I love electronic gadgets, tablets, and laptops, and they are handy for gaming. Searchable PDFs of modules, supplements, rule books, the E-version of RPG books are everywhere and usually quite a bit cheaper than the print version. It seems like a no-brainer to bring them to the table. Does this mean print books are becoming obsolete?
I sometimes feel like I should lead the charge in the switch to digital media for gaming. I have a degree in communications / new media, I write in Word, Layout, illustrate, and design in the adobe suite. All of our products from Fail Squad Games are in digital format. However, when I sit down at the table to game and see devices come out I start to lose the magic. Even tablets that I KNOW are there with character sheets and game rule books on them show up and I feel… kind of funny. In fact, I like having my laptop handy for maps. I can’t deny the usefulness of these tools. After about 10 minutes, I start to realize that this makes me feel awkward too.
There is some essence about the game of Dungeons & Dragons (and the variants of it) that resides in books, paper, and pencils.
I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly. Newer players to the hobby don’t seem as inclined to feel it, but it’s different. I feel that when a player is looking up a rule or spell in a book, they still hear what’s going on and what’s being said. When it’s being looked up on a device, I personally feel like the table is being shut out. Even if someone tells me it’s not true, I feel like it is.
Is it just nostalgia that keeps me stuck to the idea of the feel of books? The sound of turning pages and dragging a finger across the words to find that spell – A piece of the game lives in that for me. Am I just a stodgy old fart resisting change?
I personally struggle to read PDFs. I don’t like that sitting at my computer staring at a screen. They fit uncomfortably on a tablet, requiring me to scroll side to side. Even when reading on a tablet with a PDF that fits, I tend to put my feet up, squirm around, accidentally touch the screen or the power button, or get distracted by a comment on Facebook or Twitter. A piece of the game, even when I’m on my own time, is captured between the printed pages. Adventure and inspiration builds up in the air between pages. When I flip them open, I can SMELL it!! Sometimes it’s elven forests, sometimes it’s an otyugh – depends where I’m reading.
Even when I am writing adventures, I sit at my desk with MSWord open. My outline, rough maps, and mechanics books (Rules cyclopedia, AD&D, Labyrinth Lord) are in print. I know I can download and search them in pdf, and I lose the excitement of designing an adventure if I do.
While slowly learning Roll20 and preparing to run adventures there, I think I will continue to keep my books in my hand. Will it satisfy the itch that can only be scratched at a table?
The smell of chips, the fizz of soda, the side jokes, breaks where you talk about what’s happened. A piece of this hobby is certainly physical and I think that printed books will not go out as fast as phone books and Ma-Bell booths.