The most powerful thing in the world is the imagination. It can make worlds and bring order or chaos to the world. When someone puts pen to paper it can take the imagination to entirely new places or inspire new ideas. So add a little bit of magic, throw in some adventurers, and you have a dungeon.
As part of one of my campaigns, my players had to make their way to a lost ancient library which held an artifact of immense power. I had created the idea off hand because it focused on my world’s God of Knowledge and thought a library would be the best type of dungeon focused on that god. When I started I had zero idea on how to actually pull it off.
Using the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition system I managed to come up with this:
While libraries are normally organized, they don’t have to be. That is just a product of the modern day and the desire to categorize everything. In a library that may have been abandoned for thousands of years anything that may be living in it may not exactly keep the organization. I treated navigating through the library like navigating through a maze. I did not draw up a map, but I had the players roll Wisdom(Survival) if they were trying to go anywhere without getting lost.
Any good dungeon will have plenty of things for the players to interact with. In a library it is easy to breeze over the fact that there is a whole lot more than just books and bookshelves. There are all sorts of tools used for accessing books, such as ladders and stools. Librarians will also have carts to help them move a large amount of books.
Bookshelves are also not static objects. I’m sure plenty of people can imagine knocking over bookshelves like dominoes. In a one-shot that I ran, the paladin actually rode a bookshelf crashing on top of one of his enemies! And if you think it wouldn’t do much damage, think again. Books are incredibly dense objects. If you have ever moved and you pack an entire box full of books, you will have found out just how heavy books can be. Now imagine a whole shelf of books. Makes that +1 mace look a little weak if you ask me.
For this campaign this long lost library was still being maintained. New books were making their way in from all corners of the Material Plane by magical means. This meant that there was a need for upkeep. Upkeep means librarians!
- Librarian Ghost – A Librarian who once worked here and is now passed on. I had the librarian still believing that patrons came in like normal and checked out books.
- Minotaur – If the library is like a maze, then a Minotaur is a fantastic creature to place in. I made him a sane individual who enjoyed living here.
- Automatons – They work without complaint, don’t need food or sleep. And if they malfunction it can make for a great combat encounter.
Like any good dungeon, there should be something inhabiting it. The librarians upkeep the well-being of the library, but there may be other things lurking in the bookshelves. Here were a few creatures I threw in:
- Book Worm – Pretty much a re-skinned purple worm sized down to roughly a Medium creature. I also made it green to play on the stereotype. Naturally it also ate books.
- Bookshelf Mimic – If your players aren’t expecting it, this can be a terrifying mimic to be facing, especially when you are surrounded by other bookshelves!
- Owls – Depending on your preference you could make them librarians. I made them a pest as a reference to Futurama.
- Flying Books – Anyone who has played the Harry Potter video games knows how annoying these can be. Perfect to send after your players, or as a goal for magic books (see further below).
- Minotaur – They don’t have to be librarians, they could just be a monster you have to fight!
- Beholder – I had a story reason for this one, but you don’t have to. Treasuring all of the knowledge in books and hoarding them to yourself sounds enough like a beholder to me!
- Dragon – Talk about having a hoard! This could be a great boss to have, especially in the Archives where there could be more than just books and old documents.
There are plenty of rooms and areas in a library. Quite a few of them the public might never see.
- History Rooms – These are locations in libraries where historical books of the area are located. If the library is for a big city, this could be a massive room.
- Librarian Offices – Librarians aren’t always wandering among the books – as much as they would love to – but do have to take time to sit down and complete work. Much of the time this is paper work, repairing books, and preparing books for the public. Head librarians might have a personal office where they would meet with important individuals and do specialized work.
- Reading Rooms – Small areas that have designated seating and lighting.
- Computer Rooms – For a Sci-fi setting this is a great place to gain access to the web or some computing.
- Archive – Probably one of the more interesting of the locations, this is where special access is granted to individuals for rare/important documents. This includes historical documents. This is the likely the location for powerful or taboo magic books to be stored.
This is where it gets exciting! We all know – or should know – that there are books with magical properties scattered throughout any fantasy world, at least any with magic still in the world. Plenty of veterans will know that some of these books enhance abilities or summon creatures. My favorite of the magic books are ones that can literally take your character to another world. This could be a permanent transportation, or like a roleplay adventure for the characters.
When I ran the library, I had three keys to a vault hidden inside of these magical books. The players had to complete the story as if they were the characters to obtain the key. If they failed/died they were spit out of the book. Death in the book resulted in the character appearing out of the book unconscious. They could also re-enter the book any number of times they wanted. They did however take damage from when they were inside of the book.
The books allowed only one person to enter at a time – they look at the book and then they get sucked in with the book closing behind them. However one of my players attempted to enter the book at the same time as another player. So during that short encounter I had them trade character sheets until they came out of the book.
Using magic books to transport your players to new worlds in a sense allows you to run a few ones-shots without completely pulling away from the theme of your campaign. Differences in kind allow your campaigns to feel fresh and exciting. If you really wanted to, you could make new character sheets for these one-shot characters.
Libraries are a place of imagination and learning. They hold places in the history of our world, and in the worlds of the imagination. Going to one is an adventure in itself, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t include them in our fantasies. Please let me know how you use libraries in your adventures and what you think I may have missed.