Hal Maclean’s Essential Works — A Fantasy Library Builder

Essential Works


Books are where dreams live.
dreams are what gaming is all about. Every Dungeon Master and every
player is at heart a storyteller. Someone who once read about magic and
adventure and mystery, and thought, “Why not me?”
Books are the
real magic. Is it any wonder that when PCs encounter them in adventures
they sometimes ask questions? Questions which a busy DM may not have
had the time to think about. Inquisitive players may want to know the
names and topics of every book in a library while acquisitive may want
to know how much they could get if they carted each book out of the
dungeon and back to civilization.
One of the secrets of being a
good DM is to make advance preparation seem like inspired imagination.
What follows are a number of table that will help DMs answer three
questions that are often asked when books are encountered in an
adventure. What is the book about? What language is it written in? How
much is it worth?


The topic categories below have been kept deliberately broad to make
it easy to find a place for books on just about any subject. The table
is intended to reflect the composition of a “typical” library in a
fantasy setting, the interests of specific NPCs could skew the
percentages outlined below. For instance, the library of a powerful
wizard should be expected to have more then one-hundredth of its
contents devoted to magical theory.

01-20-Fiction and Drama
31-35-Reference Works
36-40- Myths and Fairy Tales
71-75-Religious Works
76-80-Political and Economic Tracts
81-85-Travelogue and Memoirs
86-90-Health and Medicine
92-Magical Theory
93-Games and Sport
95-Picture Books
97-Children’s Books
98-Military Theory

Some examples of possible books in each category are included below.


 Casamir III — a play chronicling the life of an
ancient tyrant who murdered his way to the throne only to fall victim
to his own paranoia when he turned on his family.
An Ordinary Day — A
novel detailing a number of amazing things which happen to a juggler
during one day at a spring fair including a conversation with a giant
and being polymorphed into a frog.
Forms and Functions — A comedic play detailing the chaos caused by a doppelganger interfering in several romantic relationships.
Rudigo Squeaks — A novel written from the viewpoint of a wizard’s rat familiar.
A Withered Throne — A play dealing with the tragic decline of a great hero and king as senility clouds his final years.
The Line of Traal — A collection of short stories following a family curse over a number of generations.
Between Leaf and Stone — A play that examines the final sundering of elf and drow by focusing on a married couple who choose different sides.
Fire and Steel — A novel about a doomed band of adventures as they prepare for a deadly confrontation with a dragon.
Beneath the Silver Moon — A play that is a savage criticism of a local ruler using rumors of his lycanthropy as a metaphor for his reign’s excesses.


The Age of Might — A painfully lengthy examination of the rise and fall of an ancient empire with numerous charts and inventories included.
The Roll of Kings —
A detailed account of over two centuries of a royal dynasty, a little
bit salacious at times and with too much of an emphasis upon gossip but
useful to students of that era nonetheless.
Turtho’s Chronicle —
An account of the events leading up to an ancient war and its
aftermath, while the main text tends to be accurate there are numerous
sarcastic and opinionated footnotes which make the author’s bias very
Knaves, Cowards and Fools — A very irreverent look at history focusing mainly upon the importance of stupidity and blind luck as shapers of events.
The Road to Glory — A book that alleges to have traced the migration of the Elven peoples back to their first home land many millennia ago.


Der Grotis — A dictionary of Elven words written for the modern dwarf
Fauna, Flora and Ore — A
hilariously inaccurate “encyclopedia of everything worth knowing”
written by a monk who never left the monastery and believed every
half-baked traveler’s tale he heard.
The Bard’s Companion — A slender yet comprehensive rhyming dictionary, perfect for the adventuring versifier.
A Catalogue of Wonders —
A rambling collection of notes on magic items, monsters and similar
things, the differing handwriting suggests that it was compiled by a
number of authors over many years.


An Inquiry into the Nature of Origins — A compendium of
creation myths told by many different faiths and cultures in an attempt
to find some sort of universal truth by looking for common elements,
very dry and academic.
The Roots of Superstitions –
Another dry academic tome, this one claming that there are rational
explanations for most superstitions and gives a number of intriguing
The Twilight Road — A series of tales about a legendary folk hero and champion of the common man known only as the Shadow Weaver.
Lessons from Legend —
A collection of stories dealing with any number of magical beings,
their weaknesses and how mortals can use these to outwit them.


