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The Role of Books

The wind raged down the chasm as the adventurers huddled against the side of the cliff. Sleet pounded down upon their shoulders and stung their faces.

"You find it yet, Jalmier?" Brothwek growled as he kicked a rock off the trail and down the chasm with his boot.

"One moment, one moment," the young woman muttered, her back turned to the open expanse below. She flipped through pages of a book that she kept sheltered from the wind and snow with her heavy robes.

"By the gods!" Yemith bellowed, "If you don't find where that tomb's entrance is hidden we'll surely freeze to death!"

Brothwek looked from Yemith to Jalmier and then to the others in the party. He hefted his axe back upon his shoulders and took a step down the trail.

"Found it!" Jelmier called, more to herself than to anyone else. Brothwek stopped and turned back to look at her. She was muttering, reading aloud quickly and quietly, as she poured over the old tome. "We missed it," she finally said aloud.

"What?!" Yemith rasped.

Jelmier turned to the others as she stuffed the book back under her robes. "We missed it. The snow must have covered up the signs in the rock. The hidden entrance is back, about two hundred steps, up the trail. That's where we'll find the stone ladder that leads up to Carruk-Bol's tomb."

Brothwek growled and began leading the freezing group back up the path.

Books, tomes, encyclopedias, chronicles, and numerous other forms of the written word are valuable sources of information and otherwise forgotten lore. While magical spellbooks hold immediately applicable tools and weapons of power that wizards can call upon; mundane books also hold information that can be applied by adventurers. And information is power.

The following is a guideline for implementing the use of mundane books, and other forms of stored written information, to reflect the nature of book learning in the Dungeons and Dragons game. Giving a book a rating, like a portable skill level, is merely an abstraction of reality that is used to give the game a feeling that a characters' knowledge is not limited to their character level.

The Diligent Student

Before a character can even know whether a book is useful or not she has to read the book in its entirety. A book takes a number of days to read (8 hours per day) equal to the absolute value of its rating. Therefore, a rating -10 book and a rating 10 book both take 10 days to read. Unlike magic item creation, a character can be interrupted in her studies and can choose to read for less than 8 hours in any given day but the minimum a character has to spend reading is one hour. Anything less and the character does not retain what they've read in their long term memory. The DM is free to add or subtract a few days from the normal time that it would take to read a book to keep the PC guessing as to the books rating.

If a character spends more than her Intelligence score, minus the rating of the book, in days away from study the character must start reading again. If this results in negative days, for example a character with an Intelligence of 8 reading a rating 10 book, she must read the book uninterrupted, with no time taken off, to gain the benefits of the book's contents.

After liberating the tome from the mummy's crypt, Jalmier decides that she is going to start reading the book right away, every night at camp, as her party makes the four day journey back to town. The DM has decided that the book is written in hard to read prose and adds two days to the time that it would normally take to read the book (2+ book rating of 6 = 8 days or 64 hours). On the first two nights Jalmier is able to read two hours a night. On the third night she begins reading but after 45 minutes the party is attacked by stirges. Recovering from wounds and fixing up the camp after the encounter takes up the remaining hour of twilight and so Jalmier does not gain any knowledge that night. On the last night before she reaches town it's her turn to make camp and cook dinner and so she is not able to read anymore that night.

Once in town Jalmier is busy buying supplies and meeting with contacts during the day and partying with her newfound wealth during the night. The revelries last for two days. On the third day back in town she decides to study the book in earnest and devotes 8 hours a day until she is finished. It takes Jalmier another 7 days and 4 hours to read the book.

The Nature of Books

Books are sources of stored information that are the reflections of the minds that created them. Some authors are meticulous in their research of a topic, while others are more fanciful in their conclusions, mixing fact with fallacy.

