Unusual selections from a magical library

Started by Jubal, September 17, 2023, 12:04:48 AM

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Unusual selections from a magical library
By Jubal

Whilst digging through the lost libraries of the depths of Exilian, I decided to note down a selection of the most intriguing magical texts, to give you all some more ideas about what might lurk at the heart of any magical libraries, wizards' towers, or other such spaces that you may be creating for your TTRPGs, computer games, fantasy fiction, or similar. As such, here are twelve magical texts that you might come across. Read on... though, as ever, remember that knowledge can be a dangerous thing!

The Aumanac
If read normally, is just a series of folk tales: but it can be read in a different way (back to front, in columns, every other line: it's a hidden text puzzle) and if this is done the Aumanac bonds with the reader, its covers forming a breastplate, the pages a robe and cloak, and the metal corner caps transforming into a helm. The Aumanac armour does not have a terribly high armour value but works more by providing beneficial effects (forcing opponents to fail or re-try attacks, permitting the hero to try again when they fail at something) and also meaning deus ex machina events happen to the hero a lot: it is, in fact, literal plot armour.

The Holy Laws Of Meryten
A set of laws devised to govern magic by some gods at the dawn of time: these were long since forgotten but are mostly technically still in force, meaning that a user who has properly read the book has the opportunity to resist almost preternaturally well or even produce a full counterspell any time they are targeted by a magical attack, as long as they can come up with a plausible sounding novel loophole or legal technicality that makes the action illegal. The book can only be properly memorised by one person at a time, because the lawyer who wrote it all down didn't want anyone stealing his business.

The Good Little Bullywug
A children's tale about a sad little bullywug (that is, a frog person, for those who do not know D&D monster lore). She wants to be a princess but turns out to actually just be a bullywug after all. The tale appears unimportant, but if a hero expresses sympathy for the bullywug and hugs or gives a kiss to the book, the bullywug will be summoned. She is neutral good, really really wants to help the heroes, and mostly has the stats of a bullywug, but is *completely indestructible by any means* - she could be lost by e.g. being portaled away, but no attacks or environmental hazards will ever affect her. She will also leave the party if they do too many evil deeds, because, well, she's literally a children's book character and doesn't want to be disappointed by you.

The Volumomanteion
A tabletop-game only option. Pick another book from nearby the gaming table (not a rulebook, ideally a novel). The user of the Oracle should roll d100, and count pages and pick a sentence depending on the phases of the moon:

  • Crescent moon: Count from the back, first sentence on the page
  • Waxing moon: Count from the front, last sentence on the page
  • Full moon: Count from the front, first sentence on the page
  • Waning moon: Count from the back, last sentence on the page

The reader then becomes the agent of this prophecy: they get a small penalty, at the GM's discretion, until they can reasonably argue that they have fulfilled the spirit of their selected sentence, at which point they get a small permanent bonus.

The Periplus, Commesian the Navigator
Often wrongly assumed to be the periplus (travel account) "of" Commesian, but actually Commesian transformed himself into a book to better record his voyages, which encompassed everywhere on the prime material plane. Commesian did so hundreds of years ago, but this means he can basically be used as a historial hitch-hiker's guide who can reveal the locations of lost treasure, cities, etc, often in the form of slightly annoying reminiscences about how everything was better when he was young. The book is sentient, but only talks if provided with incentives either by threatening its fabric or by coaxing it with offers of travel and stories of what the world is like now.

A History of Swords
This is a book that rewrites itself to be the history of whatever sword the reader is actually carrying and/or any swords in the room. Could reveal who was killed with them, those people's life stories, any magic item secrets, etc. It may reveal things about non-sword weapons but will be incredibly rude about their inferiority due to them not being swords.

The Prophecies of Ceraphai
The Prophecies is not, in fact, a book that may tell heroes prophecies about themselves: rather, it's a magical book that seeks to make the reader an agent of prophecy, and will open itself to pages relating to areas, families, or that it senses the heroes may be near. The prophecies will not always be happy ones, but the heroes can loophole them and the writing is often such to allow for this.

