Experiments with EPUB (now featuring: Redbox Hack and Enter the Avenger)

edited October 2013 in Story Games
I've wanted to create EPUB versions of some free, libre and open RPGs for a while now, and I recently got an Android phone that can run apps that will open EPUBs.

I used Sigil to make EPUB versions of a couple of free, libre and open games: the aging Redbox Hack and the brand new Enter the Avenger. I've called them Libre Editions, following on from my Libre Edition of 4C System last year.

I found the process pretty straightforward (I'd already prepared a DOC of Redbox Hack last year, so I just copy-pasted from that). The results don't look beautiful on either of my EPUB readers (FBReader and CoolReader), and I was wondering if you folks had advice:

* What's the deal with tables? There doesn't seem to be a 'create table' option in Sigil.
* Is it worth fussing about how the EPUB displays on the readers? For example, neither of them seem to recognise italics. That's a problem on their end; is it worth me trying to fix it on my end?
* Likewise, CoolReader starts a new page before every heading - which really sucks when, for example, every class talent is on a new page. Do I leave people to change their reader settings/switch readers, or do I fiddle around trying to fix it myself?

Anyway, enjoy the EPUBs and let me know what you think.

Enter the Avenger
Redbox Hack

(Also, I'd be interested to hear about other EPUBs for free, libre and open games. I know that's one way Mist-Robed Gate was distributed. There's a Dungeon World EPUB floating around, but I don't think that it's up to date.)


  • Hey, thank you for doing this!
  • This is a very good endeavour. I've been thinking for some years that I should look into pushing the EPUB format, see what it can do nowadays for rpg books. Theoretically EPUB has the capability for entirely satisfactory complex books (that is, books like rpg books tend to be, with illustrations and tables and so on), but the viewing devices that actually implement these things are, as always, the real bottleneck. I fear that it's entirely possible at this stage that EPUB will be entirely superseded by devices that implement full HTML parsing, simply because the entire ecosystem drags its feet when compared to how other hypertext systems have developed over the last decade.

    Regarding your questions, the following is off the top of my hat (been a while since I've read up on the topic):

    If I remember correctly, EPUB doesn't officially have tables. Thing is, EPUB is in reality just a particularly formulated zip package of a html page or several, which means that it's not technically difficult for an EPUB reader to support tables regardless of the supposed standard - but that requires being able to create the tables-utilizing EPUB in the first place, and that might well mean doing it manually. (And even if you did, there's of course no guarantee that any given device would be able to read the HTML bits that are not part of the official standard.) I would personally expect EPUB to get expanded sooner or later to include more of the HTML specification, simply because more and more EPUB devices are really just using a HTML interpreter to read the files, so it makes no sense whatsoever for the device to be "artificially dumb" about it. An annoying state of matters to be sure, right at this moment.

    Regarding reader-specific issues, I would advice you to not waste work on fixing them. Of course your specific goals in conversion might be different, but from my viewpoint the point would be to create robust, standards-compatible files that will be easy to maintain in the future as well. If a specific reader device has flaws against the EPUB standard, it's possible for interested users of that specific device to create a simple program to convert a standards-compliant EPUB into a format recognized by their device. The converse is, however, much less likely to occur. Thus it's better to expend your energy making sure that files you create are standards-compliant, and leave specific use cases up to the people who use non-standard devices.

    The page break phenomenon you mention seems at least superficially to be a problem with your reading device, not with the file; I just opened your Redbox Hack file in an arbitrary reader (a Firefox epub reader add-on, to be specific), and it didn't have the problem you describe. I suppose we could open the actual html code and see if CoolReader is doing the code wrong in some manner that could be fixed, but assuming that the code is correct, then the above viewpoint applies to my mind: it's up to the person using a faulty reader to fix their reader, while your responsibility (insofar as such exists in the brave new world of free voluntary work publishing) is to merely provide a technically correct file.

    Hmm, I really should create a EPUB version of the Solar System and World of Near, they'd be perfect for it in some ways. Might learn something by figuring out the optimal layout, too.
  • Thanks for your reply, Eero. Thank you also for explaining a bit about EPUBs - that helps me make sense of them.

    I will follow your advice and focus on being standards-compliant rather than trying to perfect the EPUBs for particular readers. I wonder if CoolReader has made the deliberate aesthetic choice to start a new page before each header.

    I'd love to see your Solar System and World of Near EPUBs!

    Regarding tables, I've decided to manually use HTML code to make the simplest possible tables, and hope that that will result in maximum possible interoperability. Of course, some data might be presentable without using tables, but that might be more effort than I am willing to do.

    There's no non-coding way to make tables in Sigil, but it will recognise tables that are copied across from DOC files or HTML. That's what I did for Redbox Hack, but I think I'll replace them with the simple, manually-coded HTML tables.
  • edited October 2013
    ...and if you actually want to see formatting (and embedded fonts, etc) in an Android based ePub reader, check my little guide.

    Short version: use Aldiko or the Nook app, and be sure to check the (dumb) default settings.

    Also, good epub readers also support vector illustrations, which is quite handy. Check my simple example for hints about how to code them in.
  • Thanks renatoram, I'll take a look at those - and I've installed Aldiko on my phone. Those instructions were useful, although with the newer version of Aldiko you actually go to the 'Tt' button and click More rather than the three vertical dots button.

    Also, there's a new version of the Enter the Avenger EPUB available: http://fossilbank.wikidot.com/local--files/source:chris-sakkas/Enter the Avenger - Libre Edition.epub

    It's almost identical except it is now an official EPUB, and Rafu has written a foreword.
  • Yeah, I noticed they changed the UI... I have to update the guide some time :)
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