PDF’s, Print on Demand and the allure of custom rulebooks

If you’ve been reading my recent gaming posts you’ll know I’m on something of a GURPS kick as the moment. While reading about it online I came across people discussing custom rulebooks. At first I thought they were simply talking about a PDF with some stuff Frankensteined together. But then I realised they were talking about actual physical books (made from PDF’s Frankensteined together). I’m not going to lie, this idea intrigued me greatly.

My experiences with POD have been mixed, I’ve got some good stuff and some bad stuff but its been about five years since I got anything so I’m willing to believe that the technology and quality has improved significantly. At the same time it seems the price has lowered as well. A rather uncommon confluence of factors these days. I’ve a bit of experience making my own custom rulebooks. But they were generally just PDF’s with various bits and pieces extracted from a range of sourcebooks and cobbled together in Acrobat. I did do one or two more complete jobs, with re-done text and layout but I’m not sure if they were worth the effort. After running two campaigns from PDF this year my experiences suggest one thing, you need some hardcopy books. The Traveller game, where the players and I had just an unbound pile of printed pages and the D&D game, where everyone had a Player’s Handbook, worked quite differently at the table. Looking up the PDF or the print-out frequently stalled the entire session in Traveller but with D&D one person could look up something while the rest continued or various people could look up stuff while still paying more attention to the games main action. Unless the game was light enough that a one page rules summary would do I don’t think I’d run an RPG without a core rulebook again (well one-offs would be fine as always). So needless to say the idea of getting a cheap physical book for table use, and a custom one no less, sparked my interest.

GURPS certainly seems tailor-made to take advantage of such a setup, for a number of reasons. The first is that Steve Jackson Games is terrible at keeping the main GURPS 4th edition hardbacks in print. Core books like Powers or Martial Arts are frequently out of print so one has no choice but to resort to PDF. The second is GURPS publishing model. Generally each big book, Powers, Martial Arts, High-Tech, etc. gets a number of supplementary PDF’s ranging from ~32 to ~96 pages. These exist only as PDF’s. But if you go the POD route you can get a custom version of Powers with the eight or nine supplementary PDFS as part of it, you can go further and include relevant articles from Pyramid as well. The final reason is that as a system GURPS is a “reductive” one, you’ll never use all of it for a campaign. You’ll take it and say I am using A, B and C but not x, Y and Z. So you could in fact create a custom players handbook for your campaign which gathers the various parts of numerous GURPS books that are in your campaign. I like the idea of slim players handbooks which contain the rules for chargen and task resolution but not much else. They’re a great table reference for the players. Modiphus does one for Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition (the aptly named Mutant Chronicles Player’s Guide) and the upcoming Infinity game and they’re pretty nice looking. Actually, speaking of Mutant chronicles, how cool would an “expanded players guide” with the character creation options from all the individual faction books included? Or just a mega faction book with all factions included? LULU will print up to 800 pages hardbacks, which is probably a bit much for table reference but makes a pretty impressive tome.

Printme1 also looks pretty good, and offers spiral binding which can be better for table reference. But sadly it appears to be US only. Unlike LULU which has an Ireland option in their store list. Looking at the quote system an 800 page US Letter sized hardcover with black and white interior would only be €24.80. That’s pretty nuts. Same price I paid for Diaspora a few years ago and it was only digest sized and around two hundred pages. That’s not even including special offers, which seem to be fairly frequent, even the sites main page has a code for getting a fourth book free if you print three. The GURPS 4th Edition core books work out €13.80 for 338 page black and white hardbacks. Both of those and something like Powers and you could then get another one free. For a long campaign I think it would certainly be worth the time to put together a custom players handbook. If you were going to use a homebrew world you could even include your own setting.

Honestly at this point I’m just looking for an excuse to get something printed up. Some of the stuff people have got printed up is pretty cool. This blog post (http://www.themook.net/gamegeekery/printing-rpg-pdfs/) has some cool examples, both in the body of the post and the comments. Wish I still played 3.x or Pathfinder so instead of going you can have this and this from a huge stack of books I could pull all that into one book and get it printed. Thinking about it it would be cool if a publisher had a fully modular custom book or SRD so you could simply click “Include sections H,J and M” and it coughed out even a basic two column PDF.

Once I finish digesting this version of GURPS and hammering out what my potential campaign will need I’m going to get at least GURPS Characters and some supplemental stuff printed up, so look forward to a progress report on that in a month or two.

Vent your spleen