Word Up

From “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves” via Wikipedia

Here are a few ideas on incorporating magical (or at least powerful) words into the treasure tables in your game.

All of these words are potential replacements for the venerable treasure map (which itself is a great piece of treasure). If you’re playing a game without treasure maps on the treasure list, you might need to reexamine your life choices. Or, you could just add it to the list of magic scrolls.

“Fechtbuch” is a German word for a book that teaches warriors how to fight with word and illustrations. The fechtbuch concept can be used for all classes, of course, and it occurred to me last night that the value of one of these books could be to grant a character an XP bonus, maybe +5% or +10% at the most, while they are earning XP to gain their new level. When the new level is gained, the book is of no more use to them – they’ve learned everything they’re going to learn from it.

The cursed version would do the opposite – a book written by a fool that makes true learning harder than it should be. Imagine trying to deal with a real hippopotamus after reading some nonsense in an old medieval bestiary.

A password gained in one room might help one get past a trap or monster in another room, or even another dungeon. “Swordfish” is a classic from the Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers, and who can forget “open sesame” (or “open sez me” if you’re a Popeye fan).


Passwords can be mundane – as in a word spoken to guards to permit passage past them – or they can be magical, as in a word spoken to disarm a magic trap or lock. Perhaps every lock and trap has a mystic password given to it by its creator during the act of creation, and high level thieves have a knowledge of such passwords. While they use their picks and tools, they also whisper these words to the lock, hoping to find the one that opens it.

The “cursed” version of this would be the word that causes bad things to happen, a’ la the infamous “bree-yark” in The Keep on the Borderlands.

Secret Words
Secret words are not all that different from passwords, I suppose, but with them the power of the word is definitely magical. Secret words work on living creatures, including non-sentient creatures. The words are tied to a particular type of creature and they have a single effect. The word can be used one or two or three times before it loses its power.

The effects of a secret word should be non-offensive, and could include making the creature friendly, stopping a charging or pursuing creature in its tracks, or undoing a special attack or defense of the monster (such as “turning off” a medusa’s petrifying gaze) for a short period of time.

The mystical word “Nee” comes immediately to mind.

True Names
True names are not terribly different from secret words, though they are potentially more powerful. The idea is that every creature from beyond the mortal realm, demons, devils, demodands, angels, elementals, etc., has a secret true name that permits the speaker control over them. The true name should probably be treated as a spell – thus once spoken, it is forgotten. Otherwise, you’re giving an adventurer a pet monster to sic on his enemies, and that’s a bit more than any adventurer should get. The word, when spoken to its owner, could act as a command, suggestion or geas spell – whatever makes the GM comfortable.

Rincewind by Paul Kidby, found at Wikipedia

The true name can be used in a summoning spell to bring that specific creature to you (rather than pot luck) and put it under control. If you know the true name but don’t know the owner, a GM could give a flat 1% chance that the creature you’re speaking to is the owner of the true name you have learned. After all, fantasy stories and fairy tales are full of such odd coincidences. Speaking the true name to the wrong creature, however, might be disastrous – the creature will know what you were trying to do and may resent it.

A good example of a true name is Rumpelstiltskin.

Words of Power
Words of power take things up yet another level. These words are, in effect, the power word spells (and maybe a few others, such as control weather) in a form that anyone can use. Again, you are allowed one use to a customer, and perhaps that use comes with ramifications, as the keepers of cosmic order do not care to have things disordered by irresponsible adventurers.

Conceptually, I’m thinking of these being like the powerful spell that lodged itself in the head of Terry Pratchett’s magic-user Rincewind. Have the word of power displace a spell that a character can normally prepare (even clerics) or a skill or maneuver a non-spellcaster can normally use. A thief, for example, learns the power word kill spell, but while it’s in her head she cannot move silently, hide in shadows or pick pockets, making her a very effective murderer, but a lousy thief.

The Greek word “logos”, from Wikipedia


What’s It Worth?

I’ll give you 10 gp, and not a copper more

Despite the wondrous quality of my RPG writing, it hasn’t made me a million dollars yet (just shy by about a million), so I have to have a real job. In my case, I research the commercial real estate market in Las Vegas, and write reports every quarter about how the market is doing. In the process, I often get asked questions about how much something is worth, or hear people complaining that a building sold for less than it was worth. I respond by explaining that nothing is worth more than what somebody else is willing to pay for it at any given moment. That got me thinking about a different way to value treasure.

