Our Lady of the Pitfalls and Pixies is hosting December’s RPG Blog Carnival, and she selected “It’s in a book” as its theme. The article is about literature in its wide formats, but since I’m more dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons in general and Eberron in particular, I decided to write about the most important book in my campaigns: the book after all of them (and even this blog) is named after: the mythical Codex Anathema.
As part of the very different storylines it is featured on, the Codex Anathema is always a mysterious McGuffin with different functions depending on the campaign and the characters playing it. It can be a very detailed Monster Manual, it can be the inventoryof a fabled divine armory, or it can be the spellbook of a feared demonologist. As part of a creative process, the Codex Anathema is a metaphor of the adventure as it is created: a book that only exists as it is written by someone.
This fabled tome has many shapes and contents, as I just mentioned, so let’s review some of them for your entertainment and inspiration.
In Volume I, “Rapelje Acquisitions”, the Codex Anathema shows as Mordain’s spellbook. Mordain, known as the Fleshweaver, is a banished wizards in the Eberron setting. Even if the name of the book is not mentioned directly, it is described by several NPCs as “the forbidden tome”. It is showcased as the item to be recovered by the heroes, and then delivered to the wizards in his very dangerous abode in the middle of the forest of flesh. In Volume II, “Forgotten Relics”, the book (or better said, its pieces) is being researched by Flamewind in the Morgrave University’s library, and the characters always get a different glimpse of it when they have an audience with the sphinx.
Things change for Volume IV, “All Souls”. I think this is the campaign where the book takes prime place between its surroundings, as it details the different clues on how to acquire the fabled Relics of All Souls, or the weapons wielded by the gods when they were able to walk the Material Plane. It is a very deep campaign as I required religion to be an important factor during character creation and development, and as such, the Codex Anathema becomes a symbol for the Bible containing ways to honor the gods and gain their favor. This symbolism gets a twist for Volume V, “A Three-Headed Gorgon”, where the book is now more closely related to St. John’s Book of Revelations, containing depictions of the end of the world at the hands of an extraplanar invasion. As the adventure hook develops, the heroes discover that the NPC trying to keep such events from happening actually put them into motion.
For Volumes VIII, “Rise of the Quori”, and IX, “Sins & Portents”, the book gets pushed to the background, as it shows only as a resource of information on how to deal with the big villains behind each campaign. In the first, it is a lost tome of knowledge in the depths of Xen’drik, while in the second is a religious tome held hidden by religious authorities in Flamekeep.
But now… it comes the spotlight. For Volume X, “Tome & Blood” (still on preparation stage), the Codex Anathema will be the object of every character involved in a campaign based on Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”. Every character will want to know the contents of the fabled book everyone is talking about, and some even are killing for.
And all this brings me to a little conclusion for a very light article. I hope you’ll forgive such an easy essay, but I apologize within reason: I’m in the middle of an eurotrip for a short vacation, more than ten thousand kilometers away from home. The point is: a book is always an engine for your adventures and campaigns. It doesn’t even need to be an actual book with parchment sheets. Take a look at Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and roll a d6: It can be…
- a tome with pages that are thin sheets of metal, spells etched into them with acid.
- long straps of leather on which spells are written, wrapped around a staff for ease of transport.
- a battered tome filled with pictographs that only one person can understand.
- small stones inscribed with spells and kept in a cloth bag.
- a scorched book, ravaged by dragon fire, with the script barely visible on its pages.
- a tome full of black pages whose writing is visible only in dim light or darkness.
Until next time, I hope you’ll always be eager to read the next chapter of the book that is the adventure you’re playing.