By S. John Ross, © 1997

This article originally appeared in All of the Above, the GURPS APA in For Daws to Peck At, Number Three

   ``The colleges, while they provide us with libraries, furnish no 
professors of books; and I think no chair is so much needed.''
      - Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was your age, television was called books!

Why did I write book rules? Am I completely deranged or something? To be completely honest, it was for my medieval fantasy gaming. It felt strange to me that my mage's grimoire was a sheet of xeroxed paper with spell stats on it. I wanted my mage's grimoire to be a huge, musty book, sewn carefully by hand and bound up in sturdy boards and rough brown leather. You know - maybe with gilt letters on the spine and garish illuminated arcana throughout - a thousand yellowed pages containing the secrets of the universe. At least.

This was nothing new. In my old AD&D campaigns, when all of the other DMs were filling their treasure hoards with heaps of coins, coils of rope, the occasional jeweled necklace, and a pair of Boots of Springing & Striding, I was getting puzzled expressions when I would announce that the Mighty Heroes were now the proud owner of a copy of The Chronicle of the Chasm, a moth-eaten codex penned and crafted by Naelish monks some two centuries before, and containing histories and tales long given up for lost by the scholars of the realm.

``Huh?'' Was the usual reply. ``Forget that. We leave everything that isn't gems, jewelry, platinum, and magic.''
``And ears,'' said the Dwarf.
The Dwarf collected ears.
``And ears, right. So is that like a Manual of Bodily Health or something?''
``It's not magical. It's a book.''
``Uh-huh.'' (Turns to other player, grinning wickedly) ``Hey, Dwarf! This is for you!''
``Neat. What is it?''
``The ear of a Paper Golem. Very rare.''
``Cool! Thanks!''

So, it was only natural that my natural bent of masochism would bring me to this, to seek out the same response from you guys.

I had a few simple design goals in mind: I wanted plausible rules for spellbooks and formularies, including rules for looking up spells that weren't known as skills and casting them on the spot.

Donald Qualls attempted rules for spellcasting from ``Librams'' once, in the only book-rules ever to come out of Austin (see Roleplayer 25). They appeared amidst the sort of fanfare normally reserved for events such as choosing TV dinners or scratching your nose.

Which is fine, because they weren't that good. I've always been stuck on the idea of researching real things first, and then basing magical and futuristic things on that. The variations can be infinite, but they should include at least a polite tip-of-the-hat to reality. Qualls, apparently, suffered from no such concerns, and just kind of made it up as he went along.

So here's the last word on books.

Jeez . . . Now I know how Ann Dupuis must have felt . . .

You guys think this is a parody, don't you?


From the adventurer's point of view, books are good for three things: (A) If you want a skill, you can use a book to study and gain it in your spare time, (B) If you don't have time to study, you can use a book to temporarily imitate the skill, and (C) you can look up questions. These are referred to as Book Learning, Temp Skill, and Research, respectively.

Book Learning is covered in the GURPS Basic Set. My own, more realistic rules, separates book learning from generic self-study.

Temp Skill is the most useful one in play. If the generator is broken and nobody has Mechanic/TL, you can use a guide-book to fix the generator like a pro - a slow, uncertain pro, but a pro nevertheless. If you've got Magery but your spell list sucks, you can saunter on over to the Dais and look up Summon Demon in your Big Fat Book of Creepy Arcane Lore.

Research is generally just a process of asking the GM a question and making a roll to see if he answers. Use the mods for Temp Skill if you feel you have to.

Note that the rules below expand on the Library rules in the last issue. A book is simply a very small library. A book that covers two different skills is two very small libraries. See last issue on how to determine a library's Research Value, an important number. The term ``book'' and ``library'' are used pretty much interchangeably here.

[Blue Room GURPS: The Craig Roth Collection]Book Learning: ``Reading Rots The Mind''

When teaching yourself a subject from books, the first half-point requires 200,000/(IQ cubed) hours of study. It also requires a library of at least 400,000 words.

Every subsequent half-point into a skill doubles both required time and the required size of the library! If at any stage your library turns out to be too small, divide the size of the one you need by the one you have and square the result. Apply this as a multiple to study time.

