Thursday, April 2, 2020

Library of Asria: Part Three

by Pierre Clayette
Part One - Part Two - Serylites

The Library of Asria is the greatest library in all the world.  Built atop catacombs of incinerated books, the library has continued to grow by rapaciously acquiring all books that it can.

Anyone bringing a book into the city must allow it to be copied.  (It will be returned promptly, and probably cleaned and repaired as well.)  Anyone who seems interesting will be arrested, required to write a biography, paid, and released.

The library is run by Malboaz, a former librarian who has found immortality by mapping his neurons to a collection of 512 books.  He functions like an analog AI--librarians enter numbers into his books to determine what he "hears", perform calculations to determine what he "thinks", and play a strange set of trumpets according to the results in order for Malboaz to "speak".

Malboaz has a brother who shares his condition, imprisoned in the basement.  However, Auteruch has no idea of the coup that put him there.  He doesn't even know that time has passed.  Without librarians to update his brain-state, how could he?

Most librarians are serylites, a race of blue-skinned women.  They have a single source: the Staff of Seryl.  Using the staff causes you to become pregnant with a serylite.  There is no other known source of serylites.

More on this stuff in Part One.

Beneath the upper library are the black stacks, where the true rulers of the library reside: the books themselves.

The Black Stacks are guarded by a erudite, tea-drinking giant named Poor Lucan.  The area around the Unpolished Gate has been built around Poor Lucan, so the poor fellow literally cannot leave without breaking down a wall.  Since their are books on both sides of the wall, and since Lucan would never hurt a book (his only friends), Lucan is trapped there.  Not that Lucan minds much.  He reads constantly and writes occasionally.

Lucan will absolutely not anyone past him without a serylite escorting them.  He knows all of the serylites well--there's only a couple dozen of them.

Lucan is about 20' tall, average for a giant.

Poor Lucan
HD Def Plate  Kick 2d8  Broom 1d12 to all within 15'
Move as horse  Int 14

Lucan's manning broom can attack all targets in 15' simultaneously, but only if they're human-sized or smaller.  A manning broom is basically a bushy broom, giant-sized, made from bundled pieces of metal--mostly long whipping poles but also a few chains.

Lucan's plate armor only extends up to his waist.  If you can hit a target 10' off the ground his Defense counts as leather.  The same rule applies if you can get him prone (in addition to the +4 for attacking a prone enemy.)  Aim for the kidneys.

A wickedly spiked belt prevents people from climbing up him.  (Think of razor wire.)

Blades on the front, back, and sides of his greaves cut any rope that would try to entangle him.  (But not chains.)

I picture him looking like the shopkeeper from Frozen, with a comfy sweater on top of a heavily armored lower body.  So yeah, you should feel bad if you kill him.

More on this stuff in Part Two.

Digression: Giants vs Humans

This is basically how most giants equip themselves when they're expecting to fight humans.  The only things that are missing are the helmet and the energy drinks made from talakeshi jelly and panther piss.  (And also the "lawnmower" knights.)

This is because the average pitched battle between giants and humans is about 20 giants versus 20,000 humans and the humans don't have a chance.  See here.

Humans win by either (a) tripping the giants and then piling on them with long needle-pikes, or (b) wearing them down.  Giants can resist the first tactic by fighting in pairs and trios, but the giants struggle the longer the battle drags on.  They can run down a knight on horseback, but it is exhausting.  And each giant has to kill a thousand humans--it's gonna be a long day.

Anyway, enough about giants.  Back to the library.

The Ivory Towers

This is the upper library, where there are windows and fresh air and humans are allowed.  The books in this section will be about topics that you recognize.  It is relatively safe, here, but visitors should ensure that they have the correct library pass.

Vampiric Scroll
HD Def chain  Bite 1d6
Fly as bat  Int 2

Immune to everything that isn't fire or slashing.

Whenever a vampiric scroll bites you, it sucks your blood.  Red text then appears on the scroll, which contains a perfect description of you and many facts of your life.  50% chance that it contains some secret that could be used against you.

Once a vampiric scroll has collected your data, it will fly off and relay it to the authorities.  The alert dice increase, and your next encounter will be with the stamp golem (or possibly multiple library golems, depending on the alert level).

You can learn how to make your own by capturing and studying one, of course.

Library Golem
HD Def plate  Stamp Hammer 1d12
Trudge as dwarf  Int 6

Everyone who takes damage from a library golem is permanently branded with a stamp that describes their trespass, location, and date.

If a library golem kills you, it will ink your face, take a pressing in its book (which is a part of its body), and send a find to your family.

Magic Item: Bookmark of Yesod

Break it in half to save.  Break the halves in half again to reset.  This works exactly like saving and resetting in a video game.

(DM: Take a bunch of notes about the state of the game.)

Chance of success depends on the time that has elapsed.

