Phone PDF Information and File Creation Guide

What is a "Phone PDF"?

Traditionally, roleplaying books are converted to digital download PDF files using the same type of layout as for printed books. In most cases, this layout results in a PDF with pages appearing in an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch format. 

That format works well for reading on tablets and on desktop or laptop monitors, but it doesn't suit current phone-size screens. Trying to use a typical PDF conversion of an 8.5 x 11 RPG book on your smartphone can be a frustrating exercise in pinching, panning, unpinching, and paging or rapid-scrolling. 

Phone PDFs sidestep these issues by laying out the title with a page size that is based on popular smartphone screen sizes, which makes reading your title on a smartphone a pleasure instead of a pain.

It’s better if you see a sample Phone PDF than for us to tell you about one. Please use this link to grab a free copy of Onyx Path Publishing’s Pugmire rulebook, and then try it out on your smartphone:

What books are appropriate to convert to Phone PDF format?

Core rulebooks and some player-focused books are the best candidates for conversion to Phone PDFs. Most GMs who are using PDFs at the gaming table will be using a tablet or laptop and won't use the Phone PDF much during play. Other players sitting around the table are far more likely to have a phone as a device at the table. 

Long-form reading is possible on Phone PDFs and will make your favorite RPGs much easier to access and browse when you're on the go. However, their primary use is for quick reference to rules during play. The more "crunch" your title has, the more likely it is that the Phone PDF format will be useful to your customers.

Design Considerations for Phone PDF Format

When converting a title to Phone PDF format, it's important to change fundamentally many of the design assumptions and habits built around layout for printed books. In a Phone PDF, a user rarely needs to turn a page; instead, they can navigate the Phone PDF purely by touching links to get quickly to the information they are seeking.

Functional Footers

We recommend adding a Footer to every page in the Phone PDF (except the cover, pages with large images, the first Table of Contents page, and other pages where it might not belong aesthetically). The Footer includes three things: 

  1. On the left side, a link for "Back" (which will take the user back one link jump);
  2. The PDF page number; and
  3. On the right side, a link to "Contents" (which will take the user to the first page of the Table of Contents). 


Example of Functional Footer

Quick Links

We recommend adding Quick Links menus to the Phone PDF. 

The first section of your Table of Contents should be a linked list of top-level Quick Links. This section isn’t the same as the full list of linked Table of Contents; it but should be a shorter list of the most important or commonly sought sections of your book. Each Quick Link brings (or “jumps”) the user to a page you have inserted into your Phone PDF that is dedicated to that particular topic. For example, top-level links might be "Classes," "Conditions," "Equipment," "Skills," and "Spells."

The Quick Links page then lists the next set of links to specific subsections or related topics for that subject. Thus, your Table of Contents Quick Link to "Conditions" would take the user to a page (inserted anywhere in the PDF, even at the end) that lists all of the various conditions in your game (e.g., Blinded, Dazed, Deafened, etc.). There, each condition is linked to another created page, or to the appropriate section of the book elsewhere, that defines or explains the condition in detail. 

Using Quick Links in this way allows a user to touch the Contents link in any Footer to return to the Table of Contents, where they once again see the list of Quick Links. If they touch the “Conditions” Quick Link and then, on the resulting page, touch the “Blinded” link, they end up at the section of the title that explains the game’s Blinded condition. With three quick touches, the user gets right to the rule they wanted to reference.

In addition to a Quick Links section, we recommend that you still Hyperlink your Table of Contents so a reader can find any desired content easily at any time (i.e., by clicking on the “Contents” link in any Footer throughout the document and returning to the Table of Contents). 

Both Quick Links and Table of Contents links are types of Text Anchor links; see the Text Anchor links section under “Hyperlinks in InDesign” below for more information. 


Quick Link Navigation from Pugmire

Small Pages

Phone PDFs have smaller pages than standard 8.5 x 11 versions, so there is necessarily less content on each page. Because this is a digital file, however, there is no material cost to adding more pages! Further, the user navigates your Phone PDF by touching links instead of turning pages, so the sheer volume of pages won't matter to them. 

Given the smaller page size, though, it's often useful to break up certain listings into more distinct pages. For example, in a normal print book layout, your chapter of spell descriptions most likely flows one after another in two columns per page; for the Phone PDF version, you (and your users) would benefit from having each new spell begin on its own PDF page. This way, each spell entry is more easily digestible, with all of its templated information on spell range, casting time, etc., viewed on its own unique page. 