The upshot of this rule is that smart characters can learn from books even faster than they can from a teacher - at first. Once the basic principles are mastered, a live instructor or real experience become necessary to get any learning done.

When studying spells, normal bonuses to IQ apply.

Advanced Book Learning: Show a little backbone. Wing it.

Temp Skill: Why Know it When You Can Look It Up?

Step One: The player tells the GM ``I want to fix the generator,'' or ``I want to unlock my car door'' or ``I want to build a winter shelter for the whole party.''

Step Two: The GM assigns a Difficulty to looking up the information needed, expressed as a modifier. To determine Difficulty, ask yourself ``If there was an ordinary TL 7 branch of a big-city library on this game-world, how easy would it be to find the info for that?'' Some benchmarks:

(-5): Most public libraries won't have it (at least in a place that a mortal researcher would think to look), and even finding it in a book dedicated to the subject, or in a good college library, is in doubt. Example: the name of the wife of a petty 13th century Spanish lord, or how to distill sticky-and-deadly blade-venom from a rare tree.
(+0): Most good libraries will have it - someplace. To find it, you might have to go through several books on an appropriate subject, and maybe a book or two on a seemingly unrelated subject. Example: the number of words in the King James Version of the Bible, or how to say something very rude in Portugese.
(+5): Any good city library will have it, and it'll be in your first armload of books if you're not Unlucky or just slow. Example: A detail about Latin grammar, or how to make chainmail.
(+10): Any public library will have it, and it's pretty easy for just about anybody to find. Example: A timeline of German history, or information on how to set a broken leg.
(+20): Any in-house library at an elementary school will have it. For that matter, nearly any encyclopedia set or almanacs would have it. Example: the capitol city of a nation, or how to write a business letter or provide first-aid to a burn victim.
(+30): Anyone is either born with this information, or perfects it in early childhood; it requries no research if the PC qualifies as ``sentient.'' Example: how to make chili or design a magic system.

Step Three: Toss on the library's Research Value.

Step Four: The PC makes a Research roll, modified by the numbers in steps Two and Three. A successful one grants Temp Skill (or finds a fact, if the PC is using these rules for ordinary research).

A failed roll means Try Again, at a cumulative -3. Any failure by 6+ convinces the character that the search is hopeless. Crit Failures are BAD. How long it takes to make a Research roll depends on the book or library used - a medieval Bible (800,000 words, with no index) might require 30 minutes of study per roll; a downtown branch of the Portland-Multnomah County Public Library System (37.4 billion words, with a state-of-the-art catalogue system), would require 90 minutes. An electronic library, with super-fast indexing and keyword-searches, takes 2 minutes per roll. I had a formula for determining this, but even I have to draw the line someplace.

Fixing the Bloody Generator

Temp Skill is granted as a bonus to the character's current default. The bonus is equal to the (11+Research Value). Thus, a book with a -6 RV will give you a +5 bonus. If the skill has no listed default, Temp Skill is granted at (Attribute+4+Research Value). Maximum Temp Skill is 12.

Characters who already have the skill can do this, too. They gain a Temp Bonus instead of Temp Skill; the bonus is equal to (Research Value+10). Maximum Temp Bonus is +4.

Once you have Temp Skill/Bonus, you can use it for any one task under any one general circumstance until you get sick of it and stop. Then the skill (or bonus) goes away.

Use the normal rules for the skill in question with the following addition: Once any roll using the Temp Skill fails, subsequent attempts require that the PC have the book the info was found in open for reference; this doubles the normal time required for each attempt, and creates amusing scenes when the PCs are using foreign-language phrase-books:

PC (Reading in French to a farmer carrying a can of petrol): Your daughter is very beautiful; is she for sale?
NPC (shocked): Le Snarl! Le Fume! Le GRRRR.
PC (to Second PC): I don't think he wants to let us use his gas can, Joe. He seems angry.
Second PC: The French sure are rude, aren't they?
PC: Yeah. Let's kill him.

Research Defaults! Whee!

In addition to the defaults listed in the Basic Set, Research defaults to ANY appropriate skill when researching it, not just scientific skills. Occultism-2 can be used to research spells (as can the Spell skill itself, if the PC has it, also at -2), Cooking-2 can be used to look up things in cookbooks, and so on. Otherwise, use IQ-5/Writing-3.

