Letters from the Flaming Crab: Libraries
This installment of the cool Letters from the Flaming Crab series clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of editorial, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.
All right, we begin this pdf, as always, with a great little letter dropped from the planes- and worlds-hopping vessel UCS Flaming Crab, found and faithfully transcribed by J Gray – and we begin this pdf with a brief recap of the institutions of libraries before defining it – for the purpose of this book and fantastic contexts, a library ultimately is a collection of information and similar forms of entertainment, composed most often, of written words. This definition, as the pdf acknowledges, is rather technical, though – ultimately, a library is more. If you have ever walked the hallsof a proper university library or perhaps even the thoroughly impressive ancient ones out there and felt the sheer awe they inspire, you’ll know what I meant. The nature and composition of the books, its building and nature all thoroughly influence the character of the place, a notion that can be easily amplified in a fantastic context, while knowledge even more directly translates to power than in our world.
Now, the pdf begins with a general step-by-step guideline regarding the creation of libraries – first, one should determine the type: Whether public or private, and then we move on to take a look at accessibility – after all, pretty much all governments, particularly those inclined towards totalitarian modes of operation, have a tendency to restrict access and information…same goes, obviously, for religions: Heresy, false information – the propaganda conflicts of the medieval ages once more sound pretty contemporary these days, in our brave new world…so yeah, society, groups and persons that established the libraries will ultimately define the accessibility and themes of a library. Similarly, circulation is a potential issue – curators, librarians and assistants, organization and audience should be taken into account. Nice: The effects of the various starting attitudes of curators have been noted, with extensive behavior guidelines for the GM – and yes, friendly curators can have pretty nice tangible benefits for the PCs.
Now, the pdf employs Ultimate Intrigue’s nice research rules to provide a vast variety of different libraries – these come with several research thresholds each and sport interesting ideas that rang from the obvious adventure angle to the more fantastic – there is e.g. the Dwarven Mining College Library, which can yield important notes on hidden veins of ore…and there’s a wagon of children#s books, some of which cannot be deciphered by adults and only make sense to children reading them…who curiously never tell what they read. If you wanted an excuse to employ Everyman gaming’s cool Childhood Adventures-rules…there you go! Mistress Sandwind’s unfinished magnum opus’ trail can be found beneath the desert sands. Another interesting example would be a national library (minor complaint here: One line is missing blank spaces – a little layout hiccup, I guess…) and, following the pretty loose definition of “library”, the court of Lishaz, sage of winter, is provided as an interesting example of an unconventional library.
Within a sunken city, last remnant of a once resplendent civilization, beckons – all those that can reach it. Reading rooms can be found…and the medical collection of a temple comes with a rare disease that only very few are susceptible to…and notes on how it could be caused. So if you’re looking for a Dr. House-like story to tell, there you go. Speaking of plague: Pcture a metropolis, wrecked, like clockwork, every 150 years by a plague – and holds e.g. a hidden mummy…and ancient pictographs may well hold the secret to end this scourge. Oh, and yes, there is a virtual library, remnant of a crashed starship, so if you’re enjoying a bit of sword & planet/science-fantasy, this has you covered.
Okay, after this pretty diverse and inspiring chapter, we move on to defining and discussing a variety of different document types – from tablets to codices to the virtual, this section is nice…and then, we move on to one aspect of PFRPG near and dear to my heart. As a polyglot and language-nerd, I always hated how most d20-based systems, including PFRPG, handle languages – one skill point per language?? Seriously? Anyways, this trivializes many of the cool scenes and hooks I enjoy in horror literature, sword & sorcery, etc. – hence e.g. the elimination of common in my games…and some house-rules. The pdf proposes a rather simple and elegant system here, one that is focused on gradient fluency. There are 3 general levels: Competent, fluent and proficient – if you ever took a language test, you should be familiar with the meanings, right. For each skill point in Linguistics gained, you assign two fluency points. This makes mastering a language a bit more complex and allows the GM finer distinction between proficiency-levels…and allows for more complex roleplaying situations. The benefits and limitations of the respective fluency levels are concisely defined, with proficiency providing minor benefits to award specialization – I really, really like this solution! Huge plus for the pdf here and what I’d consider to be a selling point – if you’re planning an occult, horror or intrigue-based campaign (or one with a more sword and sorcery-esque theme), then this should be considered to be mandatory reading. And yes, the rules are simple and rewarding enough to not overly complicate any book-keeping required – I’d suggest a superscript C, F or P noted with the languages. As a final aside here: Knowing a few words to get around is covered – really helpful!
Really cool, btw.: The pdf has collected a whole page of class options, items and spells that tie in with the concept of libraries – helpful and neat…kudos for going the extra mile here.
