Dungeons & Dragons makes the assumption that all characters (except Barbarians) are able to read and write in at least their own language, and can read and write in other languages once they learn to speak them. Yet it is unusual to find anything other than a spellbook, a scroll or a treasure map lying around. Here is an opportunity to bring the written word to life in your campaign, with rules and ideas for how to use books throughout your setting and adventures.
Even the introduction starts spawning ideas: characters who keep journals or write books, NPCs with vast knowledge - what happens to their notes and papers? The first chapter is mostly for DMs and looks at planning and administering the role that books play in your campaign world. It starts with a series of questions about the role played by various influences that could affect the availability of books. What, for example, is the attitude towards literacy in the main religion in the area? Does the local government encourage the free exchange of ideas or is it repressive? Does an individual need the permission of religious or state authorities to even publish, or does he just need enough money to pay the printer? Once you've established how society views the printed word, the next thing to explore is technology. Are all books 'monk-xeroxed' by hand, or has the printing press been invented? If presses are available, how advanced are they - do you have to set each letter by hand, ink them, then press down on the paper; or has technology (or magic) come up with a more efficient way to mass-produce books? This leads to an analysis of literacy levels... which despite the core rulebooks (which, after all, describe the abilities of adventurers who can be regarded as a cut above the ordinary inhabitants of the campaign world) may be quite low in areas where technology and magic are low and hence limiting factors in the availability of written material.
Chapter 2 looks at writing while adventuring and is intended for player and DM alike. Wizards and clerics might set out to write about their areas of expertise, bards have plenty of stories to tell, and just about any other adventurer might keep a journal of his day-to-day life or decide that the last adventure he had is a tale worth recounting. I once played a ranger who was a bit of an amateur naturalist and kept copious notes on every monster he encountered, complete with illustrations! Any character who likes writing is going to be annoyed if his notebook is damaged or stolen - and what might it reveal about him to the thief? If the character decides to get beyond the personal and seek publication, things get a bit more complicated - fortunately here are some rules and ideas for seeing the original manuscript through to print including the introduction of a Craft: Writing check to see if you really have written a masterpiece or if it's turgid rubbish, the results of which give you a 'marketability modifier' to apply to attempts to sell the manuscript once it's finished - very neat! Moreover, the system extends to cover other aspects such as selling to a bookstore and to individual customers, along with modifiers generated by the contents and physical presentation of your book. There's enough detail for the budding PC author to find out if he's good enough to retire from adventuring and live by his pen, or if he needs to swing that sword for a few years longer!
Chapter 3 looks at where writing can be found - the sources of books for those characters in your game who wish to read books rather than (or as well as) write them. These include wandering book peddlers and book stores for those who wish to buy and libraries (public or private) for those who prefer to borrow. Maps are supplied for a range of these options, and statistics for appropriate characters including a peddler and a bookstore owner. City records and journals, magazines and newspapers may also be available as sources of information or even entertainment. And of course, you might wish to include books in the loot available someplace your players are raiding - a good way to ensure that a hint or particular piece of information is made available to them. For example, this trick is used in The Grave of the Prince of Lies, a free adventure from 0one Games. The chapter ends with some notes about specialist arcane and divine writings
The fourth chapter looks at new skills and feats useful or even necessary to enable the use of books within your campaign as described so far. Books can be broadly categoriesed according to the suggested areas for the Knowledge skill in the core rulebooks, with the addition of education and entertainment (including humour, fiction and even recipe books) as new categories. The art of writing itself is presented as a Craft skill, which may be taken by aspiring authors of any class. Bookmaking - including the production of paper and ink and book-binding - is covered by a second Craft skill, with printing and illustration as yet further areas in which you can specialise. The fabricate spell may be used to substitute for practical aspects but not for the creative areas of writing and illustration - you need talent as well as skill to perform those tasks well! There are also notes on book-specific uses of existing skills, such as Diplomacy when trying to sell your book to a publisher. Next comes a list of feats which may come in handy to people wishing to create, sell or enjoy books in the campaign.
For those who wish to take books very seriously, chapter 5 contains several book-related prestige classes that characters or NPCs may qualify for. An Archivist studies, collects and cares for books; and may adventure in search of rare tomes... while a Bookburner is an implacable hater of knowledge and best kept well away from libraries. A Counterfeiter is a rogue specialist, skilled at creating forgeries of any document or written material. The Legend Crafter can create amazing stories - and not surprisingly are usually bards. A Rune Warrior draws on the power of the runes written on his own body when in combat.
Chapter 6 introduces some new spells that ought to be useful for the more bookish spellcaster. How about a cartography spell that maps what you see for you? Or perhaps a major alphabetize spell to organise the books in your library without having to lift a finger.
Next, Chapter 7 is about tomes and ciphers. Now, here a 'cipher' is not a code, it is a graphical representation of a spell that holds mystical energy that can be released in the form of that spell in the same way as you might cast it from a scroll. There's also a collection of magical tomes, the sort of book that gives your character a distinct benefit via magic if he spends some time studying the book.
Chapter 8 provides a whole bunch of new magical and mundane items. The mundane things include just about everything you need to make a book, from a printing press to paper, bindings, locks and even a magnifying glass for those characters whose eyesight is failing! There's a whole range of fancy inks too, along with pens, so that you make make your notes and illustrations as fancy as you please. The varied assortment of magical items includes a device to levitate a heavy book in just the right position so that you can read without your arms getting tired and a pen that never runs out of ink. Possibly the most useful is a portable library - a single book which opens a portal to a specialised dimension in which you can store a number of books for access when on the road.
Chapter 9 presents four deities who are in some way connected with books and knowledge. Chapter 10 contains some new monsters, and finally Chapter 11 contains an assortment of charts and random generators to help you decide what books are to be found in whatever place your players happen to be looking.
Overall, this book is a detailed and informative look at a somewhat neglected area. It's also a fine example of how to consider an aspect of your game and develop it into something that supports the 'alternate reality' of your campaign world as a living place with which your players can interact.
Return to Libem Liborium: The Complete D20 Guide to Books page.
Reviewed: 25 December 2005