Chaucer, living in the 14th century, claimed he owned sixty books, which according to David Wright's introduction to my prose copy of The Canterbury Tales was "more than many university colleges possessed in those days." He may have been lying, but that almost makes the point even more forcefully: to him, having sixty books was something to really, really boast about.
I also recently read Tomlinson's Life in Northumberland During the Sixteenth Century (published in 1897 and sadly not even available as an ebook); in it, the author trawls through all of the wills made during the century to try to establish the number of books that existed in the entire county of Northumberland at that time. He lists comfortably less than fifty (not editions - fifty actual physical books) most of which are the Bible and almost all the rest of which are prayer books.
Before the printing press, books were rare. We all like the image of the wizard's study, lined with shelves stuffed full of ancient tomes on magic, alchemy, philosophy, ancient languages, monster lore, siege engines, and the like. There's nothing wrong with that. But in wider society books should be rare, special objects, almost unique, and very expensive.
Unless, of course, the printing press has been invented in your fantasy world, and it has developed a capitalist economy & consumerist culture. Kinda like original D&D, which sometimes works like modern america, with inferior plumbing and medieval politics.ReplyDelete
The library of Alexandria at the time of it's last good burning held somewhere between 400 and 40,000 books. Probably closer to 400.ReplyDelete
two order of magnitude degree of uncertainty? ouch :/Delete
It looks like that book is available for free via Google: https://books.google.com/books/about/Life_in_Northumberland_during_the_sixtee.html?id=3UxTAAAAYAAJReplyDelete
Wait, is this... an actually helpful bot?Delete
Edit... not a botDelete
It isn't available, unfortunately - just the publication info.Delete
Interesting. Books often feature as significant treasure items in my games.ReplyDelete
I wrote a bit of a response here:
In short: books are treasure; books explain dungeons; and books are magic.
Yeah. I think a usable system for quickly generating "what you learn from reading this book" or "whay you glean from flicking through this book" would be really useful.Delete
Check out http://cavegirlgames.blogspot.com/2018/09/from-library-some-extraordinary-books.htmlDelete
I think that has some ideas people could use...
A: That almost makes me want to count my books. I've got way more than 60. (And Lord don't I know it when I have to move apartments...)ReplyDelete
B: Significant books are one of the things that I enjoy about Lovecraft & his mythos. The Necronomicon, The Pnakotic Manuscripts, The Book of Eibon, etc. etc. Not so much whatever jiggery pokery was contained within, but all those scary books had history and stories attached to them even when they weren't in use, and like cursed diamonds the stories usually involved intrigue and murder. If I recall there were only 4-5 known copies of the Necronomicon in existence, according to the mythos. One was dropped off at the national library in Paris by a man who was later found stabbed to death in a slum apartment. Another is missing several pages and was owned by a weird family in the hill country of New England. Etc. etc. Add a list of who's, where's, when's, how many's, and who did what to who to acquire it and any artifact acquires a certain epic quality.
C: I like adding something akin to a Search check for collections of books I put in my adventures, usable by literate characters to gather info. If they've got the time to peruse them, why not let the characters dig up useful knowledge. Seems like a way for the party to save on Sage expenses. You either pay time or money for what you want.
D: For some awesome inspiration on magical books, the Peter Greenaway movie "Prospero's Books" is pretty amazing. To those who might not have heard of it, it's a retelling of Shakespeare's "The Tempest", interspersed with short, animated segments detailing magical books from the wizard's library. (It's also got a staggering amount of nudity, including John Gielgud who played Prospero and narrated. If you can handle that, then the bits about the books are well worth it.)
Never heard of it! I can handle a bit of naked Gielgud. Sounds like a great idea.Delete
I see three types of non-magical books:ReplyDelete
1. Illuminated manuscripts which would be super-rare as they take forever to create. 2. Woodcut printed books which might be fairly short, but also somewhat common. They were even producing light reading and comics in this style in medieval Japan. 3. Books printed with movable type which would fit the books mentioned in the blog post. These would eventually replace all other types.