I developed this idea while reading about the Tome of Life, Deranged Elf’s creation.
The idea was refined while reading about another Tome, the Tome of eventful evenings, by CaptainMayday
I’m providing a sinister book that shows the reader (through immersive illusion) what their idealized life would be like. The book suggests what their life would be life had they never made the mistakes of the past.
The point of the book is to draw attention to their shortcommings through contrast. Meanwhile the books comforting images may become addicting to the reader. This dependancy will cause the reader to become unsatisfied with thier own lives. The book only presents illusions, it doesn’t alter the reader in any way.
I’ll present instructions on how to tie the book to your own game world in addition to the fleshed out default implementation I’ve written. I hope you enjoy this presentation format, give me feedback on the presentation as well as the content.
Creating a Description
In most cases the template description is suitable for nearly any adventure. Simply changing the title, and removing or modifying the dedication page should be sufficient.
Regardless the book will probably appear old and worn. Reading the book is addictive, especially to people with sad backgrounds or weak wills. Expect the pages to be slightly torn, and the cover to be worn. The book likely has an old crumbling faceboard, perhaps coupled with a new jacket. The faceboard and jacket need not bear the same name; the book might be ancient, but the jacket new - and bearing the name of its intended victim.
The tome appeared dusty and unkempt, it had a single word penned on its blue canvas jacket: “Regret”. The joint of the book was deep and creased, and the board carried deep finger indents.
Once opened, the pastedown prominantly featured a yellowed and cracked insignia: “O’ the Arcana Lexica, Brother Vershington”. This text flowed along the base of a heraldry held by a snake and pixie and two raised hands as its crown.
The inside titlesheet held the books name: “Regret”, and the acknoledgement page ran thus:
“To my fellow scholar and dear friend,
The Academy remembers in their silent prayers
of the lovers who played and embraced there.
For we know that no one can ever bring back
lovers lost in violent attack and
As she soars on angel wings,
she must forgive your absent being,
For some still hear her silent sing
in remorse of the marriage you shall not bring.
This book now wrote and brought to you
is dedicated to whats been through
with the hopes that you will recover well
and resume the study of the mystical.”
Creating a History
Giving a book of this nature to a person could be seen as a very subtle attack on them. The creator can hide behind false good intentions: “I only sought to help the king remember his lost queen”, all the while the book is mocking their failure and opening painful memories.
As such the book could easily find its place in politics, a gift given to cause pain and addiction, while seeming harmless. It can find a place anywhere ancient feuds are being reawoken, or mages play their dangerous power games.
In my own history the book is omnipotent; this needn’t be the case. It might be better for plot reasons to have the book tailored to a single victim - perhaps the enslaved intelligence (if there is one) was trained to know the history of its owner, so it could better weave its illusions. This training would be a part of the items history.
In my template I present a love triangle situation that might be suitable for a number of campaigns. My version requires a powerful evil femme fatale character who is rejected by her lover. The femme fatale crafts the book as a gift to the lover, the gift book then punishes the lover with a feeling of inadequacy and loss.
I’ve written a detailed narrative from the perspective of Vershington, which is the next section. This is the summary of the template history.
The book was created from the prose works of a halfling poet Vershington. Vershington loved Yewlowna, a fiery femme fatale elven sorceress. However Yewlowna desired Ashibald, a handsome sorcerer, and he loved Pegasi, an easy-going and personable gnomish girl. All four were apprentices of Master Herrold.
As Ashibald and Pegasi were very close lovers, Yewlowna sought outside powers to aid her in punish Ashibald for his love of Pegasi, and to destroy Pegasi for stealing Ashibald from her.
As the years progressed Yewlowna’s hatred only increased, and she made arrangements to murder Pegasi while Ashibald was away and to cover up the murder afterwards. She arranged for a host of men to attack the city while Ashibald was trying to discover the source of a mild toxin that plagued the town’s drinking water.
