Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thoughts Regarding Infamous Mouldering Grimoires Containing Lost Sorcerous Knowledge...

An idea I've been kicking around for a while (and which is relevant to "Making Magic Items Unique(r)") is one ripped off from Call of Cthulhu.

What if, instead of finding the spellbooks of individual wizards, adventurer's came across editions of (in)famous magical tomes? When the party slays the Black Enchanter of Bracken Glade, instead of finding a spellbook with 3 1st-level spell, 3 2nd-level spells and a third level spell they find a copy of "Hingarian's translation of The Puissant Jade Formulaes of Yling" or "A rare unexpurgated printing of The Seven Inscriptions from the Eldest Pit."

In a mileau with a long history of printing presses perhaps magic-user's don't have their own personal spellbooks, instead purchasing grimoires for the contained spells. Instead consulting a battered volume filled with the wizard's own notes and incantations the spellcaster chooses a book from their library.

Another use for this motif would be a way of distributing "non-Players Handbook"(or equivalent) spells, such as DM creations or "third party" spells such as those from Eldritch Weirdness, Ancient Vaults and Eldritch Secrets, Carcosa, or Beyond the Black Gate, into the gameworld. Ordinary spellbooks contain the everyday hoo-hum spells such as magic missile and fly, but if you want to learn "The Trifold Accursed Seeking of Ibnagiskang" you need to find a copy of "Cthonimonicon."

And with different translations and editions you can further complicate this matter. "Damn it, this is the abridged second edition of the Graven Plates of Yigslov that doesn't contain Freyadhin's Ultimate Transformation! It's useless to me you fools!"

I've started working on tables to randomly generate genre-appropriate tomes, grimoires, tablets and scrolls for treasure purposes, but perhaps I should instead (or as well) create a list of iconic famous volumes of spells? One think I really like about the treasure tables in Empire of the Petal Throne was the list of named crazy books/scrolls that you could roll up, although they did not contain "ordinary d&d spells."

One of the emergent effect I could see occurring with this system would be something along the lines of the players seeing a NPC spellcaster casting a rare spells and react along the lines of "He must have a copy of The Luminous Celestial Inscriptions!"

As a completely unrelated aside (aside from this blog occasionally being about music and metal music), I can't stop listening to the new Blasphemophagher LP "For Chaos, Obscurity and Desolation." Furious radioactive swarming assaults that bring to mind the masters of old Beherit and Sarcofago. Dig that pestilent apocalyptic artwork: Cthulhu-insect in a coal-scuttle helmet!


  1. I intend to run grimoires like this in my game, and I expect to throw them some spells with intentional defects in the transcription.

    They should be very careful and study a grimoire before atempting to cast any spell, unless they want to die horribly.

  2. It's Pretty much how I run grimoires in my games. One of my favorite bits of RPG fluff is from Deadlands, where Hoyle's Book of Games, is actually a disguised grimoire, with each subsequent edition being further expurgated.

  3. This is exactly the sort of thing I have always liked pulling on my players. Adapting the old (actual) grimoires into game-friendly analogues and then distorting them into seriously weird old books far beyond the often stale and lame reality is a lot of fun. I will have a few of my tomes, folios and manuscripts up on Riskail soon...after I introduce another kind of magic item/spell acquisition device in the next episode. Oh, and you don't need to introduce defects into your grimoires, just give them multiple conflicting and often incomplete editions, some scrawled with hand-written notes in the margins. And don't forget that some tomes are better read while asleep--they seep into one's dreams and insidiously imprint arcane secrets directly onto those vulnerable and susceptible and in close proximity...

  4. I like this approach! Anyone have experience running a campaign where spells were accessible via library or some sort of institution of learning ala Hogwarts? If there's one thing that Rowling did well in the Potter series it was dream up dozens of magic books--and make them academic no less!

    I've often wondered what it would be like to adapt HP into D&D. I'm sure someone out there has attempted it. It seems like it's a world apart from Vancian magic, yes?

