Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Library of Asria, Part Two

If you haven't read Part One, consider doing so.

Lello Bookshop Portugal
The Guardian of the Lower Levels

Access is forbidden except to Librarians and their chosen servants.

The only known stairwell down is guarded by Poor Lucan, a giant and a historian.  In exchange for free access to the library, Poor Lucan guards the Unpolished Gate, and you will usually find him there, laying on his side with a book, a magnifying glass, and an oil lantern.  He usually wears a lose-fitting tunic on his torso and manning armor on his legs.  His trifling broom is at hand, propped up against a stack of books.

(Manning armor is giantish armor crafted to be effective while "manning", the art of fighting humans (or as some giants would say, the disgrace of fighting humans).  It's best described as platemail leggings with a boot designed for kicking and stomping and a belt of downward-pointing spikes.  Small blades run down the leg in parallel, designed to cut any ropes that may get wrapped around their legs.  AC as plate when standing, AC as unarmored when laying on his side, engrossed in a book.)

(A trifling broom is a giantish weapon designed for fighting humans.  It's a bit of a hybrid between a broom, a short trident, and a bundle of spears.  It attacks at -2 to hit but lets you make melee attacks on all adjacent creatures.  It does much less damage against creatures of your own size.  There's no reason a human couldn't use a smaller one to great effect against goblin-sized foes or teensy fairies.  Although a mundane broom is already pretty much the ideal anti-fairy weapon already.)

Poor Lucan is an excellent source of historical information, especial on human wars.  (He studies human history passionately.)  Lucan can be bribed with a barrel of mead and boar that has been roasted in honey.  In contrast, getting information out of the Librarians is a chore.

National Library of Brazil
Chores of the Librarians [d6]

1. Reconstitute these ashes into the books they once were.  The party needs to make 10 successful Int checks.  Each person can make one Int check per week.  If a person fails by more than 10, they subtract one success instead.  This takes as long as it has to.  (Roll for random city plots 1/week.)

2. Copy a forbidden book.  For your safety (and the Librarians' plausible deniability), they will first have you read from the Tome of Ten Billion Tongues.  When you read the book, you will forget the Common tongue unless you make a check.  Your chance of making this check is (Int -10)%, and if you succeed, you instead learn a new language.  If you forget Common, you will relearn it after you make 3 Int checks, attempting one each week.

3. The Librarians believe that the party has something interesting to say.  The party needs to retell all of their adventures while a scribe writes it down.  It's a good chance to force the party to do their own recap.  Producing artifacts and souvenirs of their journey assists the scribe, and reduces the amount of detail that they must go into.

4. A donation of 1d10 books will suffice.  And not just any book, but the kinds of books that you find in dungeons or foreign libraries.  Much like magic items, books are never for sale, as they are all hand-written, expensive, and usually items of pride to their owners.

5. Someone has stolen 1d4 books from the library and fled through the sewers.  Recover them.  The catch is this: the stories from the books have come to life and escaped their books.  (This is one reason why you aren't allowed to remove books from the library.)  As each story came to life, the thief discarded it in a different part of the sewer.  The stories are these: The Grass Tiger, the Heron and the Princess Who Devoured Him, the Sad Little Pumpkin (non-combat, you must cheer it up), and the Nine Angry Bakers.  Defeating each story returns it to the book.  50% chance that the thieves are dead, killed by the stories.  50% chance that you must team up with the thieves to defeat some horrible story-monster.  Each monster is best defeated by the method detailed in its book (but this requires reading a book during combat).  Except for the sad little pumpkin, which is a fucking enigma.

6. Fetch a Tome of Amnesia from a dungeon.  The book is capable of giving everyone nearby mild, retrograde amnesia.  Explain the effects, and then ask the players if they accept.  If they accept, immediately place them in a random dungeon 1d100 miles away.  Put them in an appropriate room, and "clear" the rooms leading up to it.  Add a few items to their inventory that they might have picked up in the previous rooms.  Each player has (1d12 * 10)% of their HP remaining (max 100%, people at 0 HP are unconscious and bleeding).  There are also 1d10 NPCs nearby who are either allies or enemies (equal chance of each) who have been similarly affected by the amnesia.  However, these NPCs have no knowledge of how they got here (this must be puzzled out) while the PCs remember agreeing to fetch a Tome of Amnesia, at least.