During the attack Yewlowna killed Pegasi, and bound her soul into the book. The spell was such that Pegasi must use her powers of illusion to enforce the curse of the book: The book must show a guess of the future, as if all the reader’s ambitions and dreams had come to happy fruition.
To complete her evil deed, Yewlowna gave the book to Ashibald, and so it was that Pegasi’s tortured soul caused the happy illusions that filled Ashibald with immense grief and led to his ultimate suicide.
Template History, as told by Vershington
Note: This history is mostly complete, however I need rewrite parts to develop the characters better. I’ve tried to write the narrative in an H.P. Lovecraft style, whereby the suspense and mystery is slowly built up through the recollections of the narrator, and then rapidly resolved.
“I hesitate to speak of the unfathomable evils that made that book. And Wo and Alas I had a hand in it - I penned the very poem that mocks Ashibald as it dedicates him to his end! I fear for my own safety as I pen this confession, but I have lived far to long as a murderer, perhaps in my confession the gods will pity me by destroying me utterly.”
“In my pretentious youth in the arcane academy, I spent my time apprenticed to Noble Herrold, a mage of great esteem. My fellow apprentices were Ashibald and Yewlowna. I loved Yewlowna then as now, she with her golden hair and fair complexion. But what was I to her? My sweetest serenades only amused her, and she stabbed my heart when she took the love songs of mine and sang them to Ashibald.”
“I hated Ashibald then, but not now. Theres was a perfect match and I did see it, hated him and the match. Still Ashibald was kind and innocent, he didn’t see me spurned so. When the village children picked on my small stature it was always Ashibald who stood up for me like a true friend.”
“Then Pegasi came, a gnomish girl from the east. When Ashibald loved her and not Yewlowna those were the happyest days of my youth. For if cupid could unite a man and gnome, could he not strike again and betroth me to beloved Yewlowna?”
“For years I sated myself with Yewlowna’s jealousy. Pegasi and Ashibald were so fond of each other, and spent long evenings secreted together, and I had Yewlowna to myself. She boiled with rage and I loved every second we spent together.”
“The good times slowed but did not end. Ashibald and Pegasi were so close that everyone knew a marriage would soon come about. Ashibald even hinted that I would be his best man, for we had grown to be close friends. I had even convinced Yewlowna to accompany me to some festivals, and I felt good about my chances. Still though Yewlowna was distant, she disappeared often and gave no hint as to her secret destinations.”
“When the wedding was announced, Yewlowna disappeared more often and for longer periods of time. I begged to know where she was going. She would tell me nothing directly; she said she needed my help and my secrecy. She instructed me to write pages of the sadest prose I was capable of. She said she had devised a marriage test for Ashibald, to make sure he was marrying the right woman. She asked me to promise her that when she needed my help I would freely give it. I gave her my oath.”
“Although it pains me to admit it, Yewlowna kept my well paid for my prose. I taxed my brain for sad prose by day, and by night Yewlowna returned my love. I was foolhardy and stopped questioning her secret missions, for she still disappeared for long periods.”
“When the well was mysteriously poisoned, Master Herrodrim called upon Ashibald to help him uncover the nature of the poison. It was while they were away that the mercenarys came. Yewlowna, Pegasi and myself were in Yewlowna’s room when the attack came, and could see the attack from her window. It was small and disorganized.”
“It was then that Yewlowna called in my favour, she had me hold Pegasi down and slit her throat. I couldn’t do it, I held her down, but couldn’t bear to see her crying, and I could never do anything to hurt my dear friend Ashibald. Yewlowna saw my weakness immediately, she dove at us, and slit Pegasi from the middle. Then she called on strange powers, I know not where she got such powers from.”
“To my horror I saw Pegasi very living essence, drawn into the morose pages of my mind, kicking and screaming and crying. The the slow catechism that was Yewlowna’s chant and the common-tongue response from her shadow on the wall:”
bind the soul
Triktz Zirrzt Wasiuum Varniewul
punish the reader.
