Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Size Matters, So Digest This...

When we first published Pits & Perils, lots of people assumed it was a digest-sized affair because, you know, Dungeons & Dragons.  The rules, which definitely took on wargaming's pretensions, were often compared to Chainmail, yet another digest-sized production; and while yours truly remains deeply honored by the comparison, our game was probably more influenced by Holmes Basic and FGU's Archworld, two letter-sized rulebooks...

The early days brought some great digests; not just OD&D but an assortment of others, all charmingly rendered in neat, saddle-stitched packages.  And it's easy to see why from a purely practical standpoint.  Most rulebooks aren't stapled down one side.  They're folded and either glued into the binding or saddle stitched to make one; and what do you get when you fold a letter-sized page in half?  You get a digest.  So yeah, digests.

But letter-sized rulebooks have their own advantages; and it's not at all surprising that this was quickly (and almost universally) adopted once the money started flowing.  Not only can you fit more text onto a single printed page, not to mention more charts, tables, and more ambitious illustrations (with equally ambitious layouts, by the way); they're also the same size as the notebook paper, character sheets, and graph paper you're already using.


So here's an incomplete list of digest-sized rulebooks from the early days, with the admission that we've probably left out a lot.  Still, there's some classic stuff here...

Arduin, Boot Hill, En Garde, OD&D (and its assorted supplements), Traveller

Followed by a list of early letter-sized rulebooks, every bit as incomplete...

AD&D, Adventures in Fantasy, Bunnies & Burrows, Bushido, B/X/BECMI/Holmes, Chivalry & Sorcery, Gamma World, Runequest, (the great) Tunnels & Trolls, Villains & Vigilantes 

We'll freely admit to more digest titles; but there's a palpable trend.  Letter-sized rulebooks, often packaged in boxed sets, came to predominate early on; and I'm ashamed we didn't include more Chaosium stuff (Cthulhu and Elric, especially), because these were state-of-the-art productions back in gaming's youth. Oh, and those three-hole punches in B/X and 2nd Edition's Monster Manual really spoke to the expected compatibility of this size... 

Which is to say, size matters.  Always has.  Always will.  But in this time of modern (and decidedly digital) self-publishing, choices abound.  We've tried to recreate the hobby's early, amateur aesthetic, and this definitely leaves room for a letter-sized style.  But we've also experimented with a digest format (Diceless Dungeons, especially) and found this not only nostalgic, but also easier - proving that in life and gaming, some things never change.

24 comments:

  1. "Booklet" may be another term you could use.

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  2. I always wondered why they were "digests" but always tasted so bad. This makes so much more sense.

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    Replies
    1. The staples cut your windpipe going down...

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    2. Dunking them in your cup of tea makes them much less inedible

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    3. Interesting; will have to give it a shot. Though I'll have to find my golf bag...

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  3. I'm torn. I like both digest and letter-sized formats. The usual reasons.

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  4. ISTR some Games Workshop stuff coming in A4 size pre-punched for TWO ring binders. Of course two ring binders are not a thing on this side of the Atlantic.

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  5. "Not only can you fit more text onto a single printed page, not to mention more charts, tables, and more ambitious illustrations -"

    That's why you do digest, it stops you blathering on too much, makes you keep it simple :)

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  6. I started in the *Age of Trapper Keeper*, but these days I do appreciate a little book.

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  7. The Digest/Booklet size helps with travel. I appreciate the ability to take and A5 notebook and Digest/Booklet size rulebook with me and have used just as much space in my bag. Leaving room for other items that either facilitate the game. Or just save some wear and tear on the back.

    Also I will echo the sentiment that by limiting the real-estate that you have to work with, everything has to be more concise and worthwhile in your statements. You can't simply say well here is some extra fluff. If you have fluff it has to be worth much more in its weight.

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  8. "letter-sized rulebooks have their own advantages"

    Lies, all lies. Digest all the way. But you already knew I was going to say that, didn't you? I almost feel like this post is trolling me. :)

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    Replies
    1. What Matt said. Sorry James, you’re gonna have to redo the whole catalog. You can start with *cough* Pits & Perils.

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    2. I can't say I wasn't thinking of you, Matt! ;-)

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