Analog has its Advantages

Now that we have fully entered the 21st century, more digital tools and resources are available than ever, and the trend is shows every sign of continuing.   The tension between digital and analog in gaming is nothing new, – I programmed my first character creator for my Commodore 64 in 1987 – and parallels the conflict found in the music and movie industries.  Now that we’re a year and a half into the 4th edition / DnD Insider era, it’s time to focus on a few things that analog does well.

When I started gaming in the mid 80s, role-playing games were referred to as ‘pen and paper’ games to differentiate them from video games and board games.  Dungeons and Dragons begins with the rule books and character sheets.  What advantage do books have over digitized information?

The first is the pure joy of holding a book, looking at its pages and smelling the ink.  Subjective pleasures aside, if you have space, you can spread your books out and have lots of information available, all at the same time.  Unless you have three or more 19” monitors, digitized information can’t compete.  During 4th edition character creation, I’ve also found that using books and paper forces me to really learn the mechanics behind the new character. When I have to calculate each advantage and disadvantage myself, I find myself better prepared to start playing.

While Wizards of the Coast does a great job of adding content to 4th edition via the Insider, there are a number of other companies who also add interesting content.  Third party publishers can push the edge of the design envelope that you won’t see from WOTC, and, in many cases, they’re able to explore design space long in advance.  Goodman Games published books featuring the Dragonborn, Eladrin and Tiefling races throughout 2009 (some may have appeared in 2008), while the ‘official’ racial books won’t begin appearing from WOTC until 2010.  Mongoose Publishing has a line of Quintessential class books that may be interesting to those playing rogues, fighers or wizards.  None of this content is integrated into the DnD Insider, so if you want to use it, you have to start analog.



Filed under Third Party Publishers

9 responses to “Analog has its Advantages

  1. OMG. I tried to program a character generator on the C64 in 1987. I ran out of code space. Reading this article was just too freaky of a memory for me. 🙂

  2. What, no love for all the 4E support from Kobold Quarterly and Open Design?

    Lots of adventures, monsters, and magic, and a whole vampire-ruled setting in the Imperial Gazetteer.

    • Wolfgang, I stand corrected!

      I do have trouble getting my hands on Kobold Quarterly – for some reason my local gaming shops don’t carry it (and I’ve asked!), so it dropped off the radar.

  3. I won’t disagree about having dead tree books. I have many many 4e books that I can hold in my hands and read despite my DDI subscription. As for third party stuff, that’s where I’m wary. The mess that was 3/3.5e third party material has left a dark cloud on it for 4e. There is good stuff out there and I’ve read some of it, but it’s hard to shake that feeling.

    • I didn’t play during that era, but I’ve seen some of the stuff you’re talking about. It’s a different world now, and I believe the quality is higher. To an extent, that is the risk you take when you investigate new and potentially compelling material.

  4. Tzenes

    If I understand your point correctly, you feel there is an aesthetic value in having a book in your hands.

    Maybe its because I’ve been using computers my whole life, or because in 1987 I was still wearing diapers, but I don’t share your opinion. I’m not saying you’re wrong for feel this way, but I receive no joy in the tactile sensation of opening up a book. Spreading out a number of textbooks on my counter top (as I used to do back in college) lead to things getting lost, or spilled on, and was often more confusing than helpful.

    Instead I prefer to have a number of PDFs, spread sheets and Web browsers arranged across my two monitors (20″ both). Tabs neatly arranged with data, organized by character, or party, or campaign. I still preform the calculations by hand, but instead of rustling around for phb 2 (or was it 1, which one has class X in it?), I merely open up another tab on chrome and load up the DDI. The only fear of spillage is across my keyboard, and my notes are quickly search and even spell checked.

    I’m not saying I disagree that there is value in books, merely that I don’t find the same value you seem to.

    • This post was intended to focus on the benefits of books, so I didn’t get into the advantages of digital. It sounds like you have a sweet set-up, and I’m sure that helps.

      What if you want to create a character with your other gamers, away from your 20″ monitors?

      I’ve also found that my books become worn in the places I refer to most often. My PH1 often opens right to the Paladin page, and I’m familiar enough with the content that I don’t have trouble finding what I need. Granted, that only helps when I’m playing with my usual character in my normal campaign, and there isn’t much of a search function – though I think the index is better than folks give it credit for.

    • This is some great feedback for the industry.

      As a technologist and an old time gamer I am both. I do almost none of my session planning using books. However, during game play we don’t use any computers (except for one iPhone which we’ve needed to find a map we forgot to print out one time.) So I’m with you on PDFs and I’m with the others on books. I use books as my primary way of learning the mechanics. I lay in bed reading them.

      However, the one of my major complaints about Wizards is the lack of PDF supply. To get the PDF I would have to break a copyright.

      I know that most of the third party vendors are actually making their products available in PDF format. However, getting a printed hard copy is harder. The problem I have with a PDF world is the wear on my printer. Its just too costly, time consuming, and challenging to get the printouts I want in the quality I want them let alone bind them.

      • I’m not sure what I think about PDFs. I miss my Dragon magazine, but it sure is handy to store and find information when it’s all electronic.

        But then, I tend to be a late adopter.

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