My thoughts on PDFs vs. printed books

Paper or Plastic? Recently I noticed a discussion on Google+ about whether gamers prefer PDFs or printed books. This subject crops up from time to time and I noticed that with the greater availability of tablet PCs more and more people start to pick electronic versions of roleplaying game books over the dead tree versions. So I thought I should share my thoughts on this subject with my dear readers.

I always have been an early adopter of new technologies and my collection of roleplaying game PDFs is much, much larger than my collection of printed books. PDFs are especially handy when it comes to preparing games. Looking up things is much easier because of full-text search and you can easily copy sections you want to reuse in your cheat sheets or player handouts. A lot of us do their prep work on the PC anyway.

I know from conversations I had with other gamers that a lot of groups have completely switched to PDFs and tablet PCs at the game table. If everyone in the group has a tablet PC or smartphone with a reasonably big screen, using PDFs instead of dead tree versions of books may make a lot of sense. From my D&D 3.5 days I still remember the hassle to carry around half a dozen of heavy hardbound books all the time. So using a tablet PCs and PDFs is the reasonable thing to do for most GMs.

But for some reason I still prefer using mostly dead tree books at the game table. One reason may be that I just like to leaf through real books. The physical sensation of leafing through a book and the smell of the paper are still almost magical to me. I guess nostalgia plays a major role here.

I own a lot of games I will probably never run and in these cases I am more than happy with the PDF version alone. But with the games I run, I prefer to have a dead tree copy of the rules in addition a PDF copy. For preparing the game and quickly looking up things I use the PDF (on my PC or tablet PC) and while running I rely on the paper version. For Stars Without Number I actually got a second copy of the printed book so I can give one copy to my players as well.

I guess that in the future I’ll probably rely more often on PDFs alone. In most cases PDFs are cheaper and if you own a reasonably fast tablet PC they have quite a few advantages over the dead tree version. What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you have the same feeling for dead tree books as I do, or have you fully embraced the digital age? Please share your thoughts below.