DMs Guild Review – Off the Books

Explore a library of magically awakened books in this mini-adventure for level 5.

A review copy of “Off the Books” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Dana Floberg

Off the Books is a 5th level mini-adventure that turns a library into a dungeon crawl. An enchanted book of fiction has brought several characters to life, and the library needs a helpful group of adventurers to set things right.

The Dramatis Personae, which includes six characters, takes up half of the one-page Introduction — an obvious clue that this is a role-playing heavy adventure, despite taking place entirely within a library.

The library has a big problem. An adventure book was accidently enchanted with the Awaken spell, bringing its damsel, dashing hero, and scheming villain to life.

Oddly, this magical effect isn’t constrained to the one book. As the fictional characters read from other books in the library, they too begin to spill out their contents, creating a delightfully chaotic dungeon crawl of literary tropes and references.

After meeting the head librarian through a way-too-brief introduction, the party’s first task is to get past a book-throwing troll, whose clever rhymes provide clues to his title-guessing riddle.

From there the party will kiss frogs, speak to wise giant wolves, and sail through stormy seas on a pirate ship, all in the span of a relatively tiny, and excessively linear dungeon.

As much as I enjoyed most of the individual rooms and scenes, I was disappointed that the dungeon constrains the party’s freedom, instead shuffling them from one room to the next.

off the books villain

The party first meets the villain of the book, Damian Darkthorn, near the entrance. He joins as a helpful ally.

The actual hero, Alabastar Armstrong (A+ on these names) is instead the frequent antagonist, unhearing of the party’s pleas. Eventually the party faces him as the final boss. It’s an effective subversion of literary tropes and a neat little twist.

The finale, however, is a bit underwhelming. The actual damsel character is only met very late in the dungeon, and has little bearing on the story.

The final battle sets up an interesting fight with Alabastar and his army of fictional characters, but the designer suggests using the Recruit statblock for every monstrous ally — no way! This is a chance to really get crazy with lots of monsters who would normally never congregate together.

In the end, either the damsel or the villain can betray the party with their own goals in mind, offering a nice final role-playing opportunity (or simply another battle).

A map of the library dungeon is included, but it’s a basic graph paper mock-up. Better than nothing, but not suitable to use with players or on a VTT.

The adventure also includes half a dozen new magic items, humorously themed around fiction tropes, such as Plot Armor, and the Ring of Deus Ex. Love it!

Using these items, as well as resting in the library, can accrue Fiction Points, which could result in a PC getting sucked into a book. That’s a really fun idea, but the designer mostly leaves it up to the DM on how to handle it. I would’ve preferred a more detailed system, with several book worlds, skill checks, and penalties (or bonuses).

Off the Books has a few issues, but overall I enjoyed the fun concept, and the use of an unconventional setting for a dungeon crawl. If it had been included in Candlekeep Mysteries, it would easily rank in the top half.

Pros:

  • Library dungeon features an excellent balance of role-playing, combat, and challenges.
  • Several memorable scenes and events, including acting out a dramatic play, and sailing a pirate ship through storms and monsters.
  • Fun twist of the villain joining the party, and the hero being the final boss!
  • Half a dozen thematically fun (and funny!) magic items, such as Plot Armor.

Cons:

  • Linear design feels more like a series of events than exploring a dungeon.
  • Maps are simple, black and white graph paper mock-ups.

The Verdict: In Off the Books Fictional characters are brought to life within a fun, though linear library dungeon crawl that can easily stack up to the book-based adventures of CAndlekeep Mysteries, but could also benefit from a few more pages.

A review copy of “Off the Books” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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