“Fahren, for the love of Ogma, move away from the ledge and take your place so I may begin!”
Fahren glances back at the Master Librarian, and with an exasperated sigh stands up, taking one more look over the edge of the hover platform, committing to memory the details of the steel and glass spire peeking through the trees. The smirk on Fahren’s face tells you a plan is already in place for the very moment you are set loose upon this world. Fahren walks back to the seat next to you, making a deliberate show of the act of sitting down and paying attention to the irate man once more.
“This,” the Master Librarian says as he rolls his eyes and gestures towards the forest-covered landmass below the hover platform, “was our ancient homeland.” Scattered towers of stone and steel jut through the trees like petrified arms reaching out to heaven, hinting at the world waiting to be discovered under the thick canopy. Beside you, Fahren pulls out the encyclopad and quickly searches for the lore of the ancient homeland, flicking links and text snippets into various folders, and over to your own encyclopad.
“Three thousand, five hundred and forty-seven years ago, Humans left the homeland to escape the cataclysm brought on by the collapse of the ecosystem which our ancestors abused over millennia. We would have perished as well, but the Incantatrix, the Bard Queen, Curator of Incunabulum, Blessed of Ogma, she had the foresight to preserve the most precious fountain of knowledge, namely Humanity, and with the help of all ten Archivists, she sent us to the lush lands of Thule to live, develop, and thrive until such a time when she would open the door once more and we could reclaim what was once our own.”
The Master Librarian lets the words hang in the air in reverential awe which he knows is completely lost on his wards. As he looks over his fifteen charges, these newly-graduated Field Librarians, he wonders if they will be up to the task the Blessed of Ogma has left for the returning Humanity. At least three of them will surely die, maybe four. Fahren will definitely be one, the cocky bastard.
You elbow Fahren as you notice the Master Librarian squinting at your friend and classmate, who is very much lost in the screen of the encyclopad and not paying an iota of attention.
“The Incantatrix and the Archivists,” the elder Librarian continues once all eyes are back on him, “having rescued Humanity from extinction, turned their attention to protecting the combined knowledge of the world from the ravages of the cataclysm to come. The Archivists gathered all the Incunabulum they could in their fortified seclusia, and turned these fortresses into an eldritch nexus that sealed off each of their bibliopoleis. The Bard Queen then finalized the ritual by giving her life to power the shielding nexus so that all knowledge would persist until such a time when we would return to reclaim it for posterity.”
“Master, why have we then waited fifty years since the Reopening to begin our search and cataloging of the bibliopoleis?”
The Master Librarian expected that from Fahren, but not from you, and he is taken aback for a few seconds. “Before defecting and becoming the Redcaps, the Guard caste conducted reconnaissance for years, as a matter of fact,” he replies, regaining his composure, and attempting to hide his contempt. “As Ogma in his divine wisdom dictated, the Guard caste was not allowed to touch any book, and thus they could only gather intel for us. Their defection into the willfully ignorant mob they have now become was a terrible blow, hence why all over the world, cohorts like yours are making their way to the surface today. We must begin our expeditions, lest the Redcaps find the bibliopoleis first and destroy them. Or worse, find an Incunabula and use its power to reshape reality to their ignorant whims. This is why we are here, why you are here.” He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s addressing you with that last statement, and you know without a doubt that he now dislikes you as much as he dislikes Fahren.
“On this your graduation day, my class of Field Librarians, you become emissaries of the Incantatrix as you embark in search of the lore of yore. Boot up your encyclopads, gather your equipment, and say a prayer to Ogma. We begin our descent.”
The moment the Master Librarian ends his discourse, Fahren turns to you and says, “I already spied the perfect place to begin our hunt. You will join me, right?”
You smile, hoist your pack onto your back, and say, “Let’s go find some Incunabula.”
I wrote the above back in January, just an idea I had kicking around in my head for a possible new role playing game. The concept is one that I love in fiction, finding lost lore in the form of books, scrolls, or anything printed, as the explanation why people would go adventuring in ruins and forgotten places. It was never necessarily meant to be my version of D&D, but it certainly was meant to be the kind of game that I always wanted out of playing D&D.
Along the way I picked up on two particular game design features that I wanted to explore with this specific project, one being the use of random tables to generate a significant part of the living world, setting details, and even plot, and the second was the use of in-character and in-world narration to explain everything about the game, not just the setting, as is somewhat common in roleplaying games, but also the rules to the game. This is why the narration above is in the second person, because it’s supposed to address you as the reader/player/newcomer to the world.
This piece of fiction has sat in my drafts folder for 6 months now, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, if anything. But I do like the idea that’s embedded in there, so regardless of what may come of it, I’m letting it out into the world. I still think about what I would do with this particular design, so maybe one day, one day. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this one glimpse into the world of Incunabula: Lore Hunting in the Ruins of the Third World.