Friday, April 11, 2014

A Look At Personal POD -- When PDFs Just Won't Do

As much as I love the convenience of having all of my gaming rulebooks uploaded onto my tablet, there's something about picking up and thumbing through an actual print book that gets my imagination running. I like the feel of the pages, and I like flipping back and forth as I look for some forgotten rule or minutiae. But sometimes those books just don't exist anymore -- if they ever did at all. One service that a savvy -- and, let's face it, honest -- gamer can use to create these tomes is through the use of a one-off, personal-use-only, print-on-demand service.

NOTE: Before I launch into this post, let me address the fact that I realize that POD services can be used and abused by the unscrupulous. This post wasn't written to open up yet another debate of author/publisher rights and literacy piracy and what-not. This post is to give you some creative ideas on ways to use this one-off personal print/bind service. Also, each project shown here was created using either purchased-for PDFs printed for personal use only; PDFs made freely available by the authors and, again, printed for personal use only; and hardcopy materials I personally possess that I scanned and printed for yadda yadda yadda. You get the idea. Everything done here was on the up-and-up to the best of my knowledge and ability. With that said...

A rulebook bibliophile can use a personal POD service for any number of reasons:

  • To get a print copy of a book that might be otherwise unavailable or long out of print.
  • To compile loose materials into one comprehensive tome.
  • To replace a well-read and loved book that's falling apart with a new copy that will hold up over the years.
  • To create and bind a personal project far better than can be done at home. 
  • To have a hardcover version made of a book you possess in flimsy softcover.

For example, here are some uses I've found for the personal one-off print run:
I've been hunting for copies of the Rules Cyclopedia and Creature Catalog for years, but every copy I've stumbled across has been in shabby shape and/or has been priced far into the stratosphere. So, I purchased the PDFs from D&D Classics and had them printed and bound. Cost me about $50 for the PDFs, printing, and shipping, but I now have two brand-new copies of these erstwhile tomes on my bookshelf to use. (And because of PDF watermarking to combat piracy, each and every page of both books has my name on them. Odds of them ending up in someone else's hands? "Nil.")

One of my favorite modern roleplaying games is Fiasco. Over time, I had amassed a sizable collection of freely-available and distributed "playsets" for the game that were getting rather mangled in the folder I kept my printouts in. So, to keep everything organized, I compiled the various playset files into one large electronic document. I then created a cover for the playsets that emulated the look and feel of the original Fiasco rules. Printed and bound, now I have a massive volume to bring to the table when we sit to play. (Even the art and fonts I used on the cover were free-use public domain materials.) The Fiasco community reacted rather positively to this project, including one of the game's authors.

I'm quite fond of the Pacesetter Action Table System -- have been for years. The new hardback volumes of Timemaster, Majus, Rotworld, and Cryptworld hold a place of honor on my gaming shelf. However, my Chill boxed set didn't quite fit amongst the hardbacks, and finding the Star Ace boxed set is impossible. So, again, I purchased the Star Ace PDF from Drive Through RPG (watermarked and everything), then set the file up for a one-off hardcopy book. The Chill  project was a bit more involved. There are no legal-to-puraches PDFs available, so I meticulously scanned my boxed set's manuals page-by-page over the course of a week or two. I used the box lid and bottom for the front/back covers, assembled and formatted the files, then had a one-off hardcopy of it printed as well. This may well be the only "full" hardcover collection of the entire Pacesetter RPG line in existence.

As long as you stay within acceptable rights for "personal use only" and use materials you legally purchased and/or possess, using a one-off, personal-use-only, print-on-demand service beats an inkjet printer and three-ring binder every time.


  1. I agree. PDFs are wonderful but print is the best! Looking to do much the same with my growing PDF collection. Thank goodness for Lulu.

  2. Not to be dense, but do you use Lulu for this service?

    1. Lulu is just one of the many POD services that have popped up over the years, but there are dozens out there. The Book Patch; Gardners; CPI; and local printers in your neighborhood.

  3. That Chill compendium is brilliant.

  4. That Rules Cyclopedia idea is awesome. Did you have to do anything special to the PDF or does Lulu take it as it comes purchased?

  5. Any recommendations of which POD service to use?

  6. Great collection, Tim! I agree that a hardcopy beats PDF for the kind of repeated reading, practical use, and abuse, that a game book will receive. I used to bind my own with comb-binding or staples, but it's probably worth the expense to get it done in hardcover.