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Designing a Library

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 149
Although some sample libraries are presented at the end of this section, the research rules are most rewarding when used in conjunction with libraries specifically designed to interact with an adventure’s story and characters. You can use the following guidelines to create libraries tailored to your campaign’s needs.

Step 1—Determine the Nature of a Library’s Collection: First, come up with a general idea of what sort of library you want to create and what sort of knowledge it contains. Is it a small village library, or a capital city’s vast historical collection? The recently rediscovered archive of a forgotten monastic sect, or the collected notes of a famed author? Maybe it’s an ancient repository of dark magic and disturbing rituals. What manner of information the PCs can learn from researching in this library depends on its contents—a library holding the rightful ancestry of a lost claimant to the throne is likely different from one offering cures to a necromancer’s undead plague.

Step 2—Determine Research Check Skills: Assign Knowledge skills that can be used in Research checks. These skills should be relevant to the overall theme of the library. Libraries typically have three Knowledge skills that can be used for Research checks; however, smaller libraries might have only two assigned skills, while exceptionally extensive collections might have four assigned skills or more. If the library allows any of these skills to be used untrained, you should decide that as well.

Step 3—Determine Knowledge Bonus: Decide if the library grants a bonus on Knowledge checks used for Research checks in the library. Not every library grants a bonus, but a library focusing on a particular field of study almost always grants a Knowledge bonus to the associated Knowledge skill. A typical library grants a Knowledge bonus from +2 to +5, depending on the size of the library and the quality of its collections.

Step 4—Determine CR: Establish the library’s CR according to the needs of a specific adventure or campaign, typically basing it on the Average Party Level (APL) of the player characters. The higher the CR, the more challenging it is for characters to complete their research. Refer to Table 12–1 to determine the appropriate CR for your group, using the same difficulty guidelines as encounters (easy, average, challenging, hard, epic). For example, for a party of four 6th-level PCs, a CR 6 library is average difficulty, CR 5 is easy, CR 7 is challenging, CR 8 is hard, and CR 9 is an epic challenge. Keep in mind that increasing the CR of a library still doesn’t stop successful research from eventually happening without either time pressure (see Step 7) or penalties for failure (see Additional Elements). If you set an extremely high-CR library against a low-level party without either of those elements, determine the XP they receive accordingly (low or no experience), rather than as per a monster of that CR.

Step 5—Determine Complexity: A library’s Complexity should be fairly challenging since the rules for research assume that the best researcher is the primary researcher, allow two checks to aid another, often add an additional bonus on the Research check, and offer a cumulative bonus on future Research checks. For simple libraries, see Table 3–3 for sample base DCs. For an average library, add 5 to the DC; for a difficult library, add 10. For extremely challenging libraries, you can increase the Complexity by even more, but be aware that research in such a library will be exceptionally difficult, so it might make more sense to increase the library’s CR instead. Step 6—Calculate Knowledge Points: A library’s knowledge point total is often equal to the library’s CR × 3.

Table 3-3: Library Complexity by CR

CRBase DC
111
213
314
415
516
618
719
820
922
1024
1126
1227
1328
1430
1531
1633
1734
1836
1938
2040


Step 7—Determine the Time Pressure: Thanks to the cumulative bonus on Research checks, eventually even a 1st-level character trained in one of the research skills will fully research a CR 20 library. If there is no sense of time pressure or penalty for failure (see Additional Elements), the research system becomes merely an unnecessary delay in the story’s progress since the result isn’t in question. For this reason, most research tasks should include a hard limit on how many days the PCs have to succeed. Since the PCs’ ability to reduce a library’s knowledge points does not scale up as quickly as the library’s knowledge points, low-level libraries usually require only 1 or 2 successful Research checks to reach 0 kp; on the other hand, even the most scholarly character can only hope to reduce a CR 20 library to 0 kp in 6 successes (and a more modest lead researcher is likely to need at least 12 successes). Thus, low-CR libraries merit a time pressure of a week or less, whereas high-CR libraries need at least 2 weeks to a month to give most groups enough time to complete them. As always, know your group when designing the time pressure. If a high-level group doesn’t have anyone with more than a few ranks in any of the associated skills, it will need more time to build up cumulative bonuses before it can crack the library.

Step 8—Determine Research Thresholds: The final step in designing a library is creating its research thresholds. In general, a library with 25 kp or fewer has one research threshold for every 5 kp, revealed at 5-kp intervals, while a library with 30 kp or more has one research threshold for every 10 kp, revealed at 10-kp intervals. However, this is just a guideline, and the exact number of research thresholds and their frequency should be determined by how much information the library contains or the plot requires. For example, a library with 30 kp could have research thresholds at 20 kp, 10 kp, and 0 kp, but it could instead reveal information at 25 kp, 20 kp, 10 kp, 8 kp, and 0 kp.

Once you have determined the number and frequency of a library’s research thresholds, decide the specific piece of information revealed at each research threshold. Every bit of knowledge gained at a research threshold should be unique, based on the story you want to tell or the topic the characters are researching. However, the new information might build on the old, narrowing it down with more specific details and useful facets.

Additional Elements

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 151
Libraries can be further customized to make research more challenging, rewarding, or dangerous by incorporating the following elements.

