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Have 2+ Copies of the Rules on Hand

This is a pretty basic tip, but one that took me a bit of time to figure out when I first started out as a GM: The more copies of the rules you have on hand, the better.

• For character creation, one copy per player is ideal.

• During the game, having at least two copies around is handy — one for you to reference, and one for your players to use.

• Between sessions, everyone needs enough time with the rules to choose new abilities, plan for the next game, level up, etc. Again, one per person is ideal.

It can be cost-prohibitive for every player to have a copy of the core rules, and while it’s ideal it’s certainly not mandatory. You can have just as much fun sharing one dog-eared book as you can with five copies.

PDFs — and printouts you make from those PDFs — can be a great way to save money in this department, though. If you have a laptop on hand during games, both PDF copies and online versions of the rules (like D&D’s SRD) can be readily available — and in the latter case, usually free.

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#1 Comment By Larry On September 18, 2007 @ 5:58 am

When I GM, unless it’s a game that I really want to run and I’m the only one who owns a copy of the material, AEG’s SG-1 for example, I put the onus of getting the rule set on my players. They’re adults, so it’s their responsibility. When I GM, no one but me touches my books. Fortunately for me, I have a player who’s very good about picking up a copy of the rules for himself, so at least one player at the table, excepting myself, has a copy to play with.

By the same token, when I game as a player, I make sure that I have the source material needed to play the game. I don’t like having to borrow/share books at the table. I always make sure that I own at the very least, the core book for the game.

#2 Comment By Michael Huxley On September 18, 2007 @ 6:39 am

Although this is an exception rather than the rule, one negative to that is having a player who is easily distracted (I’ve had a few) – who, as soon as it isn’t their turn, is flipping through any book they can get their hands on.

#3 Comment By Walt C On September 18, 2007 @ 6:57 am

I’ll usually try to get a PDF of the ruleset I’m currently using. For players at the table, I’ll often print out the relevant sections of the rules for each of them (the spells a PC mage has, a list of combat maneuvers, etc). This gives each player the tools they need without having to flip through an entire book. It also gives them something easily accessible to read and bone up on their own abilities.

I still keep an extra copy or two of the books at the table, though.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On September 18, 2007 @ 7:44 am

If I am pitching a new game, then I am usually the only one who has the rules and they get passed around for everyone. This is a bummer at character creation. Especially if we are doing it in a group. If we are running long campaigns, then it is essential to have a GM and a player copy for most stuff. The player copy can get passed around, but the GM needs his or her copy to look stuff up in. Especially if the book is well organized to make relevant information readily available as a reference guide.

PDFs work wonderfully, but from a publishing perspective it is a little nerve jangling to make your product available in a source that this can easily be duplicated. Especially in the RPG market, as soft as it is right now. Still the bread and butter of PDFS is being able to make the information available in the chunks that it is necessary in. I always like to see separate tools that allow you to get this information. Like a PDF of just spells, but formatted in a way for printing on index cards, etc. I also like to see those kind of supplements expanded. Give me something new when you are giving me a supplement.

#5 Comment By Carolina aka Troy Taylor On September 18, 2007 @ 7:54 am

Because I run open games in a game-store setting — there’s no expectation of having the rules the FIRST TIME a player joins a game.

By the second time, though, since we are in a game store, the players are always encouraged to spring for a copy.

Believe it or not, we had to institute this rule for dice, initially. In the early days, returning players hadn’t bothered to get their own dice.

#6 Comment By DNAphil On September 18, 2007 @ 8:42 am

I make it a rule that for any game I am playing, that I buy the HC version of the game, because that is how I like to read and learn the rules, and then I get the PDF version of the rules as well.

The PDF’s are great for having for reference. Often in the game, I will leave the HC version of the rules out for the players, and on my laptop, have the PDF available for reference.

#7 Comment By Walt C On September 18, 2007 @ 9:24 am

John brings up a good point. As an author of PDF products, I’m also sensitive to copyright issues. In my own games, I have no problem printing things out, as long as they stay at my table (I consider that personal use). It’s really no different than sharing a book, except that I’ve saved some time.

I’ve never “shared” PDFs with my buddies for two reasons: 1) it’s definitely copyright infringement (assuming you paid something for the PDF), and 2) PDFs are usually laughably inexpensive. If you want it, spend the 2-5 bucks to own it.

DNAphil, I’ve tried your method, but I guess since I went to school before the internet revolution, I find it quicker to thumb through a book than scrolling through a PDF. I much prefer printing out my references than leaving them on my laptop for a game.


#8 Comment By Frank Filz On September 18, 2007 @ 9:27 am

All sorts of good thoughts. PDFs help a lot. These days, I like to have a copy of the published book, and buy the PDF. That way I can easily have access to the rules at my desk (especially at work). I can also print out the PDF to have a 2nd copy available for gaming (and a copy that can serve as a loaner without worry about loss or damage to a $30-50 rule book, or an irreplaceable one).

