I’ve recently come back to Original D&D in the form of White Box FMAG. Currently I’m running a short (?) campaign for some friends, but I want to see what it looks like from the player side since it’s been a very long time since I’ve done this. Looking over my shelves, The Stygian Library stood out to me.
A dungeon in the extra-dimensional spaces between every library in the universe.
Inside, an order of inhuman Librarians guard the “Sheol Computer”, a device said to contain all the accumulated knowledge in every book ever written.
Other bibliophile creatures lurk between the shelves: Archivist-Liches, Escaped Fictions, Origami Golems, and many more. Every expedition is procedurally generated, so new locations are explored with every visit.
Drawing by Alec Sorenson. (c) 2020, Soul Muppet Publishing and Dying Stylishly Games.
For a potentially infinite labyrinthine collection of knowledge, there are correspondingly infinitely many adventure hooks. In my case, I’ve decided to have the characters seek a particular tome on behalf of a patron. First, I used the Fantasy Random Generator from Donjon and assembled the following from bits of a few different choices:
Pelampae’s Scripture, a flawless tome written in black wax upon paper. It is said to have been stolen from the library of a forgotten god of secrets.
What about the patron NPC?
Cuthmund: Male Human Wizard, Neutral. Cuthmund has cropped auburn hair and hazel eyes, and pointed ears. He wears blue robes and wields a quarterstaff and dagger. Cuthmund seeks to master the secrets of chaos magic.
I’m going to generate these traditionally, 3d6 down the line. I’ve decided to exclude halflings; dwarves are something between earth elementals and clockwork constructs, and elves are star children from beyond the sky. I’m still using Donjon, this time to generate their personalities as NPCs. The listed equipment in their description will also be provided for free (e.g. weapons and armor) but adventuring gear will need to be purchased.
STR 8 DEX 10 CON 10 INT 13 WIS 9 CHA 11
Aered has red hair and grey eyes, and prominent ears. She wears modest garments and wields a quarterstaff. She seeks to make amends for a previous life of crime.
Her equipment includes:
This puts her at 20 lbs of carried gear (see House Rules).
STR 14 DEX 13 CON 11 INT 6 WIS 10 CHA 9
Narder has straight grey hair and green eyes. He wears banded mail and wields a short sword and short bow. He is courteous but conceited.
His equipment includes:
This puts him at 71 lbs of carried gear.
STR 10 DEX 9 CON 12 INT 9 WIS 13 CHA 14
Cirdore has blonde hair and sharp blue eyes, and a short moustache. He wears banded mail and wields a spear. He is fascinated by art and architecture.
His equipment includes:
This puts him at 70 lbs of carried gear.
I’m updating this list as I go.
For the purposes of this scenario, I don’t intend to belabor the details of finding and entering the library. Cuthmund, the wizard patron, has provided the party with that information and promises them a total of 300 gold pieces (3000 silver). In fact, I believe the entrance is within his own private library; he has better things to do with his time, and such a trifling pittance is worth it to him. Having the entrance within his own secured tower also makes it more difficult for his hirelings (the party) to cheat him, should they be tempted. But he’s not interested in whatever other treasures they recover - he just wants Pelampae’s Scripture.
This is a depthcrawl, meaning a procedurally-generated dungeon where the tables take into account how far the adventurers have travelled into it. The party will start at Depth 0 and Progress 13 (using Aered’s Intelligence score); they will need to reach Progress 30 to find the Scripture.
Aered has prepared Sleep, naturally.
A SMALL, WELL FURNISHED ROOM. Comfortable chairs, low tables. Cozy. To one side, there’s tables against the wall with food and drink, and the chinaware and cutlery required. Roll three times for what:
Candles stuck onto the tops of the bookshelves, and on every table. Old, fat, dribbly. Once-molten wax pools and cracks on the floor and forms glossy white speleothems on the walls. Needless to say, the room is well-lit.
A spell that has broken free of its constraining spellbook and now roams the Library as an independent entity. A data-cloud of disembodied text hanging in the air, paragraphs intersecting with one another at odd angles. Letters cast strange shadows from the emergent, occult shapes they form.
As a Detect Chaos spell, the caster detects creatures of Chaos, or those with chaotic enchantments, intentions, thoughts, or auras with- in the spell’s range. Poison is not inherently evil or chaotic and cannot be detected by means of this spell.
The stats are then based on it:
The Animate Spell is unfriendly, and thus casts itself with a vengeance. The Library has become aware of the party; are any of them chaotic-aligned? I didn’t previously determine this, so first I want to see what White Box FMAG (specifically) has to say about alignment:
Alignments in the game represent cosmic forces and are described as Law, Chaos, and Neutrality. In general, Law also corresponds to being “good,” Chaos corresponds to being “evil,” and Neutrality simply means that the character is indifferent between the two moral polarities.