  5. I like unusual tomes. They can have spells, knowledge, and plothooks. CoC is fill of strange books! The Scrolls of Skelos (Conan RPG) also list a few of books - like the Book of Skelos (an encrypted spellbook, beastery, and full of knowledge), and the Books of Vathelos (written by a scribe who went insane after dictating the words of his blind master; it hold lots of secrets & knowledge, if you can read that mess). These books takes time to decipher, and can cause madness.

    If only more D&D spell books was so queer!

  6. I would love a tome name generator. I've done something similar to this in my 4e games but it was more of a recipe mechanic rip off. The last campaign saw the adventurers raid some chiurgeons lab, run off with a box full of notes, a stack of books that looked the most useful(the two wizards pressed for time did an int check when scanning his shelves of hundreds of books and grabbed what they could carry) and the chiurgeons journal. With it they carried the pieces to parts of many rituals though most of it incomplete. They ended up selling what they couldn't piece together to these monks that worshiped knowledge for a good amount of gold because they couldn't figure out the rituals.

    Would've sounded much radder if I could think of cool names for the books, tomes, codices, and manuals.

  7. As a long-standing Call of Cthulhu fan, I heartily endorse this idea!

  8. This very subject was going to be my post yesterday, but I was feeling ill and took a nap instead. I demand you cease all telepathic surveillance immediately.

  9. I always liked the idea in Bard Game's Arcanum and carried through to the early editions of Talislanta: the 1st level spells are all well-known to magicians and from the common stock of magic. Beyond that, it's legend and hearsay and finding lost grimoires.

  10. "Dude, that book's in Alemanian, and it's a clone - it's only got half the stuff inside!"

    Great post - the printers would need to either be very secretive or well-guarded. I see the Guilders trying to work that demand/supply curve to their advantage.Oh the possibilities :)

  11. Wait...so there is another way to do this? You mean everyone doesn't do spellbooks this way? O_O

    Sorry for the somewhat facetious opening but it really is something I've been doing in my main D&D world for the last 20 years or so.

    Each wizard has his or her own spellbook but the spellbooks of famous or well renowned wizards have often been found or left to friends, relatives, colleagues or employers (very common with Royal Wizards/Magical Advisors). The reading, rewriting and disseminating of the information in these tomes has created the basis of magical theory and practice over the course of several generations and continues to do so.

    @Jay - Magical libraries, both private and academic, do indeed exist in my world. Since Dwarves managed to create a printing press device a one point, multiple copies of a book can be printed (although time and costs limit how many can be reasonably produced at this juncture.). This means that Mage Guilds and Academies (sponsored by Merchants or Kingdoms wanting more wizards in their employ) can order numerous volumes of a book for their students or for personal study.

  12. I like the idea because I like to keep character creation simple in the beginning (since it often involves telling 4 people at once who don;t knwo the rules what to do) and so having cool new spells at the beginning would just complicate matters.

    Having a periodic injection of Eldritch Tomes with new spells not in the PHB would allow me to get these spells in the game without having to do so from the first for.

  13. Jeff Rients said "This very subject was going to be my post yesterday..."

    Really? I'm kind of surprised...after your comment on my post with Coffins I didn't think Blasphemophager would be your cup of tea? ;)

  14. Blasphemophagher!

    Makes me want to play Warhammer 40K again. :)

  15. Here's a random generator for you: http://towerofthearchmage.blogspot.com/2010/03/random-magical-book-name-generator.html

  16. I also run along these lines because it keeps the players guessing, which I am all about.

    Semi-related: for International Traditional Gaming week I will be running a modified version of B2 and using treasures and wandering monsters from the blogoshpere.

    Prepare to be mined (and credited), Planet Algol!

  17. Thanks for the kind feedback everyone!

    Dave: Very very awesome!

    ancientvaults: Hoho, I hope there's a recap! If/when I ever do yee olde trad fantasie D&D game your stuff is going to be a major influence...welcome to the world of Snow White..and by that I mean evil Snow White on mushrooms...