Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to Stock a Library

We're in the middle of the International Snow Like a Motherfucker Festival, as continents on both sides of the Atlantic get hammered by the wonderful, wonderful white stuff this weekend. It's snowing sideways outside my window right now.

But I'm thinking in four dimensions right now. There's the upcoming Hammers of the God, the upcominger Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill, the right-around-the-corner Death Ferox Doom, and the further-down-the-line plans for LotFP Traditional Fantasy Role-Playing.

The problem with ideas is that having these ideas and imaging how it'll turn out is the exciting part. Fleshing it out and writing the stuff, that's work, and while working, ideas come for other projects that seem much more inviting and awesome because they haven't reached the stage of needing work yet!

But Hammers of the God is done writing-wise except for the history of the location which in many ways is the main feature of the adventure from a writing point of view. I'm sure from a GM and player perspective, the thrilling locations and deadly foes and diabolical traps will be the most interesting feature of the adventure.

Of course, six rooms' descriptions depend on that history, so it's a bit less done than that paragraph makes it sound. The final pieces of art still aren't finished (but I've approved the sketches) and the map's not done yet so I've got some time.

The context that the adventure that became Hammers of the God was run in (ugly sentence, sorry) won't work for a commercial release, as it was adventure #2 of the Vaasa campaign, and it was used to communicate important information about what the campaign was, and that campaign lasted a full year. Obviously I can't do that for general release... or can I?

One of the important points within the location of Hammers of the God is the library. At the time of the original running, the books that were there were not so important. It was the book that was not there that was important for spurring the players to later action.

For the commercial release, I'm swapping that. The book that isn't there will be very ominous and may very well inspire a campaign arc for referees, but it's not the matter at hand. So the rest of the books in the library all need to have relevance to the location itself. Or at least a significant number of books needs to be relevant; irrelevant books will just be there to divert and delay attention, and perhaps misdirect PCs into harm whereas the relevant books will help them avoid harm.

How to do this?

A random table, sure, but it seems like cheating to throw in a random table with quick information like it's some damn rumors-at-the-tavern table.

No, I've got 100 index cards, and I'm writing a short synopsis of a book's contents on each one. When I get to the end, I'll put them in chronological order according to in-game writing date, then decide which bits are boring or extraneous and eject them. With the ones that are left, I'll see how each particular one might be able to be twisted around or have some "historical perspective" and spin doctoring put upon it, so a single subject might have multiple books - with conflicting information.

Then I'll come up with titles for each of these books, write up coherent summaries of their contents to be given to players who want their characters to take the time to translate these books, and put them in a list in chronological order so the referee can see the Big Picture, and tack random numbers on to each of them so the referee can randomly determine which book the PCs are rifling through at the moment. This whole thing will be stuck in the back of the adventure as an appendix so it doesn't clog up however many pages right at the beginning of the module.

The result will be a fully-stocked, no-cheating library for the players to research within, or not (things in there will definitely make life easier for the PCs, but nothing will be necessary to proceed to certain areas). It's already an interesting experiment to write, and I can't wait to see how it turns out, and how it is received by the people who buy the adventure.

I've always thought of traditional fantasy adventuring to be something akin to Indiana Jones-style archaeology. That there are ruins and treasure (and foes and conflict) are all good and well, but the success of the expedition depends on research and knowledge. Indy is a second-generation academic, you know. Gandalf pulled the same sort of thing when he visited Minas Tirith before returning to inform Frodo about the nature of his Ring. Pushing this sort of thing as necessary in an adventure might be pushing it, but making it available is something that should be done more often!


  1. It's nice how you can pretty much any kind of game within this game if you put in the ffort.

  2. Yes! I love this idea. Honestly, as someone who has no problem at all creating great adventure locales at the snap of a finger, I am much more likely to buy this product knowing about the library appendix than I would be otherwise. Actually, the chance of me buying a pre-made dungeon type module are pretty close to nil, but I am almost 100% certain I will buy this just for that appendix.

    As a side note, perhaps you could expand it a little bit and release it separately as a little gaming supplement available on PDF by itself? I don't know how many times I have had to make up a dozen or more titles in a library so that the PCs have a feeling of immersion in the game world, and a product like this would be invaluable to me. You could have two or three different libraries/random tables.

  3. Interesting thoughts. Hitting the library is pretty common in Call of Cthulhu, but I've never seen it done in D&D, where archives tend to get searched for treasure then abandoned.

  4. A library appendix would make this a definite sale for me. One of the things I liked about the old U2 Saltmarsh module was the small library the wise old lizard man had in his study.

  5. I'm quite intrigued by the library appendix as well.