What This System Does
- Implement books with benefits into your D&D campaign
- Make the experience of reading a book in D&D a bit more like reading a book in real life
- Have the relevant attributes provide relevant benefits
How It Accomplishes That
- It makes Intelligence an important reading stat
- It makes progress through a book slightly unpredictable – books can have more complicated sections
I’ve created a work sheet with example books that you can copy and use.
Reading a Book
When players come across a book, they’ll probably first want to determine what’s in the book. Let the player roll an Intelligence Check.
- On a 20+ they know exactly what kind of benefit the book will grant them, if any.
- On a 15+, they get a rough idea of what the book is about, and whether it has a benefit or not.
- On a 10+ they get a rough idea what the book is about.
- On a 5+ they have no idea what the book is about.
- On a <4, they think the book is about something completely different.
The DM rolls this in secret and simply tells the player the result. If the roll is a 4 or lower, tell the player that they are convinced that it’s about that specific topic. Now the player has no idea what the book is about, even though they think they do – just like the character.
For every 4 hours of reading, the player makes an Intelligence Check. Multiply this number by 22: That’s the number of pages they’ve read. The player now knows how far along in the book they are:
“I was at page 125 out of 731. I make an Intelligence Check for 4 hours of reading… that’s a 13, plus my Intelligence Modifier… 17!”
“You nestle down with your book and manage to completely lose yourself in its pages. After 4 hours, you look up, realizing you just read 374 pages!”
“Cool, that puts me at page 499!”
Simply tell the player the number of pages they’ve read in that time, so they can update their ‘bookmark’ to the current number of pages read.
Making A Book
Books in this system have a few components:
- A number of pages, known to the player
A Target Score, unknown to the player
- A hidden benefit (optional)
- A witty title (or at least, a title that makes me chuckle) and writer
As an example, I’ll use a book from one of my campaigns:
It’s Hard to BardA Guide to The Bardic Arts by Abel of Week’s End
Unbeknownst to the players, this book provides a +1 to Performance when read cover-to-cover. I’d make books with major benefits be brittle and old, or have some other reason why only one player can read them.
The number of pages number will be known to the player and will help them estimate how long it takes to read the book.
The Target Score is the total sum of all Intelligence checks the player will need to make. The Target Score is a leftover of an earlier iteration of the system, and is in fact not needed at all!
I break down the process I use step by step, so it’s easier for you to modify parts of it (or change it entirely).
So, according to Google, an average person reads 250 words per minute, and an average page in a novel contains 250-300 words. For ease of use, we’ll calculate this to a character reading 60 pages per hour. If all goes well.
This means that in 4 hours of reading (the checkpoint for the Intelligence Check), the player reads 240 pages on average.
Assuming normal resting rules, a party takes a long rest of 8 hours once a day, adventures a lot, leaving, say, 4 hours of reading (assuming they’re not in an actively dangerous environment such as a dungeon) per day.
So, the number of pages according to the math above would be
The desired number of in-universe days is highly subjective. I’ve had occasions of up to 4 sessions to cover a single in-universe day. In those cases, I don’t want the pay-off of a book to be three actual months later, so I might lower the desired number of in-universe days. If I had to generalize, I’d say:
- 1 in-universe day (so 240 pages) for a joke book
- 3 in-universe days (so 720 pages) for a book with a minor benefit
- 7 in-universe days (so 1680 pages) for a book with major benefits
Slightly randomize the page count to prevent identical page counts from popping up all the time.
So, we know the number of pages. Now, we need the Target Score.
The Target Score An average Intelligence Attribute is, by definition, 10 (+0 modifier). That means that an average Intelligence roll is the average of a D20: 11. Thus:
The Magic Number
We’re almost there! In 1 day of reading (or 4 hours) we read 240 pages on average, assuming a roll of 11 (which is also an average). 240 divided by 11 is 21,81818182. That’s not very handy. Let’s round that number:
To sum it all up:
Players can make an Intelligence Check to scan a book and figure out its contents. Based on the result, this leads to good information, vague information or wrong information.
The DM decides how much in-game time they want a character to read the book for. For every 4 hours of desired reading, the book has 240 pages.
For every 4 hours of reading, the book’s Target Score increases by 11.
For every 4 hours spent reading, the player makes an Intelligence Check. Multiply the result by 22 – that’s the number of pages they’ve read. Players keep track of their ‘bookmarks’ themselves.
One thought on “Books, The Best Weapons In The World: Simulating The Process of Reading Dusty Tomes in Dungeons & Dragons”
If you wanted a more sinister approach, for example with Cthulhu Mythos tomes, you could provide misinformation AND sanity-related effects/curses on poor rolls – or even good rolls, I guess! This could even provide progress through the book toward the end of the book and whatever perk comes with progress. Every 100 pages provides a Hideous Spell, but also incurs a shift in alignment! This is a very elegant system – well done.