Currently, when I’m writing a hex crawl, I’ll include treasure hordes with notations like “large ruby worth 5,000 gp”. What if, instead, I merely wrote “large ruby” and let the value be determined by the customer?

The basic idea: Come up with a matrix. The columns represent different classes of customers, the rows different categories of treasure. The data would be a random amount of money that the customer would be willing to pay for the treasure. The GM would roll this to determine the starting bid, and then roll a second dice to determine how high the customer will go. Adventurer and customer (GM) could then work out a final price for the item by haggling.

Classes of Customer

Peasants: These are your average working stiffs – laborers in towns and cities, people who carry things and serve others. They didn’t make much money in the real world – some would figure it at the equivalent of 1 or 2 copper pieces a day – but in the fantasy world, the standard is 1 silver piece per day. Either way, they have expenses, so they can’t afford to spend much on luxuries like treasure. There is a 90% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Artisans & Traders: These skilled laborers make a bit more, maybe five times as much as the peasants. This gives them a bit more money for luxuries. Still, if adventurers are going to these guys to sell their treasure, they’re probably a bit hard up. There is a 75% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Merchants: The merchants have plenty of money, though their assets probably aren’t liquid (meaning they have lots of stuff – goods, wagons, camels, ships – but not lots of money). Still, they aren’t hurting, and they can drop a few coins on the good things in life. There is a 50% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Merchant Princes: These are the big-time merchants, the fellows with royal and noble connections that allow them to own fleets and caravans and manors, etc. They’re going to be a bit more liquid than the common merchants. There is a 35% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Aristocracy: The lower end of the titled fellows – the knights and baronets and such. Like the merchants, their wealth is mostly tied up in things – land, animals, armor, weapons – so they’re like uber-barterers. They have a few coins stashed away, but they’re probably more apt to trade things like armor, horses or favors. There is a 65% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Nobility: The nobility includes barons, counts, and the like. Lots of land, but, as with the merchant princes, more liquid than the aristocracy. There is a 25% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Lesser Royalty: A step up from the nobility – the dukes and bishops. There is a 20% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Greater Royalty: Kings, queens, princes and princesses, and archbishops as well. There is a 12% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Imperials: Not Chryslers, but actual imperials – emperors, empresses, kings-of-kings, popes, etc. There is a 6% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Categories of Treasure
These are the same categories you will find in Blood & Treasure, and adapting them to your favorite game shouldn’t be too taxing on the grey matter.

Fancy Stones – agates, hematite – the stuff you find in shopping malls and tourist traps

Gems – better than stones, not as good as jewels

Jewels – rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds

Common Arts & Trade Goods – armor, weapons, things made out of non-precious metals, common animal skins, rugs, many tapestries, common sorts of books. Assume the price is per ounce where applicable.

Fine Arts & Exotic Goods – lacquered wood, rare spices, items made from precious metals, bejeweled items, the skins of exotic animals, rare books, especially fine paintings and tapestries. Assume the price is per ounce where applicable.

Minor Magic Items – potions, scrolls, magical oddities

Major Magic Items – that stuff you really want to put on your character’s equipment list

The Table

The table above is a simple matrix. Find the category of treasure and the category of customer, and you get their opening bid. Roll a d6 to find out how high they’ll actually go:

1-3: No more than 25% higher, and they might have some conditions
4-5: No more than 50% higher
6: No more than 100% higher

Also, remember that there is a percentage chance that the customer offers to pay with goods and/or services rather than actual money. The value of services rendered is up to you, but most games give some sort of guidance. Favors are tricky – they may not be honored at a later date – but they could come in handy.

Obviously, some interpretation is involved here for the GM in terms of treasure category and customer category, and feel free to apply other factors. In a country where gold or silver is common, objects made from gold and silver might be considered common arts rather than fine arts. Likewise, spices, furs and pelts might be common one place and exotic in another.

The impetus for this table was a painting I posted a few weeks ago when I asked the question “Are Treasure Hordes Too Small?”. The idea here is that you can now provide a fairly large horde without having to predetermine what everything is worth. This system also gives adventurers a reason to make contact with nobles and such, which in turn can lead to further adventures.

Overcomplicating Coins (You’re Welcome!)

Are you one of those guys or gals that likes it … complicated?

