Everyday Writings in the Realms
The Realms has scrolls galore, books by the thousand, and daily broadsheets in many cities, and it has hundreds of libraries, hidden caches -- and even roomy caskets in tombs -- in which to store it all.
Some cities even have shops filled with drawings folk can view and copy (or have copied) for fees, to aid them in imparting designs or descriptions to others. These "eyehouses" are especially useful to illiterate folk, and include:
- Darraeker's Eye in Scornubel (next door to Mooroo's Spices & Wines, to the south along the same street; streets have no names in Scornubel)
- Dathchant Engravings on the west side of the Street of Bells in Waterdeep's Castle Ward (six doors south of Lightsinger Theater)
- Larelko's Splendors on the south side of the Promenade in Suzail (three doors west of the Old Dwarf tavern); and
- Muremettor's in Selgaunt (in the center of the city block immediately northwest of the Black Stag inn and tavern)
Rather than being allowed to rummage through the images in an eyehouse, clients enter, stop at a deep, across-the-shop counter and ask to be shown something, pay a viewing fee of 2 cp to 3 sp, and the proprietors fetch relevant images "from the back" to the counter for viewing.
Copies, if desired, vary widely in price, from place to place and by the quality of result desired. (Results start at reasonable facsimile to exact likeness, and it costs even more if the image contains writing of any kind. Prices also go much higher if clients want a specific costume or scene but with faces and bodies changed to match themselves or an image they provide or elements from another image.)
The cheapest copying fee will be for a swift sketch, for 6 gp or so, and the cheapest rough facsimile of any image will cost about 20 gp. Copies are almost always of black ink on a white ground only; the making of colored copies is rarely offered and is always much more expensive.
In cities across the Realms, rag paper is widely used, but (rightly) considered short-lived; unless it's kept well away from all damp and cold, it tends to start deteriorating rapidly after ten years. In damp seaports, rag paper may last as little as three months. For this reason, rag paper is avoided for legal documents, royal proclamations, and archives of any sort, and parchment is used instead.
Parchment is scraped and cured -- while stretched -- hide. The skins of horses, squirrels, rabbits, sheep, calves, and goats are all used for parchment. The finest (smoothest, palest, and most free of oily patches and blemishes) parchment is vellum, made from the best calfskin (though some unscrupulous shopkeepers call their best sheepskin and goatskin parchment "vellum," too).
Parchment tends to be expensive, running 2 sp for an average quality sheet and 4 sp for an average sheet of vellum, up to 1 gp for superb or very large sheets. Parchment doesn't disintegrate as readily in damp as rag paper does, but it will buckle.
Most Faerûnian monasteries house monks who are expert makers of parchment and vellum, from birthing and rearing the beasts to preparing the hide into ready "sheets" (both for their own purposes, and to sell).
Ink that doesn't fade is pricey, except along seacoasts where certain snails, squids, and octopi can be gleaned easily. The "ink" of the latter two species or the crushed shells of the snails are base ingredients in most writing inks. This ink base is usually mixed with a substance to keep it from drying (into a hard cake or a powder, in the vial) too swiftly or when exposed to extremes of heat and cold, and an ingredient to inhibit fading. Just what these two sorts of ingredients are varies from region to region across Faerûn, but they are all either plant distillates or powdered minerals.
Colored inks have a blend of additional pigment ingredients, plus something to keep the "base" ink from separating from the pigments.
Inks used for writing spells are far more complex and expensive, but usually begin with a base of the finest "everyday" ink, unless wyvern blood or harpy blood or another "base" fluid is available. Their recipes are valuable, carefully guarded secrets, and usually involve costly and hard-to-obtain ingredients. Some sages assert that everyday ink can be used to write spells just as well as special inks, but many scribes, wizards, and priests of Azuth, Mystra, Oghma, and Deneir firmly disagree, claiming that everyday inks "melt away" over time due to magical stresses, this time being measured in a handful of days for the most powerful spells.
Ink that fades over time or with exposure to heat or light, on the other hand, can be made readily almost anywhere in the Realms that isn't frozen or desert terrain, from many, many vegetable and wild plant sources (anything from beets to certain forest leaves). However, the methods of making inks are usually secret, and none of them are swift or easy (powdering and boiling specific parts of a plant are always involved, with precise temperatures and timings).
As a result, an ounce of will-fade ink tends to sell for as much as 4 gp, except at places and times when nonfading ink is available in ready abundance (which depresses the price to as low as 2 gp/vial). An ounce of will-fade colored ink tends to cost 6 or 7 gp (metallic hues and striking reds are more highly desired and hence more costly).
A 1-ounce vial of nonfading black ink costs 8 gp, and one of nonfading colored ink 16 to 20 gp, depending on hue. The prices of spell inks tend to begin at 45 gp/ounce and escalate swiftly, most selling for around 75 gp/ounce.
As a result of the properties of writing substances, parchment tends to get used for human archival records and legal or official documents, and rag paper for short-term commentary or record-keeping. Dwarves and gnomes produce graven-with-runes stone tablets or stamped metal alloy plaques or pages for "permanent" writing. Certain human guilds also make plaques or certifications by stamping metal (often copper) with letter- or symbol-shaped punches.
Tally-Sticks and Temporary Writing
To cut down on furious disputes over payments, counting is done with "tally-sticks" and with chalk (where chalk is readily available) or by scratching, in both cases marking lines on a stick in an agreed-upon fashion, one stroke being one unit, and longer strokes with crossed ends or circles having meanings (for example, ten or twenty or a hundred) set by various costers, guilds, and royal decrees. Folk keep their own tally-sticks, and they often jointly create a new, specially marked (usually with a carved or painted head) stick for an agreement between them. Guilds and temples often "safekeep" tally-sticks (for nominal fees of 1 cp/year, payable up front and with any outstanding balance due upon retrieval) to prevent loss or tampering.
Most writing used in negotiations, imparting directions, or teaching is done by drawing temporarily in sand, snow, mud, or wax.
Memory Marks and Tale-Tallies
The great majority of folk in the Realms don't have the luxury of having anything to write on except a stick, a tree, a stone, or the wall, so one of the skills taught to them from childhood (often by grandparents, or village elders) is memorization: fixing things in their minds by looking at a drawn symbol or remembering a rhyming chant or pithy saying. Farm-folk often scratch important records or symbols on stones that form the "floor" of their cottage or hearth; the stones are then put back into place with the written-on side facedown. More than once, a hastily scratched likeness of a badge or banner found on such a stone is the only record left behind of who raided an outlying hamlet and slaughtered everyone.
Some novice minstrels go about with sticks thrust into their boots (akin to the manner in which real-world marching-band drummers carry spare drumsticks slid down their socks) that are decorated with a series of symbols. Each symbol on such a "tale-tally" is a reminder of a key scene in a famous or stirring story, so a minstrel can pull out a stick that's meaningless to most people and "read" the outline of a story they can embellish in the telling. Bards can often pick up an unfamiliar tally-stick and identify the story it's telling at a glance.