So, I hate pdfs. Any advice on hating them less?


Hobbit on Quest
Does this research only apply to people who grew up with books?
If this is the research I've run into - no. Of course, that depends on what you mean by grew up with books. Do you mean with easy access to books in the home? Or are you referring to a generational difference between those of us old enough to have grown up on books before screens became ubiquitous?

In any event, they were were also looking at people who grew up after the introduction of substantial screen presence.... if this is the research I ran into.


Mod Squad
Staff member
Does this research only apply to people who grew up with books?

Maybe it's an object permanence thing.
Sort of. It is, at least in part, a mental map thing.

Consider, for a moment, how you use a D&D paper rulebook. You want to find something in it, and start flipping pages. You probably flip past a couple of pages, and they look right, and stop, and there you are. This is using a mental map of the book - different pieces of art and layout, where the headings on pages are, and such, become landmarks for where you are in the text. You can find what you need based on the "landscape" of pages.

Your memory often references information the same way - you remember it was in a book, you think of where, and then think of the information on the page. You run through the mental map in your head.

This falls apart when you don't have a mental map. And, we don't usually successfully make such maps about electronic products - we don't typically flip through them, we use search functions, and so never generate the map via repeated viewings of the pages in sequence. And that imparis the map-reference version of your memory.


Yes, I think that's why 13th Age seemed different in physical form. Didn't have mental map from pdf.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
To be fair, even kids who’ve grown up with tablets and smart phones prefer reading physical books when reading as a leisure activity.

Deleted member 7015506

You experience what I would call a kind of nostalgia.
I have an e-reader (kindle), since many OOP books I like (especially english language ones) are dirt cheap when published that way.
But on a more trivial basis I am with you. I rather have a good old hard copy in my hands than using the modern ways. Has something to do with growing up with the media, easier to write small notes or references in the text or in the case of RPGs and boardgame rules to add FAQs and errata the old way - paper.
Discussions like that remind me always of the movie, where Danny DeVito is a teacher for some army grunts and introduces them to books: "And this is how to handle it" (just opens the cover and flips through the first page).
I also prefer books to PDFs, but luckily the well known suspects often offer print copies also (and often in conjunction with the PDF). So for me just a matter of budget (I still have this endless wishlist on DriveThru to work down ;) )


I crit!
Hmmm, mental map.

One of the things I do is the full layout view to navigate. It presents a thumbnail of a lot of pages in a gallery form that I can quickly scan around in. I do think I have a mental map built from those.
So, I hate pdfs. Any advice on hating them less?

But here's the problem. I hate .pdfs. ..., it's more of a, "Why isn't this a book?"'s not an instinctive Luddite reaction...

Instead, it's something particular to books, and by extension, I think, to RPG books. I just don't seem to enjoy long periods of reading a single thing on a screen. It's not the same as curling up with a book.

Nor is it the same when you have to bring a tablet (or what have you) to the gaming table.
Everytime someone insists on only selling you a pdf, take a chainsaw out into an old-growth forest and cut down a tree. Preferably one with a spotted owl nesting in it.

Eventually they'll get the message that to "save a tree," they need to print you an effing book. (Y'all can print it on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, if it makes you feel better.)


Possibly a Idiot.
There is basically one problem with PDFs.

Most publishers and people haven't mastered the art of using an interactive medium. We've had books for several hundred years, and PDFs for a little over 10. As a result, some publishers do little more than take a book printing file, make the file searchable and maybe add hyperlinks, and call it a day. Which makes the experience akin to eating a cake that hasn't been shoved in an oven yet.