St. Florian Monastery in Austria
The True Masters

Malboaz and his Librarians are merely the caretakers of the Library.  They live on the merest crust of the Library: the lighted and airy upper towers.

In return for their care, they are allowed some benefits, and permitted to plumb a small part of the Library's depths.

The true masters of the Library are the Books themselves.  (This fact will not be surprising to anyone who has ever worked in a library.)

In the upper towers, the books are just books.  But leave a book on dark shelf long enough, feed it a steady diet of book dust, and let it forget that it was ever written.  Let it forget its purpose (because life has no purpose except what we give it) and let its neighbors begin to whisper to it.  Do this, aand see if it does not become a Book.

As humans see it, the duty of a book is to hold knowledge and then present it for inspection.  This is not true of Books, and they fail at both of these tasks.

Philosophy and law books are the governers of Bookish society.  Art books are the entertainers.  Religious books are the clergy.  And so it goes.

The interior of a Book is its mind.  And the minds of living creatures are mercurial things.  The words wander.  A condemnatory biography of a tyrant may become more laudatory, as the Book begins to take on more aspects of its subject.  The tone will drift.  Ideas wander from book to book.

Socialism is gaining strength these last few decades.  The King of Books is rightfully fearful of his paper crown.  He has surrounded himself with fighting manuals and the biographies of knights.

A Book will gradually begin to pick up the dialect of its neighbors, just as humans lose their rustic accents when they move to the big city.  They begin to sound Bookish, a particular style of writing (although no one can be said to have ever written in a Bookish style), which is comparable to the local idiom.

Even identical books (twins) can diverge drastically, if shelved among distant neighbors.

But all of these interactions are invisible to someone who stumbles upon the deep libraries.  All they will see are books on shelves, remarkable only in the thick layer of dust that blankets them.  And occasionally a book that has fallen to the floor, a hermit of Bookkind who has rejected the constant whispering of its peers.

For an adventurer, the most crucial lesson of the lower Library is to respect the books.  Burning a Book is murder (or worse than murder, since it was performed by a mongrel specie, half-flesh and half-word, and therefore tantamount to a foreign declaration of war).  Taking a book with you is kidnapping.  And reading a Book without its permission is the grossest invasion of privacy imaginable, akin to rape.

And just as any society, the Books have ways of protecting themselves.  (More on this later.)

You can join them.  There are spells that can turn a person into a book, and spells that can turn a book into a person.  But you needn't go so far if you wish to speak to a book.

Under certain conditions, the Books can manifest in living, fleshy forms.  True, some of the biographies will arrive as distorted versions of the people they portray, but they are exceptions, not the rule.

Expect to see calves that gave their hides to make vellum, and crawling squids who were harvested for their ink.  These are not ghosts, and hold nothing of the original creature.  Books are creatures of words, and this is all they know about flesh, shaped from half-remembered pain.

But above all, expect to see trees rustling towards you through the darkened halls.  Their branches scratch the ceiling with every step as they crowd in.  They speak with what they think is the language of men: the growls of lumberjacks and the barks of an axe as it strikes wood.

The Austrian National Library


  1. Wow those library pictures actually made my mouth water. Weird feeling

  2. Hey, I wanted to say that the whole thing about books developing a personality based on what type of book they are and how long their shelf life has been, is insanely interesting. I'm feeling a sort of Hal 9000 campaign villain coming out of a book that is droll and very driven towards a singular idea. (Maybe it's even a book about exploring the Far Realm, or whatever your "space" is called).

    Also I wanted to say that your posts, while inspiring my imagination, has also spurred me to start my own blog to put down my rants and ideas on my new summer campaign.

    Keep writing, bro. These articles kill it.

  3. Book society is a fantastic idea. Bravo

  4. Not only brilliant. It deserves a whole module around it.

  5. I ran a short adventure inside your wondrous library last week for a Dungeon World campaign. The players dug running around the place searching for various bits of arcane knowledge. I am also running 'A Red and Pleasant Land' campaign, and will be including your concept of Books and the politics of Books for the Queen of Hearts' library. Awesome work!