Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Size Does Matter? RPG Book Format

It seems to me that lately I’ve really been less into the usual larger trade paperback size for RPGs, and more and more into the pocket-sized or digest-sized RPG books. The larger trades are great for splash art, lengthy tables, charts, etc., but carrying one around seems more and more conspicuous and unwieldy. Books like Burning Wheel, Traveller Pocket Edition, Thousand Suns, and the newer Robotech RPG can pass as regular paperbacks. Heck, even Squirrel Attack! could pass for some sort of zoology pamphlet. I’m not ashamed of my hobby—anyone at work could tell you that—but there are times I just want to quietly read, you know? I can throw Pocket Traveller in my sweatshirt or jacket pocket. That isn’t happening with my Pathfinder Core Rulebook, however aesthetically awesome it may be.

Of course, there are drawbacks. Digest-sized or standard paperbacks have less room for art, and often times (as in the case of pocket-sized Traveller), the font is comparatively tiny. Layout becomes even more important in a smaller book like that, to my mind.

There are ways to taken open-license games and print them yourself in this type of format; several PDF programs support the resizing needed. But honestly, I don’t want to spend the ink and the time when I could just buy it. I have been thinking about doing a d6 Pocket Essentials edition, but don’t know if anyone would be into that or not.

I’m not sure if I’m alone on this, but how cool would a pocket OSRIC or Castles & Crusades be? Heck, I’ll even hold out hope for a Pocket Pathfinder (although with the OGL in place, you could realistically do that yourself). It may not be ideal for every game, but more pocket editions would likely find their way to my, well, pocket.


Rob Donoghue said...

Or as the rest of the world calls them, "Book Sized".

Not that I think there's a right answer. There are a few specific logistical issues with publishing (like it's better for sales to have a spine to face out, hardcover is awkward under a certain size etc.) but beyond that it comes down to taste. But the assumption that an RPG is a certain size (and format, really) may be the single most persistent legacy of D&D.

-Rob D.

Zachary The First said...

@Rob: It is. Most RPG books are still right around that larger hardback size. It is a legacy of sorts.

Heh...I didn't want to just say "book sized", but yeah, that's what most people outside of gaming would think. :)

Richard Iorio II said...

When we started Rogue Games, this was one of the first things James and I talked about: book size.

We both disliked the big ass hardcovers, and this is due to the simple fact that it is not good for games. These are, after all, games. I love the coffee table inspired books that the hobby produces, but when it comes time to play, I find them hard to deal with.

6x9, which is what we use, works. It also forces us to not over write, and think about the content. I really feel, that besides fitting in a backpack, that the format really helps me design. I know I do not have a lot of room, and because of that, I stay on point.

The other benefit to the size, is pricing. 6x9 to print POD allows us to print books to order, as well as keep the unit costs low enough, that we can price our rulebooks at $24.99.

Marcelo Paschoalin said...

Well, I'm fan of small size books since Dragonlance 5th Age (the books were A5 size or something like that). "Book Sized" is also a good option, but I believe the gaming crowd will recognize quickier a book in Letter size than others...
And sometimes, that quick glancing is all a gamer need to purchase his next book. "Standard sizes" are what one looks for.
But I may be completely wrong... design was never my area of expertise.

DNAphil said...

I have mixed feelings about the size of an RPG. For reading, having a smaller book is great for all the reasons that have been discussed: portability, weight.

At the gaming table, I prefer the larger book, because the larger books tend to lay open better.

I saw at GenCon that there are two bindings for Savage Worlds, the normal binding, which does not lay well, and a spiral binding, used for laying flat on the table.

So for RPG publishers, if you are going to use a small sized book format, please get a binding that will let the book lay well on the table.

Swordgleam said...

I like being conspicuous about my RPG reading. Since I'm a girl, it typically gives people joy and hope to see me with gaming books. Besides, usually at least one person tries to strike up a conversation.

I also just don't feel like something is a proper gaming book unless I can bludgeon someone with it.

David said...

I really enjoy having pocket editions of rules books, and almost all of the PDFs I print out I print at 2 pages to a sheet. Saves ink and paper, and it's easier to take with me.

On the other hand I do still enjoy the larger format books for their artwork, layout, and for keeping them open on a table.

Oz RPG said...

I know I plan to release Adventures in Oz in a 6x9. For one thing, it would be very thin at 8.5x11 and not really worthy of a hardcover. The other reason is that I intend to publish my own edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and having them in the same format seems like a good idea.

Jeff Rients said...

At the gaming table, I prefer the larger book, because the larger books tend to lay open better.

My feeling more and more is that if I need the book open to one place for any length of time, then either that info should be on a cribsheet or something is flawed with the game's design.

Helmsman said...

I think it's a wise decision to have pocket rules for any game that has LARP potential. I've also considered the idea of having a quick system in the back of certain paperback novels that would let the reader play a character and interact with the characters in the story, the idea being that it could potentially draw new gamers in. Imagine such a scenario with books like Twilight or The Golden Compass.