If you answered “yes”, then read on. If not … read on anyways, you’re already here.

What follows are some tables showing a variety of historical coinage that might appear in the next treasure horde you generate, if you’re of the mind to permit them. Of course, you might want to attach some imaginary, fantasy kingdom name to them to make them campaign specific (“Ah! You’ve found 300 Cromarkian Groats and a small sack of gold doubloons from the Fraznak Empire!). You can use the table in two ways (and one of them might just piss off the players, so I know which one I’d use.)

1) Calculate the total value of the horde’s coins, roll a random coin type for each metal (or two or three, whatever you like), and translate the value into the number of coins. I included three values, one for OD&D (10 coins per pound), one for d20 (50 coins to the pound) and one for a more realistic 100 coins to the pound.

Example: You generate 1,000 cp and you’re playing OD&D (i.e. 10 coins to the pound). You roll up the Roman Sesertius as your historic copper coinage, which are worth 1/3 a copper piece each, thus the horde consists of 3,000 copper sesterius.

2) You roll up the number of coins, and then roll randomly to determine what kind of coin was found.

Example: You roll up 300 gold coins (gp) and then roll randomly to determine they are Italian ducats. You’re playing d20, so 300 ducats is actually worth 1,200 sp, or 120 gp. See – your players will be pissed. On the other hand, if you’d rolled up Spanish escudos, the horde would be worth 1,500 gp.

Without further ado … the tables.

If you want to annoy the players a bit more, you can roll to see how debased the coinage is … but I wouldn’t suggest it.

Of course, if you’re using the notion that your fantasy world is built on the ruins of a “modern” world, then the ancient coinage would be made up of krugerrands, yen and buffalo nickels.

Ten Uncommon Coins

1. Compacted Cubits: A compacted cubit is a full ton (2,000 lb) of silver dust stuffed into an extra-dimensional space sealed inside a tiny cylinder (coin shaped) of force. They look like grainy, silvery coins but feel perfectly smooth. God forbid you have a few of these in your backpack when somebody casts dispel magic. Depending on how you value coinage, a compacted cubit is worth 20,000 sp or 200,000 sp. And yeah, I know a cubit isn’t a measure of weight. You can blame Battlestar Galactica.

2. Soultaker: Appears as a blank, gold coin. When pressed on the forehead of a recently dead body, it absorbs the person’s soul and their image appears on the coin.

3. Dragon Tokens: Dragon tokens are wooden coins that are steeped in the blood of a freshly slain dragon and then coated with wax to keep the draconic goodness locked inside. Value depends on how much you value dragon blood, but probably not more than 10 gp.

4. Token of Friendship: A tarnished brass coin. Creates a vague emotional connection between you and the person who presented it to you – i.e., you know when they are frightened, happy, etc. The coin can summon the person bodily to you if you call out their name while holding it.

5. Platinum Cone: A small platinum cone, worth 2 pp. When the tiny end is held to the ear it implants a random magic-user spell (level 1d3) in your head, making you capable of casting it if not wearing armor. There is a 1 in 6 chance that the spell is actually reversed, or just not what you thought it was.

6. Pennywise: A copper coin bearing the image of an owl. It increases one’s Wisdom score by +3 (to a maximum of 18), but makes that person very tight with money.

7. Golden Rad: Radioactive gold coinage, with all that radiation brings (poison, mutation – depends on your campaign). Each coin has a 1 in 20 chance per month of transmuting back to lead.

8. Silver Sylph: A silver coin with a hole in the center. If one blows through the hole, the coin produces bubbles of perfume, with a 1% chance of instead producing a sylph. You have no control over the sylph, and if you dragged her away from something important, she might be quite cross with you.

9. Gold Spiral: Gold coin with a spiral design, it can absorb one lightning bolt (no save needed) and then discharges it one hour later. While holding the charge, the holder is immune to electricity.

10. Corpse Coins: Copper coins. If placed on the eyes of a corpse, they completely stop decay. If held over a single eye of a living creature, it makes them invisible to corporeal undead. Of course, one could hold coins over both eyes, but they’d probably run into things.