A prophecy being fulfilled will cause the book to replace that page with some information of use to the fulfiller – be that a small bit of local wisdom, the location of nearby treasure, or similar. Pointedly failing to fulfil a prophecy or refusing to, conversely, will cause the page to be filled with a minor curse, explosive runes, or similar.

Six example prophecies
1 - The last heir of (family) must admit their true love before the month ends
Note: This isn't necessarily a matchmaking task! Finding what they already love, in any sense of that term, and getting them to admit it should count. Though matchmaking might also work.
2 - The ruler of (place) is fated to die before the month ends
Note: actually easily loopholed by finding someone already on their deathbed and temporarily making them the ruler until the end of the month.
3 - There shall be no king/mayor/duke upon the throne of x hereafter
Note: just persuade them to change the titulature! Though having a revolution also works.
4 - Their bones shall be broken, their flesh burned, their home shall lie empty in the dark.
Note: bones and flesh can be purchased by the prophesy-holder at all good local butchers, thus becoming theirs. Their home doesn't have to be emptied for more than a night.
5 – Only when a sapling planted this year touches the roof of the tallest tower will the city be safe from the plague.
Note: the prophecy never states that the sapling's roots still need to be in the ground. Behold, a way to include plot-critical flowerpots and roof climbing into your fantasy worlds.
6 – The lovers shall never be allowed to marry without bringing bad luck to all the fishermen of the area, unless they dance their marriage dance upon the sea-floor.
Note: I don't have a good way to rule this one, but it is a really good way for someone who took control water or waterbreathing spells to have a moment to shine. Also, a scene where the heroes have to let the lovers keep dancing while fighting off an evil overlord's angry fish-men/drowned dead/giant doom nautilus might have something to it.

The Three Walled Castle
A children's book. When opened to a certain page and sung the right nursery rhymes the book opens out into a tiny castle full of little fey spirits who are excessively and bizarrely chivalric. The castle only has three walls, and takes up approximately a 4ft (1.2 metre) square. The inhabitants are tiny (7-10cm), equipped variously as knights, archers, and royals, and number around twenty: they are very persuadable to take on anything that can be made to sound like a chivalric enough task, but conversely will refuse to help with anything that sounds unchivalrous.

The Heresiarch
This book contains details of hundreds of lost heresies and minor gods whose cults were wiped out by various inquisitions and similar. Not all the gods in it are evil, but all of them are chaotic or otherwise opposed to the usual ordering of society. At least, that's a first impression. Heroes reading this book will actually tend to find more and more heresies or ideas that speak to their particular frustrations with the social order they find themselves in, as the book tries to give them the information and ideas to break out of those bonds or strictures - for better or for worse, as the book is an agent of heresy for its own sake.

The Doomscroll
When unrolled, the Doomscroll is always full of tiny annal entries containing the worst things happening in the world. This is useful for discerning what the heroes need to be doing in an up to the minute way, but there is a catch. It may cause temporary penalties to intellect and wisdom to use, and those who know of its existence, especially its mysterious original author, can manipulate it to show what they want the heroes to see.

Tapputi's Laboratory
Mostly an alchemy guide, but opening a hidden part of the book's cover correctly lets you into the extradimensional laboratory, which is a small dungeon-style adventure themed around potions and alchemy that needs clearing. If this is done, Tapputi's ghost will be found at the centre of the laboratory and will provide useful advice on potions beyond those which can normally be created by mortal kindreds.

The Nestognomeicon
The pages of this book are quite loose. All of them contain terribly done pictures of gnomes. If one falls out, a gnome is spawned. Note that the book is around 350 pages long so if all of them fall out at once there may be some issues.

The gnomes from the Nestognomeicon have entirely beetle-black eyes, a preternatural sense for where paintings, metal items, and mechanisms are, and a tendency to hoarding behaviour: they speak their own clicking and guttural language unknown to those around them. In general they will attempt to find a suitably safe, small space and busily start hoarding items that are precious to them there. They are otherwise, well, gnomes.

The lost librarians of Exilian hope you found these texts interesting and enlightening, and remind you that under no circumstances are readers allowed into the Forbidden Shelves of the site archives. Have you seen anything similar to these books in stories or campaigns, or do you have any entries to add? Do say, and let us know what you might do with these texts and ideas, in the thread below!
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...