The True Form — A medusa gives her opinions about sculpting and makes a not very convincing attempt to justify her efforts at “authenticity”.
Secrets of Light and Dark —
Perhaps the most revered book on painting, it gives innumerable tips
and insights ranging from picking a subject to formulas for creating
specific shades of paint.
The Dramatics — A barely
coherent guide to acting, directing and play writing focusing on
achieving some sort of oddly mystical “union” with inspiration.
Feathers in the Wind — A guide to the art of dance, rumored to be based upon the fighting techniques of an ancient order of monks.


The Laws of Inheritance — A weighty tome that is one of the
classics of property law, among other things it was the first to deal
with what rights, if any, free willed undead have in a society and
concluded that generally they have none.
The Codes of R’Ternv —
One of the earliest known law codes it contains all sorts of useful
insights about the evolution of justice towards the modern day.
Divine Judgement — Essentially
a plea for anarchy it advocates that all punishment should be left in
the hands of the gods and fate since mortals are imperfect and
Observation and Reality — A
bizarre discussion of the nature of reality, the author essentially
claiming that nothing exists unless someone sees it and refers to the
gods as “witnesses”.
Hunter and Prey — A sympathetic look
at the beliefs of a number of intelligent monster races such as
beholders, giants, lamia and yuan ti, allegedly written by a mind
flayer scholar.
Learning from the Nine Wisdoms — The
author begins by outlining what he believes to be nine fundamental
moral frameworks based upon the opposition of such abstractions as “Law
versus Chaos” and “Good versus Evil” and then concludes by showing that
pure objectivity is the key to inner harmony.


A Field Guide to Edible Plants and Natural Poisons — Divided into two sections readers are repeatedly cautioned not to get them mixed up.
Beasts of Stone —
Uses the existence of fossils to propel a dubious theory about the
supremacy of earth over the other elements and dwarfs over other races.

Lore of the Elders — A patently absurd collection of lies and half-truths claiming to be based upon interviews with a number of treants.
Fungi of the Underdark — A
comprehensive guide to fungus looking at such things as the
consequences of eating them, their medicinal properties, secrets of
cultivation and the sorts of creatures who feed upon them.


Elementary Principles of Construction — A competently
written work intended to help engineers in a number of situations
including bridge building, fortifications and mining.
The Riddle of the Fire and Water — A classic of smith craft written as if a dialogue between several legendary dwarven smiths.
The Mysterium — A
very detailed explanation of the secrets and rituals of a particularly
famous guild of glass blowers, also included is a graphic description
of what they will do to any outsiders who steal their techniques.
Cuisine for Connoisseurs — A cookbook filled with exotic recipes such “Breaded Basilisk” and “Stirge Puffs”.


The Life of Delmin the Wise — A fawning account of a mediocre ruler written by his court scribe.
The Roots of Darkness — A
book detailing a succession of great villains in an attempt to prove
that they were all the same person, some sort of reincarnating “source
of evil”, with several chapters at the end devoted to calculations
intended to help the reader predict when and where this being will be
born again.
The Eye of the Enemy — A paladin’s description
of the upbringing of a variety of captured monsters in an attempt to
show that evil is not inherent but learned.
Lessons from Holy Men —
A highly idealized account of the early life of a number of saintly
individuals, each life meant to emphasize a particular virtue such as
charity or patience.


A Symphony of Thew and Thunder — A legendary collection of odes to battle, war and the glory of combat.
Echoes of the Final Years — An epic detailing a possible end of the world.
Reflections of Night and Noon — A collection of poems that are supposed represent dream fragments ranging from nightmares to daydreams.
Paeans of the Heart — A collection of love poems from many races.


