how easy it was to edit. Troika uses a D6 system, so you need to be able to roll things like D666 or 2D66. The one we changed to can make that happen, but it’s cumbersome to type out. The one we fired let you save whatever roll formulas you wanted for easy repetition…

…but it also barely ever worked when called upon.

I think it’s still here @VictorViper

Do you mean the bot of disco?