On Barter and Trade

Those of you who use the Swords & Wizardry rules probably know that the guidelines for treasure allocation stipulate that there is a 10% chance (i.e. a roll of 10 on 1d10) that coins will be swapped out for gems, jewelry or magic. In general, I love these rules because magic, gems and jewelry remain fairly rare. However, I do feel as though this system leaves out many alternative forms of wealth, i.e. goods. I’m no stickler for realism in my games, but piles and piles of gold coins do stretch plausibility pretty far, and can become pretty boring. Coins were pretty rare things for most medieval folk. In an inventory of one of Charlemagne’s smaller estates, for example, one comes across a mere 13 shillings and large numbers of livestock, household goods, grain and cheese. For this reason, I began swapping out coinage for trade goods on the roll of “1” on 1d10, using the following guidelines for amounts and values. I went ahead and organized the information so one could randomly determine the goods found. Feel free to change values, especially if a particular item is either rare or exceedingly common in a particular region. When adventurers try to sell these trade goods, you can simulate price fluctuations by rolling 1d6, with a 1-2 meaning half the normal value and a 5-6 meaning double the normal value. Obviously, this can also be used for determining the contents of a caravan or merchant cog.

In Place of 100 gold pieces (roll 1d100)
1-2. 1d10 tons of raw wool (20 gp/ton)
3-4. 2d100 ingots of lead (10 lb ingots, 7 sp/ingot)
5-6. 2d100 ingots of iron (10 lb ingots, 1 gp/ingot)
7-8. 1d8 x 100 pounds of buckwheat (25 cp/lb)
9-10. 1d6 x 100 pounds of millet (3 sp/lb)
11-12. 1d6 x 100 pounds of oats (3 sp/lb)
13-14. 1d6 x 100 pounds of rye (3 sp/lb)
15-16. 1d6 x 100 pounds of walnuts (3 sp/lb)
17-18. 1d6 x 100 pounds of yellow (sulfuric) dye (3 sp/lb)
19-20. 1d100 ingots of tin (5 lb ingots, 4 sp/lb)
21-22. 1d4 x 100 pounds of hazelnuts (200 lb), 5 sp/lb
23-24. 1d4 x 100 pounds Red (iron) dye (200 lb), 5 sp/lb
25-26. 1d8 x 10 ingots of steel (5 lb ingots, 6 sp/lb)
27-28. 1d8 x 10 ingots of zinc (5 lb ingots, 8 sp/lb)
29-30. 2d20 ingots of brass (5 lb ingots, 1 gp/lb)
31-32. 2d20 ingots of bronze (5 lb ingots, 1 gp/lb)
33-34. 2d20 ingots of copper (5 lb ingots, 1 gp/lb)
35-36. 4d8 barrels of ale (barrel holds 30 gal., weighs 250 lb, worth 6 gp)
37-38. 2d10 barrels of wine (barrel holds 30 gal., weighs 250 lb, worth 9 gp)
39-40. 2d10 x 10 pounds of barley (1 gp/lb)
41-42. 2d10 x 10 pounds of blue dye (1 gp/lb)
43-44. 2d10 x 10 pounds of coal (1 gp/lb)
45-46. 2d10 x 10 pounds of green dye (1 gp/lb)
47-48. 2d10 x 10 pounds of gum arabic (1 gp/lb)
49-50. 2d10 x 10 pounds of ocher dye (1 gp/lb)
51-52. 2d10 x 10 pounds of chestnuts (1 gp/lb)
53. 2d10 x 10 pounds of cinnamon (1 gp/lb)
54. 2d10 x 10 goats (1 gp/goat)
55. 2d10 x 10 peacock feathers (1 gp/feather)
56. 1d10 x 10 pounds of ginger (2 gp/lb)
57. 1d10 x 10 pounds of lentils (2 gp/lb)
58. 1d10 x 10 pounds of pepper (2 gp/lb)
59. 1d10 x 10 raccoon skins (2 gp/skin)
60. 1d10 x 10 squirrel skins (2 gp/skin)
61. 1d10 x 10 sheep (2 gp/sheep)
62. 1d8 x 10 pounds of jasmine oil (25 sp/lb)
63. 1d6 x 10 pounds of almonds (3 gp/lb)
64. 1d6 x 10 pounds of ambergris (3 gp/lb)
65. 1d6 x 10 pounds of camphor (3 gp/lb)
66. 1d6 x 10 pounds of indigo dye (3 gp/lb)
67. 1d6 x 10 pounds of purple dye (3 gp/lb)
68. 1d6 x 10 pounds of chick peas (3 gp/lb)
69. 1d6 x 10 pigs (3 gp/pig)
70. 1d6 x 10 square yards of velvet (10 lb per yard, worth 3 gp/sq yd)
71. 1d6 x 10 deer skins (4 gp/skin)
72. 1d6 x 10 gallons of honey (gallon weighs 12 lb gal; 4 gp/gal.)
73. 1d6 x 10 square yards of linen (5 lb per yard, 4 gp/sq yd)
74. 1d6 x 10 pounds of vermilion dye (4 gp/lb)
75. 2d20 bear skins (5 gp/skin)
76. 2d20 square yards of lace (3 lb per yd, 5 gp/sq yd)
77. 2d20 pounds of rice (5 gp/lb)
78. 2d20 pounds of salt (5 gp/lb)
79. 4d8 sheep skins (6 gp/skin)
80. 2d12 pounds of calamus (8 gp/lb)
81. 2d12 marten skins (8 gp/skin)
82. 2d12 pounds of mercury (8 gp/lb)
83. 2d12 wolf skins (8 gp/skin)
84. 2d10 pounds of pine nuts (10 gp/lb)
85. 1d10 ingots of silver (2 lb ingot, worth 20 gp)
86. 2d10 square yards of silk (10 gp/sq yd)
87. 2d10 cattle (10 gp/cattle)
88. 2d10 cigars (10 gp/cigar)
89. 2d10 coconuts (10 gp/coconut)
90. Sable skin (9), 11 gp/skin
91. 2d8 mink skins (12 gp/skin)
92. 2d6 fox skins (14 gp/skin)
93. 2d6 pounds of cardamon (15 gp/lb)
94. 2d6 panther skins (15 gp/skin)
95. 2d6 pounds of pistachios (15 gp/lb)
96. 2d6 pounds of saffron (15 gp/lb)
97. 2d6 shark skins (15 gp/skin)
98. 2d6 pounds of cloves (15 gp/lb)
99. 2d6 oxen (15 gp/ox)
100. 1d8 big cat (jaguar, leopard, lion or tiger) skins (25 gp/skin)

