Monday, October 9, 2017

The Weird Lore Found in Books

I've never felt compelled to build a setting from the ground up.  I like drawing maps occasionally, but actually thinking about the borders of countries, the rulers of realms, the pantheon, the lay of the cosmos, it's all kind of boring to me until I need it.  This is why I like gazetteer style setting books like Matt Finch's Borderland Provinces.  It gives me all that background detail with nice bits like the emblems of each province and the religious heresies operating in the region, while leaving plenty of space for me to develop.

I much prefer to develop the setting through actual play.  Once players discover something, that makes it a part of the setting, and I can fill in the background around that as needed.  An easy way to add this kind of fluff to a setting is books.  Any time there is a bookshelf in the dungeon, you can be sure that players will rush to it, generally looking for magic tomes.  I like to throw in a bit of weird fluff on the shelf, since there ought to be more books than just the wizard's spells there.  A nice resource for this is Michael Curtis's Dungeon Alphabet.  A series of flavor inducing letters, B in this is for Book, and it gives a table of 100 book titles and authors, with great entries like Battered Armor & Shorn Wings by Mull Thry and The Obscure Octavo by Sebastian Gaunt.  There have been a few times that I've used this table to add a bit of dungeon dressing and inevitably my players ask if there's anything interesting in those books.

So during down time, I've expanded on a couple titles.

Common Fungi of the Shrieking Caverns by Nergol Dunwutter

This book is the journal of a neophyte adventurer who, on his first expedition into dungeons dark, became separated from his party and lost in a labyrinthine cavern system.  The entries chronicle his means of survival through experimentation with the various fungi of the so-called Shrieking Caverns.  This includes a sort of mushroom which, when broken open, release phosphorescent spores which served as his primary light sources.  A hanging lichen which, when torn into thin strands, had a remarkable tensile strength suitable for being woven into rope, blankets, and even basic clothing.  His means of determining the edibility and toxicity of eating fungi are as follows:
1. If it smells like rancid death, do not eat it.
2. Boil a single mushroom into a cauldron and ingest a single spoonful.  If severe gastrointestinal distress does not result, try another.
3. If increasing potency of boiled fungi continues to prove harmless, try various cooking methods to determine a suitable meal.
The journal is very academic in this manner in the beginning, but becomes increasingly deranged as the months pass.  Before long, Nergol is writing of befriending a colony of talking mushroom men who are at war with the tadpole-people.  His entries become more infrequent and less coherent from there.
The journal ends without explanation as to how he returned to the realms of daylight.

Hellfires and Abyssal Smoke by Prior Thomas the Pure

Thomas the Pure, cleric of Justicia, writes of the many demonic entities he has personally faced and abolished from our plane of existence.  Each entry is surprisingly formulaic, with Thomas traveling to a new village, learning that the crops have been rotting, the well water gone brackish, and new baby goats born with four horns.  He promptly ascertains the responsible culprit, by rigorous means of pointing his finger at whomever is a little odd, withdrawn, or reclusive in town.  Inevitably, this illiterate farmer or goat herder has been engaging in ancient occult rituals to consort with demons for nefarious purposes.  Thomas the Pure, who has never known sin, is the only one who can banish the demon and possibly save the soul of that deranged misfit, although never the life, as his exorcisms seem to burn down the cottage and all within every time.

Some of the demons he has delivered the world from...
• Crooran, Black-winged Knight of the Unholy Six.  This overgrown moth was a harbinger of the end times, seeking to open the way for his brethren.  Thanks to Prior Thomas the Pure, the end times will have to wait.
• Basqaudihr the Unclean.  A gongfarmer shirking his duties allowed a putrid nightmare to arise from the cesspit and terrorize any who approached the privies, though none could walk within a mile.  Braving that unholy stench, Prior Thomas had the privies set ablaze, along with several acres of farmland, for safe measures.
• Lolgaan, Duke of the Malign Storm.  This entry is somewhat vague, but Prior Thomas the Pure may have shouted at a storm cloud for some time, assuredly bringing about fair weather in the region for many days to follow.

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