Books have had to figure out kerning, and margins, and optimal text sizes, and how to incorporate pictures, and more. It took a lot of time, trial, and error. Eventually we will get something more than just print files, and then E-documents will have the proper opportunity to catch up and surpass books by using things like incorporated audio and video files, automatic calculations, and interactive features.
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A few suggeations;
  • computer glasses. These actually are just glasses with a blue light filter. The look a little yellow in certain light but help
  • portrait screen orientation, especially for 2 ccolumn books
  • adjust your screen temperature/color scheme. Windows 10 has a Nightlight mode that helps. It (again) is just a blue light filter)
  • enable the blue light filter on your device if it has one.
  • try an ebook reader app and see if you like it better. They often have better navigation and color themes. Right now I'm using Calibre, but havent decided if it's my preference yet.

Notice the theme? Its almost all about the ccolor of light that is reaching your eyes. Change your screen colors etc to find something that works better for you. Note that books are actually pretty yellow, low brightness, and higher contrast. Try to mimic that.


Dying in Chargen
Maybe! But I think it's a little more than that, since it's not just RPG books.

I don't like ebooks (novels) either.

...and it's not because of reading on a screen- I do that all the time. For work and pleasure. But my limit is probably a "longform" piece- I just can't even stand the idea of reading a novel or "book-length" text on the screen.
I agree in not having a huge fondness for reading pdf's, or e-books either (just back from checking a book out from the library in fact). Nevertheless, here is my pub gaming gear:

trav kit 1.jpg

A porfolio with a fire, etc.; this means no greasy fingerprints on my game books from '81, very compact, plus it reduces people's urge to flip through the book looking for a rule, so we just wing it. Nothing in that picture is a heartbreaking irreplaceable loss either, if I lose it, or if it gets stolen. Those are the benefits; however, I still prefer having a printed book to read and grok the rules, to the point I'll pay $70 for Swedish game book, such as I did with M-Space.


I got over my dislike of .pdf books by reading the Shadowrun 5E rulebook in hardcopy. After twenty pages, my arms were exhausted from just holding the book.


Mod Squad
Staff member
You experience what I would call a kind of nostalgia.
I wouldn't say it is just nostalgia. Like many of us, I read a whole lot of fiction, and I grew up with paperback novels as the mainstay of my reading. These days, almost all of my fiction-reading is on an e-reader (I use a Nook, with an e-ink screen). I have no problem reading fiction in this format.

But the tiny nook is not good for full-color, large format pages of gaming book pdfs. And, as many here, I am not a fan of reading long term on the led screen of my tablet, and I dont' find the tablet nearly as good for reference (see notes about mental maps, above).

So, I will read electronic formats just fine. I don't need a paper book - unless we are talking about large-format, color pages, and stuff that I am apt to use not just as reading, but as a reference later. Thisisn't about nostalgia, but about subtle bits of usability of electronic formats for human eyes and brain.


Having a monitor that rotates can be a big help if you read 2 column PDFs at a desktop. I hate having to scroll up and down the page to read columns. Most monitors do a great job when rotated 90 degrees.

I also use blue light filters pretty much constantly to help reduce eyestrain. I tend to buy the core books in hard, the ones I'll use all the time, but more peripheral or just for interest books as PDFs. Part of that is the immense cost of shipping anything to where I live, but I also only have so much physical room for gaming books.


My advice, leverage the useful aspects of the PDFs as RPG tools.

For example the $1 level of the deal includes the massive swords and wizardry Monstrosities book. I used to copy and paste statblocks I expected to use in upcoming game nights from the srd and a ton of PDFs and found it useful. Having the statblocks on a single printed out page is a lot more convenient than flipping around in monster books, especially if you have a couple different monsters in a single encounter that are not on the same page in the monster manual or are from a number of sourcebooks.

As a DM I would regularly search things like NPC names in sourcebooks or modules so I could read up on them comprehensively or go back for information on them I only half remembered after the first read through.

Printing out maps or handouts from modules or emailing them to the group so they can reference them is useful.

Same for relevant art from the PDFs.


Expert Long Rester
I'm not a big fan of PDFs either, and I read ebooks all the time.

I think I'm angry that electronics versions of RPG books haven't gone far enough.

What I want is a wiki. Hyperlinks so when I click on a spell name I get the spell.

DnD Beyond has spoiled me.