Is the pen mightier? | Tool Time with Calligrapher’s Supplies in 5E D&D

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Tool proficiencies are a staple of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons but with the prevalence of skills, where do they fit into the game? That’s exactly what we’re here to discuss in this new series of articles. Please note tool proficiencies and how to use them are less defined in the official rules than skills. As such the options and explanations presented here might differ from how your own Dungeon Master treats tools and tool proficiency. On top of that, any DM can adjust rules to fit their own table at their discretion, so check with your DM if you have specific questions about how they deal with tools in their own games. And with all the necessary caveats out of the way, let’s dive into our topic!

5E D&D tool time — calligrapher’s supplies

One of my favorite obscure movies is The Secret of Kells. It’s inspired by the true story of the Book of Kells but it contains a mythological, magical twist. The art of script is the main theme in this movie and it beautifully and artistically presents the wonder of writing and calligraphy. Calligraphy is a famous art glorified in many societies in our own world. Whether from the elaborate lettering of Celtic religious text or the immaculate brush strokes of Japanese history calligraphy provides insight into what a culture deems beautiful and important.

While I find many people ignore calligrapher’s supplies in 5E D&D this tool set can be an intrinsic part of a character and breathe life into a whole world. A little help from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything illuminates not just calligrapher’s supplies themselves but insight into the eponymous beholder’s view on writing in general.

“Calligrapher’s supplies include ink, a dozen sheets of parchment, and three quills.”

“How does a beholder have opinions on writing? He doesn’t even have – You know what? I’m just ignoring that for now. At any rate, Xanathar’s Guide does present us with some ideas regarding calligrapher’s supplies.” — The Xanathar

To begin, as you see calligrapher’s supplies consist of ink, a dozen sheets of parchment and three quills. Seems pretty straightforward to me. As for skills, proficiency in calligrapher’s supplies can be used in tandem with a few skills to grant insight into a variety of texts.

Arcana & Investigation. XGtE offers that calligrapher’s supplies proficiency can allow someone to recognize a certain individual’s handwriting, thus determining who wrote a spell scroll, letter or other document (provided you’ve seen the handwriting previously).

History. This is the one I really like because it goes right alongside with what I was saying earlier. Those who understand the art of writing can gain a variety of insights into context, values and standards related to ancient texts. I really like this because it epitomizes what certain sects of archaeology already specialize in and it’s a fantastic way to give your players insight into the history of your world.

5E D&D tool proficiency calligrapher's supplies illuminated manuscript

The interesting bits!

Now we’re getting into the weird and cool stuff this proficiency can do. Calligrapher’s supplies can let you know the age of a map, find hidden messages, determine a writer’s state of mind based on the shakiness or steadiness of the script, tell if text has been forged and forge text yourself. All of these things are super interesting and I especially like the idea of being able to solve text based puzzles with calligrapher’s supplies. Perhaps your calligrapher’s supplies let you be amazing at crosswords, word searches and other sorts of lettered puzzles?

Another nifty thing you might do with calligrapher’s supplies is make calligraphy art. I once got my brother a T-shirt with a picture of a raven but the raven itself was composed of the poem, The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe. It was so cool! Doing artistic things like this or figuring out how much space a strand of text will take up are other elements of this proficiency that feel second nature to me.

A last thing from this proficiency comes to me, inspired by The Secret of Kells: the notion of ink making as a craft. I would imagine with this tool proficiency you would probably have knowledge of how ink is made and how to make your own. Possibly you might even be able to make especially rare ink necessary for high end spell scrolls? Maybe your proficiency with calligrapher’s supplies allows you to solver magical puzzles based in text, similar to the scene in Fullmetal Alchemist when Scar’s brother’s journal falls on the floor, revealing an alchemical circle hidden in text? As with many tool proficiencies a little research and a dash of creativity go a long way to making a game feel especially intriguing or high stakes.

What do you think?

Do you have a character famous for using calligrapher’s supplies? What about other ideas for way calligrapher’s supplies might be used in D&D? We want to hear from you in the comments! Make sure to return to Nerdarchy daily for more articles and ideas for your TTRPGs!

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Steven Partridge is a published fantasy author and staff writer for Nerdarchy. He also shows up Tuesdays at 8:00pm (EST) to play with Nerdarchy Crew, over on the Nerdarchy Live YouTube channel. Steven enjoys all things fantasy, and storytelling is his passion. Whether through novels, TTRPGs, or otherwise, he loves telling compelling tales within various speculative fiction genres. When he's not writing or working on videos for his YouTube channel, Steven can be found lap swimming or playing TTRPGs with his friends. He works in the mental health field and enjoys sharing conversations about diversity, especially as it relates to his own place within the Queer community.

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