The Fundamentals of Faith — A thoughtful look at the nature of mercy, truth and goodness.
Defense for the Cleansing — A harsh and intolerant justification for a notorious holy war and subsequent persecution of dissenters.
Nyall’s Ritual Curses — A comprehensive collection of curses, hexes and the rituals of excommunication for all the major faiths.
Proscribed Rituals and Forbidden Texts — A
list of books banned by a particular religion arranged into neat
categories to explain why they are forbidden as well as a detailed
exploration of various “heretical” practices.


The Origin of Privilege — A scathing attack upon inherited wealth and property, responsible for at least one revolution.
The Natural Aristocracy — One of the first books to develop and advocate the concept of Magiocracy, rule by magically gifted.
A Heritage of Hatred —
A frothing attack upon gnomekind, shrilly blaming them for all the
troubles in the world including absurd “proofs” that they are secretly
a subspecies of orc.
When All Where Kings — A nostalgic
description of what life was like before the development of
civilization and a wildly impractical plan to return to this ideal


My Travels to the City of Brass and Elsewhere — An amusing account of a wizard’s travels throughout the multiverse filled with all sorts of interesting facts and anecdotes.
Customs of the Outer Islands — A detailed examination of the society and culture of the fisherfolk of a distant island archipelago.
I Lived those Years —
A highly literate account of a young noble’s training as a soldier and
subsequent activities as leader of a colorful band of guerrilla
The Diary of Njord — An early draft of a famous
journal that chronicles how the founder of a powerful noble family came
to prominence, this one revealing him as a cold blooded pirate, not the
idealized lie his descendents are prepared to kill to maintain.


Anatomy of the Five Forms — An exactingly detailed look at the interior workings of five races, dwarfs, elves, gnomes, halflings and humans.
The Path to Wellness —
A seminal work that explores the relationship between illness and
lifestyle choices, in particular offering a number of diets and
exercises intended to cure various diseases.
The Healing Properties of Gems — A serious and scholarly look at the mystical properties of gemstones and how they can be used to improve the reader’s health.

Ten Things Clerics Don’t Want You To Know! — A relentlessly enthusiastic and chirpy little book claiming to show how a person can live without healing magic.

Fundamentals of Grammar, a structural approach —
A mind numbing look at how various languages are constructed in hopes
of finding a set of universal principles, a good substitute for
Master Orcish in One Week! — An accessible and effective teaching aide though wildly optimistic about how long it would take to actually learn the language.


As Above So Below — A collection of astrological charts and formulas designed to assist in creating horoscopes for people, places and things.
Principia Magica —
One of the most influential works on magic ever written it offers a
number of “laws of magic” that are still critical in advanced research.


The Rules of Frotage and Fifty Classic Matches — An
obsessive look at a rather obscure board game, while the author clearly
knows his subject one cannot help but feel a measure of pity for
someone so emotionally stunted.
Tools of the Trade: Fundamentals of Performance — A collection of tips for carnival entertainers such as jugglers, tumblers and ventriloquists.


The Multiverse for Beginners — A user friendly explanation of the many planes of existence.
Manners for Mealtime — Contains
all sorts of notes on dining etiquette ranging from the proper cough
needed to ask for seconds of dwarven rock bread to how to leave an ogre
birthday party without triggering a blood feud.


Faces of the Age — A collection of portraits of the most influential men and women of an earlier century.
Fantastic Beasts: A Spotter’s Guide —A detailed collection of drawings of magical monsters.
Trails, Trade and Travails — A loose folio of precisely drawn maps intended to assist merchants showing both dangers and opportunities.
Nain’s Map Fragments — A collection of pieces of old treasure maps and some speculative notes about what those who decipher them might find.


Uncle Tumbleblossom’s Trip to Letter Land — A cutesy and patronizing attempt to teach children the alphabet by following the adventures of an annoying halfling.
Look, Touch, Smell — A friendly little book that encourages children to fully experience their surroundings.


Ten Sea Battles that Changed the World — A gripping description of a series of decisive naval engagements.
The Art of Siegecraft — A
dry but informative exploration of the strategic and tactical
components of sieges ranging from sapping to catapult maintenance to
the logistics of starvation.


