John Teehan works in publishing and does some freelance writing on the side. He’s been rolling the polyhedral dice since 1979, became a dad in 2016, and once got cussed out by Kurt Vonnegut. He’s in the process of updating websites, but you can find him easily enough on Facebook and Instagram.
How familiar is this scenario? Your players’ characters enter an old study, library, or town bookstore and immediately ask what kind of books they find.
The problem is, you’re not prepared to answer that question. Maybe you were rushed in designing your adventure, or perhaps whoever wrote the adventure didn’t bother to tell you.
Have no fear!
Below are 100 titles of books you can use to help flesh out the more literary settings in your adventures. Some are serious. Some are a bit tongue-in-cheek. While none of the books listed are inherently magical, there is no reason why you couldn’t imbue some with eldritch features.
Read through the list and see if any titles speak to you, or roll a d100 to pick one at random and improvise on the spot. Not all titles will fit all settings. That’s okay. Reroll and/or adjust as you need.
The Book of Common Law
The Book of Twelve Seasons
A Journey Beyond the Veil
Raising Weasels With Confidence
What Lights Shine Forever? A History of Sun Deities
A Short History of Dwarves
What Color Is Your Dragon?
Samwell’s Guide to Arms and Armor
The Silent Bard and Other Myths
The Letters of Saint Cuthbert
Secret Doors and Passages (bad poetry collection)
A Journeyman’s Guide to Barrel Making
Basic Carpentry For Complex Dungeons
The Great Extraplanar Hoax
Fungal Crop Rotation For Underground Dwellers
How To Use a Sundial In the Rain
Farming Wheat, Barley, and Giant Frogs
A Caretaker’s Guide to Giant Centipedes
101 Untraceable Poisons
All Giants Great and Small
50 Things To Do With a Dead Lich
Beauty Is In the Eyes of the Beholder
Planning Your Castle Construction
Tavern Management In Rural Areas
The Assassin’s Inspiration (just a hollowed-out book with a dagger hidden in it)
Accidental Pickpocketing and Other Excuses
Spells We Are Still Trying To Make Work
Samwell’s Guide To Wands
The Legend of Tucker’s Kobolds
Potatoes That Resemble Goblins: A Pictorial
Basic Ammunition Accounting for Archers, Crossbowers, and Slingers
Vines: Small, Medium, Giant
Defeating a Heavy Iron Gate
Counting to Ten for Orcs
The Arrow of Benevolent Intent
Thirty Ways To Skin a Dragon
Warlock vs Sorcerer: How To Spot the Difference
Tower Defenses, What Works and What Does Not
Samwell’s Guide To Holy Symbols
Prayers For the Righteous
Identifying Grubs, Worms, and Sentient Fungi
Wyverns, Wyrms, Drakes & Dragons: The Differences
Recipes For Disaster: A Cookbook
A Field Guide To Fey
1001 Things To Do Underground
A History of Thieve Guilds
Weather Manipulation and Farm Management
The Whole Hollow World Atlas
The Great Bird Hoax
The Physics Behind interdimensional Portals, Bags, and Holes
What’s Behind That Door? A Listener’s Handbook
Turnips. The Gods’ Own Gift To the World
How To Make a Lantern Out Of a Skull
Candlemaking for Clerics
Surveillance Techniques That Don’t Work
The Myth of the Useful Bard
Samwell’s Guide To Useless Glyphs
Thieves Cant… or Can They?
Hunting Mushrooms In the Dark
Cursed Idols and Relics of the Desert
Climate Change During the Dark Wizard Times
Airships. An Inflatable History
How To Live Forever—or Close To It
Giant Flowers. Friend or Foe?
The Most Grand Illusion
Daily Affirmations for Tyrants
Hidden Staircases and Secret Doors
Managing Your Giant Vines
How To Get Way With Murder
Poisoned Pens. Allegory or Literal Danger?
Sonnets for Sorcerers
Seven Knights For Seven Dragons
River Navigation Through Magical Forests
A Biological Survey of Gnomish “People”
Mysterious Structures That Glow
Samwell’s Guide To Blue-Colored Potions
The Unlikely Romance of Owls and Bears
Rocks That Sort of Look Like Orcs
Animal Husbandry and Midwifery
Castle Gardens For Long Sieges
Doors That Don’t Go Anywhere and Other Dungeon Tricks
How Green Is My Goblin?