“Into the battle below Yewlona’s window, the body of Pegasi was dumped. ‘Let the mercenary’s take the blame’ she said. I was too shocked to move, I stood there dumbly while Yewlona came to me, knife in hand and cut out my tongue. Then she whispered the words that have haunted me ever since: ‘Finish the dedication of the book. Remember I am watching what you write, I will always be watching what you write. Don’t look deeper into the book, I don’t want you getting lost.’”
“It was then I penned that mockery of a dedication. I left the academy in secret, and started my new life on the streets. I learned later that Yewlowna had at least given my memory a decent send off. She told the world that I had left with some adventurers who were following the mercenaries. She said that I had sent the book to Ashibald when I learned of Pegasi’s death.”
“I heard later still that Ashibald killed his own self, and that Yewlowna was having mad fits over it. I stole into his old room and took back my book of prose, for I wish to see what Yewlowna has done to it such that I couldn’t read it.”
“The book is at times a great comfort and sadness to me. I read my sad prose, but I see wonderful visions. I see my life as it would have been had I been stronger. I would have slit Pegasi’s throat, and Yewlowna would love me. Ashibald would have gotten over her death with my help. I can see further ahead, to the beautiful children that are a blessing on my household. The townspeople cheering the beautiful songs I am singing, Yewlowna beside me smiling, and Ashibald looking on approvingly. I sit here crying as I pen this sad tale, I am forgotten in this world. I have one joy, I know that I will return to the book, and live out life as it should have been.”
Creating Magic/Cursed Properties
The magnitude of the curse should depend on this history of the item.
At its weakest level, the book could have one pre-encoded illusion. It simply loops this illusion to whomever reads the book. However this gimmick would be readily discovered if it was part of a plot to deepen someones despair. A slightly better book would only have the illusion play for the right holder, and just be a prose book otherwise.
Mid-range versions of the item could feature a sentient being. The book could perhaps be presented as a magic journal. As the owner writes their innermost feelings into the book, the book is reading, understanding and preparing future illusions. Such a sentient book could display racial or gender prejuduices. Perhaps it only tries to hurt certain people, and others it is indifferent too, or helps.
Alternatively the book could be omnipotent and non-sentient. In this case it is not truly malicious, it just visualizes the readers secret unattainable dreams. However, without the malicious intent all the fun is lost.
In my template the book is omnipotent and sentient, it immediately knows the readers most painful memories, and will start building a new future, as if the reader had done exactly the right thing at the time, even if were impossible (A lone child survivor of a burned out village might see visions of his child self killing all of the invaders—even though that would have been impossible).
Template Magic/Cursed Properties
The book presents an idealized version of the reader, as if absolutely everything had gone exactly right for them. The book is omnipotent and sentient. It knows exactly what memories are painful to the reader, and it knows how these memories played out. It will begin crafting illusions immediately with the intention of bringing up painful or repressed memories.
This image disturbs the reader, because they cannot help but unfavourable compare themselves to their idealized self. Readers will become depressed without the book, and long for its comforting visions.
In my history, the book contains the enslaved sentience of Pegasi, who is bound to use her intelligence and the illusionary traits of her gnomish heritage to create illusions for the reader.
Destruction of the book
When the book is destroyed are harmed, a number of different things could potentially happen. For the template book, I’ve decided that as the book is harmed, it’s ability to cause illusions is impaired. Additionally, the books hold on the captured spirit of Pegasi is weakened. As the book under goes progressive damage, the book becomes less sinister and will alter its illusions to hint that the reader should avenge the captured spirit. However its ability to project illusions is also impaired, so it you must trade clarity of image for clarity of message.
Alternate affects could be to have a damaged book show someone elses ideal life. Perhaps the creator of the book, the captured spirits ideal life, or even just another NPC who happens to be in tune with the book.
A less subtle DM could opt to release the spirit so it can converse directly, or have the book explode in a magical burst.