GM Dilemma: Digital or Paper?

Photo 2014-10-14, 15 25 44 (640x333)

It’s no secret that I love my collection of Pathfinder hardcovers, not to mention all the other Pathfinder books I own. I love to be able to say that I own every single Pathfinder hardcover. I’ve built my collection up over several years, in many cases struggling to find shops (both physical and online) that could get the latest book within a reasonable time frame and for reasonable cost. Being all the way down in South Africa, we don’t have many physical shops that stock roleplaying products, so I tried various online retailers as well. This worked fairly well for several years, though I’ve had books arrive damaged, or come with surprise customs fees, or simply disappear into our postal system, never to be seen again.

Still, all the stress and frustration of waiting for a book to arrive was usually worth it once I finally had it in my hands and I got to squeeze it onto my bookshelf. However, in the last year or so, the South African Rand has weakened a lot in comparison to other currencies, meaning a $40 book that used to cost me around R280 (before shipping) now costs about R440 (before shipping). Add to that increased shipping costs, and the once expensive-but-still-affordable books were now moving into the realm of is-it-really-worth-it?

Last Christmas I got my usual haul of physical Pathfinder books, as I have for several years in a row now, but I also found myself purchasing a few PDFs off during one of their sales. They had a few more sales in the early part of this year, and let’s just say the library of PDFs I have on my PC/iPad now rivals my physical collection. Still, these PDFs were mostly from the Player Companion, Modules and Campaign Setting product lines – books I’d had my eye on but couldn’t quite justify the price (and the hassle) of getting the physical version.

I’ve actually enjoyed having those smaller books in PDF version, as I can reference them easily even when I’m not at home, as long as I have my iPad (the campaign setting stuff is generally not freely available online like the core rules). This makes planning easier for me, plus I can grab text or images out of the PDFs to use in player handouts and that sort of thing (much easier than trying to show a page from a hardcover to the whole table while still hiding the monster’s stats!). I can even print out a few pages if I absolutely need a paper copy.

So when the Advanced Class Guide came out, and my order still hadn’t arrived after two months of waiting, I starting thinking about what it was going to cost me when it finally did arrive. Based on purchases from the same shop earlier this year, I was expecting to pay over R600. Meanwhile, most of the rules content was freely available online, and reviews of the book told me that there were even more sub-editing errors than normal (as much as I love Paizo, their sub-editing is terrible). All in all, the price tag of $9.99 (R115 at current exchange rate) for the PDF was looking mighty attractive.

Eventually, after much consideration, I bought the PDF of the Advanced Class Guide, my first purchase of a hardcover in PDF format. I’m still sad about not having a hardcover, but at the same time, I’m happy that I no longer have to worry about the book arriving late or damaged, or being too expensive, or simply never arriving at all.

While I still love my hardcovers, I have to admit that PDFs are much more affordable, and definitely easier to use both for preparation (character building using 4 or 5 hardcover books really does need a lot of space!) and at the game table. I’ll be evaluating future Pathfinder hardcovers individually and deciding if I want/need a paper copy or if a digital one will do.

Have you faced a similar dilemma? Let me know in the comments!

5 thoughts on “GM Dilemma: Digital or Paper?

  • October 15, 2014 at 10:57 am

    As much as I love owning a physical copy of a book or a game, I have recently hated my collection of physical goods! We recently had some renovations done in the home, and the amount of bloody time spent sorting things are insane to say the least!
    So yeah, for a lot of things, like games, books and comics, I am going the digital route. Only thing you cannot read in digital format is Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. On Kindle, at least, with the amount of footnotes, having to keep on jumping to the back of the book and finding your place again is too much of a hassle.

    • October 15, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      I’ve yet to make the move to owning digital copies of ‘normal’ books, but I’ve recently purchased my first Kindle books (craft books rather than ‘reading’ books) so I guess it’s only a matter of time 😉

  • October 15, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    It varies by game.

    Though I love my Pathfinder hard copies, I tend to default to digital at the table. As the Western Cape VC, my tablet and PDFs enable the mobility required by my duties. I can’t see myself carrying my hard copy library with the grids, miniatures, stationery, chronicle sheets and my files of printouts and my own PFS character stable.

    When playing at home, I typically run things off my laptop. I build spreadsheets to help with campaign administration and, since my laptop’s on anyway, I default to using electronic documents.

    • October 15, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      I make everyone come to my house so I don’t have to lug any books around (because as you say, maps, miniatures and other stuff are already cumbersome!) Certainly if I played games elsewhere I’d probably have considered going digital sooner!

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