"Having fun isn't hard, when you've got a library card!"
- song from the TV show Arthur
I'm a big fan of books. I re-read books that I enjoy, and I am constantly on the lookout for something new that I can get drawn into. Currently, I'm halfway through the fourth Song of Fire and Ice book, A Feast for Crows. I love it when characters discover lost tomes of knowledge, or learn new things from somebody other than an NPC.
One of my favorite parts in The Lord of the Rings is when the Fellowship finds Balin's Tomb and Gandalf reads from the Book of Mazarbul. It gave insight as to what happened to all the dwarves, as well as building some tension for the Fellowship, as well as the reader. I remember being 11 and reading that passage thinking "this can't end well".
I think there needs to be an ample supply of books in the D&D worlds as well. Unless you're playing in a game where paper doesn't exist in the world, books will be commonplace, especially with intelligent foes such as liches, dark wizards, and even dragons.
Back when I played the game Neverwinter Nights, I always enjoyed the fact that there were books on bookshelves that one could read, gaining more information about the world of the Forgotten Realms. When I started working on my own campaigns, this was something else I wanted to carry over in my games.
In the Neverwinter games, some of the books seemed random and full of history. When I decided to start writing the "books" for my campaigns, I had a couple of goals in mind. I'll talk about them below.
1. Make it relevant. - One of the things that drives me crazy about campaigns and the DM's who get into them is that most of the time, half of the information doesn't apply to the players. Will they really care that the ancient goblin army destroyed five cities before they were wiped out? Do they really want to read four pages of this? While some players will, most won't, as stories like this don't always have impact on the campaign at hand. Are the heroes perhaps looking for a way to stop a new goblin army? Then a story like this would make them think and would perhaps give a clue as to their next step. When writing books for your campaign, always ask "who is it for and will they appreciate it?". The answer to that question will let you know whether to proceed or not.
If the characters have been journeying around a specific area of a campaign world, then little snippets of background information is always welcome. Books are fun to find as a treasure, as the players take the time to delve into it and see what they can take away from it. Just make sure they can relate to it, or get excited reading it.
2. Provide a clue. - Letters and journals give insight to NPC's that the characters will either hope to interact with, or perhaps somebody that they are trying to find. There are certain benefits from reading events as seen from another's eyes, and if you build up strong feelings about an NPC, having the PC's find a letter/journal are sure to make them feel just as excited as finding a piece of treasure.
3. Go for the random. - A lot of DM's have the issue that they come up with new, more exciting ideas than what they are currently running. Use random books as a way to throw your ideas at the adventuring party and see how they respond. You might just get your way after all!
4. Ask a question. - In one of my old campaigns (Grave Secrets), the players went into some underground tombs to recover a relic. In this tomb, they found scraps of four different journals, each detailing the final moments of four residents of the island. By collecting each of the four journals, they were able to piece together the story, as well as speculate on the final fate of the last survivor. By the end of that 3 hour session, one of my players expressed that he hoped the last survivor somehow made it out ok, and he really wanted to know what had happened to her. I consider that to be a winning moment of my book writing. I got to show, not tell. Ironically, that campaign ended, and the player never did get to find out what happened. Maybe he's still awake at night wondering...
Lastly, there was a great article written by Matthew Sernett about books and legends that could be thrown into any D&D campaign. The link (subscriber only) can be found here: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/dun/stockingshelves
That's all I have about book writing for today. I plan on diving in and writing some stuff for the first dungeon of the icy continent of Vellyn. As always, leave your comments below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf