2019/04/02

1d20 Books from Prospero's Library

This is a bit of a filler post, but sometimes it's nice to bathe in luxurious language. Here are all the books from the 1991 Peter Greenaway film Prospero's Books. It's not a traditional film. It's a moving work of art. Here's part of the intro sequence (NSFW), where Prospero is attended by his invisible servants, spirits, and fairies.

Numbers given in brackets were added by me to assist with rolling. Numbers outside of brackets are from the script. Some books have been rearranged, spoiling the secret meanings and allusions Greenaway included, but removing them from the rest of the script did that anyway.

The books make excellent reading practice. Part of being a GM is drawing your players into a shared imaginary scene using only the power of words.

Knowing I lov'd my books, he furnish'd me,
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.

[1.] A Book of Water. This is a waterproof-covered book which has lost its colour by much contact with water. It is full of investigative drawings and exploratory text written on many different thicknesses of paper. There are drawings of every conceivable watery association: seas, tempests, streams, canals, shipwrecks, floods and tears. As the pages are turned, there are rippling waves and slanting storms. Rivers and cataracts flow and bubble. Plans of hydraulic machinery and maps of weather-forecasting flicker with arrows, symbols and agitated diagrams. The drawings are all made by the same hand, bounded into a book by the King of France at Ambois and bought by the Milanese Dukes to give to Prospero as a wedding present.

[2.] Bound in a gold cloth and very heavy, this book has some eighty shining mirrored pages; some opaque, some translucent, some manufactured with silvered papers, some covered in a film of mercury that will roll off the page unless treated cautiously. Some mirrors simply reflect the reader, some reflect the reader as he will be in a year's time, as he would be if he were a child, a monster, or an angel.

3. A Memoria Technica called Architecture and Other Music When the pages are opened in this book, plans and diagrams spring up fully-formed. There are definitive models of buildings constantly shaded by moving cloud-shadow. Lights flicker in nocturnal urban landscapes and music is played in the halls and towers.

[4.] The Book of Colours. This is a large book bound in watered silk. 300 pages cover the colour spectrum in finely differentiated shades moving from black back to black again.

[5.] A Harsh Book of Geometry. This is a thick, brown, leather-covered book,stippled with gold numbers. The pages flicker with logarithmic figures. Angles are measured by needle-thin metal pendulums, activated by magnets.

6. An Atlas Belonging to Orpheus. This atlas is full of maps of Hell. It was used when Orpheus journeyed into the Underworld to find Eurydice, and the maps are scorched and charred by Hellfire and marked with the teeth-bites of Cerberus.

[7.] This is a herbal to end all herbals. The pages are stuffed with pressed plants and flowers, corals and sea weeds. It is a honeycomb, a hive, a garden and an ark for insects. It is an encyclopedia of pollen, scent and pheromone.

8. An Alphabetical Inventory of the Dead. This is a funereal volume. It contains all the names of the dead, who have lived on earth. The first name is Adam and the last is Susannah, Prospero's wife.

9. A Primer of the Small Stars

10. The Book of Universal Cosmography attempts to place all universal phenomena in one system. It is full of disciplined geometrical figures, concentric rings that circle and counter circle, tables and lists organised in spirals, catalogues arranged on a simplified body of man, in a structured universe where all things have their allotted place and an obligation to be fruitful.

[11.] Vesalius produced the first authoritative anatomy book; it is astonishing in its detail, macabre in its single mindedness. This Anatomy of Birth, a second volume, is even more disturbing and heretical. It concentrates on the mysteries of birth. It is full of descriptive drawings of the workings of the human body which, when the pages open, move and throb and bleed. It is a banned book that queries the unnecessary processes of ageing, bemoans the wastages associated with progeneration, condemns the pains and anxieties of childbirth and generally questions the efficiency of God.

[12.] The Book of the Earth. A thick book covered in khaki-coloured webbing, its pages are impregnated with the minerals, acids, alkalis, gums, balms and aphrodisiacs of the earth.

[13.] The Book of Love. This is a scented volume, with crimson ribbons for page-markers. There is certainly an image in the book of a naked man and a naked woman, Everything else is conjecture.

[14.] A Bestiary of Past, Present and Future Animals.


15. A Book of Utopias. This is a book of ideal societies. every known and every imagined political and social community is described and evaluated, permitting a reader to sort and match his own utopian ideal.

16. A Book of Traveller's Tales.

[17.] An antiquarian's handbook, a checklist of the ancient world for the Renaissance humanist. Full of maps and plans of the archaeological sites of the world, an essential volume for the melancholic historian who knows that nothing endures.

[18.] The Autobiographies of Semiramis and Pasiphae.This is a blackened and thumbed volume whose illustrations leave small ambiguity as to the book's content.

[19.] This is a large book. It is bound in a shining yellow cloth that, when polished, gleams like brass. It is a compendium of mythologies with all their variants and alternative tellings; cycle after cycle of interconnecting tales of gods and men from all the known world, from the icy North to the deserts of Africa, with explanatory readings and symbolic interpretations.

[20.] This is a thick, printed volume of plays dated 1623. There are thirty-five plays in the book and room for one more. Nineteen pages are left blank for its inclusion. Right at the front of the book, just after the prefix. And this is the thirty-sixth play, The Tempest.

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