Casting Spells From Books

Spellcasting from a book is a case of Temp Skill use; Research Value applies normally. Difficulty is determined by the mage's familiarity with the spell and it's prerequisites: If the mage has neither the spell nor it's prereqs, the Difficulty is 0. If the mage has all of the necessary prereqs, the Difficulty is +3. If the mage actually knows the spell itself, Difficulty is +6.

If the Mage lacks an Advantage or Attribute necessary to cast the spell, Temp Skill won't happen.

Normal rules for Temp Skill/Temp Bonus apply. The mage can keep on casting until the fatigue runs dry, provided that the specific application and conditions don't vary.

Thus, if Diana the Wind Mage wants to levitate Booty Buckleshine (the party hobbit) to a window ledge, she can keep trying 'till she gets it right, and then do it again and again to show off. But if she decides to levitate herself to the same ledge, it will require further research (just call me Mr. Meany).


Okay. That's the book rules. You can relax and go grab a sandwich, now. When you come back, you can find out how much those books will cost you at any Tech Level you play at:

Scrolls, Hand-Made (TL 1-3): Base price is $10, plus $50 per 10,000 words of text. Mass is 1/4 lb, + 1 lb per 22,000 words. This is handwritten and attached to two wooden rods that can be used to ``scroll'' the text (natch) without getting it all over the floor. Individual scrolls larger than 15,000 words are rare.

Books, Hand-Made (TL 2-4): Price is a flat $75 per 10,000 words. Mass is roughly 1 lb per 20,000 words. These are hand-copied and hand-assembled - usually complete with sturdy cover-boards and possibly leather or canvas for protection or decoration. Double price for illuminated works, which will also often have ivory or metal covers which increase the price even more.

Early Printed Books (TL 4): Base price is $16, plus $1 per 9,000 words. Mass is roughly 1 lb per 75,000 words.

Modern Hardcover (TL 5+): Base price is $8, plus $1 per 18,000 words. Mass is roughly 1 lb per 75,000 words.

Trade Paperbacks (also quality paperbacks; TL 6+): Base price is $4, plus $1 per 23,000 words. Mass is roughly 1 lb per 75,000 words. Any paperbacks that aren't ``mass-market'' are Trade Paperbacks.

Mass-Market Paperbacks (TL 7+): This is the 6"x4" cheap-paper kind they print your science-fiction and fantasy novels on. Base price is $2, plus $1 per 34,000 words. Mass is roughly 1 lb per 165,000 words.

CD-ROM Books (TL 7): The primitive precursor of the Electronic Multimedia Book industry, CD versions of books (usually licensed from hardcopy publishers) are available on a variety of topics. Standard prices have yet to gel, and the industry is hampered by such fun trivia as the fact that a single 360MB disk can hold only about 400 24-bit still images with current methods of image-data decompression. As higher-resolution screens are developed, this will get worse, and screw mightily with data transfer speed, since most current methods of image-storage are not scalable (independent of the output device). A complete encyclopedia (with pictures) goes for $85-$100. A small library of miscellaneous reference books can sell for as little as $40; the cheapest CD-ROM books are $20. Early attempts at ``multimedia'' encyclopedias, with resolution-independent fractals and so on, cost about $400 (Microsoft Encarta is an example currently on the market).

Electronic Multimedia Books (TL 8+): These are Databases (see GURPS Space) and cost $1,000 per gigabyte of storage. At TL 8, superior methods of data- compression, perfected ``lossy'' fractal imaging, and super-quick search- and-index programs, combine to create something that can hardly be called a ``book'' anymore. Assume that 1 gig holds about 4 Billion words after allowing for both compression and graphic overkill (by mid-TL8, books that pay more attention to content than to appearance will be a federal crime punishable by death). Minimum price that a database publisher will charge will be about $10, however, to cover the cost of the disk (or holocube, or glob of programmable protoplasm), packaging, etc. Multimedia books will also be accessible and purchasable via electronic ``libraries'' and ``bookstores'' over the Net.

Public Service Message: I know the Two-Tim-Team will razz me for this, but I must point out that Electronic Books are cold, soulless creations designed to turn us all into pasty techno-zombies and suck out our eyeballs. You can't dog-ear them, for God's sake! You can't curl up with one! And they all smell exactly alike!!! It's EVIL!!! YAAAAAAAGGGHGH!!!