Additional Languages: A library could consist entirely of volumes written in languages other than Common. To attempt a Research check in such a library, characters who don’t speak the language must succeed at a Linguistics check or have access to magic such as comprehend languages, and the magic must be active for the entire 8-hour research session. The DC of the Linguistics check depends on the language and the researcher. For modern human languages, such as ethnic or national languages, or nonhuman tongues that are included in a character’s racial bonus languages (such as an elf attempting to research Sylvan writings), the DC is 20. For other non-human tongues that are not part of a character’s racial bonus languages (such as a dwarf trying to do research in a gnoll library) or secret languages (such as Druidic), the DC is 25. For ancient, archaic, forgotten, otherworldly, or exceptionally rare languages, the DC is 30. A character using Linguistics to translate proceeds at 1/3 the normal rate (requiring three 8-hour sessions instead of one for each Research check and to gain the +1 cumulative bonus), and a character using Linguistics or magic takes a –2 penalty on Research checks due to the possibility of losing context that would have been more obvious in his native language.

Labyrinths and Secret Chambers: Some libraries are labyrinthine, either so disorganized as to become puzzles or purposely designed to hide their greatest secrets. Other libraries could be less mazelike, but their deeper secrets might lie behind hidden doors or within concealed chambers only the most determined can discover.

In the case of labyrinths, each threshold of knowledge achieved takes the researcher deeper into the library’s confusing twists and turns. Finding one’s way out or finding the path to the next knowledge threshold requires either careful planning (a trail of objects, or using string to navigate the way back) or a successful Intelligence check to find the way. The Intelligence check can have a DC of 10, 15, or even 20, and should take an amount of time appropriate for the size of the library. Each attempt could be a manner of minutes, hours, or even days if the library is truly massive or extradimensional. Further research cannot be conducted while a researcher finds her way out.

In the case of secret chambers, typically the doors to such locations must be found before a kp threshold can be breached, or such chambers can be more symbolic, such as the case of print written in invisible ink, hidden with secret page, or requiring a psychic duel before the secrets are revealed and further research progress can be made.

Library Encounters: Books and scrolls aren’t the only things found in libraries. A library can be turned into an adventure or dungeon all its own with separate chambers and rooms serving as different encounter locations. As PCs undertake their research in the library, they can fight monsters inhabiting the library, roleplay with NPCs engaged in their own research, or overcome hazards, traps, and other obstacles, such as collapsing ceilings and walls, explosive runes, fire traps, glyphs of warding, secret pages, symbols, or simply rickety ladders and unstable shelves.

In addition, researching in a given room of the library might allow characters to reduce the library’s knowledge points only by a limited amount. In order to fully reduce the library’s kp to 0, perhaps PCs must visit multiple collections in the library, encountering all of the dangers in those rooms before their research is complete. Certain libraries might generate guardians on a regular basis, thus forcing encounters every day or every week until the PCs manage to reduce the library’s kp to 0.

Penalty for Failure: Some libraries are so convoluted and bewildering that failing a Research check can hamper a researcher’s progress, or even thwart it entirely. This can be the result of excessively poor organization, such as in a senile old wizard’s hodgepodge of books accumulated over decades, or due to deliberate obfuscation, as in the case of infernal contracts. In such libraries, various unusual penalties or consequences might occur after a particular number of Research checks or after a failed Research check. Such a library might not allow the cumulative bonus on further Research checks for each 8-hour period. Furthermore, failing two consecutive Research checks means the researcher has reached a dead end in her studies and is unable to further decrease the library’s knowledge points. In this case, the library’s knowledge points return to maximum and the researcher can’t attempt to research in that particular library again until she gains a rank in at least one of the library’s associated skills or recovers some key or clue to help decipher it.

Research Rewards: Characters can gain more than just knowledge in libraries; they might also find valuable treasures. You can place treasures in a library that are uncovered only when the library’s kp are reduced to specific research thresholds. Such treasures often take the form of scrolls, spellbooks, and magic manuals and tomes, or “intellectual” items such as a headband of vast intelligence or a helm of comprehend languages and read magic. Other objects such as rods, wands, figurines of wondrous power, or even crystal balls might be buried or hidden behind larger stacks of books, just waiting to be discovered by diligent researchers.

Specialized Skills: Instead of assigning specific Knowledge skills to a library’s Research check, you can use Linguistics as the default Research check skill, and assign specialized skills that reflect the specific nature of the library’s collections. To carry out research in such a library, a character must succeed at a Linguistics check or at one of the specialized skill checks listed in the library’s stat block. The Linguistics check follows all of the normal rules for Research checks, but if a researcher uses the more specialized check to perform her research, she gains a +2 circumstance bonus on the check for using precisely the correct skill for that library, as opposed to the more general use of Linguistics. This element otherwise follows all of the other rules for Research checks. Any skill, not just Knowledge skills, can be a specialized skill. For example, a military library might have Profession (soldier) as a specialized skill, an archive of famous plays might use Perform (act), or a tome of arcane magic might allow Spellcraft as a specialized skill. The circumstance bonus from specialized skills replaces the general bonus to Knowledge checks a library would otherwise grant; thus if the library is particularly helpful, it might grant more than a +2 circumstance bonus.