The Gassy Gnoll: Bits of Paper

This Gassy Gnoll is an old fashioned kind of gnoll combined chimera-style with a technologist. It’s an odd combination, let me tell you. (Gnoll hair is greasy and it smudges up my phone and iPad screens like you wouldn’t believe…)

In an age when PDFs enter the field of published resources daily, I find myself longing for the feel of a printed page. Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone, iPad, my laptop, and my desktop. But there’s something to be said for the time only a couple of decades ago (and earlier) when I can recall wandering into game stores and perusing the shelves, flipping through books admiring whatever art and content that caught my eye, and a bit simpler world.

Bombarded by content, I can easily admit that I love escaping to a simpler time and perusing old bookstores to find old paperbacks and hardbacks from the bygone age when paper quality, bindings, and the printer’s art were not just a thing of the past. Today in a time of trade paperbacks and print on demand I think the distance between the author and the printing process has become too great. There are exceptions to the rule, but they tend to happen more in the realm of fiction than gaming. That said, in recent years I’ve only seen a few fiction books with ragged-edge bindings and antique paper that feels and smells like it would have been at home on shelves in the 20th century or before (yes, there’s something about the smell of old paper – what can I say, I’m a bibliophile!), but they’re rare.

Why do I mention this? It’s not like it’s a new comment on the state of the world. We all know the bits have it in the bag. And I’m definitely not opposed to progress. The many boxes of books crying out for shelf space in my basement take up a ton of space where digital versions would take up very little.

But it’s difficult to review some things online when they cry out to be seen and touched in the real world.

For about two months I’ve been struggling to review Robert Bohl’s Misspent Youth game book as a PDF. To be fair, I’m trying to read the “Eyebleed” edition of the PDF and I think my eyes may have actually bled a time or two while reading. The book is a deliberate hodgepodge of pulled together documents to describe a science fiction setting “about friendship and rebellion.” Scattered throughout are fliers, newsprint, handwritten notes, drawings, photos, and so on – and it’s amazing.

Unfortunately it’s also been damn impossible for me to read in Adobe Acrobat on a PC or in GoodReader on my iPad. Whether it’s my eyes or the way these pages are rendered, I’m unable to fully determine. I’d bet it’s more PEBCAK (Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard) than the tools, but I don’t want to accept that just yet. I want to read this book, but it uses such a creative and artistic layout that it just screams to be read on actual paper where I can explore each page, admire the layout, and dive deeper without getting frustrated at the same time.

On the other hand, there are books like Assassin’s Amulet, which would be better suited for online viewing where you can do a search for what you’re looking for, quickly scan pages or print a few when you need them on the fly… But as a 300 page physical copy I think it would be a bit unwieldy. Misspent Youth is less than a 50 page PDF, so it would work in paper I think…

A Picture of a eBook

Image via Wikipedia

So I’m going to ask this two-prong question…

First, to all the gamers out there – what is the dividing line between a book you want to read online vs. one you want to read in some physical form?

And second, to all the publishers – how do you decide whether a book is online only, hardcopy only, or someplace in-between?

I’m guessing that size and cost are two of the major factors on both sides of the equation. But I own PDFs that I don’t think I’d ever want to have as hardcopy books. And I have hardcopy books I don’t think I’d ever need as PDFs.

Curious gnolls want to know!

Gassy out.

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