This isn’t an interpretation I favor, because I’m not particularly interested in heroic fantasy. But for this particular adventure, it will fit, I think. In that case, all of the PCs are Neutral, and so the Animate Spell detects nothing.
How do the characters react to this, though?
Aered is fascinated by the concept of what she sees and takes a few moments to study it. This is not a spell she knows, and her spellbook automatically gains a copy of it for free as I believe it makes sense for a class who can cast Protection From Chaos also be able to detect it.
Narder wanders over to the food and munches absent-mindedly on a scone. Nothing here looks particularly dangerous to him, and if the Librarians are courteous enough to offer breakfast, then he will in turn do them the courtesy of accepting their hospitality.
Cirdore’s fascination with architecture, and his elven affinity for magic, leave him in awe. This is arcane workings of which he can only dream, perhaps even in excess of the star-vaults his people once built.
A COMFORTABLE ROOM, WITH RICHLY UPHOLSTERED COUCHES, AND ELEGANT COFFEE TABLES. Cigar smoke and notebooks.
A previous visitor has written something. Perhaps it’s a note pinned to the shelves or a little chapbook to collect their observations. If there’s some threat present, the graffiti warns about it. If there’s something valuable that could be salvaged, the graffiti points it out.
What does the graffiti say?
Aered and Cirdore spend a few moments skimming through the notebooks to see what else they might say. Perhaps they might learn something about the Library or even the Scripture they seek. Narder keeps an eye out, and the mention of both living ink and ghosts has made him wary of danger. He’ll spend the turn examining the room carefully.
This is actually an academic’s office. The researcher themself is not here, and perhaps never will be. The combination of the notebooks and the heretical scripture is worth a point of Progress, in my mind, and so they are now at Progress 14. Narder will stow the lantern in his pack, and then they’ll move on before the academic comes back to find their office being robbed.
A LARGE, STEAM-POWERED PRINTING PRESS, ITS OPERATION AUTOMATED. It is plumbed into the larger structure of the Library, powered by high-pressure steam piped in from the boilers. It produces replacement pages, important paperwork, etc., which slide from the printing press and into collection baskets. It creaks, clatters and grinds as it works. It’s in constant motion, and the piles of paper it produces build up over time.
The books here are all chained to the shelves—perhaps to prevent theft, or perhaps to prevent them escaping, depending on the nature of the books.
That’s an interesting combination. Are chained books perhaps overseeing the printing press? Ultimately, of course, they are products of it, but then future books will be printed in that context, and so culture perpetuates itself and also evolves.
Aered wants to spend some time here with the books, while Cirdore investigates the printing press. Narder will keep watch, investigating the walls for possible other entrances, exits, and so on. Also, this is the first dark room, so Cirdore lights the lantern.
(I probably should have rolled an event in the prior turn, but I forgot.)
One of the chained books is a sort of guestbook, where previous visitors have left their thoughts. In this weird, quantum place, it’s impossible to say how long ago these visitors came through, or where they were from across the planes. But their thoughts on navigating the place prove helpful for the party before they move on.
A ROOM DEVOID OF BOOKSHELVES. Against one wall, a huge black-iron furnace, over which a tank of water boils. Large pipes channel the steam elsewhere in the Library.
The location is within a locked vault, behind a strong iron door. A neat sign above the door summarizes the contents of the vault.
They’re not particularly interested in a locked boiler room, and they’ll probably just Go Back rather than try to brute-force the door. But I’ll roll for an event in any case:
Knowledge is power. Power corrupts. Put enough knowledge into something and it will inevitably start to overreach itself, behaving in ways it was never meant to. That’s what’s happened to the Animate Book. A text with sufficient information density warps itself, achieves a sort of intelligence—a sort of life. It doesn’t realise it’s not alive.
Some books flutter out of nowhere; they’re not chained, and in fact they’re not supposed to be loose. If the Librarians find them, they’ll be disenchanted and re-shelved. Here and now, what’s their reaction to the party?  Negative. The books aren’t quite hostile, but they do not like the party being here. Aered suggests they all leave before they have to fight these things (which are potentially more dangerous than they look).
This is, of course, the same location as entered in Turn 4.
Another of the chained books thrusts itself at them; I decide there’s a 2-in-3 chance this goes to Aered, else Cirdore:  Aered, who advances immediately to become a Level 2 Magic User!
This gains her 1 HP (up to 5), improves her Saving Throw to 14, and she can now cast two spells per day. But she hasn’t had time to prepare another one, of course. That will come tomorrow. This is quite a boon!
The party decides to find another passageway out of here.
AROUND A DOZEN SKELETONS IN GLASS CASES. Wired into position. Labelled neatly.
The skeletons here are  Long-Extinct Monsters.
The room is lit by a number of glass orbs suspended from the ceiling, each of which gives off a soft, blue-green glow. The atmosphere is relaxed and cool.
A construct made of scrap paper, glued into a rough humanoid form, folding at the joints. Flat, angular, ragged and misshapen, it shambles and limps on asymmetric limbs.
