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Converting RPG PDFs to ebook Formats for Free

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I've downloaded several dozen RPG PDFs over the last year -- some for free and some for money. I've always wanted to be able to read them on my Nook. However, reading standard-sized PDFs on a Nook is an awful experience. It's even worse if the PDF has multiple columns. I've tried programs like Calibre that allow you to convert PDFs to epub and other ebook formats, but the resulting ebook files were generally unusable. This was especially true of multi-column PDFs as the converters ignored the columns assuming everything on one line (no matter how many columns) belonged together. I gave up.

A week or so ago, I stumbled across the free Mobipocket Reader Desktop. I had not noticed this program before as it converts PDFs to the mobi format (the Kindles's format?). However, I tried it and it converts multi-column PDFs intelligently (for the most part) and produces fairly readable mobi files which I can then convert to epub format with Calibre.

There are limitations, however. Obviously, it can't do much with PDFs what are simply pictures of the text pages -- like some scan PDFs of very old material. The text has to be present as text in the PDF for conversion to have a chance. Also, it does not handle pull quotes or sidebars all that well. I just plugs them in wherever they fall in the column/text sequence. This can made reading ebook files converted from PDFs with sidebars and pull quotes something of a pain as you suddenly go from text to the pull quote or sidebar then back to the main text without any warning. Also, as usual, tables do not convert well at all.

However, I'm now able to read much of Labyrinth Lord (the first few pages did are unreadable, but everything else is workable, weird), Adventurer Conqueror King, and Fantasy Craft on my Nook. I'll be trying other PDFs as I get a chance. Again, this isn't perfect, but it is free and it works better than anything else I've tried. Until publishers start releasing ebook versions of their products, this will help.

The Leap Month Cancer Fund Drive is on (through March 18, 2012). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a one of five items described in the above-linked post: Daystar West Media edition of Pharaoh (1980)(won by Melson Davis), FEZ 1 (the 1982 Valley of Trees version), the Quest for the Fazzlewood from Metro Detroit Gamers, Empire of the Petal Throne boxed set (won by Janice Allison), and a set of all of the issues of The Strategic Review and the first ten issues of Dragon Magazine. Multiple drawings will be held as described in the above linked post. The two highest donors (in amount donated) will receive Classic Traveller items or the four Bloodstone Pass modules. These items is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

As of the time of this post $1970 dollars have been donated. That's 66% of our goal and over 87% of the way to the next drawing trigger point of $2250 dollars. The drive ends March 18th so please donate now!

Talysman said...
March 13, 2012 at 11:07 PM  

Which Nook do you have?

I bought a Nook tablet. I seem to recall that my Nook manual claims it can read CBR (comic book) format, which is really just a bunch of images numbered sequentially, zipped, and the .zip extension changed to .cbr.

There's a free program called Comic Converter that converts PDFs into .cbr format. It will do this even with pure text PDFs, creating images of each page, but that's normally not what you want. What it would be good for, though, is PDFs that are mostly images. I think this is Windows only, though.

I have some free UNIX-y utilities that convert PDFs to plaintext files and either maintain the format as much as possible with tabs/spaces or strip formatting. I can then feed this into Pandoc, which converts plaintext and other formats to many other formats, including epub. There's also a couple free utilities that will do the PDF-to-image thing, just like Comic Converter, but these are all cross-platform.

Thaumiel Nerub said...
March 14, 2012 at 2:48 AM  

I could use my mobile phone to read PDFs. Naturally you have to zoom a lot and it's scrolling a lot both horizontally and vertically. Otherwise I can stand it but my mobile phone memory doesn't support bigger files!

Now I am looking to buy an Android tablet or Nokia Lumia 800. I have to find out how well those are able to handle PDFs. Ebooks or other formats I don't use so PDF capabilities must be top notch.

Thanks for the hints for converting tools. I might need these some day.

Randall said...
March 14, 2012 at 12:01 PM  

I have what B&N is now calling a "Nook 1st Edition". It's about a year old and works great. I don't want a tablet as they are too big and too heavy. The Nook I have is light enough that I can read it in bed (holding it up) even when the arthritis in my wrists is bad. It's just horrible for reading most PDFs.

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