By Mike Drew
In a lot of roleplaying games a character’s profession can become just an excuse on which to hang a skill-set, or become replaced by the generic aspect of ‘adventurer’ or ‘investigator’. Whatever 9-5 they were originally doing becomes replaced by saving the world. Bookhounds should be a little different. The character’s jobs are the reason for the game, they drive the plot. As a result it is important to remember why they are doing it all in the first place.
That might sound a little prosaic. It is not that there won’t be suspicious corpses, depraved cults, ancient evils and the foiling of plots to drag Surrey Docks into the gaping maw of Azathoth’s eternal court but if by the end you have not found any books, and more crucially, sold them, the rent is not going to be paid. Runners and booksellers don’t look at books quite the same way as the customers. Again, this is not to say they don’t appreciate nice things or that they don’t read books (although some really don’t care what’s written inside), nor that they won’t have collections of their own, but if they are not selling that book to someone it really only represents cost and shelf space.
As a result it is important to know your customers and their needs. Why do they want the book? A scholar may be solely interested in the best version of the text. They won’t care if it is bound in crushed sharkskin gilt by Riviere or it’s a pile of loose sheets held together with treasury tags as long as the text is clean, complete and correct. If they care about edition it will be because the second edition is revised and expanded or because only the first unexpurgated version has the additional engravings showing the runic markings on the Black Monolith. Condition is less crucial and they probably won’t mind ex-library or the missing dust-jacket as long as the book can be read. For Mythos and occult tomes they will want all the engravings, plates and illustrations though. There is nothing worse than finding you are missing the diagram of the protective circle. All this is probably equally true for the investigator professor looking for a banishing spell as it is for his cult leader foe, except cult leaders may like dramatic bindings for impressing the groundlings.
University libraries will tend towards the desire for the text. They will end up stamping the book and sticking labels in so a pristine book will become less so by the end. This may not always be the case. They may be making a collection of different versions, or collecting bindings by a particular bindery. The book may be a private press book in which case the book as an artefact is as important as what it says. They will also want a certain minimum standard; a copy which is falling apart may need to be replaced, which is a waste of money. They want to avoid bookworm-ridden, damp, musty, smelly copies as much as the next buyer. Treat university buyers as somewhere between readers and the next category – collectors.
Not everyone buying a book will be a scholar or cultist. People buy books for many reasons. You may well have struggled against the Openers of the Way, dodged a murder charge and destroyed the idol of Glaaki beneath Vintner’s Hall to retrieve that copy of Cultes des Goules but your purchaser may simply be a (reasonably) normal person who wants the book for his private collection.
Collectors will be a lot more concerned about condition (depending on the rarity of course) – so wrap the book well if expecting punishing car chases, sewer escapes and otherworldly ichor splashes. They can generally afford to pay good prices for the right copy, and can equally pay someone else for a copy if you don’t find a good enough one. Watch out for bibliographic points such as the date of the publisher’s catalogue bound in the back, the erratum on page 216 or the absence of a frontispiece which might alter which edition you think you have found. Do they want original state or do they mind if it has been rebound? If they are obsessive about the appearance they may demand the original boards, if not they may accept a contemporary binding, they may be very upset if it has been recently rebound though. For these people unopened pages are even better – i.e. where adjacent pages are still attached to each other from the method of folding a large sheet of paper to make several pages – if they have been opened have the edges been trimmed (cut)? It is worth bearing this kind of thing in mind, there is no point going to the trouble of finding a book only to discover your buyer is not interested. To a reader any two copies of the same edition’s text are essentially the same; to a collector they almost certainly are not.
This kind of obsession can become a mania. The Reverend Thomas Dibdin, one of the founders of the Roxburghe Club and a dedicated bibliophile discusses the ‘gentle mania’ in his book Bibliomania. He describes the obsession which starts as an interest in books, grows to getting good copies, and first editions and then hurtles towards original state, vellum copies, unopened, uncut pages and onwards.
Enormous amounts of money are spent on books by collectors seeking better and better copies and this madness could easily spill over. Tom Raikes’ excellent version of the fate of Don Vincente, the beastly bookseller of Barcelona, may be based on a literary spoof but still shows the mind of the more extreme collector. Better still than Vincente’s line excusing murder and arson – ‘Man is mortal: a little sooner, or a little later, God calls them to himself, and life is gone. But scientific books must be preserved above everything; their value is inappreciable.’ – is his final despairing cry, not at his condemnation, but rather ‘Ah! Señor Alcalde, then, after all, mine is not the only copy?’. Whilst the mad monk is literary fiction his passion could well drive a certain type of collector to strange acts and dark deeds. Watch out when dealing with these people for every gentle eccentric is a possible murderer.
The game of post-modern magick, Unknown Armies, features as an adept class, the Bibliomancer. Each adept has at its heart a symbolic tension, a paradox, which drives its magic. The bibliomancer’s is that although the reading of a book allows the reader to transfer its knowledge to themselves, the book still cannot be got rid of – the book itself matters beyond what is written inside. In order to gain access to the power the book offers the book must be kept, rather than the text read. For the book scout this could not be a worse idea. For them the book has no value for the information it contains, nor do they feel a connection to every author they own through keeping books and creating a library. Rather the value of a book comes when it is sold; it is in having had the book not having it. A book represents a cost when it is purchased, and you can put a probable price on it but until it has sold that price is simply an idea.
If you find a good mythos tome, don’t keep it to study, sell it. Don’t try and read everything you find for later use, sell it. Don’t become too attached to your stock to let someone buy it. If information can help sell a book, great; if you happen to become a minor expert in a field whilst selling, great, but if you want to study become a professor, a runner needs to pay the rent.