Call me a sentimental dinosaur, but I like data that can mold.

The above figures are averages. By using itty-bitty print and light paper, books can be made much smaller and cheaper than these numbers would indicate. Strictly speaking, books are sold more by the pound than by the word.

If dimensions are important, assume that 1 pound of raw book is 30 cubic inches. Scrolls and disks/cubes/globs are all alike.

Tech Levels listed assume the Eurocentric GURPS standard (TL never seems to apply to China, for instance, who's history of printed books dates back to 868 A.D. with The Diamond Sutra). For strict, GMs running GURPS Cthulhu or GURPS World War I, it should be pointed out that the first true paperbacks were introduced in 1935 in London (Penguin books), given to the world - or rather sold to it - by Sir Allen Lane. Other types of `disposable books,' however, have been in circulation since the 1800s.

So sue me. I do my research.

The Economics of Bookmaking. Yipee. Yahoo. Yawn.

In a pre-printing-press campaign, materials to make books cost $15/pound ($40/pound for illuminated books). Copyist is a Struggling job that earns ($30xSkill) per month. Illuminator is an Average job that earns ($35xSkill per month. Both have a minimum skill level of 10; typical skill is 12. A copyist can create books at a rate of (Skill x 1,000) words per week. An Illuminator can create books at a rate of (Skill x 600) words per week. When not creating books, copyists serve as clerks and professional letter-writers (hired by the illiterate, or by those who just wanted snazzy calligraphy in their letters). Such letters were $2/page.

Note that, in the real middle ages, books were popular despite their price. In a campaign emulating the late thirteenth/early fourteenth century, there will be roughly one full-time copyist for every 2,000 people in a major city, and one or more full-time illuminators for every two copyists. Booksellers are common, too. In the 1290s, Paris, France had roughly 1 per 6,300 people. By the 1320s, this number had more than tripled!

Due to their expense, medieval books are often rented, (often by scholars with the intent of copying them) at a monthly rate averaging 1/18 the value of the book (which is still very expensive on a medieval salary). Those lucky enough to own books often pawn them in times of financial stress, so pawnbrokers are a good place for book bargains in the middle ages.

At TL 5+, things get complicated. Publishers go to printers; printers make the books. Publishers check the galleys and want changes; printers implement the changes; publishers check the new galleys and want new changes; printers gripe and mess up copies to get revenge. In the days of TL 5, galleys were often produced while the book was still being written, and checked as the writer worked!

Price can vary dramatically just by using a different sheet, or by patronizing a different printer, or by printing in a quantity that the printer is (or isn't) economically geared for. If you want to roleplay writing off to Providence for an ISBN number or to GGX for a bar code, more power to you. But please don't expect me to describe the process; I'm writing this at 3 AM. And don't get me started on wholesalers and distributors. Ask Loyd; he works around this stuff. Just assume that the publisher is charged 10-12% of retail, and you'll do okay.

Bubbling Black Bile and The Smell of Sulphur

An Alchemy/TL library can also be used as a ``universal'' Formulary (see GURPS Magic), useable to make any elixir (even ``forbidden'' ones) but use it's Research Value instead of the flat -2 recommended by Magic.

Actual ``Formularies'' are different. A formulary (whether a multi-volume library or a single tome) presumes knowledge of Alchemy; it is not a subject- text, just a collection of formulae, defined by what specific elixirs it contains instructions for. A formulary of 1 million words per elixir will cause no penalty. Use normal Research Value rules to vary this. And again, use Research Value instead of the flat -2.

Making the Arcane Compact

These rules treat each spell as being as complicated as a skill specialty, and assumes that spell skills are ``meta-skills'' that include lots of creepy specific knowledge of Occult Physics as it relates to the magical effect in question. A ``no penalty'' library on a single spell is 20 million words; a single-college library is 200 million.

This means that the simplest possible ``library'' for a single spell (Research Value -10) is 2,000 words. This is equal to 4 pages of All of the Above, give or take a page. That's a few magic words, a brief introduction to theory, and maybe an arcane diagram or two. Lousy for looking things up, and useless for Temp Bonuses.

