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A Tome of Creation

Thursday night. I’m wide awake at 11:45PM, unable to corral my thoughts for tomorrow’s D&D session. The group has finally reached the apex of this act: They’re about to do battle with Chieftain Legrogg of the Gorecrown tribe. The corrupted frost giant heads a horde of goblins, ogres, and hill giant that has been rampaging across the snowy landscape of Bassel’s Vale, alongside a cult of lycanthropes. Once they slay Legrogg, the lycan cult will lose their most valuable and powerful local ally. 

Tomorrow night’s session is going to be grand and intense. Yet, I’m having trouble coming up with a few aspects of it. Where should the battle take place? How will Legrogg act? Should the tribe’s name, ‘Gorecrown’ have any significance? Aaagh!

With all these thoughts stampeding through my mind, I turn to my bookshelf and pull out a binder. Scribbled on a white piece of printer paper slipped under the binder’s sleeve are four words: The Tome of Creation. All of my questions, I know, will soon be answered.

At some point, everyone experiences a creative stampede, during which there are so many different thoughts and ideas charging through their brain that they’re unable to properly think. This phenomenon happens quite often to me during school, but it also occurs when I’m preparing for a Dungeons and Dragons session or campaign. When my brain refuses to cooperate, and my time is limited, I pull out a special binder I’ve deemed a tome of creation.

You might be asking, what is a tome of creation?

Today, we’ll be discussing exactly what a tome of creation is, how to make one, and why everyone who plays D&D should have this inspirational item.

A Tome of Your Own

With the influx of new D&D players, some of them thrust into the fray, others slowly immersing themselves in the wonderful world of roleplaying, I’ve seen questions about how people get their inspiration, particularly dungeon masters.

That question is easy to answer. Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to pay attention. Need a unique accent for an NPC you’re creating? Listen to the accent of your friendly local grocery store clerk for ideas. Looking for encounters to fill up your next game session? Pull a book off the shelf and start reading, fantasy, history, informational, anything. Oftentimes, I’m inspired by real-world events, such as the dominant personality of Genghis Khan for an orc warlord, or the absolute brutality of trenches of the Great War for a battle in the mud pits of a jungle.

However, I’ve come to understand you need a place where you absolutely know you can look to get inspired. Sometimes, you don’t have the time to stroll through the gritty villages of the Witcher III to prepare for your party’s trek through a war-torn grassland. You don’t have time to generate the personality of the victim of a foul lycanthrope using the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Players new and old, dungeons masters experienced and green, I have a solution. I have a time-saver. I have flint and steel that is guaranteed to make a spark, and perhaps a flame.

I present to you: The tome of creation.

A tome of creation, in short, is an amalgamation of all of your favorite pieces of inspiration. Roll tables, artwork, advice, absolutely anything and everything you get inspired by. Instead of condensing information people need and enjoy inside a single binder, I often see players scrambling through their wide array of sourcebooks, journals, and partially-crumpled sticky notes. Once, I was a part of that group.

That’s no longer the case, my friends.

To give everyone an example of what the binder can hold, I’ll list the tabs of my tome of creation. My binder contains the following sections:
  • Tips and Tricks: Various pieces of advice from people I admire, such as Matt Click, Christopher Perkins, and Matt Colville.
  • Personal Notes: Information about my homegrown world, Aelonis, that can be inserted into a story to give it more depth.
  • Names: Dwarf names, kobold names, dragon names, thri-kreen names, halfling names, temple names, you give me an NPC, I’ll provide you with a name.. When I end up using one, I cross it off, and make a note of where he or she appears.
  • Random Scribings: Unrelated paragraphs of lore and adventure concepts usually written when I wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, or during class.
  • Awesome Concepts: Locations, monsters or encounters found in the core D&D rulebooks and adventures that I love and am inspired by. For example, the absolutely amazing river-den of the hill giants from Storm King’s Thunder, and almost every single NPC blurb from Curse of Strahd.
  • Maps: For when I’m drawing and need inspiration.
  • Roll Tables: Almost everything can be found in this section, ranging from random encounters to magical side effects to drinking a potion.
Spending an hour or two to create the binder is all it takes! Pick up a decent binder of your favorite color, a few tabs (sticky notes will do, my friends), and create a cover that says, “Tome of Creation. Then, print off or copy everything and anything you like into the binder. Print off roll tables and adventure ideas. Photocopy NPC tables from D&D adventure books, such as the dramatis personae page of Storm King’s Thunder. Drop in a few maps as well. Finally, organize the material with your tabs.