Any given volume of knowledge will contain a rating, which the Dungeon Master keeps secret from the players. This rating is a reflection on the usefulness and accuracy of the book. A character may attempt to discern whether a book is accurate or not by making a skill check, with the skill related to the book (or an Intelligence check if the character does not have the skill), against an usefulness DC check of 15 + the rating of the book (Base DC of 20 if the character does not have any ranks in the skill). A book that is filled with outright lies (a -10 rating) is easier to identify as being inaccurate than a book filled with half-truths and hidden meanings (a -1 or -2 rating). An accurate book that is filled with forgotten, strange, or otherwise counter-intuitive ideas (a 10 rating) is harder to verify than a book that, for the most part, contains information that the character may already know (a 1 or 2 rating). If the character fails the skill check she will, depending on what the DM finds appropriate, either; think the book is filled with lies, think that it is outdated or think that it is useful and most likely keep it around to access its contents. If the character succeeds on the test, she will see that the book is useful, but, unlike a misleading book, will not be led astray by bad information. Some DMs may choose that a certain book contains truthful information in some chapters while misinformation is set out in others. In this case, the DM should assign ratings to each chapter but should use the average of all the books chapter ratings as the modifier to the book usefulness DC check.

Once a book's usefulness check is attempted, the character cannot attempt another check unless that character has other ways of verifying the information. Allowing another character to read the book and come to his own conclusions is one acceptable way to verify the knowledge, but that character may fail as well. Access to other books, such as a library, will allow the character another attempt. If the character has access to other books on the same topic of the new book the character is allowed all the bonuses from having access to those books (see Power is Knowledge below).

Jalmier has just finished reading a book entitled A Study of Forgotten Ritual Burials and their Architectural Relationships to Morlin Clergy. She's found that each chapter is a study of a different King or Archbishop's tomb from the ancient Morlin Empire. Jalmier has previously studied the Morlin empire (rank 3 Knowledge skill) and so must roll her book usefulness check with her Intelligence modifier plus her skill's rank. The DM has decided that the book was written by an ancient cleric of the Morlin Empire in the decline of that ancient nation's history and has assigned the book with a rating of 6. Jalmier, with an Intelligence of 16 (+3 modifier), has DC of 21 to understand whether the book is useful or not. She rolls a 13 and fails but the DM decides to tell her that the book is most interesting and appears to be telling the truth, at least as the ancient author understands it. If the DM had found it appropriate she could have told Jalmier that the book comes across as pompous and full of pro-Morlin propaganda and that it would be doubtful that anyone would know all of the amount information presented in the book.

If Jalmier had succeeded on her test the DM could have informed her that many of the facts that she read verified rumors and old tales that she had heard from a bard a few years ago.

Knowledge is Power

In all cases where a PC uses a book, the DM should always keep the DC of the skill check and the rating of the book secret. This prevents the players from discerning the true value of the book. Whether the player or the DM makes the actual roll is up to the gaming styles of the group.

After having read the book, a character is now free to take advantage of the book's information. If a character has access to the book, i.e. is able to read the book at that moment, she may add the book's rating to her knowledge skill check. The time that it takes to access the desired information, the specific phrase or paragraph that pertains to the situation, is a number of full round actions equal to the rating of the book divided by the character's Intelligence modifier (minimum of 1 full round action). On the round after the information is found the character can make a standard skill check with the rating of the book as a circumstance modifier to the roll.

If the character does not have access to the book, or does not wish to look through the book at that moment, the character can attempt a skill check with a modifier of one half the books rating rounded down. This represents what the character is able to remember at that particular moment from his or her studies.

In either case, whether the character actively peruses a manual or tries to recall from memory a certain subject, should the character fail, it is up to the DM to decide whether the character realizes that they do not know the answers or whether they find, or assume, false answers.

Should the character be using a book with a negative rating, i.e. a book with false information, the roll is made as usual but the DM applies a negative modifier to the roll, rather than a positive value, based on the negative rating of the book. If the character succeeds on their skill check the results are the same as if they had not had the book. If the character fails the DM should feel free to feed the player misinformation based on the margin by which they failed the skill check's DC and the misleading nature of the book.

Most characters will be unsatisfied with not knowing how valid their books are. At some point the players may wish to have their characters research and cross-reference the information in their books with other sources. If the character has access to a large enough library (as could be found in large cities and metropolises) or the character can interview and query sages and scholars who have the appropriate skill relating to the subject of the book that character can then determine the validity of their book.

If the character uses a library to research their book it will be up to the DM to decide whether there are enough references in the library for the character to succeed. If the character chooses to purchase, or otherwise acquire, their own library they will need a number of books whose total ratings are equal to twice that of the researched book's rating. Once the character has found or started their own library, the time that it takes them to research the book is less than actually studying the book itself. This is because the character spends his or her time skimming reference material looking for pertinent information rather than reading each reference in their entirety. The total time that is needed to successfully research a book is the book's rating in days (8 hours) divided in half.