How To Tell a Brew Is True
Cubicles & Commuters: A Fantasy Roleplaying Guide
Explosive Grass and Other Lawn Care Tips
Is Your Spouse a Polymorph? 50 Signs They Might Be
Plots, Intrigue, and Politics
The Book of Uncommon Law
Feeding Your Village On One Enlarged Vegetable a Year
A Simple Guide To Vampires
Unwrapping the Mystery of Mummies
Ghost Stories Written By Ghosts
Samwell’s Guide To Love and Love Potions
The Underground Horoscope
Orienteering Without a Compass
How To Work a Sextant
Fabled Treasures and Monsters
Puppetry For Evil and Parties
What are some of your book titles? Feel free to share in the comments.
Player’s characters travel a variety of terrain when going from hither and yon. Sometimes those routes traverse grand majestic ranges, sometimes rocky foothills.
Don’t expect mountains to be devoid of life or activity. Whether it be mining dwarves, traveling merchants, mad wizards, or ornery goats, this list offers some possible options either for items found or creatures encountered.
Note: Every fifth listed item is actually an encounter you can also use. Some friendly. Some not so much. Just roll a d20 and multiply by five to see who your players meet on the road over the mountain.
100 Mountain Finds
A minotaur’s skull with horns attached and mounted on a pole
A sizable pile of gold nuggets that are entirely illusory and which disappear as soon as touched. (Note: this can be used as bait for an encounter)
A range of thorny underbrush—difficult to pass through— at the center of which is single rose capable of fully healing any and all who touch it. Only works once per month.
[Encounter] A kobold hunting party that has not been very successful and will eat anything (or anybody)
A tree that has been completely stripped of bark
What appears at first to be the entrance to a cave, but is really just some cleverly applied paint to a bare rock face
Three dead ravens that have been chained together at the feet
A stack of seven flat hand-sized rocks balanced atop a twisted tree stump
[Encounter] A human male older than any you have ever seen who can give legitimate guidance to your party. Some call him the Old Man of the Mountain.
A book partially covered by dirt, rocks, and dead brush which tells the story of an explorer attempting to find the source of recent rockslides
A broken sword
A deep crevice within which all sound is muted
A very territorial mountain goat
[Encounter] A small, strange looking humanoid creature unlike any ever encountered before that has the ability to perfectly camouflage itself with its background. Very difficult to detect. It watches and follows for a short time, then leaves without threat or notice.
A narrow path that ends at a sudden drop
A campsite that looks like it was quickly abandoned
A twisted rock pine that has been magically altered to produce fresh apples
A broken sign that says “warning! Mountain trolls!”
[Encounter] A pack of hungry dire wolves have caught your scent!
A message in a bottle from a shipwrecked sailor
A single flower blooming healthily from a small crack in a barren rock face
A thicket of blueberry bushes laden with berries regardless of the time of year
A leather hat someone lost a long time ago
[Encounter] A stone golem blocking the party’s way. It will only attack if the party insists on moving toward the peak.
A sack of potatoes about five days old
A chess set sitting atop a flat rock with two small stumps on either side. The black pieces are about three moves away from checkmate.
A crudely carved wooden life-size statue of a dwarf warrior
A pouch of brightly colored polished stones
[Encounter] A small party of simple merchants and their baggage carriers who have gotten lost. They have minor potions, foodstuffs, cloth, and seed for sale. One merchant has a small pouch with a few diamonds hidden on his person.
An unexpected snowstorm that hinders both visibility and movement. Sudden cold temperatures should be a factor as well. Lasts 24 hours and over an area of about ten square miles.
A small abandoned village. Only the rock foundations and crumbling walls of about a dozen structures remain.
A patch of cultivated herbs native to this mountain region. There are signs of recent tending and the single gardening trowel has been thoughtlessly left behind.
A coil of hemp rope in terrible condition. Unusable and likely left there for a couple of years.
[Encounter] Two bandits around a small campfire who do not notice the party approaching until a sharp whistle signals them to jump up with weapons out. Three more bandits appear from behind rocks and shrub. An ambush!
A fake beard and an eyepatch hidden underneath some thorny brush
A fifty foot wide chasm stretching across your path as far as the eye can see. There is a rickety rope bridge ahead of you. It cannot support mounts.
A bundle of fox pelts that have been exposed to the elements for at least a month
A glass potion bottle—broken
[Encounter] An old and antisocial hermit tending a dozen sheep. He appears to have some Druidic power.
A torn flag featuring a red dragon facing left against a field of green
A roughly fifty foot wide area littered with the pieces of over two dozen humanoid skeletons. Some of the skeletons appear fresher than others.
Along a large bit of exposed rock face, a gigantic stone throne has been carved into the side of the mountain. From top to bottom, it measures just over a hundred feet.
