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Old Style Netbooks
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ObjectID: 36891
Description Edit | History

User summary:

The roleplaying game community has always been active in producing fan materials to support and expand games and game rules. Since the earliest days of the hobby, computer systems have been used to compile, correct, update, and especially distribute fan-made products. Often, these products were collaborative in nature, accepting contributions from anyone who cared to contribute.

Throughout especially the 1990s, many fan-made and fan-compiled items were distributed as lightly-formatted ASCII or ANSI text files, sometimes DOC files, colloquially known as "netbooks". The quality of the materials presented varied widely, from nearly professional products to nearly unusable gobbledygook. Regardless of the quality, however, netbooks always demonstrated the love of the game - the game almost always being Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2e.

The advent of the World Wide Web, desktop publishing, standardized advanced file formats, and formalized game materials distribution sites effectively ended the heyday of the ASCII netbook, though of course the DIY ethic in gaming continues to the present.

A widely circulated "Netbook of Books" served as a type of central index to the various extant items. It necessarily was incomplete and very occasionally contained dubious or contradictory information. An 11-page DOC version, archived in 2000, remains the best source of information about this fascinating corner of the hobby.

More Information Edit | History

Most of the items in this series have a complex publication history. It is common to find them in a variety of file formats (most usually, ASCII, HTML, DOC, RTF, and PDF); often the different formats are merely file type conversions from one format to another. It also is common to find these items in a variety of versions or editions, as each person who received them had the option of revising, reformatting, and otherwise tinkering with them - and then "re-publishing" them via whatever electronic means. It also was (unfortunately) fairly common for individuals to receive a file, swap out the author's name with their own name, and then re-publish the file.

Generally speaking, most of these items began as collaborative series of posts and responses on various electronic "bulletin board" (BBS) systems or on LISTSERV or USENET groups. These technologies would create the (semi-)standard ASCII versions. With the advent of the World Wide Web, most of these ASCII documents were ported to HTML and received a minor revision in formatting (and, often, content). Once file hosting services became widespread, the HTML documents tended to migrate toward discreet downloadable documents in, successively, DOC (most commonly indicating Word for Windows, version 6), RTF (Rich Text Format), or PDF (Portable Document Format). Many minor reformatted versions were created due to page size (e.g., US Letter vs. A4). Due to the nature of format conversions, the names of the individuals performing the conversions often are preserved (in file meta-data) while the names of the individuals authoring the products are, alas, lost.

The publication dates noted in these entries are approximately correct, but must be understood to have been derived from the best available evidence. This includes file dates, ZIP Archive dates, and so forth. Often, original posting dates to e.g. LISTSERV are preserved in the document's header. However, many (most?) of these products did not include internal dates or versioning, so their history must be "forensically recreated". Even those documents that do include internal dates and versioning are sometimes demonstrably in error - for example, documents utilizing and referring to a particular commercial product, with an internal date that precedes the publication of the product by some years.

Because bandwidth and storage space were precious commodities during the 1990s, it was a nearly universal practice to distribute files as compressed ZIP archives. Often, documents did not include graphics of any kind - if maps, etc., were provided they were generally provided as separate files in the same ZIP archive.

As a historical note, a wide variety of obsolescent file formats may be encountered. Graphic files usually were distributed as UUCP, PCX, BMP, WMF or GIF formats, gradually changing to PNG and JPG formats as those became more popular. Scenario files occasionally were distributed in PS (PostScript) format which must be rendered prior to use (usually into a PDF). Other formats occasionally encountered are WPS, WP5, WPD, etc. Compressed archives were not always ZIPs - ARJ, RAR, TAR, GZ, and other compression formats occasionally are encountered. Generally, modern tool suites can open these older formats - LibreOffice is particularly adept at utilizing them.

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