Using the Kindle at the game table

Kindle 3 aka Kindle Keyboard Yesterday I finally got my Kindle. For quite a while I have been pondering whether I should buy one or not. Last August I bought an iPad and actually thought it might double as my ebook reader as well. But although I use it a lot to view PDFs I actually never used it to read whole novels using iBooks or a similar tool. A couple of months ago my girlfriend – much to my surprise – bought a Kindle. So I actually had the chance to have a closer look at the device and I especially liked the electronic paper display. It looks pretty close to real paper and you can actually read comfortably in direct sunlight. So after long consideration I ordered the Kindle Keyboard a couple of days ago.

I mainly intend to use the Kindle for what it was designed which is reading normal ebooks. But as a gamer I also look for ways how I can use this new device at the game table. I’ve done some research and found out that a few roleplaying publishers have started to release their books in ePub or Mobi formats. There are also free ebook versions of the Anima RPG and the German translation of FreeFATE. If you have a long trip on the plane or train ahead of you, you might want to put some RPG book on your Kindle to give it a readthrough from cover to cover. And that might actually work pretty fine when you have a version of said rules optimized for an ebook reader.

I even tried reading a PDF on my Kindle and was surprised that it worked better than I expected. But that doesn’t mean I would recommend it. If the PDF was created in a digest-sized format it might actually work, but usually the font size is just too small to read anything comfortably. Zooming is possible but not that user-friendly. The Kindle is no iPad, folks. In addition to that I am pretty sure that very artwork-intensive PDFs might be too much for the device.

Since you can copy your own documents easily to the Kindle, you could for example copy all the notes you need for the game you’re running to the Kindle. And searching for something in actual ebooks (not PDFs) is pretty reliable, so you might actually use the Kindle as an alternative to flipping through a physical rulebook when you want to look up some obscure rule. I am sure some Kindle owners and D&D 3.x/Pathfinder players have a copy of the SRD on the device.

So what are your thoughts on that subject? Do you own a Kindle or a similar ebook reader and have you used it successfully at the game table? Please share your experiences in the comments below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

12 thoughts on “Using the Kindle at the game table”

  1. I have a Kobo, it’s a functional product as an ebook reader and I love it for reading a novel. The problem is for an RPG you need to be able to flip pages quickly to look for information. The half second page refresh time means that flipping through 50 pages will take nearly half a minute. That doesn’t work for me at the table. I think this is also why students don’t find them useful for class.

    What I have found my eReader useful for when it comes to RPGs is reviewing and editing new books that I’m working on. It’s nice to not have to print them off to review them. Of course I can read through on the computer and I do but I used to print off a copy when I thought I had the text right, always to find I missed errors or was vague on something. I’ve been using the Kobo for this and have saved a good amount of ink and printer paper.

  2. We recently got a HP Touchpad during the firesale. I can see using it for the game table. The display is large enough to read PDFs on without expanding them, it’s pretty responsive, and doesn’t choke on large colorful PDFs.

    1. Yeah, tablet PCs like the HP Touchpad or the iPad work great for reading PDFs. I usually use my iPad both for viewing PDFs and streaming background music.

  3. I had a Kindle for about a year and tried it for RPG use. More recently I have also gotten an iPad.

    iPad is great for PDF manuals and let’s you go page to page with even large, full color PDF manuals. There’s a PDF viewer app (I forget the name) which let’s you zoom in and trip out extraneous headers and footers and makes viewing color PDFs even easier.

    Kindle is too slow for full color PDFs.

    Ebooks (epub or mobi format) work well for text only, but most RPG have lots of illustrations and the market just hasn’t produced enough epub/mobi books to make the Kindle useful at the game table in my opinion. The iPad, because it handles color PDFs so well, actually is useful at the gametable.

  4. You know Stargazer, I would love to get a copy of your game, ‘Warrior, Rogue & Mage’ on the Kindle.

    My group and I are switching games and I have a hand full I need to read through before settling on what we will play next. It would be nice to read about your game on the Kindle. If we end up playing it that might make for a good post write up. Playing an RPG from a Kindle.

  5. I’ve had my Kindle Keyboard for a while now and I love it, and I even tried getting some gaming mileage out of it.

    For a while I was using it as my character sheet at the game table. (Pathfinder.) Basically saving the sheet as a PDF in HeroLab and keeping notes on the device. It was quite serviceable for the job, but I missed having paper for the job.

    PDFs work, and the font size isn’t an issue if you orient things horizontal, but performance rendering complex PDFs is a huge issue. I actually had a lot of success using Calibre to convert one of the offline copies of d20pfsrd to mobi format. Became very fast and easy to search for rule information at the table.

    That being said.. I preordered a Kindle Fire, in part because I want the improved PDF support. Moving more of my gaming library to PDF form’s become quite appealing, for both cost reasons and since the last time I moved, I’ve become even more aware of how heavy all of my books have gotten to be.

  6. This got me thinking and I came up with something. I made a GM reference ePub. It’s only a few pages long. Flipping through 8 pages is far faster than 200. It was a pain to make but that’s probably because I’ve never played with the format before. I had to hand write the tables because they just wouldn’t come out right.

      1. At first I exported it from Apple’s Pages, it has an option for ePub. But ended up using a program called Sigil. It has a WYSIWYG but it doesn’t make tables.

  7. I bought a Kindle DX about two years ago, and I carried it with me to Origins and Gen Con in 2010. While I found it to be a passable replacement for heavy dead-tree books, I also found it to be much too slow for referencing books unless I already knew the precise page number. It’s also too slow to flip back and forth between pages in a PDF, especially if said PDF is heavily laden with artwork.

    Last year, I bought a Motorola Xoom (Android tablet), and I love it. When I went to Origins and Gen Con 2011, I carried one or two dead-tree rulebooks for my system of choice (I GM Shadowrun a lot) and the Xoom for the rest. I find this to be an optimal balance for me, because I use the core rulebook more heavily than others, but the PDFs on Xoom allowed me to have the other books on hand without all the dead tree weighing me down as I roam the convention center. I’ve found my tablet to be much faster at rendering PDFs, flipping pages, and so forth.

    I pretty much don’t use my Kindle anymore, since it’s just not designed for my reading style. I rarely read books linearly–I haven’t read a novel in nearly three years–the vast majority of my reading is reference style, just looking for key points and citations for research. I do have a few Kindle books, but I also have the Kindle app for Android.

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