267 Learning from a Con and Book Formats

Not a recap of Gamehole Con, but we learned some things. We also talk about book formats in the rpg hobby. This latter piece inspired by Ray Otus.


I owe you all a call about this one and will try to get it in soon. I thought you did a good job with it, at least as an introductory treatment, and you sketched out a lot of the challenges in answering this question. A lot of it depends (haha – “it depends”) on your approach to running games in general and how you plan to run the specific game for which you are evaluating the book.

For instance, do you normally use the book at the table? That question alone predicates a lot of what you would look for in a book format. If you plan to use it at the table things like lay-flat binding and control-panel layouts (two page spreads that contain all the info for a particular encounter or mechanic) are going to be critical for you.

Do you like to carry the book around and read out of it on an ongoing basis? Then weight and hand-size will matter.

Are you a visual learner and do you respond strongly to art? Then graphic design and art direction will matter a lot to you. (One way or the other. Some people have such strong opinions about art that a book is almost better off not having any.)

It was in some wats an unreasonable topic for me to suggest because it is so broad and depends on so many factors. And there are no right answers! But all answers are interesting because preferences are driven by styes, and if I hear your preferences I can infer some things about what you like in games and how you play or run them!

For the most part I can say viva-la-difference. But when it comes to carrying a book around or shelving it, a part of me wants some level of predicability. Sometimes I retreat to PDFs simply because they all “shelve” so neatly into my iPad. That is, shelving them is a matter of filing them away by system or characteristics. On a physical shelf, with all the varying and crazy formats out there, it’s just about finding a place where they sit comfortably and can be found and accessed as needed.

Anyway, thanks for taking on my topic! I review my Patreon memberships pretty regularly, but never question my support for Gaming & BS. You guys always produce, rain or shine (current well-deserved break notwithstanding), and my week is always better with with Brett and Sean in it.


Regarding book formats, I really like the digest size. I don’t exactly know why because they usually don’t lay flat, but something about a small book like that just seems to be satisfying. Another thing you guys could discuss if you bring up this topic again would be preferences for a number of smaller books or one hardcover core book for RPGs like what Necrotic Gnome has done for Old-School Essentials. Finally, I mentioned this in the In the Hopper thread, curious what BSers think about system-agnostic supplements and modules. In my view, system-free supplements are fairly easily adaptable regardless of rule systems. But adventure modules? I think they’ll require more work to tailor them to different systems. I assume from a marketing perspective that system-neutral modules are less appealing to customers than ones written specifically for a system.


I’m with you @NOLAbert regarding digest sized books. I refer to it as “hand-feel.” I actually like them in softcover too. Or to be more accurate, if it’s a book that’s really important to me I like to have a hardcover on the shelf and a softcover to ‘bang up’ – carry around, make notes in, dog-ear pages, etc.

The many books vs. one book thing with OSE. It’s kind of hard to get used to but it is far superior at the table. Delving Deeper can be downloaded (for free) this way. And it’s great to be able to print up or buy extra player-only books. They are small, cheap, and focused in a way that makes them incredibly useful. Same for having DM rules and monsters/treasure in separate books. Again, I like to have it “both ways.” I keep one copy of Delving Deeper and a copy of combined BXE (soon to be replaced by a copy of OSE) as a carry-around softcover for digesting/making notes. For table use, I have the split-up copies.


Regarding book formats–I’m actually kind of an easy mark for digest-sized books, but I think it really matters how that book is formatted. Streets of Avalon was designed for the digest size from the beginning, as was Iron Edda Accelerated, so they are easy to reference and read.

Just scaling down a full-sized book isn’t always the best way to handle this sort of thing. I have Kobold Press’ Tome of Beasts in the new Pocket-Sized edition for my Margreve game, but even with smaller print, monster stat blocks have a predictable format that makes it easy to reference even a scaled-down page. I would probably not be interested in seeing the Midgard World Book in that same format, because it’s not designed for that form factor.

