D&D bookThe other day, I made an on-line purchase of an old TSR role-playing game PDF. Wizards of the Coast has recently begun offering a substantial portion of TSR’s back catalog through a number of PDF e-tailers; at some point I will write a longer entry looking at that phenomenon in greater depth. The store I used for this particular purchase was Paizo.com; it had the best price on the book I was looking for.

The book in question was the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, the penultimate compilation of all the old “Basic” D&D rules into a single volume. A friend was contemplating running a game of it, and at $4 for the whole book (without restrictive DRM but watermarked to discourage redistribution), I couldn’t lose.

However, as it turned out, a popular game supplement had been released as a PDF that very day, and currently everyone was downloading it—which meant that bandwidth left over for my download was minimal. I was getting a 1K per second transfer rate—which meant that the 80-megabyte file would take over 24 hours.

Pictures don’t lie

Given that I had just paid in full for the right to make use of that particular book in PDF, I had no qualms about obtaining a less-than-legitimate copy of it from another source. The file I found clocked in at 18 megabytes; I figured that it would do until I could complete my download of the “legitimate” one.

The next morning, my purchased download had completed, and I was able to make a side-by-side comparison of the legitimate and illicit versions. Based on the following images, which do you think is which?

Is this the legitimate one?

Or is this?

If you guessed from the misaligned table column on the top one and the colored backgrounds on the bottom one that the top was the illicit copy, you guessed right.

But which one of them is easier to read?

More licit is not more legible

The paper version of the Rules Cyclopedia, which I also have, is printed in black and green ink on off-white paper. There is no color artwork in it, save for green leaves on the header and footer filigree, and the green backgrounds on some tables. Nonetheless, it was scanned in color and treated as images with OCR’d text overlaid, producing an ivory-colored background—and a file size four times larger than the other one. The illicit version was scanned in black and white, apparently processed via OCR and reconstructed; it lacks the table backgrounds—but on the whole, it is much less blurry and more legible, and is the version I would prefer for reading. (Not to mention printing, given the cost of colored ink.) Also, though not directly related to readability, the illicit PDF file had a better, more detailed table of contents.

Understand, I am not condoning downloading books illicitly instead of purchasing them. Given that these books are available for purchase at incredibly inexpensive prices through multiple online outlets, supporting the publishers should be a no-brainer. However, it does appear that in some cases, the publishers could stand to learn a thing or two from the “pirates” about legibility.