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More Digest Size Books Please!

Posted By Patrick Benson On July 9, 2009 @ 1:00 am In Tools for GMs | 18 Comments

I love RPGs. If I take a break at work I pull out an RPG to read. When I go on vacation, or if I am going on a business trip, I pack some RPGs to read and hopefully to play. The smaller the book the more likely I am to have it readily available or to pack it up into my luggage.

One traditional hardcover RPG book and four digest sized books.

This is why I love digest size books. They can easily be carried in a jacket pocket, or thrown into a backpack without adding a lot of weight or taking up a lot of room. I cannot say for sure, but I am guessing that about four soft cover digest size RPG books are less weight and take up less room than the traditional hardcover book size used for many RPGs. Yet they are still full of all of that gaming geek goodness that your traditional size RPG book contains!

So why do you as a GM want publishers to produce more digest size books? Simple – if your favorite game is easier to transport you are more likely to have it with you when you meet someone who plays or who might be interested in playing RPGs. Having a book with you gives you a recruiting tool. You can show this prospective player the game that you play. Add some dice to your standard travel kit and something to write on (I suggest a stack of index cards) and you might even be able to run a game if appropriate.

Digest size books take up less table space, and their text tends to zero in on the essentials of the game by excluding fluff due to the smaller page size/count. But by far the biggest advantage that I have encountered with digest size books is the exposure you gain. People who see me reading an RPG ask “What is that?” or if they know of the game they say “You play X? So do I!” I have found new players thanks to these books and I have recruited new gamers as well just because I was seen reading a digest size RPG.

You can have this happen with any size RPG book, but I am less likely to be caught carrying the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Player’s Handbook unless I am on my way to a game. With my laptop and tech gear already in my bag I want any additional items that I carry to be lightweight. Plus I think that the digest size books tend to have more interesting covers that provoke conversation.

And forget PDFs as a recruiting tool. They are great for other reasons, but the creep factor of someone reading over my shoulder to see what is on my laptop screen kills the recruiting chance that a digest size book’s cover might lead to (on the other hand, reading the book over my shoulder will also bring about the creep factor).

Portable, highly visible, and fully ready to play games with the digest size RPG is a format that I hope continues to grow in popularity. I have even found myself more likely to buy an RPG if it is available in the digest size because they tend to be slightly cheaper as well as having all of the benefits listed above. If you are a publisher please consider offering more products in this format. I suspect many of us gamers would be grateful if you did.

What do you think? Can a digest size book help you recruit players for your game? Should publishers print more of them? Leave your comments below, and remember that the gamemaster is a player too. Have fun with it!

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "More Digest Size Books Please!"

#1 Comment By Bastian.Flinspach On July 9, 2009 @ 4:08 am

I really like those small books for comfortable reading on the go and at home, but I think they are less suited to be used on the gaming table, because you can’t leave them lying around open at a specific page (Problem with most softcovers, though).

#2 Comment By deadlytoque On July 9, 2009 @ 7:27 am

I love digest-size for all my gaming, particularly because I’m not always gaming at home. I’ve always found traditional RPG books to be overly large and cumbersome.

I’m not sure about the “recruiting new players” thing, but it’s true that I am much more likely to take a digest-sized RPG with me if I’m commuting or just out and about, and it makes it much easier to bring to the game table.

You’re also right in that the smaller size (usually) forces game writers to be concise, but I’m not sure which is cause and which effect. Conciseness of mechanics is an “indie RPG” hallmark, and it’s possible that the digest format followed the shortness (and thus reduced need for a large book).

#3 Comment By John Arcadian On July 9, 2009 @ 8:37 am

I love small size books. They are great for transport, but only if the system is fairly rules lite. I can’t imagine a digest size book of D&D, Gurps or any W.o.D. game. Besm fit a lot into a little book, but if you tried that with a more massive system you would need multiple little books.

#4 Comment By Toldain On July 9, 2009 @ 8:44 am

Actually, I think all the material in PH or DMG could be fit into a digest book, but then it wouldn’t have art or the nice expansive layout. And they couldn’t charge as much for it.

However, publishing a rollup “rules digest” in paperback digest could be interesting.

#5 Comment By Rafe On July 9, 2009 @ 11:20 am

First digest-sized RPG books I ever bought were the Burning Wheel books. Loved the size and portability right from the get-go. Also, softcover RPG books seem to have longer lives since the bindings don’t break away from the hardcover spine and such. The only drawback is that you can’t really open them up on a table — you have to be holding them to keep them open (unless you crack the spines, which I personally detest).

Also, for some reason, I find digest-sized RPG books to be more inviting. Just because of the size, they seem more accessible. Cost is also a huge plus.

#6 Comment By Nojo On July 9, 2009 @ 11:56 am

No way. I demand books big enough to take shelter in.