Two Gary Cons ago, I picked up several of the Dungeon Crawl Classics mini-convention edition adventures that are digest-sized, and what’s weird about those is that some of those are scaled for the new size and are fairly easy to read because of it, and others are just scaled down proportionally from the original size, and they are a pain to reference.

This is getting outside of the physical realm of books, but I recently did an article looking at Phone PDFs as a format, where the PDFs for various books are resized for a smaller form factor as they might be displayed on a phone. The Zweihander PDF scales up to over 2000 pages in this format, but I also don’t think the phone PDF format is intended as a “read cover to cover” solution so much as a “reference at the table without laptop or tablet.”

That also puts me in mind of something I have definitely thought about in the past. RPG players often decry companies that put out multiple versions of the same rules as cash grabs, but in all honesty, reasonably robust rulesets would be better served by having a “learning text” and a “reference text” as separate products.

Back in the 3.5 D&D days, they release a Rules Compendium, and it was a much better way to look up how rules were meant to be adjudicated than looking through the full Player’s Handbook. I also think, as an example, the FFG Star Wars starter sets explain the rules of that system in a much more concise and less intimidating fashion than the full core rulebooks, but there is a kind of “training wheels” stigma that some gamers associate with Beginner/Starter Sets.

It is always a little strange that RPG players will often spend tons of money on extra dice, battlemaps, miniatures, and other accessories, but when it comes to the actual rules of the game, many gamers expect a “one size fits all” single purchase for core rules, when games are often involved enough to warrant different expressions for different purposes, such as learning versus ongoing reference at the table.

And if we get to the point that we put out table reference versions of books, we really need to look at how much more functional things like spiral bindings are for items that are designed for actual heavy use versus display.


I like the digest books size-wise and portablility-wise. Sometime it’s hit or miss with formatting for that size as having a graphic designer involved ins’t always the case.
(I’ve done graphic design for over 30 year and have also done work for Kobold Press.)
The shrunk down Pathfinder books are hard for me to read. I LOVED the old Green Ronin books of spells for 3e that were digest sized. I had two copies at my table, one for me on for the players.

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I prefer 8 1/2 x 11 size books (or whatever format that is close to that). Especially when, as mentioned, the digest size gets really thick (I’m looking at you, EarthDawn 4e…should have been “standard” format). I also prefer a hard cover for something I’m going to use often. A lot of the appeal is also having something on the spine telling me what the book is when it’s shelved.

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I’m not sure I have a super preference, other than the thickness of digests taking up more space. (because I don’t have a shelf of just those)

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I like digest size for portability but agree with some of the comments on scaled down print/font size, they’re generally too small if the layout and font size is scaled down from regular (US letter/A4) modules.

I recently picked up the new edition of Savage Worlds (I’ll get around to running this edition, I swear!) and it’s a nice ‘mid size’ book.

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I also prefer hardback formats as they are easily recognizable on my shelf and most hardcovers match the sizing of the core books to create a cohesive look.

For me, art work is very important to how I feel about a book. I would rather have no art work than art work that has been sloppily done that doesn’t resonate with me. I recently received my copy of Humblewood and the hardback book has such gorgeous art, I can’t wait to dive in!

I would like to first say “WELCOME!”

And second, I’d echo this. If the art is a detraction, it can REALLY take me out of a book.

Aw, thanks! Making your first post to a forum kinda feels like your first day at a new high school when everyone has known each other since kindergarten. You have a “what if the other kids don’t like me?” feeling lol. Especially because while I love this hobby so far, I really haven’t been doing it for very long.

Well, then ALSO, welcome to the hobby!

Yes, like ANY group, there are jerks (I love reddit. I hate reddit.) but this forum is full awesome folk. By all means, ask ANY questions. We’re all nerds here and love helping other people love the game more.

And, as an added bonus, none of us have known any of the rest of us since kindergarten!