Music of the Spheres — A collection of sheet music
allegedly based upon something called “Celestial Harmonics”, with the
author’s plea for donations at the end.
Jurlo’s Workbook — The early composition notes of a brilliant and famous songwriter.


The Reality of Numbers — An exploration of math for laymen, presents a gripping and accessible look at how mathematics affects all aspects of life.
for Dimension Travelers — A staggeringly complex look at the
multiverse that makes heavy use of the fifth and sixth dimension to
explain exactly how planar travel works.


51-55-Old Common/Dead Language
56-60-Monster language (see below)
91-95-Planar language (see below)
96-Natural (1-50 Sylvan, 51-100 Druidic)
97- Gibberish/Indecipherable
98-Multiple Languages (roll d6+1 times)





  • Common typically refers to the everyday language
    of the campaign. DMs who have created several modern languages for
    different parts of the campaign world are encouraged to modify the
    table to take this into account.
  • Old Common/Dead Language refers to any campaign equivalents to Latin or similar languages.
  • Gibberish/Indecipherable deals with books
    that cannot be translated even by magical means implying they are
    either are collection of nonsense or written in a language that is
    somehow immune even to magical divination.
  • Cipher deals with books that are written in
    a code which can be broken by careful work or by magical means. Many
    organizations may possess a secret language known only to members,
    Druidic for instance, is exactly such a language. These organizations
    could include such things as craft guilds to keep technical knowledge
    hidden, religions for the higher mysteries of the faith and even an
    aristocracy to keep the “secret history” of a realm hidden from prying
  • Magical Writing deals with books that can
    only be read by magic or in some sort of special circumstances (such as
    under the light of the full moon or in the presence of a fiend). While
    it is likely that the person who wrote the book (and took such
    extraordinary precautions to keep the words secret) considered its
    contents to be highly valuable DMs should keep in mind that people,
    even obsessive arch mages, can be wrong.


The typical campaign world assumes that books are much more common
then should be physically possible prior to the invention of the
printing press. We can see this in such things as the high literacy
rates (every character class save barbarians begins play able to read)
and the relative affordability of paper and ink. It is likely that some
sort of magical process is at work increasing the availability of
printed material. Exactly what this is could vary from campaign to
campaign ranging from specially created “Copy Golems” to “Pens of
Dictation” or anything in between. Whatever the reason an increase in
the supply of books also tends to deflate their relative value.
at it this way, if a low-level wizard can afford to have a library for
the PCs to plunder, the library itself cannot be worth a vast fortune.


01-05-3d8 sp
06-10-d8 gp
11-20-3d8 gp
21-30-d8 x 5 gp
31-40-3d8 x 5 gp
41-70-2d8 x 10 gp
71-80-5d8 x 10 gp
81-90-2d8 x 100 gp
91-95-5d8 x 100 gp
96-99-d8 x 1000 gp
100-3d8 x 1000 gp

VALUE MODIFIERS  (roll once)

  • 2 – Ownership of the book is dangerous because it
    is forbidden/censored by a powerful group or individual such as the
    secret police or the inquisition (reduce base value by 75%)
  • 3 –  Book is partially or
    completely made of some material likely to be offensive to many such as
    the flayed hide of a sentient being (reduce base value by 50%)
  • 4 – Book is heavily damaged (reduce base value by 50%)
  • 5 – Book is rumored to be under some sort of curse or ill omen (reduce base value by 25%)
  • 6 – Book has some minor damage such as torn pages or bloodstains (reduce base value by 25%)
  • 7 – Book value unchanged
  • 8 – Book has gorgeous calligraphy and illustrations (multiply base value by 1.5)
  • 9 – Book is rumored to contain some valuable secret (multiply base value by 1.5)
  • 10 – Book has annotations containing added
    information or indicating that it was once owned by a famous person
    (multiply base value by 2)
  • 11-Book is a work of art and/or made of precious materials (multiply base value by 2)
  • 12 – Book is an obscure work by a famous author (multiply base value by 3)


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
As a subscriber, I'm looking for ...

1 Comment on Hal Maclean’s Essential Works — A Fantasy Library Builder

  1. Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.