1d30 said...

I used to be all about the spiral binding. But you have to get the right type: not the kind that clamps on, but a true single spiral of metal that winds through all the holes along the side. But even that is a wash, since the strip of paper inside the cylinder of the spiral binds up too much.

Yes you can lay it flat. But it won't last long regardless.

Another one to avoid is the glued-in spine in a hardback or paperback. This is especially bad when you have color plates in the center. The glue cracks and the pages fall right out after only a year or two of handling.

You could get it done with library binding - have you ever noticed that library book binding always seems like it's in good shape? - but that's expensive. It involves sewing with thread and doesn't use any glue. But at that point you're looking at worrying more about damage to the book from sunlight and acidic paper and ink than the binding falling apart.

Another way to go is the book format, saddle-stitched (which means stapled). You have a certain page limit, because beyond that you can't machine-fold the pages very well. And you do have to be very good with formatting. But this format is incredibly cheap and reasonably durable. It won't lay flat until you've really broken it in. But if it breaks down you can easily repair it using tape and restapling, or otherwise just replacing the book.

1d30 said...

Also: if you really want to keep your cheap book size rules open, use one of those black office clips. Even the smallest one will work, right on the fold at the top or bottom.

Zzarchov said...

These days with gaming rule books, I prefer electronic copies. I tried to be a luddite as much as I could, but when push comes to shove, a rules book for in game use is better when its easily searchable.

Tyson J. Hayes said...

I prefer the smaller books. I love art especially in roleplaying books, but something about the size of the book will get new players more interested in the game.

As an avid Savage Worlds fan I can attest that the smaller book does make for easier reading (it also helps the rules are stupidly simple) but it's easier to hand a new player a small ruleset to read over then forking over books like the Player's Handbook for D&D as it looks huge.

Thanks for bringing this up to me I'm in the process of designing a game and we hadn't yet discussed the size of our books.

Adam said...

The book proportions should be matched to the content and to how the book will be used. Ideally, this should be considered for _every single title_ -- but practical concerns mean that most lines and even companies as a whole stick to one size of book.

This problem is compounded by the typical workflow which often doesn't involve the graphic designer until the book is already written and out of editing, at which point, it's too late for the designer to have meaningful input on the content of the book, and they need to resort to more editing or layout gymnastics to standardize the presentation of some material.

Ideally, ever books' outline/wordcounts should receive input from the graphic designer/art director to prevent boding later down the line.

Will said...

I'd love a pocket edition of quick start/lite rules for various open or free systems. OGL material, some old school stuff, and a future/modern system in one package.

That being said, I'd love "book sized" editions of my favorite games. The Savage World core rules are already pretty small, but a small hardcover would be even better for more durability.

rmckee78 said...

Most RPG book I buy are just for reading. I know I will never have a chance to run them. More and more all the time I am buying them based on how portable they are. I bought Colonial Gothic and Thousand Suns and GenCon because of this. I bout pocket Traveller and SpyCraft because of this. I am far more likely to buy your book if I can take it with me. I am just going to run D&D, Savage Worlds or GURPS anyway. Everything else is just for ideas.

Pocket OSRIC, LL or SW would be awesome

Zachary The First said...

I think a paperback-sized book with the rules to a half-dozen CC or OGL games compiled would be awesome. It'd be a Treasury of Gaming Rules.

Nikolas said...

Hoping for better E-readers in the future. More like the digital reader 1000s that is meant for work (instead of being just a plain reader).

Norman Harman said...

Love digest sized rulebooks.

There just so inviting.

Castles & Crusades has a digest pocket edition Whitebox.

Starfox said...

I am reading rulebooks on my smartphone or notebook when abroad, I don't carry the printed books around anymore.

highadventuregames said...

I'm a fan of the 9"x6" books. They just feel right.

~Adaen of Bridgewater

nukehavoc said...

I think one of the reasons why I've been enjoying Star Wars: Saga Edition so much is the square format of the books.

At 9.1" x 9", they're as wide a traditional RPG hard cover, but they're not as tall. This has made them a much better fit for the gaming table, as players can have them open without gobbling up lots of real estate. It's a little thing, but it's amazing how much less cluttered our game has been since we switched from D&D 3.5 (or 4.0 for that matter).

I've also find that they fit well in my messenger back (much more so than a traditional RPG or, as has been pointed out, Pathfinder ... which is far far too heavy to carry to work).

That said, I like the 6x9 format as well. I'm working on a Day After Ragnarok adventure to run at an upcoming convention, and it's so ... damn ... awesome to be able to carry the Savage Worlds Explorers Edition, the Ragnarok campaign book AND the fantasy companion in my messenger bag at the same time.

Try doing THAT with the 4E core rule books + a campaign setting. :)