Books, rich tomes of lore and knowledge, and in a world of magic, power, monsters, worse, and better, knowledge can reveal so much about the world that you can use to twist and bend to your advantage. Eldritch secrets, long forgotten treasures, and far darker mysteries abound to those with the patience to settle down and get some reading done.
As per usual, Dungeon Situational uses Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition rules but should be readily modified. It’s all just ideas to get you thinking about how to stock your own fantasy library.
“We speak of fewer creatures with greater revulsion than those categorised as ‘Vampire’, the strig of the hinterlands, The Ormud jiangshi, and a dozen other blood-sucking monsters besides. It is in my study of these conniving undead, that I have learned to expand my horizons in the field of necromancy.” – Nianeth Kulu
Within the greying pages there are a series of arcane formula that can teach spells, shape and modify magic, and otherwise emulate vampiric abilities through magic. As part of a long rest, if you have the ability to cast spells you may make an arcana check (DC listed below). You can make up to five such arcana checks, and gain the benefits of each on a success. On a failure, you do not learn anything from the book, and cannot attempt that same arcana check again.
First Check (DC 15) – You may choose to replace one of your existing cantrips with Chill Touch unless you already have it. You cannot gain this benefit if you cannot cast cantrips, but you may if that cantrip is not already available for your class. If you do, each time you deal damage with the cantrip you may recover hit points equal to half the damage dealt.
Second Check (DC 16) – You may learn the spell Gaseous Form. It does not count toward the number of spells you know, and you always have it prepared. You may choose to cast Gaseous Form using a spell slot of 2nd level. If you do the duration is 10 minutes, and the form assumed is a semi-translucent variation of your original shape, meaning that you are readily identifiable.
Third Check (DC 17) – You may learn the spell Vampiric Touch. It does not count toward the number of spells you know, and you always have it prepared.
Fourth Check (DC 16) – You may expend a 3rd level spell slot to transform into a swarm of bats. The transformation lasts for 1 hour or until that form is reduced to 0 hit points. You assume the statistics of the form except that you retain your intelligence, wisdom and charisma scores. If a source would deal more damage than the swarm has hit points remaining, the additional damage remaining spills onto your actual hit point total.
Fifth Check (No DC) – You permanently have one failed death saving throw, and you are immune to the effects of the cantrip Spare the Dying.
The Wreck of the Fisher’s Lamp
Three books are required to find the old reaver from the days of the Ormud Empire, supposedly scuttled on a long forgotten shore with a fortune on board, but still haunted by the ghosts of it’s murderous crew:
Mysteries of the Jhang Se Coast is a study of myths and rumours around the forty leagues of coastline and nineteen islands, ghost ships, sea monsters, superstitions of sailors and fishermen, and among them, the most thorough account of the Fisher’s Lamp, including the name of the captain, Ninth Sword Palang. The author cites the captain’s journal as a reference.
The Journal of Ninth Sword Palang details the journeys, activities, ports, cargoes, crew changes, and navigation details of her tour with the empire, but never lists the name of the boat that she helmed. The final journal entries list an incredible fortune, including some mysterious artifacts of the Giant Countries, but also notes some confusion of navigation, thanks to the death of the on-board astrologer and the loss of certain charts, only remarking on a strange blue-winged albatross that hunts of the starboard bow.
Albatross of The Ormud A curious reader might probe deeper into the mystery, narrowing the field of their research to the locations along the Jhang Se Coast listing reports of the ghostly crew, against the hunting grounds of the Lost Albatross, a blue and black breed of the enormous seabird that hunts of a small rock that appears on only a handful of maps of the coast.
Heading to that location, you will find a haunted ruin filled with gold and magic items, scattered against rocks and almost impossible to navigate safely. A single lantern dangles from the shattered prow, which still hangs over the waves, and the lantern illuminates on cold nights, as if a candle still stands inside.
Third Diary of Exultant Hatarr Thun
This extensive journal of an exorcist and war priest features some odd word choices, strangely misplaced diagrams, and extensive margin notes in the author’s own hand, as if the diary were spare paper in times of need. Some pages are blank, either entirely or in oddly spaced sections, and some of the paper is of irregular thickness. An observant reader might come to notice patterns over the course of extensive reading. An investigation check made as part of a long rest (DC 14) will uncover coded sections missing a cipher. It seems the good priest kept dark secrets.
Casting Identify or Detect Magic will reveal a network of illusions and abjurations that can be slowly stripped away with proper keywords and spells, and will also reveal the first keyword. Dispelling the wards will render the book completely blank. Successful checks using investigation, arcana, and religion (DC listed below) will help reveal the hidden pages, vanished scripts, magic mouths, unfolding charts, Comprehend Languages cast on the book grants advantage to skill checks made on the book, Divination counts as a single success of DC 15, and Trueseeing or Legend Lore can each be cast on the book to count as a success of DC 18 each. Each skill check or spell can be used once only.
DC 13 success will allow you to summon Mūkang, a shadow demon (Monster Manual) as if via the Planar Ally spell, who will perform one task on your behalf. The task must take no more than one week to complete, and must not involve a direct risk of harm. For example Mūkang will not directly involve itself in combat, but will be willing to spy on your behalf. Once the task is complete, Mūkang will disappear.
DC 15 success will allow you to summon K’thed Sadaal, and Obed Nuk Jedra, a pair of vrocks (Monster Manual) as if via the Planar Ally spell, who will perform one task on your behalf. The task must take no more than an hour to complete. If the task involves combat, K’thed Sadaal and Obed Nuk Jedra will disappear at the end of the hour, or if slain. Otherwise they will fly off into the material world and kill at random.
DC 15 success will allow you to summon Liskyr, a dybbuk (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes) as if via the Planar Ally spell except that you will also require a fresh corpse for him to occupy. Liskyr also knows the spell Create Undead that he can cast three times per day without expending material components. He will act on your behalf for one week, and then disappear. He will disappear early if any creature allied to his summoner destroys an undead creature that he has created.
DC 18 success will allow you to summon Irreffin, a marilith (Monster Manual) as if via the Planar Ally spell, who will bargain with her summoner to perform a task. She generally excepts gold or jewels at a rate of 1347 gold per day (an apparently arbitrary number) or possession of the diary for an entire fortnight. She will disappear after one week, if insufficiently paid, if slain, or if she successfully steals the book from you.
DC 18 success will allow you to summon Dith, a goristro (Monster Manual) as if via the Planar Ally spell, who will kill and destroy anything in his immediate proximity for ten minutes before disappearing.
Next week’s picks for Dungeon Situational:
Ten uses for a purple worm carcass, from alchemical uses for body parts to ways to re-purpose the whole rotten corpse.
Three opening adventures to get your campaign kicked off. These will be broad premises that leave the details to you. Guaranteed no goblins, kobolds, and negligible undead.
A lair for your heroes, a place to stash their hoard and make their plans. Something unlike what we’re expecting from Matt Colville’s Strongholds and Followers.