In Place of 1,000 gold pieces (roll 1d2 and 1d20)
1-1. 1d20 casks of molasses (barrel holds 25 gal., weighs 300 lb, 100 gp each)
1-2. 1d4 x 100 pounds of rice (5 gp/lb)
1-3. 1d4 x 100 pounds of salt (5 gp/lb)
1-4. 4d8 casks of olive oil (cask holds 12 gal., weighs 100 lb, 60 gp each)
1-5. 2d12 x 10 marten skins (8 gp/skin)
1-6. 2d12 x 10 wolf skins (8 gp/skin)
1-7. 2d10 x 10 pounds of pine nuts (10 gp/lb)
1-8. 1d100 ingots of silver (2 lb ingot, 20 gp each)
1-9. 2d8 casks of sesame oil (cask holds 12 gal., weighs 100 lb each, 120 gp each)
1-10. 2d10 x 10 square yards of silk (12 lb per yard, 10 gp/sq yd)
1-11. 2d10 x 10 cattle (10 gp/cattle)
1-12. 2d10 x 10 cigars (10 gp/cigar)
1-13. 2d10 x 10 coconuts (10 gp/coconut)
1-14. 2d10 x 10 sable skins (11 gp/skin)
1-15. 2d8 x 10 mink skins (12 gp/skin)
1-16. 2d6 x 10 fox skins (14 gp/skin)
1-17. 2d6 x 10 pounds of cardamon (15 gp/lb)
1-18. 2d6 x 10 panther skins (15 gp/skin)
1-19. 2d6 x 10 pounds of pistachios (15 gp/lb)
1-20. 2d6 x 10 pounds of saffron (15 gp/lb)
2-1. 2d6 x 10 shark skins (15 gp/skin)
2-2. 2d6 x 10 pounds of cloves (15 gp/lb)
2-3. 2d6 x 10 oxen (15 gp/ox)
2-4. 1d10 x 10 pounds of cashews (20 gp/lb)
2-5. 2d8 x 10 big cat (jaguar, leopard, lion or tiger) skins (25 gp/skin)
2-6. 2d8 x 10 pounds of jasmine oil (25 gp/lb)
2-7. 1d6 x 10 pounds of groundnuts (30 gp/lb)
2-8. 1d6 x 10 pounds of jujubes (30 gp/lb)
2-9. 1d6 x 10 pounds of sandalwood oil (40 gp/lb)
2-10. 1d4 x 10 pounds of dried coconut (50 gp/lb)
2-11. 1d4 x 10 pounds of myrobalans (50 gp/lb)
2-12. 1d4 x 10 pounds of tea (50 gp/lb)
2-13. 1d30 pounds of dried lotus fruit (70 gp/lb)
2-14. 1d30 pounds of maple sugar (75 gp/lb)
2-15. 2d10 pounds of galingale (80 gp/lb)
2-16. 2d10 pounds of black walnuts (100 gp/lb)
2-17. 2d10 pounds of cocoa (100 gp/lb)
2-18. 2d10 pounds of fagara (100 gp/lb)
2-19. 1d6 ingots of gold (3 lb ingots, 300 gp each)
2-20. 2d10 pounds of tobacco (100 gp/lb)