Seconds: guaranteed success
Minutes: 5-in-6
Hours: 4-in-6
Days: 3-in-6
Weeks: 2-in-6
Longer Still: 1-in-6

Magic Item: Abacus of Mesmerane

Thrice per day, answers any question with 5-in-6 accuracy (failure = no response, rolled in secret).  Only answers with integers greater than 1.  Metaphysical questions generate irrational numbers (that no human can understand).  Asking it questions about things more than a mile away cause all of the beads to fall off.

So asking it "how many times does the duke intend to assassinate me on this hunting trip?" will fail, because that answer is going to be either 0, or 1.

Asking it how many drops of poison are in this cup of wine might succeed.  A positive result of 320 drops tells you that someone has added a lot of poison to your wine (or, alternatively, that Mesmerane considers wine to be poison).  A negative result doesn't tell you if the abacus failed or if there is no poison in your wine.

Magic Book: Rat Ledger

The Library hires rats to collect information.  This book lists all of the rat contacts in the city, their rates, and their areas of expertise.

The library would be very desperate to get this book back.

Magic Book: The Witness

Every copy of this book begins with something similar to "And then Pokor Tenpenny finished enchanting the book.  He was proud of what he had done, but also weary.  He didn't want to go home to his wife, who was not a very good cook."

Everything that happens within eye- and ear-shot of this book is recorded, in the same tedious diction of Pokor Tenpenny.  This effect is blocked only by lead.  Copies of The Witness are always stored in lead coffers.

by Pierre Clayette
The Black Stacks

This is the true library, where the books rule.  Most of the librarians have their private chambers on the top level of the Black Stacks, which are sort of a neutral area between the books and the librarians.

While the Ivory Tower organizes their books to be useful, the Black Stacks strive to be complete.

In the ancient days, when this place was a temple to Mesmerane, the Black Stacks were infinite--or nearly so.  They held every possible book with 411 pages.  Each book also featured an illustration which seemed to be unique, but also unrelated.

Since every possible "411-paged book" contains not just every book, but every possible typo of that book, as well as every possible alternate ending for that book.  Damningly, it also contains every possible combination of letters and punctuation possible, which means that nearly every book in the Black Stacks was composed of pure nonsense, arranged according to no pattern.

Still, somewhere in the Stacks would be a book describing your life and death in perfect detail.  There would also be many imperfect recountings of your life.  There would also be a book that served as a perfect index of the rest of the library.

When Mesmerane ruled, the shamans would discern maps from the smashed brainpans of infants.  The maps would be dried, redrawn, annotated, and the shamans would descend into the depths of the library to find the book that their goddess indicated.  The trips would take days or weeks.  The shamans did not always find the book they sought.  The shamans did not always return.

The lower levels of the Black Stacks blend seamlessly into the Underworld.

But when the Church civilized Asria, the practice was ended and the shamans were killed through the same method of execution that they had once practiced on children.  (A few of them fled into the deeper levels of the Library, where their descendants still tread.)

After a generation attempting to make sense of the Library, it was decided that the world had no need for a library filled with gibberish.  A complete assembly of every book was no different than a complete assembly of no books, because you could give a pen to a child and tell them to write gibberish, and it would be no different than pulling a book off the chaotic shelves of the deep Stacks.

This is why the wisest men in Asria decided that the Library would be flooded with oil and ignited.  It burned for 41 years, then stopped.

Explorers have reported that the destruction is very incomplete.  There are entire wings of unburnt books.  Still, the library was successfully diminished, it's ash-choked halls now holding a smaller piece of infinity.

It also explains why the books of the Black Stacks are so distrustful (and many are simply hateful).  Still, storage space is plentiful in the Black Stacks, and the books look after their own.

from Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei

Ashen Savage
HD Def leather  Lunellum 1d6

Can use duodimension on themselves at will.  Their ash-covered bodies blend in perfectly, except for the whites of their eyes, which are usually easy to spot.  They use this ability to hide in bookshelves and travel through cracks.

The "ashen savages" are actually quite erudite, they just dress like shit.  They understand only written languages, and actually have no concept of a sound-based language.

They use their lunella, pestles, saliva, and hair to repair books.

Ashen Shaman
HD 3

Spells - find the path, disgorge

When fighting an Ashen Shaman, the PCs are at a disadvantage.  The shaman has already read about this encounter, and knows how it will go (at least for a little while).  To reflect this, all d20 rolls that the party makes in the first round of combat are rolled at disadvantage (roll twice, use worse).

In combat, they use disgorge to dump people's inventory's on the ground (everything except what is held or worn).

New Spell: Disgorge
R: 50'  T: container or creature  D: 0
Target container ejects its contents.  1 MD affects a backpack, 2 MD affects a chest, 3 MD affects a carriage, 4 MD affects a small cottage.  Locked containers cannot disgorge their contents (but will eject a hearty whiff of whatever smells they contain).  If used on a creature, it must make a Con save or spend 1 round vomiting.