The remains of an ancient cargo ship—long since looted. There are huge holes in the side of the ship that suggest it was once sunk.
[Encounter] A fey child of no discernible gender appears suddenly in front of the party. It utters the word “coin” then promptly disappears. Each party member hears the word in their native language. If the party continues, this Encounter is repeated twice more at roughly one mile intervals.
A campfire still hot with red coals. There are the remains of some burnt rabbit that had once been roasting over it.
A small, natural cave partially obscured by brush. Large enough to shelter up to 6 medium sized creatures.
A broken hourglass
A tall pine tree with unknown runes carved into the bark
[Encounter] A crazed dwarf thinks the party is after his secret gold strike. Oddly, there is no evidence he has found any gold recently. He is armed with a mining pick and will attack the party with little provocation. If subdued and forced to tell the truth, it is revealed that he did discover gold over a hundred years ago, but he forgot where and has been searching ever since.
Three white blocks of marble about two feet across and four feet high block a mountain path from any wheeled conveyance from passing easily
An old mining cart with two missing wheels
A small vein of gold within an exposed length of quartz. GM’s discretion if its total worth and how costly or time consuming it would be to mine.
The entrance to a small silver mine, long since played out and abandoned
[Encounter] A vicious and large hill giant (even by hill giant standards) rages toward the party out of nowhere, its eyes blazing with madness.
A mountain goat dressed in tattered wizard robes. A polymorph gone wrong? A practical joke? Who can tell?
An ancient iron helmet and spear, both rusted and unusable, but of certain value to the right scholar.
A tightly bound leather sack hanging from a tree branch and filled with dried, salted fish
A pair of well-worn boots with holes in the sole
[Encounter] The party comes across an empty logging camp save for one old halfling caretaker. The camp is closed for the season, but he looks after it from time to time. He will offer the party use of the tents, fire pit, and some of his water. If the party has mounts, they may eat some leftover feed for a small fee. He does not have much food to spare as he is due to return to his village soon. He is friendly and unarmed, but he is also very quick and strong for his age, and he is nobody’s fool.
A cart full of acorns and one greedy squirrel
Deep in a ravine, a crashed airship of elvish design
A broken iron cannon of unknown design or origin
The remains of an unlucky adventuring party made up of two human warriors, an elf mage, a halfling rogue, and a dwarf wizard. They came to a messy, tragic end and their bodies have already been looted of valuables.
[Encounter] Blocking the party’s way is a large ogre. It doesn’t move or appear to be interested in the party at all. If anyone from the party approaches within 10 feet of it or successfully hit it with a ranged weapon, the image of the ogre wavers and disappears. As the party considers its options, or if the ogre disappears, they are set upon by five ruthless bandits coming up from the rear. They have with them a drunk, low-level illusionist they have been keeping as a slave to use for creating distractions for potential victims.
A pole set in the ground decorated with crude paint, feathers, the skulls of small animals, and a bundle of sage
A lean-to made of canvas and stout branches. It is large enough for two medium-sized creatures to stay out of the rain. There are signs of a small campfire having once been set up in front of it.
A rolled up piece of canvas, tattered and worn, that shows the most direct path the party needs to take through this terrain in order to reach their destination
A small boulder with the image of an arrow scratched into it pointing away from the path
[Encounter] A holy woman sits at the entrance of a small cave which is her home. She is unarmed and an absolute pacifist. At the GM’s discretion, she has the ability to heal the party, bless items, and remove curses. She could also be used as a source of information or wisdom.
A wooden crate with iron bands wrapped around it. If the party manages to open it, they hear the soft ringing of a bell, but the box is otherwise empty.
A blank wooden sign posted by the side of the party’s path
A woman’s red silk robe hangs from a tree branch, fluttering in the wind
A mysterious orange fog passes through the party. It is harmless, but the fog carries a faint scent of brimstone.
[Encounter] A large black dog growls at the party from a distance, then disappears. The dog reappears two more times over the course of the day, then attacks the weakest party member on its third visit.
A dusty, worn saddlebag with broken straps. Deep in the bottom of the bag is a decomposed apple and a finely-wrought silver ring.
A rolled up tent large enough for two medium-sized creatures. When unrolled, it is discovered that one side of the tent has been ripped by what appear to be giant claws.
Shed red dragon scales litter the ground for the next mile
A crude depiction of a one-eyed giant chiseled into a large bare rock face
[Encounter] The party comes across a large boulder blocking the entrance to a cave. On the boulder is written in dried blood, “Dead inside.” If the party moves the boulder even partly, three hungry ghouls emerge and attack the party hungrily.