The pdf also sports some class options, the first of which would be the library subdomain, which is associated with Community and Knowledge, replacing either calming touch or lore keeper, respectively. The ability granted is narrative gold: Mind palace lets you read a tome as part of your morning prayers, allowing you to nigh-perfectly recall content, reflected by a bonus to Knowledge checks that scales with levels. This is gold for detective scenarios and sports a really nice imagery; it is also convenient for narrative games, as the quicker study can be helpful indeed. There is also a new oracle mystery, the words mystery, which nets Linguistics and Perform as class skills. Bonus spells range from the usual suspects like comprehend languages to spellcasting contracts, being a bit more vanilla than the notably cool replacement domain spells provided by the cleric subdomain. (Which include, just fyi, psychic asylum (library only) – which made me recall one of my favorite scenes from the Hannibal franchise. But I digress. The revelations available in the mystery are interesting – there is e.g. automatic writing that is prophetic and later upgraded to commune (spell-italicization missing)…which is interesting, but I consider it cooler to learn about an author by analyzing a text written – this makes for a pretty cool tool, which, at higher levels, also duplicates spell-effects. Here, the italicization’s correct, just fyi. Countering effects based on written or spoken words a limited amount of times per day is cool, but I am not 100% sold on how it works – you see, it references countersong as how it works – but countersong is based on bardic performance rounds, while the ability instead has a daily use array, which you’d expect from e.g. an immediate action counter ability and which makes it quite hard to decipher how this is supposed to work. Clarification would be appreciated here. “Esoteri Research”[sic!] is utterly broken. It lets you research spells from one class list of your choice as though they were two levels lower. Once you complete research of the spell, you gain it at +1 spell level as an oracle spell. Notice the issue? Well, oracles are limited by being spontaneous casters and their limited spell array – this allows you to basically use research to not only poach in another spell-list, it also eliminates the limit imposed on the spellcasting of the class. Not cool.
The next revelation is not properly formatted and looks like a continuation of the previous revelation, having its name indented as well. It is written has a terminology issue: Once per day, you can write a spell in air, earth or paper. (Oddly specific – why not in water?) The spell then is treated as not having verbal or “cheap material components” – okay, what is cheap? No cost? Anything below 1 gp? No idea. This is not proper rules language. Gaining access to symbol spells is nice and I really like the idea of swift action enlarging pens, quills, etc. to act as longswords, with a bit of class-level-based bonus damage. The ability only allows for one attack before reverting to standard size, though, and with a swift action and limited daily activations, is unfortunately rather weak. I really like the visuals of wall of text: You yammer on, creating a wall that deflects arrows, etc. – basically a variant wall of sound…and once more, the interaction with the referenced base are what sinks this. You see, it can be maintained for 10 (!!!) minutes per class level and you may spend them in 10-minute increments; unlike the spell, you do NOT RAW need concentration to maintain it. I am also not sure if it cause wall of sound’s damage…or not. Instead of the damage, the wall seems to be able to STUN targets on a failed save for ridiculously long times. Even stranger – the ability has a separate stun chance when near the oracle, which implies that the oracle needs to be directly behind the wall…which contradicts the range of wall of sound and leaves me utterly incapable of determining of how this should work. All in all, a promising mystery that is severely hampered by its rules-issues.
The final component of the pdf would be a magic item, the bookring, whose gems can hold non-magical tomes – which ends the pdf on a high note and with some cool, inspiring ideas.
Editing and formatting are not as good as usual for the series – I have noticed a couple of typo-level glitches and the rules-language hiccups I found are pretty obvious and left me a bit puzzled. Layout adheres to Flaming Crab Games’ nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf employs neat, thematically fitting artworks – some from public domain and some really nice books with landscapes on their pages, visualizing the imaginary process.
June Bordas, Lindsey Shanks-Abel and Margherita Tramontano deliver a per se really cool installment here: I absolutely adored the section on libraries, the GM-guidelines and the fluency-section is gold – personally, I’ll employ an even finer distinction, but the rules are simple and concise enough to allow a GM easy modification: I’d suggest, for example, paying off of competence penalties and/or gaining proficiency benefits on a point-for-benefit-basis. I pretty much liked everything about this book apart from the formal hiccups and the disappointing oracle mystery, which represents a weird dip in overall quality; it is more vanilla than the subdomain and falls e.g. short of R.O.D.’s (Read or Die for non-Otakus – an anime classic) extensive tricks…or the more down to earth research tricks. Balancing of this one is really wonky as well and it drags, alongside the smaller glitches, down what otherwise would be a truly excellent supplement. As written, I cannot go higher than 4.5 stars, rounded down, as I have to rate the whole book as a reviewer. If you can look past a couple of minor glitches and the mystery, then you should consider this a 5 star + seal file instead.
You can get this neat supplement here on OBS!