If the character goes to sages and other knowledgeable persons to research the book he or she will need go through a number of sages who's total relevant skill rating is equal to that of the book. But each sage will need to spend a number of days equal to the rating of the book to verify its information.

The cost for verifying a book varies but most libraries and almost all sages charge fees for their services (see the Price of Thought, below).

For ideas on using knowledge, and books of knowledge, against the players see the Call of Cthulhu game's Sanity Rules in relation to gained knowledge and Mythos related books.

The Good Scribe

At one time or another a character may wish to compile their own catalogue, biography, or dissertation on a subject that they feel worthy of attempting. Aside from the cost of materials (see the Price of Thought below) a character needs the time to be able to write, knowledge (or false-knowledge) of the subject matter, and the ability to actually write in a specific language.

The time that it takes to write a book is a number of weeks equal to its rating times two. This assumes the character is spending 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, in the process. A simple volume on how to plant potatoes or the simplest ways to care for horses (rating 1 books) will only take two weeks, or 96 hours. While a book that compiles the names, personalities, places, and histories of all the Nalfeshnee's which sit upon the Thrones of Woe in the Abyss (possibly a rating 15 book) will take 7 months (30 weeks, or 1440 hours)! This time cost not only represents the physical process of writing down the words of the book but also the time spent gathering the materials, researching the subject (if needed), and editing the first, second and possibly third drafts.

For a character to even be able to tackle a subject she must have the appropriate skill. Most, if not all, books fall under the category of Knowledge skills. In these cases the character must roll the appropriate Knowledge skill verse a DC of 10 + the rating that is desired for the book. Should the skill check succeed, the character will have written a book of the desired level at the end of the appropriate time. If the skill check fails the character has created a book with a rating equal to the skill check roll minus 10. If the result is negative the character has created a book of misinformation. When the work is completed the character may make an appropriate skill check against a DC of 5 + the absolute value of the book's rating in an attempt to realize how off target his or her writing is, whether or not the skill roll to write the book succeeded or failed. Any character who uses a book that they created can only use half the book's rating when making skill checks with that book. This reflects the idea that most of the book's contents came from the character's mind.

Not every subject will be in the domain of a Knowledge skill. A treaty on the identification of animal tracks might require only the Tracking feat and the Survival skill. A book detailing the art and process of carpentry might only call for ranks in Craft: Carpentry skill. Anyone attempting to write a book on a skill that they have, but not a Knowledge skill, adds +2 to the target DC. If a character decides to write a book on a subject when they do not have the related skill they must add +5 to the DC and use their Intelligence modifier to their roll. Some skills, such as Spellcraft, could be considered a Knowledge skill when pertaining to writing a book on the subject. The final ruling is left to the DM but it should be noted that most skills are not valid candidates for books. A book on Jumping, Hiding, or Bluffing, for example, could not possibly contain all the appropriate information for all the possible situations that would arise when trying to use those skills. As such, Knowledge, Craft and Profession skills are best suited for book learning.

To be able to write a book the character needs the ability to write. The language that the character is able to write does not affect the content of the book but does limit who can read the book. In addition to this, certain cultures may outlaw books in some languages or honor books written in another. A city state ruled by sorcerers may dictate that all published books be written in Draconic while an Authoritarian Dwarven nation may outlaw all non-Dwarven books from their libraries. These rules have no effect on the books content but may add interesting role-playing situations to consider.

Certain, highly intelligent, beings may be able to write a book based solely on iconographic symbols that they, themselves, create with out having any formal education on existing written forms. This is usually reserved for beings of god-like intelligence (21+) and require an Intelligence Check with a DC of 25 + the rating of the book that they wish to write to succeed in creating the book. Books of this sort are rare and hard to understand. To even realize that the book contains some kind of logical information, and not just a jumble of art, symbols, and pseudo-hieroglyphs requires an Intelligence or Decipher Script skill check against a DC of 15 + the book's rating. Attempting to understand the overall subject matter of such a book requires an Intelligence or Decipher Script skill check verse a DC of 20 + the book's rating and to actually comprehend the full meanings behind the alien glyphs requires an Intelligence or Decipher Script skill check against a DC of 25 + the book's rating.