Magic Item: Library Card

A precious heirloom bestowed upon only a few trusted families.  It allows access to the deeper, protected parts of the library.  One may also be awarded if an exceptional amount of worthy donations are made.

Magic Item: Rendering Pen

When stabbed into an object, the object will darken and dissolve over the next hour.  A portion of the liquid flows into the pen, which then begins to write down a description of the thing impaled.  Roll a d3 to see whether the description is physical, functional, or psychological/contextual. Doesn't work on stone, metal, or anything you couldn't stab a pen into.  Single use.

Magic Item: Nodal Ink

When swallowed, a node map of the floor appears on your back.  (A node map shows only connectivity, not orientation, size, or distance.)  Single use, both for the ink and for your back.

A node map.
The hallways might be oriented N-S but the map doesn't have to be.
Magic Book: Heretical Gazeteer

It looks like a boring folio of local maps, but this is actually a suppressed book of local maps.  It includes a town that has been deemed damnatio memoriae, most likely by the church.  The town was removed from all maps and hidden by "knitting" the spaces around it (usually with plans to reinstate it later once the heresy dies down).

By closely following the map, you should be able to reach the forbidden town.  It probably won't be anything fancy.  Just a regular abandoned town that no one else will be able to find unless they have a similar map, or if they follow you closely.  (You may run into members of the Obliterat, though.)

Magic Book: The Missionary

A small notebook half-filled with a dozen different handwritings.  Each handwriting usually spans a couple of pages and details some highly specific event or knowledge.

Anything written in this book will spread to adjacent books.  For example, writing that giraffes are carnivores and then hiding the book at your local school will cause the lie to spread to neighboring books.  Larger books and older books are more resistant to this conversion.  A newly-printed pamphlet will convert overnight, while a venerable encyclopedia might resist for decades, or never convert at all.

Psuedo-Imaginary Creations

Books require renewal.  Renewal requires materials.  And what are books made from?

Vellum stripped from the sides of young calves.  Trees that are ground up, mashed, and baked.  Books have these material memories encoded in them.  They have a mineral memory of it still.

The shamans dream these things into being.  They are harvested.  Kill one of them and you will kill a sleeping shaman, somewhere in the Black Stacks.

from Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei
HD 3  Def leather  Attack 1d8
No Appearing 1d6

Psuedo-Imaginary -- It doesn't move right; it doesn't seem real.  When you first encounter it, you can chose to attempt to disbelieve it.  If you succeed, the creature becomes invisible, intangible, and unaffectable.  You become similarly invisible + intangible to the creature.  It is possible (and expected) for some party members to see the creatures and others to not.

The same might not be true for your allies, who might now be fighting an invisible creature that you can no longer affect.

Escort --  Each psuedo-imaginary creation is escorted by 1d8-4 (min 0) ashen savages.

Random Generation -- The creations are [d6]: 1 calves, 2 oaks, 3 squids, 4 calves and oaks, 5 oaks and squids, 6 squids and calves.

When a Psuedo-Imaginary Creature is killed, it spills words (usually loose sentences from agricultural handbooks) that stain everyone adjacent.  These words will mark you as a murderer of the worst sort, and will make diplomacy with the ashen savages impossible.

Psuedo-Imaginary Calf

Trample -- 1d8, 50'

Twice as tall as a man.  Completely covered in smooth, pale skin.  Even hooves, eyes, and mouth.  If killed, can be used to make high-quality vellum.  Full of tasty pink meat, but utterly bloodless.

Psuedo-Imaginary Oak

Swallow on a hit, with a failed Str/Dex check.

They would only be about 10' tall if they weren't walking around on their roots like giant spiders.  The leaves are attached wrong.  It looks like they're glued to the bark.  When they stand still, you can see them breathing.

Pseudo-Imaginary Squid

Flying because why not.

Blindness on a hit.  Con save ends.

Their tentacles bifurcate seemingly at random.  (In fact, the tentacles form a reasonably good map of the Black Stacks.)  They have no mouths.  They have no organs, in fact--their bodies are entirely filled with high-quality ink.  They sound like waves crashing when they swim.

The shamans are capable of dreaming other things, and if you antagonize them, you will see exactly what.

Written for Francesco Gasperini, who wanted monsters, magic items, and books.  Thanks for being my Patron!


  1. I was sure the linked video was going to be this one:

    1. That just demonstrates why we shouldn't play soccer against giants, either.

  2. I feel like I spent a lot of my childhood in the black stacks. This was utterly marvellous!

  3. Hey, is talakeshi jelly a goblin-owned property, or can I use it in my own stuff? i think its a great item drop, and I was thinking of putting it in some adventures/tables.