Proper Quick Links allow the user to reach a specific, complete, unique entry quickly. There’s also no risk of having them land on a larger page where the desired content begins halfway down the page or sits halfway across one of two columns, requiring side-scrolling.

Text Links over Bookmarks

Bookmarks are normally an excellent feature in PDFs of roleplaying books. They are not as useful in Phone PDFs. Accessing, finding, and selecting the right bookmark leads to a lot of navigation screen touches. and users often aren't as familiar with accessing bookmarks on their phone's reader software. 

In addition to Footer links and Quick Links navigation, we also recommend heavy application of hyperlinked text within your book. Wherever your text would logically call upon the reader to know something explained elsewhere in the book, you should provide linked text to take them to the related content or rules. 

For example, let’s look at the following rules text: "Creatures caught in the web are Restrained." Here, the word "Restrained" should link to an explanation of the Restrained condition. 

It helps to use find & replace commands to link every instance of certain rules keywords to the appropriate section of the book.

Of course, any "see page X"-type references also need to be reviewed and most likely changed, as the Phone PDF will have repaginated the work. Usually it's best to remove the "see page X" citation altogether and replace it with a simple hyperlink. For example, the rules text "can learn new Tricks (see page 173)" would simply become "can learn new Tricks".

Text anchor linking is preferred to page number linking for links within the book text (see file tips below). 

Benefits of Offering Phone PDFs

Converting a title to Phone PDF properly is no small task. Is it worth it? We believe so, but honestly, we don't know yet. We intend to collect data that helps us provide better guidance going forward on how desirable the Phone PDF format is and what effect it may have on purchase behavior and usage. 

PDFs are a large segment of the RPG market, and fans currently can’t use your content easily on their most frequently used device. Converting your core titles to Phone PDF makes your content accessible to your fans on the device they always have with them. 

Right now, all we can do is say that we believe strongly in the format. Those publishing partners who move first will get the most marketing support from us and, we believe, the most accolades from customers. We will be pushing the format heavily with extra newsletter coverage, specific site promotions, and extra browsing attention on site (especially the mobile version of the site, which sees a steadily higher share of usage each year). When we roll out smartphone-optimized versions of our library app, titles offering Phone PDF versions will also get more focus there.

How to Offer Phone PDFs

We believe Phone PDFs are best offered as an additional file that comes with the digital purchase of your title. If you have a title listing on DriveThruRPG for your core rulebook, you would simply add the Phone PDF as an additional file available to users who purchase the digital version of the title (and then update the title's description to call attention to this additional value). This is simply added value for your customer, and we presume you will be paid in customer loyalty. 

If you feel you need to charge money for this format, then you might create a new title listing just for the Phone PDF version of your title. Ideally, you’d leave that new title listing private. Then, create a bundle title that collects your normal title listing and the new, private Phone PDF title listing. (Note: Private titles can be made available via bundles without activating the root title.) Within the bundle, price your normal title at its usual price, and then price the Phone PDF title at whatever up-charge amount you want from customers who desire the phone format. 

Bundling the Phone PDF as described in the prior paragraph doesn’t force your customers to purchase the standard PDF again: Due to our “complete-your-bundle” pricing feature, customers who have already purchased your standard PDF won’t have to pay for it again in the bundle, so they will only pay the up-charge amount you’ve set as the Phone PDF's price in the bundle.

Add a Purchase Note

While the Phone PDF format is still new, we recommend adding a Purchase Note to any title listing that includes a Phone PDF formatted file. Purchase Notes are an optional field on your Setup New Title / Edit a Title pages and are displayed to customers after purchase.

You might  use the following example Purchase Note customized as you see fit:

Your order includes a file in "Phone PDF" format. This PDF is crafted for smartphone size screens and touch navigation. Look for the Quick Links menus and the links in the footer of each page to help you easily navigate through the PDF. Some of the link navigation in the Phone PDF file works better in certain readers.

If you’re on iOS, we recommend the Apple's Books reading app (which comes on every Apple phone) as it supports the Back navigation links in the Phone PDF.

If you’re on Android, then we recommend grabbing the free Xodo reader app:

as that reader has a built in Back function which will jump back one link. This is a handy feature when touch navigating through the Phone PDF (and no PDF viewers we've tested on Android natively support the Back navigation links in the Phone PDF so Xodo's Back function is the next best thing).

If you find the Phone PDF useful, please drop us a comment or mention it in your DriveThruRPG review of the title.