If you prefer a world where spell-text is either bulkier or more compact than this, just multiply the base 20 million by any number you're comfortable with. Dividing it by 8, for instance, would bring the ``-10'' write-ups down to a single handwritten page with illustrations. It would also make grimoires 8 times cheaper and lighter.

"Here it is! Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying! There's Your Book, Now BUY It!!!"

Here's a few sample books, created with the above rules. A lot of the numbers below are rounded to whatever value felt good at the time.

Generic Textbook: 400,000 words. This is a single-skill library with a -6 Research Value. At TL 3, The Generic Textbook (give it a name, please) is $3,000 and 20 lbs. A TL 4 printed book is $61 and 5.5 lbs. A TL 5+ hardback is $31 and 5.5 lbs. Trade Paperback editions, if available, are $21 and 5.5 lbs.

Generic Small Textbook: 200,000 words. This is either a single-skill library (i.e. History) with a -8 Research Value, or a single-specialty library (i.e. English History) with a -5 Research Value. At TL 3, it is $1,500 and 10 lbs. A TL4 printed book is $39 and 3 lbs, a TL 5+ hardback is $20 and 3 lbs, and a Trade Paperback is $13 and 3 lbs. A mass-market paper text, if available, is $8 and 20 ounces.

Generic Electronic Book: 200 million words. This is either a universal library (any subject) with a -6 Research Value, a single-subject library with a +0 Research Value, or a single-specialty library with a +6 Research Value. At TL 8+, this takes up 0.05 gigabytes and costs $50.

The Hong Kong Book of Kung-Fu: 160,000 words, half of which are devoted to Karate and half of which are devoted to Judo. It is two libraries, then, each with a -8 Research Value. Found only in Trade Paperback editions in very bad Hanna-Barbara cartoons, this is useful for gaining temporary fighting skill; all you have to do is size up your foe, take a minute to look up an appropriate attack or two, and go! The latest edition (1990) is $10.95 and 2 lbs.

Pocket Phrase-Book: 20,000 words. This is a single-language library with a -10 Research Value. Useful only for simple phrases. Trade Paperback, $5, 1/4 lb.

Single-Elixir Formulary: 165,000 words; the Alchemist can make the potion in question without familiarity, with only a -2 to skill. At TL 3, the book is $1,220 and weighs 8 lbs. Post printing-press, it is $35 and 2 lbs ($18 at TL5+). Paperback formularies are tacky, and only tacky GMs allow them.

The Green Grimoire: 1.76 million words, divided evenly among the 21 colleges in GURPS Magic, plus the Gate College from GURPS Grimoire. It acts as a -8 library for any spell from any of those colleges - a sort of ``Bible of Magic.'' At TL 3, it is $13,200, 88 lbs. In a TL 7 campaign, it contains all 23 colleges in the GURPS magic system (the Tech College is added, natch), and is sold in five volumes of 368,000 words each. The complete set costs $143 and weighs 23.5 lbs.

Al-Azif: 331,117 words. This is the original draft from which the Necronomicon is derived, a hand-assembled tome penned by ``Abdul Alhazred'' - the Mad Arab himself. It is an Occultism (Things Man Was Not Meant to Know) library with a Research Value of -5. Anyone researching with Al-Azif must make a (Will-5) roll. If the roll is failed, square the margin of failure and take that many points in mental disads and new quirks. No price applies; the book is unique and could auction for anywhere up to $10,000 in 1920s U.S. currency. Even a known forgery, if accurate, would be worth $500 or more ($10,000 in 1988 game-dollars). It weighs 16.5 lbs.

The Holy Bible: 773,693 words; a Theology (Christian) library with a -3 Research Value. The word-count above is for the King James - medieval texts will vary, and many will include apocrypha. At TL 3, the Bible is $5,800 and 39 lbs ($11,600 for an illuminated copy). At TL 4, this becomes $102 and 10 lbs ($51 at TL5+). Note that the TL5+ stats assume a deluxe ``family bible'' edition: Most TL 7 bibles are printed in miniature type on that creepy micro-thin bible paper that only Bibles ever get printed on, making them potentially much cheaper and lighter than this. If you honestly want stats for this, fuck you.

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