The pdf market is presently dominated by three paradigms. First, most pdf marketplaces offer out of print roleplaying games at very affordable prices. What games are offered varies from site to site, but if you are looking to fill in a collection these portals are a great place to look. Second, is the production and release of currently published rpgs in pdf format. The idea being that some people prefer pdf to print and/or are willing to pay less than the printed version for a copy. Third is the release of pdf only products which allow for small companies to release fairly attractive products at low costs. Anyone who has done any work with printers knows that the "highest cost" item of any product is the printing costs. By entirely eliminating the printing cost from the equation, small publishers can release their products in abundance. A fourth practice (not wide enough to be a trend yet) is the pdf release of products on company sites. Steve Jackson Games, Hero Games, and Pinnacle Games are attempting this practice, though Hero and Pinnacle are taking a different tactic than Steve Jackson. Steve Jackson games offers their own products in addition to other pdf products, while Hero and Pinnacle offer their products at both their own sites and at other "retailers." Steve Jackson products are only available at e23, the Steve Jackson pdf retail store.
Electronic availability of gaming products is an exciting possibility, but it requires a certain amount of consumer honesty. While Drivethrurpg.com had at one time attempted to use DRM protections for their merchandise, they found that such protections had a negative impact on sales. This is due to various negative sentiments in parts of the computer literate community regarding DRM specifically and not protection generally. Other sites have not attempted the use of such technology to protect their products. What this means is that theft is a very real possibility. There is nothing to stop a consumer from purchasing a pdf and spreading it for free across the world, nothing that is except the honesty of consumers. Given that "I'm gonna take it for free because x has so much money already" is the excuse many use when file sharing, most of the independant publishers won't suffer, and given that the "big boys" all produce beautiful hardbound products one would think it wouldn't hurt them much either. But Green Ronin, one of the largest d20 rpg publishers, has encountered a couple of problems in the past year with hardcopy order fulfillment. To quote:
I'll state right off the bat that half of 2004 and most of 2005 have sucked ass for Green Ronin. It's been one discouragement after another, most importantly because our fulfillment partners at Osseum harmed our business more than I can even describe to you when they went out of business earlier this year. I can't even begin to get into the details, which are long and complicated and ugly and messy, but the short answer is Osseum went out of business and was damn close to taking Green Ronin with them. Nine months after ceasing to do business with them, we are STILL suffering the effects of their negligence.
In 2004 and early 2005 we released multiple books that we were never paid for. Big books, hard cover books, color books, even a boxed set. Books that sold! Books that people bought and enjoyed, books that received good reviews, made "hot seller" lists in the game industry, books that were recognized for awards. Books for which we didn't see a dollar. I want you all to understand that when you're talking about how Green Ronin should be doing things better or differently.
So when a major player is suffering on the printed end, theft on the digital end could spell disaster for a company. Thankfully, Green Ronin believes in the digital process and has made their products available as pdfs as soon as they are released as books (they even have some direct to pdf material). So the onus is on us as consumers if we want to see this exciting marketplace continue. Want to share a wonderful rpg with your friend, particularly a classic out of print one, feel free to email him or her the pdf but make sure you bought more than one license or that you don't keep the file if you sent it. It's just marketplace courtesy that allows the possibility of our own dreams of becoming famous starving game designers come true.
Here is a list of recommended pdf products with links. The list is by no means comprehensive, rather look at it as a beginning:
- The Afformentioned Out of Print Dungeons and Dragons Products. I prefer to buy them from RPGnow because I like their "credit" policy.
- The free, that's right free, second edition AD&D pdfs available from Wizards of the Coast. Personally, I would download these post-haste as they probably won't be available forever.
- The Basic Action Games BASH! line of games. These are a good example of a developing designer creating online direct rpgs. I think the system still needs development, it feels like a first edition, but that the company is having fun.
- Truth and Justice from Atomic Sock Monkey Press. Yes, you will notice a lot of superhero roleplaying games.
- The GURPS 3rd Edition materials on the Steve Jackson Website. I do believe the prices need to come down because these are out of print items. I think $12 to $16 is competitive for new materials, not old, but these are great products and there is some saving over the printed cost.
- Savage Worlds from Pinnacle Entertainment Group. These are new products from a great company. You can also buy these books at RPGnow.com. High recommedations for Savage Worlds Core Rulebook, Rippers, and Necessary Evil.
- Deadlands also available by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Player's Guide and Marshal's Handbook are necessities.
- Mutants and Masterminds by Green Ronin. This is one of my all time favorite superhero RPGs, it has replaced the old Mayfair system as the one I tinker with most.
- The Hero System Books. Like the GURPS books these are a little pricey, but they are cheaper than the printed versions. The Hero System is one of the most elaborate gaming systems ever devised. It is extremely "crunchy," by which is meant that it is very rules oriented, but the system is internally consistent. Some of these are also available at RPGnow and Drivethrurpg.com.
- Cyberpunk v. 3 is naturally available as a pdf. This is a revised version of the industry changing system by R. Talsorian Games. Mike Pondsmith, who created the game, is one of the most creative talents in gaming. He has often been ahead of the curve in his ideas (both the Dream Park and Castle Falkenstein rpgs are truly original), and hasn't always benefited from his innovations. His Cyberpunk rpg, for example, brought Cyberpunk into gaming, but it was Shadowrun which combined cyberpunk and fantasy that garnered a bigger part of the market. Oh, and R. Talsorian created the Dragonball Z rpg, an excellent game that was released two to four years to early.
- The Army of Darkness rpg by Eden Studios. Bruce Campbell...Zombies...you know you want it.
There are hundreds of other worthy products. So get out there and download some classics, or peruse a new idea.