A Tale of Two Books

Swords & Wizardry Complete

Swords & Wizardry Complete — gorgeous Erol Otus cover

ACKS core book

ACKS core book

That is, the ACKS core book and the recently reissued Swords & Wizardry Complete. For those that are not familiar with these systems, ACKS is a second generation clone that adds proficiencies and detailed economic domain rules to a base inspired by B/X D&D. Swords & Wizardry Complete is a first generation clone of OD&D and all the supplements with a few new ideas (like a single saving throw, support for ascending AC, and a challenge rating system). But I’m not going to talk about either of the game systems here. Instead, I’m going to consider at the physical books, both of which have notable strengths and weaknesses. I find the content in these books valuable, and would recommend both texts to anyone interested in old school D&D or its simulacra.

ACKS binding flaw -- click to enlarge

ACKS binding flaw — click to enlarge

The ACKS books is nicely laid out. However, the binding is terrible. It is glued (like a perfect binding), not sewn, despite having a hard cover. My copy has never seen play or a game table, and I have only occasionally leafed through it physically (I had access to the PDF well before the hardcopy arrived, and did most of my ACKS reading digitally). Despite this very light use, the back endpapers have somehow separated along the line of the spine, and the pages have begun to pull away from the spine.

Excellent sewn Swords & Wizardry binding

Excellent sewn Swords & Wizardry binding

The binding on the Sword & Wizardry Complete book (done by Frog God Games) is excellent. It is signature sewn and feels durable. All the Frog God books I have are similarly high quality (the recently kickstarted Rappan Athuk and the Tome of Adventure Design, for example). However, some of the internal images are horribly pixelated. I’m not sure what process was used for image transfer, but I can get better results with my iphone camera and home laser printer.

These criticisms are made in a spirit of love, not malice. I like both of these systems, wish them success, and may even play them directly some time. Even in the age of deluxe original reprints, and cheap PDFs of the Basic and Expert rules, there is still a place for the simulacra, especially when they introduce innovations (such as ACKS lairs and the Swords & Wizardry single saving throw), maintain communities dedicated to older styles of play, and offer free downloads (such as the “3 LBB” version Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox). However, some of the pleasures of this hobby are the physical artifacts, both in terms of art and book quality. Especially for their price, both of these books deserve better construction. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, in comparison, with a similar customer base, has managed to put out virtually flawless books (in terms of their physical qualities, at least).

Swords & Wizardry pixelation -- compare image to text

Swords & Wizardry pixelation — compare image to text

Swords & Wizardry pixelation -- compare image to text

Swords & Wizardry pixelation — compare image to text

Swords & Wizardry pixelation -- compare image to text

Swords & Wizardry pixelation — compare image to text

Swords & Wizardry Complete -- excellent stitched binding

Swords & Wizardry Complete — excellent stitched binding

ACKS -- perfect binding pretending to be a proper hardcover

ACKS — perfect binding pretending to be a proper hardcover

6 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Books

  1. Mike Monaco

    Like the “Holy Roman Empire” thing — “Perfect binding” is neither perfect nor binding. 🙁 I’d rather have a ‘saddle stitched’ (stapled) softcover than a perfect bound hardcover any day.

    Reply
    1. Brendan Post author

      @Mike

      Agreed. Stapled booklets (or even softcover perfect bound) are often better than low-quality hardcovers.

      Reply
  2. Paul Gorman

    I totally agree. DCC has the same problem with some of the art being pixilated or inappropriately halftone screened. Which is a shame, because the DCC art is really awesome.

    It’s pretty simple to fix. Ideally, art should be at the resolution of the output device. Failing that, it should be 600 dpi at print size; don’t even consider including anything less than 300 dpi at print size. Line art needs to be 1-bit rather than greyscale to avoid the fuzzy look of inappropriate halftone screening; it may take a little work with your photo editor’s threshold function to get this right without losing fine lines and small white areas.

    As for the binding, even the Lulu hardcovers I’ve seen are oversewn. There’s really no excuse these days to ship a book with only glue.

    Reply
  3. ramanan

    It’s kind of a suck so many OSR books are pretty shoddy. I feel like DCC RGP and LotFP are the only people putting out a consistently good product.

    It seems like Frog God is at least making an effort to think more about the physical quality of the books they are now putting out. I guess it’s hard to worry/spend too much money on that side of things, when the market for your products is probably quite niche. (Though I suspect because it’s probably not 12 year olds buying copies of ACKS or S&W, they can risk putting out pricier books.) I still don’t understand how Warhammer books cost so much and apparently sell well enough for them to keep making them.

    The nicest D&D book I own, by far, is Carcosa. That looks to have been done in a 2000 book print run, which doesn’t seem that big, but again i’m not sure how big the market for all of this stuff is.

    Originally posted on G+

    Reply
    1. Tavis

      Brendan, I’m sorry you had this problem but glad you brought it to our attention! I will follow your tip on G+ and talk to our printer Mcnaughton & Gunn about sewn signatures for the upcoming reprint of ACKS, and we’ll replace your copy from that printing. My original copies are holding up great after being hauled all over town, to cons, etc., and in the few other cases I’ve heard of where the glued bindings broke we blamed it on shipping and responded by improving the packing materials. Having a specific thing to look for in all the options one chooses when doing a traditional print run will help. Question for the audience: would you pay more for a sewn binding if it turned out to cost substantially more? I know Frog God is proud of how much they invest in printing and binding, and ACKS’ pricing is built around our original printer quotes.

      Reply
      1. Brendan Post author

        @Tavis

        Hey, sorry it took so long for your comment to show up! I’m still learning how to use WordPress, and the comment was stuck in a potential spam queue that I just discovered existed.

        Personally, I would definitely pay extra for a sewn binding.

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