In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ...
- From The Library of Babel
All this talk about megadungeons has me thinking about Borges.
Long term readers of this blog will know that I'm a bit of a Borges nut. The man was one of the very few writers who I would describe as a genius, and one of even fewer I would call visionary. His ideas are like drugs for anyone with an imagination.
In May last year, when Monsters & Manuals was knee-high to a grasshopper, I had an idea for a campaign based on Borges' Library of Babel. You can read the original post in its entirety here, but to sum up:
The Library of Babel is a Universe of books. In it are exactly 251312000 volumes. Each book contains exactly 410 pages, and each page contains exactly 40 lines of 80 characters. No book is the same - their contents are made up of random letters, spaces and punctuation marks.
Now, most of the volumes are of course gibberish - just garbled text. However, it is also the case that the library contains some books of coherent text, by virtue of the fact that it contains every conceivable combination of letters, characters and spaces. Indeed, it contains not only every novel ever written, but some novels that have not yet been written; it also contains all variations on those novels - so that not only is a complete copy of, say, The Catcher in the Rye hidden somewhere in the middle of one of its volumes, but there is also somewhere a Catcher in the Rye with one different letter somewhere in the text, one with two different letters, one with three... And of course another one with one other different letter somewhere in the text, and one with two other different letters... And the same for every novel ever written. Every non-fiction book too, of course. And, more interestingly for our purposes - every spellbook.
You can probably see where I'm going with that.
The point of the Library of Babel, however, is that there is no catalogue. The books not only contain random text; they are also organized randomly. Whole sects of people live in the library, trying to make sense of it and quantify it, but the task is too great. They disagree not only on the system they should use, but also on the very philosophies underpinning the system; some go so far as to believe that even the random volumes - which make up the overwhelming majority of the Library's books - contain hidden meanings which, once deciphered, will unlock the key to a new reality.
This is perfect for a Planescape campaign, in which the characters are sent to recover a single mighty spell book from the Library. How do they find it amidst the effectively almost infinite shelves? How do they make sure the copy they have is perfectly correct, and not one of the multitude of volumes which contain one or two crucial mistaken characters somewhere in their midst? How do they deal with the mysterious denizens of the Library's honeycomb hallways and archives: the different sects and cults and philosophers, and the monsters who prey on them? How do they find their way around its labyrinthine shelves? What arguments occur between the Bleaker who revels in the apparent meaninglessness of the place, the Godsman who believes it will reveal the path to Godhood, and the Sensate who wants to read every one of its volumes?
What a good idea this is for a megadungeon, even if I do say so myself. I might even use it to meet Amityville Mike's challenge.
The problem with the Library of Babel as a megadungeon is that its appearance and layout is uniform. It is more like a maze than a dungeon because everything in it is more or less exactly the same. The only things that distinguish one area from another are the inhabitants and the contents of the books - which are rendered almost indistinguishable all the same by their incomprehensibility. And without landmarks, finding a way around could become a chore beyond all reckoning.
How best to get around this problem is something to think about.