In Place of 5,000 gold pieces (roll 1d3 and 1d12)
1-1. 4d8 x 10 pounds of groundnuts (30 gp/lb)
1-2. 4d8 x 10 pounds of jujubes (30 gp/lb)
1-3. 2d10 x 10 pounds of dried coconut (50 gp/lb)
1-4. 2d10 x 10 pounds of myrobalans (50 gp/lb)
1-5. 2d10 x 10 pounds of tea (50 gp/lb)
1-6. 2d6 x 10 pounds of dried lotus fruit (70 gp/lb)
1-7. 2d6 x 10 pounds of maple sugar (75 gp/lb)
1-8. 2d6 x 10 pounds of galingale (80 gp/lb)
1-9. 1d10 x 10 pounds of black walnuts (100 gp/lb)
1-10. 1d10 x 10 pounds of cocoa (100 gp/lb)
1-11. 4d8 ingots of gold (3 lb ingots, 100 gp each)
1-12. 1d10 x 10 pounds of tobacco (100 gp/lb)
2-1. 1d10 x 10 vanilla beans (100 gp/bean)
2-2. 1d6 x 10 pounds of ginger (150 gp/lb)
2-3. 1d6 x 10 pounds of pecans (150 gp/lb)
2-4. 1d6 x 10 pounds of sasparilla (150 gp/lb)
2-5. 1d6 x 10 pounds of frankincense (160 gp/lb)
2-6. 1d6 x 10 pounds of myrrh (160 gp/lb)
2-7. 1d6 x 10 pounds of butternuts (200 gp/lb)
2-8. 1d6 x 10 pounds of hickory nuts (200 gp/lb)
2-9. 1d4 x 10 pounds of cubeb (250 gp/lb)
2-10. 1d4 x 10 pounds of manioc flour (250 gp/lb)
2-11. 1d30 pounds of chili powder (300 gp/lb)
2-12. 1d30 pounds of dried pineapple (300 gp/lb)
3-1. 1d30 pounds of pumpkin seeds (320 gp/lb)
3-2. 1d30 pounds of zedoary (320 gp/lb)
3-3. 1d20 pounds of mace (400 gp/lb)
3-4. 1d20 pounds of turmeric (400 gp/lb)
3-5. 1d20 pounds of nutmeg (500 gp/lb)
3-6. 1d20 pounds of paprika (500 gp/lb)
3-7. 2d8 casks of fine wine (cask holds 12 gal., weighs 100 lb, worth 600 gp)
3-8. 2d8 pounds of pimentos (650 gp/lb)
3-9. 1d4 ingots of platinum (2 lb ingots, 2,000 gp each)
3-10. 1d6 pounds of long peppers (1,500 gp/lb)
3-11. 1d6 pounds of tamarind pulp (1,500 gp/lb)
3-12. 1 ingot of mithral (1 lb ingot, 4,000 gp)

I think the fun of using these items is that they challenge player’s assumptions. Most players are keyed in on the shiny stuff, so they’ll have to think a bit to avoid passing over something valuable like pimentos. Of course, some might see this as a dirty trick, and they might be right, but I figure its no dirtier a trick than a mimic or collapsing staircase. If you want to bypass some of the larger logistical headaches (i.e. several tons of raw wool), then just use the last 20 or 30 items on each list.

Image of wine merchants from Economic History Blog.