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 9, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

Good comments all!

@Bastian.Flinspach – The lying flat at the game table problem has never been a real issue for me. I prefer to use bookmarks and post-it notes with all of my books instead of leaving any of them lying open. I can see how that would be a problem though if you prefer to leave the book open.

@deadlytoque – Note that in the picture there are two indie games, and two non-indie publishers releasing digest size books. I don’t believe that there is a connection between being an independent owner/creator/publisher and the format used. A lot of stuff that I have purchased from indie game producers uses the typical 8.5 x 11 type format.

@John Arcadian – I’m sure if WotC thought that there was a profit to be made they would publish condensed versions of all of their books. I bet they only do the hardcover thing as more of a brand recognition thing. You would definitely need multiple books, but with D&D when haven’t you required more than one book? :)

@Toldain – Agreed.

@Rafe – For me cracking the spine of a book is a non-issue. The more damaged my copy is the more likely I am a fan of the game. Yet I do see your point, and if you like to keep the books in good condition digest size books are harder to maintain in most cases.

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 9, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

@Nojo – You must be 6 inches tall then? ;)

#9 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 9, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

And they are more likely to fit on a bookshelf as well!

Solution for cracked spines, loose pages, and leaving books open on the table:

Go to Kinko’s, OfficeMax, or a local copy shop, and have them spiral-bind the book for you. It’s a few bucks, and you can even have them put clear sheets in the front and back.

#10 Comment By Zig On July 9, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

I like the digest sized books for a couple of reasons. The first is that I am more likely to check a new system or setting out if I can get it that cheaply. It’s why I picked up a copy of the Savage Worlds game. The Explorer’s edition was only $10, so I didn’t feel like I was taking a risk on buying it after hearing some good things about it. The second is that they are handy to have several copies around to share with the players or, at that price point, my players are my apt to buy their own copies of the game.

I also wouldn’t mind editions of some systems where only the essential rules information was included that was in such a compact (and cheaper format). I think you could do something like this with the D&D Player’s Handbook. Leave out the magic item section, cut some sections — have equipment tables, but no descriptions, etc.

That being said, I still love my hardcover books as a GM/DM and would probably buy a hardcover edition of a system I was going to run after checking it out in a digest sized format initially.

#11 Comment By BryanB On July 9, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

The digest size books are great, unless they have a font size that is so small that you need an electron microscope to read it. :D

#12 Comment By Sewicked On July 10, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

My favorite game system is ‘normal’ game book size but the supplements are all digest-sized, a little taller than a regular paperback book. That makes transporting them to conventions, etc so much easier. I’ve seen the rolling duffle/crate to carry the range of D&D and then I have my backpack on wheel with 2-3 copies of gamebook, 1 each of the supplements & my expanding folder of adventure info (pre-gens, NPCs, handouts, etc). It’s so much easier that frankly it’s a huge relief for my back.

When I buy PDFs & take the option of printing them out, I almost always use the booklet format. Yes, the print is smaller but they are so much easier to carry.

#13 Comment By Zig On July 10, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

@Sewicked – Hearing of rolling duffels/crates of rule books reminds me of years ago when I rode a motorcycle and ran a 1st edition Shadowrun game. I had a backpack stuffed to the gills, a duffel bag bursting at the seams and a milk crate strapped to the luggage rack at the end of the bike. Needed all of that cart along all the rule books, supplements, dice, and loads of notes, maps and such. I think I was a pretty funny sight going down the road to my friend’s place where my group played. Digest sized books would have made my life a lot easier.

#14 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 10, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

@Zig – A laptop with a few PDFs would have made your life a whole lot easier.

#15 Comment By Zig On July 10, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – So true, but this was back around 1990. These days when I run my 2nd edition D&D game I carry the laptop with some of the books as PDFs as well as my game notes — adventure, places, npcs, etc. Gotta love the find feature!

#16 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 12, 2009 @ 3:26 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – This solution makes my insides squirm. Gutting books? INSANITY.

#17 Comment By Sewicked On July 13, 2009 @ 4:57 am

@Martin Ralya – Well, if the book isn’t having problems, yes, it makes me cringe, too. But when the pages have come loose and have started dropping out…that cut & rebind is a book-saver.

#18 Comment By AndreasDavour On July 14, 2009 @ 6:45 am

I only have one digest sized book that I have used repeatedly, and that’s the 7.5 ed. Tunnels & Trolls.

The fact that it stays flat (spiral binding, out of the box) is nice, but would probably be of much more use if it was a game where you had to have complex rules in front of you all the time.

So, for me the biggest win is something else. It takes up less space on the table. I love to have GM notes, maps, combat sheet, dice and all kind of stuff on the table. The players probably wants to have maps, sheets, pencils and snacks. Not much room left for a folio to lie open on that table.

That being said, I prefer to read the bigger format.


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