File Specifications

This rest of this help article provides recommended specs and tips for creating your Phone PDF file. It assumes you are familiar with InDesign


  • Page size: 2.25" x 4"

  • All Images: RGB color, 144 dpi/ppi

  • Recommended font specs: 

    • Headers: 20/20 - 12/12 - 10/10

    • Body: 8/10

  • Your links for “Contents” jump to the Table of Contents, built on your Master Page. Use the “Hyperlinks” menu to create Page links (see Page Linking below). 

    • Note: Internal links should appear in a noticeable color. 

    • “Hyperlinks”: There are two types — see Page Linking and Text Anchor Linking sections below.

  • Create internal links throughout the book (in a noticeable color) using the “Hyperlinks” menu to create “Text Anchor” links. (See Text Anchor Linking below.)

  • Your links for “Previous” or “Back” always link to the last page viewed and is built on your Master Page. Use the “Buttons and Forms” menu to create the link. (See “Back” Links below.)

  • Export from InDesign using Adobe PDF (Interactive) settings

  • For best results, follow other digital title best practices, such as adjusting page numbering for cover pages.

Hyperlinks in InDesign

Both Page linking and Text Anchor linking can be done easily in the same menu window in InDesign. These types of linking can be used between chapters and, if several files are booked, between booked files. 

NOTE: If there is linking between booked files, be sure all files are open and booked before starting. 

Page Linking

It’s recommended that you create a “Table of Contents” Page link on the Master Page so the reader can reference the Table of Contents at any time, from anywhere in the book. 

To create any Page link, use the following steps:  

  • In the Window pull-down menu, scroll to “Interactive” and select “Hyperlinks.”
  • Select the text to be linked; then, in the Hyperlinks pull-down menu, select New Hyperlink. A new menu window will open.
  • In the new menu window, set “Link To” to “Page.”
  • Set “Document” to the current file or the booked file to which you want to link. 
  • Set “Page Number” to that of the page to which you're linking. 
  • Set “Zoom” to “Fixed.”
  • “Character Style”: Either select one of the premade formats, or select “New Character Style” and create your own new style. If you choose a different font, text color, or text style here, those changes will appear in InDesign
  • “PDF Appearance” refers to how the link will look once exported. To make it stand out, add a box, underline, or highlight attributes. These effects may not be visible until the file has been exported to PDF.
  • Select “OK” once the Hyperlink is set the way you want it to appear. 

Text Anchor Linking

A Text Anchor link is very similar to a Page link, but setting one up is a bit more complex. Text Anchors are the preferred way to link to locations elsewhere in the book, including the Table of Contents and other internal links. The main benefit of this type of link is that, should any content be added to or removed from the book, causing the text to re-flow, the links will remain correct even if the text has shifted to a different page. 

To create a Text Anchor link, use the following steps: 

  • In the Window pull-down menu, scroll to “Interactive” and select “Hyperlinks.”
  • First, you must create Hyperlink Destinations (or “Anchors”) in order to link to them: 
  • Select the text you want to link to. 
  • In the Hyperlinks pull-down menu, select “New Hyperlink Destination.” A new menu will open.
  • In the new menu, set “Link Type” to “Text.” 
  • By default, the “Name” of the selected text will match the text you have selected. You can change it here without changing the text in the layout. 
  • Once the Hyperlink Destination has been created, it can be used as many times as needed.
  • Next, to use a Hyperlink Destination you’ve created, select the text to be hyperlinked. In the Hyperlinks window, go to the pull-down menu and select “New Hyperlink.” A new menu window will open.
  • Set “Link” to “Text Anchor.”
  • Set “Document” to the current file or the booked file to which you want to link. 
  • Set “Text Anchor” using the pull-down menu to find the Hyperlink Destination you created earlier. 
  • “Character Style”: Here there are two choices. Either select one of the premade formats, or select “New Character Style” and create your own new style.
  • “Character Style”: Either select one of the premade formats, or select “New Character Style” and create your own new style. If you choose a different font, text color, or text style here, those changes will appear in InDesign. “PDF
  • "Appearance” refers to how the link will look once exported. To make it stand out even more, add a box, underline, or highlight attributes. These effects may not be visible until it has been exported to PDF. 
  • Select “OK” once the Hyperlink is set the way you want it to appear. 

“Back” Link

  • In InDesign, to create a “Back” link on the Master Page, select the text to convert into a button

  • In the Window pull-down menu select "Interactive" then "Buttons and Forms"

  • In the window that opens, set "Type" to "Button"

  • "Name" to "Back"

  • "Event" as "On Release or Tap"

  • For "Actions" Click the plus sign and select “Go to Previous View” in the PDF only section

  • Make sure to export as “Adobe PDF (Interactive)”

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