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Share PDFs With Your Players

by Mike on 25 September 2023

There are times when we're running our RPGs where we want to be able to share PDFs of game materials with our players. Maybe we're including 5e published material not available on D&D Beyond. Maybe we're running an entirely different roleplaying game. In either scenario, it can be either expensive for players to buy the material themselves or we'd be breaking the law (and generally behaving badly) by sharing copies of our RPG PDFs directly with players.

It isn't reasonable to expect each of our players to drop $20 to $60 on PDFs for one campaign or one run of a new RPG and not every game offers cheap or free alternatives. I expect a lot of GMs send players copies of these PDFs but doing so is illegal and risky. Many of these PDFs are watermarked to the person purchasing the PDF. Should the watermarked PDF be widely distributed, the original purchaser could be under considerable risk. It's also morally questionable. Don't bootleg PDFs.

So here's a better way – a free and safer way to share PDFs with your players. This content-sharing method follows the same content-sharing model used by D&D Beyond and Roll20. Just about all popular VTTs with roleplaying content allows this sharing model. This method, however, doesn't require a VTT – just Google Drive.

If you'd rather watch a step by step video on this tip, please check out the Share PDFs With Your Players YouTube Video.

This trick uses Google Drive so you and your players each need to have a Google account to use it.

These steps are for the person sharing the PDF to others.

  1. Create a "shared PDF" folder in your Google Drive folder.
  2. Open that folder and upload the PDF or PDFs you want to share with your players.
  3. Select the files you want to share. Right click and press "Share".
  4. Add the Google email addresses for each of the players with whom you want to share the PDF. Make sure they're selected as "Viewer".
  5. In the upper right corner of the share window is a little gear "settings" icon. Click that icon.
  6. Ensure that "Viewers and commenters can see the option to download, print, and copy" is not selected. This ensures that the viewer can't download or print the file.
  7. Save your settings and notify your players that you shared your file.

For the reader, they can go to their Google Drive and see that these PDFs are now shared with them. As long as the person sharing the file continues to do so, they'll be able to read the file through their browser on Google Drive but can't download it or print it.

Sharing PDFs using Google Drive is an extremely useful trick to keep on hand anytime you want to give the players new character options, player guides, or entire rules to a game without worrying that they'll get out there to the open internet and without requiring each player to drop a lot of cash to get the materials you want to share. When you're done with the campaign, remove their access.

Pass this tip, the article, and the video to anyone you think will find it useful!

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