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D&D 5E Handling player-found books

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Hi!

This is something that came up is almost, if not all of my campaigns, and I never quite found a satisfactory way to approach it. What happens is that, either because it fits the character, the story or the environment in which they are, a player will ask to look around for interesting book. Or even ask for a book on a specific topic while in a shop! I have no trouble deciding on what's available on the whim, improvising a price and even improvising a title. But I never tell them about the content (except a short summary) before the next session, so I can prepare something.

In the past, I've tried some of the following:
  • Writing an actual paragraph or two of history, instructions or whatever the book contains. Cool, immersive, but it's a one-shot thing and then it's done. And it requires a lot of time.
  • Writing a half-dozen or so bullet points; a lighter version of the previous method if you want.
  • Simply saying that the character has read on some topics (I enumerate them, characters, locations, events) and that they can ask for an advantage on matters pertaining to these topic. One campaign, I even went further and classified these topics in beginner, intermediary and advanced topics. Reading a book would bring you up to a certain topic.
I'm sure I'm not the only one that explored these options, and I'm curious as to what other DMs have settled on.

Thank you!
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
There are probably a lot of random tables available on the internets you can just roll on. Then just make up on the spot what's inside. I don't think any extra work really need go into this. If the player at some later time is like, "Hey wait, I have this book on X and it may apply to this situation!" then give them advantage on any related checks, if there's a check at all.
 


ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
I would not go much further than title and topic and if the player wants to use the book to find something out, maybe advantage on a check, no check or a lead to more information.
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
I'd look at this as an opportunity for some player-driven worldbuilding:

Player: Can I find an interesting book?
DM: Sure
Player: What is the book about?
DM: You tell me.
Player: Uh, maybe it's about the Third Elven Empire?
DM: Yeah, its about that.
Player: So what does it say?
DM: What do YOU think it says?

The best part is authors are notoriously unreliable, so you can steal any good stuff the player comes up for your world history, and decide any bits you don't like are apocrypha.
 

niklinna

Looking for group
I'd look at this as an opportunity for some player-driven worldbuilding:

Player: Can I find an interesting book?
DM: Sure
Player: What is the book about?
DM: You tell me.
Player: Uh, maybe it's about the Third Elven Empire?
DM: Yeah, its about that.
Player: So what does it say?
DM: What do YOU think it says?

The best part is authors are notoriously unreliable, so you can steal any good stuff the player comes up for your world history, and decide any bits you don't like are apocrypha.
Ooh, careful giving players narrative control. There's a whole burning, raging thread about that combusting right now! 😉
 

SkidAce

Legend
I write some flavor text, then allude to the fact that portions of the book go into further detail.

character with book then can get a bonus, advantge on a check, or get a question answered if its within the scope of the book.

I prefer the flavor intro, but this could be done with just a title and an author.

(and being a nerd, I also create an item they can add to their inventory in Beyond.)

Amphin's Aquatics
 

I think the question should be why the player is looking for such books. It seems like this player is just looking to pick up some interesting books as an accessory. In this case, I'd just give a title and short description, leaving the details to the imagination. If the player is looking for specific piece of information relevant to the adventure, you could have them make an Int/Investigation to find the necessary book for sale (then providing the information from the book). If a player is just looking for a general mechanical advantage, you could give the title and topic, allowing them to "spend" the book for advantage on a check relating to it. Personally I wouldn't allow this last one, but ymmv.
 



Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Random tables are very much your best friend for this. There are a ton of fantasy tome generators out there. Some fully random, and others as a list of specific books with short writeups.
 

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