On Books and Scrolls

I was looking through some notes I made a while back concerning books and scrolls, and thought they might be of interest. Probably no blog post tomorrow – my company is hosting a charity golf course for most of the day, and then I’m going to see my daughter in a performance of Alice in Wonderland (she’s the door mouse). Until Tuesday …

Books and Scrolls

Clay Tablet: A tablet made of clay (terracotta) and either fired in a kiln to make it permanent, or simply erased if to be recycled. Writing on a clay tablet was done with a reed using cuneiform characters. A typical, large tablet weighs 15 pounds. Clay tablets cannot holds spells of more than 1st level.

Bamboo Scroll: A bamboo scroll is a collection of long, narrow bamboo slips joined together with thread. Each slip can hold dozens of pictographs. When joined together, the slips can be rolled like a scroll. Because these scrolls were heavy, they were replaced upon the invention of paper. A typical scroll weighs 10 pounds and can hold any level of spell, with such spell scrolls weighing 2 pounds per spell level so inscribed.

Papyrus Scroll: Papyrus is a thick, paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, a wetland reed. Papyrus was cheap, but could not be folded, and thus had to be used in large, heavy scrolls. Papyrus is fragile and susceptible to damage from moisture and dryness, and it presented an uneven surface for writing unless of the very highest quality. Papyrus was abandoned for parchment by the 12th century, with Papal Bulls being some of the last things written on papyrus. Papyrus is manufactured by stripping the outer rind of the stem and cutting the interior into strips. The strips are laid side by side, horizontally. Another layer is then added atop the first, placed side by side vertically. While still moist, the two layers are hammered together. The sheet is then dried under pressure. After drying, the sheet is polished with a stone, shell or piece of wood. A typical scroll is assumed to weigh 25 pounds, with much of the weight coming from the rollers. Scrolls can hold spells of any level and should weigh approximately 5 pounds per spell level.

Book: A typical medieval book weighed between 40 and 165 lb. The Codex Gigas, for example, was 3.2 feet long, 20 inches wide and weighed 165 pounds. A rare Hebrew manuscript contained 1,042 pages and weighed 57 pounds. Given these dimensions, we can pretend that a basic book weighs 0.5 ounces per page, while a large tome weighs twice that much and provides twice as much surface for writing. A sheet of paper or parchment was called a bifolium, being a single folio folded in half to produce two leaves. Books were often bound between two thin sheets of wood that were covered by leather. When books were rare (i.e. before the printing press) they were often chained to desks.

Page Measures
Quire = 24 folio

Ream = 20 quires = 480 folio

Bundle = 2 reams = 960 folio

Bale = 5 bundles = 4,800 folio

Books can be printed on one of several mediums:

Parchment: Made from the skin of sheep, goats, deer and other animals. The parchmenter begins the process by selecting a disease and tick-free animal. The animal’s skin is washed thoroughly and soaked in a vat of water and lime for about a week, stirring several times a day with a wooden pole. The pelt is removed and laid over a curved, upright shield of wood. The hair is scraped out using a long, curved knife with a wooden handle on each end. The dehaired pelt is then rinsed in cold water for two more days to remove the lime. The skin is dried while stretched on a frame. The skin is secured to the frame by pushing pebbles into the skin every inch or so to make knobs, to which strings were tied. It was not uncommon to see holes in finished parchments where tiny tears made in the scraping process were stretched out in the stretching process. The parchmenter now ladles hot water over the stretched skin while scraping with another curved knife called a lunellum. The parchment is finally allowed to dry completely, shrinking and tightening as it does. Once dry, the scraping begins anew. Finally, the parchment can be removed and rolled up for transportation or sale. A scribe would purchase the parchment in this condition, cutting it to his desired size and buffing it before use with chalk. Parchment sheets were usually sold by the dozen.

Vellum: High quality parchment made from calf skin.

Paper: Made from plant pulp, fibers, rags or cellulose. Paper is cheaper than parchment, but not as long lasting.

Types of Books

  1. Atlas (Geography)
  2. Bestiary (Fauna)
  3. Chronicle (History)
  4. Cookery (Recipes)
  5. Dialogue (Philosophy)
  6. Grimoire or Grammary (Magic)
  7. Herbal (Flora)
  8. Lectionary (Religion)
  9. Lexicon (Language)
  10. Manual (“How-to” on war, hunting, politics, etc.)
  11. Principia (Science, mathematics, alchemy)
  12. Romance (Stories meant for entertainment)

Image from here.