Wonderbook 2020, Part I

You know what I used to love? The annnual Christmas catalogs from Sears and Penneys. One fine day, the mailman would deliver these big books with thin pages, all color (well, mostly color) with just about everything those stores had to offer. And in the back was the toy section – the promised land of childhood. I’d lay down on the floor and go through page by page, putting circles around the stuff I wanted – the stuff I might find under the tree Christmas morning. So fun!

There’s a fantastic website – WishbookWeb – that has scans of many of these catalogs in their entirety. Well worth the time to check it out … but hey – this is 2020, and God knows we need some good times, so I’m bringing the wishbook concept back!

No, I’m not printing a catalog. But I am going to try something here where I collect cool products – some new, some old – from around the internet and present them to you as my Wonderbook 2020. Just so you know – I’m not making money off of this, and I’m not connected with the people and stores involved other than as a customer or fan.

Three provisos and a comment:

1) Each of these items will be available for sale when I post the wishbook – whether it still is for sale when you click on it – or whether the link still works – I cannot guarantee.

2) I’m not putting the prices down, but I am using the following code: $ = Less than 10 dollars; $$ = 11 to 30 dollars; $$$ = 30 to 50 dollars. These include shipping on Ebay items.

3) All of the pictures are the property of their respective owners – I’m just using them to illustrate the products to help sell them – if any of the image owners want them removed, I will be happy to do so.

4) Finally – I got the idea for this from the Plaid Stallions blog, which posts 5 Awesome Things on Ebay every Friday

So, without further ado … the inagural  Wishbook 2020!

Head-to-Head Sports Action …                   Without the Fresh Air

[A] Tabletop Air Hockey: Battery-operated and loads of fun in a small package. Every year I try to grab something like this to entertain Christmas guests, and this one did not disappoint … $$

[B] Tabletop Foosball: No batteries needed for this miniature foosball table, but assembly is required. This was another Christmas surprise at my house, and proved quite challenging … $$

[C] Tabletop Billiards: I know, you don’t get fresh air playing pool, but I needed a snappy title line for each section. I don’t have this one, but maybe this year! Those miniature pool cues are awesome … $$




You’ll Never be Bored with these Board Games

[A] Star Wars – Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Game: So help me God, I don’t remember this game. This is a reproduction, and comes with a little action figure – what a deal!  … $$$

[B] Star Wars – Escape from the Death Star: Another reproduction, I scored one of the originals at an antique shop recently for a song. It’s a simple game, but fun, and worth it for the box alone … $$$

[C] Silver Hawks: I always thought the Silver Hawks cartoon was cool, but was too old for any of the toys. Still, this box is gorgeous, the board is cool, and you get little standees of the characters … $$

[D] Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: This show was beautifully bizarre and tons of fun, and the design on the game is beautiful. This one is vintage … $$$

These Figurines Will Liven Up Your Game Table

These beauties are from the Dragonriders of Styx playset and I think they’d make a sweet addition to any fantasy RPG.

[A] Black Demon … $$

[B] Red Demon … $$

[C] Blue Knight with Shield … $$

[D] Blue Knight with Sword … $$

[E] Blue Knight with Halberd … $$

[F] Blue Knight with Pole Axe … $$

[G] Blue Archer … $$

[H] Blue Wizard … $$

[I] Green Viking … $$

[J] Dragonrider … $$

[K] Ogre … $$

Experts Agree – Iron-Ons are the Fashion of the Future!

Join the millions of happy people who have slapped the likes of Nick Nolte or Han Solo on a shirt with nothing buy a towel, a hot iron, and a smile!

[A] Dodge Van: Nothing speaks to the 70’s like sweet, sweet vans … $$

[B] Do Unto Others: Well, nothing speaks to the 70’s like sweet vans except dorky sayings like this one … $

[C] Star Wars Han Solo: I didn’t have this one as a kid, but boy would I have worn it with pride … $$

[D] Star Wars Jawas: A stunning statement … $$

[E] Nick Nolte: This one is so ridiculous I’m tempted to buy it myself, just to know it finds a good home … $$

Stay tuned for more folks – and try to have some fun if you can manage it.


Libraries Made Easy

AncientlibraryalexLibraries are a common trope in fantasy art, literature, etc. The old wizard hunched over books amid a sea of books. In fantasy games, though, they leave something to be desired. They can always be used as a backdrop, of course – just window dressing – but I think it’s more satisfying to make them worth their while.