Now, you have a source of material that you’re fond of, material that is special and pertinent to your interests. I understand this sounds simple, even silly, but having a tome of information you personally care about amounts to more inspiration than poring through random books (most of the time).

As an aside: If you're not fond of carrying around a binder, then you can make a tome of creation using Google Docs or a flash drive. Personally, I love feeling the binder in my hands and being able to quickly edit or flip through pages during a session. To each their own!

I’m telling you: Just try it.

When your mind is running amuck, your inspiration dead, or you simply need some quick ideas, your tome of creation will be there, ready and filled with inspiration.

Unlimited Utility

Generally, I use my tome of creation while preparing for a D&D session.

If I’m struggling to figure out an enemy’s motivations, I flip to the vast collection of NPCs I’ve written myself or photocopied from another D&D adventure. In my aforementioned game session, the corrupted frost giant Legrogg ended up being mind-controlled by a faraway beholder because of the magical Gorecrown attached to his head. This added mystery and tension to the battle because the party finally discovered that the crown atop his head was some sort of conduit from yet another faction, which they ended up allying with and attuning the Gorecrown to one of their own heads. This crown, in addition to allowing a crazed beholder to control its wielder, also allows the beholder to see through the wielder's eyes. 

When I opened my tome, I had zero clue what the climactic battle would look like, if the name "Gorecrown" had any significance, and that another faction would be added to the campaign. By the time I was finished, I had added another layer of depth that would have never been disposed to me. The battle took place overtop a canyon with a bridge of bone and skulls. The Gorecrown was now a mystical artifact created by an eye tyrant to partially control Legrogg and spy on the lycanthropic cult's activities. Now, I knew I had an amazing session prepared.

The tome is also useful during live play.

If you’re like me, sometimes you’ll have trouble coming up with evocative NPC names on the spot. Nearly every time a PC asks an improv’d character what their name is, and I don’t have my tome handy, I stutter out something like Gitro Stormshone (rambly human researcher), and Boarhead (a goblin who was previously afflicted with wereboar lycanthropy). Fortunately, I now have the tome with me at all times, so, if needed, I can quickly pull it out and pick an NPC name from the vast array within. At other times, you might need an entire NPC. If you do, simply choose one from the pages copied from D&D adventures of yore, and reskin it to your liking.

Other ways to use it during live play include:
  • Creating encounters out of thin air with roll tables or previous adventure notes. For instance, I've pulled an amazing airship battle encounter from Storm King's Thunder on the fly, and it worked incredibly well! If you need to generate an encounter quickly, using one previously created works far better than rolling on the random encounter table.
  • Generating interesting items on the fly. You can do this with roll tables made specifically for items, or you can keep a list of self-made artifacts and those found in other adventures. I've done this, and had Blackrazor suddenly appear in my campaign. Crazy stuff.
  • Whipping out already made maps. They don't have to be made by you, simply print some off the internet, or photocopy them for modules such as Rise of Tiamat and Princes of the Apocalypse.
  • Giving your campaign a bit more depth using unique bits and pieces of your world located within the tome. For example, my world has two moons, one blue, one red. I often use this piece of information to immerse my players in nighttime battles or journies.

In Summary

I recommend everyone who plays D&D should spend a few hours to build a tome of creation: A binder full of your favorite pieces of inspiration. If you’re stuck preparing for a session, simply grab the tome and pore through, and you’ll assuredly find that one of your preferred ideas latches onto you. Plus, it can be used during play to do a plethora of acts, such as quickly inserting a new character or encounter into your world.

The tome is easy to make! Simply grab a binder, a few tabs, and printed or photocopied pieces of paper and voila, you have a book of your favorite sources of inspiration.

What's your opinion on this, folks? Leave a comment below, and we'll discuss if this item is a boon or a curse!

Next week, we’ll be discussing ways to physically immerse your players in your game.

Until then, farewell!

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  1. Loved this idea so much I went out today to buy a binder and some paper. I brought it with me in my backpack today, and it was great to be able to take it out and jot down a quick idea here or there, and how quickly that turned into more and more.

    So far I’ve divided up sections into:

    Loose ideas for campaigns/battles/npcs/characters etc
    More detailed notes for my current campaign

    Still trying to figure out what else I want to toss in there.

    It was nice to get it written down, rather than just typing it on my phone as I’ve been doing it 99% of the time.

    1. That's absolutely amazing! I'm glad this helped you organize your thoughts. May your tome help you in your future endeavors, friend.


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