So this is another thing inspired by the Tao of D&D, and I’m putting my take here so I can use it when I reboot Tuesdays come January. Now, Alexis has a great and extensive system of sage tables that his books play into (he uses a heavily modified pre-edition version of D&D, but you should know that by now, having read him at my insistence last week). Given that I run a 3.5 ish game with skills, I want to preserve an idea I gleaned from him that will apply to my game.
So here’s the idea: there are 4 different classes of books, Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Esoteric (different from the Tao’s labels, but I wanted to get away from Arcane meaning Magic). A collection of books personally owned by and accessible to a character (or perhaps with access to a library for a fee, or through organizational benefit) will increase knowledge checks if there is sufficient time to search through them (one hour per point of bonus).
4 Common books will confer a +1 bonus to knowledge checks in that field.
2 Uncommon books will grant a +1 bonus.
1 Rare book will grant a +1 bonus.
1 Esoteric book will grant a +2 bonus.
Naturally, this will be of benefit to the use of the skill to actually gain knowledge about a particular subject, and then only in a general way (such as researching that monster you fought yesterday), and not in a spur-of-the-moment “do-I-recognize-this-monster-and-what-do-I-know-about-it-quick-before-it-crushes-me-to-death” kind of way. If you do research a monster that you encountered yesterday (presuming you survived being crushed), the books would only be able to add their modifier to the check you made yesterday while rolling out from underneath the beast (for clarity, the DC to recognize (know species and type) a monster is 15+it’s Hit Dice, and for every 5 you beat that DC you get a useful piece of information). Thus, if you rolled a 21 Knowledge Religion check to identify the Wight (undead) in the field, you’d get it’s name and type. (the DC being 19). If you then went home and looked through your 2 Uncommon books and your Esoteric book on undead (for 4 hours), you would find out about their Energy Drain ability, explaining why the fighter has been feeling down since that fight (and allowing you to track down a Restoration spell before the negative levels become permanent).
Obviously, a book has to be focused on a particular subject to be of any use, and it also can’t be invented fiction. How fictitious certain legends are in your world, is, of course, up to you, but most of them don’t focus on anything other than the events at hand so as to be useless for scholarship excepting studying theoretical bibliomancy. Further, four copies of one book don’t offer any more of a bonus than a single copy of that book. That should be obvious, but sometimes the obvious is ignored until it is unavoidable.
Now, a person may be inclined to memorize a set of books and therefore have them accessible at any time without the need to spend time consulting them. This is not a bad plan. However, the purpose of writing things down is twofold: 1) to communicate information over long distances and time periods; and 2) to record information to make remembering it unnecessary, thus freeing space in the brain for more advanced thought once basic concepts are grasped and assimilated. So, here’s the process as I imagine it:
1) A character may only memorize books in a number of “subjects” (Knowledge skills) equal to his/her Intelligence bonus.
2) A memorized book only provides half of the normal bonus. Thus, 8 common books would be required to be memorized to provide a +1 bonus. This is to account for both the limitation of book-knowledge in reference to broad application in the field, and the workings of a natural brain retaining specific bits of information and discarding others. Books, simply, never forget.
3) For each +1 bonus acquired it requires 3 months of study of the materials in question, of at least 30 hours a week.
4) Multiple subjects may be studied at one time, but for each subject beyond the first, a weekly wisdom check must be made. A failure indicates that no progress is made during that week on either subject.
5) The memorized bonus will decrease by 1 point with each level gained. This accounts for the character’s experience superseding the book-learning, with actual experience being more valuable in the long run than Ivory Tower study.
And I think that’s about it. Studying seems like it would be more valuable at the lower levels, and less so at higher levels, though consulting a large library may still be worth it.
One last thought that occurs to me: What about characters writing their own books? I think that the maximum bonus to be provided (to others, mind) would be the character’s level divided by four. Thus a character would have to be 8th level to write a book worthy of the Esoteric label. Getting this book published and distributed though? I’ve no idea how to make that reasonable. Suggestions anyone?