In the past, I’ve tried to detail specific books found in a library. You come up with some cute, old-fashioned title, and maybe decide what important tidbits of knowledge are to found within it, but again – mostly unsatisfying. Not an extreme amount of utility, and often they turn out not to be that useful. The book is written on an equipment list where it is forgotten.

With this system, you can get a general idea of the utility of a library with a small bit of identifying text – less than a monster’s stat block. You might still want to get fancy with book titles, and of course you will still want to describe the sights, sounds and smells of the thing to the adventurers, but at least the utility of the library will be concise and easy to remember.

Library Size

This is the first element of a library – the size. Based on the size of the library, adventurers can get a bonus to answering questions in various subjects. The size of the library also determines how long it takes to find those answers.

Here are the library sizes:

Size Description Bonus Time
Tiny Travel size +5 1d6 minutes
Small Bookshelf +10 1d6 turns
Medium Room of books – a sage’s library +15 1d6 hours
Large Several rooms – a wizard’s library +20 1d6 days
Huge Library at Alexandria +25 2d6 days

There the basic library set up. All the reference text required when you write a dungeon chamber or a city or whatever is “Small Library”.

Note that bonus here is given as a bonus on a d20 roll (and I know, it looks huge at the moment, but read on). For percentile systems, multiply by 5 (+1 = +5%). If you normally roll d6 for skill checks you’ll have to be creative.

Tiny libraries only give you one chance to find information to help answer a question. Larger libraries grant people multiple chances: 2 chances for a small library, 3 for medium, 4 for large and 5 for huge. Each time, one must roll for how long the research takes. One could, therefore, spend up to 60 days researching in a huge library and still not find the answer to their question.


While there are many subjects a real library could cover, fantasy adventurers usually have questions that we can bundle into five subjects. For a general library, divide the library’s bonus evenly among the five subjects. A tiny library, then, would grant a +1 bonus to answering questions in each of the five subjects, where a huge library would grant a +5 bonus.

Libraries can also specialize, dividing their total bonus up between the different subjects as you see fit. To do this, you add a parenthetical to the library’s size thus: Medium library (A5, H1, L5, N3, T1). The letter corresponds to a subject and the number corresponds to the bonus.

Subject Basic Advanced
Arcana (A) Spell components, correspondences and general effects of spells and magic items Actual spell research, activation words for magic items, true names of demons
Healing (H) Non-magic diseases and poisons Magic diseases and poisons, other magical effects like petrification
Lore (L) Recorded history of the “material plane”, legends and folklore of the same Lore from primordial times, lore from other planes of existence
Nature (N) Abilities and vulnerabilities of creatures from the material plane (e.g. wolves, owlbears, halflings) Abilities and vulnerabilities of creatures from other planes of existence (e.g. demons, devils, elementals)
Travel (T) Geography of the material plane – how to get from point A to point B and what to expect along the way Same, but for other planes of existence and time travel; also existence of magic portals and how to use them

Subjects are divided into basic and advanced categories. For a basic category, use the library’s full bonus for that subject. For advanced, use half that bonus (rounding down).

Fleshing It Out

This scheme gives you a basic “stat block” for a library. There is, of course, so much more you can do with these things:

1) Describe the thing – the leather of the books, the smell of the paper, the dust, the disorder (if the library is really disordered, double or triple the time it takes to answer questions), the wood of the shelves, the tile floor, the librarian giving you the stink eye when you walk into his library in bloody platemail, etc.

2) Definitely describe the librarian if there is one. If the library is large enough, the librarian should be fleshed out as a full NPC since one might interact with them more than once. A good librarian might become an ally or enemy, or at least an adventure hook.

3) The library could present particular dangers or challenges. Maybe it is so old that each time you use it the overall bonus (or a specific bonus) is reduced by one, or is reduced by one if you fail a save or dexterity check. Maybe there are traps and thus a % chance of stumbling into them (‘15% chance of book avalanche when studying nature’ or ‘rot grubs infest the arcana books’). Maybe the library consists of engraved basalt tablets in a cave at the base of a volcano, with seams of lava between them – the bonuses are tripled, but the research involves jumping over red hot lava that can kill you.