"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Monday, April 6, 2020

B/X Sages and Libraries

In a recent online game one of the players asked about a library to do some research regarding an adventure hook. I gave a quick answer to keep the game moving, but was unhappy about how I handled it.

Afterwards, I was thinking about how to handle this circumstance. Going forward, I think I will handle it in one of two ways: 1) The simplest way - there are no accessible libraries. They all belong to sages who obsessively guard access; or 2) If there is a library it provides the same service as a sage but the players have to do the work without the benefit of the expertise and knowledge of a sage to help them.

Using the very brief blurb about sages on page X21 as a starting point, below are some quick (un-play tested) rules I came up with for Sages and Libraries.

The Scope of Work
Ask the question(s) you want answered. The number of words in the question(s) will determine how much it will cost and how long it will take to answer. For each word, there will be a base cost of 100gp and 1 day. Each additional question will add +1 to the word count (in effect putting an “and” in the question). The number of words is a quick and dirty estimate for the level of detail in the question and answer. If using a library instead of a sage, the time is doubled but costs are halved.
  • For example, asking a sage, “Where is the blade of the sword of Akekemmon? How can it be fixed?” is 14 words plus 1 for the additional question is 15. These questions will have a base cost of 1,500 gp and take 15 days to get an answer. The same questions at a library will cost 750 gp but take 30 days.
Or you can hire a sage on retainer for 2,000 gp per month. 

And the Answer Is…

Roll 2d6:
2 - Incorrect answer (insert evil laugh).
3-5 - Question answered but at twice the cost and time.
6-8 - Question answered at base cost and time.
9-11 - Question answered. Cost and time are 75% of base.
12 - Answer plus another related fact. Cost and time halved.

If you have the sage on retainer the roll is still made for time required. The DM can determine if the cost varies based on the die roll (additional materials required, sage travel expenses, etc.)

Possible Modifiers:
Sage specialty or library facilities: Up to +2/-2
Difficulty/Obscurity of Question: Up to +2/-2

Note: I have the sneaking suspicion that I have read something resembling this in the past. My apologies for not being able to properly attribute this to whomever it was that provided the inspiration.


  1. The B/X sage is based on the entry in OD&D, book 3 (with about as much information, if not less).

    Recently, I discovered there is a substantial amount of additional info (2 pages!) on sages in the OD&D supplement Blackmoor (Supplement II). This includes info on knowledge chances and library costs (sages don't have libraries unless equipped by an employer). Fascinating stuff, including background info about the "Sages Guild" and consequences of offending and/or killing sages (very good reasons not to do it!).

    If you have the chance to check it out, I'd suggest incorporating some of the ideas into your campaign. Can't believe I never saw it before (though to be fair, my eyes generally zone out around the aquatic random encounter tables, which the sage section follows).

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I read the first three books all the time but rarely look at Supplement 2.