A lone pack mule with a broken lead. It is carrying a full load made up of four heavy woolen blankets, ten full waterskins, two camp shovels, five sacks of flour, a cast iron pan, a cast iron pot, a sealed wooden tub of butter, a large sack of potatoes, three dozen carrots, a two-pound bag of sugar, and a box of mixed cooking herbs and salt.
The remains of a halfling adventurer who appears to have fallen from a great height
As the party rounds a turn in the trail they hear a beautiful singing in each character’s native language. It’s a song of love and loss, of strife and victory. As suddenly as the song fades in, so it fades away and does not return.
For a full minute, birds begin dropping out of the sky, stone dead
[Encounter] A glowing apparition of an ancient eleven queen appears before the party and utters great wisdom and prophecies which have absolutely nothing to do with the party or their mission. This goes on for a couple of minutes, then she disappears.
A discarded map to a gold mine that is nowhere near where the party is now. Not even the same mountain range.
A sturdy wooden shack with one wall missing. Inside are three sets of bunk beds and a camp stove. It does not appear to have been used for several months.
Twenty-five pine logs—long and freshly cut—stacked neatly. The ends of the logs are marked with red paint.
A twenty-foot deep round hole in the ground measuring about a foot across. There is no dirt or debris piled nearby.
[Encounter] A nest for two harpies lay just ahead. One is usually circling nearby. If they see the party, they will attack without hesitation.
A dead end. The path stops at a sheer drop of 500 feet to jagged rocks below.
A hammer and chisel on the ground beside a large stone. Chiseled into the stone is “Warning! Gian.” The message looks incomplete.
A pair of broken reading spectacles
A picnic laid out on a red checkered cloth complete with dishware and utensils. Just enough delicious food and drink to accommodate the entire party. The party may save leftover food, tablecloth, and other items, but they will all vanish after traveling one mile. Otherwise, it’s a genuinely offered nice meal with no tricks, traps, poisons, or other nasty surprises.
[Encounter] A group of 16 mountain gnomes are on a foraging mission. All are armed with small crossbows and short swords, but are otherwise peaceful. They will offer traveling info if asked politely. If treated rudely, they will give bad advice. If threatened, they will attack. If a fight lasts more than three rounds, another 16 will appear over the nearest rise to help their comrades.
A small fir tree decorated with colorful glass balls and red ribbons
A bottle of wine hidden behind some rocks. Attached is a nearly-faded note that reads “To Aloysius and Montague. May you find this after I am gone. Yours, Principia.”
A pit trap concealed by leaves and branches. It is ten feet deep and lined with sharp wooden stakes.
[Encounter] A mad wizard has been conducting experimental rituals in these mountains. He is enraged that the party has stumbled across his attempts to enslave a demon lord. He is a big fan of fire and lightning related spells. His scrolls and notes are written in an unbreakable code, but may be worth something to a high level wizard or scholar of the diabolical arts.
Share your favorite mountain find ideas below, in the comments.
Let’s hear it for all thieves, rogues, bards, and other sticky-fingered types! A well-timed pickpocket attempt can turn a boring encounter into one that might get just a bit too exciting.
The problem is coming up with an answer when the player tells you, “I reach into the sheriff’s pouch while he’s distracted by the bard.”
Sure, a successful attempt could net the player a few coins, but they could find something a lot more interesting… with a little prep.
The next time you have a player attempt to snatch something from a pocket, pouch, or purse, consider these one hundred items to present your player. Some are mundane. Some are mysterious. And some are even magical. Peruse the list and write down your favorites, or simply have the list handy for a quick roll and some quick improv.
Should your pickpocket be attempting to steal from a special character, note that every fifth item in this list is somewhat magical or fantastical in some manner or another. Just roll a d20 and multiply by five to roll for only these items.
A note that says “Run!”
A set mousetrap
A broken locket with a picture of a beautiful elf boy inside
A piece of paper intricately folded into the shape of a wyvern
A magic ring that turns the wearer into a very combative giant frog. The wearer retains that form until killed or the ring is forcibly removed from one of its rear feet. Grappling rules apply if available. If killed, the wearer is restored—no harm done
A wooden coin of no particular value
A simple, but moving love letter
A single key to an unknown lock
A rabbit’s foot charm
A ten-foot pole. The pole is normal. The pocket it came from is not.
A small bottle of Samwell’s Miracle Hair Tonic
A preserved human ear
A small, featureless doll made of red fabric and crushed straw stuffing
A small pouch of crushed chalk
An enchanted sphere of marble, about 2 inches across, that, when touched, changes the toucher’s hair and skin to a random bright color (red, orange, magenta, blue, etc) for a full hour.