Due to the event, I decide that the construct is at minimum HP. Unless the Librarians order it to attack or otherwise deal with visitors, it’s just a silent and mindless thing. Unless something else happens, it is simply present.
However, of course the Magic-User and Elf want to examine these monster skeletons more closely. Narder will instead examine the origami construct and perhaps the way it came in.
The light from the phosphorescent lamps is dim, and perhaps it even has a mental effect on the humans. They’ve lost their bearings a bit, and their Progress reduces to 15. Time to move on.
A LONG ROOM SUPPOSEDLY DEDICATED TO RELIGIOUS DEVOTION. A high, arched ceiling, supported by pillars. Rows of pews, and at the front a pulpit before the altar.
This pulpit has a small lectern with an Extraordinary Book:  A collection of cosmic secrets.
It’s Cirdore’s turn, who achieves 2nd level as an Elf. (Note that I’m using the optional merged class in White Box rather than trying to juggle Fighter vs Magic-User on a daily basis.) He gains an additional HD, meaning 6 more HP (total of 12), a to-hit bonus of +1, and improves his Saving Throw to 13. Additionally, he can now cast 1 spell, although he’s carrying a two-handed weapon so that could cause a conflict later. He’ll take this book as his spellbook, and he’ll have to wait until he can rest to prepare spells.
The altar is a simple affair, with the suitable trappings of a common faith—maybe a crucifix and candles, perhaps a bowl and sacrificial knife, depending on the religion.
I imagine this place as having something darker than traditional Christian paraphernalia, given the book they found here. But there are some trinkets here:  A metal-bound chest of coins, worth
d20 = 11 * depth (4) * 100 silver = 4400 silver. That’s a heavy chest indeed, but that’s also a huge chunk of treasure for them. It weighs a lot, enough that Narder will be encumbered while carrying it and unable to fight. (I didn’t immediately find the coin weight rules in White Box FMAG so this is good enough for now. But see Wrap-Up below.)
As found at the Printing Machine in Turn 4.
The party is currently using a lantern, and this is exactly the kind of situation where it is a benefit. This event doesn’t cause too much trouble, although Cirdore is now carrying the lantern while Narder carries the chest.
Despite the books straining at their chains, it’s time to get this treasure back out of the Library. That will also let the spellcasters prepare new spells.
What’s with the wind? Perhaps the Library, or at least the Librarians, have become aware of the larceny going on. The party had better keep moving.
What left these signs?  d6 = 1 Black Order Librarian and 3 Yellow Order Librarians. The next time there’s an encounter here, this is what the party will find (except they won’t because they’re not coming back on this particular foray into the Library).
But this does combine well with the speculation in Turn 11 that the Librarians are aware of the party’s presence. Perhaps they’re even looking for them. The Black Order are “Those who Maintain the Portals”, whereas the Yellow Order are “Those who Maintain the Books”. That does feel like a security detail!
This would yield two events next time in this location, but as previously noted, the party is not coming back here.
Dammit, that almost completely erases the progress they did make, reducing them to 14. Remember, they started at 13!
That said, they’ve reached the entrance and they can wrap up this particular foray.
They recovered 4400 silver pieces directly, plus a lapis lazuli lantern worth 200 silver giving them each 1533 XP. Cirdore and Aered already progressed a level each, and Cirdore got a spellbook. Aered is at Level 2 (4033/5000 XP), Narder remains at Level 1 (1533/2000 XP), and Cirdore is at Level 2 (6533/10000 XP). (Elves take a LOT of XP to level up!)
With 1533 silver pieces each, they can also change up their equipment and maybe hire a couple of non-combatant porters for the treasure they hope to recover on their next foray. I don’t imagine Cuthmund actually pays them too much mind; this sort of adventure is expected to take more than one day, given how rare that book is.
So Cirdore will stow away the spear and replace it with a rapier (as long sword). They’ll deal with the actual hireling(s) in the next session, but he’ll be in charge of that. Narder will upgrade to a warhammer and shield. Aered doesn’t need any new combat equipment, but she did pick up a new spell (Detect Chaos).
So far, the depthcrawl adventure works perfectly for solo play. It’s procedural by nature, and the random tables in The Stygian Library in particular are extremely well-designed, with lots of cross-references in the form of page numbers.
In terms of game rules, encumbrance isn’t clear to me. I understand that, in this play style, deciding when you’ve gotten enough treasure that it’s time to lug it back is an important decision. The book says “each coin and gem is assumed to weigh 0.1 pound”, but that seems like quite a bit for this case, because 440 lbs of silver is a lot to carry. I’m going to have to look into this more.
It’s easy to focus on the room-by-room exploration game and forget about the roleplay and descriptions, because of how interesting and alive the dungeon feels. Next time, I’d like to do a bit more with the characters and their individual approaches & stories.
But “next time” won’t be too long, for sure!