5E Burning books question

abe ray

Explorer
Considering that book burning has happened in real life, would it happen in dnd? Any blessings/curses activated by said burning?
 

Len

Prodigal Member
Book burning has definitely happened in D&D.

In one campaign, our party was kidnapped and stripped of their belongings. They escaped and fought against their captors. My character fireballed the tent which, unbeknownst to us, contained the party's belongings. Including my character's spellbook. :(
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
Sure, it's a method of controlling information, and therefore controlling people. So ya know, if you have anyone with a vested interest in controlling others, destruction of books is a good way to do that.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
It also depends on how literate your campaign world is. In medieval Europe (the basis for most campaigns), very few books would even exist, held closely by the rich and powerful. The average person couldn't read, and probably couldn't count much higher than 10 or 20 due to lack of education. In my Greyhawk, most people are illiterate, so burning books would be unnecessary for information control (burning bards would be more effective).
 

Zardnaar

Hero
It would be effective just like IRL for the same reasons. The key difference is magical protections and guardians. That librarian could be a silver Dragon. Some libraries would be warded vs fire.

Literacy was also higher in parts of the world than expected so the population can probably read better than IRL due to things like God's if knowledge. So unless you have an equivalent if the dark ages RL conditions won't apply.
 
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Len

Prodigal Member
In medieval Europe (the basis for most campaigns), very few books would even exist, held closely by the rich and powerful.
That's true, so mass book-burnings to suppress political dissent might not happen.

On the other hand, there are wizards whose power is embodied in their spellbooks. So maybe a book-burning raid could be a way to deal with a powerful wizard, if the opposing faction don't want to resort to outright murder.
 

WaterRabbit

Villager
Considering that book burning has happened in real life, would it happen in dnd? Any blessings/curses activated by said burning?
If you have played Witcher 3, you would see an excellent example of this in fantasy fiction. Not only book burning, but the burning of witches at the stake. It would be easy to create a whole pogrom against a particular group. Even in a setting such as the Forgotten Realms, which is a Renaissance setting, it would not be unheard of for inquisitions to take place.

What that has to be balanced against is other perceived threats in the setting.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It would be effective just like IRL for the same reasons.
Only if your world also has the printing press, or magical equivalent, such that books are mass-produced*.

Go try to write out an entire book longhand, legibly - at a quality that someone would actually want to buy. It is very time-intensive, and requires significant skill. If that's the way books are made, they remain expensive and rare, and mass burning an unlikely occurrence.


*Implying paper is mass produced. Which implies significant logging industries, etc...
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
Only if your world also has the printing press, or magical equivalent, such that books are mass-produced*.

Go try to write out an entire book longhand, legibly - at a quality that someone would actually want to buy. It is very time-intensive, and requires significant skill. If that's the way books are made, they remain expensive and rare, and mass burning an unlikely occurrence.


*Implying paper is mass produced. Which implies significant logging industries, etc...
Magical equivalent is probably pretty simple to justify in a world with "Mending" spells and printing presses with Tinker Gnomes. But, that is one of those idiosyncrasies many of us envision in our Fantasy RPGs. We want the medieval Europe from our fantasies, but with magic and elves etc, but we don't want it to impact the "technology" or culture of our fantasy in other ways.

But, anyway, magic or simple printing presses could produce a book in a week maybe less. Rather than the ~5 years it would take a monk to copy a Bible. Maybe that means you have more books in your world (like 5x52=260 times) or you just have 260 times fewer wizards and gnome printers than you envision their were monks copying books.
 

WaterRabbit

Villager
Only if your world also has the printing press, or magical equivalent, such that books are mass-produced*.

Go try to write out an entire book longhand, legibly - at a quality that someone would actually want to buy. It is very time-intensive, and requires significant skill. If that's the way books are made, they remain expensive and rare, and mass burning an unlikely occurrence.


*Implying paper is mass produced. Which implies significant logging industries, etc...
Paper is definitely not implied as there are and were alternatives. Paper does not imply logging either as it can be made from a variety of different plant sources. Also "books" aren't really implied either as there were and are alternatives. But without a way to mass inscribe the medium, books are going to be rare.

However, given the prices for books in the PHB, the standard D&D assumptions would imply they are just uncommon, so it implies a process of inscribing somewhere between handwritten and full printing presses. And early Gutenberg press is still fairly labor intensive, so it seems the base assumptions for the game are around that. Otherwise, the Volo's Guides don't make sense and the Waterdeep setting all but implies a printing press since they have daily broadsheets in circulation.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Paper is definitely not implied as there are and were alternatives.
Fine. Parchment uses sheepskin. Papyrus needs papyrus plants. Whatever you are using - if you expect lots of books to be burned, those books must be printed on something! Whatever they are printed on must be made in major quantities.

Paper does not imply logging either as it can be made from a variety of different plant sources.
Again - whatever you are using, you still need a lot of it to produce enough books for book burning like what is being discussed here. Whatever those are made of, there's a lot of it - there's going to be an industry around it, and the raw materials, whatever they are, must be available.

Also "books" aren't really implied either as there were and are alternatives.
Yeah, well, clay tablets don't burn worth a good gosh darn. :p

Sure, the book may be a folding thing, or a scroll. That's not really material to the point. It is something paper-ish and burnable, or it ain't a book-burning - it is book... sitting-in-a-fire-and-not-really-minding-it-all-that-much.


Magical equivalent is probably pretty simple to justify in a world with "Mending" spells and printing presses with Tinker Gnomes.
Wha? Tinker gnomes can make tiny clockwork toys, fire starters, or music boxes - none of those are printing presses. And mending spells fix small breaks - I don't see how those provide a library full of books.

Can the GM stipulate that printing presses (or a magical equivalent) exists in their world? Certainly! By tinker gnomes or otherwise. But that has implications.

But, that is one of those idiosyncrasies many of us envision in our Fantasy RPGs. We want the medieval Europe from our fantasies, but with magic and elves etc, but we don't want it to impact the "technology" or culture of our fantasy in other ways.
Yeah, that's my point. We are talking about Renaissance-level technology (or magical equivalent), rather than Medieval - and once you say that books can be made in large quantities, it is hard to plausibly say that *ONLY* books have been impacted by the advances. If you are up for that in your world, then there's no issue, and book burnings may make sense. If you aren't up for it, you risk implausibility.

Basically: The question isn't "can it happen" - a GM can make it happen if they want. The question is: How much anachronism or change to your game world are you willing to absorb to make this one thing happen?

Or, to put this another way - if your world is already Renaissance-level technology, then yeah, this might happen naturally. If you are still back in the Dark Ages, then you probably don't have enough books that mass book burnings would be something a power would feel a need to do. There simply wont' be enough copies of a particular manuscript to gather up to make a pile worth burning.

I mean, if in your entire barony there's only two sages who have copies of a text, does it look impressive to haul them out, with their two copies, and make a public scene of burning them? It seems... rather less than dramatic to burn two books. Kinda lame, as a show of force. Not the kind of moving symbol a despot-wannabe is going to go for, is it?
 

Zardnaar

Hero
They think literacy in some parts of the world were higher than we thought. In Rome for example in Pompeii they have found prices written on walls.

The Byzantines also had higher literacy rates.

It's not mass literacy but likely higher than we have thought.

And in D&D you have things like Elves and other long lived races.

FR did account for D&Disms as scholars for example know more about Netheril for example than we do about ancient civilizations.
 
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aco175

Explorer
I could see a cool adventure formed around this. A mage spellbook could contain a trapped demon that gives the book fire immunity and the PCs must find a way to free it. A demon could be released from the book by burning it. The demon can jump into other books to heal, forcing the PCs to burn down the library in order to save it from the demon.

Is make whole a spell in 5e still. It could solve the burning problem.
 

Eltab

Villager
If I were in a D&D campaign world and a high-enough level Wizard that burning my spellbook would be a way to cripple me, I would want to cast a variant of Explosive Runes on it - when damaged / burnt, it instead of exploding it releases a bound devil (for variety a celestial or similar - or a native inhabitant of 'pure law' Mechanus) with orders to track down whoever lit the flame, Investigate to find the person truly responsible for the decision, and punish that individual - for vandalism, arson, disorderly conduct in public, property destruction, contributing to the delinquency of another, and being a repeat offender. Plus whatever other charges would be appropriate and I could think of.

I also would create a second spellbook that permanently resides in a Leomunds Tiny Hut which auto-copies anything written into the primary spellbook. This way, I always have my backup copy and exclusive access to it.
 

Eltab

Villager
If you are still back in the Dark Ages, then you probably don't have enough books that mass book burnings would be something a power would feel a need to do. There simply wont' be enough copies of a particular manuscript to gather up to make a pile worth burning.
As part of the equivalent of 'the Vandals sacked Rome' in the game world, set fire to the city's library. Somebody else spent hundreds of years accumulating all those texts. The educated classes will remember your name (not fondly) for generations thereafter. Of course you can only do this once, but it will powerfully make a point.
 

ModernApathy

Explorer
It also depends on how literate your campaign world is. In medieval Europe (the basis for most campaigns), very few books would even exist, held closely by the rich and powerful. The average person couldn't read, and probably couldn't count much higher than 10 or 20 due to lack of education. In my Greyhawk, most people are illiterate, so burning books would be unnecessary for information control (burning bards would be more effective).
If I remember correctly in earlier editions you had to take writing as a skill in order to be able to do so (maybe this was just a house-rule). Where as in 5E it's assumed if you can speak a language you can also read and write it, which I understand from a simplifying the skills point of view, but I've always kinda disliked that. I feel like this should be more tied to backgrounds, but I digress.

It's an interesting thread, it's given me some ideas for my own homebrew world in which some terrible events have been brought about by magic in the past and people in general don't trust spellcasters. News of a spell-book burning would certainly get the attention of any wizard PC's.

Rival clerics I'm sure would also participate in book burning when it comes to an opposing Religion's holy texts.
 

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