Thumbing Through Zweihander’s Phone-Friendly New Design

Isn’t it kind of weird that trying to read RPGs on our phones has always been kind of a crappy experience, full of pinch-zooming our way into columns and blindly scrolling in search of the rule you need? Well, the folks behind Zweihander seem to think so, and are showing off what they think phone-friendly RPGs should look like with a new take on their core rulebook.

Just to make it clear, this isn’t going to be a review of the book itself (that’s here), but rather a look at how well the team over at publishers Andrew McMeel have put together the new format and how it actually works.

In short: Pretty damn well.

The biggest factor in all this is that the designers have done a hell of a lot more than just shrink the page size down and call it a day. Instead, they seem to have thought about how most people actually going to use the PDF at the table.

After all, you probably aren’t going to be reading out huge chunks of the rules or learning about the core mechanics on your phone. Instead, you’re going to be loading it up to quickly glance over your advances, double-check the phrasing of a spell or look up the monster you just rolled up on a random table.

With this in mind, every single page of the rulebook has a snappy little link to the index running down the side. Want to check out the rules for a critical success? Tap ‘C’, tap the entry and you’re on the right page. Want to peruse the bestiary? Just pop open the table on contents, tap the link and get scrolling.

Without wishing to sound like an advert, is really is that fast.

The Grim Glossary

If there’s a problem with this design, it’s that it lives and dies by the quality of the index. I’ve always maintained that this is a vital part of any rulebook, but when the alternative is searching through 2,000+ tiny pages its importance is amplified even further.

Fortunately the index for the Zweihander corebook is pretty solid overall. There are a few tricks you need to know – like the fact that if you want to look up the disguise skill you need to know to look under ‘S’ for skills first, and then click your way through to right page – but it took maybe five minutes for me to be comfortable bouncing from article to article.

Well, most of the time anyway. As things stand the ‘Professions’ entry – which is kind of an important one – seems to be lacking a link.

While I am utterly convinced this will be fixed before most of you even download the book it still highlights one of the potential risks with moving into a digital format with thousands of little tags and snippets of code. However, I’d certainly argue that this is a pretty minor issue in the grand scheme of things.

Format of the Future?

So, the question remains: is this the new format we should look for in RPGs?

The answer is both yes and no.

Would I use this as a full alternative to the physical book or a full-size PDF that I can easily browse on my computer or tablet? Ehh, probably not. Flicking through thousands of pages and having to bounce back between paragraphs and tables split across different screens doesn’t seem the ideal way to absorb a new game.

However, as a complementary reference guide to pull out at the table with folks who already have a handle on the system it’s genuinely wonderful. It makes looking up rules and double-checking monster stats an absolute breeze, and offers all the portability of a full-size PDF without needing to shell out on a tablet.

As a proof-of-concept Zweihander Phone PDF is a roaring success. The physical rulebook they worked off is an absolute slab of a product that’s stuffed with all manner of tables and charts, and if they managed to make it work in this slimline format I don’t see why other systems couldn’t adopt similar ideas.

With a bit of luck other publishers will be able to take similar steps in the future and the tyranny of pinch-zooming will come to an end. Frankly, I don’t think this bright, shining future can come quite fast enough.

If you want to check the new rulebook out, you can download it for free through DriveThruRPG until 11:59 p.m. CDT, Oct. 11, 2019.

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