In some ways Wizards of the Coast has made great strides in supporting electronic gaming. They have been steadily releasing their impressive back catalog in PDF through the D&D Classics website. The D&D Basic rules are available as a free download from the Wizards of the Coast website. They provide officially licensed content for the Fantasy Grounds which gives them a virtual table top, a character creation tool, and even a digital distribution tool for their books. Despite these strides though, there is currently no way to legally buy the D&D 5e Core Rule Books in a PDF format. This is frankly unbelievable in the year 2015.
PDFs are important. While there may be some issues with PDFs, the format has been around since 1993 (22years) at this point. It is an open format, which means there are a plethora of PDF readers available, and they are available for any OS on the market. PDF is the standard for RPG books, and indeed most reference style books.
No offense to the Fantasy Grounds guys, but I will be extremely impressed if it is still available in 22 years to read the content Wizards of the Coast has made available through their license. Also, launching Fantasy Grounds just to read the core rule books is frankly overkill. While it is a competent virtual table top, it would be crazy to invest the money in Fantasy Grounds if all you want is the books in an electronic format.
So what is wrong with just reading the physical books that Wizards of the Coast is publishing? It is not that there is anything wrong with them, but PDFs have advantages that make them more practical for many people. For starters, they don’t take up as much space. It is easy to bring your entire library of game books over to someone’s house in digital format, obviously not if they are physical books. It is amazing how much space these books take up. When I moved to Arizona, my gaming books filled more than twenty banker boxes, most of which are still stacked up in my garage! For many people, storing this many books is simply not practical.
PDFs are also easily searchable, which helps both with game prep and when looking up a rule during the game. Can’t remember how grappling works in D&D 5e? Just type in “grappling” into the search box and you will have the answer in seconds. Lets say you are entering your character into Roll20. While you can retype all your spells by hand, cutting and pasting them from a PDF is a real time saver. Believe it or not, PDFs are a competitive advantage in today’s market place, and are one of the primary reasons why the Lords of Tyr switched to Pathfinder for one of our two regular games.
What about piracy? Well, not making legal PDFs has not stopped that from happening. Illegal copies of all the current D&D 5e books are readily available online if you want them. The only people prevented from getting PDF versions of D&D 5e books right now are those who want to pay for them.
Look, I like the beautiful, high quality physical books Wizards of the Coast produces as much the next guy. Even if PDF versions of the core rulebooks were available, I am sure I would have bought both the physical and PDF versions of these books, especially if Wizards of the Coast offered a physical and PDF bundle like most RPG companies do nowadays. PDFs would also make me much more likely to try out books that I am not certain I would want to take up room on my ever more precious shelf space.
So come on Wizards of the Coast…