A live rat named Mr. Bitey. Yes, he bites.
A folding knife
A pouch of smoking tobacco and a small briar pipe
A bill of sale for a shallow-drafted cargo boat named The Tsarina
A gem that, when held up to the sun for a full minute, gives the holder an accurate impression of the weather for the next 24 hours.
An eight-ounce bottle of very strong dwarven liquor
A folded piece of paper with the pickpocket’s name written on it in a demonic script
A single silver piece of which one side has been rubbed smooth by years of compulsive habit
A seashell which, when held up to the ear, reveals dark secrets of the listener in a hushed, diabolical voice
A hand-written receipt for 12 skulls and an obsidian dagger
A written message from the wife of a shopkeeper to a smith’s apprentice to come around during temple services… and to burn this note
A string of brightly colored beads
A string of brightly colored beads that conceals a message that, with a successful intelligence check to decode, says, “We strike at midnight.”
A magic coin that, when flipped, offers an advantage (heads) or disadvantage (tails) on their next roll. Works once per day.
A wooden collapsible cup
An elven arrowhead
A round piece of doily. Finely made, approximately 8 inches across
A blood-soaked rag
The fingerbone of a long-forgotten, but saintly cleric. Undead within five feet suffer disadvantage.
A silver fork
A jade brooch
A small wooden comb
A powerful merchant’s calling card
An eight-ounce cup that can hold a gallon (liquids only)
A pewter egg cup
A small carefully painted lead figurine of a human warrior with sword and shield
A child’s toy top
A tiny pouch filled with toenail clippings
A note that says “You can do it!” Once read aloud, the words disappear and the speaker is granted an advantage (GM’s discretion, usable only once)
A small bottle of ink with a leaky stopper, guaranteed to stain one’s fingers
A blank piece of paper
A magnifying glass lens
A small envelope containing five sewing needles
A seed which, when planted and watered, sprouts and grows into a full-sized blueberry bush with edible berries with about three minutes
A vial of the pickpocket’s own blood
A detailed drawing of a member of the pickpocket’s party
A child’s toy horse
Three finger puppets of clerical characters
An explosive dart which deals 1d10 damage upon a successful hit
A written summons to appear before the magistrate by noon the next day
A folded paper fan
A one-inch thick candle about five inches long
A handful of dried beans
A reed straw which purifies unclean or poisoned water (fragile, will break after a few uses at GM’s discretion, works with water only)
A bloody, severed hand
A half bar of unused soap
A shaving brush
A biscuit shaped like a bone
An amulet featuring a fly trapped in amber that, when put around the neck of a medium-sized creature or smaller, removes all ability to fly—either physically or magically
A pair of brass knuckles with the words “Love, Mom” stamped into the side
A folded piece of paper with a black spot in the center
A handful of crushed rose petals
A human tooth, root and all
A dragon tooth whose possessor suffers only half damage from any dragon bite (other forms of attack do not apply)
A potato that sort of looks like a goblin head
A complete, fully cleaned rat skeleton
A square of crushed velvet
A thorny rose. Beautiful, but ouch!
A whistle that can only be heard by those who are lawful good
A well-used skeleton key
A four-leafed clover encased in solid glass
A nicked plectrum
A license to kill one deer on royal property
A small crystal bell that when rung summons one minute of light rain. Outdoors only and only twice a day.
A token for one free ale at “Happy Hiccup’s House of Brew”
Three pieces of broken crockery
A fake gemstone
A small pouch of hard candy
A sparkling blue brooch that allows the wearer to survive comfortably without food or water for up to one week. Needs a full week to recharge even after a partial use.
Genealogical notes that reveal that a seventh son of a seventh son resides nearby
A metal fish hook
A wooden slat with the words “You may already be a winner!”
A lightly perfumed handkerchief
A silver coin upon which a continuous light spell has been cast
A live, angry beetle about two inches long
A pocket-sized sundial on a light chain
A small vial of poison
An uneaten apple
A cursed ring which removes any benefit from consuming food or liquid. User slowly suffers starvation and dehydration until the curse is lifted which allows ring to be removed
A small prayer book appropriate for a widely-worshipped good-aligned deity
A charm made of a dried frog and three iron nails tied together with red string
A handful of dried bees
A hand-drawn map of the local tavern suggesting a possible secret room behind the storeroom
A magical pouch which converts 1 gold piece to its equivalent value in silver pieces, and vice versa. Only works for values equal to 1 gold piece.
What are some of your favorite pickpocket items or stories? Feel free to share in the comments.