Some solutions if you only have one copy of the rules:

– Assuming there isn’t stuff the GM needs to reference without the players knowledge, designate a player as the rule book person. They are in charge of looking up rules. This can speed game play if the GM can handle something else while the rule is looked up (even if it’s just expounding on the background of the setting or something).

– During char gen, work through the book as a group (“ok, everyone roll 3d6 6 times. Ok, the character classes are fighter, magic user, and cleric, etc…”). You may have to pass the book around a bit when people need to look at a table or something.

On another forum, there was a discussion about audio books. They would be cool for some aspects since the audio media won’t get tired of reading aloud, or start mumbling, things that have happened when I’ve tried to read rules aloud to the players.

One thing that I appreciate is when the rule set is broken into several books. That makes it easier to share a single copy of the rules. I would love to see a system where the chargen was broken down into one book per character class (ok, Traveller ended up this way sort of, with the various supplements each covering a single service).


#9 Comment By Walt C On September 18, 2007 @ 11:46 am


Point Taken 🙂 You can see which end of the market I generally work for! Although, to be fair, a $15-20 cut is a pretty good deal.

Most PDFs are still much cheaper than the hardbacks (and the hardbacks can often be found at or near PDF prices on Amazon). Oddly, most WOTC PDFs are highly priced (I’ve often chosen to get the book from Amazon rather than the PDF because the price difference was negligible.

Generally, you don’t need multiple copies of supplements such as the Players Handbook II , as only a player or two might need it(unless your group is primarily made up of Duskblades and Knights; even then, WOTC offers the Knight as a free download). I’m not sure about Ptolus.

#10 Comment By John Arcadian On September 18, 2007 @ 12:11 pm


You are completely right about the prices of PDFs. For some things they are OUTRAGEOUS! I have a hard enough time justifying $35 for a hardcover book. Especially when I am not sure of the quality of the product. Dropping that much on a PDF (or more in the case of some of your examples) is insane. The beauty of a book is that it is physical and easily accessible. It feels like some companies are double dipping. You are paying for design and content once. With a PDF you aren’t paying for shipping, binding, printing, etc. Why charge more? You can make the same profit margin with a lower price and get a higher number of customers.

Still the fact that PDFs are so copyable is always going to be an issue. So I can see where some companies feel that they are selling the book at a fair price because you, your friend, their friend, and possibly torrentworld are going to have it. Conversely, there is no great PDF protection scheme that isn’t breakable, invasive, or annoying. Still it’s no reason for inflated PDF prices.

#11 Comment By Walt C On September 18, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

Honestly, what I’d like to see more of is a company offering the PDF for free if you already own the Hardcover.

#12 Comment By Dave T. Game On September 18, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

Not having enough copies of the material was one big reason the Iron Heroes game I was in didn’t last. I had the PDF, and a bound print out, but even with nearly everyone owning laptops, almost no one was willing to learn the rules. Either the DM or I would have to give them their options constantly, or they’d fight over the printed copy to do their own lookups, which had problems because they hadn’t read the other relevant portions.

So I agree, and I agree with having PDFs in principle (because I have no problem reading and learning from PDFs) but there’s still plenty of resistance.

#13 Comment By Martin On September 18, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

(Alan De Smet) (Martin, any chance of ul/li tag support in the comments?)

I think that’s theme-dependent, and I don’t know how to change it. I really need to upgrade my WP version (a nightmarish process given all the changes I’ve made), and I’d rather not try to figure this out before potentially wiping it out anyway. For now, hopefully you can live without this — sorry about that!

(Walt C) Honestly, what I’d like to see more of is a company offering the PDF for free if you already own the Hardcover.


I think I get the whole “PDF version costs about the same as the print version” mentality, as the same amount of work went into producing both versions — so in theory they should have nearly the same value for gamers, right? Wrong, IMO — at least for now.

When a much more significant number of GMs are relying on laptops for their games (D&D Insider, anyone?), I can see people switching over entirely to PDF versions of books they otherwise might have bought in print.

Until then, though, I think PDFs should be offered at a substantial discount over their print brethren — and whenever possible, given away to purchasers of the hardcopies.

#14 Comment By Kestral On September 19, 2007 @ 9:34 am

WotC will be having a system by which you can get the PDF for your 4e books to use online. I don’t know how it works, but I believe official word is that it will be free or only cost a few dollars. And once unlocked, you can directly use the material in their upcoming game table software.. and there might end up being some way for GMs to allow players to ‘share’ access to this.

Pretty nice, but I’m still leery of the whole subscription model thing. Not what I’m looking for when I’m trying to use online game-table software.