The Price of Thought

In standard D&D campaigns, the printing press has yet to be invented. Most works are either unique, with no other copies in existence, or have been copied, usually by hand, by a scribe that has been commissioned to do so. This makes all books expensive because they are either rare and hard to come by, had the cost of the scribe and materials added to their base market value, or both.

The Player's Handbook states that 1 sheet of paper costs 4 sp while 1 sheet of parchment costs half as much. The general guideline is that a book will need 50 pages per rating value. A 1 oz. vial of ink will give you (liberally) 10 pages worth of writing and costs 8 gp per ounce. The cost of binding a book varies on the material used. Typical materials for binding a book are Canvas and Wood (2 sp) or Leather (5 sp). This gives the base material cost for writing a book of paper 60 gp per rating plus the cost of binding, while a parchment book will cost 50 gp per rating plus the cost of binding.

Side note: A Spellbook in the Player's Handbook costs 15 gp. This is a leather bound blank book of parchment. Using the above guidelines, a blank spellbook should actually cost 20 gp (100 pages of parchment) and 5 sp (leather binding) plus 75 sp markup for the crafter of the book and market value (double base cost) for a total of 56 gp.

Unless the character has Craft (Bookbinding) as a skill, the character will have to pay the full amount of the materials, not 1/3 the cost as per the Craft skill rules. If the character has bookbinding, that character can use the rules for creating paper, papyrus and parchment as per Magic of Faerun. Books are considered "High Quality Items" and their Craft DC is 15. Should the bookbinder succeed on the Craft check by equaling the DC (i.e. rolling a 15 on the skill check) the bookbinder is able to complete a blank, 110 page, book of parchment in a week with a cost 225 sp (DC 15 times roll of 15 equals 225 sp) and earn the bookbinder 75 sp (1/2 skill roll of 15 = 7.5 gp = 75 sp). For simplicity we assume that the average bookbinder can create a 100 page book of parchment in a week and is able to charge 75 sp for her labor or a 50 page book of parchment in four days for 43 sp.

The market price value of a finished blank book of parchment is double that of the full price of materials and labor.

Table 1-1: Blank Book Parts & Binding Labor Cost
# of PagesPage Material Cost (GP)*Bookbinder Cost (GP/days)Total (GP)**
(rating)PaperParchmentPaperParchmentPaperParchment
50 (1)20107.5/74.28/42814.78
100 (2)402013.91/137.5/754.4128
150 (3)603020.33/1910.7/1080.8341.2
200 (4)804026.75/2513.91/13107.2554.41
250 (5)1005034.24/3217.12/16134.7467.62
300 (6)1206040.66/3820.33/19161.1680.83
350 (7)1407047.08/4423.54/22187.5894.04
400 (8)1608053.5/5026.75/25214107.25
450 (9)1809060.99/5731.03/29241.49121.53
500 (10)20010067.41/6334.24/32267.91134.74
*Assumes the bookbinder purchases the paper or parchment at market value
**Assumes 5 SP for leather binding

Table 1-2: Blank Book Market Value Table
# of Pages (rating)Cost in GP# of Pages (rating)Cost in GP
PaperParchmentPaperParchment
50 (1)5630300 (6)323162
100 (2)10956350 (7)376189
150 (3)16283400 (8)428215
200 (4)215109450 (9)483244
250 (5)270136500 (10)534270

Table 1-3: Base Cost of a Book with Ink
# of Pages (rating)Ink cost* (GP)Book ofTotal Cost
Paper (GP)Parchment (GP)Paper (GP)Parchment (GP)
50 (1)4056309670
100 (2)8010956189136
150 (3)12016283282203
200 (4)160215109375269
250 (5)200270136470336
300 (6)240323162563402
350 (7)280376189656469
400 (8)320428215748535
450 (9)360483244843604
500 (10)400534270934670
*Assumes 1 oz. of ink is enough for 10 full (both sides) pages.

While Table 1-3: Base Cost of a Book With Ink lists the full market price of a written book it does not necessarily reflect how valuable the information actually is. Therefore, the DM is free to adjust the cost of a book, based on various factors such as; its age, special materials used (such as a special ink or gilded pages), the type of information within (a book detailing the indiscretions of the King might be worth more than a book on the seasons and weather of the local environment), etc.